Having looked at marriage as grounded in the gospel, ordained by God, and blessed by Christ himself, I want to look at a few ways marriage is regulated by God’s commandments. Despite the culture’s distaste for regulations of any kind on marriage, it makes perfect sense that God would provide some guidelines for how his beloved image-bearers practice the relationship he ordained.
Marriage Is To Be Permanent
God hates divorce. We see this in several passages:
“For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.” (Malachi 2:16 ESV)
But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (Matthew 5:32 ESV)
What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Mark 10:9 ESV)
For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. (Romans 7:2 ESV)
Taken together, we can easily conclude that one regulation God puts on the marriage relationship is that it should only be dissolved by death.
The Scriptures, however, are not ignorant of the complexities of living in a fallen world. God gives provision for a marriage affected by grievous sin. Specifically, Jesus identified adultery (infidelity) as the one sin that may dissolve the marriage relationship. Opinion among Bible scholars and theologians is divided, however, as to whether the Bible permits the innocent party to remarry. Separation is clearly permitted in 1 Corinthians 7:10, but remarriage is not specifically addressed. In every case, we can confidently assert that reconciliation is always God’s desire.
Husbands and Wives Have Mutual Responsibilities
The Bible makes clear that marriage is not a passive enterprise. Successful marriages done God’s way will not simply happen. Rather, they require work from both the man and the woman. For example, Paul commands both the man and the woman to not deprive one another sexually (1 Corinthians 7:5). So, even the physical side of the marriage relationship entails mutual responsibility.
The central passage that illustrates mutuality in marriage is Ephesians 5. Paul in verse 21 commands husbands and wives to submit “to one another out of reverence for Christ” (ESV). Paul goes on in this passage to delineate some specific responsibilities each has towards the other. Wives are to reflect the Church’s submission to Christ in the way they submit to and respect their own husbands (Ephesians 5:22, 33). Husbands are to likewise reflect the sacrificial love of Christ for the Church in how they serve and provide for their wives (Ephesians 5:25–28).
Marriage Must Be “In the Lord”
While marriage is something that is given to all who are made in God’s image, those who are Christians have an additional regulation—namely, they are to marry someone else who is also a believer. Paul, while giving instructions to Christian widows who seek to remarry, his only real stipulation is that whoever they choose to marry must be “in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:39; see also 2 Corinthians 6:14).
The God of the Bible is infinitely wise and loving. He knows that no two people are exactly alike, and thus there is infinite variety in how two married people might relate to one another. But he also knows what’s best for this essential institution. Therefore he lovingly gives certain regulations to foster human flourishing. As his creatures, we can best honor and love him by receiving and abiding by these guidelines.
** I’m excited to be speaking at the ERLC national conference in Nashville on October 27-29, which will cover this and other issues related to marriage. Though it is too late you purchase tickets, you will be able to watch online here. **