There is no mistaking the fact that the institution of marriage is under attack from all sides. There is, of course, the constant cultural onslaught from those who would simply redefine what marriage is to include homosexual, polygamous, and other non-traditional unions. Pastors, church leaders, and thoughtful Christians will need to equip themselves to explain and defend the biblical definition of marriage in the face of such challenges.
But there are other points of attack against God’s good gift of marriage, and we would be wise to see these as equally threatening. Adultery, pornography, and divorce all tear at the fabric of our understanding of marriage and belittle the meaning of what it means for a man and woman to become one flesh. And somewhat less jarring (but no less dangerous) are men who abdicate their role of leading and loving their wives in order to pursue leisure, laziness, or simple selfishness. Women, of course, likewise have their own vices that can be cancerous to a healthy marriage relationship.
Against each of these attacks there are many defenses, depending on the context and the conversation partner. But for the Church of God, a Scriptural view of marriage is an absolute necessity. It is our starting point, our foundation. So over the next few posts I’d like to provide some brief comments that can help us think biblically about the institution of marriage. We’ll start where Paul starts: the gospel.
Marriage Is a Picture of the Gospel
Probably the most important biblical principle in relation to the institution of marriage is that it is designed and intended to present something beyond itself, namely the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:30-31,
“‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” (ESV)
Paul is suggesting something radical, and he knows it! But he cannot shy away from the truth the Holy Spirit is revealing through him. From its very founding, the institution of marriage was designed to image forth the relationship that Jesus Christ has with the people of God, the Church. The man leads, loves, and serves his wife because that is how Christ gives himself to his bride. And the wife respects, submits to, and helps her husband, because that is how the Church of God follows the risen Lord Jesus.
This is marriage done God’s way, according to his plan and purpose. And when we practice marriage biblically, the watching world sees the gospel on display, even as it likewise hears the gospel coming from our lips. In both ways, the glory of God in his redeeming work through Christ is presented beautifully and attractively.
Of course, there are numerous challenges in leading the watching world to accept and adopt the biblical purpose of marriage. But without question, the best place to start is accepting and adopting it ourselves, shaping our marriages around their God-ordained center: Jesus Christ and his gospel. For the apostle Paul, the starting place for marriage was the gospel. We would be wise to start there, too.
** I’m excited to be speaking at the ERLC national conference, which will cover this and other issues related to marriage. We would love to have you join us in Nashville on Oct. 27-29, 2014. **