What is Marriage?

As of this month, I have been married to my wonderful wife, Jessica, for a year and a half. If there is anything that I have learned thus far in marriage, it’s that I fall far short as a husband, that I have much, much to learn regarding marriage. So in writing a series on marriage, I definitely do not mean to claim some sort of expertise on marriage. Nevertheless, as I share my thoughts and experiences through these posts, my hope is that I would be able to encourage and inform my brothers and sisters, single or married.

 

God’s Definition of Marriage: Genesis 1-2

To talk about marriage, we must first define it. In order to arrive at a comprehensive, biblical definition, we will take a look at a series of passages from the Bible and let them tell us what exactly marriage is. In this post, we will consider the first two chapters of the Bible.

In the creation narrative found in Genesis 1 and 2, each and every element created by God was deemed good. “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. And God saw that the light was good.” (Genesis 1:3-4 ESV) “God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together to called Seas. And God saw that is was good.” (v. 10) “And God saw that it was good.” (v. 12, 18, 21, and 25) Then, when He created Adam, He saw that “it was very good.” (v. 30)

However, God declared it not good when He saw that Adam was alone. “Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’” (Genesis 2:18 ESV) This is significant because it was the first time that God declared an aspect of His creation to be less than perfect. This does not mean that God had made a mistake; rather, in His infinite wisdom, God chose to create Adam first, such that he would see his need for a companion and demonstrate His perfect design in a more telling fashion. As God brought to Adam all the different animals to examine their suitability as helpers, Adam soon realized that no animal was found to be apt. So when God finally created Eve and presented her to Adam, he declared, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh…” (Genesis 2:23 ESV) Adam took one look at Eve and knew that she was the most perfect helper and companion for him.

God’s solution to the problem of man’s aloneness was to create a suitable helper for him. And thus, marriage was instituted: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (v.24) Marriage between Adam and Eve here is described as a one-flesh union – in other words, they figuratively have become one body, one person.

So what does the Genesis account tell us about marriage? Rather than attempting to give a one-sentence definition of marriage (which proves to be very difficult), we will outline three glorious truths that we see in Genesis 1-2 about marriage:

 

Marriage was instituted by God. Marriage is not a man-made social contract or institution. God Himself created it. This means that we can look to His Word for principles and guidance regarding marriage rather than rely on our own perceived needs, wants, or other human experience to define what marriage ought to be. Through Scripture, God has revealed to us all that we need to know in order to have a God-glorifying marriage.

When our society today talks about marriage, it often appeals to one or both of the spouses’ wants and needs in order to define marriage. What God has to say about marriage is increasingly considered irrelevant on issues such as divorce and same-sex couples, especially for nonbelievers but even for an increasing number of believers. In the midst of difficulties, it is especially essential for believing couples to look to Scripture for guidance and obey His gracious design in marriage.

 

Marriage is a companionship. As Pastor Chris preached during a recent Sunday service, Marriage is primarily a companionship. Each component of God’s creation was declared to be good, until He saw that it was not good that Adam was alone. God’s purpose for creating Eve, as shown in Genesis 2, is so that Adam would have a companion (and, implicitly, so that Adam would be a companion to Eve as well). It is natural for a man or a woman to desire to be married. It is therefore good for men and women to seek to be married and to pursue marriage.

However, it is important to note that there is an exception to this. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul describes the ability to remain single as a gift and discusses the advantages of being single rather than bound to a spouse. He even declares that “he who refrains from marriage will do even better” (v. 38) than he who marries. Most of us, if not already married, will find a spouse at some point in our lives; however, there are those whom God has called to a lifetime of singleness, whose lives will be dedicated to serve the Lord in ways that married people are unable to do.

Another important addition to this point is that while God has provided marriage as a solution to man’s problem of aloneness, it is unbiblical and sinful to view and treat marriage as a solution to one’s problem of discontentment. If you are discontent as a single person, you will never find contentment and satisfaction in marriage or in your spouse. We are called to find satisfaction and joy in the Lord alone. “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:25-26 ESV) If we approach marriage or even a dating relationship with the mindset that such a relationship will finally satisfy our lonely and discontent hearts, we will soon find ourselves disappointed. And by looking to marriage for satisfaction, we are committing idolatry in our hearts against God. On the other hand, in our time of singleness, we are to be devoted to the glory of God and find our satisfaction in it, just as we should in our time of marriage. The season of singleness is not just an interim period before marriage; we are called to love God and pursue His glory fully, whether we are single or married.

 

Marriage is a one-flesh union between a man and a woman. This is a metaphor for the level of physical, emotional, and spiritual intimacy that marriage entails. The relationship between a husband and a wife is the closest and deepest relationship that can ever exist between two people. This is both a reality as well as a calling. It is a reality in that when a man and a woman exchange their marital vows and rings, they enter into the covenant of marriage that cannot be ended by anything but death. The union between a man and a woman in marriage is a spiritual reality that cannot be broken by human acts – even divorce. This is why Christ says, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” (Mark 10:11b-12 ESV) A man and a woman remain married in God’s eyes even if they choose to separate. (We will explore the topic of divorce further in a future post) This is why the marriage union is referred to as becoming one flesh – beyond the physical act of sex, there exists a greater spiritual reality that God views a husband and wife as a unit that can only be broken by the death of a spouse.

This one-flesh union is not only a reality that we cannot change, but also a calling. In marriage, we are called to know, pursue, love, serve, and care for our spouse more than any other person in our lives. We can see this from considering various passages from Scripture on marriage, but especially Ephesians 5:22-33. This passage contains a series of commands (directed toward wives and husbands) to relate to and love one’s spouse in a unique way. Both the husband and the wife are called to love each other in such a way that uniquely displays the Gospel. The physical aspect of this calling is the most obvious: sex is a gift from God to be enjoyed exclusively within the covenant of marriage (1 Corinthians 7:1-5). However, the calling goes beyond the physical and also encompasses the emotional and the spiritual. A husband’s capacity to care for and love someone ought to be directed mainly (though not solely) toward his wife, and vice versa. This does not mean that a married couple should avoid building any level of closeness with others; however, there should be a level of emotional connection that a married person enjoys exclusively with his spouse. A married man ought to be watchful that the level of emotional and spiritual intimacy that he builds with those other than his wife (especially with other women) does not threaten or thwart his relationship with his wife. The same goes for a married woman.

I know of a brother who refused to pray alone with his girlfriend at the time because he viewed the act of a man and a woman praying together so intimate and special that he wanted to reserve it for marriage. Although I do not completely agree with that particular conclusion for myself (Jess and I prayed together while dating), I wholeheartedly respect the way he sought to live out his convictions regarding marriage. He knew that the intimacy he would one day be called to share with his future wife was to be different from the one he had with his girlfriend. Even as a single man, he sought to respect his future wife by putting a certain spiritual distance between himself and his girlfriend. This is a good example of how a brother sought to obey what we are all called to do, whether married or single: to respect and love our (future) spouse by being watchful of the level of intimacy and closeness that we build with those who are not our spouse.

I have a group of brothers whom I meet up with on a regular basis. I love these men, and they have been a great source of encouragement, correction, accountability, and affirmation. However, as close and comfortable as I am to them, I know that I am not called to develop a relationship with them that is more intimate or closer than my relationship with my wife. This does not mean that I make excuses not to care for my brothers and sisters in the church, but I will always seek to care for and love my wife in ways that I never could another sister or a brother. She is my one-flesh partner in life, the “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” (Genesis 2:23 ESV)