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)

Suffering for Christ

“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.”

(2 Timothy 1:8-12 ESV)

This was the passage that I recently had the privilege of preaching on for RGC’s LEAD ministry for the men in the church. I thought it would be good to summarize some of the key points from the sermon and share them with the rest of the church.

Suffering

Upon the initial reading of 2 Timothy 1:8-12, it becomes apparent that the main theme of the passage is suffering for the sake of the gospel. In our day and age, the topic of suffering on behalf of Christ and for the gospel is something that we don’t talk about too often. Or when we do talk about suffering, we might be talking about things that happen to us that make us grieve, such as a death in the family, or illness, or other difficult circumstances in our lives that we call “trials.” To be sure, these trials are legitimate topics for us as Christians to talk about and to encourage one another about. These experiences are real and legitimate instances of suffering in our lives that we are called to respond to in faith. But what we see in this passage is something a little different. In 2 Timothy 1:8-12, we see three components of Paul’s instructions to Timothy regarding suffering: the exhortation, the essence, and the example.

Context

But before we jump into the main passage, we must consider its textual and historical context. Second Timothy was written by the apostle Paul while he was imprisoned in Rome. It was addressed to his spiritual son Timothy, who was the pastor at the church in Ephesus. Paul wanted to encourage Timothy in his ministry, as he saw his own ministry and life on earth coming to a close. As we read through the opening verses of 2 Timothy, we can really see and feel Paul’s affections for Timothy, how he cared for Timothy and how Timothy cared for him as well. Paul says that he longs to see Timothy, that he may be filled with joy.

The historical context in which Paul wrote the letter is also significant. By the time Paul wrote 2 Timothy, the persecution of Christians had begun under the rule of the Roman Emperor Nero. Christians were getting arrested, beaten, tortured and even killed for their faith and for preaching the gospel. Ephesus, where Timothy was located, wasn’t immune to all the persecution that was taking place, so there were reasons for Paul to desire to encourage Timothy and to exhort him as his spiritual father figure.

1. The Exhortation

In verse 8, Paul’s exhorts Timothy in two ways: “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God…” First, Paul exhorts Timothy not to be ashamed of the gospel or of Paul. Typically, to be ashamed means to be shy or embarrassed. But in the context of this passage, it goes beyond just the emotional aspect. What Paul is referring to here is not only feeling embarrassed, but allowing that embarrassment and shame to cripple us into inaction.

Given the historical context (as mentioned above), Timothy may have felt fear, embarrassment, and shame creep into his soul as he witnessed all those who were being persecuted for their ministry. He may even have been tempted to dissociate himself from Paul, as he was but a lowly prisoner, in chains. This is why Paul exhorts Timothy not to be ashamed. Paul recognized that Timothy’s timidity could be detrimental to the effectiveness of his ministry and charged him to be bold.

Paul’s second exhortation to Timothy is for him to share in suffering for the gospel. As mentioned above, the kind of suffering that Paul refers to here differs from what we are used to. Here, Paul is talking about actively obeying God’s will when you know fully well that it may bring you physical, mental, or even spiritual, pain or distress. To Timothy, this meant that he was to continue to teach, preach, and live out the gospel as the pastor of the Ephesian church, even as his physical wellbeing and life were being threatened in the midst of the persecutions. There was no doubt in Timothy’s mind what Paul was calling him to; there was no sense of sugarcoating or watering down from Paul. The Lord can use us in truly great ways when we are willing to obey Him even in the face of immense suffering.

2. The Essence

Second component of Paul’s instruction to Timothy is the essence, found in verses 9 and 10:

“9 who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10 and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel…”

The essence found here is God’s grace. God’s grace is the essential component in our experience of suffering for the gospel; without it, we would have neither any motivation to suffer nor the source of strength to endure.

In this section, Paul reminds Timothy of the grace of God that was given to him. By His grace, Jesus Christ was given to us so that He would die on the cross as a sacrifice on our behalf. It is by God’s glorious grace that He saved Timothy. Paul calls Christ the manifestation of God’s grace in verse 10 because on the one hand, we have God’s desire to save mankind. That is His nature; He didn’t create us just to see us be condemned to suffer eternally in hell. But on the other hand, we have God’s wrath toward sinners, His perfect and righteous judgment toward those who oppose Him. And those two things are seemingly irreconcilable. Our sinfulness, and thus God’s righteous wrath, stands in the way of our salvation.

But Christ is the key piece to this puzzle that completes God’s plan of salvation. His sacrifice on the cross was the perfect payment on behalf of us sinners, so that the gift of salvation we receive would not only be possible, but completely free. This is what it means for Christ to be the manifestation of God’s grace. Christ completed the crucial work that was needed in order for us to be saved. Because of Him, we have the free gift of eternal life.

So how does all of this relate to suffering? To sum it up, to be saved means that we have received grace from God, through Jesus Christ, and that grace is the essence that motivates and strengthens us in the face of suffering. In light of the glorious truth that is the gospel, we understand that God so loved us that He saved us, giving us His Son as a sacrifice. As we place our faith upon Christ, we not only trust Him for forgiveness but also follow after Him as our gracious Lord who leads us. Our understanding of God’s love as well as our faith in Christ leads us to live obediently to God, with the hope that our lives may be glorifying to Him. We are compelled and convicted to obey His commands even when we know it would entail trials and suffering because we can look to Christ, our hope of eternal life (this is what the phrase “by the power of God” refers to in verse 8).

3. The Example

Lastly, in verses 11 and 12, Paul gives us the example of suffering from his own life.

“11 For which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, 12 which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.”

We know that Paul suffered greatly due to his ministry of preaching the gospel. In 2 Corinthians 11:24-29, Paul describes how he was beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, and in constant danger. Further, he was imprisoned at least twice and ultimately martyred for his faith. Paul was in no way unacquainted with suffering. Yet he declares to Timothy that he is not ashamed and that his confidence is in God alone. Paul knew that even if people could take his earthly life, God would protect his heavenly inheritance of eternal life. At the end of verse 12, the ESV footnote tells us that the same phrase can also be translated as “what I have entrusted to Him”. That is how NASB translates it, and I do believe it makes more sense that way. Paul has faith that God will protect his life, which he has entrusted to Him. Not in the earthly sense, but in the eternal sense. He knew he would never lose his salvation, even if he were to lose his life on earth. The gospel was at the center of Paul’s heart and ministry, and it’s what fueled him to preach and suffer for Christ. As he says in Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” To him, no suffering or trials was great enough in comparison to the grace that was given to him and was still to be revealed to him in heaven.

Application

As I was preparing for this sermon, I myself was convicted and challenged to obey God’s command for me to suffer for the gospel. We know that we are blessed to be living in this country, where our right to profess and practice our faith is pretty well protected. But this doesn’t mean that this command by Paul to suffer for the gospel is irrelevant to us. We are all called to suffer for the gospel, even if the degree to which we suffer might be different.

For some of us, it might mean obeying God’s call to go on missions, to the parts of the world where persecution still takes place. For others it might mean obeying the great commission in school or in the workplace and facing hostility and opposition. Or some of us might be convicted to give to the church and give to missions organizations and give for the cause of the gospel until it hurts. I’m not necessarily advocating that all of us would get up and go on long-term missions or go sell all of our possessions. Obedience to God does not necessarily mean choosing the most radical option we can think of. But as we truly ground our lives on the glorious gospel and entrust our lives to God to use us for His kingdom, who knows what He’ll call us to do? The bottom line is, it’s not about the degree to which we suffer, but whether or not we’re obeying the call to share in suffering for Christ.

 

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