Marriage means companionship, children, yes – and much more.
This article is one of a series of three that are part of a conversation about the Christian view of marriage, arising from the last issue of AP
From the first marriage (Gen. 2:18-24) to the last (Rev. 21), Scripture has much to say about the most intimate of all relationships between a man and a woman. The prevailing view in our society may be that marriage is just about “love”, but the Bible paints a better picture.
In marriage God set the pattern for right relationships between men and women. Created as equals in God’s image, they are different to each other (Gen. 1:26- 27). Without the woman, the man is alone; with her, he is united to a helper (Gen. 2:18-25, Matt. 19:4-6). It’s a relationship shaped by the man’s loving, sacrificial leadership of his wife, and the wife’s respectful submission to her husband (Eph. 5:22-33). He is to love her as Christ loves the church, holding fast to her in lifelong faithfulness. Her role as helper includes childbearing and sharing family responsibilities (Malachi 2:15, Titus 2:3-5), and may also involve work outside the home, and for the church, according to the gifts that God has given her (Prov. 31:10-31, Luke 8:1-3, Rom. 16; 1 Cor 12).
Not everyone, however, will marry (Matt. 19:11-12, 1 Cor. 7:1-17). Some will renounce marriage for the sake of the gospel. Some will be widowed. Some may be divorced. Others may simply not meet a marriage partner. Neither marriage nor singleness merits righteousness. Both are gifts from God. Married or single, we live the life to which we are called, content and trusting in Christ for our true identity (Col. 3:1-4).
A marriage relationship provides the right context for the expression of human sexuality and erotic love: sex within the security of marriage is a physical oneflesh-ness that seals the union of a man and a woman. Song of Songs celebrates this beautifully. Even so, a marriage is not nullified by lack-lustre sex. Sex outside marriage – in whatever shape it takes – is immorality from which Christians must flee (1 Cor. 6:12-20).
Marriage provides the right place for raising children. God’s pattern is that marriages normally produce children (Gen. 1:28, Gen. 9:1, Ps. 127). So Christians enter into marriage in openness to the possibility of children, with a willingness to count them as blessings, and a commitment to raise them to know and love the Lord (Deut. 4:9, 6:1-9, Ps. 78:1-4, 2 Tim. 3:14-15).
God wants “godly offspring” (Malachi 2:10-16). Why? Because God Himself is a faithful Father to His people. The important point here is not how many children are born into a family, but that faithful husbands lead the covenant families within which the next generations will be raised.
Yet we know that in this fallen world not all marriages produce godly offspring: in some the absence of children is a loss keenly felt (Gen. 16:1-7, 21:1-7, 30:1, 1 Sam. 1:1-18, Luke 1:6-7); in others children may turn away from God. Are childless couples lesser Christians? No! How could they be, if singleness is permitted? Nor is a marriage, which is established by unconditional promises, made lesser by the absence of children.
Ultimately, marriage gives us a right picture of God’s relationship with His people. Throughout Scripture, the language of human marriage is used to describe this covenant relationship; and the faithful, sacrificial love of Christ for the church is the model for the relationship between a man and his wife (Eph. 5:22-33). There’s a clear analogical connection between the two: adultery and prostitution are Scripture’s prevailing metaphors for human apostasy; and in contrast, the faithfulness of a loving husband points us to God’s faithfulness in Christ. Marriage thus illustrates the gospel, for those within the church and those not.
We can’t reduce marriage to being only about companionship, or about having children, or about pointing people to the gospel. The Bible shows marriage to have all of those purposes entwined together, with faithfulness at the heart. And this should not surprise us, because our God, who made marriage, is Himself faithful.
Sheryl Sarkoezy is research officer for the Gospel, Society and Culture Committee of the PCNSW