The Kingdom, rather than marriage, is our ultimate goal.
This article is the second of a series of three that are part of a conversation about the Christian view of marriage, arising from the last issue of AP.
When Jesus is asked about marriage, divorce, and life in God’s kingdom He starts His answer by pointing back to how things were created to be echoing the end of Genesis 2, where the Triune God – who is one God in three persons – speaks in the plural, saying “let us make mankind in our image” and then makes them male and female with the capacity to be simultaneously two and one.
Marriage, this loving relationship where difference and equality are on display, is a reflection of who God is, and it is this created “oneness” that Jesus points back to when He says “…the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” (Matt. 19:4-6). Marriage is for oneness — and so for love, and sex, which might or might not produce children. Children are a possible “fruit” of marriage, but not its sole purpose; and marriage is certainly not the purpose of our humanity.
Neither Genesis, nor Jesus, speak of two half humans finding their “whole” in marriage, but two people, made in God’s image, joining together in a way that expresses something that is true about God’s own nature.
“Children are a possible “fruit” of marriage, but not its sole purpose; and marriage is certainly not the purpose of our humanity.”
When Jesus gives His answer, He says divorce is the product of hard human hearts; then gives a “Kingdom” approach to marriage where some might choose not to marry for the sake of the Kingdom (Matt. 19:1-12, advice Paul picks up in 1 Cor. 7), because God’s Kingdom, not marriage, is our ultimate destination, as humans.
As Christians, our marriages — the oneflesh union between male and female — no longer simply reflects who God is in an abstract way, but is a picture of the real union between Christ and the church (Eph. 5, Rev. 19:6-10).
This greater reality, our union with Christ, changes how we think of multiplication, “Godly offspring”, or fruit. The Great Commission picks up the Genesis command to be fruitful and multiply, by calling us to fill the globe with His disciples (Matt. 28:18-20). These are not two commissions, but one, with the first now fulfilled in Christ.
As Christians we must take Jesus’ words about the “law, the Psalms, and the Prophets” (Luke 24:44-46) and the law (Matt. 5:17) seriously and ask how this command to be fruitful is answered in Christ. We’re now to go to the ends of the earth and make disciples, not simply fill it with our progeny. Jesus calls the Pharisees to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matt. 3:8), then later says the kingdom will be taken away from them and given to people who will “produce its fruit” (Matt. 21:43).
The call to “increase” from Genesis is answered as the “word of God increases and multiplies” and “spreads and flourishes” (Acts 6:7, 12:24, which both use the same Greek word as the Septuagint uses in Gen. 1:28). In Jesus, fruitful multiplication of the family of God is about God’s eternal family. Fruitfulness comes through our recreation as God’s children, which happens through His death and resurrection, and via the Spirit, who transforms us into the image of Jesus (Rom. 8). In the epistles, the language of family shifts consistently from “blood-ties” or tribe, to the Spirit-ties of brothers and sisters in Christ.
Children are a blessing for some married couples, and marriage is the created context for raising children in the faith, but our hard human hearts mean we miss this ideal, just like our Old Testament forbears. We can’t produce the godly offspring of Malachi 2, because Jesus is the “godly offspring”, and more godly offspring are re-created in Him. For those who are married, our marriages are an opportunity to live out the gospel and pursue fruitful offspring; but this is true in all our relationships, married or single, because all of us are “commissioned” to participate in this task.
Nathan Campbell is a pastor with the Creek Road Presbyterian Church, Qld.