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Marriage in God's Story
In the beginning
The story of God is one of Good News, and it begins with a wedding ceremony.
After God created the heavens and earth and filled it, he made the man and the woman, uniting them in marriage.
God created marriage for his purposes, not ours, as marriage belongs to him. He determined marriage as a sacred union on which he would build the foundation for establishing families and, ultimately, society and culture.
God defined marriage from the beginning: an intimate, covenant relationship between one man and one woman lasting a lifetime (Genesis 2:24, Proverbs 2:16-17, Malachi 2:14).
Biblically, Moses first characterized marriage: “Therefore (because of marriage – my emphasis) a man shall leave his father and his mother, hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). In the New Testament, both Jesus (Matthew 19:5, Mark 10:6–7) and Paul (Ephesians 5:32) affirm Moses and agree with God’s definition of marriage:
- It is exclusive (one man and his wife).
- It is not defined by temporal family ties but by permanent covenantal promises (leave father and mother).
- It is a lifetime commitment (hold fast).
- Intimacy (oneness) ensues (they become one flesh).
However, marriage was never meant as an end to itself.
As the story of God begins to unfold, he reveals his greater intention for marriage.
A covenant promise
God’s love for his people has always been steadfast and sure, and he holds fast to them in a permanent, exclusive, intimate, covenantal relationship.
Vows and promises are the basis for a covenant. On a wedding day, the bride and groom make vows to one another, promising to love each other solely for a lifetime, regardless of circumstances.
Throughout Scripture, there are numerous parallels drawn between the covenant promises of God and his chosen people and the covenant promises of a husband and wife in marriage. Specifically, God calls himself “husband” and his people, “bride” (Isaiah 54:5, 62:5, Jeremiah 2:2, Revelation 19:7, 21:2, 9, 22:17).
God is better at promises than we are
A problem has existed since Genesis 3 regarding the difference between God’s covenants and ours:
- God makes promises and keeps them.
- We make promises and break them.
When the people of God sin against him and chase after other gods, their sinful deeds are named ‘spiritual adultery’ and ‘whoredom’—strong language for sin, but an accurate description of the relationally destructive nature of our rebellion against a loving, trustworthy, and Holy God (Hosea, Jeremiah 3:6–21, 31:32, Ezekiel 23, Psalm 106:39).
We don’t sin in a vacuum. Someone is always, beginning with God, sinned against. But continually, a passionate, faithful God pursues and intervenes, providing payment for sin that is sufficient and everlasting for rebellious children who repent.
Jesus and marriage
Ephesians 5:23–32 reveals more of God’s plan for Christian marriage as it is written specifically to Spirit-filled husbands and wives (Ephesians 5:1,18): “This mystery is profound, and I am saying it refers to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32). The mystery refers to God’s plan of redemption for his church (his bride), collectively all who have received salvation through Christ’s atoning death on the cross.
This powerful image of Christ, and the church in general, also permeates the marriage of one man and one woman, specifically applying itself in the daily details of their life together. Without Jesus, it is impossible for the husband and wife to muster up enough strength, loving feelings, or good intentions to fulfill their biblical role and calling in marriage. But because of him, two sinful, completely different individuals can be miraculously transformed into one.
Roles of husband and wife defined by the cross
It is clear the Biblical roles of husband and wife are less about what the couple should do and more about what Jesus has done for them.
Christian wives can look to the cross and see Jesus who freely submitted himself to the will of the Father to die in her place (Ephesians 5:22–24). Her submissive response is not to be one of begrudging foot-dragging, competition with her husband, or a fearful power struggle, but joyful and purposeful, just like Christ’s attitude was for her (Hebrews 12:2).
Without Jesus, it is impossible for the husband and wife to muster up enough strength, loving feelings, or good intentions to fulfill their biblical role and calling in marriage.
Likewise, Christian husbands can look to the cross and see Jesus, who in love and humility laid his life aside to die for the man’s sin. Jesus then defeated death and rose to live for and lead the church, providing for its needs (Philippians 2:3–8). In the same way, Christ now calls husbands to die to themselves and live for and lead their wives and children in bringing attention and glory to God, not to rule as controlling tyrants or disappear as cowardly abdicators (Ephesians 5:25–30).
God’s vision for marriage
Spirit-filled married couples have the opportunity to know and accept each other deeply, as they learn that loving someone else isn’t natural, nor does it come easily. They get to love because Christ loves them (1 John 4:10–11). They don’t need to fear intimacy or confessing sin, they can walk in the freedom of faith and repentance. Since they have been graced and forgiven they can offer grace and forgiveness to each other. Because God has been kind to them, they can be kind to one another (Ephesians 4:32).
As helpful companions who see their spouse as a precious gift from God, together they get to face the blessings, trials, and unexpected surprises of life, saturate their children with Jesus, serve brothers and sisters in the church, and share the gospel with neighbors, extended families and co-workers. Just as Jesus continues to intentionally pursue and love them, they get to creatively pursue and love each other, building a God-honoring legacy as they grow old together.
The Bible ends with a wedding ceremony. In Revelation 19:6–9, the story of God culminates in Jesus bringing his Bride, the church, home to live with him permanently. Those who have trusted in Christ for salvation throughout history, whether anticipating his coming or looking back to when he came, will live with him forever.
The marriage supper of the Lamb proves that the covenant-keeping God honors his promises. That is your hope, and will always be the hope of the Bride of Christ.