Is marriage obsolete? Is it even relevant in our modern day? Why do people still come together in marriage, despite so many attacks on this once-cherished institution? The Bible gives powerful insights that can deepen your appreciation of marriage!
Why marriage? What is its purpose? That may sound like an odd question, but think about it for a moment. Marriage as an institution is a mystery to many. Sure, lots of people get married every year—the United States leads the world in the marriage rate (and divorce rate, too). More than 90 percent of Americans will marry at some point in their lives.
But, why do people marry? It seems that many married couples do not really know why they married. Maybe that is why so many American marriages—roughly 50 percent—fail. A husband and wife might have had a general feeling of being in love, or may have sensed that marriage was the "right thing to do." But do they go deeper than that? Perhaps one reason so many are opting out of marriage altogether is that they are confused about its purpose.
From 1970 to 1994, the number of unmarried couples living together in the United States increased by nearly 550 percent. By 2007, out-of-wedlock births topped 40 percent of all births for the first time in U.S. history. But these trends are not limited to the United States alone. Marriage is on the decline in many of the modern Western nations. "Marriage is in decline across much of northern Europe, from Scandinavia to France… [In 2005,] 59 percent of all first-born French children were born to unwed parents, most by choice, not chance" ("L'amour without marriage," Molly Moore, Washington Post, November 21, 2006). In England, France and the U.S., "cohabitation precedes marriage in roughly half or more of all cases. In Sweden, cohabitation is on its way to becoming the norm; roughly one-third of all couples cohabit instead of marry" (The Marriage Problem, James Q. Wilson, pp. 3–4). Author Glenn Stanton noted that couples who cohabited and then married had an 80 percent higher rate of divorce than those who had not lived together before marriage (Why Marriage Matters, p. 59).
Even many who call themselves Christians are confused about the real foundation of marriage. Even in the religious world, the link between marriage and the Bible is far too disconnected: "Without a theoretical framework for thinking about marriage, the storehouse of actions on marriage will be greatly impoverished… Protestants, especially evangelicals, have a psychology of marriage, but no theology" (Stanton, p. 173).
So, what is the purpose of marriage? Does your Bible have the answers? The encouraging and resounding answer is: Yes!
Marriage as an institution did not develop over millions of years of natural selection, as some foolishly assume. It was created at a specific time in history, when only two human beings existed—a man and a woman. Notice what Genesis says about the first man and wife: "And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam… Then the rib which the Lord God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man" (Genesis 2:21–22).
There was no grand ball, black tuxedo or flowing bridal gown—but there was the first marriage. Adam and Eve were brought together to be husband and wife. But, why?
God instructed Adam and Eve to become "one flesh." "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). They were to have exclusive sexual intimacy with one another, not to be shared with others. This is the faithful, till-death-do-us-part marriage that God instituted and blessed (Hebrews 13:4).
Was the creation account a myth, as many today assume? Not according to Jesus Christ, who treated the biblical account as fact when He taught about marriage: "Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate" (Matthew 19:4–6).
But, what does it mean to be "one flesh"? Does this only refer to the sexual union of a husband and wife?
Jesus Christ explained that the command to be "one flesh" goes far beyond just the sexual act. It describes a man and wife working together toward a rich and meaningful lifetime goal. It means being "one" in a mutual partnership built to withstand the storms of life. Christ's vision of marriage was a committed husband and wife working together in harmony, as they share the burdens and experience the joys of life together.
Even more amazingly, the unity between a husband and wife was meant to depict the oneness between God and Christ, and the oneness the glorified saints will experience after the resurrection. Just before His crucifixion, Jesus prayed these words: "I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You…" (John 17:20–22). A husband and wife are to strive to reflect—however imperfectly—the love and unity that God and Christ have in their harmonious relationship with one another. Husbands and wives are to endeavor to be truly selfless in dealing with one another; each spouse learning to love the other—their closest neighbor—as themselves (Matthew 22:39).
God wants to see this "oneness" in married couples—both for the benefit and welfare of the couple, and for the nurturing of godly children.
The Apostle Paul wrote some of the Bible's most enlightening passages about marriage. Why did God institute marriage? Paul explained: "'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church" (Ephesians 5:31–32). Paul taught that the roles of men and women in marriage are to be a daily reminder—in a small, physical way—of the relationship Jesus Christ will have with His Church for eternity.
Why, then, do some see marriage as an instrument of repression? Practiced God's way, it was never intended to be that. And modern researchers are discovering what many happily married couples have known intuitively for a long time: "The perceived 'bondage' of this historic and honorable institution is not as damaging to all involved as is the 'freedom' of our present ethos" (Stanton, p. 12). Research has consistently shown that marriage has a generally positive effect on a husband's and wife's well-being. "People who are married not only have higher incomes, and enjoy greater emotional support, they tend to be healthier. Married people live longer than unmarried ones, not only in the United States but abroad" (Wilson, p. 16).
But enjoying the benefits of a successful Christian marriage takes commitment and sacrifice. It requires that both husband and wife accept the responsibilities and fulfill the roles that God outlined for marital success. Paul very plainly commanded the husband's duty in marriage: "Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself" (Ephesians 5:33).
Husbands, what does "love your own wife" mean to you? Scripture tells a husband to cherish and nourish his wife—to protect, provide for and support her, not to tear her down or belittle her. Of course, this is easy to do when your wife is being kind, thoughtful and supportive, and she looks beautiful—right? But what about when she is having an especially bad day? Paul put no limitations on the command—his instruction is to love and cherish your wife in the bad moments as well as the good. Husbands must endeavor to love their wives, even when they are not easy to love. This is what it takes to achieve the harmony, unity and "oneness" God desires. Love her even when she is brusque with you; even when she is "out of sorts." After all, "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8), and husbands are to reflect the self-sacrificing nature of Jesus Christ in their own marriage.
Wives, what are your roles and responsibilities? Paul explains, "let the wife see that she respects her husband" (Ephesians 5:33). This may sound old-fashioned and naïve, but Paul insists on it. What does "respect your husband" mean? It means to follow his godly lead. It means to show him honor not just when he is easy to respect and admire, but also when he may be irritable or angry, tired or selfish. It does not mean to be a "doormat" or to accept abuse. But it does mean learning to accept his decisions when they disagree with yours, and supporting rather than undermining him, ridiculing him or insulting him. Notice that, just as for husbands, Paul puts no caveats on his command to wives—the instruction is to respect her husband in his weaker moments as well as in his best. Yes, this is sometimes a challenge! But a wise and thoughtful wife will do everything she can to support her husband and build him up, not tear him down (Proverbs 14:1). She will make it a life goal to help him succeed, and will relate to him with kindness, compassion and mercy (Proverbs 31:26).
Wives, is your husband perfect? Of course not! However, by learning to submit to an imperfect husband now, you will help him learn to be the nurturing and supportive husband you want and need. And, very importantly, you will be showing your perfect Savior that you will also be willing to follow Jesus Christ's lead, as the "bride, the Lamb's wife" for all eternity (Revelation 21:9).
The "oneness" in a godly marriage also benefits children. We read that "the Lord has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have dealt treacherously; yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant. But did He not make them one, having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks godly offspring. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth" (Malachi 2:14–15).
Yes, a husband and wife sharing a loving and committed relationship are able to provide a stable and safe environment for the next generation. When God brought the first couple together as husband and wife, He gave them this command: "Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it" (Genesis 1:28). God wanted human beings to have children, and to expand into clans, tribes and nations.
God already knew thousands of years ago what social scientists are consistently confirming as well: that the marriage institution is the best environment for bringing up children. "They are less likely to be on illegal drugs, less likely to be retained in a grade, less likely to drop out of school, less likely to commit suicide, less likely to be in poverty, less likely to become juvenile delinquents, and, for the girls, less likely to become teen mothers. They are healthier both emotionally and physically, even thirty years later, than those not so blessed with traditional parents" (Marriage Under Fire, Dr. James Dobson, p. 54).
Though some try to deny it, there is powerful evidence that children benefit immensely when they grow up in a household with both father and mother present. American Enterprise Institute researcher Karl Zinsmeister reported: "There is a mountain of scientific evidence showing that when families disintegrate, children often end up with intellectual, physical, and emotional scars that persist for life… We talk about the drug crisis, the education crisis, and the problem of teen pregnancy and juvenile crime. But all of these ills trace back predominantly to one source: broken families" (Stanton, p. 100).
Certainly, many children display remarkable resilience, and are able to overcome many difficult challenges life throws at them. Many parents who find themselves in less-than-ideal circumstances are doing the very best they can to provide a safe and positive home for their children. But this does not diminish the truth that there is no evidence supporting the agenda of those who want to portray "alternative" living arrangements as equal or superior to the traditional family.
God certainly wants husbands and wives to lead fulfilling lives, and to nourish children in a healthy two-parent family. But your Bible actually reveals an even greater purpose for marriage. Not only are husbands and wives building physical families; they are modeling God's plan to build a spiritual Family!
God is called our "Father" in heaven (Matthew 6:9). As our Father, He offers human beings spiritual sonship, saying, "…I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty" (2 Corinthians 6:18). The Apostle Paul further explained this familial relationship, stating that "the whole family in heaven and earth" is named after the Father (Ephesians 3:14–15).
Who is eligible to be part of the God Family? Not the animals. And not even the angels. "For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son?" (Hebrews 1:5–6, KJV). Amazingly, out of all of God's creation, only human beings have the awesome potential to become spiritual sons and daugh-ters of God! Just as a human father begets physical children through his physical "seed," our heavenly Father is begetting spiritual children through His Spirit. "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God" (Romans 8:14). Also, the Spirit "bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God" (v. 16).
Begotten upon receiving the Holy Spirit, today's Christians look forward to being "born" into God's Family at the resurrection, as Christ explained to Nicodemus (John 3:3–8).
So, why is God creating spiritual sons to be born into His spiritual Family? Because He wants to share His creation! Paul explains that, as His children, we are "heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together" (Romans 8:17).
What will God's children "inherit" at the resurrection? The opportunity to be Spirit-comprised beings with never-ending life. Yes, eternal life is not inherent in us; it is God's gift. "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23). God's children will also inherit their father's "property"—the whole universe! As Paul explains: "'You have put all things in subjection under his feet.' For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him. But now we do not yet see all things put under him" (Hebrews 2:8).
The implications of that verse are truly staggering. God is bringing "many sons to glory" (v. 10) so that they may share in His whole creation, and join Him in ruling the vast universe!
Some believe that marriage in the Western world has suffered a mortal blow and will never recover. Commenting on a survey revealing trends in the U.S., professor Stephanie Coontz ob-served that there are "inexorable signs that there is no going back to a world where we can assume that marriage is the main institution that organizes people's lives."
Marriage may indeed collapse in the Western world. If so, our nations will collapse with it. Thankfully, we can rejoice that Jesus Christ—after His triumphant return as King of kings, bringing peace to all the world—will usher in a renaissance for marriage and the family. Through the prophet Isaiah, God foretells that under Christ's soon-coming rule, "They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9).
Marriage will indeed become a cornerstone of society under the reign of Christ. Husbands and wives will learn to love and support one another, and to fulfill their roles and responsibilities toward their Savior. Together they will nurture their children "in the training and admonition of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4). And it will all point toward their ultimate destiny—to be born into the very Family of God.
Why marriage? For those who have eyes to see, it is no mystery.