We tend to look at our lives in a very physical manner, and this applies to our relationships, including marriage. For instance, many young people, influenced by this world's highly sexualized culture, believe that a top factor in a marriage is sexual compatibility. This leads them to indulge in fornication—often with multiple partners—and cohabitation without the benefit of the marriage vow. Statistics show that following this path actually increases the chances of destroying any subsequent marriage. Depending on the study, there is a 40 to 85 percent higher risk of divorce between couples cohabiting before marriage than those waiting until after marriage to live together. This tragic result can be traced back to a merely physical viewpoint.
However, when God introduces humanity and marriage, the first thing He does is to put it on a spiritual plane. His initial concern is that we have been created in His image—after the God-kind. Our relationships, then—especially our marriages—should include this God-plane quality. While there are many physical aspects to marriage, the most important facet of married life is spiritual in nature, concerning our preparation for the Kingdom of God.
Jesus' teaching on marriage follows the pattern set in the first two chapters of Genesis. Matthew 19:4-6 appears in a passage on marriage and divorce in which Jesus answers a question posed by some Pharisees about divorce, specifically, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?" (Matthew 19:3). At that time, divorce was quite rampant because of the general notion among Jews, taken from a misreading of Deuteronomy 24:1-4, that the law allowed a man to divorce his wife simply by giving his wife a certificate of divorce and sending her away.
Notice, however, how Jesus answers their cynical question: "Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female' . . .?" (Matthew 19:4). He answered their question with Genesis 1:27! This gives us insight into what Jesus based His understanding of the institution of marriage on: God's original instruction just after creation. In the very next breath, He quotes from Genesis 2:24: "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh" (Matthew 19:5).
So what did Jesus do in answering their question? He reached back to the very beginning of mankind and reminded them of God's intentions at that time, explaining that, in God's judgment, nothing has changed. His purposes and instructions regarding marriage have not "evolved" over the millennia. He still considers marriage a God-plane union between a man and a woman with significant implications regarding being created in God's own image. In other words, God's reasons for the marriage institution have not been altered by mankind's inability to fulfill them.
Jesus continues in Matthew 19:6, "So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate." His answer can be paraphrased as, "Look, you have got things all wrong. Marriage is not just a physical relationship that one can make or break at any time and for any reason. Genesis shows what God intended when He created people male and female, and clearly, He made marriage a divinely ordained, lifelong institution." He explains in verse 8, "Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning, it was not so." He then proceeds to give the biblical reasons for divorce.
In this New Testament context, Christ shows that God has endorsed the marriage relationship from the beginning as an excellent way to produce righteous character in His children. He is preparing children in His image—not just children who look like He does, but also ones who live as He does. Thus, His creation of mankind was not complete with His physical creation in Genesis 1, but it continues to move forward spiritually within the conversion process. As can be seen in Jesus' comments, the marriage institution plays a large role in it. Divorce, sundering the union of man and wife, can be a great hindrance to the spiritual growth of both parties involved.
The first purpose of marriage, then, is that it provides a fitting environment for producing divine character.
Immediately after He created humans as male and female, "God blessed them" (Genesis 1:28). The Theological Word Book of the Old Testament says that a blessing is "to endue with power for success," which is its essential meaning in just about every usage in the Old Testament. We can also define it by recognizing its opposite—a curse—the intention of which is "to bring great evil upon" in order to hinder success.
Thus, God gave the newly created couple a blessing to bestow power for success on them. We could also say that in the context, this divine blessing was their wedding ceremony. By this blessing, God gave Adam and Eve the right and the authority to enter this union, just as a marriage ceremony does today. It also gives them the authority and power to produce what God expected of them. With God's blessing given to the institution and to the individuals involved, the chances for success become significantly greater. In fact, with God's eager blessing, a married couple really has no excuse for failure!
The marriage ceremony used by the churches of God stresses that the bride and groom are making a covenant before God and man. The ceremony includes a laying on of hands that sets the couple apart in their union, showing that God Himself seals the contract—the marriage covenant—between the man and the woman. In addition, in the prayer that accompanies the laying on of hands, the minister normally asks for blessings to come upon them—a blessing on their relationship, a blessing on their offspring, a blessing for their prosperity, etc.
The apostle Paul writes in I Corinthians 1:9, "God is faithful." When God gives a blessing, He follows through by giving what is needed for its fulfillment. God's Word is not empty: "So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it" (Isaiah 55:11). So a groom and his bride have little excuse for not producing what God desires to result from their marriage.
To provide godly blessings, therefore, is a second purpose for this institution. Marriage is truly a blessed arrangement. Not only does marriage have God's sanction, but He also loads it with benefits from His own hands. He blesses a man and his wife with advantages that are in no other union because He is intimately involved, a party in the covenant. In a Christian marriage, the power that is needed to make it work is available from God.
Part Three will consider this divine blessing further and introduce the third purpose for marriage.
- Richard T. Ritenbaugh