Biblical Foundations of Marriage

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Genesis 2:18-25

INTRODUCTION: This is the second message in our Christian Home Fixer Upper series and we are looking at God’s instructions for a Christian home. Last time we looked at a mother’s role in the home. This week we look at what the Bible says about marriage. Genesis 2 describes the first man and woman coming together in marriage, and so we will read verses 18-25 at this time. [Read Genesis 2:18-25 and pray.]

Well, it is coming up on June, and more couples “tie the knot” in June than in any other month of the year. Nearly everyone who gets married goes into marriage with high expectations and very much in love. And many marriages do well. Among all the statistics of broken marriages and divorce these days, we sometimes forget that most marriages do indeed go the distance, and there are many couples who remain happily married for life. But there is also a high incidence of divorce in today’s culture, and we cannot ignore the fact that many marriages do fail. And even the best of marriages are going to hit some rough spots along the way. The Bible says we are all sinners; none of us are perfect, and so there is no such thing as a perfect marriage.

And this is where it becomes essential that we understand what the Bible says about marriage. I am convinced that in order to build a healthy marriage, we must first understand the Biblical foundations of marriage, and then we must also understand the Biblical roles in marriage. We will look at the Biblical roles in marriage next week, but today I want us to look at the Biblical foundations of marriage. What does marriage mean, and how can we set the course for a successful marriage in an age of broken relationships and easy divorce? Let me begin by giving you a definition of marriage drawn from Scripture, and then we will explore that definition in the light of Scripture. Here is the definition: “Marriage is an ordered, covenant relationship between a man and a woman based on a public vow of lifetime faithfulness.” There are three parts to this definition – three pillars to the foundation of marriage that we are laying down together this morning. Let’s take a closer look at the first pillar together.

I. Marriage is an ordered, covenant relationship.

First of all, marriage is an ordered, covenant relationship. When we say that it is an ordered relationship, we mean that there is an order or distinction of roles within marriage. When we say that it is a covenant relationship, we mean that there is a sacred covenant or commitment between the two marriage partners. And as we read the Bible, we find that this ordered, covenant relationship of marriage is actually a picture of God in his relationships. It is both a picture of God’s ordered relationships within the trinity, and it is a picture of God’s covenant relationship with his people.

   A. Marriage is a picture of God’s ordered relationships within the trinity.
      – Genesis 1:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:3, 11-12)

(Note: This section owes much to Geoffrey Bromiley’s book, God and Marriage, chapters one and three.)

First of all, marriage is a picture of God’s ordered relationships within the trinity. We read in Genesis 1:26-28 that God created man and woman in his image. The language is interesting here because God, who is one God, speaks of himself in the plural. “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26-28)

And so marriage is on one level a picture of God. The unity of man and woman in marriage points to the unity of God in the trinity. God is one God, yet three persons. Husband and wife are one flesh yet two persons. God has order in his own relationships within the trinity. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are co-equal, and yet the Son voluntarily submits to the Father, and the Holy Spirit voluntarily glorifies Christ. And so in the trinity there is perfect love and submission among the three persons who are all equally God. In the same way, marriage as a picture of God is also an ordered relationship. Husband and wife are equal partners in the marriage, and yet God has established an order within that relationship, even as there is an order within the relationships of the trinity.

1 Corinthians 11 is a rather strange section of Scripture addressing the question of wearing head-coverings in the church. We don’t have time to into it in detail, but the issue at hand was most likely that some of the women in the church were not wearing the culturally accepted head-covering of the day. Paul explains to them why they should, and in doing so he outlines some of the order of relationships within the trinity and within marriage. We see this particularly in verse 3 where Paul writes, “Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” (1 Corinthians 11:3) So Paul says that man is the head of woman, Christ is the head of man, and God is the head of Christ.

Once again we are going to look more at what these ordered relationships in marriage mean next week. But for now I just want you to notice one other thing Paul says in verses 11-12: “In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.” (1 Corinthians 11:11-12) In other words, Paul sees an interdependence between the man and the woman. Woman came from man, but man is born of woman. So there is equality, order and interdependence in the marriage relationship, just as there is in the trinity. Marriage is a picture, first of all, of God’s ordered relationships within the trinity.

   B. Marriage is a picture of God’s covenant relationship with his people.
      – Isaiah 54:5, 62:5; Jeremiah 2:1-2; Hosea 2:19-20; John 3:28-29; Revelation 19:6-9, 21:2

Marriage is also a picture of God’s covenant relationship with his people. In the Old Testament marriage is a picture of God and his people. In the New Testament marriage becomes a picture of Christ and his church.

Let’s look at some Old Testament passages first where God uses marriage imagery to describe his relationship with his people. In Isaiah 54:5 God says to his people: “For your Maker is your husband — the LORD Almighty is his name — the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth.” Isaiah 62:5: “As a young man marries a maiden, so will your sons marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.” Jeremiah 2:1-2: The word of the LORD came to me: “Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem: ‘I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the desert.’” Hosea 2:19-20: “I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the LORD.” Again and again throughout the Old Testament God uses the language of marriage to illustrate his covenant relationship with his people.

When we move into the New Testament, the picture of marriage stays the same, but the reference shifts to Christ and his church. In John 3:28-29 John the Baptist speaks the following words about Christ: “You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.’ The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete.” In Revelation 19:6-9 the apostle John shares with us one of the high points of his entire vision: “Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: ‘Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.’” He goes on to describe in Revelation 21:2 “the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” Ephesians 5:21-33 goes into even more depth, describing Christ’s relationship to the church directly in terms of husbands and wives in marriage. We will look at Ephesians 5 next week when we explore the Biblical roles in marriage.

What is important to see here is that marriage is a picture of something far bigger than itself. As important as marriage is, it points to a far greater reality. Marriage is not simply a contract, a relationship of convenience, or a means to a joint tax return. Marriage is an ordered, covenant relationship that is designed to reflect God’s ordered relationships within the trinity and God’s covenant relationship with his people. That’s the first pillar of the foundation that we must drive into the ground this morning.

II. Marriage is between a man and a woman.

The second pillar is this: marriage is between a man and a woman. You know, in past years we probably would not have had to spend much time talking about this point, because it was basically not an issue. Everyone agreed and understood that marriage was between a man and a woman. That was obvious. Well, as you know it is no longer obvious to our culture today, especially since the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage across the United States. So we know what the culture says about marriage in this respect. But what does the Bible say about it?

   A. God created woman to be man’s partner and companion. (Genesis 2:18, 21)

Well, first of all we read in the Bible that God specifically created woman to be man’s partner and companion. “God created man and woman in his image; male and female he created them.” We have already seen how the man and woman coming together in marriage create a picture of God’s own relationships. Now in Genesis 2:18-25 we read how God established marriage right after creation. Marriage was the very first institution God established – before government and before the church. And so the family is of highest importance to God. God commanded Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply, but God in his wisdom knew that all this “being fruitful and multiplying” required a context. And that context was marriage and the family.

We read in Genesis 2:18 that it was not good for man to be alone. This is the first “not good” that we find in all of Scripture. But then God immediately takes care of it. He creates a helper, a partner, a companion for the man – not a servant or a slave, but one who will help and support him. Once again man and woman are both created in God’s image. They are created in God’s image together, and so the man and woman are equal partners in this relationship.

Verse 21 tells us that the woman was created from Adam’s rib. Matthew Henry in his commentary on the Bible makes a beautiful observation from this passage. He writes: “The woman was . . . not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.” I once heard about a five-year old boy who learned in Sunday School about Eve being created from Adam’s rib. Several days later he had a stomach ache and told his mother: “My side hurts. I think I’m having a wife.” God created woman to be man’s partner and companion. Marriage is between a man and a woman.

   B. Jesus affirmed marriage as between a man and a woman. (Mark 10:6-8)

In the New Testament Jesus looked back to these passages from Genesis and affirmed that they meant that marriage is between a man and a woman. Mark 10:6-8: Jesus said, “At the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’” Marriage is the joining of a husband and a wife together by God. Jesus affirmed marriage as between a man and a woman.

   C. The Bible condemns homosexual activity as sin.
      – Leviticus 18:22; Romans 1:24-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Hebrews 13:4

And then we must also recognize that the Bible condemns homosexual activity as sin. Leviticus 18:22 says very clearly: “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.” (Leviticus 18:22) In Romans 1 Paul writes about the progression of sin as man continued to suppress the true knowledge of God. In verses 24-27 he writes first about sexual immorality in general and then about homosexual activity in particular. Listen to these verses: “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator — who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.” (Romans 1:24-27). In 1 Corinthians 6 Paul writes, “Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)

And so the Bible clearly condemns homosexual activity as sin. It is a form of sexual immorality along with incest, adultery or any other sexual relationship outside of marriage between a woman and a man. Hebrews 13:4 says, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” Hebrews 13:4 is saying that marriage is to be kept pure and guarded from all forms of sexual immorality. We have just seen that homosexual activity is a form of sexual immorality. Therefore the Bible does not view gay marriage as a valid option. Marriage is between a man and a woman.

III. Marriage is based on a public vow of lifetime faithfulness.

So, 1) marriage is an ordered, covenant relationship, 2) marriage is between a man and a woman, and 3) marriage is based on a public vow of lifetime faithfulness. This is the third pillar of the biblical foundations of marriage. Marriage is based on a public vow of lifetime faithfulness.

   A. Marriage is a public institution (not just living together).
      – Genesis 2:22-25

First of all, it is important to understand that God created marriage as a public institution. It is not a private matter. It involves public vows that are recognized by the governing authorities. This is why marriage is different than living together. When a couple chooses to live together, there are no public vows exchanged

Let’s go back to Genesis 2 for a moment. We already looked at verses 18-22 where God created the woman to be the man’s partner and companion. Now let’s pick it up again at the end of verse 22 and into verse 23: Then the LORD . . . brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”

In these verses God presents Eve to Adam. This is, in effect, the very first wedding ceremony. It is a public ceremony with God as the governing authority. At this point in time God is the only public there is, unless you want to count the animals. He is also the only governing authority. This is a true marriage. Private vows, individual promises, personal assurances offered by couples living together – none of these constitutes a marriage. Marriage involves public vows between a man and a woman that are recognized by the governing authorities of the particular culture.

Look at verse 24 with me next. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” “For this reason” – for what reason? Because woman was created out of man to be his partner and companion. And because the woman was created out of man to be his partner, what therefore will happen? Three things: First of all, the man will “leave his father and mother,” and by implication the woman will also leave her father and mother. This leaving your family of origin is a public act. You are leaving one family in order to join another. You are leaving your family of origin and joining a new family that is created by the marriage. “Leaving” corresponds to the wedding ceremony where public vows are exchanged between the bride and the groom.

Secondly, verse 24 says that the man will be “united with his wife.” The King James Version of the Bible used the word “cleave” here. He “shall cleave unto his wife.” That word “cleave” means to be joined together. It refers to the consummation of marriage in sexual intercourse, the sexual bonding which God reserves for marriage. Notice that “leave” comes before “cleave.” In other words, the wedding and the marriage vows come before the sexual joining. People often get that backwards today. You’re supposed to “leave” before you “cleave,” but they “cleave” before they “leave” – which has created a whole set of problems in today’s society. This word “cleave” means to stick together like glue. Do you want to know why divorce is so painful? It is like ripping apart two pieces of paper that were glued together. You cannot do it without damage to each piece. In marriage the man becomes united with his wife, and the woman with her husband.

Thirdly, verse 24 says that “they will become one flesh.” This means that they will become as one person. Here is the picture of God as trinity once again. But it is also a picture of closeness and intimacy. Certainly marriage is designed to be the most intimate relationship of all. And then it also means that a new family unit has been created. The husband and wife are one flesh by covenant of marriage rather than the same flesh by family relation or bloodline.

Jesus comments on this verse in Mark 10:8-9. He says, “So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” This is one of the reasons why Christians are commanded only to marry other Christians. (1 Corinthians 7:39; 2 Corinthians 6:14-18) God has joined you together as one – physically, socially, emotionally, and spiritually – and yet a believer and a non-believer can never truly be one spiritually, and so you are robbed of some of the oneness of marriage that God intended for you.

Verse 25 goes on to say, “The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” It is a beautiful picture of the honesty, openness and intimacy that God desires for husband and wife in marriage. Of course this statement takes place before the fall into sin, and yet even after the fall, God’s design for marriage is for us to recapture that intimacy as we learn to love, honor and forgive our spouse in Christ. But only the marriage vows can sustain such a desired relationship. Marriage is based on a public vow of lifetime faithfulness.

   B. The marriage vow is the heart of the marriage.

Because marriage is a picture of God, and a picture of God and his people, marriage must be marked by lifetime faithfulness. This brings us to the marriage vow. The marriage vow is the heart of the marriage. It is the only essential part of the wedding ceremony, and it must include two things: a vow of lifetime commitment, and a vow of sexual faithfulness.

      1) It is a vow of lifetime commitment. (Mark 10:6-9)

First of all, it is a vow of lifetime commitment. The traditional vow states “till death do us part” or “for as long as we both shall live.” This is part of the Biblical definition of marriage. If we go back to Mark 10:6-9 we read, “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife,
and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” The Pharisees were asking Jesus about divorce, and Jesus pointed them back to the meaning of marriage as found in Genesis. Marriage is a lifetime commitment. God joins the man and woman together in marriage. And what God has joined together, let man not separate.

I have heard of people changing the marriage vows around in recent years. One couple used this for their vow: “I, _______________ take you _______________ to be my wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better — for worse, for richer — for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, for as long as our love doth sustain us.” For as long as our love doth sustain us? That is ridiculous! That’s like saying, “I promise to remain committed to you until the honeymoon is over.” That is not a marriage. Marriage is based on a vow of lifetime commitment.

      2) It is a vow of sexual faithfulness. (Exodus 20:14; Proverbs 5:15-23)

The other part of the vow is sexual faithfulness. In the Ten Commandments, commandment number seven is straight and to the point: “You shall not commit adultery.” (Exodus 20:14) Proverbs 5 speaks clearly to this issue as well, celebrating sexual faithfulness in marriage and giving stern warnings against adultery: “Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well. Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares? Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers. May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer — may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love. Why be captivated, my son, by an adulteress? Why embrace the bosom of another man’s wife? For a man’s ways are in full view of the LORD, and he examines all his paths. The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him fast. He will die for lack of discipline, led astray by his own great folly.” (Proverbs 5:15-23)

The marriage vows are the heart of the marriage relationship. I like what Walter Wangerin writes about the marriage vows in his book, As For Me and My House.

Listen: marriage begins when two people make the clear, unqualified promise to be faithful, each to the other, until the end of their days. That spoken promise makes the difference. A new relationship is initiated. Marriage begins when each vows to commit herself, himself, unto the other and to no other human in this world: “I promise you my faithfulness, until death parts us.” That vow, once spoken, once heard, permits a new, enduring trust: each one may trust the vow of the other one. And that vow forms the foundation of the relationship to be built upon it hereafter.

A promise made, a promise witnessed, a promise heard, remembered, and trusted — this is the groundwork of marriage. Not emotions. No, not even love. Not physical desires or personal needs or sexuality. Not the practical fact of living together . . . Rather, a promise, a vow, makes the marriage. “I promise you my faithfulness, until death parts us.” (Walter Wangerin)

Remember, marriage is supposed to be a picture of God as trinity and of God with his people and Christ with his church. That’s why there are these two parts to the marriage covenant – lifetime commitment and sexual faithfulness. Divorce breaks the vow of lifetime commitment and destroys the picture of God’s unity. Adultery breaks the vow of sexual faithfulness and destroys the picture of God’s faithfulness to his people. We must understand that marriage is not just about honoring a sacred vow. Marriage is also about upholding certain truths about God. “Marriage is an ordered, covenant relationship between a man and a woman based on a public vow of lifetime faithfulness.”

CONCLUSION: So what are some applications we can draw from today’s message? I can think of several.

First of all, marriage was designed by God and therefore we should uphold the Biblical foundations for marriage that we have explored today. We should not be concerned about being politically correct but rather biblically correct. If someone asks you: “Do you support gay marriage or the traditional view of marriage?” I think you should answer, “I support the Biblical view of marriage,” and then you could share with them the definition we’ve looked at today.

Secondly, God designed marriage for maximum oneness and intimacy between a man and a woman, and therefore a believer should only date and marry other believers. A believer cannot be one spiritually with an unbeliever. We will talk more about this when we get to the message on spiritual mismatch later in the series.

Thirdly, marriage is a lifetime commitment and therefore should not be entered into lightly but rather with much prayer and counsel. This is why I insist on premarital counseling with any couple before I will marry them. Most couples put plenty of preparation into the wedding ceremony, but not nearly enough preparation for their marriage itself.

Fourthly, marriage is a picture of God and his relationships. Therefore, we should hold marriage as sacred, and we should honor our vows of lifetime faithfulness even in difficult circumstances.

Marriage is one of God’s good gifts to mankind. Unfortunately, as a culture we have spoiled many good aspects of that gift because we have let go of the Biblical foundations of marriage. I firmly believe that a proper understanding of these Biblical foundations is essential to recovering the goodness of marriage in our own relationships and in our culture at large. What is a Biblical definition of marriage? “Marriage is an ordered, covenant relationship between a man and a woman based on a public vow of lifetime faithfulness.”

© Ray Fowler

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