(What is the Purpose of Marriage? Here is a sermon I recently preached on the Purpose and Practice of Marriage.)
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. – Ephesians 5:22-33
A while back, a friend of mine posted a video on Facebook entitled “Dad, How Do You Like Your New IPad.” I got a pretty good laugh from it. Let me describe it for you. It is about a minute long clip that opens up on two adults, a daughter and her elderly dad, working on a salad in the kitchen. The daughter asks the dad who is busy chopping up onions in the background if he likes his new iPad. He likes it pretty well, he says. She then asks if he has figured out how to download apps. However, just as she gets that question out of her mouth, he turns around and you can see that he is using the iPad as a cutting board. He proceeds to scoop the onions off the iPad, rinse off the iPad in the sink and then stick it into the dish washing machine. The whole time the daughter just stands with her mouth wide open. The dad looks at her standing mouth agape and says with a confused look of his own, “what’s the matter.” It reminds me of when my daughter Jasmine was younger. She is a pretty sneaky little girl. She somehow got a hold of my cell phone when I laid it down within her reach. Plop, straight into her mouth it went. She followed up that by using it like a hammer to beat on her toys. I guess what I am trying to say is you can’t trust old people and babies with technology . . . just kidding. What you see in these examples is that if you don’t know what a thing exists for, you will end up using it wrongly. You may even break it. To say it a different way, if you don’t know the purpose of a thing you will end up abusing the thing.
Marriage is an institution that so many people in our day do not understand the purpose of. If we were to take a survey among people in this room and ask what the purpose of marriage is, we would probably get back several different answers. Our culture is so confused about marriage. And this confusion is leading to a misuse, neglect, and abuse of what marriage is supposed to be. A few examples will show how prevalent this confusion about marriage has become. A recent study done by the Pew Research Center has shown that after decades of declining marriage rates and changes in family structure, the share of American adults who have never been married is at a historic high. When these people are surveyed regarding the role marriage plays in society, they reflect an attitude regarding marriage that shows why these marriage rates are lowering. The Pew Research Center finds a public that is deeply divided over the role marriage plays in society. Survey respondents were asked which of the following statements came closer to their own views: Society is better off if people make marriage and having children a priority, or society is just as well off if people have priorities other than marriage and children. Some 46% of adults chose the first statement, while 50% chose the second. As marriage rates are dropping, divorce rates remain still too high. According to an Enrichment Journal article on the divorce rate in America, the divorce rate in America for first marriage is 41%. The divorce rate in America for second marriage is 60%. The divorce rate in America for third marriage is 73%. During the time that marriage rates have been dropping, support for allowing two men or two women to get married has been increasing. In 1989, 69-79% of Americans opposed allowing homosexuals to marry. In 2014, 59% are now in favor. Also add in the fact that according to a USA Today story, between 1990 and 2012, the percentage of unmarried couples living together more than doubled. NBC news reported that by the time they’re 20, 1 in 4 women ages 15 to 44 in the U.S. have lived with a man, and by the time they’re 30, that ratio climbs to 3 in 4.
What does this all mean? To summarize, more people are living together instead of committing in marriage, too many people get married who will not stay married, and too many people think that marriage is something other than what really is. When we do not know the purpose of something, we will abuse it. Fortunately, God has provided us with the answer so that we can know about what the purpose of marriage is. Please turn in your Bible’s with me to Ephesians 5:22-33. As we look at this passage today, we will be drawing out two primary points. We will first see the purpose of marriage is to be a physical, tangible symbol and sign that shows off God’s love for His people. And next, will see how this purpose leads us to rightfully practice marriage in our homes, community, and church. The purpose will lead to the practice.
Let’s begin by looking at the purpose of marriage. But before we look at the specific purpose of marriage, let’s lay down a principle that should guide us whenever we are looking at the purpose for anything. Two passages in particular help us with this principle. Romans 11:36 says “For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.” And Colossians 1:16 says “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.” The principle is this: All things are created by God through Christ and find their purpose in Him. All things exist to bring God glory. God burns with a white-hot passion to make his Glory known in the entire universe. Therefore, all things both good and bad exist to give God glory. Whether it is through the display of his wrath and justice on evil or the display of his mercy, grace, and love in all goodness, all things were created for God’s glory. You and I exist to showcase God’s glory. Marriage also was created by God to demonstrate God‘s glory. This is the principle behind all things.
With God’s glory the ultimate purpose, how does marriage complete this purpose? There are many secondary ways marriage brings God glory. These include operating as a tool to sanctify Christians, to overcome loneliness, and to provide for the procreation of the species but marriage’s ultimate fulfillment of its Godly purpose is listed here in Ephesians 5. As we look at this passage, you see two lines of thought moving about it. There is the very real practical instruction regarding husbands and wives given here. But underlining all of this practical instruction is a larger glorious theme. You will see throughout this passage the phrases “As to the Lord” and “As Christ. “ These phrases occur 6 times in this brief passage. All the practical instruction in this passage is tied to these phrases. We are to obey these practical instructions because they are done “as the Lord” or “as Christ” has. Verse 31 and 32 bring into clarity what this all means. Here in these two verses we are given what marriage primarily exists to accomplish. Marriage exists to bring God Glory by being a tangible, visible, and living picture of God’s love for His people. Marriage is a symbol.
All throughout the Bible, God uses physical acts or objects to act as visible signs to represent abstract and invisible ideas. Children often have a hard time with abstract ideas. For example, when teaching a child to add we often use blocks or toys. Addition using only numbers with no corresponding concrete object like finger so toes to count is a very hard concept for a child to learn. When reading stories to children, we use books with larger colorful pictures that often pop out. This is also one of the reasons that movies and TV shows for even many adults have become such a popular way of imparting ideals and philosophies. A picture is equal to a thousand words. God throughout the bible has used visible signs to represent something else. He used the rainbow to represent his covenant promise to Noah. God uses the sacrifices in the Old Testament to point to Jesus’ sacrifice. We have other physical signs such as circumcision, Passover feasts, the Lord’s Supper, and Baptism. These all represent far greater things than just their immediate application. We see here in Ephesians that marriage was created by God to also be a sign or symbol.
Marriage is a sign to all the world of God’s love for His elect people. Paul quotes Genesis 2: 24 here to explain this. So like Paul let’s take a quick tour through the Bible to see this picture at work. This tour is going to be a quick fly over so we are not going to be landing on any one verse for an extended time. There are however plenty of sources of information on these passages to help guide you in a deeper study on them.
Sit back and put your seat belt on as we take this biblical tour. If you will look out your right side window, you will see first up on our tour of marriage in the Bible, that marriage goes all the way back to the beginning. In Genesis, God creates Adam alone. None of the animals are a suitable helper to Adam, so God created Eve to be a companion to Adam. Genesis 2:24 describes this first marriage and how it relates to all others. This is the verse that the apostle Paul quotes:“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” What we see in here is more than just the introduction of Adam to Eve. We see that marriage is a gift and is itself an example of God’s love for Adam and all mankind. Marriage from the beginning is tied up with the love of God. Next, in Genesis 3, we have the temptation and fall of mankind. In the fall, the marriage order is turned on its head as Eve takes the spiritual lead and Adam neglects his responsibility to lead his wife. Satan attacks marriage from the beginning. He knows it is to be a picture of God’s love so Satan attacks it. Adam and Eve fall. God gives out curses in this passage and explains that because of sin, child-birth will be harder and that marriage will also be tough. God also gives the promise though that it is through the birth of a child, in particular Jesus that all will be restored.
It is in Exodus that God rescues his people from slavery in Egypt. God renews his covenant with descendents of Abraham at Mount Sinai by the giving of His law. This covenant ceremony is in many ways similar to a wedding ceremony. The covenant is of course also alike a marriage. This may be one of the reasons that in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, Marriage and family is protected strongly in 3 of the Ten Commandments. There are various laws in Deuteronomy protecting marriage, prohibiting adultery, and calling for the purity of virginity. God’s people are to abstain from sexuality immorality in part because our sexuality is to be a picture of the commitment of God’s church to be pure. Also in Deuteronomy, we see the first indication that idolatry is like infidelity in marriage. Deuteronomy 31:16 explains to Moses that the Israelites will commit spiritual adultery. They will break their covenant vows. Yet God will be true to his vow. This theme is picked up greatly in the later prophets. What is certain here is that God’s love for his people is the ultimate marriage and for his people to follow other gods is for them to play the part of a prostitute.
The entire book of Ruth is a love story that beautifully showcases marriage as a picture of God’s love. We see in the book of Ruth, God bringing into his covenant a woman who would not normally have been included. She is included by marriage. Marriage as a picture of God’s love for the nations is shown in the inclusion of this foreign woman. Ruth of course plays a huge part in redemption history. She is the ancestor of David and more importantly Jesus.
In the books of Psalms and Proverbs, marriage is both praised and compared to God’s promises. In perhaps what is the strongest example yet in our tour of the Bible is the book of Song of Songs. This book is a poetic account of marital love, fidelity, and intimacy. The early Jewish rabbis taught that the book pictures God’s love for Israel. Early Christian writers took the same approach. One writer in the third century wrote a ten-volume commentary on Song of Solomon, telling how the book describes God’s love for Christians.
Finishing up the Old Testament, we come to the prophets. It is here we that God’s love for his people and his people’s commitment or lack of commitment is compared to a bride and groom. Isaiah 49:18 speaks of God clothing his people like a bride. Isaiah 61 continues this message of God clothing his people with beauty, dignity, and love like a bride. Isaiah 62 includes this beautiful passage:
“For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet,
until her righteousness goes forth as brightness,
and her salvation as a burning torch.
2 The nations shall see your righteousness,
and all the kings your glory,
and you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will give.
3 You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
4 You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate,
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land Married;
for the Lord delights in you,
and your land shall be married.
5 For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your sons marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you.
Jeremiah and Ezekiel also make frequent use of this comparison. Chapter 16 of Ezekiel is lengthy but in beautifully poetic terms it says that even though we have all went after false Gods and committed spiritual adultery, God is a loving groom that calls us back to Him. God calls people from among all the nations to be His. He will cleanse their sin and make them pure as a virgin bride.
Hosea the prophet makes this point even more clear because God uses Hosea’s life and marriage to deliver this point. Hosea is told by God to marry a woman who will cheat on him and get herself sold into sex slavery. Hosea though loves his unfaithful wife and buys her back from prostitution. God uses this living picture to show that God loves and redeems sinners through Christ.
The Old Testament is clear. God’s love for us is compared to marriage. Entering into the New Testament we are again greeted with this picture. Jesus’ first public miracle is at a wedding. He institutes his blessing on the wedding and begins his ministry celebrating marriage. Jesus also over and over refers to himself as the Bridegroom. He points the Old Testament promises of God to save his people and to love them. Jesus uses this marriage them all throughout his ministry and sermons. Jesus is the ultimate groom who lays down his life to love his bride. Finally in Revelation of we are told of the marriage supper of the Lamb. It is His second coming that Jesus’ union with his people, the Church will be completed and celebrated.
And this concludes our tour of the Bible and we arrive back to our passage in Ephesians 5 now after having gone through the entire Bible. We have seen that marriage is used extensively as a picture of God’s love for his people. We see this fully illustrated in the life, death, resurrection, and return of Jesus Christ for his people. This lines up exactly with what Ephesians 5 says. In fact, Ephesians 5 goes a step further. God’s love is not just compared to marriage but true marriage here is compared to God’s love. That is the reason that God’s love throughout the bible is compared to marriage is because marriage itself is supposed to be a display God’s love. Marriage exists to be a picture that we can witness in our lives and the lives others. Marriage shows us the love of God for his people. This is the primary mission of marriage.
We see in this passage that Jesus does 6 things for His bride, the Church. Verse 25, Jesus loves His bride. He gives himself sacrificially also in verse 25. He sanctifies and makes pure the church in verse 26. He presents her to the Father proudly in verse 27. Finally in verse 29, Christ nourishes and cherishes the church. This is that amazing grace and amazing love we sing about. This is what our marriages are meant to be and meant to point to.
If Marriage’s purpose is to point us to the love of God in Jesus, then knowing this will inform our understanding of the practice of marriage. Again, the picture shows us the practice.
The Practice of Marriage:
There are several things that knowing the purpose of marriage will lead us to understand. We now know that marriage is about more than just romantic feelings. It is a picture of self-sacrifice and commitment. Marriage is also exclusive, that is it is only between one man and one woman. Today this part is under attack in our country. Marriage however is only between two people of the opposite sex. It is the union of a bride and a husband, not a husband and husband. Nor is it mean to between three or more people. Marriage is clearly defined in the bible this way both in the Old and New Testament.
Two objections are usually given here. The first objection is to say that Jesus himself did not forbid homosexuality or homosexual marriage. This objection really misunderstands the nature of scripture and overlooks what Jesus does say about marriage. The argument that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality presumes that the rest of scripture are not the words of Christ. Jesus and the Holy Spirit co-exist in the Godhead and have been in perfect and eternal communion from eternity past. It is Holy Spirit – God Himself – who inspired all of the Bible, including epistles like Romans, 1 Corinthians, and 1 Timothy where homosexuality is addressed. Secondly, as already mentioned on our tour the Bible, Jesus in the Gospels does address marriage frequently. He points to the same passage in Genesis that Paul uses here in Ephesians to say that marriage is between a man and a woman.
The second objection regarding marriage that some people make is to point to those in the Old Testament who had more than one wife. To answer this objection we must be able to differentiate between prescriptive and descriptive texts. For example when we go to a doctor with an illness, the doctor first diagnoses and describes our sickness to us. He then proceeds to prescribe for us a medicine to cure the sickness. Descriptive texts in the Bible merely describe the way things were. They are not necessarily commandments or even models for us to follow. The Bible describes a lot of things. The Bible does not sugar coat things either. It describes the Old Testament kings and prophets, warts and all. Prescriptive texts on the other hands are commands for us to follow. We see that marriage in the Bible time was under attack just as today. God warns the people that if they marry many wives they will face many bad consequences. And often the Bible describes how this disobedience and distortion of marriage leads to the downfall of many great people including King Solomon.
The Bible is clear that marriage is between one man and one woman for life. It is a permanent institution that is to endure during the life of the bride and groom. Malachi 2:16 says that divorce is violence. Marriage is established by God and what God establishes should not be broken by man. We do not have time to go into all of the teachings on divorce today but needless to say, divorce is never a good thing.
Because marriage is a picture of God’s love, it is fitting that marriage occurs all around the world. People from all nations marry. All nations are able to see this picture of God’s love. Marriage as an institution is not just limited to Christians though its message is decisively Christen. Christians however should seek to only marry believers. Single Christians should not become unequally yoked with a non-Christian. Charles Spurgeon says this “When husbands and wives are well yoked, how light their load becomes!” This is so true.
Because Marriage exists from the beginning, it is not primarily or even secondarily a political institution. The government’s involvement should only be limited to acknowledging what God has already declared marriage to be. No Senate, House of representative, President or Supreme Court can change what marriage is. They can try all they like but calling something marriage that can not be marriage does not change what is not marriage into marriage. It is not up to popular vote. Nations, politicians, and voters who seek to challenge God’s definition will ultimately face judgment for their distortion of God’s picture.
And lastly and as personal application for us today, our marriages as Christians should reflect the love of Christ. This love will reflect to our spouses and from there the world will see displayed in our marriages God’s grace. This points us to the very practical instruction in these verses. This instruction is commanded by our Lord but has gone out of vogue in our current times.
We see from this practical instruction that because marriage is a picture of Jesus’ love for His church, husbands are love their wives sacrificially overlooking weaknesses and imperfections. Just ask Jesus laid down his life for the Church, husbands are called to sacrificial love. Just as Jesus sanctifies and makes the Church pure, husbands are watch out for their wives purity. They are to protect their wives spiritual life. Husbands and men, this means first putting away all sexual immorality and lust from your own lives. You cannot protect the purity of your family and wife if you are looking at pornography in your private time. Nothing will kill a marriage quicker than sexual immorality. And the sad fact is that there are men who go to church every week yet go home and look websites that distort the beauty of the sexuality that God has given us to use within the confines of marriage. Men or women if you are caught up in this destructive behavior there is hope, forgiveness, and cleanliness in Christ. Repent and put your faith in Him. You also need to seek help by contacting other godly men if you are man or other godly women if you are a woman. To repeat, husbands you are to guard the purity of your wife. This means that husbands also lead their wives to follow Christ. Husbands are to be the spiritual leader in their home. You wife should not have to drag your butt out of bed on Sunday morning to get you to go to church. You are the one who should be leading your wife and your family into a closer relationship with Christ.
Wives you are called submit to the loving leadership of your husbands. Just as the church submits to Christ, you are to follow your husband’s leadership. Submission is not welcome in our current culture but yet it is what God calls you to. This is not a weakness as many may think. Christ himself is an example of submission. The night that he would be arrested and crucified, Jesus while gathered with the twelve disciples washed his disciples’ feet. The Bible says He did this knowing full well that He was the king of the universe. Jesus was also able to submit to the will of His father because he was motivated out a love for Him. Wives out of love for the Father and for your husband, you can submit to your husband knowing that you are the daughter of the King.
Wives and husbands pray for each other. Wives and husbands keep the marriage bed undefiled. Wives and Husbands lead their children. In all of this, we display to the world and to each other the love of God.
So in conclusion all of this points us back to the savior who is full of grace and mercy, a savior who bought his bride at a great price, a bride who often plays the part of a prostitute caught in adultery. The church is made up of people who do not deserve the love of God yet he willfully sacrificed all for their sake. Marvel at the love of this Savior. Charles Wesley wrote a hymn that perfectly recounts his love
“And can it be that I should gain An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain— For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be, That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me? Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?” That is the picture that marriage is meant to be. May we all submit to that love and may all of our marriages beautifully display that picture.