The Greatest love story and the meaning of marriage

In my response to and reflections on Vicky Beeching’s book “Undivided” I particularly focused on the type of teaching she had experienced about sex and relationships as a teenager. Sadly, I think that over the years there has been a lot of off centre teaching about sex, relationships and marriage. The problem is that whilst it touches on things that are true such as that sex outside of marriage is wrong and that marriage is between one man and one woman, it starts in the wrong place and misses the bigger story in which we are meant to make sense of relationships.

The result is that sex and intimacy are seen as commodities which are both seductive and dangerous. We desperately want to find a safe place to enjoy these things. It also means that relationship decisions and marriage counselling are seen primarily in terms of private individual choices.

In response I want to say:

  1. Whilst marriage does include private intimacy, it is also a public thing. It is for the benefit of the wider community, and as we shall see later, for Christians it is an act of witness. Therefore the marriage ceremony is a public event with external symbols, witnesses and a celebratory feast for family and friends.

 

  1. It is not that sex and intimacy are goods to peruse and that marriage is the place where we enjoy them safely. Rather, marriage itself is what matters and sexual intimacy is part of what it means to be married. Sex was made for marriage not marriage for sex.

 

We see this best when we get a sense of the big picture of the Bible.  This picture is a love story. It starts with the God who is love. He is Triune, one God in three persons. This shows that God is eternal love, he does not start to love at any point, nor does he need to create us in order to find someone to love. Before the foundation of the World, the Father, Son and Spirit knew love for each other. Creation is not about God seeking to fulfil a need, to fill an empty space. Creation is about God’s love pouring out from its fullness.

God created us in love and chose to love us. We were made in his image. We were made to love him and to reflect that love in obedient worship and in care for his creation.  In other words, we were made to love God with our whole heart and our neighbours as ourselves.  Sadly, we have rebelled against God, we chose to believe lies about him. We acted out of self-love instead of love for him. Sin brought death into the world.

The story of God’s love however does not stop there. God did not leave us in our sin but in his love sought after us. This is fulfilled in Christ.

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave[g] his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.“[1]

This is portrayed in Scripture in numerous ways including the picture of a woman searching for precious coins, a shepherd searching for a lost sheep and a father waiting for his lost and wayward son. However, one of the most beautiful pictures the Bible uses is of marriage.

In the Old Testament, Israel is presented as God’s bride. He finds her in a dangerous place and messed up. He rescues her, cleans her, looks after her and marries her. Israel sadly repays this faithful love with unfaithfulness. She goes after other gods, her idolatry is pictured as adultery. Yet, what does God do? He chooses to keep loving her and to win her back. He will not abandon his love for her. God continues to be faithful.[2]

In the New Testament, the focus is on Christ as the bridegroom and The Church as the bride. Christ loves his bride the church sacrificially. As Paul explains:

25 For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her 26 to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word.[b] 27 He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault.”[3]

This means that we are invited to look forward to the day when Christ will return for his bride. His second coming is pictured as a wedding feast with the bride beautifully arrayed and ready to greet her husband.

Why this matters

Providing this context helps us to see that Christian teaching about marriage is not based on a few proof texts but woven into the very fabric of redemptive history. It helps us to understand why certain things matter. For example:

  1. Marriage is a public matter because it is part of spiritual warfare. In Ephesians 1-3, Paul presents the Gospel in terms of God’s glorious and eternal plan. He says:

“ God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Then he goes on to show how we as believers are to live in the light of this plan. He is talking about spiritual warfare. Where is this battle fought? Where is God displaying his glory in the church? The answer is that its in our day to day life as we gather to encourage each other as local congregations, in our marriages, as we are bringing up children and as we are working and serving others.

  1. Marriage is between one man and one woman. In Genesis 2, God makes Eve because Adam needs someone who is literally “like him but also opposite to him.” They are intended to complement one another. Marriage between one man and one woman reminds us that God has made us in his image but that we are not God, we are like him as image bearers but different to him. This is one of the incredibly beautiful things about the true and living God. Many pagan religions had gods who took wives for themselves but they took them from among the other gods. They married goddesses. Humans were nothing more than slave labour. God in his grace however raises us up and gives us this incredible role.
  2. Marriage is to be faithful, life long and monogamous. This is because God is faithful and keeps his covenant with us.

Conclusion

It is not just that your marriage is intended to be gospel centred. Even better still, your marriage by its very nature is Gospel shaped.

 

 

[1] John 3:16.

[2] See Ezekiel 16

[3] Ephesians 5:25-27.

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