Marriage, Family and God’s Authority Structure
I am often approached by young men thinking of getting married, for counsel. One of the first things I want to find out is if they, and their fiancé, have a biblical view of marriage. The following is what I give them to review with their future spouse, to see if they are both on the same page. (And surprisingly, many are not!) The Bible doesn’t actually define “family.” However, Christians would generally agree with this definition; the union of one man and one woman in matrimony, which is normally blessed with one or several natural or adopted children. In a broader sense, family also includes any other person related by blood or marriage (the extended family). In the book of Genesis, we read that God in the beginning created first a man (Adam) to exercise dominion over his creation and subsequently created a woman (Eve) as the man’s “suitable helper” (Genesis 2:18,20). Then, the inspired writer remarks, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife and they shall become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24 ESV)
This verse sets forth the biblical pattern as it was instituted by God at the beginning: one man is united to one woman in matrimony, and the two form one new natural family. In this regard, “become one flesh” not only refers to the establishment of one new family but also to the husband and wife’s sexual union leading to procreation of offspring. This in turn, is in keeping with God’s original command to the first human couple “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion” over all of creation.
“God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’” Genesis 1:28.
These common elements of marriage have been at the heart of our civil laws defining and regulating marriage, until the Supreme Court approved same-sex marriage in 2014. People of all cultures and religions – even those who lack faith in God, Christ, or the Bible – are capable of participating in the institution of marriage. However, we who are Christian believe that the fullest understanding of God’s will for marriage is best understood from a careful examination of scriptural teachings.
Marriage: Contract or Covenant? Today, marriage and the family are viewed by many as social conventions that can be entered into and severed by the marital partners at will. If one or both marriage partners want to get out of the marriage, nothing should hold them back. While that’s true legally, its not true spiritually.
The Bible makes clear that, at the root, marriage and “a family” are not human conventions based merely on temporary consensus and time-honored tradition. Instead, Scripture teaches that family was God’s idea and that marriage is a divine, not merely human, institution. The implication of this truth is significant indeed, for this means that humans are not free to renegotiate or redefine marriage and the family in any way they choose, but that they are called to preserve and respect what has been divinely instituted. This is in keeping with Jesus’ words, uttered when his contemporaries asked him about the permissibility of divorce: “What therefore God has joined together let not man separate” (Matthew 19:6). For that reason, marriage is far more than a human social contract; it is a divinely instituted covenant.
The Covenant But what is a “covenant”? In essence, a covenant is a vow, or contract between two parties that is established before God as a witness. It’s a contract whose permanence is ultimately safeguarded by none other than God himself. Because it is God and not the pastor or judge who has joined the marriage partners together, the husband and the wife vow to each other abiding loyalty and fidelity “till death do us part.” A marriage entered into before God involves three persons: a husband, a wife, and God.
What is Marriage? Marriage is a covenant, a sacred bond between a man and a woman instituted by and publically entered into before God and normally consummated by sexual intercourse. God’s plan for the marriage covenant involves at least the following five vital principles:
1. The permanence of marriage: Marriage is intended to be permanent, since it was established by God and is a vow made to God. And God takes vows made to him serious.
“So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Matthew 19:6
“When a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said.” Numbers 30:2
“You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. Has not the one God made you? You belong to him in body and spirit. And what does the one God seek? Godly offspring. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth. ‘The man who hates and divorces his wife,’ says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘does violence to the one he should protect,’ says the Lord Almighty. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful.” Malachi 2:14b-16
2. The sacredness of marriage: Marriage is not merely a human agreement between two consenting individuals (a “civil union”); it is a relationship before and under God.
“Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.” Genesis 2:22
3. The intimacy of marriage: Marriage is the most intimate of all human relationships, uniting a man and a woman in a “one-flesh” union (Genesis 2:23-25).
“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.’ That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” Genesis 2:23-24
4. The mutuality of marriage: Marriage is a relationship of free self-giving, of one human being to another.
The marriage partners are to be first and foremost concerned about the wellbeing of the other person and to be committed to each other in steadfast love and devotion. This involves the need for forgiveness and restoration of the relationship in the case of sin.
Mutuality, however, does not mean sameness in role. Scripture is clear that wives are to submit to their husbands and to serve as their “suitable helpers,” while husbands are to bear the ultimate responsibility for the marriage before God. This is not a license for husbands to dominate their wives. Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. They are to provide for their wives both physically and spiritually and to cherish them as God’s special provision for them.
“Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” Ephesians 5:22-24
“Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” Colossians 3:18
Why? Why did God establish this authority structure? We’re not exactly sure. However, in every organization there can only be one person who has the final authority. That’s true in business, non-profits and partnerships. The “buck has to stop” with one person. Co-chairmanships work only for special projects of limited duration.
But why men? Are they more gifted than women? I doubt it. Again, the Bible is silent on that issue. Most theologians believe it has nothing to do with who is more gifted. They believe it may be as simple as this; in each marriage, God can’t appoint the most gifted spouse to lead. Therefore, he gave that assignment to men and holds them responsible to lead with gentleness, fairness and grace. Every husband will ultimately be judged by God for how he led his family. It’s a serious responsibility that men accept when they choose to marry. Likewise, it’s a woman’s choice, prior to marriage, to put herself under the authority of her husband, once she is married. Couples unprepared to accept God’s authority structure should think twice about marriage.
5. The exclusiveness of marriage: Marriage is not only permanent, sacred, intimate, and mutual; it is also exclusive (Genesis 2:22-25; 1 Corinthians 7:2-5). For this reason, Jesus treated sexual immorality of a married person, with utmost seriousness (Matthew 5:28; 19:9).
“But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:28
“I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” Matthew 19:9
Those who enter into a marriage vow ought to pray deeply about all these aspects of marriage. If each person understands them and is willing to live by them, it will be Gods amazing gift to you.
Edited and expanded by Clare De Graaf, from The Bible’s Teaching on Marriage and Family, By Andreas Kostenberger
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