What is marriage seems like such a dumb question. Everyone knows what marriage is, it’s when two people who love each other commit to spend the rest of their lives together – right? Well no, not really, not in the Bible, there we are told that there’s much more to it than that. And, importantly, unless you understand the “more to it than that” part lots of the rest of the Bible’s teaching about marriage won’t make sense.
In his book “Favor” (which as it happens isn’t to do with marriage at all) Greg Gilbert gives a brilliant and succinct definition of Biblical marriage. He does it because he wants to show how marriage reflects the relationship that God enters into with his people but in the process, he blows the “just two people who love each other” thing right out of the water.
It’s a sad truth that the spiritual reality of marriage has been all but lost in our day. Most people look at is as, at best, an antiquated tradition that now is mostly used for social engineering. It’s a contract for the mutual benefit of two individuals; as long as the relationship is good for you, you stick with it, bot once it’s no longer of benefit, you execute the exit provision of the contract and move on. That’s about all the world thinks of marriage these days. The bible teaches, though, that marraige is far more than a contract. At the very least, it is a covenant made between two people – a set of promise that the bride and the groom make to each other before the watching world. That’s why we call them wedding vows, after all; they’re promises the bride and the groom make to each other before the listening, witnessing ears of the congregation.
But you know, there’s even more to the reality of marraige than a covenant reveals. When two people are married, a spiritual union is created between them. They become, as the Bible says, “one flesh.” Of course that doesn’t mean the bride and groom cease to exist as individuals. I am still me, and my wife is still herself; that didn’t change when we got married. But we are also something more now that just individuals who happen to live in the same house. God has united us in an intimate, real, covenantal, and spiritual relationship, and the passing years are only causing us to grow together more tightly and inextricably. What we share is not a contract. It’s not a business relationship or a mere friendship. It’s a real and vital spiritual union with each other. 1
Thinking like that about marriage not only helps make sense of the Bible’s teaching on lots of connected topics: divorce, marrying a non-Christian, same-sex marriage, to name a few. It also helps us understand what our marriages are for and what it looks like to be a good husband or a good wife, why it matters so much that we keep going, and how growing as a Christian makes a difference to our marriages.
- Favor, Finding life at the center of God’s affections, Greg Gilbert, Baker 2017, pp82-83 ↩