Marriage Topical Study

Preaching and Worship Resources about Marriage

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Christianity defines marriage as a covenant relationship built on a solemn promise of mutual love and fidelity. So foundational is marriage that it is hard to imagine a thriving, healthy human society without it. Along with family, marriage is one of the foundations of social cohesion, affecting nearly every area of human life. The uniqueness of Christian marriage can be seen in the fact that in most societies, marriage has both a social and a religious aspect. One may be simply registered with a civil magistrate, or be also married by clergy in a church setting, an act that often carries its own set of expectations.

In Scripture

Biblical Basis for Marriage Christians see Genesis 2:24 as the biblical model for marriage. After God creates a male and female and brings them together, it comments: "Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh." Leaving implies a social change, in that the couple are no longer seen merely as part of the clan or family from which they came, though they often remain tied to it. Cleaving implies faithfulness and intimacy. One flesh acknowledges that the marriage is consummated in a sexual union.

With the Fall, sin invades the one-flesh union of marriage. The story of the original sin plays upon mutual blame that falls on the man and the women, and their innocent nakedness is replaced by shame and hiding. Marriage is also affected in God's judgment following the Fall, though mostly upon the woman. While Adam suffers from futility in his work in the field, the woman suffers from pain in childbearing and her husband's rule rather than partnership.

The Mosaic law also regulates marriage for the Israelite community. This is evident in the strictures surrounding divorce (Deut. 24:1-4), marrying inside the nation and the tribe (Deut. 7:1-6), and remarriage (Deut. 25:5-10). All of these emphasized the importance and strengthening of the nation. Like surrounding societies, marriage and family life in Israel was decidedly patriarchal. Interestingly, in what might be called the "honeymoon law," drafting a new husband into the army was prohibited for the first year of marriage. The law did, however provide for more than one wife.

Jesus is seen as blessing the institution of marriage by his attendance at the wedding at Cana. Jesus was also critical of some of the abuses of the Mosaic law that particularly oppressed women. For example, he criticized the practice of divorce, which consisted of a man signing a piece of paper to divorce his wife for any reason whatsoever (Matt. 19:1-11). To Jesus, this practice was no better than serial adultery, as men used it to get a more attractive or accommodating spouse. This tended to victimize women, who had no such recourse, but, more important, it misinterpreted God's original intention for a life-long one-flesh union.

As with the family, the radical message of the kingdom also relativized the claims of marriage on Jesus' disciples. Married life is no longer the only way to serve God. While it may be presumed that most of Jesus' disciples were married, there is little to no mention of their wives or family. Also, many of Jesus' closest friends (Mary, Martha, and Lazarus) seemed to be unmarried, living together in family relationships that may have seemed odd in that culture.

Celibacy is seen as a gift that is not just acceptable but in many ways superior to marriage, in that the celibate person is free from the daily responsibilities of marriage and family to serve God alone. Paul recommends this state and counsels marriage only if sexual desire cannot be channeled or tamed (1 Cor. 7:7-9).

Sexual Intercourse in Marriage It is also clear that sexual intercourse belongs within the covenant bonds of marriage. There, bound by promises and guarded by commitment, sex functions not just as a means to have children, but as a delight and a physical seal on the love the married couple shares (Song of Solomon, 1 Cor. 7: 2-6).

The story of Hosea's fidelity to the prostitute to whom he is married presents a startlingly realistic analogy of God's "marriage" to Israel. Paul pictures our relationship to Christ as a marriage in which Christ, the Bridegroom, woos us and binds himself to us with love and commitment (Eph. 5:25-33). John pictures the consummation as the great wedding feast of the Lamb (Rev. 19: 6-8). This is why, in some Christian communions, marriage is a sacrament, revealing the depths of the Christian's relationship to Christ.

Points to Ponder

Nature of Marriage The church today continues to struggle with the nature of marriage. Differences remain among Christians regarding divorce, the place of women in marriage, and, whether the church can recognize the emerging tolerance of society for marriages of gay and lesbian couples. Faced with these fundamental challenges, many Christians are reexamining, and in some cases rethinking, their long-held positions on marriage.

Marriage as a Universal Phenomenon The practice of marriage is a nearly universal phenomenon. Christian marriage is an understanding of marriage that emerges from the Bible. In many countries Christians are married according to civil law and then also within the church. This tends to safeguard the Christian understanding of the marriage covenant while acknowledging the state's interest in marriage and society.

Alexander Schmemann "A marriage which does not constantly crucify its own selfishness and self-sufficiency, which does not `die to itself' that it may point beyond itself, is not a Christian marriage. The real sin of marriage today is not adultery or lack of `adjustment' or `mental cruelty.' It is the idolization of the family itself, the refusal to understand marriage as directed toward the Kingdom of God. This is expressed in the sentiment that one would `do anything' for his family, even steal. The family has here ceased to be for the glory of God; it has ceased to be a sacramental entrance into his presence. It is not the lack of respect for the family, it is the idolization of the family that breaks the modern family so easily, making divorce its almost natural shadow. It is the identification of marriage with happiness and the refusal to accept the cross in it. In a Christian marriage, in fact, three are married; and the united loyalty of the two toward the third, who is God, keeps the two in an active unity with each other as well as with God.

Madeleine L'Engle "No long-term marriage is made easily, and there have been times when I've been so angry or so hurt that I thought my love would never recover. And then, in the midst of near despair, something has happened beneath the surface. A bright little flashing fish of hope has flicked silver fins and the water is bright and suddenly I am returned to a state of love again — till next time. I've learned that there will always be a next time, and that I will submerge in darkness and misery, but that I won't stay submerged. And each time something has been learned under the waters; something has been gained; and a new kind of love has grown. The best I can ask for is that this love, which has been built on countless failures, will continue to grow. I can say no more than that this is mystery, and gift, and that somehow or other, through grace, our failures can be redeemed and blessed.

Christ as Bridegroom of the Church The idea that we are married to Christ, the bridegroom of the church, says much about our faithfulness to Christ, intimacy with Christ, and sanctification and union with Christ.

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Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.