The Christian Teaching Explained
God loves us very much. His great love for us causes him to care for us, provide for us, support us, and be there for us in every way. He loves us unconditionally. He loves us so much that he wanted to give us a blessing that would allow us to share that unconditional love intimately with another person. God has given us the blessing of marriage.
Instituted by God
Marriage was instituted by God on the sixth day of creation (see Creation). After creating the first man, God declared, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18), so he created another person (Genesis 2:21-23). When the first man, Adam, saw the one God had created for him, he poetically proclaimed, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man” (Genesis 2:23). Adam immediately recognized the beautiful and special relationship he shared with this person, a relationship so close and intimate that even the word used to describe her, “woman,” needed to reflect it. “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). In marriage, a man and a woman become one in God’s eyes.
Purposes of Marriage
As you can see from the very first marriage, the primary purpose of marriage is companionship. A husband and a wife live together and share all of the life’s moments—the good and the bad. They support each other and provide for each other. They share their thoughts and feelings with each other. They share a special relationship unlike any other relationship a human being can have. Simply put: they are companions in this life. This is why it is extremely important for any man or woman looking for a spouse to find someone who is a friend, who they enjoy spending time with, and who they know will be there to help and support them. Marriage is primarily about companionship.
“That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.”
After instituting the first marriage, God gave Adam and Eve a secondary purpose for marriage: “Be fruitful and increase in number” (Genesis 1:28). Within a marriage, a husband and a wife are able to have children. Children are a blessing given by God: “Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him” (Psalm 127:3; see also Genesis 33:5 and Psalm 128:3-4). But why is having children a secondary purpose and not a primary one? Because there are many couples who are not able to bear children but can still enjoy the companionship of marriage. We do not know why God has kept them from bearing children, but they are certainly still married in God’s eyes. Thus, having children is a secondary purpose of God’s institution of marriage.
Ever since the fall into sin, there has been another secondary purpose for marriage: the preservation of sexual purity. God has placed a desire within human beings for sexual union; it is an ordinance of God in nature from creation. He expects there to be sexual union between one man and one woman within a marriage (Genesis 2:23-24). It is a part of the companionship they share, and Scripture indicates it is a duty owed to a person’s spouse (1 Corinthians 7:2-5). Sadly, a person’s sinful nature inflames this sexual desire, which leads to sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 7:9; Genesis 3:7-11; see also Genesis 2:25). These days, sex is often seen as a way for unmarried couples to express their love for each other or even as a recreational activity for some, but as God tells us in his Word, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” (Hebrews 13:4). Therefore marriage is necessary not only for having children but also for the preservation of sexual purity as a remedy for sexual desire.
Not Commanded by God
While God has instituted marriage for good purposes, it should be stated that God does not command marriage. It is not a means to receive forgiveness or salvation. God is not more pleased with people who are married than with people who are not. Some people don’t feel the need for such companionship, and some people God has made without an inflamed, sinful sexual desire. As Jesus said, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given…The one who can accept this should accept it” (Matthew 19:11-2). The apostle Paul is one example: “I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that” (1 Corinthians 7:7). A person who does have a sexual desire should marry (1 Corinthians 7:8-9), but marriage in general is not commanded by God.
Establishing a Marriage
What is considered a marriage in God’s eyes? Having an established marriage depends on the public, mutual consent of the couple and the laws of the government. Since marriage is regulated by the government, a couple is required to submit to the laws of the government for establishing their marriage (Romans 13:1). The laws that need to be fulfilled differ from culture to culture, so we can only speak generally about them here, but in general a couple will follow the laws and customs of the land if they mutually and publicly consent to be married.
Does engagement establish a marriage in God’s eyes? Engagement might establish a marriage, but it depends on what is meant by “engagement.” In some cultures, engagement is more than proposing to someone as in much of Western culture. In biblical times, engagement was the same as marriage, such as we see with Isaac and Rebekah (Genesis 24) and Joseph and Mary (Matthew 1:18-25). If the engaged couple considers themselves bound together and have fulfilled the laws of the government, then they are bound together before God. If the couple does not view the engagement as a solemn commitment, then they are not bound together before God. It’s important to keep in mind that Scripture nowhere makes a distinction between being married “in the eyes of God” and being married “in the eyes of man.” Therefore, an engaged couple that is not married in the eyes of the world is not married in the eyes of God. This also means, then, that an engaged couple who is not married in the eyes of God or the eyes of man is sinning if they are having sexual relations. Sexual union is only meant for a couple within a marriage that has been established by public, mutual consent and the laws of the government.
Cohabitation Before Marriage
“Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.”
What about a couple living together before marriage? A couple who is living together before marriage is committing sin in God’s eyes. God is clear that sexual relations belong in a marriage, not outside of it (1 Corinthians 6:13-20; Hebrews 13:4). Couples who live together without getting married usually want the privileges of marriage without the lifelong commitment. Even if it’s financially more comfortable, such a couple is ignoring the lifelong commitment and the laws of the government for marriage, not to mention God’s promise of caring and providing for us (Matthew 6:25-34). Those couples who live together but do not have sexual relations are ignoring the fact that living together causes far greater temptation. God tells us to “flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18). It also causes others to see them as if they were sinning, and we never want to give even a hint of sexual immorality to others (Ephesians 5:3-7; Matthew 5:13-16).
One Man and One Woman
Is it OK in God’s eyes for a man to be with a man or a woman to be with a woman? God intended marriage to be for one man and one woman (Genesis 2:24). He is very clear in his Word that homosexuality is a sin. Homosexuality violates the natural law God instituted in creation (Romans 1:26-27). It violates God’s written and moral law (Leviticus 18:22; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10). The desire for homosexual relations is a result of our sinful natures. Does this mean someone who commits homosexual sins is beyond God’s forgiveness? Absolutely not. In fact, Paul addresses this with the Corinthians: “Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). Not only does God forgive those who commit homosexual sins, but he can help them fight their homosexual desires. Christians who want to uphold God’s Word in this will do so only in a loving and gentle way that leads a person—regardless of the sin they’ve committed—to repentance (2 Timothy 2:25-26; 1 Peter 3:15-16; Ephesians 4:2; Titus 3:1-2; Philippians 4:5). Repentance and pointing to God’s grace is always the goal, and this is true for any sin committed against God’s gift of marriage.
Is divorce considered a sin in God’s eyes? Yes, God considers divorce a sin (Malachi 2:16; Matthew 19:3-8). While a marriage bond is for this life only and does not extend to the afterlife (Matthew 22:30), it is for life (Mathew 19:6; Romans 7:1-3). However, God in his Word does give two different circumstances where a marriage bond is broken.
Jesus tells us that one circumstance is “marital unfaithfulness” (Matthew 5:31-32, NIV84). Martial unfaithfulness is the act of adultery. This means having sexual relations with someone who is not your spouse.
The apostle Paul gives us the second circumstance that is referred to as malicious desertion (1 Corinthians 7:10-15). Malicious desertion can be characterized as someone abandoning their spouse and creating some sort of separation between the two where staying together would be harmful for one or both spouses. This does not mean “irreconcilable differences” as we commonly hear about it today. Instead, this would apply to such cases as one spouse leaving, moving away, and completely abandoning the other, or even abuse of some sort. Physically harming your spouse is absolutely malicious and is the exact opposite of the care God wants us to give to each other, especially our family members (1 Timothy 5:8).
In these two circumstances, a divorce would simply be recognizing that the marriage bond has already been broken. Anyone who has divorced their spouse apart from these circumstances has sinned, but again, the penitent sinner finds forgiveness in Christ (Psalm 32:5; see Sin and Repentance and Forgiveness of Sins for All People).
Couples often want to seek a divorce because many difficulties have arisen in their marriage. Difficulties are bound to come in marriage because in any marriage both people are sinful people. However, working through the difficulties of marriage makes a marriage stronger. It is God’s love that makes it possible for couples to stick together (1 John 4:19).
This is why—for the good times and the bad times—it’s important that couples share a bond of faith (Proverbs 31:10,30). It is not a sin for a Christian to marry an unbeliever (1 Corinthians 7:12-13; 1 Peter 3:1-7), but with all of the sin and difficulties that can come when two people live together, share so much together, and know each other’s strengths, weaknesses, and sins, being able to forgive and renew each other in faith is a great blessing. Having a common faith is a blessing that also will spare a couple from the difficulties that commonly arise from a religiously-mixed marriage, such as different priorities in life and differences of opinion in how to raise their children. It’s important for a married couple to work together for the good of the marriage and the good of the home.
Roles for Men and Women
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
While man and woman are equal in status before God (Genesis 1:27; Galatians 3:28), God has given the leadership role in the marriage to husbands (Genesis 2:18, 3:16; Ephesians 5:23; 1 Corinthians 11:3,8-9; 1 Timothy 2:13). Sadly, many men pervert this teaching and treat their wives as lower and less important and think of their own role as that of a dictator. The leadership role in marriage does not entitle a husband to be waited on as if he were a king. In fact, as Jesus points out, true leadership is seen in the attitude of a loving servant (Matthew 20:26-28; John 13:13-17). Jesus also provides the perfect example for husbands to follow, as Paul says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies” (Ephesians 5:25,28; see also Colossians 3:19 and 1 Peter 3:7). This means that a husband will love his wife unconditionally and take the lead by being the first to forgive, the first to stand up for their marriage, and the first to stand up for God’s role in their marriage. He will faithfully guide the marriage to grow stronger in the Word of God and be a leader in encouraging the growth of their faith.
As for wives, God says, “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” (Ephesians 5:22-23). This does not mean that a wife must sit back and take abuse from her husband (see 1 Timothy 5:8). It does not mean that she must submit to her husband when he wants her to do something against God’s Word or against her conscience (see Acts 5:29). It means the wife is to use her God-given gifts to support and counsel her husband, to help train their children alongside her husband, to help her husband with parental discipline, and to use her wisdom for the good of the marriage and of the home. She is to give herself wholly to the marriage and help her husband fulfill his role of a loving servant-leader. The roles given to husbands and wives are those of mutual, loving servitude of each other and Christ. As Paul states, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21).
It is God’s unconditional love as evidenced in Christ that has moved him to give us the blessing of marriage. By understanding what marriage is in God’s eyes and how we can use this blessing in a God-pleasing way, a husband and a wife will be able fully to enjoy in this life a close, intimate relationship unlike any other. So we thank God for his gift of marriage because it shows us all the more that “we love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).