Purpose for Marriage
(c) Copyright 2005 Rev. Bill Versteeg
Over the past number of weeks, in especially our evening services, we have be reflecting on the theme that God is our Father whose intimate care for us is so complete that not a hair can fall from our heads without his will. We have discovered that when it comes to the lives of his children, there is no such thing as chance. The dynamics that happen to us, the circumstances that shape our lives, the relationships that influence us, they are all under his watchful eye, a product of his intention. Even when Satan works and we suffer, in an ultimate sense it must follow his intention for Satan, though a malcontent, is his reluctant servant. When it comes to his intimate attention to our lives, he is the potter, we are the clay. He loves his work, he takes joy in his artistry.
God’s sovereignty, God’s intention, God’s handiwork includes the companions we choose. God is a matchmaker. Listen again to these scriptures. God realizing that “It is not good for the man to be alone set out to make a helper (one who comes along side) suitable for him. Adam checked out all the animals, some were too heavy, others were too tall, some were too fast, others were downright too fury. When Adam had looked over all these animals, all possible companions for his journey, even the dogs, man’s best friend, fell short. In the passage, we don’t know that Adam was looking for a partner, he was doing what he was called to do as God’s viceroy in creation, he was doing kingdom work - he was ruling over the animals by giving them names. But as God watched Adam, he noticed that among all these animals, not one was suitable, not one was there that could really help him when he was in trouble, not one could be a equal partner in the journey.
So God made a suitable companion out of Adam’s rib. Way back in Genesis - the Divine Matchmaker made the first match. Commentators rightly suggest that this Genesis passage points to the creational design of marriage, marriage is right for us, it is how we are completed, it is God’s design for creating families, it is God’s design for finding blessing as individuals in giving to each other. Regretfully, they often miss the wonderful point, though, that God is a matchmaker.
Turn with me now to Mark 10:6 - 9
Jesus says “Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate." When we hear that, as I have said before, we usually focus on the “let man not separate” part. Jesus, however, tells us that finding for us a spouse is God’s work. God joins two people, it is the divine God of the cosmos bringing to souls together. And for that reason, the marriage covenant ought to be honored among us, not only because of faithfulness to our commitments, but because bringing two people to fall in love with each other is God’s work.
But even as this theme is part of scripture, I am pressed to the question: Why does God join people together? Why would he be interested in finding Adam or you, or me, a mate? And what about marriage relationships that break down? And what about those who do not marry, where no mate is found?
First: Why does God join people together. The answer is in the Genesis passage that we just read. When God saw the man that he had created, he said “It is not good for man to be alone.” We were created to be part of community. A person who thinks that they can live without others is a person who is unhealthy. A person who lives without meaningful relationships is a person who over time becomes distorted by thoughts and feelings that are not disciplined by human interaction. God created all of us to be part of community. Whether we are single or married, God design for us is that we relate to each other in mutual care and love, that our thoughts and actions be held accountable by those whom we interact with, that we be spiritually and emotionally nurtured by a context of safety and acceptance. And according to scripture, within community some of us who are single have the privilege of an undivided attention in serving the Lord. God created us for community, it is not good to be alone. Ask anyone who is over 85, who has lost most of their friends, spouse, much of their family and often even children - ask them how hungry they are for the community of heaven. It is not good for us to be alone.
Community, as I have already hinted at, has a deeper purpose - God’s purpose - and we see this worked out, not only in the larger community of the church, we also see it worked out in marriage. That purpose is that we be conformed to the likeness of Christ.
Romans 8: 28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
God’s purpose among our many brothers and sisters, Paul’s way of saying “in community” (single or married) is that we be conformed to the likeness of Christ. One way that God has chosen that to happen is through the community called marriage. For this reason, young adults leave their parents home to be united with someone they love in marriage - for the purpose of becoming more like Christ.
If we ground ourselves with that perspective of marriage, a perspective which is substantially different than virtually every definition of marriage in our culture, the perspective enables to see through a lot of false assumptions that our culture holds.
The assumption that marriage is about sex (media), and that chemistry or size is that all that matters - the might seem true for short moments but marriage continues for hours and days, and as health fails with age, weeks, maybe even sex stops - marriage continues because marriages first purpose is not sex and chemistry - it is about community that forms us into the likeness of Christ.
The Romantic assumption (wedding practices) that marriage is about happiness, that is only I as a young person get married I will be fulfilled and happy is once again a false assumption. I have said it before, marriage matches made in heaven sometimes feel like hell. When we start understanding that God’s first purpose in marriage is that we become conformed to the likeness of his son, then we discover that it is sometimes in the most difficult parts of our marriage that God is at work fulfilling the very purpose that he ordained marriage. You see, being formed in to Christlikeness happens at exactly those places in us where we are no Christlike, where our character lacks love, or the other fruits of the Spirit, where we listen to the old nature and we are selfish in character. And it is our un-Christlikeness that often gets us into trouble in relationships. When whether it is in the church, or in families, or in marriage, we are corrected, we are disciplined in righteousness, we become conformed to the image of Christ. It is for that reason that the Easter Orthodox Church views marriage something like a martyrdom by God’s appointment and our choice. Marriage is a relationship where we must learn to die to self for the sake of our spouse. Marriage is not about what my spouse can do to make me happy, it is about what I must be to make my spouse happy. That means that as far as we are concerned, it is about change in me, not my spouse. It is about spiritual maturing in me, character maturing in me, not my spouse. That is why Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7 that the married man in concerned or anxious about how he may please (be happy) his wife. And the wife is concerned or anxious about how she can keep please or keep her husband happy and satisfied. It is not about what the other can do for you, it is what you can do for them. It is not that they first of all have to forgive me, it is first of all that I should be a person who does not need to be forgiven 70X7, and if I need to forgive, for the sake of love and relationship, I need to be quick to work through the process of forgiving. It is when we place another ahead of ourselves, when we learn the disciplines of unselfish interaction, that we grow in love and Christlikeness. Paul supports this basic meaning of marriage when he says, once again in 1 Corinthians 7:14 that even between a believer and an unbeliever who are married - the effect on the unbelieving spouse is that he or she will be sanctified - made holy, progress in becoming more like Christ. Moses permitted men to divorce their wives, not because their wives failed to meet their needs but because the men’s hearts were hard. It forces us to ask the question: what were their hearts hard to? If you were to study the concept of a hard heart it scripture, you discover very quickly that hardness of heart is a reaction of rebellion against what God is up to, the stubborn refusal to become as a husband, or a wife, like Christ in our characters.
If there is a universal truth to finding God’s match for us, it would be this “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you.” If we set our hearts to serving God and his kingdom, we are the most likely to find another whose heart’s desire is to serve God and his kingdom. It is among God’s people, not in bars, that we find others of like mind and faith. It is in service that we find others who have similar passions for serving God. Seek first his kingdom, it is often in seeking God that we find others seeking God. If we want to build on a spiritual foundation for marriage, that is the place to start.
Second - God’s match might not seem perfect. In our romanticized culture, the perfect match has to do with beauty, personality, attractiveness. But beauty is fleeting. Personalities all have secrets, hidden qualities that come out after marriage has started. What is externally attractive might just be the dynamic that makes an intimate relationship unattractive. God’s match for you might not be perfect, as the song says Matchmaker, Matchmaker make me a match - the truth of the song is that in marriage, God is at work to make ME a match for the one I have committed myself to.
God’s first purpose for marriage, in fact, for our lives, married or single is that we become conformed to the likeness of Christ. If I am a spouse who helps the one I love to discover the safety of love, the safety of God’s love, truly I am a suitable helper, the best possible companion for the journey. If my spouse is used by God to form in me a Christlikeness that prepares me for eternity, what better helpmeet could there be. And if in the process of this mutually vulnerable relationship called marriage, children are brought into the world, what better place could there be for them to be rooted and grounded in love, seeing unselfish parents who serve one another, so that they might come to grasp the width, height, length and depth of the love of God.
Now there is one more purpose that Paul indicates in Ephesians 5 where, in talking about the mystery of marriage he tells us that in a sense it is an icon of Christ and the church. An icon is a picture, a statue, something that points to a deeper reality. And so in some churches you have stained glass with icons artistically pictured in the glass - pointing to the deeper realities of the truths of scripture. Marriage is an icon of Christ and the church. But even in this image that the relationship in the marriage is the transformation of the spouse - the bride becomes radiant, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. And then Paul suddenly says - for this reason a man will leave his parents home to enter into marriage.
And scripture ends with a wedding, God’s matchmaking complete, the relationship between the bride and the groom healed, we will be one with Christ throughout all eternity. Today, we look forward to that day as we share the Lord’s supper. God, the matchmaker, invites all of us who are thirsty, all who are hungry for him, all who hear his call and have responded by faith to come, drink from the well that will never run dry, eat of the true manna that gives life to the world.
And so, married or single, we all, as community have the privilege of being the bride of Christ, his work in our lives to sanctify us, make us beautiful, spotless, blameless, pure.
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.