Part 1: the meaning of marriage
Marriage points to something much bigger than a husband and a wife. Even the best marriage in the world, with all the joys and blessings that exist with it, serves to direct the focus to something greater. The Bible declares that God created marriage for Himself — to display Himself gloriously, beautifully, attractively, and delightfully.
The meaning of marriage is quite simple: God. God created earthly marriage to reflect His marriage to His people. God’s covenant-keeping marriage with His elect people flows entirely from His grace and results exclusively for His glory.
So then, in what follows, I will simplify the above paragraph by highlighting a number of essential factors.
First, marriage is about GOD.
Marriage exists because God created it. God designed and fashioned marriage to suit His sovereign purposes and His supreme plan. Marriage, thus, is about God and His magnification, and His radiance, and His preeminence, and His power. Marriage cannot be divorced from God. Even non-Christians who have married other non-Christians have embarked upon a divinely-instituted relationship, that has divinely-glorious purposes. The creator of marriage is God. Since He created the institution of marriage, every earthly marriage should be pointing to God and His glory. Marriage, by definition, is a covenantal relationship. The permanent, lifelong, unending, faithful stipulations in a marriage relationship portray who God is. Of course this is to be so since God created marriage to display His marvelous glory and His relational supremacy.
Second, marriage is about the GOSPEL.
The very first institution that God ever made was marriage. Before work came about, before money, finances, sex, communication, friendships, prestige and prominence, or any other organization or mission, God created and instituted and designed marriage. Marriage, by God’s definition, consists of one man leaving his father and his mother and clinging to one woman and they, thus, cleave to one another and become one flesh (cf. Genesis 2:24). The language contained in this account implies covenantal overtones. After all, God does declare in the Bible that marriage, by definition, is a covenant (Malachi 2:14; Proverbs 2:17). Later on in biblical revelation, the Spirit guided the Apostle Paul to write that earthly marriage is a “mystery” — but this mystery is fully revealed in the relationship between Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:31-32). These clear statements in Ephesians reveal that, since the very beginning of time (before the first marriage was even ratified), every marriage has served to represent and display the heavenly marriage of Christ and His bride, the Church. Thus, earthly marriages point to the divine marriage. The way a husband loves his wife must point to the way that Christ has loved the Church. The love that Christ displayed for His elect bride must serve as the model for how every Christian man must sacrificially love his precious wife. And the way a wife submits to her husband must point to the way that the Church submits to Jesus Christ — in everything. Jesus, as the Creator of the Church is in fact the very Head of the Church (that is, Christ is her authority). The joyful and heartfelt submission and obedience that true believers render to Jesus Christ should serve as the model for every wife to humbly, heartfully, and worshipfully submit to her own husband in everything. After all, God created marriage to present the gospel visibly. In God’s mind, marriage exists as the visible theater upon which the glorious gospel of redemption is seen by all onlookers.
Third, marriage is about GRACE.
God lavishes grace upon His people (Ephesians 1:7-8). So it must be in the spiritual realm as well. Every Christian must willingly and lavishly and unreservedly pour out grace to others. The gospel that saves is a gospel of grace (Ephesians 2:8-9). No person in the world can get to heaven without divine grace (2 Timothy 1:9). Since earthly marriage pictures the heavenly marriage, and since the heavenly marriage is glittered brilliantly with grace, so every marriage must also manifest a lavish outflow of grace. A marriage between a man and a woman without grace defiles and poisons the picture of the gospel. The saving relationship between Christ and His bride not only began with grace (Ephesians 2:5) but the believer lives sustained by God’s grace (2 Timothy 2:1) and the believer’s life will culminate in eternal glory all as a result of God’s grace (1 Peter 5:10). Marriage partners, then, should constantly grant grace to one another. Grace is needed because humans sin. That which makes the gospel overwhelmingly delightful is that it is built on God’s wondrous grace. And so it should be in every marriage. What makes every marriage attractive — and what makes every husband extremely attractive to his wife and that which makes the wife supremely glorious to her husband — is the full, lavish, free, and unrestrained outflow of grace to each other. This wonderfully depicts the gospel. Thus, we could say that marriage is about grace since the gospel is about grace.
Fourth, marriage is about GLORY.
When Moses constructed the Tabernacle, that earthly tent where Yahweh dwelt among His people, the glory of the LORD filled it so completely that Moses could not even enter the building (Exodus 40:35). If the glory of the Lord filled an earthly building, how much more does the glory of the Lord fill His specially elect people who have the Spirit of glory dwelling within them (1 Peter 4:14; 1 Corinthians 3:16). God dwells in each of His children (Ephesians 1:13-14) and he guarantees their eternal glory (2 Timothy 2:10). And if the divine relationship between God and His people is like this, how much more ought the marriage relationship (which God created to point to this heavenly relationship) point to this glory. For the Christian, glory is promised to yet come (Romans 8:17-21). For every marriage relationship, the husband and the wife should strive to love one another and to sanctify one another with aggressive passion, with Spirit-endowed grace, and with exuberant delight until that final day when we stand before God in glory (Ephesians 5:26-27). God’s gospel results in His glory (Romans 11:36). And so it is with marriage, it serves to radiate the glory of God (Song of Solomon 7:6; Colossians 1:16).
It should be said, in conclusion, that the meaning of marriage is the glory of God, resulting from the grace of God, striving to represent the gospel of God. Only to the degree that God’s people enjoy Him and savor Him can they enjoy and savor the real meaning of marriage. This must drive us daily and constantly to the Word of God. Let God’s Word fill and saturate our hearts, our minds, and our lives.
A Word-filled marriage is a small snapshot of the delights of Heaven—a living portrait of the perfect love of Jesus (John Barnett).
[At the end of this blog series, I'll compile the posts together into an eBook available for download.]