Marriage through the Lens of Scripture
1. “And they lived happily ever after…?”
Fairy tales often end with newly-weds riding on horseback into the sun, headed towards a lifetime of happiness and bliss. But if you are (or have been) married, you’ll be able to agree with me wholeheartedly that this is hardly ever the case. Any married couple will tell you that there’s no such thing as a perfect marriage, Christian marriages included. Even the godliest of couples will tell you that marriage comes with its fair share of ups and downs. Every marriage has its share of heartaches, pain and disappointments. After nearly seven years of marriage, my husband and I are still growing aware of the realities of married life, with both its joys and challenges. But if marriage is challenging, is it a good thing worth pursuing? Scripture’s answer is a resounding yes! Let me explain why.
2. God’s design for marriage
When Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus regarding marriage, he reminded them that marriage is indeed part of God’s design for mankind. Quoting Genesis 2:24, he wrote:
Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.~ Ephesians 5:31-32
From the very beginning, God’s design for marriage is a lifelong union between a man and a woman “till death do us part”. Marriage is about two human beings, a male and a female, coming together in a life-long relationship of intimacy and trust. Ray Ortlund defines the concept of becoming “one flesh” in a straightforward, down-to-earth fashion:
“Two selfish ‘me’s start learning to think like one unified ‘us’, sharing one everything: one life, one reputation, one bed, one suffering, one budget, one family, one mission, and so forth. No barriers. No hiding. No aloofness. Now total openness with total sharing and total solidarity, until death parts them.”1
In other words, God intends marriage be a lifelong union so close, so intimate, that the two become one. This design, introduced in Genesis, and affirmed by Paul, is also taught by Christ:
He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”~ Matthew 19:4-6
This God-given design of marriage, expounded in the Scriptures, is one which every faithful Christian should seek to uphold, especially as the biblical definition of marriage is increasingly challenged, dismissed and rejected in our world.
3. The Mystery of Marriage
In a sinful and fallen world, where anyone looking for a spouse is told to find someone who “makes YOU happy”, “completes YOU”, “brings out the best in YOU” or “makes YOUR dreams come true”, marriage has become a relationship where the end goal has been reduced to self-satisfaction and self-gratification. The Scriptures clearly tell us that this is not the goal of marriage. This is because marriage is about so much more than just two people coming together to enjoy a life-long relationship of bliss and happiness. In Ephesians 5:32, Paul explains that the mystery of marriage “refers to Christ and his church”.2 This means that Christian marriages are meant to reflect the relationship between Jesus and his people, “a living drama of how Christ and the church relate to each other”.3
4. The role of a husband and wife in a marriage
Given that a Christian marriage should allow others to glimpse how Christ relates to his church, how should this “living drama” play out in real life? Christian wives are called to lovingly submit to their husbands in everything, as to the Lord. And husbands are called to love their wives as Christ loved the church. (Ephesians 5:22-25). The concept of “headship” and “submission” in marriage may sound out-dated or even repulsive to some today. Some women may find the idea of “submission” degrading and demand that their role be identical or interchangeable with their better (or some may say inferior) half. There may be a fear that the headship or leadership of a husband in marriage may lead to oppression or even abuse.
But one must understand these concepts and roles within the framework of Scripture. First, let us consider the concept of “headship”. Headship does not mean that a husband exercises complete control over his wife, lording himself over her and treating her as lesser being. Headship does not mean that the wife is “a doormat to walk on”. Husbands are called to love their wives as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25). Christ loved his church so much that he gave his own life to redeem it from sin and death, and to make it his holy and spotless bride (Ephesians 5:26-27). Christian husbands are exhorted to display the same kind of self-giving, self-sacrificial love towards their wives within their marriage.
Thus, the headship of a husband in a marriage is not one of dictatorship, but of servant leadership. Following in the footsteps of Christ, a husband is to love his wife as himself, not looking to his own interests but that of his wife, especially her growth in godliness. Under such Christ-like servant leadership, a Christian wife should seek to lovingly submit to her husband in everything, as to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:22-25) That is, she is to honour and affirm his leadership in their marriage and to seek to do all she can to support and enable him to carry out his role as leader.
5. Personal Experience
In my younger days, being a strong-headed and independent woman, I initially struggled with the idea of having to submit to the leadership of a husband. In my sinfulness, I failed to grasp the true meaning of Christian marriage revealed in God’s word. But over the past six years I’ve been married to Daniel, I have witnessed the way he seeks to carry out his role as a Christian husband, loving me just as Christ loves his church. He has stood by me in sickness, comforted me in times of pain, and assured me of his love even when I became visually impaired. Through all of this, he has constantly encouraged me to keep loving and serving the Lord Jesus Christ, his people, and our fellow neighbours. Very often, he has quietly led me by example. In the process, he has helped me to realize my own sins and weaknesses. I am thankful to God beyond words for Daniel’s leadership in our marriage. Together, we have sought to keep serving Christ, helping each other to grow in godliness as husband and wife, and serving those he sends our way within the church community and beyond.
6. The Ultimate Marriage
Of course, our marriage remains a far cry from being the “perfect” marriage. We are and always will be striving to live out God’s design more fully. All Christian marriages are but a pale glimpse of the ultimate marriage between Christ and his church, ours included. But what a privilege and honour to be able to testify to Christ even in our imperfect marriage.
One day, all believers will see and experience that perfect marriage to which our earthly marriages point. On the last day, Christ will return to gather the church, his bride, to himself. The Apostle John records a vision of this ultimate marriage in Revelation 19:6-9:
Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,
“Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory,for the marriage of the Lamb has come,and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”—
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.”~ Revelation 19:6-9
Though we may not experience the perfect marriage in this life, we can look forward to the ultimate “happily-ever-after” ending, when we spend eternity enjoying intimate relationship with our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
How then, should this precious truth impact our Christian life now? The single person who feels like he or she is missing out on the ‘best’ part of life, is reminded that earthly marriages, though good, will not cure all our problems in life. Only our true husband, Jesus Christ, can give us the full joy and satisfaction for which we long. Even as we long for an earthly marriage, we continue to set our hearts and love on him.
Believers who have suffered deep hurt and pain because of a broken marriage, can find healing and comfort in knowing that the perfect marriage can one day be theirs. No matter what lies in the past, they can be comforted by know they are perfectly loved and totally accepted by Christ, despite their failures and flaws.
Finally, married believers, can remember the great significance of their marriage. As they live out their God-given roles in sacrificial love and gentle submission, they can testify to the glorious gospel of Christ to the world in all its beauty, to the glory of God.
- 1 Ortlund, Ray. “What is marriage, according to the Bible?”, The Gospel Coalition, 26 June 2015, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/what-is-marriage-according-to-the-bible/)
- 2 The term “mystery” which is used in the New Testament refers to something that had at one time been hidden but is now revealed by God to his people
- 3 John Piper, Husbands who love like Christ and the wives who submit to them, https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/husbands-who-love-like-christ-and-the-wives-who-submit-to-them
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Marianne Liaw is a youth ministry worker with Scripture Union Peninsular Malaysia, whose passion is sharing the gospel and teaching God’s word to youths in schools and churches. Both she and her husband, Daniel serve in various ministries in their home church, St Mary’s Cathedral. They are also actively involved in service with the refugee community in the Klang Valley.
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