What is marriage? Is it just an outdated tradition? Just a superficial arrangement? What is the purpose?
To answer this, let’s go back to the beginning. Let’s look at God’s original design for marriage in Genesis 2. Here we read the account of Adam and Eve, the first married couple.
Genesis tells us that God created Adam first, and he was alone. He had other animals around him, but he didn’t have a helper that fit him, that corresponded to him. God says this was not good. A helper is someone to come alongside a person and meet the needs of someone who is lacking or struggling. God looked at the man and realized, “This guy needs some help!” Not a superior above him, or a servant below him – but a counterpart equal to him, a partner.
Therefore, God takes a rib from Adam to create the first woman, Eve – from Adam’s physical body, from his side. Adam is overjoyed when he sees the woman God created. He says, “Finally, someone that fits me! Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh!” See, the man and the woman are uniquely designed, distinct genders, but organically connected, cut from the same cloth, equal before God.
God created man first to indicate that he has responsibility to lead and guide the relationship so that it flourishes. 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 teaches that because of the creation order, the husband is the head, the leader in the relationship. He leads, not as his wife’s superior, but as her partner. The husband and wife are not independent of one another; they are very much dependent on one another – woman was created from man, and now man is born from woman.
The husband and wife are counterparts, joined side-by-side, distinctly designed to fit together, to complement one another – like two puzzle pieces. Marriage is a partnership, companionship, friendship. You trust one another and rely on one another. This means spouses stand together, to help, support, bless, encourage, love, and serve one another as complementary partners. This means your differences are just as important as your similarities! Spouses must continue to learn one another to serve each other and flourish together.
Genesis goes on to say, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24, NAS). It is God’s beautiful design for marriage that a man leaves his father and mother. He disconnects from his birth family, separates from his previous life and is joined to his wife. Marriage means you are joined, united together. Bound together as one flesh. Two individuals, two entities become one.
Surely this is a picture of the sexual union, but the physical joining that happens in marriage is really the seal of the mental, emotional, spiritual union that takes place before God. The Pharisees asked Jesus one time about marriage and divorce. He quoted from this passage and said, “So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matthew 19:6). Marriage is a lifelong covenant union.
In his book, No Ordinary Marriage, Tim Savage compares the marriage union to two rivers combining together. When two rivers cross paths, immediately their forces combine and white water churns up. There, when two rivers cross paths, waters are joined together such that you can no longer tell the two apart and a more powerful force is formed; a new direction is set. As a husband and wife join together, as they combine their love and passions, as their gifts and interests flow into one another, a deeper, stronger river is formed. God’s design is for a husband and wife to be one flesh, a lifelong covenant union of complementary partners.
In Ephesians 5, Paul expounds on this concept of Christian marriage. Reflecting on the idea that the husband and wife become one flesh, he tells husbands to love their wives as their own body. When a man loves his wife, he loves himself. You don’t hate your own flesh, that would be ridiculous. Instead you nourish and cherish your body, you provide and care for it.
The husband’s model for this is Christ. You love, serve, lead, and nourish your wife just as Christ does the Church. In fact, the whole concept of marriage isn’t really about husbands and wives after all. Reflecting on the idea of the two becoming one flesh, Ephesians 5:32 says, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”
See, Christ is the perfect husband that loved his Bride and came to give himself up for her. He sacrificed himself on the cross, so he could be joined to the Church he loves. Christ conquered death, rising back to new life so that he and his Bride could be joined together as one. Not just a lifelong covenant union, but an eternal covenant union.
So, the next time you go to a wedding, or celebrate an anniversary, or struggle in your marriage, remember, marriage is really about Jesus. And Christ is not just a picture of your marriage- he is the power for your marriage. When you become one flesh with your spouse, as you move through the ups and downs of a lifelong covenant marriage, don’t put your trust in yourself or your partner. Don’t trust in your love or your commitment. Trust in the Lord Jesus. By his grace, his Spirit will fill your marriage with his love and empower you to flourish as one flesh, in reflection of him.