So, let’s review the three purposes for marriage that we’ve looked at so far. They are sanctification, illustration, and procreation. What I want to do now is look these in a broader way and show you how they are connected and how each of them impacts the others.
We began our study a few weeks ago by acknowledging that there are millions of pages of Christian literature addressing the subject of marriage. Just browse the “Marriage and Family” section of an online bookstore and you’ll see what I mean. We also noted that most of that vast collection of literature offers help on how to save, improve, protect, grow, or even end a marriage, but it’s very difficult to find many pages that address God’s purposes for marriage.
The importance of understanding God’s purposes for marriage cannot be overstated. Unless we understand why God designed and instituted marriage in the first place, we will not be able to give wise, godly counsel to those with questions about marriage. I stated in the opening of our study, “Until we answer the question of purpose, we have no foundation upon which to build the structure of marriage. Only as God’s people understand and embrace His purposes in instituting the marriage covenant can we become more unified in our teaching about what a godly marriage looks like.”
As we begin this review, I will read from Genesis 1:26-28 and Genesis 2:18-25.
Genesis 1:26-28; 2:18-25
In the first portion of this study, I stated my belief that the primary purpose of marriage is sanctification. I based that on the record of Genesis 1:26 to 28. God created mankind, male and female, in His own image and likeness. God originally designed human beings to be LIKE Him, not in the role of a usurper, like Lucifer, son of the morning, but in the role of reflector or messenger. Humans were (and are) to be a tangible expression of God’s person and character.
By virtue of our creation, we are obligated to be holy, to be set apart; that is, to be like God. The requirement of holiness is stressed throughout the Scriptures from beginning to end. Though that original Godlikeness was marred by the sin of our first parents, sanctification was so important to the representation of God’s image that He was willing to sacrifice His only Son to restore that image. Therefore, holiness becomes God’s supreme goal for every individual He creates.
We should note that holiness isn’t simply moral improvement. Instead, it’s transformation. We don’t merely live differently than others, we have a completely different principle of life. We could say that holiness is not a lifestyle, but rather a life.
And for the disciple of Christ, it isn’t optional. Hebrews 12:14 informs that “without holiness, no one will see the Lord.” So, even though holiness is given to us as a gift through Christ, there is a need for pursuing it or striving to develop its qualities in our daily lives. Marriage is one of the tools God uses in this process.
Now it’s true that not every person will marry. But in God’s plan for the human family marriage is normative. That means, it is God’s design and plan that most people will marry and produce children so the human race continues and God’s purposes in the world can be fulfilled. Therefore, marriage becomes a valuable tool in God’s hands to continue the work of sanctification in our lives. To paraphrase the words of Gary Thomas, “God designed marriage to make us HOLY more than to make us happy.” Understanding this primary purpose of marriage will impact the answer you give to ANY question about the marriage relationship.
The second purpose we looked at was illustration. We find this purpose by looking at Paul’s use of Genesis 2:24 in Ephesians chapter five. Paul writes in verse 31, “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.” He then gives his application in verse 32. “This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”
The purpose of illustration highlights the symbolism of the marriage relationship. Marriage is patterned after Christ’s covenant relationship with the church. It is logical to conclude that Paul is saying marriage (the covenant involved in leaving father and mother and being united to a spouse) is patterned after Christ’s covenant commitment to His church. Jesus spoke of this relationship in Matthew 9:15 and in John 3:29. In these verses He referred to Himself as the bridegroom coming for His bride, the church. Therefore, this purpose for marriage puts the covenant relationship of Christ and His church on continual display.
The love that binds husband and wife together, even the love Adam and Eve had before the fall, is a glorious love because it portrays something magnificent, Christ’s love for His people. Marriage is essential, it’s mysterious, and it’s magnificent because it points to something bigger that is also essential, mysterious, and magnificent. In other words, “marriage is a vivid, life-size, daily illustration of God’s plan of redemption, Christ’s covenant with His church.”
The third and final purpose we examined was procreation. This purpose is clearly and undeniably presented in Genesis 1:28. IMMEDIATELY following the creation of man and woman God BLESSED them! The first provision of the blessing God gave to Adam and Eve was also a command, the command of procreation. “Be fruitful and multiply…”
As we have noted earlier in this study, mankind is the only part of creation that is made in God’s image and likeness. Therefore, the purpose of procreation among human beings is more than simply the propagation of the species. It gives human beings the opportunity and privilege of partnering with God in the creation of other human beings made in His likeness! God’s goal is that the earth would eventually be filled with those who will worship and praise Him. Clearly, procreation is a third major purpose of the marriage relationship. In God’s plan, children are not incidental to marriage, they are an essential part of it.
It almost goes without saying that another purpose of procreation is to continue and increase the family of God, the church. The entire scope of the Scriptures reinforces this reality. The biblical emphasis on the current generation teaching the rising generation is clearly seen throughout both the Old and New Testaments. Our faith in God is to be multi-generational. The rejection of procreation as a primary purpose of marriage is endangering the church and the world.
Now, in the remaining time we have together let’s examine the way these purposes overlap and relate to each other. If indeed sanctification is the primary purpose of marriage, then it follows that every facet of the marriage relationship has some connection to that fact. It is true that our sanctification is a work of the Spirit, but God does not force Himself on anyone! Every day you and I make conscious decisions to either permit or deny Him the freedom to work in our lives.
Regardless of what our contemporary culture claims, God established clear, recognizable distinctions between men and women. And, while He created men and women of equal worth, He also established different roles for each. We’ll explore this in more detail in a later study.
Our Genesis text tells us that it was “not good for man to be alone.” The reason why is stated in the end of the verse; Adam needed a helper. That means he lacked something, even though he was perfectly made by God! My conclusion is that neither male nor female alone can accurately represent the fullness of God. So, God gave Adam a wife to complement him, to complete what he lacked. This all took place before sin entered the picture.
So now we have male and female brought together in a marriage relationship so they can complement each other. Together they could accomplish what would be impossible individually, including procreation. Then, sin enters the picture. Now, the effects of sin cause the man to be suspicious of the woman and vice versa. Motives are questioned and what was meant by God to complement now clashes. Remember, opposites not only attract, but they also often attack. And within these realities lies the opportunity for all kinds of spiritual growth and sanctification.
My wife and I have a wonderful, growing marriage relationship of 40+ years and I assure you it doesn’t happen without effort. God uses our differences as opportunities to perfect His grace in our lives. I’ll be honest with you; I don’t always appreciate what God is attempting to do and sometimes I resist His grace. That creates conflict, and in conflict someone usually gets hurt! Immediately, the Spirit of God is there to remind me that as a husband I have an obligation; to love my wife the way Christ loved the church – unconditionally. See, there’s the purpose of illustration. So, these purposes for marriage really do blend together.
And if you think there are opportunities for growth in sanctification in marriage, just wait until God brings children into your life! Children not only add opportunities for sanctification – they multiply them. Yet again, if we respond to the grace God gives us in each situation, children can be and are one of marriage’s greatest blessings. The purpose of procreation will expand your opportunities for spiritual growth.
I can also testify to you that when God began blessing Joyce and me with children, God did some major work in my life. I realized that from now on, I was going to have someone watching and imitating everything I said and did. By my words and actions, I would be shaping the life of another human being – positively or negatively. I began to question the value of certain activities. I began to think about how the long-term effects of my choices would impact and influence my children. I realized that I would one day give an account of how I had nurtured this new life. Would the example I provided and the training I gave encourage this child to embrace a personal relationship with God through Jesus?
Procreation, as one of the purposes of marriage, also integrates with the other purposes and provides practical applications for us. In our Genesis text, God designed that the husband would leave his father and mother and “cleave” to his wife. As a result of this separation from their existing family units, husband and wife would become “one flesh.” They would start a new family unit. In God’s blessing and design that new family unit would naturally include children.
God designed marriage to be a monogamous and heterosexual, the complete union of two persons. And while not specifically stated here, the word, cleave, implies that union is to be permanent. Jesus confirmed this understanding in Mark 10:7 to 9 and in Matthew 19:9 to 12. In fact, Jesus’ words were so strong that the disciples concluded, “If this is the case of a man with his wife, it is not good to marry!” They caught the seriousness of the commitment. Sadly, among too many professing Christ-followers today this understanding is missing.
In I Corinthians 6:16, in the context of sanctification, Paul asks the question, “Do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For “the two,” He says, “shall become one flesh.” In the latter part of this verse, he is quoting Genesis 2:24. Yet in God’s design, there is more to becoming one flesh than just the physical relationship. The act that God designed to result in procreation involves our whole being, spirit, soul, and body. How this oneness occurs is, in the words of the apostle Paul, “a great mystery.”
The Bible teaches, and a large body of secular research supports, that the best atmosphere for raising children is a home where parents are fully committed to their marriage and family relationships. Secular research also confirms that a stay-at-home mother and regular attendance at religious services also yield additional benefits. That shouldn’t surprise us since the Bible also teaches the value of mothers as “keepers at home” (Titus 2:5) and the importance of our “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together” (Hebrews 10:25) for spiritual instruction and fellowship. Yet many professing Christians think they can ignore these principles and still have a godly marriage and family. Let me assure you, if we don’t do it God’s way, we don’t get the results promised in His Word!
There are many other areas we could address in applying what we’ve learned about “God’s Purposes for Marriage.” But as I mentioned earlier, my goal isn’t to exhaust the subject. It is to sharpen your appetite for a deeper understanding of God’s truth. My prayer is that your desire for truth will drive you to the Word to explore these issues for yourself.
As we close our study let me quote for you a few statements that I made several weeks ago, when we began this study. I said “If you are a follower of Jesus, your claim automatically obligates you to accept the Word of God as the guide and standard for your life. Yet I discover in my own life, and among other Believers, a disturbing reality. In many areas we follow man’s ideas about what the Bible teaches instead of actually following what the Bible teaches.” So today, I urge you to be like the Bereans whom Paul spoke of in Acts 17:11. “…they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.”
I recommit myself to joining you in the search for truth and understanding realizing that the Word of God is the foundation of all truth. In the weeks to come we will continue to examine the Scriptural teaching on various aspects of marriage and family life. I hope you will join me. As always, I invite your questions and comments as we go along. As we learn and grow together, applying the principles of Scripture to our individual lives and families, I believe we can make a difference in our homes, our churches, our communities, and our world. Let me leave you with this encouraging word from the Lord in Second Chronicles 16:9. “For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him.” God is watching for those who obey Him, and there will be rewards and blessings for them both now and into eternity! May God’s eyes rest on you with favor.