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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Marriage and the Gospel

Clearly our culture has lost its way when it comes to marriage. We started our most serious departure from the truth in the '50's when we decided that "marriage" and "offspring" were distinct. We continued that departure with "no fault divorce". With these twin assaults on marriage came a parallel attack, euphemistically called "free love" -- have sex with whomever you want. The cancer has eaten away at the body of marriage for decades and now we have the contradictory concept of "gay marriage" as not merely acceptable, but as law of the land. Today, between "gay marriage" (which is not marriage), "free love", the loose construct of "family" which includes everything from "my live-in boyfriend" to "our cats", the constant threat of divorce, and the ubiquitous single parent, marriage is no longer what God intended.

So what? What does it matter if fewer and fewer of us get it? What does it matter if the popular opinion is counter to Scripture (which, by the way, makes it counter to the truth ... by definition)? What difference does it make as long as we (the few) retain it? The question belies our failure to grasp the importance of marriage.

The Bible gives its primary definition of marriage right up front.
A man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. (Gen 2:24)
Not too difficult, but important. Important enough for Jesus to echo it (Matt 19:4-6). (Jesus says that you can be married -- male and female become one flesh -- or a eunuch (Matt 19:11-12) -- celibate. There are no other biblical options.) Male and female (husband and wife, bride and groom) become one for life (Matt 19:6). This rules out premarital sex, adultery, divorce, and, of course, any other "marriage" that is not marriage. It's important. It's important for the race, as the primary and best means of producing and raising subsequent generations, of propagating the species and the faith. It's important for the family, structured as God intended. It's important for society with this family structure as the key component of any community.

It's important, however, for one often-ignored reason. This structure of marriage is intended by God to be an image of the Gospel.

Marriage as a picture of Christ's death on our behalf.

The Bible commands husbands (as a portrayal of Christ) to give their lives for their wives.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her (Eph 5:25)
When Paul commands us to "Submit to one another" (Eph 5:21), he follows it with an explanation from marriage. Wives submit to their husband's authority (Eph 5:22-24); husbands submit their lives to caring for their wives (Eph 5:25-27). Christ did the latter by dying for us, rising again, sending the Holy Spirit, and dwelling within us. It is a picture on one hand of how husbands ought to relate to their wives and, on the other hand, a picture from marriage about Christ's relationship with us.

Marriage as a picture of our submission to Christ.

Just as husbands are to give their lives for their wives, wives are to
be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. (Eph 5:22-24)
The Gospel starts here. Christ died on our behalf -- gave Himself for us. We must submit to Him as head "in everything" and Savior. That's the start of the Gospel. He gave Himself for us; we submit to Him.

Marriage as a picture of lifelong commitment to Christ.

Marriage includes commitment and separation -- commitment to each other and a separation from others. It is monogamy -- one marriage. It is union (Eph 5:31-32; Col 1:27). It excludes those outside (Heb 13:4; 1 John 5:21). And it is for life (Rom 7:2; Jude 1:24). All of these are critical components of the Gospel. Christ commits to us and we are His for eternity -- eternal bliss. It's a far better version than the fairy tale "they lived happily ever after". This one is beyond happy.

Marriage as a picture of Christ and the Church.

The Bible repeatedly uses this picture of marriage as a mysterious parallel of Christ's relationship with the Church.
"Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church. (Eph 5:31-32)
The plan "before the ages began" (Titus 1:2) was that Christ would die to save a Bride for Himself. These would surely come to Him (John 6:37) and He would lose not one (John 10:27-30). Paul told the Corinthians "I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin." (2 Cor 11:2) In the Revelation of Jesus Christ, John describes the marriage feast of the Lamb (Rev 19:7-9). Marriage expresses the union of Christ and the Church.

Marriage is God's idea, built on the union of a man and a woman. Essential to God's idea of marriage is the husband's sacrifice of self for his wife as an image of Christ's sacrifice on our behalf, the submission of the wife to the husband as an image of our submission to Christ, and the exclusive union of husband and wife -- two become one -- as the image of Christ's union with His Bride, the Church. Marriage -- your marriage -- is intended by God not to be some self-pleasuring institution, but a picture of the Gospel. As such, your marriage, husbands and wives, faithfully represents the Gospel for others to the extent that you faithfully reflect God's instructions for marriage. It's not too late to do that properly, even if (or rather "though") errors have been committed. The closer your marriage and your operation within your role in marriage aligns with God's commands, the better your marriage represents the Gospel and your lives declare the glory of God. Now, remember the question. What difference does it make if the world's version of marriage no longer matches God's? To the extent that more of us buy into that false version, fewer will be able to see the Gospel lived out in marriage as God intended. And that, you see, is Satan's plan -- obscure the Gospel. We have marching orders. We ought to ignore the lies of the world and get to work on doing what's right.

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