What if marriage is not all about love, companionship, and sex, but was designed as something much grander? Marriage is often portrayed as less than it truly is. Like the three blind men striving to describe an elephant by touch—one describing it by the legs, another by its trunk, and the third by its tail—we also often describe marriage by its parts, not as the whole. The Scriptures teach that love, companionship, and procreation were not the purposes of marriage, but only parts. This Scriptural truth is often overlooked and, as a result, has created great confusion about marriage.
THE BURDEN OF LONELINESS
In 2012 author Justin Lee published his book Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gay vs. Christian Debate. He is a remarkable communicator and his book was masterfully written. I love that Justin faces the tough issues head-on and seeks to provide solid responses to the debate at hand. In his book he concludes that God may allow committed, Christ-centered same-sex relationships. After reading his rationale and seeing the Scriptures he uses, I still could not come to the same conclusion. Even after talking with him over coffee, something still did not sit right with me. And only one thought stood in the way: God’s one purpose for marriage.
In chapter 7, Justin frames the discussion around love and marriage. He paints an agonizing portrait of the burden of loneliness. He then paints a contrasting portrait of the deep bonds of marriage with its beautiful fruit of companionship, love, affirmation, support, and—of course—wholesome sex. Neither portrait is wrong; they are both notably accurate for many.
He then takes the reader on a journey through his own struggle with loneliness. The journey is a powerful glimpse into the struggle of many, and a glimpse which married Christians must grasp for the sake of the unmarried Christians who struggle. Justin outlines his inborn desire for intimacy, companionship and love, followed by the internal turmoil from knowing God’s traditional outline for marriage and its possible implications for his life. At the end of the chapter, Justin wisely says:
After agonizing over the decision I knew I had to make, I finally reached the inescapable conclusion: I had to follow God, whatever that might mean.
What a wonderful statement. So let us look to God’s Word. Despite Justin’s compelling work, God’s one purpose for marriage is the only thing that kept me from accepting the conclusion of Justin’s book. The Bible gives one purpose—and only one—for the institution of marriage.
It’s Not What You May Think
1. Marriage Is Not for Procreation
Many people accurately point out that having children is not the purpose of marriage, although children may be a wonderful result. Even when young couples are told they may never have children, they often still choose to marry.
Physically speaking, marriage is not even necessary for procreation. God did tell Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply, but any male and female have the potential to procreate with or without marriage. God did not need to create marriage for the purpose of procreation. In fact, God’s purpose is much bigger than this.
2. Marriage Is Not for Love
Love is the most popular idea for the purpose of marriage, but it comes at a high moral price. All the way up to the Supreme Court of the United States of America, this idea prevails. Justice Anthony Kennedy explained his view of the purpose of marriage in the final paragraph of his opinion (page 28):
No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family…marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death… Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions….
While love is a vital component, it is not the purpose of marriage. If love is all that matters, why deny any person the opportunity to marry anyone (or anything) they love? Logically speaking, if marriage is simply for love, then we can place no legal restriction to age, gender, quantity, or species. Go marry that teen. Marry both of those women. Marry that dog.
Our culture rightly views those ideas as wrong or sick right now: who can fathom a man marrying a child, a man with ten wives, or a woman marrying her dog? But set aside your disgust and anger long enough to explain what can logically hinder these ideas if love is truly all that matters? One must simply adjust our society’s tolerance and they soon become acceptable: just like same sex marriage.
You should love the one you marry; but love is not God’s purpose for marriage.
3. Marriage Is Not for Companionship
Although marriage often offers companionship for the lonely soul, marriage is not the cure for loneliness. Simply Google “loneliness in marriage” to find how widespread loneliness is even for married couples. Companionship is a probable byproduct of marriage, but not its purpose.
Think about it: In the past, Adam communed with God Almighty in the garden. Is a mortal woman a greater companion than God Himself? In the future, mankind will neither marry nor be given in marriage (Matthew 22:30). Does man suddenly lose his need for companionship? Or will Jesus’ physical presence among us satisfy that need more fully than a spouse?
If I claim that the purpose of marriage is not for companionship, what are we to make of Genesis 2:18 which says, “it is not good that the man should be alone?” First, notice that God recognized the need, not Adam. We often create this false story in which Adam sees each animal with a mate, cannot find a mate for himself, and then feels lonely. But where is that found in Scripture? We must also recognize the great difference between being alone and feeling lonely; they are not mutually exclusive. Second, notice that God identified Adam’s need as a lack of help, not loneliness. God responded and called His answer “a help [which is] meet for him.” Third, notice that it says “the man.” It is not speaking of mankind in general, but of Adam specifically. Not all men are designed to get married; God has a purpose for some to remain faithfully unmarried (1 Corinthians 7:32-33). Here, God gave Adam a task and recognized his need for help. His response to Adam’s need was to create a help for “the man,” and she was meet (sufficient) for him. Companionship and procreation were results of their union, not its purpose.
But have you ever stopped to consider: why the marriage? If help was his need, why not just be friends or simple coworkers in the garden? Why must God institute this thing called marriage?
THE ONE PURPOSE OF MARRIAGE
Procreation is a wonderful gift from God, but He can fill the earth without marriage. A good marriage ought to provide companionship, but God is a superior companion to man without marriage. A man is commanded to love his wife, but God is the greatest Love beyond any love in marriage. These all are important fruits of a good marriage, but they are not individually the purpose of marriage. So what is the purpose? Ephesians 5:31 says “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.”
For what cause? For what cause does a man get married?
He tells in the verses before it:
“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it… For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. 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.” (Ephesians 5:25,30-31)
Marriage has one purpose, and one purpose only: to picture Christ and the church. And just in case anyone tried to deny this, Paul reiterates it in the next verse: “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”
The church is made up of many believers who are one body (Romans 12:5), and God calls this collective body a bride. God instituted that a man take a woman to be his bride and they become one flesh, thus picturing how Christ takes the church as His bride and she is of His flesh and bone, members of His body. A union of two people of the same gender is not a picture of Christ and His bride at all, and is therefore not God’s definition of marriage. The picture is the purpose.
WHY THIS MATTERS
Everything God designed and created in Scripture paints a picture. Everything. It is a fascinating study to look at all of the minute details that almost would not make sense, except for the fact that it paints a picture of a larger truth.
For example, why would God tell Moses to strike a rock in order to provide life-giving water to the Israelites? It is because the Rock pictured Christ who was smitten for our transgressions, thereby giving life to those who believe (1 Corinthians 10:4).
God later told Moses to speak to a rock for sustenance. Why the change? Because Christ was smitten only once for our transgressions and will now provide sustenance if we simply call out (speak) to Him. But Moses, in his anger, struck that second rock as well. Moses destroyed the picture that God was painting of His Son and it cost Moses his life.
My college professor once illustrated the importance of pictures. He asked a student if she had a picture of her husband. She handed him a picture, he took out a marker, and he made it look as though he were drawing all over the face of that picture. The look on her face said everything: had he continued the charade for long, she would have shown her fury. But why this anger? It is just a picture. Ah, but that picture is the image of the one she loves most.
God also takes these pictures seriously. It is the image of His only begotten Son. That is exactly what marriage is: a picture of Jesus and His Bride. Two men can never picture that. It destroys the picture. And Moses bears witness that God does not take that lightly.
RESPONDING TO GAY MARRIAGE
For the Conservative
Let’s face it: many conservative Christians have done a rotten job of representing Christ to the gay community. Rather than point to God’s beautiful picture with compassion, Christians often attack the people and sling mud. Not surprisingly, many unbelievers in the gay community view Christians as hateful people who lack compassion. Jesus Christ was the most righteous, holy man to walk the planet; no one stood against sin more strongly than the One who gave His life to overcome it, yet harlots and thieves found him to be loving and compassionate. When sinners today see us being hateful and compassionless in our stand against sin, it speaks volumes about how often we poorly emulate Christ.
It is with this in mind that I exhort conservatives to show compassion in your response. If you see the gay community as an enemy to vanquish, then you are not seeing them through the eyes of Christ. Sin and death are the enemies and they are already defeated. Those people you see bear the image of God (Genesis 1:27, 9:6; James 3:9), but have darkened hearts and blinded eyes, as once did you. Showing love and compassion is not the same as accepting sin. I again point to Jesus who stood strongest against sin but was known as a man having compassion on the multitudes.
For the Progressive
Progressive Christians often believe that accepting gay marriage is the most loving thing to do. But if God’s picture is clearly portrayed, on what grounds can a believer reject that picture and still claim to be a Bible believer? Marriage is a picture of Christ and His bride; any sexual activity outside of marriage is called fornication. Fornication is condemned no matter what your gender or gender preference may be (1 Corinthians 6:18-20). Passively accepting sin is not doing the sinner any favors, and God warns that their blood may end up on your hands (Ezekiel 3:18).
People love to quote 1 Corinthians 13 as a “love chapter” which extolls the great virtues of true, godly love, yet they seem to overlook verse 6 which says that it “Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth.” True love speaks truth, as God is Love and God is Truth. You cannot have one without the other. We must stand firmly upon the sure foundation of God’s Word (2 Timothy 2:19) and speak the truth of God with boldness, for that is the mark of one who has been with Jesus (Acts 4:13).
If marriage is about love, then what reason have I to deny marriage between two men who love one another? If marriage is about companionship, what reason have I to deny marriage between two men who make great companions? Although a good marriage should possess these qualities, marriage was not instituted for those reasons. God instituted marriage as a picture of Christ and His bride, and it is upon these grounds that a consistent, biblical Christian must conclude that a marriage cannot consist of two men or two women.
Do not be tossed to and fro with the changing tides of our culture. Scripture calls that being childish and deceptive, to which the only proper response is speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:14-24). Current national events may seem discouraging for the Bible believer; truth is fallen in the street and the world is getting worse despite our efforts. But I have some good news: we were never called to prevent sinners from sinning. Rather, we were called to shine a light. It is in the darkest places that the light of truth shines brightest. Lift Christ up and shine your light for the world to see. Recognize the one purpose of marriage. Live out a beautiful picture. Share it with the world. Proclaim it boldly. Do it with compassion.