Building up believers and the New Testament church

The Mystery of Marriage


The question that is sure to come sooner or later is "What about love?" Most of the world around us puts that question first in a discussion of marriage. I personally put it near the end. It is an important question, but there is so much that should go before. The difference between spiritual and natural thinking is evident in our definition of love. To most people, love is a feeling. I cannot find that definition in the scriptures or in my experience of God.

What is your definition of love? Someone has said that you know a person is in love when they answer that question with another person's name. There is a certain amount of truth in that, though I do not see it as the whole truth. To help our thinking, let me ask a question. Did Rebecca love Isaac before she said yes to the servant? If not, how could she say yes to the proposal? If we are willing to move in spiritual realms (and that is the only place we should be moving), the foundation of a marriage is not first whether you love a person, but whether the love of God is filling your heart by the Holy Spirit, and whether the Spirit is leading you into a relationship of marriage.

Love in marriage is each partner under the authority of God making a sovereign choice and commitment to the other. At the very heart of love must be choice. I choose to love somebody. We tend to make a distinction between spiritual love (the love that comes from God) and the love that we experience in marriage. Do we have a real basis for doing so? If I love God, and God's love is filling my heart, is it not that same love that is expressed toward my husband or wife within the confines of marriage? What does this scripture mean: "Husbands, love your wives just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it" (Eph. 5:25).

What the world around us calls "love" is usually feelings of emotion and desire on a natural or physical level. Many "love stories" are just lust stories. Men are attracted physically to women, and women encourage it by the way they conduct themselves in dress and behavior. Women are attracted to men either by physical appearance or personality, or perhaps some other natural trait. It may be a good trait, but it is still natural. Their emotions are aroused as they focus on the traits in the person they admire, and they call it "love." Is it love or is it just desires aroused because they have focused on a man and what they want? The same is true for a man.

After the wedding (years or sometimes months later), too often we hear this statement from one partner or both: "I just don't love her/him anymore." What are they saying? Somehow, the physical attraction is no longer as exciting as it was, or something has changed their expectations. Perhaps the job went sour or the responsibility of children has hindered their lifestyle. What they were originally looking at has been eclipsed by something else, and they do not have the same feelings or emotions. But what has really happened? The person has not chosen to continue to love; thus the feelings of affection and desire have faded. Their heart is now set on something (or someone) else. So many relationships today are built on surface feelings, and that is why they fail. They have no substance or foundation. Love that lasts is much deeper than these feelings.

Consider God's definition of love: "God is love." Out of who God is, He "so loved the world that He gave" (John 3:16). If we are in Christ, the same love dwells in us because God dwells in us. If this is true, a Christian has the capacity to love any other person in God's creation. Love is something we choose to do, but the ability comes from God.

Certainly in marriage, a sovereign choice--choosing one woman or one man--arouses feelings and desires that are deep and strong. When we begin to focus on that man or woman, affection arises in our hearts that is pure and God-given. God has designed us in such a way that the emotions this choice releases are perhaps the strongest known to mankind. But the point is that in God's order, these feelings are not love but the result of love. They are the result of our choice. In God's order, they are beautiful and wonderful beyond words, but they are not the foundation on which a marriage can be built to last.

The reason we dwell on this in our discussion is that unfortunately, many young people base their choice of a future mate solely on these feelings. They see something in another person that they admire. The things they see may be good, but they cannot be the basis of their love and commitment. What they see may change as they begin to live with that person. The feelings go away, and then what?

The basis of a marriage must be God's love filling our hearts, the leadership and witness of the Holy Spirit in our choice of a spiritual man or woman, and a commitment to express God's love to our spouse for life. If this is true, then we can say "I love you," and the love will last for a lifetime as we continue to abide in Christ and let God fill our hearts with His love. Lest someone think I am detracting from the power of emotions and desire, all I can say is that with the foundation I have indicated, everything else will follow and overflow. The problem will not be in producing it, but perhaps in keeping it all under God's control for His glory.

Whatever else may be involved, love at its very foundation includes the nature and character of God being worked in us by the Holy Spirit, and our ongoing power of choice. We choose to love.

Some may feel that I have made the standard too high and idealistic. After all, are there not multitudes in the world that do not know God, yet have had a happy marriage? My answer is this: why would anyone not want the ultimate that God offers in marriage? Why settle for second best? The "multitudes" that are working out their marriages separate from God do not know what they are missing, and will never know, apart from repentance and entering into the grace of God. They have defined love on another level. Their love for each other is the best that they can do without God, but what does God think of our best efforts? We know the answer to that question.

Also, many that appear to have a "good" marriage today may be in the divorce courts tomorrow because their best efforts came to an end. If we want to experience the riches that God has for us, we must lay aside all of our preconceived ideas and natural efforts, and determine to get into God's love and keep ourselves there. Those who have experienced this would not turn back to a lower place for the entire world.

God's Order In Marriage

A couple preparing for marriage must face one subject that perhaps stands above all others. It needs to be addressed prior to marriage, not after. That subject is authority. How has God planned for this to be worked out between a husband and wife? If a couple has settled this question in God's way, every other subject can be worked though in harmony to the glory of God.

If we look back again to the Genesis account, we see that it was failure to follow God's order that led the human race into sin. Satan did not go to Adam but to Eve. The scripture tells us that Eve was deceived. She reasoned in her own mind instead of consulting Adam. She did not realize what she was doing. Adam, however, knew what he was doing. He was not deceived. But instead of obeying his head (God), he entered in with Eve into sin. This has been the pattern down through the ages, in every instance where men have not moved in God's order.

God created both man and woman perfectly according to His wisdom and purposes. Women are not less than men, but they are different. They are different not only physically but in many other ways. God created man and woman to function perfectly together according to His design. When both accept their God-given roles, it is a true glory to behold. When either one does not accept God's design and moves according to their own thinking, problems are bound to come. For two to become one and function accordingly, each must move in faith before God in their place.

In the creation account, we read that God created woman as a "help meet [suitable]" for Adam. That is a very difficult statement in today's world. It seems to put women in a lesser place; thus it is almost universally rejected, even among religious people who claim the Bible as their authority. There is no question that mankind apart from God has put women down over the centuries, but God never does. It is our natural mind that thinks this way, and we must let God give us His mind. God never puts anybody down, but rather lifts us up to enjoy the riches of His love. However, we all must come God's way if we want to be lifted up with Him. His way is that we humble ourselves under His mighty hand so that He can lift us up. If we will not humble ourselves, He cannot lift us up. He opens the door, but He does not force us down. We must humble ourselves. This is the beginning place of knowing His grace.

We should be familiar with Paul's instruction on this in I Corinthians 11. Verse 2 says, "But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and head of Christ is God." This is God's order in creation, not just in marriage, but it has particular application in marriage. Marriage is where two people enter into a union and function as one. For this to happen, there can only be one head. God has ordained that the man be the head. To our modern ears this may sound very strange and restrictive. But again, what has the natural thinking of our age done for mankind? If we want something better, we must go back to God.

This is not a question of value in God's eyes. It is a question of how God has designed two to function as one under His authority. Christ is not lower in our eyes or the eyes of God because He humbled Himself and submitted to the place God ordained for Him. Rather, God has lifted Him up and given Him a name which is above every name. If we are able to hear God in this, it should answer our questions.

As we have already mentioned, this is a place of faith for both parties. First, the admonition to husbands is to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it (Eph. 5:25). That takes the power of God and a lifetime to work out. Before entering into marriage, a woman should see evidence of this kind of love in her future husband. The admonition to wives is to submit in all things as unto the Lord. A man should observe this quiet and meek spirit that is precious in the sight of God in a woman he is considering, before even opening up the possibility of marriage. If both members will concentrate on their God-given calling in life in faith before God, every other question of functioning together will be answered. This is God's design, not man's idea. Our place is to accept it and function in it. It is glorious and fulfilling for both man and woman. It is perfect.

One of the first places our willingness to move in God's order will be tested is at the beginning of the relationship. It is the man that should initiate the relationship, and it is the woman who must trust God to lead the man to do this. Neither of these are small things. Can you, as a woman, really trust God to work in the heart of a man that is of interest to you without trying to "chase" him or manipulate the circumstances? Can you rest in God? Can you commit the matter to God in prayer and believe that He answers? Can you, as a man, truly get the mind of God before initiating a relationship? Are you willing to take spiritual leadership from the very beginning? To play with a girl's emotions and desires in dating takes no spirituality at all, but to truly wait on God and move responsibly as He directs is demanding.

When discussing this subject, there is always the question "What if...?" There is only one answer to that question: who is God? Am I moving in union with God? Then I can trust Him to lead me and work things out as I move in His order. Prior to marriage, it will mean one thing. After marriage, it will mean another. We have a chance before marriage to establish a clear foundation and gain a revelation how to function together. During a time of courtship, we will be able to test this revelation and see it actually beginning to work before marriage. If it does not work out as we are making wedding plans and planning our initial direction in a life together, it is very unlikely to function after the wedding day. Can we take heed, and understand the importance of this foundation?

A smooth flow of God's authority in the family is so very central in every way. With this established, God can take a couple on into everything else. Without this, there will be problems at every turn. To be able to train children, this functioning together as God has designed is absolutely essential. To function in the church and fit into what God is doing there, the family order is foundational. So many problems are caused by couples not functioning in their God-given roles. Conversely, a couple functioning together in the life of God brings a glorious fragrance of the life of God into the gathering.

As you face this area, may I strongly encourage you to go to God for a clear revelation? He is faithful to reveal when asked. Walk in what God shows you, rather than in theories or head knowledge. Every question will be answered.

Those Who Do Not Marry

Not every godly man or woman will marry. In fact, in Paul's teaching on marriage in I Corinthians 7, Paul said he wished that every man were single like himself. He saw the difficulties marriage could bring, particularly in his time. We are not in the time of Paul, but there still may be situations in which marriage may bring difficulties. Yet God ordained marriage, and it is part of His plan to bring many sons to glory. In our discussion, we have primarily addressed those who have a desire to be married, but for one reason or another have not yet reached that point. What if we don't ever reach that point?

The thrust of my encouragement is that if you are concentrating on your spiritual relationship with God, that relationship should be becoming more and more fulfilling. Marriage undirected by God and not under His control could be a snare to take us down in our spiritual walk. Listen to what Paul wrote to the Corinthians: "But he who is married cares about the things of the world--how he may please his wife....But she who is married cares about the things of the world--how she may please her husband" (1 Cor. 7:33,34). In other words, marriage brings the possibilities of serious distractions that can take us off course if we are not very diligent before God. Our relationship with our husband or wife cannot substitute for or even distract us from our relationship with God. This takes diligent spiritual effort before God.

If a man or woman is concentrating on a relationship with God, not focusing on the day they will finally get married, then their fellowship with God will be real and marriage will be kept in its proper place. If a person is moving in this union with God and for some reason does not get married, he or she will not feel they were somehow cheated out of life's best. Paul was single, but he did not feel that he was deprived of anything. Marriage is for this lifetime only. Marriage with Jesus is for eternity. If our dreams are of spending eternity with Jesus, our minds and hearts will be set on things above. We will not be disappointed. If our dreams are of marriage, we may be disappointed. Worse than that, we may decide to compromise our spiritual standards and settle for less than God's will. Our desires may lead us into a wrong relationship and marriage may become hell on earth. Worse than that, we may be completely led away and find ourselves in hell for eternity.

Paul goes on to say that the single person actually has an advantage. He or she is free to serve the Lord in an undistracted manner. Very few seem able to enter into this place of faith. Somehow the glory of a relationship with God has not become a reality to them. They have not yet seen the wonderful place in God they could be enjoying. Instead they look around at others and feel sorry for themselves. Can I encourage those who are single to go back to God and ask Him to open your eyes? Don't stay on that middle ground--free to serve the Lord undistracted, but bound in your desires and wishing you were in another place. That is bondage. Let God set you free into the glorious liberty of the sons of God. Live in the glory of God where you are. You are not a "second-class citizen." You are free to be His and His alone.

There is another category of people who may find themselves wishing they were married and looking for a mate. It is those who have been married before and the relationship has failed. They may feel they have learned from their failure, and now they are ready to try again and find fulfillment. Unfortunately, there are a great number of people in our world today who find themselves in this condition. This is not an easy thing to face, but we must be honest before God with the scriptures, as this is one of the most serious conditions of our time. We may not realize how low moral standards have fallen in our day or how that has affected the thinking of so many. God's standards have never changed, and it takes a very diligent honesty to let God raise the standard back up in our hearts.

God never intended anything other than one man and one woman in one relationship for life. Even in the Old Testament, this was God's desire. We can twist the scriptures to find what we want and justify what we do, but God will not change His standards for us. Marriage is for life, and if the relationship fails, you may not be able to stay with your husband or wife, but you are not free in God's eyes to marry again. To do so would bring you into the sin of adultery, and there will be no adulterers in heaven (1 Cor. 6:9). There are a number of scriptures that speak plainly about this, but we will mention just two: "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery" (Luke 16:18). "For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man" (Rom. 7:2,3).

One excuse that people use is that they were married before they came to the Lord. Now they are Christians, so "all things are new" and they are free to seek another wife in the Lord. This simply is not true. Marriage is an institution of God for mankind, not just for Christians. Marriage is once, for life. Anything other than this is sin. If you do find yourself separated from a spouse, or have gone ahead and entered into another relationship, I can only appeal to you to go back before God and prayerfully search the scriptures with an open heart and an honest intent to obey God. Do not go to men, for today most men have compromised God's standard and will not be honest with the scriptures. It is God before whom we will all stand one day, and we will give account to Him for what He has revealed to us, not what men have said.

This may seem too hard to some, but it is not our purpose here to explore this subject in detail. There are many difficult areas surrounding this subject for which there are no easy answers. But if we come boldly to the throne of grace, we will find mercy and help in time of need. Christ died to deliver us all from sin and bring us into right standing with God for all eternity. There is no situation that is too hard for Him. If you find yourself facing this situation, do not draw back in unbelief but come to Jesus who is able to deliver. "How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?" (Heb. 2:3)

The Two Shall Be One

As we have already said in many ways, the vision of God's purpose in marriage is so dim in our day that it can be very difficult to let God raise it back up to His standard. Most people's concept of marriage is two individuals working out some sort of "agreement" for a purpose (often self-fulfillment or convenience). This may be done completely apart from God, or it may involve certain spiritual or Biblical principles. In the end, most marriages are still two individuals functioning as individuals and working through life's problems as best they can. This is not what God has in mind.

God says that "the two shall become one flesh" (Eph. 5:31). Have we given serious consideration to this? Paul said that marriage is similar to Christ and the church. How are Christ and the church one? The marriage relationship is intended to give children and other observers a picture of Christ and the church. The church, the body of Christ, is not a group of individuals trying to function together as a democracy or other similar organization. Rather, they are fused together in one life, the very life of God, and function as members of Christ under His headship. Each member is attached to the Head and expresses the will of Christ. They are one body, here to do the will of God in all things.

In God's design, the family unit is similar. Marriage is a union of two into one. There can only be one head and one will. For this to happen, the wife submits herself to express the will of her head, her husband. She is not forced to do this, just as no member in the church is forced. She does this willingly in faith before God. The husband submits to Christ as his head, and moves by faith to see the will of God done in his family. Being "one flesh" refers not only to physical union, but of two acting as one. Physically we see two individuals, but God sees "one flesh."

It may help us if we remember that God said in the beginning "Let us make man in our image." The natural man sees "three gods," or if he cannot handle that, he removes Christ and the Holy Spirit from their rightful place so that he can serve "one God." The truth is that God is one in every way, yet He is expressed in three persons.

Remember that God's design was never for mankind to function separate from Himself. Therefore, His design for marriage is based on the Holy Spirit indwelling both husband and wife. This gives them a spiritual capacity to move as one that is not possible for a husband and wife who are not in Christ. As both are in Christ, they express His life as one, within the structure of the family. The head of man is Christ, so the authority of God flows to the family in that order. It is not two wills working in agreement, but one will being expressed in two persons. Each one has a different function and capacity according to God's design. Perfect rest is experienced when we each accept our place in God and in the family and move in faith, believing God to express His life through us in our place of responsibility.

In closing, consider the prayer of our Lord. "I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me, I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me" (John 17:20-23). This is what God is doing in the church, the body of Christ. He is doing it now so He can take us into eternity with Himself. God is one, and He has made a way for us to be one with Him for all eternity. One day our spiritual marriage will be consummated at the marriage supper of the Lamb. Every child of God, every member of the bride of Christ will be there, clothed in His righteousness. We will be married to Him for all eternity.

This is a great mystery. It cannot be comprehended in our natural mind. It only begins to be seen by revelation as God opens the eyes of our hearts. We will begin to see as He sees. The earthly marriage relationship is part of that mystery. It is a lesser mystery, but it is still a part. It takes the Spirit of the living God to reveal the mystery to our hearts. We cannot see or move in it apart from a living relationship with God. Most men and women today are missing the mystery and thus are missing the riches of God's love. Marriage in this life is only a picture of that great marriage, but it is real, and it is to be experienced today. Those who are hungry for God, not willing to settle for a natural relationship that is prone to failure, can know the riches of God's love binding two together as one.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, young people or older ones, we have not even begun to touch this subject. If these words do nothing but provoke us to go back to God and ask Him to begin to teach us, then we will have accomplished our purpose. Let us not allow the world to continue to pull us down to its level. We need a spiritual vision of God's plan, a heavenly vision, that God may lift us up to dwell with Him.

Why settle for less than God's best? Life is but a vapor and eternity is forever. Christ died to make the way. The price has been paid with His blood. The way has been made known. If we do not partake of His grace and enter in, whom shall we blame but ourselves? God is love, and He reached out to us so that we may enter into His love. We now can love because He loved us first. Let faith arise in our hearts today, and may we take a step. God will meet us. Glory to His name!