In his book, God’s Big Design: Life as He intends it to be, Anglican Rector Vaughan Roberts devotes a chapter to “God’s Design for Sex and Marriage.” In the chapter, he makes a three-fold assertion: God is for sex; Sex is for marriage; and Marriage is for life. Unpacking these premises, Roberts reiterates the point that the ultimate goal of marriage is more than relational companionship and the alleviation of loneliness, and that the glory of marriage is not found in the mere ability to achieve marital bliss but in the couple’s invitation to reflect Christ’s marriage to the church. His comments are worth pondering.
The Goal of Marriage:
Mutual delight was never intended to be the ultimate goal of the relationship. The words of Genesis 2:18 must be understood in context. God has issued the creation mandate: human beings are to “be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 2:18). In Genesis 2:15 Adam is placed in the Garden of Eden and commanded “to work it and take care of it.” It is immediately after that command that God says, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” The natural thought from the low of the test, therefore, when we are told that Adma needs a “helper,” is that this is connected with the work that he has been given to do. He needs some one to come to his aid for he cannot do this work “alone” (78-79).
Quoting Christopher Ash, Marriage: Sex in the Service of God, Roberts continues],
“Marriage is given to enable humankind to exercise responsible dominion over God’s world.” So, far from being inward-looking , a married couple should be looking upward to God and outward to the world in which he calls them to seve him. “In the Bible’s perspective the way forward is neither via individual autonomy nor introspective companionship, but in the joyful shared service of God” (79).
Roberts admonition flies in the face of therapeutic resolutions to marriage problems. Its powerful implication is that it challenges couples encountering the corrosive effects of interpersonal sin to abandon the marriage retreat and go on a short-term mission trip. (Point of clarification: I think marriage retreats are good and necessary, but short-term service better). Rather than introspectively dividing character qualities into strengths and weaknesses, the goodness of marriage is found in shoulder-to-shoulder service where the object of compassion is a stranger, a widow, or an orphan. If this does not produce spiritual fruit and sanctification, what will.
Consider, why is it that so many empty-nester get divorces? Could it be that their season of mutual service has ended and they are no longer working together on a common task? They are no longer serving their children together and thus marital fidelty and cooperation has lost focus. Roberts biblical exhortation is for all married couples to take seriously the original tasks (i.e. be fruitful, multiply, increase, and subdue) and to do it together. Looking upwards to God and outwards to others, husbands and wives find their ultimate purpose in fulfilling the Great Commission in uniquely masculine and feminine ways. Walking together with different gifts and abilities, these purpose-driven (excuse the expression) marriages co-labor for the sake of the kingdom.
The Glory of Marriage:
Marriage is a picture of the relationship of Christ and his church. The apostle Paul quotes Genesis 2:24 and comments, “This is a profound mystery–but I am talking about Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32). He is saying that the fundamental relationship is between Christ and his people. There is no deeper, more profound marriage than that. The marriage of a man and a woman is just a shadow of the marriage between Christ and his church. It is not that human marriage provides a useful illustration for Bible writers to use to speak of the relationship between God and his people; it is the other way round. The relationship between Christ and his church comes first; human marriage is patterned after it” (85).
Which means that from before the foundation of the world, God was thinking about marriage. As He was forming Eve in the Garden from Adam’s rib, our Heavenly Father was anticipating and preparing the way for His Son’s union with his bride–the church. So then the last marriage is first, and all earthly marriages serve as eschatological signs of the marriage of the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last. This cosmic representation heightens the importance of our marriages and the necessity for preserving them from the pollution of this world. Roberts concludes by emphasizing the Christ-church mystery which “underlines the importance of faithfulness. [God] never breaks his promises and he expects the same commitment in our marriages with one another” (85).
It is a glorious mystery and privilege when a man and woman marry. Their marriage actually participates in the cosmic story of redemption, and their sexual union bears witness to the eschatological hope of consummation with Christ. It causes us to pause and to ponder the goodness and wisdom of God. Moreover, reflecting on the heavenly origins of marriage elevates the value of our own marriages in a culture that consumes relationships like Chinese take-out. The Divine Marriage dignifies human marriages so much more than relational consumerism.
May we live counter-cultural lives and love our wives for the sake of Jesus Christ and his bride, the church!
Sola Deo Gloria, dss