Otto Piper on Marriage, pt. 2

Otto Piper’s book on marriage, The Biblical View of Sexuality and Marriage (1960), is a helpful treatise on the subject, and it is filled with refreshingly biblical explanations and meditations on sex and marriage.  Some of these ideas were posted earlier, and today we will consider a few more of his statements.

The Goal of Marriage: Piper writes, “Husband and wife can have personal fellowship by engaging in common service for others, by sharing some mutual responsibility for other people, by cultivating common friendships or by developing some common interests” (135). For the Christian nothing could be more important than the cooperative work of co-laboring in the vineyard of the Lord, to tell the world about Jesus, to serve Christ in his church, and to raise a family that reflects the love of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Piper continues accordingly, “The purpose of the marriage has been sought, among other things, in the service thereby rendered to the state or nation, or in the happiness thereby provided, or in the procreation and rearing of children. Important as these purposes are, they represent only certain aspects of marriage never indicate its ulimate goal” (137).

The conclusion Piper is driving towards is that the ultimate goal of marriage must be a life-long union that envisions glorifying Christ and the church as its chief aim. Through a marriage that reflects that Divine Union, God’s redemptive purposes are advanced and heavenly joy is imported into the Christian family.  The goal of marriage then, in a fallen world, is to cooperatively carry forth the gospel of Jesus Christ and fulfill the great commission, making disciples of the nations–which is not coincidentally similar to the original command to “be fruitful and multiply.”

Marital Discipleship is Necessary for God-Glorifying Marriages: Piper continues to elaborate on the ultimate purpose for marriage and the need to instruct young couples. For Christians, the purpose in “marriage is an alliance of two persons who, notwithstanding their physical nature and their sexuality, are members of the Body of Christ, and who therefore share the mystery of Christ’s union with the Church. It is from this fact that the standards of married life are to be derived. Of course, not all Christian couples are clearly aware of this mystery when they marry. We may even safely assume that the social function of marriage is uppermost in the minds of most couples who stand before the pastor. All the more important, therefore, is it that instruction concerning the Christian view of marriage should be given to confirmands and couples asking for a wedding if our generation is to attaind to a renewed, deepened, and genuinely Christian understanding of marriage (138). 

In a world that instructs us to rebel against God and his designs in our life and relationships, it should come as no surprise, that young couples entering into marriage are deletriously affected by their ambient culture.  Even Christian couples, on the whole, have little idea how influenced their views of sex, intimacy, communication, and happiness are by secular media, feminist ideals, and wordly philosophies.  Marriages that will most glorify God are those that from the beginning confess their ignorance and antagonism towards God’s designs.  In other words, admitting the latent patterns of sinfulness present in their unions, these married couples humbly and boldy repent of their worldliness and sin.  Turning to God’s design for marriage instead, they are through the power of the Spirit seek to grow in the grace God has given them in the reconciling work of Jesus Christ, the recreative work of the Holy Spirit, and the illuminating work of the Word of God to renew their minds and repattern their marriages after his divine design.  This is nothing new.  This is simply discipleship in the realm of marriage.

The Value of a Public Wedding: Piper also addresses the role public ceremonies for weddings serve.  “A word needs to be said here about the wedding ceremony as a means of grace . [By this he does not mean marriage as a sacrament or an infusion of grace]. The benediction pronounced by the pastor is no mere formality, or simply a nice looking appendage to the civil ceremony as many a young people seems to think. In the church ceremony the spouses publicly affirm their membership before the congregation, and thus they confess that they regard their union an expression of their Christian lives and of their desire to live them according to the Biblical understanding. The Church’s prayer and benediction form the congregation’s response to the couple’s declaration. The wedding ceremony, therefore, is not a mere public proclamation of the divine blessing promised to a Christian couple but also a valid offer of the great and real blessings that by God’s will the Church has to share with spouses. The minister communicates to them the portion they have in all those gifts of the Holy Spirit which they need in order to make theirs a Christian marriage” (171).

In this way, the public, ecclesial ceremony affords the energetic couple the chance to breath life into the congregation as they covenant together to love one another. Such a commitment reflects the Christ-church mystery, and it shows members and visitors an ultimate cosmic reality of Christ and his bride. At the same time, the church’s witness says something to the couple. It affirms the sanctity of marriage and with kingdom authority (cf. Matthew 16:18ff) it promises to enact discipline on the young couple if ever they seek divorce and defame their portrait of Christ and the church. The church is the authorized agent to hold the couple responsible to perform the vows spoken in their midst. In this way, the loving couple’s marriage is ratified by the church and the church itself is strengthened by a visible display of its forthcoming marriage to Christ.

Marriage as the Great Lighthouse: Piper writes on the role Christians should play in legislating sexuality. He says, “We believe the State acts in its own best interest by furterhing the Christian evaluations of marriage, and the Church must insist upon its right publicly to proclaim its interpretation. However, the strongest defense against un-Christian concepts of sex is to be found in Christian marriage. The light of faith shine to all in the house. By way of conduct Christians demonstrate the superiority of their ideal of marriage. Where it is lacking all prohibitions against adverse propaganda are valueless, because the Christian ideal seems to be of doubtful value to its own advocates” (181).

Piper’s evaluation is balanced and prophetic. Christian activists who lobby against same-sex marriages, but live in egalitarian marriages devoid of gender roles undermine their message.  They are imaging a heterosexual “same-sex marriage.”  Likewise, those who advocate  laws against polygamy, but who themselves are unbiblically divorced and remarried fail to see the connection.  They are serial polygamists themselves.  Consequently, Christian marriages will have the greatest voice in a dark and dying world when they begin to practice what  Bible teaches.  When Christian marriages take seriously the commands of Scripture and rest securely on the Rock of Jesus Christ, it is then that they will begin to have testimonies, in word and deed, that will catch the attention of the world.  Until then, Piper’s analysis will be the sad case because Christian marriages that fail to live up to the ideals they defend will be scoffed at by the world and ultimately discounted.  The result is that the light of Christ meant to be reflected in marriage is put under a basket (Matt. 5:15).  Since Christians are to be lighthouses (Matt. 5:14; Phil. 2:15), brightly illuminating the world with the light of Christ, we must strive with Holy Spirit power and Christ-like tenacity to see Christ and the church modeled in our homes.  For more than the preservation of our families–though for that reason, too–but in order that the world will take notice of what a true marriage is and come to see that God’s design for marriage is better than any man-made alternative, and that ultimately they who reject God’s pattern for marriage will give praise to our Father for the superior wisdom of marriage (Matt. 5:16) and that perhaps they themselves may desire to be a part of Christ’s bridal party (Matt. 22:1-14; 25:1-12).

May we all who know the Savior, strive to have such Spirit-filled, Christ-exalting, gospel-telling marriages, by the Grace of God.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss