Why Get Married?
Many Americans are still marrying but an increasing number are not. So, why aren’t people getting married these days? Recently, I was reading an article by a secular psychologist who offered several reasons for what he called the decline of marriage. First, new economic realities for women have made marriage more of an option and less of a need. Second, new gender norms have infiltrated an institution still dominated by patriarchal tendencies. Third, the everyday life of marriage cannot compete with higher expectations of intimacy which our over sexualized culture has built up. And fourth, people are less willing to sacrifice themselves for another. Frankly, the last explains them all.
Nevertheless, if marriage can be reduced to any one of these things then our psychologist has a point. But if marriage is something noble, more beautiful and has simply fallen ill then the best approach is to save and not euthanize her. So, that invites the question, what is marriage?
To put it simply, it is a copy of something else. In other words, marriage is meant to mirror something. So, before I tell you what it is let me begin with an illustration. Imagine sitting in the back row of a movie theatre. The projector is obviously in back of you and the screen in front. You are all alone. So, when the light from the projector kicks on and lights up the screen you settle in. However, the prolonged lighted white screen indicates that the theatre employees are having some technical difficulties. So, you decide to play around. You put your hand up in the air and it casts a shadow on the screen. It’s huge and hideous. It looks like a five pronged monster on screen. However, you jump to your feet and while still holding your hand in the air you approach the screen. And as you do, something happens. Your once monstrous malformed hand begins to take shape on the screen. It gets smaller and smaller until it looks like a hand! In fact, once you place it on the screen the shadow looks very much like the hand itself. So close is the resemblance that your hand actually covers the shadow! Yes, you can still see the shadow under your hand and your hand is not the shadow but the similarity is there.
So, what is marriage supposed to copy? The answer is in Ephesians 5. The marriage between a man and a woman is supposed to mirror the relationship of Christ to His people. Now, can we learn anything about this relationship between Christ and His people from Ephesians 5:22-33? As a matter of fact, we are able to learn several things. First, we learn something about Christ’s people before they were his people. They were obviously dirty. They needed cleansed due to their spots and wrinkles, which are a euphemism for sin. This text is telling us the reason why people are separated from God. They are sinners. They are unholy and blemished. The earlier chapters of Ephesians go into even more detail. We were strangers alienated from God’s kingdom. We were driven by our lustful desires, led by the pleasures of the world and slaves of the prince of the power of the air. We were dead in our sin because we loved our sin. Lifeless. Alone. We were God’s enemies.
But second, we learn something about what Christ did for us. He gave himself up for us. Now, what does that mean? Imagine a father sitting at a bonfire with his family. He just happens to see his toddler getting too close to the fire. He leaps saving his child from the flames but he is burned in the process. Now, think about it. Did he receive burns because of his child’s actions? Yes. Did he suffer the burns in place of his child? Yes. That is what it means when the text says, He gave himself for us. He suffered in our place that we might have forgiveness for our sins. And third, having saved us, he takes us as His own people and presents us, his bride, to the Father. We belong to Him.
That’s the gospel.
And that is the relationship your marriage is supposed to mirror. The husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. He is to love her sacrificially. And the wife, seeing that love, is to submit to His sacrificial love. Think of the movie theatre example. The further away our hand is from the shadow the more monstrous it looks. But the closer I bring hand to shadow the more the shadow looks like a hand. You will bring your marriage closer and closer to the example of Christ when you love and submit.
That will take work.
Let me give you another example. Let’s say a person is an artist and they have an idea for a sculpture. They see the finished product in their minds eye. So, they attempt to sculpt what they see. But along the way they mess up. It’s out of proportion, it leans or it doesn’t meet their expectations. What does the artist do? Do they throw out all of their work? No, of course not, they work through the problem. They trim and cut and sometimes remove a chunk of the clay. Your marriage will be like that. But in marriage trimming and cutting and removing are called repentance and forgiveness. And not only will loving and submitting shape you but without repentance and forgiveness you will never deepen your love and respect for one another. So, if I can say it simply, marriage needs the gospel. Marriage is to look like the gospel. Your marriage is to mirror the gospel.
Jeffrey A. Stivason is the pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. He also holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA. Jeff is the author of From Inscrutability to Concursus (P&R), he has contributed to The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans) and is the Executive Editor for Place for Truth.