Excerpt from Biblical Sexuality & The 21st Century Rev. Jayson L. Graves, M. MFT
Marriage. No controversy there these days. (This is going to be so simple, this one). What is marriage? What is marriage according to the Bible, not what is marriage according to our culture? We’re not going to get into debate areas and things like that. We want to as Christians, be salt and light in everything. So turns out that even though things in the world aren’t going the way that we might have them go, that there’s a ton of opportunity there, but it comes with some prerequisites. One of which is the willingness to be uncomfortable and the willingness to think a little bit outside of the boxes in which we normally think. The truth is that marriage is about far more and something much deeper than equality.
“The Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause? He answered, have you not heard that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female and said, therefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife and the two shall become one flesh? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together let not man separate. They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives but from the beginning it was not so and I say to you whoever divorces his wife except for sexual immorality and marries another commits adultery.” The disciples said to him “if such is the case of a man and his wife it is better not to marry.” But he said to them “not everybody can receive this saying but only those in whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.” – Matthew 19:1-12
Jesus directly contrasts (in verse 4) the combination and connection of maleness and femaleness with divorce in an antithetical way. In other words, he saying that maleness and femaleness together is so important that it’s antithesis or it’s opposite is divorce. That’s quite the distinction and very powerful: He’s drawing the kind of distinction that says that this is not only the way it goes but this is so important that anything else is like divorce. He even makes it clear in this context that divorce was not so from the beginning.
Marriage is something that has occurred for all time before we were even here. The disciples recognized two things: the high unimpeachable value of marriage and the high occurrence of infidelity in man’s heart (verse 10). They’re saying if this is the case of a man with his wife, it’s better for them to not marry at all. Jesus says not everybody can receive this saying except those to whom it’s given. And when he talks about eunuchs, he’s trying to give space for people who may not be able to get all the way there with this teaching. In other words, while he’s implying ‘my desire is for a man and a woman to be together,’ unfortunately, not everybody in this life can accomplish this and we’re seeing this more and more in humanity.
By acknowledging that not everybody is going to choose that, Jesus makes space again in our world that it’s okay not to marry. Not everybody has to marry. And certainly nobody needs to feel compelled to marry. There is no pressure. In other words, there’s nothing wrong with you if you don’t marry somebody. If you’re a man you are just fine the way you are not marrying a woman. If you’re a woman it’s okay if you’re not married to a man and you don’t want to marry one. Jesus makes room for that choice of singleness.
Relating back to the identity issue in Chapter 4, by the way, if our identity is supposedly based on what we do or want to do with our sense of sexuality, if that indeed defines us, then eunuchs don’t have a sexuality or at least one that they’re doing anything with so that would mean logically following that eunuchs don’t have an identity. But eunuchs are people too!
“For this reason a man will leave his mother and father and be united to his wife and they will become one flesh.” -Genesis 2:24
We were created male and female and called to become one flesh as the ultimate reflection of God’s image of love. I like the way Tim Keller puts in his book, The Meaning of Marriage: “In sharp contrast with our culture, the Bible teaches that the essence of marriage is the sacrificial commitment to the good of the other.” This means that love is more fundamentally action than emotion. (Where have we heard that before? “More important than what we know and say is how we think and what we do”). This is the heart of why we’re here…It’s about what we do in how we love.
Honestly, if people who disagree with us can legitimately have a gripe against us as the body of Christ, it’s always going to be based on and due to one thing: that we didn’t serve well, enough or both. Jesus said about himself (Mark 10:45), “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Getting back to Keller, “By contrast, contemporary Western societies make the individual’s happiness the ultimate value and so marriage becomes primarily an experience of romantic fulfillment. But the Bible sees God as the supreme good, not the individual or even a family and that gives us a view of marriage that intimately unites feeling and duty, passion and promise.”
At the heart of the biblical idea of marriage is the covenant. What is a covenant and how is it different than a contract? A contract is for the protection of the parties involved. A covenant is for the promotion of the parties…so, there’s a whole different spirit. Plus with a covenant, the party in authority always sets the terms. So it’s a mandated agreement in which the non-authoritative party’s only responsibility is to simply accept or decline the covenant by living according to it or not. However, a covenant has benefits for both parties.
Accordingly, marriage is a covenant in which God sets the terms and we don’t get to. Ultimately, spiritual marriage is not something that we get to decide on this earth in the spiritual sense. We don’t get to “have it your way” as Burger King would have us think. One of Hertz rental cars new slogans is, “It’s all about you.” Indeed this ethos can be seen anywhere we look in the natural here on earth but it’s in direct opposition to the spiritual reality in the heavenlies.
A contract is for the protection of the parties. A covenant is for the promotion of the parties. In a covenant the terms are always set by the one in authority. Why is this so limited and isn’t this kind of unfair to some? God’s model is plain to see. Right? One man and one woman in this covenant. Only that can fulfill this covenant to the fullest. It might seem unfair but when you’re comparing certain relationships according to fulfillment of a covenant that we didn’t get to decide its apples and oranges. It’s two different things. Ephesians 5:31-32 says, Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. Marriage, remember, is a holy icon. It points us to God. Marriage ultimately points us to God. It’s got a purpose beyond just being married. A married man and woman are one flesh which makes the biblical marriage a symbol of the eternal marriage of Christ and his bride which is us the church. Whatever is going to happen in that wedding feast with us together marrying Jesus we get to embody and reflected that here on earth. That’s one of the purposes of why we have marriage.
Genesis 1:22, And God blesses them saying be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters and the seas and let the birds multiply on earth. Being fruitful and multiplying has to do with children and procreation. Marriage is ultimately about mutual edification through serving each other voluntarily and sacrificially as we present ourselves as that sincere gift in a lifelong committed way. Let’s talk though about what marriage is not about. For most of us here it’s pretty clear what marriage is about spiritually and in biblically. There’s a deeper understanding there about the mystery and the covenant and the iconography of it, but let’s talk about what it’s really not about. Spiritual marriage is not about right, RIGHT. It’s not about civil or cultural or man-made things. I know that everything that we see the newspaper everything we hear about on the TV and radio makes it about that. It characterizes it about that.
Everything we hear about involving marriage or related to marriage, these days, has to do with things like gay marriage, legal things, courts, all those things. That has nothing to do with what marriage is all about spiritually. Not one thing. While it seems like the former might impose on the latter it’s not true. Spiritual marriage ultimately can never be an infringed upon by the powers of this earth. God is stronger than man. Let no man put asunder, right? What he put together we could never trash that. We could never affect it. This for me is a big reason why I said yesterday I am not concerned with the state of legal marriage in our country. It doesn’t bother me one bit. I don’t agree with that. I don’t support it in one sense, but at the end of the day, spiritually, it doesn’t bother me. I’m saddened by it and I certainly want to help people who might be caught up in something that’s not good for them. I’m not callous to it, but I’m also not afraid of it. I know that God’s in charge. He knows what he’s doing. Maybe if he has bound our culture over to these mistakes for a time that he wants have mercy on us all. Marriage is also not about a feeling love.
That’s involved but that’s more of a byproduct. We can’t put the cart before the horse. Every relationship’s initial feelings fade. It’s good for getting us together but it doesn’t do the trick in terms of keeping us together. That’s where commitment and action come in and an attitude to self donate. In the spiritual sense these things having to do with laws and policies are just temporal. Marriage is not even an institution. They talk about the institution of marriage. Marriage is an organic or life based relationship. An institution is not alive.
People are a living, spiritual organism. As the body of Christ, we’re together a living, spiritual organism. Did you know that the church is not a building? It’s us. I never call a church building a church. I always call it a fellowship hall or fellowship building or I just refer to it as a building. Again the word nerd thing… But here’s why the antithetical thing about this is that it has to do with cells. Life is dependent on cell multiplication. Life happens because cells split up and become two cells, and then four cells… that’s how life happens. Organization happens because of cell division. When a cell multiplies by its self that’s life. When we divide it that kills life. If you take something and just separate it and organize it ceases to contain the characteristics of life that it previously had. Does that make sense? It’s a really important difference. That’s why we can’t refer to marriage as an institution because it doesn’t honor the life-based nature of its existence, of its reality. That is absolutely crucial.