What is Spiritual About Marriage and Family?

Maryam and Stephen 1984
Maryam and Stephen 1984

“An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.” (Prov 31:10)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

How has marriage transformed you? If you are not married, how has your parent’s marriage impacted you?

Scripture begins and ends with marriage. In Genesis, we see a couple, Adam and Eve, who are just made for each other! In the book of Revelation, an angel informs us: “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” (Rev 19:9) Obviously, marriage was God’s idea (Keller 2011, 13).

As an unconditional promise—until death do us part, marriage is also formative and it provides a paradigm for other covenants. This implies that marriage, in and of itself, can function as a spiritual discipline.

The Apostle Paul’s comments on mixed faith marriages highlight marriage’s formative character. Paul reports that the believing spouse renders the whole marriage holy for the children (1 Cor 7:12–14). Paul also sees marriage as a witnessing opportunity. Paul asks: “For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?” (1 Cor 7:16) [1]

In other words, Paul clearly sees marriage possessing a sacrificial component [2]. Jesus’ own teaching on divorce and remarriage clearly draws inspiration, not from the Law of Moses (which admits exceptions), but rather from God’s eternal work in creation [3].

But if marriage is a spiritual discipline, how does it draw us closer to God?

Marriage is formative in our faith for at least three reasons. The first reason is that God instituted marriage and commissioned marriage with a blessing and mandate: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion . . .” (Gen 1:28) God created marriage, blessed it, and said it was good—obeying God must draw us closer to him.

The second reason that marriage is formative is that it starts with an unconditional promise. God is the eternal promise keeper. In marriage we imitate our creator. Making and keeping good promises—even when it hurts—transforms us and draws us closer to God.

The third reason marriage is formative is that it makes us accountable. Our spouses know us in the biblical (covenantal) way! Our weaknesses and sin affect our spouses and they tell us. We sin less, in part, because our spouses make us more aware of our sin—a sanctification process that forms us—even if we are not believers! Part of this process is to learn reconciliation skills by practicing them daily [4].

As the Apostle Paul wrote: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Col 3:17)

This list of reasons why marriage is formative is especially interesting because God instituted marriage even before he instituted the nation of Israel or sent his son to die on the cross.

God is not irrational. He knows that the biggest beneficiaries of marriage are our children. And he loves them as much as he loves us. This is probably the reason that God places such a high priority on marriage. We should too.

[1] A lot of ink has been spilt over the church’s traditional teaching that forbid remarriage after divorce. For a discussion of the various perspectives, see: Wenham, Heth, and Keener (2006). My point is not to advocate a position but rather to recognize that marriage has a sacrificial component that often gets lost in our era of no-fault divorce.

[2]  In the Roman Catholic tradition, marriage is also a sacrament.

[3] Deut 24: 1–4, Matt 19:6–9, and Gen 2:24.

[4] Marriage is so important in the Apostle Paul’s thinking that he used the household codes (Eph 5:22–6:10; Col 3:17–4:4) as a metaphor for relationships in the church. Paul writes: “. . .if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Tim 3:5)

REFERENCES

Keller, Timothy and Kathy Keller. 2011. The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God. New York: Dutton.

Wenham, Gordon J., William A. Heth, and Craig S. Keener. 2006. Remarriage After Divorce in Today’s Church: Three Views. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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