God’s Design for Marriage
Written by L. W. Bilkes
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Reformed Ethics - Marriage

We live in days when man is arrogantly redefining marriage. Of course, this goes back already to the early days after the fall. Lamech redefined marriage as the union between one man and two women. But today there is also the attempt to redefine marriage in the courts and halls of government. Many liberal churches are leading the way as well. Some are ‘consecrating’ sinful unions. Others are allowing people in sinful unions to be ministers in churches and have positions of leadership. The psalmist asked the question: “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3)

Closer to home, those of us who are married should ask ourselves whether our own marriage corresponds to the standards God has ordained for marriage. Young persons who are thinking about marriage and choosing a marriage partner should seriously study God’s design in marriage. In this brief article, we wish to trace God’s design for marriage from the Scriptures.

1. Marriage is God’s idea, though not all will marry.

Man did not invent marriage. It is not just a convenient arrangement that man came up with in his imagination. Marriage was part of God’s design for man. Marriage was designed for one man and one woman until death takes one or both. It is a permanent and lasting institution. This glorious institution comes forth from God’s infinite, perfect, and glorious mind.

Marriage began with an act of God, when he said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a help meet for him” (Gen. 2:18). Marriage, therefore, is a gift from God. It is true, in Matthew 19:11 and 12, the Lord Jesus makes it clear that there are people who can never marry. Physically, there are some who are unable to marry. There are others who, because of their commitment to the Gospel and going to dangerous places commit themselves to a life of celibacy. They don’t marry because they could not do the work for the kingdom of God to which He called them and equipped them for if they were married. That is a gift God has given them.

2. Marriage is to be a picture of Christ’s relationship to his church.

Marriage isn’t simply for the benefit of people, families and society (although it is that too). Marriage is to be a picture of Christ’s love for His church and His church’s love for Christ. Paul said: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Eph. 5:25). To be sure, the best of human marriages is only a poor picture of what Christ does for His church, and what the church will one day be for Christ in heaven.

3. Marriage is stained by sin and attacked by Satan.

Marriage in its present condition is marred by sin. This is true of every marriage. There was only one truly good marriage, and that was in the Garden of Eden before the fall. Ever since the fall, every marriage is marred by sin. Every husband brings His sinful disposition into marriage and every wife brings her sinful disposition into marriage. The holiest, the most sanctified Christians bring their ‘remaining’ sins into their marriage. Our marriages take place in a world that is affected by man’s rebellion against God and the curse that rests on mankind. Every marriage is under the attack of Satan. He is present in every room of our house.

Paul states in 1 Corinthians 10:13, “There hath no temptation taken you but as is common to man. But God is faithful who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” When applied to marriage, this means that there is no trial that comes to your marriage but it is common to all other marriages. When we encounter pressures, problems and difficulties in marriage, there is the temptation to think that our marriage is different from any other marriage in the world.

4. Marriage in its present condition needs the power of Christ’s redemption.

The Lord comes to us in His Word. That Word is the redemptive revelation spoken to us in and through the Lord Jesus Christ, which comes to us. This is what all marriages need. Both the husband the wife need the redemption that is freely found in God’s Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. The marriage partners need the power of God’s grace in their lives – to obey God’s Word.

5. Divine grace, not human love, is the foundation for marriage.

Sometime married couples facing difficulties say: “We know that the Bible speaks against divorce, but our marriage is so empty and dull. We no longer feel any love for each other. We are seriously thinking of getting a divorce. We are sure God would not want us to stay together like this, when we don’t love each other any more.”

When couples talk like this, they appeal to their own authority rather than to the authority of God and thereby they place their own authority above the authority of God. They may not be aware of this, but they read the authority of God through a human standard called ‘love.’ They think that if they as a couple are emotionally attached by love, they’ll stay married. But if that emotion ends, then they feel justified in getting a divorce. But this kind of love is a poor basis for marriage. What such persons do is to mistake meeting a need for love. Affection and love are marvellous products of a marriage, but they are not the foundation of a marriage. The foundation of a marriage is the hand and the grace of God. They can make people new. There is no problem that grace cannot address and conquer.

One author says it well:

Surely, too much is involved, too great a responsibility, too many and too precious interests, to venture upon wedded life without Christ. The lessons are too hard to learn to be attempted without a divine Teacher. The burdens are too heavy to be borne without a mighty Helper. The perils of the way are too many to be passed through without an unerring Guide. The duties are too delicate, and the consequences of failure in them too far-reaching and too terrible, to be taken up without wisdom and help from above. (J. R. Miller)

6. The glory of God, not the success of man, is the goal of marriage.

A lot of friction in marriage comes from having different goals. The husband has his goals and the wife has her goals. Sometimes their goals are the same. Sometimes each has their own goals and they live side by side without conflict. But many times, the husband is on one track, and the wife on another. Whether this is a picture of your marriage or not, every married couple needs to go back to what they covenanted to do when they got married: to love, cherish, and support each other in the things that belong to this life and the better life to come. All the while, the mutual goal that should be uppermost in marriage is to do what glorifies God. This should bind a couple together. Very often, the goal for which the husband strives is to change his wife. Or it may be the other way around; the wife’s goal is to change her husband. The best kept secret for marriage is this: instead of changing each other, God must change us. Our lives need to be more in line with God’s glory; then we won’t need to change each other. Let a man work at changing himself in that way – and the woman likewise, and you will have learned an important lesson. 

Dr. L.W. Bilkes is an emeritus pastor in the Free Reformed Church. This article was previously printed in the FRC Messenger and has been republished here with permission.