What is God’s design for marriage and why? Is it God’s will for you to marry? What about divorce? Most of us have questions when it comes to the topic of marriage. And none of these questions are new.
In Jesus’ days, the Pharisees also questioned Him about God’s will for marriage and divorce, albeit with impure motives (Matthew 19:3-12). In His answer, Jesus straightforwardly explains from the Bible how God designed marriage and why. But by what He said, He taught more about this topic than meets the eye. If we dig a little deeper, we will find answers to questions many of us have about the unity of husband and wife, about adultery, and about separation.
For this exploration, we’ll start at the beginning. The same beginning Jesus pointed to in His response to the Pharisees: Genesis.
The first marriage
Genesis 1 and 2 give an account of God’s initial purpose when it comes to husbands and wives. There it says that the Lord first created Adam and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it (Gen 2:15). And then He created Eve and brought her to Adam (Gen 2:22).
Notice that there is no fancy wedding dress (in fact, they were naked), no pastor doing a ceremony, no church building, no witnesses, no physical signing of documents, it’s just them and God Who blesses them. And still, Jesus considers them married.
I believe that this is a Biblical way to look at marriages. Not that there is anything wrong with a wedding ceremony, a party, and a contract, but I don’t believe that those ultimately define whether or not you are really married. Only God does that.
Now, this is the reason why He created Eve: So that Adam would not be alone and would have a helper fit for him (Gen 2:18). Because even in paradise, there was work to do.
That means that Eve’s initial purpose was to be a companion for Adam and to team up with him so that both Adam and Eve could fulfill the assignments God gave them (Gen 1:26-30). These assignments were:
- Being fruitful, physically multiplying and filling the earth (for which a man actually needs a woman).
- Gathering food from every seed-giving plant.
- Subduing the earth.
- And to have dominion over every living thing that moves on the earth including every creeping thing.
Did you realize that this last assignment includes dominion over the serpent?
Yet later Eve made the mistake to let the serpent rule over her instead of the other way around, and Adam made the mistake to let Eve rule over him, which is a complete reversal of God’s plan.
God created Adam in His Own image, after the likeness of the Trinity (1:26). Then from Adam, God created Eve (2:21-23). Eve was therefore also made in God’s image (1:26-27).
There is a reason why God chose to do it precisely in this way. And knowing why, is essential to our understanding of what God expects of husbands and wives. How can we live according to God’s plan if we don’t know what it is?
Let’s take a closer look.
There are various ways in which God created mankind in His image. One of these ways is that He created us “triune”: as body, soul, and spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:23).
But one of the other ways in which God created mankind in His image, is crucial to see to get the bigger picture of marriage. And that is that God created Adam and Eve to resemble Christ and the Church.
If you have read any of the other articles on this website, or even better, have good knowledge of the Word of God, this might not surprise you at all. But if it does surprise you, consider this:
God surpasses the time and vast space that He created. He has no notion of time like we do. For Him everything will happen and, simultaneously, has already happened. He always is. Or in Peter’s words: “…with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” (2 Peter 3:8)
This means that He knows everything before it even happened. So, He also knew that Adam and Eve would eventually fall, and that mankind would have to find its way back to Him through Jesus.
Therefore, when He created Adam and Eve, He already knew that He was creating them in the image of Christ and the Church.
Let me show you some of the clues we can find in Scripture to back this up:
- God created a man, and put him on the earth to have dominion over it. He also sent Jesus, God in the form of a man, to the earth to have dominion over it (John 1, Matthew 28:18).
- God wanted to provide a suitable helper for the man to help work and keep the earth (Genesis 2:18). Nothing in the world was fit for the task of helping the man, though. That job could only be done by someone more like himself. The Church is this helper to Jesus (John 14:12). In the likeness of Jesus, we do works on this earth in His Name. And one day the Church will rule together with Christ (Daniel 7:27, Revelation 20:6).
- God caused a deep sleep to fall over the man and He took his rib. Likewise, Jesus had to die (“go to sleep” like Lazarus in John 11) and moments after His death, He was struck in His side with a spear (John 19:34). Then on the third day He rose again (Matthew 28:6).
- From the man’s flesh and bone, God made his wife (Genesis 2:23). The Church is also the Body of Christ, and the Bride of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27, Revelation 19:7). Like Eve, we are alive, because He died for us and rose again.
- “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24, ESV). We also leave our physical heritage, our father and mother, to become one with Jesus, by becoming more and more like Him (Matthew 10:37, 19:29).
- Notice that God breathed life into Adam, so his life came straight from God. But Adam had to give a part of himself to give life to Eve. Instead of straight from God, her life came from Adam, by God’s shaping hand. Similarly, our life comes from Jesus by God’s shaping hand. It comes from Jesus’ flesh (the Bread of Life, the Word of God) and from His Spirit (John 6).
- God blessed them and told them to be fruitful, to multiply, to fill the earth, and to subdue it. That is also the task God has for the Church now. With Jesus’ help we should be fruitful in a spiritual manner (John 15:2). We should accept the Word of God and as a result grow and multiply the yield from It (Mark 4:8). We should bring salvation to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). And we should subdue the flesh (Romans 8).
Although the Holy Spirit helped me to see these parallels between Adam and Eve and Christ and the Church, the comparison is not new. Paul drew this parallel a couple of times as well (Romans 5:14, Ephesians 5:22-24, 2 Corinthians 11:2). And Jesus Himself said that He came to fulfill the Law and the prophets (Matthew 5:17), which of course included creation.
But there is an important sidenote to make: Even though husbands and wives represent Christ and the Church, wives don’t worship their husbands like they worship Jesus. That would be idol worshiping. Husbands should be like Christ (and so should wives) but they are not Christ.
Being as one
God brought Eve to Adam to be his companion and helper. And this is what Jesus said about that:
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6, NIV)
Eve was literally pulled from Adam and set apart to become a separate being. That would create a connection, an attraction, an urge to be reunited (Genesis 2:23). All humans experience this same emptiness before they are reunited with God. Before we are born again, we have an emptiness in our hearts we can’t seem to fill. Only Jesus has the missing puzzle piece that fits into that empty space.
When you think about it, since Eve was made from his body, her genes would be (almost) identical to his. That means that they were extremely alike. I can imagine them working for their cause in like-mindedness. And of course, in those days, genes were still pure and flawless. They must have been an extremely beautiful dream team.
When we are born of the Spirit, we become one with Christ, and with other Christians.
And so we ought to live:
- United in the same mind and judgment (1 Corinthians 1:10)
- Having unity of mind (1 Peter 3:8)
- Having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind (Philippians 2:2)
- Living in harmony with one another (Romans 12:16)
- As part of one body in Christ, and individually members of one another (Romans 15:6)
- Pure and flawless (1 John 3:3, Matthew 5:8, 48)
And we too, are a close-knit team working and keeping a “garden”, by sharing the Gospel and equipping the saints.
We are the Church, made from Christ’s Spirit and so we are united through Him. If you are part of the Church (and every born-again Christian is) God brought you and Christ together, so no one should come between you and Him. You are His and part of His body and that is the closest union one can imagine. And Jesus gave His life for that union!
That union implies that we are united by the way we think, feel, act, and speak, for what we have in common is the Holy Spirit and our hunger for the Word.
Christian husbands and wives have the privilege to experience this unity between them and God as a strong threefold cord (Ecclesiastes 4:12). And on top of that, they can experience physical unity through their intimacy, symbolizing even deeper levels of God’s joy.
We’ve looked at the parallels between Jesus and Adam, but of course, there are huge and essential differences between Adam and Jesus too. Although Adam and Jesus were both born through a miracle of God, Adam was made from dust, and Jesus was from heaven. Adam sinned, Jesus did not. And because of that, Adam’s inheritance leads to death, and Jesus’s leads to life. (1 Corinthians 15)
Due to the fall, the flesh dies, and can’t bring forth eternal life, only the Spirit can do that.
But although Adam and Eve were cast out of God’s presence after the fall, the way God intentionally created them, still tells us what we need to know about God’s purpose for a married couple in God’s Kingdom.
Every distortion of that image happened after the fall of Adam and Eve. People who belong to the first Adam, and live governed by the flesh, will have no notion of God’s intentions. In contrast, born-again Christians, who live in God’s presence as children of the living God, should follow the will of God for our lives.
But all of us enter this world as belonging to Adam. Before we are born-again, all of us have hard hearts, until Jesus transforms our hearts to be gentle and humble like His (Matthew 11:29, 13:15, Mark 6:52).
This hardness of heart is what comes between us and seeing God. Its unrepentance puts a veil between us and Him.
And, interestingly, Jesus says that this same hardness of heart is the reason for separation between a husband and wife too: “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.” (Matthew 19:8-9, ESV)
So, the hardness of the heart separates us from God and separates us from each other. A body with a heart of stone is dead, and can’t be a fit helper to Jesus, nor can it be a fit helper to a Christ fearing husband.
Why is sexual immorality the dealbreaker among so many types of sin?
Paul says that we should flee from sexual immorality. He says that every other sin is committed outside the body, but sexual immorality is a sin against one’s own body (1 Corinthians 6:18). And who is also part of the body of a married man or woman? That’s right: the spouse.
Like Esau selling his birthright for a single meal, someone who gives the wife’s right to his body to another has lost those rights. (And vice versa.)
The problem is that if you choose to have sexual relations with someone, you become one body with that person. And so you unite yourself with a sinner. But, our bodies are the Lord’s temple and members of Christ (1 Corinthians 6:13-20).
So, sinning in this way shows massive disregard for God. It also demonstrates that we have not been sanctified, which disregards God too (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8). When King David repented of sexual immorality, he was very aware of this.
In the context of lustful intentions, Jesus says that we should cut off and throw away our right hand or right eye if either of them causes us to sin.
That is not just a good picture of dealing with sexual immorality and other sins in our individual Christian lives, it is also a good picture of dealing with sin in the Church. If someone who belongs to the Body of Christ continues to desire other things more than God, he or she is in a spiritual sense committing adultery and separating him or herself from God. If that person refuses to repent and turn back to God to be healed, then that person can become a wolf in sheep’s clothing and lead others astray too.
The right hand and eye are very important, but if one of them has gangrene, it will infect all the surrounding tissue. Or like Paul said: a little leaven leavens the whole lump (1 Corinthians 5:6). This means that if someone claims to be a Christian but is sexually immoral, and he or she does not want to repent and turn back to God, that person should be cut off (1 Corinthians 5, Revelation 2:14-21). No matter how important their role in that church is.
That is most definitely easier said than done. Cutting off a member is horrible and painful. And of course, nobody wants to do that. But it is also the most loving thing to do. Because if all else has been tried, it might actually lead the sinner to repentance (1 Corinthians 5:5).
Adultery equals idolatry
God equals adultery, a kind of sexual immorality that can only be practiced by married couples, with idolatry (Colossians 3:5, Ezekiel 23:37). If a married couple symbolizes the relationship between Jesus and the Church, then that makes a lot of sense. Because if you follow something other than Jesus, that is idolatry.
And besides: We cannot serve two masters, for we will hate one and love the other (Matthew 6:24). So, what does it say if you follow your body over God?
Adam and Eve both chose something else over God. She chose to believe the serpent over God, and Adam, who was by her side when it happened, listened to Eve instead of to God. The result: Separation from God.
If we choose another master instead of God, then we are handed over to that master.
In marriage, this is the same. If a wife chooses to obey another instead of her husband and starts pleasing that person with her body, she implicitly rejects the authority of her husband and accepts the authority of that other person. Because:
“For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.” (1 Corinthians 7:4, ESV)
Similarly, if a man does not submit to his wife’s (and God’s) authority over his body, but instead chooses to listen to his fleshly desires and another woman, what does that say about his relationship with God?
Marriage is not for everybody
Jesus’ words also make something else clear: that marriage is not for everyone.
For some people, it is better to remain unmarried for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven.
Paul, who was single himself, said in 1 Corinthians 7:29-35 that time is short and that unmarried men and women can focus more fully on the Lord’s affairs since they are not distracted with the affairs of this world (pleasing their spouses).
He also tells people to remain in the states in which they were called. Slave or free, circumcised or uncircumcised (1 Corinthians 7:17-24). He writes this within the context of being married or not, so I believe he applies this rule to all kinds of areas of our lives, including marital status.
In my personal case, I was saved right after our marriage, while I had stopped working as a marketing manager, due to burnout. What I was doing at the time, was zealously researching the Bible and writing and talking about it. And that is what I still do to this day.
Before I understood these words of Paul, I felt pushed by my environment to pursue other job opportunities and find ways to have the children we couldn’t have, but all of those initiatives ended in misery. The only thing that truly feels right, as if I am fulfilling my destiny, is doing what I do now. Actually, that is an understatement: I feel extremely fulfilled and joyful in my work for the Lord- there is not a better thing I could think of.
But if you do marry after you have been called, Paul includes in his letter, you are not sinning. If you find it hard to have self-control, you should marry (1 Corinthians 7:8-9). Otherwise, it might be better to remain as you were because those who do marry will face many troubles in this life (1 Corinthians 7:25-28).
And although married women are just as free in Christ as unmarried women or men, being married means having additional responsibilities, such as caring for your spouse.
Every woman in Christ is, in principle, free to marry or not. And she is (should be) free to marry whom she wants to, so long as he’s a Christian (1 Corinthians 7:39).
That means that, ideally, Christian women have a choice to be under the authority of a husband, or not.
Unfortunately, the world we live in is far from ideal, so of course, we can think of several circumstances in which this freedom of choice cannot be fully enjoyed. But since Jesus set us free, we are free indeed, even if we are imprisoned. And no matter your circumstances: God is right there with you. Always.