Questions and Answers About Marriage, Part 1

Title: Questions and Answers About Marriage

Text: Matthew 19:4-6, 1 Samuel 1:1-2, John 4:16-18

Time: May 9th, 2013

The present moment represents a “teachable moment” for the Christian church concerning marriage, because of all the talk about redefining marriage to include same-sex couples. It seems like marriage is the topic of conversation all over, on TV, radio, Internet, newspapers, magazines, the water cooler at work, and even over the fence in the neighborhood – although it’s mostly about so-called “gay marriage.” What greater time for Christians to talk about real marriage, heterosexual marriage, biblical marriage, the kind God instituted from the very beginning of the human race? The trouble is that Christians aren’t talking about real biblical marriage, and Christian churches aren’t teaching about it either. During this “teachable moment,” while marriage is on everyone’s mind, the Christian church seems to be trying to avoid the subject in order to dodge any negative feedback or controversy from the culture. Instead of ramping up the teaching on marriage inside churches, and addressing the topic of marriage for the general culture, churches are seemingly doing everything in their powers to avoid talking about marriage. Why? Because traditional, biblical marriage is unpopular today – or so it seems.  The winds of popular opinion are blowing away from Christian marriage and towards secular or pagan same-sex marriage; anyone who teaches against gay marriage is criticized, marginalized, and rejected by mainstream culture today. So in response, pastors, church leaders, and denominational administrators have tried as best they can to avoid talking about marriage in order to avoid any cultural rejection of stigma. They are trying to avoid being called bigots, homophobes or worse. As a result, during the “teachable moment” the Christian church has of teaching the culture the correct and true definition of marriage, instead of being relevant, Christians are avoiding risk and playing it safe by keeping silent or offering “no comment” during the whole time. Only a few scattered voices are attempting to teach on the topic of real marriage, while the vast majority of Christian voices are doing all they can to stay under the radar for the time being. What a shame! What a wasted opportunity. Yes, it carries risk to address the topic of marriage from a biblical perspective these days, but the risk is worth it in order to get the truth out to people who are uninformed at best or just plain hostile at worst. As Christians we are called by God to bear witness to the truth, to let our lights shine before men, and teach people God’s Word in season and out. We have a great opportunity now to bring God’s truth to bear on an important topic, so let’s do it. I hope to do a little bit of teaching on biblical marriage today, as time permits. Please join me as I ask and answer a few basic questions about marriage. 

First, does the Bible give specific details about marriage? Matthew 19:4, “’Haven’t you read,’ he (Jesus) 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 shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore, what God has joined together, let man not separate.’” The basic understanding of a covenant union of a male and female is found in the earliest chapters of the Bible in Genesis, but the actual details of what we now know as marriage aren’t anywhere described in the Bible. In other words, the core and essential components of marriage are explained in the Bible, beginning in Genesis and expanded on further in the Old and New Testament. But the specific cultural details of marriage, such as the exact wording of the vows, or specific customs of the dedication ceremony are left up to human development and tradition. Weddings can be simple or elaborate, yet they all contain the basic idea of a covenant of faithfulness, love and support to one another. Now there are a growing number of persons who try to argue that everything about the concept of marriage is man-made. In other words, they see it as something totally and wholly of human invention. But this is false according to the Bible and history. In Genesis, at the very beginning of the human race, we see God creating Adam and Eve, and bringing them together as man and wife. The first man and the first woman didn’t just come up with the idea of marriage as a social contract for their own mutual benefit, as more and more people today believe. No. God instituted marriage without calling it as such, but with all the basic components nevertheless. And  basic marriage is built into all people in all cultures at all times. There isn’t a people anywhere that hasn’t discovered God’s simple will of marriage for men and women, whether through divine revelation or through the natural revelation of God that comes from the natural world without or the natural conscience within. This explains why marriage has been a universal human trait from the very beginning. The highest and most refined expression of God’s will for marriage is probably the classic formulation contained in the vows printed in the Anglican Book of Common prayer. It’s the traditional vow exchanged between man and woman that goes, “Do you John take this woman Jane to be your wife? To have and to hold, to love and to cherish, in sickness and in health, until death do you part?” and so forth. But the basic parts of the classic marriage vows come from the Bible, and these are coupled with a wide variety of other diverse cultural expressions. So the Bible does give us the basics of marriage, but leaves many of the specific details to human tradition.

Second, why did God allow for polygamy? 1 Samuel 1:1-2, “There was a certain man from Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. He had two wives: one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none.” Here’s just one example of a man with more than one wife – there are plenty of other examples as well of some famous men, and some not-so famous men who were polygamists. Now it’s clear from the Bible that God’s ideal for marriage is the union of one man and one woman for a lifetime. How do we know that? Because that’s what we just read in the previous verse first quoted in Genesis of the Old Testament, and then re-affirmed by Christ in the New Testament. The verse basically teaches one man, one woman marriage; not polygamy. Yet it is also a fact of biblical history that God tolerated polygamy and didn’t count it as a sin – or at least didn’t see it as a bad enough sin to judge people for doing. For example, we see the famous King David with more than one wife, with many wives. We also see David being judged by God for his sins, adultery for example, but not for the mere fact he had many wives. It’s the same with David’s son Solomon. We see he had many wives, even more than David. We also see him judged by God for his sins, but not for having more than one wife. So God is tolerant in the Bible concerning polygamist marriages. Even though it was common in ancient times, in the Old Testament, it wasn’t practiced by all or even by most couples. Most marriages were between two people, between a man and his wife. In New Testament times, the practice of polygamy was even less practiced. Few men were married to more than one woman, and the teachings of early Christianity expressly forbade leaders of the church to be married to more than one wife. So we see early on in the Christian church a teaching against polygamy – and this was reflected also in the Jewish community. Polygamy never was God’s intention for marriage, although it was tolerated by God for a while through the ages, more so in ancient days, less so as time progressed. Now why would God permit polygamy? Perhaps because all the basic components of marriage outlined in the Bible are present. There is a promise or covenant to love, care for and cherish one’s spouse, even if that included more than one. Polygamy has always been problematic as far as practical concerns, because, as the situation in the verse I just read indicates further on in the account, problems develop between wives, as we’d imagine.  In other words, polygamy is fraught with problems, which makes sense. Today, a valid case for polygamy is pretty hard to make, although some Mormons have tried. It’s pretty plain for all to see that polygamy not only is not God’s will today, but it doesn’t even make sense in human terms. It would be a big mistake for society to return to legal polygamy; that would be a step backwards, not forward.

Third, isn’t cohabitation or living together just a more casual form of marriage? John 4:16-18, “He told her, ‘God, call your husband and come back.’ ‘I have no husband,’ she replied. Jesus said to her, ‘You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.’” Cohabitation or “shacking up,” as it was called in the 60s, is when a man and woman live together as if they were married although they are in fact not married. They share almost all the benefits of marriage, except there is no binding pledge or promise of lifelong faithfulness. In the past, it was called “living in sin” based on the Judeo-Christian moral and ethical standard of sex only within the bonds of holy matrimony. But today cohabitation is not only typical it’s probably so common that a majority of couples do it at some point, that is, they live together with the benefits of marriage without actual marriage. For example, Prince William and Kate Middleton lived together openly before they were married, setting a rotten example of moral purity for the citizens of England and the rest of the English speaking world – but that’s another topic for another day. I’ve spoken of it a number of times, so I won’t get into again today. I mention them only as an example of the commonness of cohabitation today. That doesn’t make it right – it’s not right, it’s wrong. But it’s a common practice today. Yet it’s not an acceptable practice in the eyes of God; it’s sin in God’s eyes. Technically, it’s the sin of fornication, which is, sex before marriage. It’s even worse than occasional fornication, because it’s quite literally “living in sin,” or living in a constant state of fornication. Now why isn’t cohabitation merely a more casual form of marriage? Because it doesn’t have the main ingredient of marriage – which is the lifelong promise to love, cherish and protect one another. The very core of marriage is a pledge, a promise, a sacred covenant between man and woman. Cohabitation is absent of that sacred promise; therefore it isn’t marriage, not even marriage lite, as one might say. Most of the time couples cohabit to “try out” marriage, to see if they are compatible with one another so that at a future time they might actually and officially get married. But this is impossible, that is, to try out marriage. How do you try out a lifelong commitment? If you’ve entered into a lifelong commitment with another person, you’re married. If you haven’t, you aren’t. But can’t two people make private marriage vows together? Isn’t that marriage? It’s close, but unless it’s public, unless there are witnesses – “in the eyes of God and man . . .” – then it’s less than marriage still.

One of the arguments we hear from gay activists today concerning marriage is that because heterosexual marriage is failing so fast in our culture with more than fifty percent of marriages failing, we should now be open to other forms of marriage that present the hope of improving marriage statistics. Some have even cited Massachusetts as an example. Since so-called gay marriage was legalized, divorce has even gone down in the state. But this fails to take into account that so has the marriage rate gone down as well. Couples are not even bothering to get married, but instead are simply “shacking up” or cohabiting, even with the legalization of gay marriage. So gay activists like to play games with numbers to try to promote their cause. The truth is, God’s plan for marriage is the best. It’s based on the superior will of God, but it also makes sense through reason and logic. No civilization in the history of humanity has ever been as loose and careless with the institution of marriage as we have been in the last few years here in the United States and in Western Europe. It seems like a wave of insanity is sweeping the western world today in respect to marriage. What makes us think we can change the definition of marriage from heterosexual only to include same sex couples? How can we escape the wrath and judgment of God if we depart from his will so defiantly? There is a vast ignorance about biblical marriage today and unfortunately the Christian church is too afraid to teach the truth. Where are the leading voices in Christianity defending the biblical teaching on marriage today? Where are the high-profile evangelicals who speak in public about everything under the sun? Why aren’t they talking about God’s plan for marriage as outlined in the Bible? One of the reasons there is so much ignorance and confusion about marriage today is because pastors aren’t teaching about it from the pulpit on Sunday. Instead, they’re trying to be popular, entertaining, and informative in order to draw a bigger audience and grow a bigger church. But what good is a bigger church with more people in attendance if the truth isn’t being taught? It’s time for Christians to wake up and teach the truth of God while there’s still time. There is still enough time for us to recapture the allegiance of the people through the preaching of the Word of God, but if we wait any longer than even the basic concepts of Christian truth won’t make sense to a majority of people. There’s still a remnant of Christianity still that exists, enough to build upon if we start rebuilding. But we’re getting pretty close to the point of no return. We must teach about God’s plan for marriage now. Are you willing to do your part in returning America to God? If so, a place to start is to simply begin teaching people what true marriage is according to the Bible. Let’s pray.


%d bloggers like this: