Here is the much belated second part of my article on Christian teens and dating. Part 1 can be found here. In part 1, I laid out what dating is and why I think it is so prevalent. In part 2, I go through the Bible’s view of marriage and its importance.
Marriage in the Bible
When it comes to men and women, the ultimate relationship in the Bible is marriage. From the very beginning, we see that God designed men and women to be married and share an exclusive relationship with each other. Genesis 2:24 says:
For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.
The relationship we see develop between the man and woman in Genesis 2 is a pattern for all men and women. They are to join together in a permanent, life-long union and become one flesh, united in a bond shared with no other. This is the pinnacle of God’s design for relationship between men and women.
Throughout the Bible we see God affirming the institution of marriage, be it in the 10 Commandments (“You shall not commit adultery;… you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife” Exodus 20:14,17); Proverbs (“Drink water from your own cistern, … let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers… and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.” Proverbs 5:15-18); the Prophets (“The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect.” Malachi 2:16); and in the New Testament (“Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.” Matthew 19:8). The Bible is clear and consistent: marriage is God’s plan for exclusive relationships between men and women. Because marriage is the aim, it shapes how we relate to each other before marriage.
The Bible, along with its emphasis of life-long, monogamous marriage, promotes a model for relationships that stands in stark contrast to our modern, secular society. The ultimate expression of marriage in the Bible, and the spiritual reality that marriage points to, is the bond between Christ and the Church, God’s universal people.
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:31-32)
Marriage reveals the relationship not just between men and women but also between Christ and the church. Christian marriage should mimic the relationship between Jesus and his people. It is an extension of our wider Christian lives, that stem from the work of Christ on the cross and drive us towards service of others. Earlier in Ephesians 5, Paul explains how this all plays out:
22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:22-27)
If Genesis shows us the design of marriage, then the New Testament shows us the manner in which God’s design for marriage should work out. Christian marriage is essentially an exercise of self-sacrifice for the sake of the other, modelled on Jesus and the church.
When we get married, the husband is not to live for himself but to give himself up for his bride, sacrificing everything of himself, to present her spotless and without blemish before God. Marriage isn’t for his indulgence but for his service of his wife, dying to himself just like Christ died on the cross for us. The wife, similarly, isn’t to live for her own desires but to live in submission to her husband, as the church has submitted to Jesus.
Through mutual service of each other, both husband and wife is loved and cared for. Rather being torn apart by our individual desires, the marriage is build up cooperatively, with both husband and wife filling important roles within the marriage. Christian marriage brings about the full expression of the ‘one flesh-ness’ design of Genesis, bringing two people together in an intimate and loving relationship.