What is Marriage?
When you need a definition, one is inclined to look in the dictionary. Webster’s dictionary defines marriage as “the state of being married.” Well, that helps! Fortunately, they go on to state that marriage is “the mutual relation of husband and wife. The institution whereby men and women are joined in a special kind of social and legal dependence for the purpose of founding and maintaining a family. An intimate or close union.” This definition is fairly good, though it is unfortunate that elements in our society are seeking to change the definition of marriage.
Rather than basing our understanding of marriage on the fickle opinions of men, let us seek God’s definition of marriage. To understand marriage, we need to go back to when marriage was first instituted, back in the garden of Eden when man was first created.
Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. The LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones,
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man.”
For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.
Who May Marry
While this is not a dictionary definition of marriage, there are many things we can learn about marriage from this passage. First, we note that marriage takes place between one man and one woman. Read the last verse again. A man (singular) shall be joined to his wife (singular). A man having multiple wives or a wife having multiple husbands is contrary to the teachings of God.
Even though elements in our society wish to broaden the institution of marriage to include two women living together or two men living together, such an idea is contrary to God’s instructions. Such an idea existed during the time of the apostle Paul and he called it unnatural (Romans 1:21-32). Homosexual relationships are not recognized by God. It is a sin which must be removed from a person’s life (I Corinthians 6:9-11).
Marriage is a covenant relationship between a man and a woman (Malachi 2:14, Ezekiel 16:8). The vows are made between the man and the woman before God Almighty. While governments may regulate marriage, it is God who does the binding of two into one (Matthew 19:4-6). Therefore God sets the standard for who may marry.
Marriage is for Companionship
Second, we learn that marriage is to provide companionship. When Adam was first created, he was unique among all of God’s creation. There was no animal comparable to man. To prove this to Adam, God had representatives of all the various animal kinds come before Adam. Though Adam looked, there wasn’t a suitable companion among the animals. I know they say that a dog is man’s best friend, but Adam thought otherwise. God knew it was not good for Adam to be alone and, after seeing the animals, Adam realized that he was alone. It was then that God created a suitable companion for Adam.
Life is much more enjoyable when you have someone with whom to share it. Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 9:9, “Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which He has given to you under the sun; for this is your reward in life and in your toil in which you have labored under the sun.” Our spouses are a blessing from God to give some pleasure to the brief life that we live here on earth.
In our early years our family provided most of our companionship. True, there were times that you could not stand your brother or sister. And there were times you thought your parents were the worse people with whom a child could be stuck. However, despite the bad times, there was someone there at home with whom you could talk and share experiences. Many times a person does not recognize the depth of his family’s companionship until he moves out on his own. Perhaps the loneliness and silence of an empty apartment do more to drive a person to seek a companion than all the encouragement of others.
When you marry, the bonds to home must be severed and new ties must be made to your spouse. You must leave father and mother and cleave to your spouse. This doesn’t mean you never talk to your parents again. However, you need time for the two of you to establish your own household with its own methods of operation. Your parents need time to see you as an independent adult with responsibilities and not as an irresponsible dependant child. Even though money might be tight, I generally advise newlyweds to move out of their parent’s home – preferably to live in a different town for a while. It forces the couple to start solving their problems instead of depending on mom or dad to make everything right.
Marriage is for Sexual Relationships
I do not know of a culture that does not honor the commitment of a married couple. Marriage is a respected institution and within the confines of that institution, sex is expected to take place. The writer of Hebrews said in Hebrews 13:4, “Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” The word “bed” was translated from the Greek word koitē, which means both a place to sleep and the place where sexual intercourse takes place. It is used in a figure of speech for the act of intercourse and the conception of a child. (See Romans 9:10 where the same word is translated as “conceived.”)
The idea of sexual intercourse is seen in Genesis 2:24 when the writer said the two would become one flesh. The joining of a husband and wife in sexual intercourse is one aspect of two people joining as one. However, the idea is broader than the mere physical coupling. The act of sexual intercourse binds the participants on an emotional and spiritual plane as well. This is why unmarried sex is wrong. Paul said in I Corinthians 6:15-20,
Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be! Or do you notknow that the one who joins himself to aprostitute is one body with her? For He says,The two shall become one flesh. But the onewho joins himself to the Lord is one spirit withHim. Flee immorality. Every other sin that aman commits is outside the body, but theimmoral man sins against his own body. Or doyou not know that your body is a temple of theHoly Spirit who is in you, whom you have fromGod, and that you are not your own? For youhave been bought with a price: therefore glorifyGod in your body.
Take two pieces of duct tape and press the glue faces together. Trying to pull them back apart is near impossible. You will destroy the tape before they come apart. However, take another two pieces of tape and stick them to the chair, the floor, or wherever. Soon the glue of the tape will become littered with gunk. Press those pieces together and they might stick, but it is easy to separate them again.
The same thing happens when a person has sex outside of the marriage covenant. He makes bonds physically, emotionally, and spiritually with another person, but the relationship doesn’t last and the two are torn apart. The first time is incredibly painful, but he moves on to another partner to find solace for his grief. That relationship doesn’t last either. They break up. The pain is there, but it is not as bad as the first time. With each succeeding relationship, the bond becomes weaker and weaker. If that person ever does attempt to bond in marriage, there is so much past history to overcome that the person often is unsuccessful in keeping his marriage together. He probably doesn’t know how to live with someone without eventually breaking up.
Ideally, a man or a woman should only bond with his or her spouse. Solomon expressed it in this fashion:
Drink water from your own cistern and fresh water from your own well. Should your springs be dispersed abroad, streams of water in the streets? Let them be yours alone and not for strangers with you. Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth. As a loving hind and a graceful doe, let her breasts satisfy you at all times; Be exhilarated always with her love.Proverbs 5:15-19
Perhaps you wondered when you first read this passage what does water have to do with a discussion on sex. In the poetic language of those times, water often represents sexual relations. Every human has a strong desire for water, just as they develop a thirst for sexual satisfaction. In addition, the act of sex involves bodily fluids that are exchanged. What Solomon is doing is paralleling drinking water to having sex. If you want to quench your thirst, there is nothing better than a fresh glass of water from your own well – a trusted source of pure water. In those days, when you were done with the bath water or with washing the dishes, you poured the dirty water out of the nearest window. Gutters in the streets collected the water and channeled it out of town. No one in his right mind would take his glass and get a drink from the gutters. It is unhealthy! You have no idea where that water came from or how it was used.
In the same fashion, sex is the most satisfying and the healthiest when it is kept at home. You should not be having sex with just anyone. You don’t know with whom they have previously slept. You don’t know what diseases they have picked up and passed on to you. Like drinking water from the gutters, it is unhealthy! Sexual intercourse is exclusively for the married couple. It is to bring them happiness and satisfaction. God intends for a husband and wife to gain pleasure from the body of their spouse.
Having sexual intercourse in marriage is so important that it is a duty in marriage. It may be hard to think of something so pleasurable as an obligation, but this is how it is taught in the Scriptures.
But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband. The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.I Corinthians 7:2-5
The desire for sex is strong. Many people have been led by Satan into sin because of its pull. To prevent such sins from destroying a marriage, a couple must insure that their partner’s desire for sex is always satisfied. A mistake many make is to think that only the husband has a strong sexual desire. It is true that the desire of a man is more easily seen, but it doesn’t mean that a woman lacks similar desires. Sex should be freely offered by either spouse whenever the other desires it. It doesn’t matter if the wife has a headache or the husband is exhausted from a long day. It is the duty of the husband to satisfy his wife’s sexual desires. It is the duty of the wife to satisfy her husband’s sexual desires. The only time it is permissible to refrain from sexual intercourse is when both the husband and the wife mutually agree. Even then, it should be for a limited time frame so that Satan doesn’t have an opportunity to tempt either of you into sinning.
Under the old Mosaical Law, newly married couples were not allowed to be separated for their first year. Deuteronomy 24:5 says, “When a man takes a new wife, he shall not go out with the army nor be charged with any duty; he shall be free at home one year and shall give happiness to his wife whom he has taken.” A newly married man could not be sent to serve in the army or sent on a business trip or sent anywhere away from his wife for one year. His primary duty is to the happiness of his wife. By this, the law means that the husband was to concentrate on giving his wife sexual pleasure. I find it interesting that the law emphasizes that the husband must please his wife and not the other way around. Probably because when a husband does his duty properly, not only will his wife be pleased, but he will enjoy the outcome as well.
The free access to sexual intercourse early in a marriage insures that the husband and wife bond tightly to each other. While we do not live under the Mosaical Law, the idea expressed in Deuteronomy 24:5 is useful in a new marriage. A new husband should make the pleasure of his wife his primary goal during the first year of their life together. Once the habit is set, it is easy to maintain through the rest of their time together.
Marriage is for Raising Children
God told Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28). To put it another way, God told mankind to have children.
Children are the natural result of sexual intercourse. Every act of sexual intercourse does not produce a child, but the act of sex does lead to the creation of children under normal circumstances. Since sex is only permitted between a married couple, we conclude that it is God’s intention that couples are expected to produce children within a marriage.
Children need both a mother and a father to develop to their fullest potential. “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4) Fathers are responsible for the well-being (“bring them up”) of their families. Elsewhere Paul said, “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (I Timothy 5:8). They must see to the training (“discipline”) and education (“instruction”) of their children. Mothers are also commanded to teach their children. “My son, observe the commandment of your father and do not forsake the teaching of your mother; Bind them continually on your heart; Tie them around your neck. When you walk about, they will guide you; When you sleep, they will watch over you; And when you awake, they will talk to you.” (Proverbs 6:20-22).
In recent years, children are seen in our society as economic burdens. Each new child brings additional costs which must be born and precious time which must be spent. However, this was never God’s view of children. “Behold, children are a gift of the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them; They will not be ashamed when they speak with their enemies in the gate.” (Psalm 127:3-5). “Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine within your house, Your children like olive plants around your table. Behold, for thus shall the man be blessed who fears the LORD.” (Psalm 128:3-4)