by Shane Scott
I recently performed the wedding ceremony of some dear friends of mine. As I thought about what I would say, it occurred to me that there are two basic views of what marriage is about. One view – certainly the dominant view in our culture – is that marriage is about personal happiness. Christianity presents a different perspective. Marriage is fundamentally about God. Marriage is a reflection of the nature of God, marriage is modeled after the love of God, and marriage is the result of the work of God.
A Reflection of the Nature of God
In a sense, all of us reflect the nature of God, because – as the opening chapter of Genesis says, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness’” (Genesis 1:26).
But there’s more. This special status as image-bearers of God is not just simply a matter of our humanity; it is reflected in our creation as male and female:
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27).
To be made in the likeness of God is to be male and female, to be capable of a relationship, a relationship so close and so entwined that the next chapter of the Bible says: “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).
Man and woman are distinct, and yet in marriage, they are united in an inseparable bond; they become one flesh. And that relationship, in which they are two, but they are really one, reflects the nature of God. As the story of Scripture unfolds, we learn that while God is one, he exists as Father, Son, and Spirit, who dwell together in a perfect and inseparable union of eternal love. It is that capacity for a relationship, for oneness, for love, that we display in our creation in God’s image as male and female.
When a man and woman begin their life together in marriage, the two becoming one, they are a reflection, an image, of the deep mystery of the love of the Father, Son, and Spirit.
A Model of the Love of God
Marriage is also modeled after the love of God. In the New Testament, Christ’s love for the church is portrayed in terms of marriage, as the apostle Paul says:
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord…Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:22, 25).
A wife’s devotion to embrace her husband’s leadership, and a husband’s devotion to sacrificially love his wife, are modeled after the love between Christ and the church.
And there’s more. Not only does marriage echo the nature of God, and not only is it modeled after the love of God, but it is also the very work of God.
The Work of God
After commenting on the design of God for marriage in creation, the Lord Jesus said: “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:6).
Marriage is God’s work. A preacher is privileged to perform the ceremony that legally acknowledges his work, but God is the one who joins a husband and wife together. That’s his specialty – bringing people together. It’s what the story of the gospel is all about, reconciling humanity to God through Christ, and reconciling us to one another in peace. And marriage is the gospel in miniature, a microcosm of the very work of God.
In all of these ways – as the reflection of God’s nature; as the model of God’s love; as the product of God’s work – your marriage is not ultimately about you; it is about God. But here’s the incredible thing about a God-centered marriage. By focusing on glorifying God rather than making yourself happy, you will actually find the greatest happiness of all. As you yield to one another, give of yourself to one another, seeking the greater glory of God rather than self-centered satisfaction, you will experience the special joy of divine love that transcends what you could ever hope to achieve on your own.
In the language of Scripture:
May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 15:5-6).
Now, as I am stressing the God-centeredness of marriage, I don’t mean to ignore or diminish the passion of romance. The Scriptures celebrate this aspect of marriage in the Song of Solomon. It is a sensual book, filled with romantic descriptions of how attractive the couple finds each other, of how much pleasure they give each other. But at the heart of it all is a deep commitment, which the woman in the song expresses with this beautiful phrase, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” (Songs 6:3).
I was brought up by my Mom and her parents, who – in true hillbilly fashion – I called “Granny and Pop.” There were married nearly 61 years, but many of those years were not devoted to God’s glory; they were not happy years. But toward the end of his life, my Pop turned his heart to the Lord, and they finally experienced the true joy that God-centered marriage brings.
Not long before Pop died, he began to drift in and out of consciousness, often unable to recognize his own family or call us by name. My Granny was already having a difficult time getting around at that point, but she was determined to get to the hospital to see her man. So, we made arrangements to get her there. And when she walked in, and my granddad saw her, the fog of illness which had clouded his mind evaporated, his eyes brightened, and he said one word: “Mine.” That is the beauty of harmony, of two hearts so perfectly in tune with each other and with God that regardless of the years and in spite of the challenges, you can say with certainty, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.”
That is the enduring happiness a God-centered marriage creates.