June 9, 2014 Broadcast

What is Christian Marriage?

A Message by R.C. Sproul

God designed marriage to be one of life's greatest joys. Unfortunately, many people have lost sight of God's guidelines, and as a result, divorce rates are soaring. For some who stay married, marriage feels like an unwanted burden. In this lesson, Dr. R.C. Sproul helps us regain a biblical understanding of marriage and the freedom and delight it entails.

From the series: The Intimate Marriage

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. devotional

    Covenant Marriage

  2. article

    Marriage to Glorify God

  3. article

    The Basis of a Christian Marriage

Covenant Marriage

Over the past few days we have been observing Peter’s teaching regarding how Christians are to live honorable lives within the context of marriage. Indeed, the relationship between a godly husband and wife is one of the most powerful ways human beings can glorify God and bear witness to His goodness. Unfortunately, in our day we have seen both the marginalization of the institution of marriage and a tendency for many Christians to pattern their marriages after the world instead of structuring them according to the teaching of Scripture. In order that we might better understand the Bible’s teaching on marriage, we will spend the next five days studying marriage using the series The Intimate Marriage by Dr. R.C. Sproul as our guide.

Contrary to the beliefs of many in our society, marriage is not some arbitrary idea concocted by mankind and thus able to be structured in any way that we see fit. Rather, it is instituted by God Himself for our benefit and for His glory. We can see that this is the case by looking at the very first marriage recorded in Scripture. In Genesis 2 we read of the creation of man and woman. Adam is made first and given the task of tending the garden of Eden (vv. 4–17). However, at this point, creation was not yet complete. God looks down on Adam and sees that things are not all good. Adam is alone and in need of a helper fit especially for him (v. 18).

God brings to Adam all of the animals that He has made but unfortunately, none of them is a fit helper for Adam (vv. 19–20). Someone else is needed — someone whose dignity as the image of God matches Adam’s own. Therefore, God creates a woman from Adam’s rib and brings her to him (vv. 21–22). Unlike the animals, Eve is the one who is fit to be Adam’s helper (v. 23).

In verse 24 we read that man and woman are to come together in marriage as one flesh. Just as God enters into covenant with His people, so too does He ordain marriage as a sacred covenant between one man and one woman. Like all other covenants, it is governed by God’s commands for the sake of His glory and this glory is displayed as husband and wife are faithful to God’s design for marriage.

Marriage to Glorify God

John Cobb

The sanctity of marriage is being threatened, and all people likely suspect it. Everyone knows divorce rates are shamefully high, and same-sex unions are being legalized on a global scale. To help protect marriage, some are fighting in civil courts, some are writing books, some are preaching, some are teaching, and the list goes on. 

Whether it is working is up for debate. Not up for debate is God’s purpose for marriage — to glorify Him (see 1 Cor. 10:31). How much more should we strive, then, to accomplish this purpose with and through a divine institution given to us by grace, an institution that reflects Christ’s perfect bond with His church? 

This purpose for marriage is also where we find our best weapon to protect it. If marriages strive to glorify God, their sanctity is upheld. As a result, the world sees God’s glorious gift of marriage as they should and catch a glimpse of God’s beauty, love, and excellence. 

God must be first in marriage for it to be lived to His glory. However, putting God first in marriage is not easy. Husbands can easily place their leadership of the household as primary, wives can easily do the same with their care of the house, and each spouse can easily put each other before God. These are but a few examples of things that can become idols if God is not kept first in marriage. 

To put God first in our marriages, we must recognize its place. Marriage is secondary and temporary, and God is primary and infinite. Therefore our marriages should always point back to God. To do this, we must submit ourselves to God every day. While all of Scripture helps us to learn our duties and responsibilities, Scripture specifically gives us the magnificent example of Christ and His bride. In Ephesians 5:22–24 husbands are instructed to lead their wives as Christ leads the church, and wives are instructed to support their husbands as the church supports Christ. What a weighty example to follow! Now reflect upon the fact that it was Christ who was perfect — blameless, with no need to apologize, and yet it was Christ who laid down His life out of love for His bride and obedience to His Father (5:25). 

May we be humbled by Christ’s example and make every effort to live it. May that be true of our marriages as well as our Christian life.

The Basis of a Christian Marriage

R.C. Sproul

Some years ago, I attended an interesting wedding. I was especially struck by the creativity of the ceremony. The bride and the groom had brainstormed with the pastor in order to insert new and exciting elements into the service, and I enjoyed those elements. However, in the middle of the ceremony, they included portions of the traditional, classic wedding ceremony. When I began to hear the words from the traditional ceremony, my attention perked up and I was moved. I remember thinking, "There is no way to improve on this because the words are so beautiful and meaningful." A great deal of thought and care had been put into those old, familiar words.

Today, of course, many young people not only are saying no to the traditional wedding ceremony, they are rejecting the concept of marriage itself. More and more young people are coming from broken homes, and as a result, they have a fear and suspicion about the value of marriage. So we see couples living together rather than marrying for fear that the cost of that commitment may be too much. They fear it may make them too vulnerable. This means that one of the most stable and, as we once thought, permanent traditions of our culture is being challenged.

One of the things I like most about the traditional wedding ceremony is that it includes an explanation as to why there is such a thing as marriage. We are told in that ceremony that marriage is ordained and instituted by God—that is to say, marriage did not just spring up arbitrarily out of social conventions or human taboos. Marriage was not invented by men but by God.

We see this in the earliest chapters of the Old Testament, where we find the creation account. We find that God creates in stages, beginning with the light (Gen. 1:3) and capping the process with the creation of man (v. 27). At every stage, He utters a benediction, a "good word." God repeatedly looks at what He has made and says, "That's good" (vv. 4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31).

But then God notices something that provokes not a benediction but what we call a malediction, that is, a "bad word." What was this thing that God saw in His creation that He judged to be "not good"? We find it in Genesis 2:18, where God declares, "It is not good that the man should be alone." That prompts Him to create Eve and bring her to Adam. God instituted marriage, and He did it, in the first instance, as an answer to human loneliness. For this reason, God inspired Moses to write, "Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (v. 24).

But while I like and appreciate the words of the traditional wedding ceremony, I believe the form of the ceremony is even more important. This is because the traditional ceremony involves the making of a covenant. The whole idea of covenant is deeply rooted in biblical Christianity. The Bible teaches that our very redemption is based on a covenant. Much could be said here about the character of the biblical covenants, but one vital facet is that none of them is a private matter. Every covenant is undertaken in the presence of witnesses. This is why we invite guests to our weddings. It is so they will witness our vows—and hold us accountable to keep them. It is one thing for a man to whisper expressions of love to a woman when no one will hear, but it is quite another thing for him to stand up in a church, in front of parents, friends, ecclesiastical or civil authorities, and God Himself, and there make promises to love and cherish her. Wedding vows are sacred promises made in the presence of witnesses who will remember them.

I believe marriage is the most precious of all human institutions. It's also the most dangerous. Into our marriages we pour our greatest and deepest expectations. We put our emotions on the line. There we can achieve the greatest happiness, but we also can experience the greatest disappointment, the most frustration, and the most pain. With that much at stake, we need something more solemn than a casual promise.

Even with formal wedding ceremonies, even with the involvement of authority structures, roughly fifty percent of marriages fail. Sadly, among the men and women who stay together as husband and wife, many would not marry the same spouse again, but they stay together for various reasons. Something has been lost regarding the sacred and holy character of the marriage covenant. In order to strengthen the institution of marriage, we might want to consider strengthening the wedding ceremony, with a clear, biblical reminder that marriage is instituted by God and forged in His sight.

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