As Anna and I prepare to celebrate 5 years of marriage, I’ve been thinking about what marriage means and why it exists. This past week, one of our small groups broke up into guys and girls and wrote out a biblical theology of marriage—in 20 minutes. The girls wrote eloquently, and the guys, perhaps predictably, came up mostly with bullet points. But the exercise was a useful one in examining the what and why, and who, of marriage.
An unmarried reader, who has been affected by someone else’s addiction to pornography, wrote to ask about the why of matrimony in a world that has destroyed most semblances of a Biblical view of marriage and sexuality. I’ve included an edited version of the admittedly long response below. I hope it serves as an encouragement to you as well, whether you are hopeful to be married, are in preparations for marriage, or are living out the profound mystery of Christ-like marriage:
Thank you so much for writing and for sharing your heart on this issue. I hope what I write will be of help to you–as an encouragement, as a reminder of the goodness of God, and as a loving push towards an answer rooted deep in God’s word.
First, I’m sorry you’ve had to experience the consequences of someone else’s addiction. Pornography, much like any addiction, feels like a personal thing to the addict–something we deal with ourselves, something that needs to be fixed ourselves, and something that doesn’t hurt other people. But this kind of sin always affects others–it reaches into our relationships, and clouds our judgment, and hurts those we love in ways we don’t understand. I don’t know if it’s simply the consequence of sin that has the ability to affect others, or if by sinning, we invite our enemy to take a large role of influence in our relationships. But either way, there’s grace from God to heal these situations. Pray for him, that he would find his ultimate satisfaction in intimacy with God, not in the false intimacy of pornography. And pray for yourself, that God would continue to heal your heart, helping you to forgive.
Your question–How can a marriage be special in a world where temptation is so prevalent–is a poignant one. And the answer is simple, and complex. The simple answer is this: marriage is not about you, or me, or any of us; marriage is ultimately about God. So it is special, and holy, because of Who it came from and What it’s meant to show.
If you are interested in the complex answer, my understanding would go something like this: The design of marriage in the beginning, and our view of marriage today, are two mountain peaks separated by an impassible gap. Our human view of marriage, particularly a worldly view of marriage, has been cheapened to such a degree that we are numb to the gloriously high view of marriage in the Bible. Today, marriage is often reduced to a business contract–if you don’t hold up your end of the bargain, then I’ll leave the partnership and go find someone else who will. Or marriage serves as a means to serve ourselves–to find someone who will do things for us, to take care of our needs. When marriage gets hard, we’re far too prone to blame, too quick to leave.
So how high is the Bible’s view of marriage? Jesus says, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:6). And when he describes the conditions of marriage, and the prohibition against remarriage, His disciples respond by saying, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry” (19:10). In other words, if God’s view is that marriage is meant to last until death, and that man should not separate what God has joined together, then aren’t we better off not even marrying? The standards are just too high!
Of course, we don’t see God’s standard for marriage as this high, and part of the reason is that we misunderstand the nature and purpose of marriage. I mentioned earlier that marriage is special, not primarily because of us, but because of Who it came from and What it’s meant to show. The way John Piper says it is like this: “Most foundationally, marriage is the doing of God. And ultimately, marriage is the display of God.”
What Piper means when he says that marriage is the doing of God is this: marriage was designed by God (Gen 2:24-25), and the one-flesh union in marriage is a work of God. Jesus, in Mark 10:8-9, first quotes Genesis 2:24 (“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”) before saying: “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” This is the Who part of marriage. So the first thing we say about marriage is that it is something God does, not something we do, and because it is a work of God, it is good.
When Piper says that marriage is the display of God, he is pointing to Paul’s statement in Ephesians 5:31-32. Paul also quotes Genesis 2:24: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” But then he makes a truly remarkable statement: “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” This is What part of marriage. And the second thing we say about marriage is that it is a display of God.
How is marriage a display of God? For Paul, the profound mystery points to the relationship between Christ and His bride, the Church. “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor…that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25-27). And it is in this display of God’s faithfulness to His people, His continual forbearance and sacrificial love towards them, and His forgiveness of their sins, that we see the true meaning, and the sacred calling, of marriage.
This isn’t all the Bible has to say about marriage. There are other good things that the Bible points to in marriage: help, companionship, sexual fulfillment, procreation, enjoyment. And these good things should be received from God as gifts–good gifts from a loving Father. But ultimately, marriage is a picture to the world of the relationship Jesus has towards His people. This is why marriage in any setting, and Christian marriage in every setting, is not about us: it serves, alongside all other things, to point to Jesus (“all things were created…for him…that in everything he might be preeminent” (Colossians 1:16, 18)).
So how do we deal with the gap in our view of marriage? How do we cross from the peak of human understanding to the peak of divine understanding? It happens first through Jesus, by God’s grace, as we persist in faith, believing in God to guide us into marriage (if He so leads) and to redeem our marriages, in spite of our sin, for His glory and our joy. And it happens second through our battling our own notions of marriage with the armies of Scripture–to let God define what marriage is, why it exists, and how it means to work.
This is all fine and well, but what does it practically mean for us? How does all this help you to consider marriage in a world that has made it worthless? To answer, we have to go back to God’s word.
Part of the result, and curse, from the Fall is that sin and death entered the world. “Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). The reason men look at pornography, and women sell their bodies, and the world worships sexuality, is that sin has corrupted God’s design for marriage and healthy sexual relationships. Another curse from the Fall is that men and women now have conflicted desires. Genesis 3:16 says to the woman, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing…[and] your desire shall be for (against) your husband, and he shall rule over you.” In God’s original design, the husband and wife lived together in the Garden of Eden in a unique relationship–to one another and to God. The man was made to tend to the garden, and the woman was made to help him. Both enjoyed fellowship with God and a right relationship towards one another.
But after the fall, these relationships broke. God was no longer their primary source for love; now Adam and Eve sought to satisfy their desires in each other, rather than in God. For the woman, her desire was for (or against) her husband. She desires to rule over him, but he will rule over her. And she feels incomplete in this battle. The identity she finds in him does not satisfy her soul. The love she looks to him for does not satisfy her soul, because she was created to be satisfied by Another. And the man likewise feels incomplete. He rules over his wife, but he is wont to abuse this. He begins to see his wife as existing to serve His needs, but she cannot satisfy his soul, because he was created to be satisfied by Another.
Recognizing this will go a long way in helping you overcome your fears of the sin that might arise in marriage. If you see God as the Great Satisfier of your soul, you will not go into marriage expecting something of your husband that he cannot fulfill. And because your identity is in Christ, first and foremost, rather than your husband, then his sin, if and when it shows up, will not destroy you. And also know that a man, by God’s grace, can join alongside Job, who made a covenant with his eyes not to look upon a young woman with lust (Job 31:1). God’s Spirit can give men new desires, desires to love and serve their wives, and desires to honor them as women worthy of the greatest kinds of love.
Let God sanctify your marriage. Let God tell you that it will be special. Battle your fears with faith–believe God when He tells you that marriage is good, and for His glory, and for your joy.
One of the books that helped my wife understand the temptation that men (not only men, but mostly men) face in this area was Every Man’s Battle. If you haven’t read it, you might consider doing so. But it may be a bit of a jarring experience for you. If you read it, read it to understand the nature and heart of a sinful man–that all men are sinners, and all face temptation, but that many are made righteous by God in Jesus and experience freedom from the bondage of lust. Be wary of despair in reacting to what you read; this despair will not from God, but it may come as other fears or insecurities arise in your heart. There is grace from God to heal those as well.
Another book I commend to you is This Momentary Marriage by John Piper. It gives, from what I’ve read, the best Biblical articulation of what marriage is meant for and how it should work.
If and when God leads you into marriage, he will be leading you into a life of loving and serving your husband, not yourself. That will mean praying for your husband, and helping him to be a man of God, respecting him, and submitting to his leadership, and forgiving him when he sins, and encouraging him in his walk with God. And God will lead your husband into a life of loving and serving you, not himself. That will mean his praying for you, and helping you to be a woman of God, and loving and leading you with a sacrificial kind of love, and forgiving you when you sin, and encouraging you in your walk with God.
But in even preparation for marriage, and in the midst of marriage, remember Asaph’s words in Psalm 73: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” God is your portion, not your husband. God is your greatest treasure, not your husband. God is your first love, not your husband. If we put these first things first, as CS Lewis says, we get second things, like joy in marriage, thrown in with it!
Question: How would you write the purpose of marriage in one sentence?
There are two types of people in the world: those who categorize others into types, and those who don’t.
My friend Sarah is one of these types of people. Over Saturday dinner, she shared with our group her perspective on 4 types of people—particularly in how we react to them in relationships.
- Look Good. Look Gooders care most about what others think about them. Their reputation is king, and they will accept emotional turmoil within so long as no one else knows about it. Honesty is the bain of Look Gooders.
- Feel Good. Feel Gooders care most about how they feel. They are emotionally-driven and reactive to situations, willing to change who they are or how they relate to others as long as they feel comfortable. Courage is the bain of Feel Gooders.
- Be Right. Be Righters care most about being right. They will sacrifice relationships in the name of truth (or perceived truth). Arguments and debates are comfortable arenas with them, because these are forums to wield their sabres of wit and words. Humility is the bain of Be Righters.
- Be In Control. Be In Controllers care most about controlling situations, or at worst, controlling others. They will manipulate with words or emotions, sometimes without even knowing they’re doing so. Trust is the bain of Be In Controllers.
I always find it interesting to see how people categorize others, in part because there is often some truth to it. And Sarah’s framework is likely quite right. And if you pay care attention, you will notice something of significance about each type of person here: each one is self-centered.
The reason we want to look good in front of others is because we value ourselves more than we value someone else.
The reason we want to feel good about ourselves is because we value ourselves more than we value someone else.
The reason we want to be right is because we value ourselves more than we value someone else.
The reason we want to be in control is because we value ourselves more than we value someone else.
This particular framework is useful in uncovering our own particular strain of self-centeredness, because we’re all plagued with this disease. Practically, we are born into a state of need, and we spend the rest of our lives concerned first and foremost with ourselves. Theologically, we are born into a state of sin, and we spend the rest of our lives in opposition to the preeminence of Christ in all things.
The cure for all these strains of self-centeredness is the same: a humbled, repentant, faith-filled, hopeful heart, mind, and spirit which desires to see and savor the glory of God as seen in the supremacy of Christ above all things. Or to say this another way: people who value God more than they value the comforts of sin.
I am a Look Gooder (and to some degree, all four), but I have asked God to destroy this disease within me. I want to be more concerned about God and His glory than I am about justifying myself and making sure others justify me as well. I want to love God and love others, so that He will bear fruit in me that furthers His kingdom. And I want to be ultimately be the type of person who participates joyfully and expectantly in being made more and more like Jesus.
Question: Which type of person are you?
I am a father, but I have yet to meet my child. I almost wrote “I am going to be a father,” because that is how I tend to think about my wife’s pregnancy. My wife, Anna, is 12 weeks along, and we’ve just announced this great news to our friends and family. You are part of that extended network, so I wanted you to know as well and to ask for your help.
When I say I tend to think about my wife’s pregnancy a certain way, I mean to say that I find it hard to put my mind around this miracle before I can put my hands around this miracle. Fatherhood is not yet part of my identity, and I wonder at this great act of God: How can nothing become something? Or to ask the question another way: How can it be that God would use us in His very act of creating something from nothing?
Our child, who was once nothing, is now an immortal soul who will spend eternity in or out of God’s blessed presence. And that is a life-changing, mind-blowing, soul-stunning reality. This new person has been made for the glory of God, and we pray already that this child will be formed into a vessel for God’s mercy. By God’s grace, we will raise this child in a covenant community that is committed to instruction in the way of the Lord, and we recognize that we may plant or water, but God will give the growth.
Since all of life exists for Jesus, we can see the picture being painted over this chapter of our lives. God is now working by grace to prepare this child for the day of birth; so too does God’s Spirit work to prepare our hearts for spiritual birth. In six months, this child’s eyes will be opened to the bright wonders of a new reality; so too are our eyes opened to the brilliance of new life in Christ. So we embrace the wonder of the deeper meaning behind the joy of this present reality.
Anna and I have all of the questions new parents must have as well as all the insecurities. We don’t feel prepared and know we likely never feel ready for this great stewardship. But we are unabashedly overjoyed about meeting this new soul God deemed fit to create and lend to our care while we have breath.
We also both recognize we are part of a global community of believers who worship the one true God, and we join with the untold millions who have walked before us in life and faith and raised children to bring glory to our God. Would that we had the ability to weigh all of the collective wisdom of this great remnant to prepare our hearts, souls, and minds for this great undertaking. So we thought we would start with you.
My question for you is simple: What advice would you offer us in raising this child to love the Lord?
Please pass this question along to others as well. May God grant us great measures of wisdom through all who respond!
My wife and I are part of this great community group in Nova through our church. Tomorrow night, we’ll be facilitating the group’s study and discussion of 1 Corinthians 13–the famous love chapter in the Bible. I’ve posed the following questions to the group. But then I remembered this whole online thing is about community in a different way, so I thought I’d pose these to you as well.
If you will, pick a question, ask God for guidance, and give us your best answer!
- What is a Biblical definition of love?
- What is important about the Bible saying “God is love?”
- Is it our job to love others, or is it the Spirit’s job to others through us? Or neither, or both?
- Is it loving to think of others as more important than us, or as important than us?
- Why does God go to such lengths to define the attributes of love?
- What’s the significance of the similarities between the characteristics of love in 1 Cor 13 and the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23?
- Is there a difference in how men and women should respond to the command: “Love one another”? Or does obedience in this way look the same regardless of gender?
- What does this verse mean: “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19)?
- Why is love the “greatest of these” (1 Cor 13:13)?
- Is it possible to overemphasize love? If so, how?
Words without definitions are not worth much. Perhaps they might have some artistic value in form, but they fail to convey any meaningful information unless we actually know what the words mean. Words with definitions, however, hold great potential. They can be the means to change our thoughts which in turn can change our actions. Words forming ideas can be means to change the world—or even the destiny of a man’s soul.
One word I’ve heard many times is the word sanctification. And I thought I knew what it meant. I was talking with my dad recently about this word, and he said something I found interesting. He said that he had always heard sanctification taught as meaning “to be set apart or holy,” but that over the years, he’s hearing more and more is being referred to as a “process of growing in our faith.” So this question has been stuck in my mind recently: What does sanctification really mean?
I asked this question on Twitter, and a number of kind souls weighed in. Each response had similar elements, but there were some nuanced differences to each. So this makes me wonder how others understand this important truth about our faith. I’ll weigh in later this week in an effort to understand how the Bible addresses this concept in full, but for now, I’ll ask you:
What is sanctification? And why does it matter?
Last week, I asked the question: “Can we overemphasize the gospel?” Hundreds have considered this question, and a number have weighed in on the issue. One reader in particular, Russ, ended his comments by asking: “What is the gospel scripturally meant to be?” I posed the question back to him, and here’s what he said:
I do not know in full. The scriptures you provided were a good and proper start. I think that in some sense, the gospel is to function as our everything. Or to borrow from Tim Keller, the gospel should function as a complete worldview. I have recently been affected by the all-encompassing tone of Paul’s self reflection in Philippians 3:7-15, a text where Paul essentially seems to say that he wants to know the gospel well. We usually focus on the “knowing Christ” aspect of the passage, but Paul seems to include other aspects of the Gospel as personal and effecting, or at least as informing the dynamic of His relationship with Christ.
I feel that the underlying concern here has more to do with the heart than with language or a movement. I think your post could stand with using the exact same reasoning but could address an over-emphasizing of the terms “Jesus” or “Glory of God” in an unedifying polarity just as well.
The punditry with movements can be good a thing, especially to preserve and refine them, but I also feel that there is really only one true movement: Christ moved from heaven to earth, from the cross to the grave for our sins, and victoriously back to the Father, and so now we move in that reality.
Personally, I am not very far removed from the error which we wish to avoid here. So what is my hope?
My hope ultimately is Christ. But how can I hope on Him and His grace? I have come to learn only through the gospel alone. I am looking for God to tend to my heart, but I am expecting that to happen only through a deeper realization of the gospel.
So I ask you the same question Russ asked me: “What is the gospel meant to be?”
*Comments have been edited for form and not content (emphasis added by editor)
We ______ to express ourselves.
Why should we express ourselves?
Because we want to share with the world what we value most.
Why should we share with the world what we value most?
Because it fulfills our unique sense of purpose.
Why should we seek our sense of purpose?
Because we are “created in Christ Jesus for good works…that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10).
Why should we walk in these good works?
So that “whatever [we] do, [we] do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31).
Asking the “why” question always leads back to the One who gave us the ability to ask the question. Maybe that’s the point.
Question: Why do you ______?
Non-exhaustive answers to hard and relevant questions—From the Ask a Smart Guy or Gal Series…
Question: Are Science and Religion At Odds?
A friend asked for my thoughts on “God, the Big Bang, Creation, Age of the Earth, and Genesis,” all minor questions, right? I sent him a quick response, outlining three things to think about: 1) The ultimate question to address is first cause, 2) Creationists need not fear science, and 3) Creationists and Naturalists both apply bias to the facts they observe.
But there’s more to say on this subject. Much more. And I’m not the one to say it, because I haven’t studied this issue like I should. So I found someone who has (my brother), and I asked him to share his thoughts. And I think you’ll find it to be a worthwhile read:
For starters, it’s important to note the limits of knowledge and the limits of science. People who describe themselves as scientists are not always forthcoming about what science really is. Science can mean simply knowledge or, in more modern times, it can mean knowledge gained through use of the scientific method.
You may remember this from high school, but the scientific method starts with a hypothesis to explain phenomena, then tests that hypothesis in ways that are repeatable and verifiable. When we ask questions about the universe’s origins, it’s worth noting that modern science cannot, by definition, tell us anything about it. The reason is simple: we can’t repeat and verify how the universe began. What this kind of science can do is make speculations based on available information, which is what the philosopher or theologian does as well. This is why the war between Religion and Science is really a false war; the competition is actually between Theism and Naturalism.
We can take cosmology (study of the universe) as an example. Most people believe in the Big Bang or creation by some sort of God. But it’s misleading to really call Big Bang cosmology science in the same way we call Biology or Chemistry science. It’s actually more akin to philosophy or metaphysics. Cosmology states beliefs, not facts. But don’t take my word for it. George F.R. Ellis, a Fellow of the Royal Society, co-author with Stephen Hawking of Cambridge of The Large Scale Structure of Space-Time, and a physicist considered to be one of the world’s leading theorists in cosmology, states:
“People need to be aware that there is a range of models that could explain the observations….For instance, I can construct you a spherically symmetrical universe with Earth at its center, and you cannot disprove it based on observations….You can only exclude it on philosophical grounds. In my view there is absolutely nothing wrong in that. What I want to bring into the open is the fact that we are using philosophical criteria in choosing our models. A lot of cosmology tries to hide that.” (W. Wayt Gibbs, “Profile: George F. R. Ellis,” Scientific American, October 1995, Vol. 273, No.4, p. 55., as quoted on www.big-bang-theory.com)
But cosmology is no outlier. Much of modern science tells the same tale. When we hear there is broad consensus from leading scientists, we tend to believe them, because they seem a lot smarter than we are. But consensus isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In years past, there was consensus that the earth was the center of the solar system; that one didn’t work out too well. In the early 20th Century, there was consensus that an invisible “aether” filled space; we now know this is nonsense. Ultimately, if you look back 200 years, very little of what we knew to be true scientifically was actually right. Theories are discarded or replaced over time as more discoveries are made. This should give us pause today as we examine scientific evidence and make conclusions that are pronounced as gospel truth.
The dirty little secret about evolution is that it is a theory like many of those that have come and gone throughout history. Again, we can go to the theory’s leading voices to make the point. You have probably heard of Richard Dawkins, a renowned Oxford zoologist and well-known apologist for Darwinian evolution. Dr. Dawkins has openly stated both on film and in writing that “nobody knows how life got started on earth. We know what kind of event it was: the origin of the first self-replicating molecule…” When the lead apologist says nobody knows how the most important event to evolutionary theory happened, that should trigger a flag for us: we’re no longer in the realm of science. We’re now dealing with philosophy or metaphysics, where presupposition, not evidence, is the key driver.
If the scientific community that studies origins is comprised largely of Naturalists rather than Theists, then we shouldn’t be surprised to find their conclusions have natural, rather than supernatural, explanations. That doesn’t mean they aren’t in their own right to observe the evidence and make calculated speculation about questions about origins; it just means we critique their conclusions, even consensus-driven ones, on philosophical grounds.
Ultimately, if we treat the science that says the earth is 4.5 billion years old like the science that gives us the ability to make a rocket that can go to the moon, we do a disservice to both science and philosophy. This should raise many questions, and we’ll address some of them here in the future. In fact, if you have any big ones you’d like to see discussed, you can share them here. But as you consider these thoughts, realize science will take us to the point where faith must begin, and this is true whether you believe in God or not.
Non-exhaustive answers to hard and relevant questions…
Question: Did Jesus Really Claim To Be God?
Lots of people believe Jesus is God (I am one of them). And lots of people believe He isn’t (Richard Dawkins is one of them). There are plenty of people on my side, and there are plenty of people on his side. One thing is for sure: we aren’t both right. Jesus is either God or He isn’t; there’s no middle ground on this question.
There are a number of authorities to which we can appeal to answer this question. We can appeal to faith, because God has opened our eyes to see the reality and truth that Jesus is God, eternally existent as the Son and equal in nature and essence with the Father and the Spirit. We can appeal to tradition, pointing to a counter-cultural movement that began with an unlikely band of deserters-turned-apostles which grew into the world’s largest religion. Or we can appeal to the Bible, which surely makes the case for the divinity of Jesus.
You will search in vain for an explicit declaration of divinity from Jesus’ lips, at least one that will clearly silence His critics. And this is not cause for alarm: Jesus Himself was intentional about this as He spoke, and God the Spirit was intentional about this as He inspired the writing of the Scriptures. So how can we be sure He is who we claim Him to be?
The claim is there is you’re willing to see it. Or perhaps more accurately, the claim is there if God opens your eyes to see it. We can look at several passages to give us the chance to test our sight.
- In John 8:58, Jesus responds to the religious leaders who are questioning whether or not He considered Himself to be greater than their father, Abraham. Here, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” This may seem innocent enough to us, but the Jews picked up stones to kill Him for this statement, because they heard the connection He made to Exodus 3:14, where God gives His name to Abraham: “I Am Who I Am.”
- In John 10:30, Jesus responds again to the Jewish leaders who are questioning Him. They ask Him: “If you are the Christ, tell us plainly” (vs 24). Jesus answers them: “My Father…is greater than all…[and] I and the Father are one.” This must have created some drama for monotheists who daily recited the Shema: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). And it was: they picked up stones to kill Him once more.
- In John 20:29, Jesus had His best chance to clarify his lack of deity if He wanted to do so. Thomas, who had doubted the risen Christ even after his closest friends told him about Jesus’ appearance to them, finally lays his own eyes on the wounds in Jesus’ hands and side. He says, “My Lord and my God!” (vs 28), and Jesus, rather than correcting him, accepts the statement and makes a teaching point of faith.
Jesus had many opportunities to simply say, “I am God,” but He chose not to. Perhaps this has to do with God’s design: “…their ears can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them” (Matthew 13:15). Whatever the reason, He was nuanced in His responses on purpose, which may lead people like Richard Dawkins into darkness, but He means for us to declare the light of this truth to the world, that God took on flesh to do what we could not do ourselves: pay the price for our sins.
There are many other passages in Scripture that point to Jesus’ divinity. Where else do you see the Bible pointing to Jesus as God?