The Story of Marriage in Seven Verses
Recently I married an unusually mature couple. Both groom and bride were in their late thirties. They had waited with admirable patience. Both were established in life and in faith, and they knew where they each stood: together on God’s word. Few couples, if any, that I’ve married have demonstrated such clear, solid, stable footing together on the rock of what God has said in the Bible.
So, it didn’t surprise me that when I asked them to pick a favorite passage or two for the wedding, they shied away from picking and choosing for themselves. They said they love the word of God, every jot and tittle, from cover to cover, and gladly submit their lives to anything and everything God has to say — even on their wedding day, when we’re so carefully picking and choosing everything else. They were genuinely eager to hear and embrace anything God had to say to them in front of their friends and family.
I was moved. That may be the first time any couple has put it back on me to pick the passage. What would you choose for them? Instead of just one verse or passage, I tried to select what I thought (imperfectly, of course) might be the Bible’s seven most important verses on marriage. Here are the seven, each with just a taste of why.
1. Genesis 1:27
God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
From the very beginning, God made men and women with equal dignity as humans, and glorious complementary differences as men and women. God did not make men and women as essentially androgynous humans, with male or female accessories added at the end. Rather, we all are men or women all the way down, to every single cell in our bodies. We are different, marvelously different, in our physiology and our psychology. And these differences do not make men better than women, or women better than men, but they do make men and women better together.
After God formed the man, put him in the garden, and gave him the moral vision for life in the world, God said to him, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:18). Throughout the creation account, at the end of each day, God declared his work good, good, good, good, good. Then at the end of day six, very good. But a man by himself? Not good. At least for the first man, and for most of us.
2. Genesis 2:24
A man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
After God made the first woman and entrusted this remarkable gift to the man, God instituted what we call marriage. Two persons becoming one new entity. One man and one woman forming the most fundamental human relationship in God’s created world — a relationship even more fundamental than parent-child. A man will leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife. Under God, she is now his most fundamental commitment. So also, the woman leaves behind her father’s house (Psalm 45:10) to establish a new family unit with her husband. Under God, he is now her most fundamental commitment.
Yet, as promising as it begins, sin entered the world. The man failed to protect the garden. He let down his guard and allowed the serpent to have his wife’s ear, and she was deceived. Then the man himself, having heard God’s command firsthand, listened instead to the voice of his wife, and sinned against God. And now in this fallen and cursed world, marriage, the most fundamental relationship, is not without its severe pains and difficulties (Genesis 3:16).
3. Matthew 19:6
So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.
Now we skip ahead thousands of years to the words of Jesus. Even though sin has invaded God’s creation, and often husbands and wives tragically find themselves struggling against each other, Jesus reinforces God’s vision of marriage in creation: “What God has joined together, let not man separate.” Sin may challenge, but it does not overturn, God’s original design. Marriage, in fact, is made to endure sin. God means for the two to become one, and not for the one to be torn apart into two.
God calls husbands in particular, as the men, to faithfulness where the first man failed. God calls each man to guard and protect his wife and marriage with a holy zeal — first from his own sin, and then from others. Her failures are no excuse for his. And for wives, his failures are no excuse for hers. Man and woman covenant with each other for “as long as we both shall live.”
Inevitably, they will sin against each other. Perhaps before the wedding day is over. Surely before the honeymoon is over. Sin will challenge the harmony of their relationship in some way. But God designed this covenant of marriage to hold them together in the hard times. Tough times are no surprise to marriage. Marriage was made for the tough times. Covenants are not mainly for easy times, but for the hardest.
4. Ephesians 4:32
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
This may be the single most important verse for my own marriage of twelve years. And I suspect that kindness is greatly underrated in many other marriages as well.
Because of the wonderful confines and boundaries and commitments of the covenant of marriage, husband and wife may feel the impulse and temptation to be mean to each other, to lash out at that stubborn spouse whose always there and seems to make life harder. In God’s vision for marriage, however, there is no place for meanness or contempt between a husband and wife. Yes, loving correction. Yes, hard conversations. Yes, forgiveness requested and granted regularly, even daily. But never meanness.
Husbands and wives who are in Christ know themselves handled kindly by God at every turn. That doesn’t mean life together won’t be difficult, but all God’s sovereignly appointed difficulties in the lives of his children are kindnesses, strange as they may seem. So also, in Christ, always seek to “be kind to one another.”
5. Colossians 3:19
Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.
God’s specific call to the husband is to love his wife. Love is not just spontaneous affection. It is affection, and never less, but it is more. It is also covenant allegiance and sacrificial action. In a husband’s worst moments, he will be tempted to be passive or harsh. What his wife needs from him, and what God calls him to as the man, is gentleness, not harshness — and activity, not passivity. Gentle activity. Gentleness is not weakness. Gentleness is strength under control to life-giving ends. Gentleness is admirable strength grown by God’s Spirit into even more admirable maturity.
Marriage is not meant to make our lives easier (and worse), but to make them more challenging (and better). The wife is an heir with her husband of the grace of life, and God calls him to live with her in an understanding way, showing her special honor and care as his wife (1 Peter 3:7).
6. Colossians 3:18
Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
God’s call to a wife is to affirm, receive, and nurture her husband’s loving leadership in marriage. Her husband is unique for her. God does not call a wife to submit to all men — no way. Only to her own husband (Ephesians 5:22; Titus 2:5; 1 Peter 3:1, 5). And her submission to him is not absolute. Colossians 3:18 says “as is fitting in the Lord.” Jesus Christ is her ultimate allegiance and authority, just as for her husband. And as the husband is obedient to Christ, and self-sacrificial like Christ, he and she will thrive together in the dance of marriage as she affirms and strengthens him — and makes him a better man than he could ever be without her.
Godly submission is not passive or weak. It is one of the hardest things prideful modern people could ever do. And it is precisely what we all do when we say Jesus is Lord.
7. Ephesians 5:32
This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
We’ve saved the best for last. When God says that marriage is a mystery, he’s not saying that it’s confusing and enigmatic — that we can’t really figure out the depths of its meaning. He’s saying it was a mystery for thousands of years, but now, with the life and death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, marriage is no longer a mystery. The mystery has been revealed.
The mystery was this: Why one man and one woman, covenanted to each other as long as they both shall live? Why did God do it this way? Why build human society this way? The answer is that thousands of years before he sent his Son, God embedded a pointer to Jesus in the very basics of human life. From the beginning, God knew he would send his Son to save us from our sin, and he designed marriage to anticipate that — to prepare the world for the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The meaning of marriage is that Jesus has given his life for his people, his bride. The call of a husband — to lead by giving, and not taking — shows us Jesus, who did not protect himself and his comfort, but sacrificed himself for us. Jesus is the husband who does not claim special privilege, but shoulders more responsibility to love his bride with affection, allegiance, and action.
Jesus’s love for his church is the ultimate meaning of marriage. This is the message and drama Christians seek to live out and show to the world as we make our vows, and anticipate the coming marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9). This is the story of marriage.