What Is Christian Marriage and Why is it Special? This complex question is multi-faceted, so let’s jump in!
What is Christian Marriage and Why is it so Special?
Marriage. A word that we associate with many thoughts, descriptors, images, and feelings. Hollywood style romances and fairytale stories. “Soul mates” longing to find their other half, who overcome all odds in a twist of fate and find each other at just the right time. Big white dresses, expensive diamond rings, and lines like “You complete me”. These are all things we associate with “true love”, right?
These examples are beautiful, swoon-worthy, and culturally, they have become the norm. The hopeless romantics of the world believe that everyone should be entitled to experience this “true love”, right? Little girls (and let’s be honest- their mamas, too) dream up their weddings and future husbands from an early age. Don’t let me fool you- I was [read: *AM STILL*] the most Disney princess-loving, prince-charming desiring, pumpkin-turned-carriage seeking, hopeless romantic you could ever meet. But I think this mindset makes love and marriage synonymous, while also implying that marriage is comprised of these two main things:
- The Wedding.
- Complete fulfillment found in another human being.
While I’m not saying there is anything wrong with these at all, the real question I think we should be asking here is simple: Does this type of “love” lead to a realistic, sustainable, and unbreakable commitment that brings lifelong joy and long-term fulfillment?
I believe that the short answer is: it depends on what your core belief system is.
Foundational Beliefs of a Christian
If you are a born-again follower of Jesus, then you’ll agree that the Bible is the ultimate authority. Therefore it can be concluded that the principles of scripture should become the firm foundation of your core belief system. The True, Holy Spirit-inspired, Word of God is “a lamp unto our fight and a light unto our paths”. It is written that:
- We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19)
- No one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)
- “… God is love, and the one who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him.” (1 John 4:16 )
- “This is love: that we walk according to his commands. This is the command as you have heard it from the beginning: that you walk in love.” (2 John 1:6)
- “This is my command: Love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)
Reading these passages (and many, many more that I have not listed here), we can conclude the following to be true:
- God is love.
- He loves us.
- His love toward us has given us the capacity to love.
- His expectation for us is simply to love others in the same way.
- He shows us in multiple ways how his love differs from worldly love, but it is most evidenced in how he willingly laid his life down for us, while we were unaware, unappreciative, and undeserving.
We were completely ignorant to the fact that we were destined for an eternity in hell. Deserving of eternal separation from all things good. We deserved literal, eternal damnation. He chose to suffer the humiliating death of a thief on the cross (that WE deserved and he did NOT); and He did so to rescue us completely out of His lovingkindness and His intentionality.
How gracious of our perfectly loving Abba Father to provide us an opportunity to accept the inheritance of eternal peace instead. This freely accessible gift is unbreakable union with Him through the gift of salvation.
How lavishly His love for us is demonstrated through that one act alone. In His gentlemanly pursuit, He chooses to go even further; providing us with both the tangibly present Holy Spirit in his physical absence, and the infallible, written Word of God to provide instruction. It is literally all written out for us to follow in a way that will never return void (Isaiah 55) and will never lead us astray (Luke 21:8)!
The Word leads to Wisdom
The older I get (and the more I mature in the Spirit), I realize two very important things:
- If I have Jesus and nothing else, I quite literally have everything. I couldn’t do anything without Him and I’m nothing apart from Him.
- In His kindness, graciousness, and mercy, the Holy Spirit, whom was gifted to us by the Father on behalf of the Son at the time of His ascension, gives us revelation of the truth found in the Word at just the right time. This revelatory process leads to biblical wisdom, (which is actually quite different than biblical knowledge, by the way!)
I believe wholeheartedly that Christian marriages are set apart because they are centered on the foundation of mutually-submitting servanthood and sacrificial love.
Cultural Love vs. Biblical Love
When asking a man why he wants to propose to a woman, you might expect him to answer “because I love her“, right?
Love, being the key word in this sentence, is a multi-faceted, equivocal word- a word that can actually have various meanings. For example, take the word “bark”. You could use this word to explain how a dog communicates, or you could educate someone on the proper terminology for the substance covering the base of a tree. Same word, same spelling, same pronunciation- completely different meaning. I can confidently say the same is true of the words “love” and “marriage.” Especially when comparing the cultural and biblical definitions.
Many people today define marriage as a union of two people who feel as if they “complete each other.” This union allows them to share a name, a life, and legal benefits. I have had real conversations with real individuals who have openly expressed that marriage is simply something that you do when you find someone who makes you feel a happy.
As expressed in the 90’s classic “It Takes Two” starring Steve Gutenberg, Kirstie Alley, and the Olsen twins, these individuals in “love” experience that heart-racing, “can’t eat, can’t sleep, reach for the stars, over the fence, world series kind of [feeling]”. The benefits of companionship combined with these intensely euphoric feelings lead to the desire for a lifelong commitment called marriage.
When we can honestly say “I’ve got that lovin’ feeling,” there are few things that feel more exciting. A lifelong commitment to that happiness is an easily pursued decision. But what happens when that other (sinfully natured) human does something to let us down or upset us? What happens when those “happy feelings” are replaced over time with deep, heart-wrenching sadness, betrayal, or wounding? What happens when we let those feelings cause distance and we begin to grow apart?
I can tell you exactly what happens then.
No longer is it easy to “choose” love. In fact, in my personal experience, when I have been in the depths of those dark seasons, choosing to stay has always been harder and required more sacrifice than going through the event that caused the traumatic wounding in the first place.
Not only is it hard, it becomes increasingly (and excruciatingly) more difficult because those “happy” feelings have faded and there’s usually not a time-lined “end” to that suffering. This is where we become tempted to jump ship! After all, how can we be expected to stay in a committed relationship with someone who refuses to acknowledge our pain or who refuses to reconcile with us/make the changes we think they should make?
In our humanness, we crave control. We are built to crave pleasure and avoid pain. If we place our hand on a hot stove, we immediately respond by removing our hand away as quickly as humanly possible, right? Why? To end the pain. For self-preservation. To stop the damage from becoming worse.
Why would our thoughts be any different during marital pain? Especially when such pain is caused by the actions of another human at our own expense. And not just any human- the human who has pursued us, chosen us, and willingly vowed to live out the remainder of their days loving us. Again, the answer is simple and is found in the perfect example of Jesus.
He drank the cup of suffering on our behalf. He bore the excruciating pain of OUR wrongdoing at the expense of His own life. For the Father, at the expense of His one and only Son. Jesus pursued us then, he pursues us now, and he will never stop pursuing us. He chose us then, he chooses us now, and he will never stop choosing us. He vowed to live out his days on earth with us, has sent His Spirit as a helper to remain with us, until he returns and comes back for us.
Who would do that?! Only a perfect, all-knowing, compassionate, UNCONDITIONALLY loving, merciful, graceful, sacrificial, servant-hearted God would do that. Only God could do that.
When two individuals who have crossed the line of faith come together in Christian marriage, they vow before God (and often their friends/families, too,) to enter into a covenant. Covenants, (not convents, friends) are more than just vows or fleeting promises. They are unbreakable commitments, only severed by the shedding of blood. Biblically based marriages are covenant relationships between both spouses and God, Himself.
Why is Covenant important?
“A cord of three strands is not easily broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:12).
“So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Matthew 19:6)
This concept of covenant is particularly encouraging to believers as the Bible is full of stories where God enters into covenant with His people and remains faithful to each one. Read about the Abrahamic and Noahic covenants in the Old Testament, or about Jesus’ blood ushering in the new covenant in the New Testament! These stories proclaim so much about God’s faithfulness to remain steadfast and true to His Word, no matter how badly the humans may mess up. This speaks to the unwavering nature of God and His consistent, promise-keeping character. It also inspires hope. In marriage, this kind of infallible hope is particularly encouraging.
The Mystery of Christ & The Church
As mentioned in the scripture passage at the very top of this post, covenant marriage is also a beautiful, yet mysterious representation of Christ and his relationship with The Church, his Bride. That “mystery” slowly reveals pieces of itself over time as we become more like Him through a process called sanctification.
What is Sanctification?
Sanctification is a process of growth. A metamorphosis. We are born as individuals who are made in His image but plagued by sin. When we receive the cleansing blood of Jesus, we become new creations. That new creation is like one preparing to emerge from a chrysalis, beginning to transform more and more into a being that looks more like Him. Through this process, we begin to replace the appetites of our sin with fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). We become more drawn to the things of God and less drawn to the things of this world.
A Metaphorical Equation
As mentioned earlier in Matthew 19:6, when two human beings enter into covenant, they go from being two separate individuals and become one flesh. Stay with me here. This next part might seem a little strange at first.
One of my husband’s favorite movies from childhood is The Parent Trap. You know, the one starring Lindsey Lohan.
Imagine with me for a moment that iconic scene where the two identical strangers find out that they’re actually identical twins. (*GASP*)
Once they start to let their walls down and begin talking, they discover that they share many specific commonalities. They share the same birthday, an affinity for dipping Oreos into peanut butter, and (perhaps the most climactic thing they have in common is) they both have photos of their long lost parents that are torn “right. down. the middle“.
On the count of 3, they each pull out their torn photos, revealing the most unexpected plot twist in the history of family films (sorry for the dramatics, but my inner 12-year-old is screaming)– the two girls come to the realization that their most prized belonging is one half of a complete 4×6 picture! And not just any picture! The picture they’ve been looking to find completion for since birth!
Phew, somebody pass the tissues. *sniffles*.
Now, imagine one of their photos was “incomplete”. Maybe the face of the parent on their half wasn’t visible. Maybe the torn seam of the photo had become further torn, making the picture appear as if it didn’t actually fit with the other piece. Imagine the colors on one half had faded but the other half was vivid.
Would there still be a complete picture? Yes. Would it be recognizable? Probably not. One little ding or difference on one side could change the whole picture, causing confusion, doubt, hopelessness or let down, right?
We can think through to the concept of biblical marriage through the lens of this metaphor!
How to have a Strong Christian Marriage?
When entering into marriage, two separate “halves” come together, making one “whole”. Each spouse brings their half. That half is best and most helpful to the “whole” when it is as intact and as recognizable as possible.
You’ve heard the saying “marriage is 50/50”? In a biblical reality, marriage should really be 100/100. It gets tricky here because we will never be capable of bringing our perfected 100% to any relationship while we are living in this fallen world. That said, though, the 100% I am speaking about here is the kind that is attainable in the here and now. Although, it does require hard work and the Holy Spirit’s miracle-working intervention. I believe that this “realistic 100%” comes by
- Believing confidently what The Bible says, specifically about our identity, worth, and value in Christ. Knowing it and reading it are one thing. Believing and walking in it are another.
- Having unwavering integrity and a biblically-cultivated sense of self-awareness. Being aware of our blind spots, secret sins, and misalignments is important. Working to correct them through applying biblical truth, pursuing personal accountability, and being led in biblical discipleship are even more important. Honest humility is greater (and more freeing) than defending yourself.
- Working to heal from pre-existing trauma. The best way I have found to do this is by cultivating self-awareness, maintaining a daily routine of personal worship, developing a healthy communication style, continually submitting myself to biblical counseling & wise counsel/mentorship, and building an arsenal of coping skills.
- Being completely independent and comfortable with being alone. I have said it before and I will say it again; we should all seek to get to the place where we can honestly say that if all we have is Jesus, we have everything and lack nothing.
When we bring these Holy-Spirit-refined qualities to the table and solder them with these same qualities in our pursued partner, we become one flesh that is significantly less broken. One flesh that is less plagued by sin, less reactive, and quite frankly, less “doomed-to-fail’ statistically! We also become one flesh that is healthy. Healthy bodies can grow stronger and increase their stamina more easily, without hindrance, just as God created them to.
As I said before, I know that we will never see the full picture of our perfected selves revealed this side of eternity. What we can experience, though, is the joy and growth that come from embarking on the journey hand in hand with the one whom our soul loves (Song of Songs 3:4).
I could nerd out about the kindness and intentionality of God forever, y’all!
Why is Christian Marriage so special?
“This is my command: love one another as I have loved you.”
There we have it. Written in black and white (or in some translations, red & white) text. To love is to choose to mercifully suffer through and continue to show up, provide, and pursue even when we don’t feel like it. That’s a concept I’ve heard elsewhere before.
“Do it anyway because it is the right thing to do, even when you don’t feel like it.”
Sounds like emotional intelligence to me. Sounds like wisdom to me.
“The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (Jeremiah 17:9)
The human heart is the most deceitful of ALL things and DESPERATELY wicked. This mirrors the truth found in Genesis when we read about the consequence of sin! When we become believers, He redeems our spirits, but our physically bodies still suffer the consequences of sin. That’s why it is also written that we MUST NOT conform to this age, but rather we should be “transformed by the renewing of [our] mind, so that [we] may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:2).
Read that last quote again.
When we are transformed by the RENEWING of our minds (and washed by the water of the Word [Ephesians 5:25]), we are able to discern the GOOD, PLEASING, and PERFECT WILL of GOD! Not the enslaving, joy-killing, soul-crushing will of God. From an outside perspective, people perceive Biblical principles as a list of religious rules that keep a person from enjoying or indulging in certain things in life. In my experience, that could not be further from the truth. The principles found in scripture that I have applied to my life have always proven to provide me with more freedom, peace, and blessing.
The Big Picture
Loving like He loves us starts with us mirroring His actions. So, it would be accurate to say that loving like He loves us starts with being obedient to embodying the Word of God.
It is written that man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matt 4:4). Feasting on the Word means we are nourished and transformed by the Word. When we are transformed by the Word, we start to think like Jesus. Thinking like Jesus insinuates that we having the mind of Christ (it is true! Read 1 Corinthians 2:16). Having the mind of Christ allows us to respond, empathize, serve, and sacrifice like He does. Responding, empathizing, serving, and sacrificing like Him is what true biblical love looks like.
The byproduct of loving our spouse in this way? Long term fulfillment.
When we are living according to this standard of love, the question posed earlier becomes much easier to answer. Let’s look at it again:
Does THIS type of [biblical] love lead to a realistic, sustainable, and unbreakable commitment that brings lifelong joy and long-term fulfillment? YES. YES, IT ABSOLUTELY DOES.
Happiness vs. Holiness
In my experience, God, in His perfect goodness, does desire for our marriages to be good and for us to be happy within them. Not only good, but fulfilling, dynamic, full of romance, and set apart! Happiness, however, is a fleeting emotion. It is a feeling. Something of the flesh that, again, as believers, we know is a byproduct of our sinful nature.
Joy is the byproduct of holiness.
Holiness is the byproduct of our obedience to honoring His perfect design.
We don’t always want to submit to His ways, but when we do, we are always better for it.
One of the hardest parts of living in this world as a Christ-follower is choosing to walk in the ways of the Word over the ways of the flesh, but this is exactly how we develop holiness. More to come on that, later, friends!
Though there are several more ways to answer the questions, I believe that these key takeaways are a great place to start digging in. So without further adieu-
What is Christian Marriage and why is it special?”
- Christian Marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church. When we enter into Christian marriage, we develop a deeper understanding of how Jesus loves us and the mysteries of his relationship with us. This leads us to love our spouse beyond a euphoric feeling. We begin to love empathetically, submissively, servant-heartedly, and sacrificially.
- Christian marriage is a covenant relationship. Covenant relationships are relationships that are unbreakable and carry on, even when someone messes up or fails. In contrast to worldly marriage, covenant relationships don’t end over irreconcilable differences or “falling out of love”. Instead, by God’s grace, they persevere through it all. Choosing to be present and intentional every single day.
- Christian marriage leads to holiness through sanctification. It quite literally makes us better, stronger, and more wise.
- Christian marriage brings joy. Joy is an overflow of elation that comes from the Spirit dwelling within us. Joy > happiness.
- When we get to know Jesus on a deep and personal level, we will become more like Him. Becoming more like Him will lead to greater fulfillment and blessing 100% of the time.
Looking to Jump Start Your Journey to Christian Marriage?
Here are some beneficial (and Christ-centered) resources/ideas for you:
- Winshape Marriage Retreats– Jake and I have gone on one of these retreats every year for the last four years. This beautiful and picturesque facility is serene and offers many amenities for you and your spouse to utilize together. Typically retreats run from Friday to Sunday. You will hear from dynamic and engaging speakers, worship together, play together, have intentional conversations, and enjoy some delicious meals while dining with other couples. 10/10 recommend!
- Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas
- Get involved with your local marriage ministry.
- Counseling (both marital and individual!)
Take heart, beloved.
What He has joined together, He will be faithful to tend to. We don’t have to strive or worry. All He asks us to do is to trust and acknowledge Him. He will make our path known and help us to walk at the correct pace.
May you find immeasurable blessings as you continue to pursue Him.