Fewer people are pursuing marriage today than ever before, and those who do are waiting longer to get married. In 1960, 59 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds were married compared to just 20 percent in 2010. In 1960, the median age for entering marriage was in the early 20s; today it's nearly 30. As marriage has declined, cohabitation has increased, nearly doubling since 1990. This data reflects changing opinions and practices relating to marriage; 39 percent of Americans say they believe that marriage is becoming obsolete. At the same time, concern for God's basic definition of marriage is declining. And these statistics have not even touched on the problems found within Christian marriages.
Our need for help in marriage is capped by the fact that marriage is God's plan for an orderly and godly society. Through marriage God provides companionship for his people, raises up families who will communicate the gospel from one generation to the next, and illustrates his covenant relationship with his people. As important as marriage is, it should not surprise us that God has provided a plan for marital success.
Embedded in Genesis 2:18-25 is a description of the first wedded couple before man's fall into sin. While not exhaustive, there are six foundational aspects to consider for those who desire a successful marriage. Whether happily married, struggling in marriage, or longing to be married, it is important to grasp that human marriage is a beautiful analogy pointing to something so much bigger and better.
Marriage is for Companionship
Nine times in the first two chapters of Genesis, God describes his world as "good." There is no mention of anything that is not good until Genesis 2:18 jumps off the page: "It is not good that man should be alone." God isn't only talking about marriage; he's saying something about basic human nature. We were made to fellowship with others. Adam had lots of stuff before he met Eve. But he didn't have companionship, and that was not good. To live consistently with how God has created us, we need to strive for deep friendships. True intimacy is found not merely in close emotional or physical relationships, but also in a lifetime commitment of companionship.
God's emphasis on marital companionship reminds us that marriage is not simply a social contract where he pays the bills and she takes care of the house. If our marriages degenerate into that sort of contractual-ism, we need to take drastic measures to foster God's gift of conjugal friendship. Through concentrated efforts such as reading good books together and scheduling time every evening to talk, couples can develop the openness and trust that allows each to find solace in the other's company.
Marriage Is Complementary
By God's design, when a godly marriage is begun the two are better off, because they complement each other. That Eve was a helper "comparable to Adam" (2:18) assumes a complementary relationship; what one lacks the other supplies. Such a reciprocating relationship is found only in marriage. Both men and women are created in the image of God and are equal in dignity and value (Gen. 5:2). But because of differences in their constitutions and callings they are able to beautifully complement each other.
Marriage Requires Leaving and Cleaving
In marriage God creates a new family unit: "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife" (2:24). Contrary to conventional thought, the marital bond is stronger than the filial bond. As powerful as the parent-child connection is, Jesus says the marital bond is stronger (Mark 10:6’9).
For this reason, the influence parents have over an unmarried child must decrease when that child gets married. Children may and should still seek advice. They must attempt to honor their parents in all things lawful. Parents may and should offer counsel. But parents and children must recognize that marriage fundamentally changes their relationship to each other. A man's wife must become the most important person in his life, and vice versa. Each can no longer give their parents' views equal consideration.
Marriage Is Celebrated Physically
Something powerful happens in marriage; two fleshes become one. At the risk of being overly graphic, in marriage, two complementary parts come together, emotionally, spiritually, and physically: "And they shall become one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and they were not ashamed" (Gen. 2:25). This verse does not simply describe how things were between Adam and Eve; it prescribes the proper marital state.
In marriage, neither person has power over his own body but has given it to the other (1 Cor. 7:3’5). Each marriage partner must render "conjugal rights" (ESV). Sexual abstinence should be temporary. This does not mean that sexual intimacy should be looked at as a chore, but as a sacred trust both partners are called to develop together. Especially if the marriage bed has become frigid, this counsel is hard to hear. In such a situation each partner must promise to obey God's conjugal command and, beginning with repentance, move to small expressions of affection and to being sensitive to the other's vulnerability. If necessary, they should seek the help of a biblical counselor.
Marriage Is for Kingdom Cultivation
God's institution of human marriage comes in the context of the calling he gave to man to cultivate and subjugate the earth (Gen. 2:18b, 20b). In the Garden, Adam was to apply his abilities to a plot of ground in order to make it flourish (Gen. 2:15). For this task God gave him a coworker, Eve. This is still the calling of both single and married people: to bring the principles of God's kingdom to bear in every area of life. God knows that "two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor" (Eccl. 4:9). Married couples should evaluate how, as married people, they will serve God better together than they could apart. Although not the primary reason for marriage, God also ordained matrimony for the propagation of the human race and the establishment of godly seed.
Marriage Communicates the Gospel
After reflecting on these same principles, Paul stresses the importance of the institution of marriage: "This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church" (Eph. 5:32). The best human marriage is a shadow of the glorious marriage between Christ and believers. As a husband, Christ provides companionship for heartbroken, lonely, wandering people. As the head of the relationship, he provides leadership for those lacking direction (Eph. 5:23). As the Holy One of Israel, Christ washes his bride with his Word and Spirit to cleanse her from staining sins. Christ feeds his wife to make her healthy and strong (v. 29), and his commitment is forever (v. 31). Marriages that truly reflect God's marriage to his people begin with a believing relationship with the perfect bridegroom, Jesus Christ (Matt. 25:6).
Adapted from “Making a Marriage“ Modern Reformation, March/April 2013. Used by permission.