The Theological Roots of Family, Part One: The Priority of Marriage

Note: this post comes almost verbatim from my sermon notes of Sunday, June 23, 2013.  The text is Ephesians 5:31,32.

The state of the family in our country is bleak.  The traditional family is disintegrating, with profound results for both children and adults.

This is something new.  Even pagan societies (such as the ancient Greco-Roman) valued the family unit.

Though this is an opportunity for the church to be a light in the darkness, yet it is also a danger - the danger of being sucked up into the cultural malaise.

It's easy, therefore, the emphasize the results of the loss of the traditional family and to make this the reason we should strive to recover it.  However, I want to argue that there are deeper reasons for which the church should stand up for the family - theological reasons.

I want to deliver two messages on the theological roots of marriage and parenthood, and what these roots imply about our responsibilities in these areas. In doing so, my goal is not to give "how to" messages on family responsibility, but "why to" messages.  There are three reasons for this:
  1. "How to" messages tend to be unnecessarily rigid, and not really helpful to many people.  This is just the result of the diversity of human nature and context.
  2. I'm still trying to figure the "how to" out!
  3. More to the point: most of the time, if not all the time, the "how to" is usually taken care of after serious and careful reflection on the "why."  So that's what I am going to aim for.
I want to begin with marriage: there are two realities I think the church needs to grasp concerning marriage and two corresponding implications that flow from these realities.

1.  First Reality: God is the Author of the Marriage Union.

Marriage is not a social experiment that evolved into what it is today.  It is not a human invention, but a Divine design.  The problem of today is that we are creating marriage in the image of our lusts - we need to get back to what God defined it to be.

In our text, Ephesians 5:31, Paul is quoting Genesis 2:24.  According to Matthew 19:4-5, God is speaking in these words.  So that God is the one who created and designed marriage - and who performed the first marriage ceremony. 

Therefore, only God has the right to say what marriage is and what it is not.  He alone has the right to determine the design of marriage. 

This says something about the importance of marriage.  It is the work of God.  His design therefore is crucial to the health of any human society; it is the foundation of it, a foundation laid by God.

This also says something about the goodness of marriage.  It was God who said, "It is not good that man should be alone" (Gen. 2:18).  Cf. Prov. 18:22.  Marriage is a gift from God, 1 Co. 7:7.

2.  Second Reality: The husband-wife relationship is the primary family relationship. It is more important than that of a man or woman to their parents or to their children.

Biblical proof:

1.  God constitutes a husband and wife as a unitary relationship.  He makes them one.  Nowhere else in Scripture is this kind of oneness attributed to any other human or familial relationship.

In our text, the man is commanded to leave his parents, hold fast to his wife, and become one flesh with his wife.  According to H. C. Leupold,
"Becoming one flesh" involves the complete identification of one personality with the other in a community of interests and pursuits.
So sacred is this union, that God has forbidden, except in extreme circumstances, the dissolution of it.  Matthew 19:4-9.  It is right for children to leave their parents; it is (almost) never right for a married couple to leave each other.

This oneness is called a covenant, Prov. 2:17, of which God is a witness.  So sacred did God consider this covenant that he broke fellowship with his people because they were divorcing their wives, Mal. 2:13-16.  Cf. 1 Pet. 3:7.

2.  The marriage relationship is the only relationship that is meant to mirror that of Christ and the Church.  Eph. 5:32.

God gave marriage to illustrate the redemptive love of Christ for his people.  Marriage creates a vocabulary and context for redemption, much like the OT priestly system.

Thus, John Piper calls marriage a "parable of permanence."  As Christ will not leave his people, so a husband should never leave his wife.  There is a permanence of relationship that marriage is meant to put on display.

On the other hand, the relationship between a parent and child must necessarily grow somewhat distant, not just in physical distance, but also in the amount of protection we can give them, in how we can shape their persons in the shared community of life.  Our responsibility to our children will therefore change- will be transferred to another - will lessen.  For our spouses, never!

The permanence of relationship that marriage is meant to magnify by pointing to Jesus' commitment to the church is the reason why Piper maintains that marriage is not mainly about staying in love - it is mainly about keeping covenant.  Jesus will never give up on his church, and neither should we give up on our spouses.

This is illustrated in the commitment of B. B. Warfield to his wife, who in 1876, was struck by lightening when they were on their honeymoon in Switzerland and permanently paralyzed.  He cared for her faithfully until her death in 1915.  "Because of her extraordinary needs, Warfield seldom left his house for more than two hours at a time in all those years of marriage" (Piper, Future Grace, p. 176).

All this is to say that there is a permanence and significance attached to marriage that is not attached to any other human relationship.  And therefore it is surely not wrong to conclude that this is the primary human relationship.


1.  A husband should be just as - if not more - intentional in caring for and meeting the needs of his wife as he should be for his children.  The same goes for the wife.

A marriage is liable to founder if the parents are so engrossed in their children -or their jobs, or ministries, or hobbies, or whatever - that they neglect their spouses.

Objection: "But the children are so needy!  My spouse can take care of himself/herself."

Answer: the thing children need the most are parents who really love each other, who live under the umbrella of a healthy marriage.  And this does not happen automatically.  They need to invest time in each other for this to happen.

Broken homes begin with broken marriages.  Healthy children require healthy marriages.  The best child-training techniques are meaningless if they are not accompanied by parents who love each other.  Children watch more than they listen.  The sermon of your life is listened to with more interest than all the talks you will ever give.

2.  Spouses should take the gospel as their cue when it comes to loving each other. 

- In serving each other.  Jesus "came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."  To paraphrase JFK, we shouldn't ask what they should do for us but what we can do for them.  We did nothing to be worthy of God's gifts to us in Christ.

- In sacrificing for each other.  Especially the husband.  Christ gave himself for the church, Eph. 5:25.

- In forgiving one another.  "As God in Christ forgave you," Eph. 4:32.  God has forgiven us freely.

- In meeting the spiritual needs of the other.  Eph. 5:26,27.  Believing  spouses ought to encourage each other in the Lord; hold one another accountable, speak truth into each other's lives.  If we aim at nothing higher than a "happy" marriage, we are no better than most pagans.  A Christian marriage is one where husband and wife grow in being satisfied in God together.

Conclusion.  Yet, it is not enough simply to know these things.  We must pray with all our might that Almighty God will reinforce them in our hearts, so that we don't say one thing with our mouths and another thing with our marriages.


Popular Posts