There are a couple of reasons why I’m thinking about marriage today. First, my mom reminded me yesterday that today, December 5th, is the 70th Anniversary of my parents’ wedding. Before my dad went to be with Christ, they had celebrated 66 years of marriage to one another. Mom’s reminder has served to fill me with gratitude for the good example of a faithful marriage built on a shared faith and reliance on Jesus Christ. I was blessed to grow up in a home where the institution of marriage was held in high regard.
Second, I’m thinking today about marriage after some things I heard last night. We attended a banquet for a local Christian youth center. As you might expect, an evening celebrating 30 years of ministry would include some reflections on how the needs of children and teens have changed over time. As the center’s director stood at the microphone, he went through the last three decades, sharing how the family situations of the kids they serve have changed and declined. Of course, the statistics we all know about marriage, divorce, and cohabitation made what he shared not at all surprising, even though it was all very sad.
Forbes most recent compilation of divorce statistics in 2023 paint a clear yet grim picture regarding the state of marriage in our culture. While it’s true that far more people get married over the course of each year than get divorced, it’s also a fact that half of all first marriages dissolve. Not surprisingly, second and third marriages fall apart at an even higher rate. While the divorce rate is actually dropping, we shouldn’t be jumping to the conclusion that this is a good thing. You see, cohabitation is on the rise. According to the Pew Research Center, 59% of adults ages 18 to 44 have lived with an unmarried partner at some point in their life, while 38% of those who have cohabitated have had two or more live-in partners over the course of their life. This rise can be expected in a culture where 69% of Americans say cohabitation is acceptable even if a couple doesn’t plan to get married. The statistics also tell us that couples who choose to cohabitate before marriage are more likely to divorce than those who don’t live together before marriage.
For those of us who have attended a wedding recently or tracked with a wedding ceremony on social media, it might be accurate to assume that when it comes to how we do marriage in today’s world, more time, effort, and money is put into the wedding ceremony and reception themselves, rather than in a couple’s healthy preparation for marriage. Think about it. The latest stats indicate that the average wedding in 2023 cost $30,000. Of course, that’s the average. Many of the weddings documented on social media had to have cost more. . . much more. . . than that. Dresses, venues, destinations, hair styling, flowers, make-up, photographers, music, etc. . . . it’s a lot. And in the most extreme of cases, the word “Bridezilla” appropriately captures what the quest for “the perfect wedding” does to so many. And then you get to thinking. . . “Half of these marriages will end in divorce.”
I realize that in today’s world, I’m actually in a minority, as marriage. . . and more specifically Christian marriage. . . is less and less the experience kids have in the home during their growing-up years. I can’t help but contrast the day that my parents married with wedding days today. The non-professional photo, the church fellowship hall reception, the simplicity of the food. . . it all would have been considered a disastrous and complete failure by those who hold to today’s expectations and standards.
But truth be told, I have benefitted greatly by the start-finish-example of a committed marriage that began so simply 70 years ago. Yes, my parents were two sinful and broken people on that day they married, and they continued to be so throughout the course of their marriage. Theologically-speaking, they are no different than any of the rest us broken sinners. And, that’s why we need to recover a clear sense of marriage, what it is, how it is meant to be lived out, and what it means to embrace the Creator of marriage’s good and glorious design.
That design is found in the first two chapters of Genesis, and affirmed throughout the entirety of Scripture. At it’s most basic, there are six aspects of God’s good and glorious design for marriage that we must teach and model for our kids.
First, marriage is heterosexual. God has established marriage as a place where a man and woman come together. Genesis 2:24 tells us that marriage is between a man (male) and a wife (female). Jesus, who was present and active in creation, affirms this in Matthew 19:5. In today’s world, perhaps it helps to qualify it even further, saying that marriage is between a biological male and a biological female.
Second, marriage is monogamous. God has established marriage to be between one man and one woman. Again, Jesus affirms this in Matthew 19:5. Polygamy, polyamory, adultery, and any other sexual sin is a compromise of the intent and honor of marriage (Hebrews 13:4), as these sins defile the marriage bed and warrant God’s judgment.
Third, marriage is to be committed. In stating their vows, a man and woman commit and covenant (a binding agreement/relationship between two parties) themselves to each other. I wasn’t there, but I’m sure my parents proclaimed their commitment to each other through the use of the traditional vows: “I, _____, take you, _____ to be my wedded wife (husband), and I do promise and covenant before God and these witnesses to be your loving and faithful husband in sickness and in health, in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, as long as we both shall live.”
Fourth, marriage is to be public. Go back and read those vows again. Do you see it? “Before God and these witnesses.” Getting married is a public demonstration of a couple’s love and their vow to be committed to each other for life. For those of us who are witnesses to a marriage, we have a responsibility to support, encourage, and even remind couples of their commitment to each other in times when that commitment looks to waver.
Fifth, marriage is to be physical. The husband and wife become “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24), consummating their marriage through sexual intercourse, which is a secret ratification and confirmation by the man and the woman of the public vow and covenant they’ve made between themselves. God has ordained that marriage is the place for sex, and that sex serves multiple functions beyond just consummation. Through marital sex, a couple answers God’s command to be fruitful, to multiple, and to fill the earth (Genesis 1:28). Through marital sex an intimacy and “knowing” too deep and rich for words strengthens and sustains a couple’s love. Through marital sex a couple is able to experience the God-given gift of pleasure as they express their God-ordained and built-in sexual desire for one another. And finally, through marital sex a couple reflects Christ’s relationship to His bride, the Church (Ephesians 5). . . which is “a great mystery.”
But we can’t stop there. In today’s world where people have not seen or experienced a good and healthy marriage, we must be reminded that we are indeed sinful and broken people growing up in a sinful and broken world. Those who have not seen a healthy marriage might have such high expectations of what a healthy marriage is that any conflict or difficulty is interpreted as a sign of failure or a precursor of divorce.
So sixth, our kids need to learn that marriage is at times hard. Last week a friend posted on Facebook a few pictures and words in celebration of his own wedding anniversary. Here’s what he wrote: “Today we celebrate 21 years of marriage. It has been many things, but never boring. We have filled rivers with tears and seen the most beautiful moments. It has taken the support, love, and care of family, friends, pastors, therapists, and an unseen army of prayer warriors who have held up our arms as the battle raged. I am so thankful for the incredible woman who has been my biggest cheerleader, boldest advocate, wisest challenger, and who gets me to do things I’d never do without her. Buckle up, babe. We’ve got couple more decades of adventure ahead on mission together.” My comment on his post was simple: “Congrats! You have captured the realities of marriage well in your words.” Ruth Bell Graham once wrote, “A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.”
In his book The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God, Tim Keller writes this: “Real love, the Bible says, instinctively desires permanence.” Let’s model and teach this to our kids. It’s a truth that’s desperately needed in today’s world.