The Bible and Marriage Part 2
Is it Just a Piece of Paper?
I am often baffled at the argument against marriage and for simply living together. It is stated something like: "Why get married? The marriage license is just a piece of paper. We can live together and love each other without a piece of paper." To test this theory, the next time a policeman gives these people a ticket they should simply tear it up in front of him, throw it in his face and say: "It is just a piece of paper, it really doesn't mean anything!" Or maybe these same people could go into a bank and sign for a loan. But when the time comes for them to repay it they should refuse and say: "Now that thing that I signed isn't worth anything because it's just a piece of paper!"
It is obvious that this argument is incredibly naive. Getting married is more than signing a piece of paper. It is a solemn covenant before God, made with your spouse, in the presence of the witnesses that you've invited, that you give yourself totally to this person for as long as you both live. It is an oath that you will remain faithful to this person alone, no matter what may happen and you will not allow another individual to come between you and your partner. It is recorded on a written document because we are a literate society and the paper you each sign documents the covenant made by each of you.
I. Marriage is a Symbolic Relationship
In the Bible, marriage is also symbolic of the relationship that Christ has with his people, the Church, known also as The Body of Christ. It is a relationship of love and submission (Ephesians 5:21-33). We will cover the controversial submission of the wife part in another article, but for now let us focus on the fact that the husband is asked to love his wife like Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her. He loved the Church so much that he was willing to give up his very life in order to save it. The husband should be willing, if necessary, to give his life up to save his wife. My point here is that a relationship like that of Christ and the Church is a lifetime one in which there is a sacrifice in order to see to it that the needs of the beloved are met. And it goes without question that divorce isn't part of a relationship like this (I Corinthians 7:10). Of course there is a difference here in that the death of the spouse frees the living spouse from the vows of marriage. In this case, the living spouse is free to remarry someone else who is in the Lord. By "in the Lord" is meant that they are free to marry another Christian (Romans 7:1-3). In contrast to this, the relationship of Christ and the Church will be an eternal one (I Thessalonians 4:17).
II. Living Together is Not Marriage
We could turn to all of what Scripture has to say about marriage and carefully show how living together and marriage are not the same. However, I will use only one passage here. It is found in the Gospel of John. Jesus is thirsty so he asks a Samaritan woman for a drink. This leads Jesus to talk about himself as being the living water that, if anyone drinks from him, that person will never thirst again. The woman, not understanding the symbolism here for the eternal life Jesus was offering her, asked Jesus to give her this living water. Since the woman failed to understand, Jesus quickly changed the dialogue to focus on this woman's need for conversion and a cleansing from her sins.
To point out her morally depraved lifestyle he asked this Samaritan woman to go call her husband and come back. She answered: "I have no husband." Jesus demonstrated his complete knowledge of her by saying: "You correctly said, 'I have no husband'; for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly" (John 4:7-18). By making this statement, our Lord rejected the notion that when two people live together it constitutes marriage. In the Bible, marriage is always seen as exclusively a public, formal and officially recognized covenant.
Once again we have left a lot unsaid and need to continue the discussion. But to this point we've seen clearly that marriage is a wonderful institution designed by God himself. It is a solemn covenant between two people and their God in which they vow to love and cherish each other for the length of their lives. No human relationship this side of Heaven is to be closer. And it is designed to picture the beautiful relationship which our Lord has with his people, the Church, the Body of Christ. None of us can live this out perfectly. But with the help of the Holy Spirit that lives in each believer, marriage can come to be a satisfying and loving union that both fills a need for companionship and demonstrates the love and grace of God to this world. This is my prayer and desire for all married couples who read this series of articles.