So what do I think marriage is? Here's my definition (I've linked to Bible passages that relate to each part, either as examples or as 'proofs'):
"Marriage is a permanent, public, voluntary, exclusive, sexual union of a man and a woman, created by God in the image of the relationship between Christ and the church."It’s a permanent union. If you're married, God joined you and your husband together. Understanding the permanency of marriage means we shouldn't waste time wondering how it might have been if we’d been married to someone else. We need to get on with loving the man God has given us.
It’s an exclusive union. Next week, I’m going to focus on how important it is for a marriage to be an outward looking partnership, with a vision for serving others. But there is still something at the heart of the marriage relationship that is meant to be absolutely, exclusively between us and our husband. We need to guard that intimacy jealously, and help our husbands to guard it too.
Part of that exclusive husband and wife relationship is of course the sexual dimension of the relationship. The fact that a husband and wife have sex with each other – and only with each other – is not just an important thing we do for each other, it’s actually part of the essence of what marriage is. If we stop having sex (not because we’re unable but because we’re too busy or too distant or we’ve just lost interest) we've stopped living out a marriage. It’s a really important part of the glue that makes a marriage a marriage, and not just a co-habiting, co-parenting contract.
And finally, marriage is a relationship made by God in the image of the relationship between Christ and the church. He loves the church and lays down his life for her; the church respects and honours and submits to him. He is hers and she is his.
Remembering what marriage is - by its definition, in its design - helps us to honour marriage for what it is, and is an essential part of getting the marriage-ministry dynamic right.
Next post will be about what marriage is for.