If we are going to talk about marriage, we ought to start by defining it. Like Jesus, we must start with God’s definition as He defined marriage from the very beginning (Matthew 19:4-5). I contend that God’s constituents for marriage are very different from what we, as a post-modern American society, would identify as essential components to define a marriage relationship.
In the first chapter of the Bible, the writer of Genesis describes the creation of the universe, the earth and all that fills the earth – mountains, seas, plants, animals and even humans. By the end of the second chapter the description of God’s glorious creation reaches its pinnacle as the narrative narrows focus to the creation of man, woman and their perfect covenant relationship. The marriage relationship is established and described in its perfection; before sin, sickness, pain or death. It is this Edenic union that we all long for – a perfect union with our Creator and with a perfectly compatible spouse.
It might surprise us to consider that the very first marriage, in fact the most perfect earthly marriage, was not begun in a church building. There was no clergy, priest or preacher to perform the ceremony. There was not even a wedding! or a dress! There had been no courtship, no first kiss, no engagement or ring. There was no government to issue an official certificate of marriage. This couple did not fall in love with each other. Adam and Eve did not have college degrees when they were married or any savings accounts. And, neither one had much life experience before making such big decision.
By our standards, this marriage should have been destined for failure. Their union would garner as much credibility as a Las Vegas drive-thru chapel wedding ceremony performed by an Elvis impersonator wearing a blue leisure suit. Yet, this is the foundational example that Jesus points to in order to teach about the nature of marriage (Matthew 19).
So, if God does not define marriage by a church building, a license or a wedding ceremony; How does God define the constituents of marriage? God says there are three things which constitute a marriage.
Leave. Hold Fast. One Flesh.
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24, ESV)
First, he says a man (or woman) must LEAVE his parents. This infers that he would intentionally set out to join himself with a spouse. No one gets married accidentally. Entering into a marriage covenant relationship demands forethought, planning and preparation. These preparations ought to begin well before the engagement, before the first kiss, even before the first date. Preparation to be a husband or wife begins with becoming a godly man or woman. If you enter marriage with the misconception that your spouse will fulfill you and make you happy, you are destined for disappointment. Only the blood of Jesus can fulfill your brokenness. You must leave your parents and enter into marriage in a condition capable of some level of self-sufficiency (mentally, emotionally and spiritually).
Married couples are no longer privy to the same protection, responsibilities or duties to their respective families of origin. This is not to say that they have no responsibilities to the parents (Exodus 20:12; Matthew 15:1-9). Rather, these responsibilities to parents (and others) are now entirely secondary to the establishment of the new union. God places a clear priority to the marriage relationship – above parents, above friendships, above children, and above the church. There is no other earthly relationship that is treated with such importance in scripture. Each spouse must make clear and frequent decisions to declare and demonstrate his or her loyalties.
Next, God instructs that the man must HOLD FAST to his wife. Sounds easy enough, after all, I like hugs. Actually, this phrase carries a much bigger meaning. This is less like a hug and more like super glue. Super glue creates an irreversible bond between the flesh of two fingers such that when the glue cures there is instantly no way to distinguish between the flesh of one finger and the flesh of the other finger. If you try to separate them, you will inevitably tear flesh from each finger that has bonded to the other. (Ask me how I know)
This is the bond we are called to have with our spouse. My individuality becomes blended seamlessly to the individuality of the other – spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically. Two blend into one. To “hold fast” means that I must join myself to my spouse in every way such that we are inseparable. This bond implies absolute loyalty and exclusivity. “I” becomes “we.” My stuff is our stuff; her problems are our problems, his needs are our needs…
The result of “Leaving” and “Holding Fast” is that the two shall become ONE FLESH. God uses a specific term to direct that marriage requires a sexual relationship. God’s gift of sexual relationship is only given within marriage. The exclusivity of sexual union makes it sacred and crucial to this relationship. Some have described sex as the glue that holds a marriage together—the cement that helps strengthen resolve to leave all others and hold fast to your spouse. Sexual union of a husband and wife physically demonstrates the truth of their exclusive union and intimate relationship. Their bodies perfectly compliment the other in form and function. In the act of sex, two may become one (spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically) as the boundaries that may otherwise separate are dissolved.
Sex is not a perk, a benefit or to be offered conditionally within marriage. It is essential and requisite. If you don’t want to have sex, you must not get married. If you are in a sexless marriage (researchers define “sexless marriage” as a marriage where sex is happening less than 10 times per year), you are living outside of the most foundational instruction of God’s plan for marriage. Health problems, distance, parenthood, busyness, work, or other circumstances do not excuse a couple from engaging in sexual relationship – these limitations only mean that a couple must be more creative and intentional to share their sexuality with each other.
Certainly, I’m not advocating that a couple should forego a wedding, a dress or the legal process to obtain a marriage license. In our culture, these are some of the ways we signal that we are leaving, holding fast and becoming one flesh. However, I am asking you to more deeply consider what it is that makes you married. How did God create marriage and what does that say about how I should be treating my spouse? What is the importance and the nature of the bond that I should be building with my spouse? Have I fully “left” others and elevated my spouse’s needs and desires as my primary priority? What areas of selfishness are preventing me from “holding fast” to my spouse? Is my sexual relationship promoting “one flesh” with my spouse or something far less sacred?
Adam and Eve didn’t have a wedding and yet their marriage is held up as the example of God’s beautiful covenant. Don’t let your wedding be the most beautiful part of your marriage. Live out the fullest meaning of God’s plan so that your marriage relationship can be described as “naked and not ashamed.”