Written by Rev. Taylor Young
A hot-button word that I hear in media and church is “Biblical Marriage”. So I constantly ask: What do you consider to be a Biblical marriage? Was any property or money exchanged between your families in order to make your marriage happen? How did your parents arrange your wedding partner? How many wives did the man take before one was able to bore him a male heir?
The reality is that we’d have a hard time trying to have a “Biblical” marriage if we mean having a first century or prior relationship, as described in the Bible. We don’t typically arrange marriages. We happily recognize that women are fully human and it is not a death sentence for them to go unmarried. So how do we seek Biblical guidance for marriage?
It is hard to look at Paul for guidance in marriage as he was speaking to a context that was so drastically different from our own. Instead, I ask what does Jesus say specifically about marriage? Not much… Matthew 19: 4-6 states:
4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
So the two come together and…do some other stuff…and don’t let it be separated. Wonderful! But, how does this translate into our relationship beyond sex and reproduction? My thought: Look further at God’s relationship to God’s people that is made through a sacred covenant which provides a wonderful mirror of our how our lives should be. For a good starting point, look at God’s law and covenant as told by Jesus in Matthew 22:37-40:
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
So we make this covenant to Jesus when we make our profession and then as married people we make another uniting covenant to one another. We are under the law to first love God with all that we have. Then, we are to love our neighbors. This is essential in our marriage relationships. Let’s start with loving God.
To make this personal, my wonderful wife, Ashleigh and I have been married for almost two years on May 9th. She was somehow convinced that I was worthy of her love and affection for the rest of her life. She made the decision to say “yes” to me (spoiler: a woman getting to decide whether or not to marry someone isn’t common in scripture). But before she could ever love me and before I could ever love her we both had to decide to love God. God is our true “soul mate.” The same God that made, knew, and loved us far before we were born and will love us into eternity. Whom else would your “soul” be mated to? Seems pretty important to love God first.
What does that mean? In my marriage, if God calls our family to move for the sake of ministry, we move. Our guidance and effort to please God comes first and foremost in any decision, whether it be how we spend our time, or how much money we spend on something.
I won’t pretend like this comes easy. In a very practical way, my wife has to remind me– a bonafide, dignified, CP Minister– to put my impulses aside and to follow God. I’ll tell you how: I drive the meanest piece of Japanese economy muscle known in North America as a 2013 Toyota Corolla. This is a car that God has blessed us with in a time where my previous car was crushed by a collapsed carport full of ice and snow. This is a car that we just recently paid off. This is a car that got me faithfully from Clarksville, TN to Memphis for weekly seminary classes.
Well in the past year, after we got this car, we both were fortunate enough to get full-time jobs that pay a pretty livable wage. This is the most money either of us has ever been able to earn at any point in our lives. Naturally, I told Ashleigh that now that we had more money, and that I was no longer commuting to Memphis, I just feel like I deserved a bigger vehicle. After I said that, Ashleigh asked me a question I couldn’t answer: Why do we need to spend money on something we don’t need? She was right. We didn’t need it. She reminded me in following God that we have been fortunate enough to have money that we can actually give back and save for future children and use for many things that can serve the needs of others while making good use of God’s gifts to us. I could justify how to serve God by being a steward of the money he gave me for tithing, providing a house, and saving for our children, paying off Ashleigh’s educational pursuits. I could NOT justify how I could serve God in buying a bigger car for pleasure’s sake and taking money that could be used far better ways to help us serve.
So the moral of the story is that if you have a big car or you buy anything you don’t need, you are a terrible person…just kidding. The important part to this story was seeking ways to love God in every aspect of our lives and marriage. This is what made sense to us. Buying things that aren’t necessary isn’t always bad, but it is important to use our prayer and discernment to determine what is excessive. A car may not be an object lesson of loving God in your life, but I challenge you to use your marriage to even seek God’s love in the most mundane things. After all God is present in all that we do. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t seek God in the more apparently spiritual actions of our lives as well. Where is your love for God in your prayer life? Where is your love for God in acts of service? I don’t think we can seek God without the second and equally important part of that command: “Love your neighbor as yourself” or “Love your spouse as yourself”.
What is love? “Baby don’t hurt me”…no this isn’t the place for 90’s dance hits. How about “Love is patient”… no, let’s not go there for this one. We said we’re sticking to Jesus for this one. So how did Jesus love? Jesus was a servant, Jesus was selfless, Jesus loved without discrimination, Jesus was willing to love people even when they wanted him dead. (No, don’t kill your spouse. Look at the being like Jesus, not his executioners). We should seek to love our spouse in many of the same ways Jesus loves us. We should love as a selfless servant. Both men and women should be like Jesus to one another.
Trust me, I have messed this command up with Ashleigh more times than I can count, but I’m not going to air that out here. I want to focus on our goal to love one another in a way that tends to each other’s needs and puts our spouse before our own wants. So while you are singing 90’s dance hits in your head, look at your cool 90’s bracelet that asks “What Would Jesus Do” if your spouse: was sick, was hurting, needed your help, wanted to have their passions and feelings known, etc?
What about the times you are not doing what Jesus would do? The times you hurt your spouse’s feelings, the times you got quick to anger (or annoyance, or frustration, or whatever word you chose to describe your feelings when you are being unpleasant). How in all of the times you have messed up can you seek to love as Jesus would love? This is such a simple statement with huge implications.
In a very brief way, this is what a Biblical marriage looks like in our time and context. We could spend hours and hours unpacking these ideas further, but I would challenge you and your spouse to do that in your own homes, instead. Sit down and ask those two questions: 1. How do we as a couple love God first? 2. How do we love each other the way Jesus loves us?
May God bless and guide your marriage.
Rev. Taylor Young