“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:14–16
The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled. June 26, 2015, is a date to be remembered for generations. According to the majority opinion of the Court, the Fourteenth Amendment provides a constitutional right for same-sex couples to marry. And according to Chief Justice Roberts’ dissenting opinion, the majority has also paved the way for polygamous and polyamorous marriage. So what are we to do now? How are Christians to live in a post-Christian age?
There is much to be said about the SCOTUS decision, but I will save that for another day. Right now I want to offer a positive spin on the future of Christian marriage in a post-Christian age.
I am fully convinced that by the time my children are old enough to marry, the status of marriage in the United States will be completely different than when my wife and I married over 12 years ago. This will create a number of challenges for us as parents and as Christians, but these are challenges that we can and should take on with confidence.
Here are a few thoughts about what Christians should do regarding marriage in a post-Christian society.
- Teach what the Bible says about marriage.
The foundational passage of Scripture about marriage is Genesis 2. In fact, when Jesus and Paul taught about marriage, they both referred back to the creation narrative to make their case. Genesis 2:24 reads, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” There are a few key points that we see in this verse that are also affirmed in the New Testament.
- Marriage is created by God to be monogamous. When we see the divine commentary on the first marriage in Genesis 2, we see the original model for marriage—“a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife.” When Scripture speaks of marriage, it speaks in terms of monogamy. Yes, polygamous marriage was a reality in the Old Testament, and a number of the early patriarchs participated in such marriages. However, in each case, polygamy led to very difficult marital circumstances. Jealousy, backbiting, and ridicule were the norm in these relationships. If you fast forward to the New Testament, Jesus and Paul both affirm the monogamous nature of marriage and appeal to the creation narrative in order to do so (see Matthew 19:1–12, 1 Corinthians 7:1–40, and Ephesians 5:22–33).
- Marriage is created by God to be heterosexual. Before God instituted the first marriage, he had a choice. He had only created the man, and he declared that it was not good for him to be alone (Genesis 2:18). Thus, God decided to make a woman and bring them together in marriage. Thus, the first marriage was intentionally heterosexual in nature according to God’s design. Jesus affirms this directly in Matthew 19:4–6a when he says, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh.” Jesus declared that marriage was designed around the fact that God created male and female. This was the design of marriage in the garden of Eden. It was the design of marriage that Jesus upheld in his teaching. It is the design of marriage that we should teach.
- Marriage is created by God to be permanent. The Supreme Court did nothing specific to undermine this aspect of marriage, but we have already been undermining it as a culture and the church for decades. In Genesis 2:24, we see that a man and his wife will join one another. The old KJV uses the term “cleave.” The idea is simple. The man and woman join together and become one. This is more than a partnership or contractual relationship. They become a single unit. After quoting Genesis 2:24, Jesus then gives a brief explanation of the verse. He says, “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matthew 19:6). Notice the last phrase of the verse. We are not to separate what God has joined together. In a culture that celebrates individuality and recommends divorce when life gets difficult, we need to teach the permanency of marriage.
- Model biblical marriage in the church and culture.
Marriage is not a random social arrangement. It has clear public goods, such as ensuring that children have the right to be reared in the home of their biological mother and father. It is also the most effective and efficient way to move the next generation from helpless infants to productive members of society. But more than that, marriage is one of the clearest illustrations of the gospel that we have. It illustrates the relationship between Christ and the church. In Ephesians 5, Paul quotes the foundational marriage verse of Genesis 2:24 and then states, “This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32). This is all part of his lengthy description of the relationship between a husband and wife. Thus, he declares that God’s design for marriage even in the garden of Eden was to point us to how he relates to his people.
Therefore, we should take the instructions of Ephesians 5 very seriously. Husband, love your wife as Christ loves the church. Care for her. Protect her. Sacrifice your own interests for her good. Wife, submit to your husband as to the Lord. Follow him. Respect him.
Even in the church, we have undermined biblical marriage by making light of the model that God created. We should not quickly jump to divorce as the answer to difficulty. We should not mock or ridicule our spouses for a cheap laugh. Instead, honor and cherish each other—just as our vows promised. If we follow the biblical model of marriage, our marriages will be different. They will be as a city set on hill giving a public witness to the world of the power of Christ in our lives and our marriages.
- Instill in our children the importance of biblical marriage.
For many of us, we have a historic understanding of marriage that will most likely not be impacted that much by the changes wrought by the Supreme Court decision. However, our children will grow up in a culture that will be inundated with unbiblical models of marriage. Already we are beginning to see commercials, children’s literature, and school curriculum seeking to normalize same-sex marriage, cohabitation, plural marriage, and divorce. There is no way to shield them from seeing these things, so we must learn how to counter them.
First, we need to model marriage in our homes. Make sure that your children see how you interact with your spouse in a godly way. Demonstrate the truths of Ephesians 5 right in front of them. Second, talk about biblical marriage with your children. I don’t ever recall having long conversations with my parents about God’s design for marriage, but it is not because my parents ignored the issue. They didn’t need to explain it to me. I saw it all around me—in our home, in our church, and in my school. That will not be the case for my children. We must talk about marriage as a key doctrine at all times in the model of Deuteronomy 6:7. Third, we must encourage our children to marry when the time comes. I recognize that some of our children will be called to singleness (1 Corinthians 7:8), but most of them (from a historical standpoint) will not. However, many in the next generation may see marriage as a pointless, cultural relic by the time they are old enough to get married. We must encourage marriage as God’s model for joining together in intimacy and rearing future generations. Without such encouragement, even Christian young people may give up on marriage.
So what should we do in light of the Supreme Court ruling? While we could start wringing our hands and fretting about what the future may hold, I believe we should instead redouble our efforts to live out the biblical model of marriage in a watching world. Trust me, the world is watching, and they will want to know why our marriages are different if we truly model the biblical pattern.