We now think it’s all about sex, companionship, equality, inclusion, human ‘rights’, dignity, happiness and an extinct Jurassic, biblically-based theology that’s reduced to being ‘bigoted’ and ‘unloving’. But the Apostle Paul thought it wasn’t about any of these things; he thought it was all about God – all about the Bridegroom Jesus and His bride.
Yes, I’m referring to marriage.
The joyous celebrations in America this week at their ‘redefining of marriage’ is the latest installment of the leech-like blindness of our time that is rooted in ‘our equality’, ‘our rights’, ‘our needs’, ‘our this’ and ‘our that’. Somewhere along the line this leech has poisoned us to forget our wonderful Saviour and his ways, yet we still celebrate joyfully – even in The White House.
Paul was a strong, brave and decisive leader and in 1 Corinthians 5:2 his prescription for this immoral leech of blindness in the church of Corinth was a ‘mourning’ – a period of repentance, a season of ‘coming to their senses’ for those living like this and a church that idly watched on. Shocking sinful immorality had become something to be proud of in the Corinthian community and unthinkable that anyone would ever challenge it and speak up, all of which ultimately affected the church in a bad way and sullied the Name of Jesus. (Sound familiar?).
The specific context of this verse was a man’s incestuous relationship with his mother but the general application of Paul’s teaching was in 1 Cor. 5 verses 9 and 11 – i.e. the holiness of the church, the bride of Jesus, where judgment was first due, (see 1 Peter 4:17).
As a spiritual Father, Paul’s concerns and expectations were relating first to the body and bride of Christ.
As Paul unfolds his first letter to the Corinthians with such directness, chapter 7 then explodes onto the scene like a T-Rex out of a faulty confinement compound, revealing his Jurassic marriage theology in 1 Cor. 7: 32-35 – I say ‘Jurassic’ because it seems to be a theological paradigm threatened by extinction in the Nations of the world and even in some churches. Paul has now shifted away from the sick issue of gross immorality in chapter 5 and is talking about our ultimate goal as the people of God: eternal union with and devotion to Jesus Christ.
Unlike now in the 21st Century, far from marriage all being about our inclusion, happiness and equality, Paul says that marriage (or singleness) is ultimately about our devotion to Jesus and the ‘maximising’ of our focus on Him. Check the chapter out. Paul says clearly, without condemning or belittling marriage, that he wished that everyone was as he was – fully devoted to God without the distraction of a spouse – but that if marriage was a burning desire which in itself became distracting, it was still good to marry (7:36). Earlier on, (1 Cor. 4:16), Paul had pleaded with the church in Corinth to imitate his way of life which obviously included his singleness. [For this reason alone, singleness should never be seen as a less-than-ideal, second-class choice or second-class status. In some ways, singleness is highest of Christian callings]. Parenthesis closed. Boom.
Marriage is not about Marriage
John Piper describes marriage as a ‘parable of permanence; a copy of the original’. This flies dramatically in the face of the obsessive mantra of our time (our child-like ‘I want this, that and the other’), that Paul himself chose to abstain from marriage companionship, sexual satisfaction, ‘happiness’, social standing, equality etc. This was because, for Paul, marriage wasn’t primarily about any of those things; it was primarily about the union of the bride of Christ and Jesus as the Bridegroom God. Earthly marriage for Paul was a reflection of the ultimate reality of his own marriage with God in Christ (John 15) and of the eternal marriage at the wedding supper of the Lamb that he had been called to be an Apostle and herald of. (1 Cor. 1:1, 17). That was his priority for the church, not everyone’s equality, fulfillment, satisfaction and inclusion.
It is an amazing thing that, in a day and age where society says that ‘equality’ is its only plumb-line, we can look at Paul’s single, celibate life of undistracted devotion to God and admire his understanding and revelation of the union of Christ to His bride and Paul’s obedience to lay everything down in light of that. In Philippians 1:21 Paul says “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain”. Paul wanted to be with his Husband which was ‘better by far’. We need to see beyond marriage as being sexual and romantic – it is infinitely more transcendent than that, even more than bringing Velociraptors back from the dead.
- If there is an alternative ‘progressive ‘reading’ ‘ of the bible about marriage, does it make sense and is it consistent?
- Have you seen any biblical explanation of marriage in which homosexuality is blessed by God?
- Do you agree/disagree that the bible defines marriage?
- How do you think this will effect further generations who won’t ever live in a society in which marriage is only between one man and one woman?