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Marriage and Family: The Spiritual Significance

To understand the spiritual significance of marriage and family, we must turn to God, our Creator, to learn what He had in mind in making the human race.

The hope for a happy, fulfilling marriage to the person we most deeply love is one of the most entrenched desires of men and women. Happily sharing our hopes, dreams, fortune and the breadth of life's experiences in the most intimate way is one of the most fulfilling endeavors of all.

A good marriage further blessed with happy, respectful, successful children who provide the same kind of grandchildren is the crowning touch of a good life. And what a life this is! What success! If possible, we'd all love to have this story be our story. This idealistic picture is a universal dream. Everyone wants the results. But not everyone wants to live the life that produces them.

From the beginning God revealed that marriage was a special union between a man and woman because, to put it bluntly, that was the way to have children. Sexual intercourse between a male and female united in marriage produced children within that family. Yet the benefits of traditional marriage extend beyond reproduction.

imageStudies continue to show that men and women generally live longer and happier lives when they are married to someone of the opposite sex. In these traditional unions, children likewise generally grow up more socially adept and financially successful than children who grow up in alternative arrangements.

There is definitely a strong social case to be made for traditional monogamous marriage between one man and one woman. Through the pages of this publication we will also see that there is an incontrovertible biblical case for traditional unions. Experience has shown time and again that these biblical guidelines for relationships and parenting are the ones that work best.

Are there any rules?

But before we get to these biblical instructions we must acknowledge that many people aren't sure whether God really exists or whether His instructions are relevant today.

Some believe that human beings came into existence by evolutionary forces, following blind natural selection and the survival of the fittest. This theory postulates that people are simply higher-level animals and that there are no spiritual laws to guide human conduct, no requirement that sexual relations be solely within marriage.

Experimenting from this perspective, or because they simply didn't want to follow the biblical instructions, men and women through the ages have tried many different sexual relationships including premarital sex, adultery, polygamy (one man with multiple wives), polyandry (one woman with multiple husbands), homosexuality and group marriages.

Today premarital sex, adultery and homosexual relationships have all gained greater acceptance-challenging and undermining traditional marriage. The assumption among many, including governments and judges legislating acceptance of all views and people regardless of their practices and lifestyles, is that all choices are equal-so people can do whatever they want. Sadly, this approach is presumed to be morally superior to all others.

Were we designed for marriage and family?

Yet with all the sexual experimentation, almost everyone wants the same good life, including children. It seems as though people were all psychologically wired to desire marriage and family.

But why are we like this? Is it possible that we were designed this way from the beginning by a Creator? What would have happened to the human race had men and women not been created with a desire for sexual activity that would ensure procreation, a longing for intimacy both emotionally and physically with another person and a desire for offspring?

Was it pure chance that things worked out this way? Are we simply lucky? For those who have eyes to see, these inborn traits are simply additional indicators among many that all point to the inescapable fact that humanity was designed and crafted by God. The Bible explains that we were made in God's own image (Genesis 1:27)-meaning in our general appearance as well as with minds to think.

An important principle is also revealed here that is continued in marriage and family-that human life is patterned after spiritual, nonphysical, unseen realities. Just as human beings were made in the image of God, marriage and family are patterned after spiritual concepts. (To learn more about mankind's origin, request our free booklets Creation or Evolution: Does It Really Matter What You Believe? and Life's Ultimate Question: Does God Exist?)

God, the Designer of marriage and family

To understand the spiritual significance of marriage and family, we must turn to God, our Creator, to learn what He had in mind in making the human race.

While we could go to the first book of the Bible, Genesis, to learn about marriage and how God created the first human beings (something we will cover in greater detail later), we must go to other sections of God's Word to learn why He created us as we are.

When we turn to these passages, we learn of a plan that God had not only for Adam and Eve, the first human beings, but for all of humanity-every person who has lived or will yet live. We also find that human marriage and family reflect this plan, which was determined before the foundation of the world. 

Shortly after Jesus Christ came to earth and lived as God in the flesh, one of His followers, John, wrote a book to prove to his contemporaries and humanity today that Jesus was indeed God.

In this work, John says of Jesus: "He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name" (John 1:10-12, emphasis added throughout).

The phrase "children of God" tells us that God is creating His own family. Additional passages reveal this same astounding truth. In Hebrews 2:10 we find that Jesus was and continues to be involved in God's plan and purpose of "bringing many sons to glory."

Paul, another first-century writer of portions of the New Testament of the Bible, noted that human beings are indeed "the offspring of God" (Acts 17:28-29). This same author also wrote of "the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named" (Ephesians 3:14-15).

imageGod designed us to be part of His family

Paul also encouraged God's people at Corinth with His specific promise: "Therefore 'Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.' 'I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty'" (2 Corinthians 6:17-18). 

Just as human families have children born to them who are part of their families, God initially created Adam and Eve and their progeny-all of us-to become part of His family. Physical families are thus a type of God's own spiritual family.

Continuing this theme, Revelation 21:7 adds, "He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son." These scriptures and others tell us that God's plan from the beginning was to first create people as temporary flesh and blood beings, subject to death, and then give us the opportunity to live forever as spirit beings in His eternal family. If we will respond to God in love and obedience, God offers us this great promise.

God eventually is going to make this offer to become part of His family to every human being. Explaining God's love for all His children, another follower, Peter, wrote: "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). God doesn't want anyone to lose out on this opportunity of a lifetime-the opportunity for an eternal lifetime!

This is God's overall, transcendent purpose for creating humanity-to offer us the opportunity to become part of His eternal family, His own children. If we will repent and be baptized, we can receive this marvelous gift. When baptized, we receive God's Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38)-something that sets us apart as His children. Paul, in Romans 8:14, explains that "as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God."

Becoming children of the Father

God's great purpose of producing literal sons and daughters in His family has been in effect since before the foundation of the world. God is reproducing Himself, creating children who will possess His holy and righteous character and, in time, share eternal life with Him as spirit beings with His divine nature!

Of course, when we respond to God's command to repent and be baptized, we still live as physical human beings, not yet changed into spirit. To reassure newly baptized Christians, Paul likened this process of becoming children of God to the manner in the Roman world of his day by which one came to receive all the rights and privileges as a son and heir within a family.

imageIn verse 15 Paul continues, "The Spirit you have received is not a spirit of slavery leading you back into a life of fear, but a Spirit that makes us sons, enabling us to cry 'Abba! Father!'" (New English Bible). In addition to the promise of becoming God's sons, this verse shows that our relationship to God can become so close and personal that we refer to Him as our "Daddy! Father!"-the meaning of "Abba! Father!"

Paul goes on to explain in verse 17 that "since we are his children, we will share his treasures-for everything God gives to his Son, Christ, is ours, too" (NLT).

In the Roman world of Paul's day, a father would declare his son to be fully his son and heir when the son reached a certain age of maturity in young adulthood. Before that declaration, the son was held in a very inferior position to his father. But when this coming of age was declared, the son would be legally invested with all the rights, powers and privileges of a son and heir of his father.

Paul refers to this process in Romans 8 (and Galatians 4, where he uses very similar language to make the same point). The process wasn't complete until the son reached this coming of age and received full rights and privileges.

Continuing this theme, Paul wrote in verse 23: "And even we Christians, although we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, also groan to be released from pain and suffering. We, too, wait anxiously for that day when God will give us our full rights as his children, including the new bodies he has promised us" (NLT).

Paul explains that our status now is like that of children who haven't reached that point of having all the full rights of sonship yet-though we will attain that status in the resurrection to immortality at Christ's return (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17).

God's inspiration of Paul to use this analogy underscores the reality and absolute guarantee God makes that we can indeed become His children, ultimately living forever in His family. God's promise of full rights of sonship will be bestowed at the resurrection or change from mortality to immortality, at which time we will be invested with all the powers and privileges of a divine son.

Echoing these same thoughts, John writes in 1 John 3:1-3: "Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself."

The astounding truth revealed in this verse is that we, like Christ, will have life eternal in unimaginable power and glory! To get a glimpse of what our glorified appearance will be like, read Revelation 1:12-16, where Christ's glorified appearance is described. (To learn more about what it means to purify oneself to become a child of God, request our free booklets Transforming Your Life: The Process of Conversion and The Road to Eternal Life.)

Simply put, God's plan for humanity is a family plan. Now what about marriage?

The spiritual implication of marriage

Similar to the way a human family reflects God's plan to have a family, human marriage also reflects a spiritual relationship. Human marriage is modeled after the relationship between Jesus Christ and the Church.

Notice how Paul explains this concept. After discussing the responsibilities of husbands and wives and the relationship between them, Paul says: "This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband" (Ephesians 5:32-33).

What a beautiful example the relationship between Christ and the Church is! Paul explains that Christ loved the Church so much that He gave His life for her (verse 25). How could those of us in the Church ever doubt His love for us? How could we not respond to the things He asks us to do?

The understanding that marriage between a man and a woman is a type of the relationship between Christ and the Church is further understood by a vision Jesus Christ revealed to John at the end of the first century. John recorded this vision in the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation.

After Jesus returns to take over the kingdoms of this earth and establish the Kingdom of God, He reveals that He is going to be involved in a very special marriage.

Here is how John recorded the vision: "'Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.' And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he said to me, 'Write: "Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!"'" (Revelation 19:7-9).

The faithful saints who have been part of the Church founded by Jesus Christ will become the Bride of Christ. Their righteous behavior is likened to fine, costly linen.

A happy human marriage thus gives us insight into a greater marriage-one that will truly last forever because both parties will be spirit. Similar and closely related to family, marriage also gives us a window of insight into God's love and plan for humanity. Because human marriages are patterned after this spiritual relationship, they can help us comprehend this present and future God-plane relationship.

Now that we have an understanding of God's view of what marriage and family represent, we can more closely examine the instructions He gave for marriage.

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