Marriage, Multiplication, and Oneness
I have lived on the West Coast, East Cost, and the South and have travelled to China and India. Many of you have been to and lived in far more places. People in different places eat and dress differently, go to bed at different times, practice wide-ranging traditions, and often think about the world and their place in it completely different ways; yet, they all practice marriage. Even when Europeans landed on the shores of the Americas, they found that even the natives here practiced marriage. Why? We all agree that we gradually evolved from apes, right? So, how did marriage come to be in all these different times and places?
Our society actively seeks to erase sacred history from our cultural memories and treat them as superstitious myths, but we all practice marriage because we are sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. We are all the result of their holy matrimony. And their practice has endured to us today because marriage is God’s creation: two people with different interests, skills, goals, desires, ways of viewing the world, and even at times from different places and cultures — these two make permanent vows to become one flesh and form a new family with this very different person.
But many do try to topple down this ancient tradition, along with many others. Ray told some of this fable: some explorers were traveling through forests when they suddenly came upon a large ancient wall. They didn’t understand. The wall seemed so pointless. Frustrated, they decided to topple down the wall. And, of course, they came to discover that they just unleashed their worst nightmare. But, of course, it was too late — the wall originally took a thousand years to build.
This is the way traditions appear to many of us in the West — especially after the enlightenment. Some ancient weirdos made this silly tradition, I don’t understand how it benefits me, so I’m not participating. For me, it’s Easter Eggs. I don’t get it. Celebrate the resurrection with a bunny hiding colorful eggs? But we have these traditions. And sometimes we decide to begrudgingly keep on with the family and cultural tradition. But, on occasion, we uncover an ancient story — patriarch so-and-so created this ritual so we’d be reminded about this important thing. And suddenly, we may be glad we didn’t toss it aside. We may even derive deep satisfaction from participating in something larger than us. And, for what it’s worth, do research Easter Eggs.
Marriage is like this. And this tradition makes our lives really complicated… but we all keep marrying. Some to do it begrudgingly, some do it to escape loneliness and, today, most marry to find personal happiness. Despite the different flawed reasons people marry for, God actually devised matrimony for specific reasons. There is absolutely more we could discuss, but for today, consider two of those reasons with me.
First, God wants us to marry to multiply: raise up godly offspring to fill and rule the earth with his image.
Gen. 1:26, 28 ESV, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ … And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’”
Mal. 2:15 ESV, “Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring.”
Marriage comes with an awesome responsibility. What an honor it is to given the power to be able to create life! And, even more, to be able to create life in God’s image. God has placed a tremendous responsibility in the hands of those of us who are married — to raise up godly offspring to fill the earth for his name. And, while I’m only 4 years into this, I see this is very hard work.
Yet, in the West, we marry for happiness. And we might be tempted mock those in the East or someone like Ruth who married for family and children. Yet God wants us to marry in part to fill the earth with those who bear God’s image. Is that why we married? Are our marriages serving this honorable purpose?
The technology of contraceptives has helped to fundamentally transform our culture’s imagination of marriage and sexuality. You may have heard the wise saying, “The medium is the message.” It’s true. The mediums — or the technologies — we use to get things done affect how we view what we just did. Take transportation as an example. I might simply think that how I get from A to B doesn’t have much significance and I should probably only think about time and cost. But, actually, walking, driving, boating, flying, or teleporting from one place to another all shift our imagination of what A and B are and of what lies between them.
Time-telling works the same way. It says something about time to determine when we are by looking at the sun. And it says something else if I look at a watch which counts seconds. In fact, Paul’s command to make the best use of the time takes on a different connotation with a stopwatch on my wrist. Food. If I invite you to my house and I set before you a bag of McDonalds, you will get a different sense of what it means for us to share table together than if I were to set before you homemade dishes with a plate and fork, or a common bowl with no utensils.
If I read the Scriptures on a screen, or sown together in one book, as a collection of individual scrolls, it affects what we imagine the Scriptures to be. My point is not that any of these things is always inherently right or wrong — even contraceptives; it’s that they impact us more than we may know. We have been given technology without the wisdom to know when and if we should use it (cf. 1 Cor. 6:12ff; 10:23-24).
God designed sexuality in part as a way for us to take down all our walls to enact, celebrate, and enjoy oneness with our spouse. And, at the same time, sexuality is also how we multiply and fill the earth with God’s image. And, if the command to multiply weren’t enough, Malachi repeats that God expects godly offspring from marriage and sexuality. Paul later goes on to instruct younger widows to marry and bear children (1 Tim. 5:14). This may sound strange to us, but maybe we’re the strange ones. The widespread use of contraceptives in our culture has put a magnifying glass on the moment of intercourse so that sexuality is about pleasure not oneness, no strings attached not intimacy, children are optional, and, if it pleases me, I can pursue sexuality with the same sex.
— By the way, homosexual marriage, pornography, and contraceptives may not pick our pockets or break our legs, but, as a widespread phenomenon they have all separated sexuality from procreation and fundamentally transformed part of the end for which marriage and sexuality were made. —
But marriage and sexuality is no longer about intimate oneness, nor godly offspring. And then if and when we do have children according to our perfectly planned timing, have you ever wondered if maybe our motivations for having children get mixed up too? If I will only receive children in my time in my way, is it still selfless love?
— I remember one evening five years into marriage when Ashley and I were griping and pouting at each other about our different opinions about how we should spend our Friday night — and I suddenly came to and told Ashley: our decision to militantly prevent children has made us more individualistic and selfish.—
But my point isn’t simply about what may happen with one couple here or there. My point is to show how far our culture is from the biblical norm lest we think this is normal or okay. As a culture, we have separated something that ought not be separated — like separating works from faith, the assembly from the Lord’s Supper, Sunday from embodied assembly, or Jesus from the gospel. I am not saying contraceptives are 100% always wrong or unwise; I am saying I have been a fool to think our powerful technologies are simply indifferent tools; they change us.
Now, God may not always give us the ability to conceive — whether because we are single, elderly, or struggling with the pain of infertility. More should be said, and I don’t at all intend to heal your wounds lightly, but take heart. Jesus and Paul never had children; yet, they have many offspring. In Acts, Luke said the church multiplied. The Ethiopian Eunuch wouldn’t ever have children, yet he still went on his way rejoicing. He would soon go on in his Isaiah scroll to read: “Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say, ‘The LORD will surely separate me from his people’; and let not the eunuch say, ‘Behold, I am a dry tree.’ For thus says the LORD: ‘To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.’” (Isaiah 56:3–5 ESV) We marry in part to raise up godly offspring, but God can give us a purpose, place, and name even without the biological ability to have children.
But, let’s also not miss the point: let’s orient our marriages to serve God’s ends and let’s teach our children to marry for God’s ends.
Second, we marry because God began history with a wedding and he will end all history with a wedding. Marriage is the metanarrative of history and reality. All things began with the uniting of Adam and Eve, and all things will end with the uniting of Christ and the church, heaven and earth.
After God formed Adam and breathed life into him, he put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it. But God quickly announced “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” (Gen. 2:18) So, God put Adam into a deep sleep, took a portion of his side, formed it into a woman, and brought her to him. He awoke in the Garden of Eden to his beautiful bride, praised and named her. The Scriptures conclude the story like this: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh,” (Gen. 2:24).
But, later, Paul says this practice is a profound mystery that refers to Christ and the church (Eph. 5:32). The Son left the Father and gave his body to form the church. After he died they pierced his side; but God raised him up in a garden and where a woman, Mary Magdalene, met him — the firstfruits of his bride to be. And now as the church we are betrothed as a pure virgin to Christ our future husband (2 Cor. 11:2). And now we are readying ourselves for that great wedding and feast.
But that’s not all. when Paul talks about two becoming one in Ephesians 5 — husbands and wives, Christ and the church — this is at the end of a letter that has focused on two becoming one. Jews and Gentiles are hostile towards one another, but in the cross Christ breaks down the dividing wall of hostility “that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross,” (Eph. 2:15-16). And, even earlier, Paul says that God’s plan is to ultimately “unite all things in [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth.”
Do we see the honor God has given us in our marriages to participate in something much bigger than ourselves? Our Father taught us to marry so we might image and enact the end for which we were all made: oneness, unity — with God and each other.
But two becoming one is challenging, isn’t it? We have “irreconcilable differences,” so divorce seems inevitable. Large differences make unity seem impossible. A few years ago someone told me they thought it was a bad idea for people from different cultures to marry — they’re just making it harder on themselves. I rebuked them, but it left me disturbed — maybe deep down we may all feel this sense that unity can never result in the midst of diversity.
This is what can frustrate us so much about our spouse. They do things so differently. This is what can frustrate us so much about each other. This is actually what frustrates me about God — I usually realize God’s ways are higher, but sometimes I just wish he’d do things my way. On our worst days it seems impossible: Jews, Gentiles, and various cultures are too different to be united, heaven and earth could never come together, Christ and the messy church will never be one, and I will never be one with this spouse of mine.
How is any of this possible? 1 Cor. 13:4–8 ESV, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
In Jesus — Son of God from heaven and Son of Man from earth — God will unite all seen and unseen creation to share in the eternal love of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. The prophets saw a day when people would be at peace and one with each other, and God at peace and one with his people. It’s all possible by love. Because, love never ends. So, it’s high time to learn this love of Jesus that will unite all things.
Marrieds: don’t stop sacrificing for one another and pressing into one another. Only in this love will you display with the rest of the church the mystery of the ages: how two become one, how enemies lay down their swords, how God wins back his children, how Jesus draws the church to himself — love. Not the love of the world, but the love of God revealed in the cross of Jesus and embodied in us.
And while marriage is certainly unique, we are all to pursue this unity by loving each other — sharing gifts and services, time and affection, the word and prayer, work and rest, food and fasting — all together for the glory and dominion of God in Christ.