Marriage and Spirituality

People who are truly in love know that marriage is one of the greatest blessings the Lord has given people. Yet some Christians have come to believe that it is better to be single because a single person can be closer to God. Some think that marriage is a distraction from spiritual things, or that it is just a way of meeting physical and emotional needs. Does marriage get in the way of spirituality? Or do marriage and spirituality go hand in hand?

Let’s begin at the very beginning. The very fact that the Lord has created us male and female (Genesis 1:27). seems to indicate that marriage is the intended condition for people. God’s blessing on the first marriage makes this even more clear: “And God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply’” (Genesis 1:28). Not only does marriage have the Lord’s blessing—it is also His command: “Thus says the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel…. ‘Take wives and beget sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters—that you may be increased there, and not diminished.’” (Jeremiah 29:6).

Jesus showed His approval of marriage by quoting the words of Genesis 2:24: “And they shall be one flesh.” So far there is no hint of anything less than ideal in marriage, and certainly nothing that should cause guilt. Just the opposite—“They were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.” So marriage is God’s blessing for humanity, part of his plan for people. The Lord even said, “It is not good that the man should be alone.”

It is no wonder, then, that the daughter of Jephtha “bewailed her virginity,” and that Solomon said, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from the Lord” (Proverbs 18:22).

Perhaps the strongest evidence that marriage is a beautiful and holy ideal is the constant reference throughout the Bible to a marriage between the Lord and His Church. “As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you” (Isaiah 62:5). “Your Maker is your husband: The Lord of Hosts is His name” (Isaiah 54:5). “‘Turn, O backsliding children,’ says the Lord, ‘for I am married to you.’” (Jeremiah 3:14). “Let us be glad and rejoice, and give glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready” (Revelation 19:7. See also Jeremiah 31:32; Isaiah 49:18, 61:10; Jeremiah 2:32; Hosea 2:2; Ezekiel 16; Matthew 22:2-9; 25:1-10; Mark 2:29; Luke 5:34; Revelation 21:2,9; 22:17, etc.). If there were something less than ideal about marriage, then why would the Lord so often describe Himself as a Bridegroom and Husband? This comparison shows us that the true relationship between husband and wife is as holy, pure and wonderful as the true relationship between God and His people.

There is a teaching of Paul that seems to conflict with this. He wrote, “It is good for a man not to touch a woman” (1 Corinthians 7:1). It may seem that Paul was advocating celibacy. But too often his teachings have been taken out of context. Note that he was writing in answer to a specific question (1 Corinthians 7:1). He was not laying down a general principal, but a temporary suggestion. He said, “I suppose that this is good for the present distress, that it is good for a man so to be” (1 Corinthians 7:28). His point was that a time of distress–perhaps referring to the threat of persecution—is not the best time for marriage. He did say, “He who is unmarried cares for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord, but he who is married cares for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife” (1 Corinthians 7:32,33). Yet even here he does not mean that married men cannot give full attention to the Lord, for he says, “Let they who have wives be as though they had none” (1 Corinthians 7:29). Finally, note that Paul said repeatedly that this advice about temporary abstinence was his own opinion, not God’s command. “I speak this by permission, not of commandment” (1 Corinthians 7:6). “I speak, not the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:12). “Concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment” (1 Corinthians 7:25). “I suppose that this is good” (1 Corinthians 7:26, emphasis added).

Paul’s general principles concerning marriage come out clearly when he says that it is a doctrine of devils to forbid marriage (1 Timothy 4: 1,3), and that “marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled” (Hebrews 13:4). So even Paul taught that marriage is good. Of course a single person can be just as Christian as a married person. In this less-than-ideal world not all are given true Christian marriages. But those who are blessed with true marriages know that marriage can be beautiful, holy and pure, a part of God’s order for people.