Recently, a young man asked his friend about his thoughts on getting married. To the young man’s surprise his friend responded, “I have no plans since there is no reason to get married. If I jumped in front of my girlfriend when someone shot at her and I died, did I love her less than a husband loves his wife? Marriage isn’t necessary. But love is. I can love a woman and be committed to her without getting married.”
In today’s world, it’s widely accepted for a couple to have sex or live together without being married — sadly, it’s almost becoming the norm. So why get married? Is there something that the young man’s friend is missing about marriage? Is marriage simply an archaic “piece of paper” that has no relevance today?
Let’s start with the friend’s statement: If I jumped in front of my girlfriend when someone shot at her and I died, did I love her less than a husband loves his wife? The simple answer is: No. I love my wife and would die for her just like the friend would do for his girlfriend.
But there’s more. God commanded us to love Him and to love others (Mark 12:30-31). Because our purpose here on earth is to become more like Christ (Romans 8:29) and Christ’s legacy can be seen in the way that He loved (Ephesians 5:2), the evidence that we are becoming more like Christ will be seen by our love for God and others. As a matter of fact, the greatest love we can express is to lay down our life for another person (John 15:13). So the friend is correct when he asserts that love is necessary in a relationship. However, love is not the same as marriage.
If the only difference between love and marriage is a legal contract, then it really isn’t that necessary. If the essence of marriage is a wedding ceremony or a piece of paper that you sign, then I agree: What’s the point?
Marriage Is a Sacred Covenant
The good news is that marriage is so much more than a license that looks good framed on the wall! Marriage is a sacred covenant that you make “with” God — not “before” God: “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mark 10:9). Marriage isn’t man-made; it is God’s creation.
Malachi 2:14-15, as paraphrased in The Message, reads, “God, not you, made marriage.” From a divine perspective, marriage is an amazing relationship that is second only to your relationship with Christ. The apostle Paul captured this well when he wrote, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:31-32). Marriage is a divine mystery that can only be truly understood from God’s perspective. If you’re merely living with your significant other, it’s a human commitment — not a sacred commitment made between you, your partner and the Creator of the universe. And those two commitments are worlds apart.
I love how S. Michael Craven writes on the Battle for Truth website, describing this covenant relationship:
The marriage covenant is singularly unique in civilization; for marriage is not just a civil union between two people, rather it is an emotional, physical and spiritual union between one man and one woman. Emotional in the sense that these two people, male and female, each with different attributes, join together in life; each assisting the other, nurturing and caring for one another, affirming and guiding one another — in essence, completing the other. Physical in the sense that marriage is procreative — two separate biological beings blending together to create what neither can create on their own: children. And lastly, spiritual in the sense that we are made for this partnership that places the interest of the other (or others in the case of children) above self — a relationship that ultimately mirrors God’s sacrificial love toward each of us and His bride: the church.
Marriage Is a Selfless Act
Built on the foundation that marriage is a sacred covenant with God, the other argument for “why get married” is that the act of getting married is selfless. Marriage is intended to be the epitome of selflessness. Our self-centered culture doesn’t understand this about marriage. When Debate.org asked its readers, “Is marriage really necessary?” an astonishing 79 percent of respondents said no. Here are some of the reasons readers gave for why marriage isn’t necessary:
One will lose his individuality and can’t [m]ake decisions alone.
Being married is like betting half your stuff in the hopes that she will love you forever.
Love can’t be tied down with something so strict as marriage. It needs space, air and its own direction.
Can you sense the selfishness in these statements? The act of being married is selfless — it’s not self-centered. When you get married, you give up being single and become one flesh with another person (Genesis 2:24). You enter into a lifelong covenant with God that He doesn’t want broken (Malachi 2:14-16). As a husband or a wife, you voluntarily accept to abide by very clear instructions given by God. These directives weren’t given to boyfriends, girlfriends, significant others or life partners — they were reserved for one relationship only: marriage.
Husbands are instructed to love their wife as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25). Dying to self for the sake of your wife is the most selfless act a husband could possibly do. Likewise, a wife is asked to voluntarily submit to her husband’s leadership as she does to the Lord (Ephesians 5:22). Both are being asked to make great sacrifices. This is definitely a harder path to follow than simply cohabiting with someone.
In his outstanding article “Why Is Marriage Important?” S. Michael Craven explains the selfless nature of marriage this way:
It’s a lifelong commitment that restrains self-centeredness, self-indulgence and self-gratification. When this commitment labeled “marriage” is reduced to nothing more than a mere contract between two consenting persons, or worse just another option, it ceases to restrain our self-centered passions. . . . [M]arriage undergirds their commitment to each other. Absent this commitment there is no foundation for integrity in any relationship and society would become nothing more than a collection of narcissists pursuing their own welfare.
Marriage Provides Safety and Security
Marriage allows you to serve your spouse in some amazing ways that you can’t do when you cohabit with a significant other, and you are legally protecting your relationship when you sign a marriage license. According to federal law, there are over 1,000 benefits, rights and protections provided on the basis of marital status.
You offer each other the highest level of relational commitment possible. Thus, you are giving your spouse the highest degree of safety and security. You are publicly declaring your lifelong commitment in front of family and friends in a formal wedding ceremony, inviting a community of people to hold you responsible for your vows. You are sending a clear message to your spouse that he or she is “the one and only” and that you’ve given up all other options.
Marriage is the only God-honoring relationship for sexual fulfillment, and it requires that you be faithful to one person for a lifetime. Cohabitation erodes the value God places on marriage (Hebrews 13:4).
Marriage matters — it’s not “just a piece of paper.” It’s a sacred covenant with God, and it’s one of the most selfless acts you will ever perform for another person. I love being married to my best friend, Erin. The past 23 years of marriage have been the greatest journey I’ve ever taken, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
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