When planning a wedding, couples have countless options in our modern world. A destination wedding to a favorite beach or mountain comes with a built-in honeymoon. Las Vegas wedding chapels are on standby for whenever the urge to tie the knot strikes. And for a no-frills, low-budget wedding, a trip to the courthouse to say a few words and sign some papers covers the basics.
So why go through the hassle and expense of planning a church wedding?
Because as Christians, we understand that marriage is instituted by God, and we seek to affirm His purpose for our marriages. By including our spiritual family and exchanging our vows in a sacred space, we set off on the marriage journey with a God-honoring perspective on marriage.
The Spiritual Importance of Marriage
We don’t have to venture very far into our Bibles to find the origins of marriage and begin to understand its significance. In Genesis 2 we read of the creation of Adam and Eve. From the beginning, they were created to live as a couple united in marriage. Verses 23-24 put forth marriage as a unique relationship instituted by God.
It is important to note that when God instituted marriage, Adam and Eve had not yet sinned, and the world had not fallen. Marriage, therefore, was established as a part of God’s unblemished created order.
Marriage and Family
Humans were created to be God’s image-bearers on earth, and given the directive to fill the earth with His image through reproduction. Marriage is the cornerstone relationship through which our divine purpose is carried out, and from which all other familial relationships flow.
Parents and Children
God designed the nuclear family in a way that demonstrates and reveals different aspects of how we relate to Him. The parent-child relationship reminds us how we are children of God, born of Him and cared for by Him. Jesus taught us to call God ‘Father’, and the New Testament writers followed his leading. Both Paul (Galatians 3:26-29) and John (1 John 3:1-2) describe us as children of God through Jesus’ saving work.
Brothers and Sisters
And Jesus himself, after His resurrection, referred to his disciples as ‘brothers’ (Matthew 28:10). For having completed the work of salvation, Jesus earned our adoption into God’s heavenly family as sons and daughters. We are co-heirs with Jesus (Romans 8:17), sharing in the rights and privileges of our Father’s household as brothers and sisters. And Proverbs 18:24 describes God as a friend who is closer than a brother.
Husbands and Wives
But above and before all other family relationships, we find the spousal relationship. It is the intimacy of marriage that brings forth children, so it is our starting point. And in both the Old and New Testaments, God uses marriage as a means of illustrating the special bond and commitment held between Himself and His people.
God describes Israel as His special possession throughout Exodus and Deuteronomy. Exodus 19:5 establishes this bond between God and Israel as the result of their sacred covenant, first established with Abraham, and later affirmed through Moses. Later in Israel’s history, when God’s people walked away from their covenant with God, their betrayal was described as adulterous toward God (Jeremiah 3:6).
The New Testament echoes the declaration that God’s chosen people are His special possession (1 Peter 2:9). Revelation 19 depicts Jesus coming to claim his church as a bridegroom takes a bride. And Paul interweaves Jesus’ love and care for the church with his instructions for husbands and wives to love, honor, and obey each other (Ephesians 5:22-33).
Contract or Covenant?
It is clear that God created marriage with a purpose and expects that we hold it in high regard. No institution informs our understanding of God and our purpose in His creation more than marriage. God has codified marital fidelity into the Ten Commandments, and when we speak our wedding vows, we do so with the gravity of making our vows before God, and not just before man.
In the Western world, public officials and civil servants can administer wedding vows. And even weddings that are conducted by ordained ministers are done in a manner consistent with the procedures and requirements of civic authorities. Yet, while the civic aspects of marriage are useful for maintaining records and determining legal matters such as inheritance, as Christians we recognize the civic function as subordinate to the spiritual implications of marriage.
But just as the purpose of civil marriage is to establish a public record, we recognize that God’s design for marriage involves the community and not just the individuals who will be married. Even though we do not see wedding ceremonies in the Old Testament, we do read that marriages were arranged and carried out by the families of the persons involved, thus establishing the marriage in the context of the tribe or clan.
By the time of Jesus, some manner of wedding celebrations had become customary. John 2 records the wedding feast at Cana, which involved invited guests beyond the families of the bride and groom, as well as a banquet. And in Matthew 22, the parable of the wedding banquet, which Jesus uses to illustrate the principles of God’s kingdom, implies that such a feast would be a common and familiar event to his audience.
By gathering together the natural families of the bride and groom, as well as the spiritual family of the church, a modern church wedding affirms that the marriage is established in the context of God’s people. In this way, the church experiences the joy of celebrating the marriage union with the bride and groom.
The church also serves the valuable function of providing accountability. As married couples work out the logistics of marriage and work through trials and temptations to maintain fidelity and mutual submission, the church is a valuable support network. Just as iron sharpens iron, as members of God’s family we keep one another sharp.
God established marriage and gives it prominence in His created order as the cornerstone of the family. By including the church in our marriages, we affirm the God-given purpose of marriage, commit to honoring God through our marriages, and invite the church to nurture and strengthen our marriages by their love, support, and accountability.