The Sanctity of Marriage

Index of Lessons in the Westminster Shorter Catechism

The Sanctity of Marriage

(Westminster Shorter Catechism: Questions 70-72)
(watch our video)
by Bob Burridge ©2011

It’s fun to look back through pictures of weddings. After a number of years go by it’s fun to see who all was there, and how everybody has changed. It’s good to remember that special moment when two became one and started a new family. Sometimes those carefully planned moments have embarrassingly unexpected turns of events. We laugh about it every time we look at the old photographs, or tell the stories to new friends.

But a marriage is a much more than just a romantic moment or even the start of a new family. God instituted marriage when he first created us and put is in Eden. In Genesis 2:24 God said, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

From the beginning, marriage is that precious union of a man and a woman in the eyes of God. They are to be faithful to one another in all things, for the rest of their lives. Marriage is where we are to produce children, and raise them up to live godly lives.

God had special reasons why he designed marriage to be the way it is. He did not explain all the details of his reasons right away. As time went on, God told more about why he set up marriage the way he did.

In our marriages to one another, we are to show
the faithful union of God with his people.

When Marriage and Family are redefined into something other than what God meant for it, society crumbles away, lives become a confused mess, and God’s purpose is distorted. That is why marriage has always been a target of evil.

Today we see a growing distortion of what marriage is about.

To many, getting married is just a major step in a growing romance. It has been romanticized into just a beautiful ceremony where we expression our feelings of love. The words, “will you marry me” are simply meant to show the deep commitment of the moment. They are the next logical step in a traditional progression up through levels in a relationship. God tells us that marriage is more important and meaningful than that.

To some marriage is just a helpful legal contract. It means a willingness to share resources, time, and abilities so the partners can reach certain goals more easily. They see it as a legal arrangement for tax advantages, social benefits, and the more convenient and respected way to conceive and raise children. As with any legal contract, there is a legal way out. Divorce has become a simple, though emotionally painful, ending of the contract. Resources and children are divided up, and the former partners start over in the romantic cycle.

To others, marriage is just an antiquated tradition that no longer fits our contemporary culture. They see sex and having children as no longer limited to the marriage bond. There are some who want marriage to include unions between same sex partners.

In our promiscuous and sex oriented society the 7th Commandment is under attack. In a general romantic or legal sense most still say we should keep it as a basic tradition, but it has become so redefined and twisted around, that its real meaning has been lost.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism explains God’s plan for marriage in questions 70-72.

Question 70. Which is the seventh commandment?
Answer. The seventh commandment is, Thou shalt not commit adultery.

God set up marriage to explain the amazing union
he has with us as his redeemed people.

Revelation 19:7-9 tells about the wedding feast of the Lamb. It says, “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!’ And he said to me, ‘These are the true sayings of God.’ ”

The context of this passage shows that Jesus is the Lamb, the one sacrificed to redeem us. The bride of the Lamb is his church, those redeemed by the death of the Lamb. They come to him, not arrayed in their own good deeds, but clothed in his perfect obedience.

The union of God’s people with God the Creator is an eternal fact. Ephesians 1:4-6 tells us that this relationship was sealed irrevocably and eternally before creation. It says, “just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.” In that sense, our union with Christ does not really begin when we become aware of it. It has been a reality forever.

Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, and all our ancient spiritual ancestors looked by faith to the fulfillment of God’s promise to pay for our sins by a perfect substitute. That Redeemer would take us to himself as his dearly beloved. Long before the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the fact of his atonement on the cross has been the only foundation for all fallen humans who are restored to union with God.

As the promise comes to each of us individually, we are joined with our Creator as his bride. There will come a day after the final resurrection, when our union will be perfected. We should not limit the message of this passage in Revelation 19 to just a future event. It is also our present reality as we await its completion in the resurrection.

Marriage was constituted to represent that irrevocable union of God with his redeemed people. That is why marriage is sacred and needs to be conserved as God instituted it. Our marriages are to show the eternal union we have with our Creator, who is also our Redeemer.

The 7th Commandment deals with this moral principle

Exodus 20:14, “You shall not commit adultery.”

To show our redeemer’s perfect faithfulness to us as his bride, and our faithful devotion to our One True God forever, we are joined to our one partner in marriage where we are to find the full physical satisfaction of all our intimate needs.

In the Old Testament the prophets spoke of Israel as the Bride of the Lord. References in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Hosea are among the familiar passages where marriage is used to show the love of God toward his often unfaithful people. Idolatry and apostasy are often called spiritual adultery in God’s word.

In the New Testament this same comparison is made with the church as the bride of Christ. Many of the parables of Jesus use marriage to explain the nature of God’s Kingdom. John the Baptist referred to Jesus as the bridegroom in John 3:28. The Apostle Paul used marriage to illustrate God’s headship over and union with the church. Romans 7 and Ephesians 5 make detailed comparisons between the church and marriage. Revelation 19:7 speaks of the eternal uniting of the Church with Christ as the marriage feast of the Lamb. Bible scholar Charles Hodge called the family, “the most perfect analogue of the love of God.”

A good marriage should work toward improving its representation of our union with our Redeemer. Like our Savior’s love for his bride which is the church, married partners should be faithful and self-sacrificing. The words in the hymn “The Church’s One Foundation” by Samuel J. Stone say it well, “From heav’n he came and sought her to be his holy bride; With his own blood he bought her, and for her life he died.”

Jesus purified his bride by paying the infinitely horrible penalty of sin in her place. He prays for his bride, enables her spiritually by infusing spiritual life into her, and sets a perfect example of godliness for her toward which she should strive. Marriage unites a man and woman together to represent that self-sacrificing faithfulness of God.

Christ’s love for his church is also tender and caring. Ephesians 5 tells us that Jesus nourishes and cherishes his church as someone would his own body. Our marriages are designed by God to show this kind of care for one another. Even though we are married to imperfect people as Christ is to us, there is no excuse for self-serving attitudes or unfaithfulness in marriage. That is why breaking this commandment is a very serious matter. It obscures that important lesson of our God’s care and faithfulness to us.

Since we are imperfect, sins of infidelity will at times happen. When the pain and guilt of this sin eat at our hearts and tear at our relationships, we need on the one hand to treasure the immensity of the forgiveness we have in Christ, and on the other hand to appreciate the precious value of our God’s perfect faithfulness to us.

Like all the commandments, the moral principle
summarized here goes beyond just adultery.

Jesus made this very clear in his Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5:27-28 he said, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Jesus was saying that even the inner sins of the heart and our lustful thoughts violate the moral principle summed up in this commandment. The outward sins that destroy marriages, homes, and society begin with the inward corruption that grows hidden deep inside the mind. Whenever a person covets things beyond what God provides he has already begun the destructive process of sin.

Jesus warned against letting lust destroy us and our loved ones. No one should engage in sexual intimacy, physical or mental, outside the bond of marriage. God ordained sexual intimacy for husbands and wives only. His word makes it very clear that any other intimacy is a serious moral crime. In the Bible sexual intimacy is always tied to family and procreation. It represents the church.

Our Westminster Shorter Catechism explains in the answers to questions 71 and 72,

The seventh commandment requireth the preservation of our own and our neighbor’s chastity, in heart, speech, and behavior. The seventh commandment forbiddeth all unchaste thoughts, words, and actions.

The Bible is surprisingly open about our need for physical intimacy with the other gender.

1 Corinthians 7:2 “… because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband.

1 Corinthians 7:9 “… if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

Paul wrote to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:22 saying, “Flee also youthful lusts”. That means, Run from the temptations that might entrap you! Run away from impure movies, photographs, music, TV shows, magazines, and websites. Run from any inner thoughts and imaginations that violate this commandment. Singles, flee from dating situations that might become physically intimate.

Flee to Christ prayerfully. Ask him to give you strength and encouragement. Flee to other believers who will help you stay faithful to your spouse and maintain personal purity. If you abandon God’s ways, you also abandon his blessings. Intimacy outside of marriage cannot really be lastingly satisfying. It starts a tangled mess that grows out of control.

Today we see the consequences as our culture
moves more and more away from God’s ways.

There is an alarming rise in pornography, incest, rape, violence, child molestation, homosexuality and other things I’d rather not even mention.

Marriage is a vital part of the way God made the human race to live. We are all effected by the consequences of immorality in the lives of those around us.

God’s creation principles need to govern and guide our lives. Morality should not be dictated by the comments and beliefs of people we might envy for their material success. Do not let successful or controlling unbelievers shape your moral standards and attitudes.

The 2nd President of the United States, John Adams wisely said, “It is religion and morality alone, which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. Religion and virtue are the only foundations … of all free governments.” “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. … Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

Our nation’s founders never intended for us to be publicly free from religion and biblical morals. Those who say otherwise are either poorly educated or intentionally ignoring the facts of history. The founders understood that aside from God’s blessing, no nation can survive for long.

There is only one hope for the future of the family and of our nation. We must reshape it, reform it, back to the form God gives us in his word. It must rest upon the foundation it was designed to rise upon — God’s word.

Marriages need to be restored to what they were meant to represent here on earth: God’s perfect and irrevocable union with us as his beloved bride.

The main point of this 7th Commandment
is remaining faithful to one another.

God is always faithful to his promises and commitments. As those created in his image, that is what we are here to show in our lives. We need to be true to our word and promises, even when it becomes hard for us. Our commitments to our spouses, children, church, employers, and country should show the strong bond of our Savior with us as his eternal bride. People need to see in us this wonderful attribute of our Creator. It should specially be seen in our marriages and family relationships.

The gospel of Christ brings forgiveness
and restoration to broken lives.

Since we are imperfect, we need to know how to deal with our failures. When we sin by any kind of unfaithfulness or sexual impurity we need to come repentantly to our Savior. There we find the certainty of forgiveness in the full power of the Cross of Calvary. Every sin of his people was paid for in full by the death of the one who loved each of those known by him before the world was made (Ephesians 1:4, Romans 8:29). This is God’s promise to all who come with sincere repentance to the Savior. He is always faithful to his word.

The sincerity of our repentance and trust is shown in our desire to reform our ways. We need to be reshaping our lives to fit the model God gives us in his word. We should prayerfully do all we can to remove and to avoid temptations and opportunities to sin.

God’s people should be known for their faithfulness to their faithful God in all things. The specially shows in their marriages which were designed as a representation of that special union with our Redeemer. Faithful and godly marriages can restore our communities and rescue our children. Good homes remind us everyday about God’s love for his church, and of the work of Christ. In love he gives us the model, and the power we need for rebuilding our families.

We have good news for families and marriages. There is a gospel which shows us how to restore our homes. It assures us of God’s blessing when we become committed to his ways. It is our duty not only to experience this wonderful forgiveness and restoration, but also to present it to the world around us by our word and example. Help the world you live in come to know our Faithful and Loving Lord.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

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About Bob Burridge

I've taught Science, Bible, Math, Computer Programming and served 25 years as Pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Pinellas Park, Florida. I'm now Executive Director of the ministry of the Genevan Institute for Reformed Studies

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