What is the purpose of marriage? Is it to display Christ’s love for the church?

The Bible says the purpose of marriage is:

  1. the mutual help of husband and wife (Gen 2:18),
  2. the preventing of uncleanness (1 Cor 7:2,9),
  3. the increase of mankind with a legitimate issue (Gen 1:28).
    (As is summarized in the Baptist Confession of Faith 1689, chapter 25, paragraph 2.1)

Some have extended the third point by referring not only to the increase of mankind with legitimate issue, but the increase of the Church with a holy seed (Mal 2:15). (Westminster Confession of Faith, 1646, chapter 24, paragraph 2.2)

However, there are many Christian leaders today who say that marriage has an even higher purpose which is more important than companionship, prevention of sin, and procreation. They are saying that the foremost purpose of marriage is illustrative: to display the covenant-keeping love of God.

Their teaching is causing victims of abuse to stay in dreadful marriages out of a desire to not besmirch the name of God.

The Bible does not say the purpose of marriage is to signify or display God’s love for the church. Let me share with you a few words from Ps Sam Powell:

I could not agree with the statement “marriage is designed to signify the covenantal love between Christ and His church”. The love between Christ and His church is to be emulated in marriage, but marriage isn’t a sacrament. God has already given us the Lord’s Supper to signify union with Christ…. (link)

In Ephesians 5, Paul uses the love between Christ and His church to describe how a husband and wife should relate. Certainly, the love between Christ and His bride — all who have in humility recognised and received Jesus as their Saviour and Lord — is to be emulated in marriage. The example of Christ and the church is a model for married couples to aspire to, though in human marriage the spiritual depth of intimacy and oneness cannot be as pure or deep as that between Christ and His bride.

The idea that human marriage signifies the union between Christ and the church is mentioned in The Form of Solemnisation of Matrimony, Anglican Book of Common Prayer, 1662. But the signifying quality is not declared to be the purpose of marriage.

The traditional Anglican service begins with a beautiful preamble, then it states the three purposes of marriage. (All emphasis in quotes is mine, unless otherwise stated.)

Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this Congregation, to join together this man and this woman in holy Matrimony; which is an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man’s innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church; which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with his presence, and first miracle that he wrought, in Cana of Galilee; and is commended of Saint Paul to be honourable among all men: and therefore is not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, to satisfy men’s carnal lusts and appetites, like brute beasts that have no understanding; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God; duly considering the causes for which Matrimony was ordained.

First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name.

Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ’s body.

Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.

The traditional Anglican service says matrimony “is an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man’s innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church.” But does not say that this signifying quality of marriage is one of the three purposes of marriage.

After the couple have said their vows, the Anglican minister says the following prayer which refers again to the signifying quality of marriage:

O God, who by thy mighty power hast made all things of nothing; who also (after other things set in order) didst appoint, that out of man (created after thine own image and similitude) woman should take her beginning; and, knitting them together, didst teach that it should never be lawful to put asunder those whom thou by Matrimony hadst made one: O God, who hast consecrated the state of Matrimony to such an excellent mystery, that in it is signified and represented the spiritual marriage and unity betwixt Christ and his Church: Look mercifully upon these thy servants, that both this man may love his wife, according to thy Word, (as Christ did love his spouse the Church, who gave himself for it, loving and cherishing it even as his own flesh,) and also that this woman may be loving and amiable, faithful and obedient to her husband; and in all quietness, sobriety, and peace, be a follower of holy and godly matrons. O Lord, bless them both, and grant them to inherit thy everlasting kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Mystery….mystical union….what’s that all about?

Ephesians 5:30-32 says

For we are members of his body, of his flesh and of his bones. On this account must a man leave father and mother and continue with his wife, and the two will be made one flesh. This is a great mystery, but I speak as between Christ and the congregation.  (NMB)

The word “mystery” is the English translation of the Greek word musterion. The Roman Church bungled that word by translating it into the Latin word sacramentum. Allow me to quote John Calvin’s remarks on this because he explains it well:

This is a great mystery. He concludes by expressing his astonishment at the spiritual union between Christ and the church. This is a great mystery; by which he means, that no language can explain fully what it implies. It is to no purpose that men fret themselves to comprehend, by the judgment of the flesh, the manner and character of this union; for here the infinite power of the Divine Spirit is exerted. Those who refuse to admit anything on this subject beyond what their own capacity can reach, act an exceedingly foolish part. We tell them that the flesh and blood of Christ are exhibited to us in the Lord’s supper. “Explain to us the manner,” they reply, “or you will not convince us.” For my own part, I am overwhelmed by the depth of this mystery, and am not ashamed to join Paul in acknowledging at once my ignorance and my admiration. How much more satisfactory would this be than to follow my carnal judgment, in undervaluing what Paul declares to be a deep mystery! Reason itself teaches how we ought to act in such matters; for whatever is supernatural is clearly beyond our own comprehension. Let us therefore labor more to feel Christ living in us, than to discover the nature of that intercourse.

We cannot avoid admiring the acuteness of the Papists, who conclude from the word mystery (musterion) that marriage is one of seven sacraments, as if they had the power of changing water into wine. They enumerate seven sacraments, while Christ has instituted no more than two; and, to prove that matrimony is one of the seven, they produce this passage. On what ground? Because the Vulgate has adopted the word Sacrament (sacramentum) as a translation of the word Mystery, which the apostle uses. As if Sacrament (sacramentum) did not frequently, among Latin writers, denote Mystery, or as if Mystery had not been the word employed by Paul in the same Epistle, when speaking of the calling of the Gentiles. But the present question is, Has marriage been appointed as a sacred symbol of the grace of God, to declare and represent to us something spiritual, such as Baptism or the Lord’s Supper? They have no ground for such an assertion, unless it be that they have been deceived by the doubtful signification of a Latin word, or rather by their ignorance of the Greek language. If the simple fact had been observed, that the word used by Paul is Mystery, no mistake would ever have occurred.  (Calvin’s commentary on Ephesians 5:32)

Here are some other protestant authors who agree with Calvin:

….And they two shall be one flesh, that is, by virtue of the matrimonial bond. This is a great mystery, v. 32. Those words of Adam, just mentioned by the apostle, are spoken literally of marriage; but they have also a hidden mystical sense in them, relating to the union between Christ and his church, of which the conjugal union between Adam and the mother of us all was a type: though not instituted or appointed by God to signify this, yet it was a kind of natural type, as having a resemblance to it: I speak concerning Christ and the church….  (Matthew Henry’s commentary on Eph 5:32)

This is a great mystery; either, this that was spoken before of a marriage union between Christ and the church, and its being of his flesh and of his bones, is a great mystery, and so in the latter part of the verse the apostle explains himself. Or, this that was said of the conjunction of Adam and Eve was a great mystery, (i.e. a great secret in religion), as being a type of Christ’s marriage with his church; though not an instituted type appointed by God to signify this, yet a kind of natural type, as having a resemblance to it.  (Matthew Poole’s commentary on Eph 5:32)

In his sermon titled The Matchless Mystery, Charles Haddon Spurgeon preached on Ephesians 5:30 — “for we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones”. After expounding on how Adam’s words “she is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” connoted intimacy of relationship, Spurgeon says:

But I clearly see another and deeper meaning. It meant, from Adam’s lips, mysterious extraction. I will not make bold to say that he knew what had occurred to him in his sleep; he might not have known all, but he seems to have had a mystic enlightenment which made him guess what had occurred; at least the words seem to me to have that ring in them. “She is bone of my bones” — for a bone had been taken from him, “and flesh of my flesh,” for out of him had she been taken. He seems to have known that somehow or other she sprang from him; whether Adam knew it or not, Christ knows right well the origin of His spouse! He knows where His church came from! There is still the mark in His side; there is the memorial in the palms of His hands, and on His feet.

Where did this new Eve come from, this new mother of all living; from where came this spouse of the second Adam? She came of the second Adam! She was taken from His side, right near His heart!

Have you never read, “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abides alone; but if it dies, it brings forth much fruit”? Had Jesus never died, He would have been made to abide alone as to any who could be helpmeets for Him, and could enter into fellowship with Him. But, inasmuch as He has died, He has brought forth much fruit, and His church has sprung from Him. And in that sense she is bone of His bones, and flesh of His flesh.

“What do I mean by the church?” asks one. I mean by the church all the people of God, all the redeemed, all believers, as I explained at the commencement. Do you think I mean by the church the harlot of the seven hills? God forbid that Christ should have fellowship with her! How can He so much as look upon her except with horror? Do you think He means, by the church, the politically supported corporation that men call a church nowadays? No, but the spiritual, the quickened, the living, the believing, the holy people — wherever they may be — or by whatever name they may be called; these are they that sprang of Christ, even as Levi from the loins of Abraham! They live because they receive life from Him, and at this day they are dead in themselves — and their life is hid with Christ in God. So the text leads us to a deep meditation as to mysterious extraction.  [Paragraph breaks added by Barbara Roberts, for the ease of modern readers.]

Many Christian leaders these days are echoing the Roman Catholic view more than the Protestant view

Some Protestants take the idea that marriage signifies unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church….and turn this signifying quality into one of the purposes of marriage.

John Piper has been most prolific in this regard. He believes that the chief purpose of marriage is to display the covenant keeping love of God for the church. This was a major theme in his book This Momentary Marriage. And he devoted three chapter to it in his book What Jesus Demands of the World. I could give dozens of quotes to prove this, but I’ll only give two.

….the most ultimate thing you can say about marriage is that it is for the display of God….Marriage exists most ultimately to display the covenant-keeping love between Christ and his church. (Marriage: God’s Showcase of Covenant-Keeping Grace)  [Emphasis in original.]

He calls Genesis 2:24 a “mystery” because God did not reveal clearly all his purposes for the marriage of male and female in Genesis. There were hints and pointers in the Old Testament that marriage was like the relation of God and his people. But only when Christ came did the mystery of marriage get spelled out in detail. It is meant to be a portrait of Christ’s covenant with his people, his commitment to the church.  (Male and Female He Created Them in the Image of God)

Tim Challies follows John Piper. And he’s pretty blatant in claiming that he has a more accurate view than the early Reformers. He says that the ‘display’ purpose of marriage is more important than the mutual comfort, godly offspring, and a means of avoiding sexual sin:

Though marriage provides many wonderful benefits including mutual comfort, godly offspring, sexual fulfillment, and a means of avoiding sexual sin, these are not its highest purpose. Marriage is not a man-made institution primarily for man’s benefit, but rather a God-made institution primarily for God’s glory. The highest purpose of marriage is to display to the world the sacrificial love of Christ for his bride, the church. Here is how Paul teaches this: “‘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).  (What’s the Purpose of Marriage?.Tim Challies)

Gary Thomas also follows Piper:

….The key question is this: Will we approach marriage from a God-centered view or a man-centered view? In a man-centered view, we will maintain our marriage as long as our earthly comforts, desires, and expectations are met. In a God-centered view, we preserve our marriage because it brings glory to God and points a sinful world to a reconciling Creator.  (Sacred Marriage: What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy?, Gary Thomas.)

John MacArthur, in his book The Fulfilled Family, brings in the word “sacred” – which is reminiscent of the Roman Catholic sacramentum. MacArthur says:

The sacredness of the church is wed to the sacredness of marriage; so by your marriage, you are either a symbol or a denial of Christ and His church. (Source.)

I could give more examples from other well-known Protestant authors, but I don’t want to make this post too long.

To sum up

  • Is the purpose of marriage to display Christ’s covenant-keeping love for the church?
  • If a Christian seeks divorce on biblical grounds, is that Christian giving a bad witness to the world because he or she is not displaying the Gospel?

I believe the answer to those questions is NO.


1The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith

2Westminster Confession of Faith (1646)

[May 4, 2022: Editors’ notes:

—For some comments made prior to May 4, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to May 4, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to May 4, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (May 4, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]


For further reading

Grace Community Church Rejected Elder’s Calls to ‘Do Justice’ in Abuse Case — Christianity Today, February 9, 2023.

Former Elder at John MacArthur’s Church Confronts ‘Awful Patterns’ of Endangering Abuse Victims — The Roys Report, February 9, 2023.

What does the Bible say about divorce?

21 thoughts on “What is the purpose of marriage? Is it to display Christ’s love for the church?”

  1. Realizing that God knows the heart of the good and the evil, it would not be a reasonable assumption to allow abusive men / women in marriage to be a godly prototype.

    One more confusing teaching that I grew up that never made sense.

    There is so much more to your post that I must think on.

  2. Preserving an abusive marriage just shows the world that we are in bondage to slavery and allows the sinner to keep on sinning without any consequences. Redemption and reconciliation need to be real to mean anything.

  3. What a heavy [thing?] to lay on already imperfect people, that they cannot fail at marriage because if they do they have failed to properly witness to others and so by implication may be the cause of someone going to hell because of their hypocrisy, or even worse, that they have failed to properly uphold an image of God’s love for the church. I’ve heard variations of that theme before and I think it amounts to something like, “Well, if you are really a Christian, failure should not occur or be an option if you are really saved and really obedient.”

    1. I was told “you are the reason for all the trouble in the church.” I was told “you have been doing everything in the flesh”, despite always being told the ministries I was involved in were a real blessing to others and to themselves (pastor and his wife). I was regularly told how they loved that everything fits with other messages or ministries; all complimenting each other.

      Suddenly the “red rag” of divorce is mentioned and suddenly all those positives are changed to negatives and I am the reason there’s no blessing in the church. When all along they have realised there’s no blessing in the church due to the infighting of a few very legalistic people, who are demanding their way.

      The word “scapegoat”, perhaps wearing a little red coat, comes to mind before the raging bull. Btw, I don’t suit red clothing of any kind.

      Did it place a heavy burden on my heart? Of course it did. It broke my heart that I could be the very obstacle to God’s blessing, when all along believing I was following God’s will and direction. It shocked me and hurt me deeply.

      The pain of the thought that perhaps all I have gone through to protect a church and lead it hopefully closer to God was in fact turning others away from Christ was very hard to fathom and bear.

      It was not just ministries destroyed, but my spirit was well and truly crushed. Only now [just over a decade] later am I starting to come out from under all that weight and curse placed upon me. With much help from Barb and others here in ACFJ, I am beginning to break through much of that spiritual abuse.

      [Detail airbrushed for protection. Editors]

  4. I cannot see any biblical evidence to support the claims that marriage is to signify the relationship between Christ and church in covenant union.

    What about marriage then between unbelievers? This does not fit that context in any shape or form, but in fact would contradict such. Yet many of these churches would still support a marriage covenant even between unbelievers. The most heathen of unbelievers who may wish to be married in a particular church are still given that right and married and given the same ritual and [the] same covenant applies. There is no way we could say any such marriage can signify Christ and the church, especially when it would be perhaps so anti-Christian or unbiblical in beliefs and morals etc.

    The other problem is that it is leading right into (as described here) the territory of accusers who say that marriage breakdowns or any marital problem is a bad witness or sinful, and both parties are at fault. It means then a marriage must be worked at to succeed and it implies if failing it’s due to not working hard enough or being loving enough.
    We know from experience the abusive marriage tends to have one partner doing all he / she can to maintain it, but it’s futile when no attempt is made and vows have been violated by the other partner.

    Abusive marriages are not bad witnesses to others. I for one was so ashamed I said little re my marriage to anyone, and even hid much from my own family. To this day only God and myself know the finer details and much is untold, mainly because of my utter disgust and the deep shame it would bring upon me if anyone even a tiny bit believed it.

    However, I did feel embarrassed and ashamed of what my marriage may be perceived by my neighbours and others observing. The receiving of domestic abuse was not just a stigma for me personally, but I felt a terrible witness, especially to those around me whilst ministering. I had to live with that for 18 years plus.

    There is no doubt in my mind it has brought a bad witness to others, but only because of false a perception and not that of reality. It was not of my own doing either, but no one knew the truth. One of the things that concerned me most was that my neighbours could hear when everything was “kicking off” and I tried to shut windows or go inside if verbal abuse was happening outside, to avoid the wrong perception and ruin my Christian witness. Hey guess what – did she care? No she shouted all the louder and opened the doors often yelling, “I’ll not shut up – I want everyone to know how abusive and evil a man you are”, and then out came a torrent of filth and damning accusations so loud people would hear.

    Having the premise that the marriage signifies the Christ / church-bride covenant just denies the reality of abusive marriages and therefore, invites spiritual abuse. Christ is not an abuser, the true church has just not been perfected, therefore it implies that such abuse in a marriage does not really exist and it’s a matter of imperfections that in time, with God’s help will be made better and eventually not exist. Total rubbish and denial of the truth.

    Ephesians 5:23-33

    The only Scriptures I see relating Christ and His church in any way to marriage are those in Ephesians 5, that make it clear that it is a supreme example to try and follow that of sacrificial love one for another. Loving the other as yourself for you are now of one body and unified. It is not a like-for-like or comparison as in signification. The comparison is not on the covenant, but on the love.

    Christ is our example both as a church and as individuals in marriage. We are to love and cherish each other as we would ourselves. Treating and preferring one another in love. This is true love not the “puppy love” we have or “physical” love. It is true agapé love. It is an example to follow not a covenant to copy. Logically the two cannot be the same. They are two different covenants. Similar in many ways, but not exact to be able to say “signifies!”

    If we do continue to say it signifies marriage then we also naturally run into the whole husband and headship debate arena. We know from many accounts of commenters how this has been seriously abused and used as a battering ram by husbands and churches to force a woman to submit to her abusive husband. This we know has been so damning and damaging to many and in some cases fatal.

    Another area for error in this belief is that we also see that Christ gave Himself up in sacrificial love, but He still brings condemnation to those who do not believe.

    Sacrifice may be given by both parties in a marriage. This is God’s idea of a true marriage, following His example, but when it is only a one-way sacrifice it cannot work as a definitive signifier of Christ and the church.

    Both parties must be given fully to each other. In abusive marriages we know that covenant is broken often even before the words of a ceremony are spoken.

    The vows of many are mere lip service moments to a means of control and self-gratification and certainly not for service or giving of oneself to their spouses to bring fulfilment, satisfaction and support to the other.

    What will Christ do with those who sin against Him and pay mere lip service? He will say, “depart from me I never knew you.” They are not the true church. Only the true church will be brought to perfection and presented spotless before the throne of a Holy God.

    Christ said it often on earth chastising those who paid mere lip service to God, but were like a “brood of vipers” or “whitewashed tombs.” He made it clear in John 3:17 they are condemned already.

    We see the wrath of God as punishment for sin before a holy God.

    Therefore a Christ-less marriage is mere lip service just as much as is an abusive one. There is no substance and as far as I can see Christ sees such a covenant as words only, certainly from one party and knows there is no proper or truthful mutual agreement or sacrificial union. Therefore, marriage cannot be seen as His union with the church which is redeemed by His precious blood and will be brought before God without spot or blemish, perfect before the throne of God – clothed in His righteousness to stand faultless. To say all marriages signify this union is ridiculous, simply as all marriages will not be brought to perfection. Individuals, if true believers, will one day be perfected, but not as married partners.

    There is nothing to suggest a significance, but there is everything to suggest the ultimate example to follow and grave consequences when they are not followed.

    An abusive partner cannot be held accountable for their spouse’s sin. Just as they cannot be held accountable for anyone’s sin. But abuse does have consequences as do the sins of our forefathers that must be broken and dealt with.

    This is what divorce signifies. It is a renunciation of sin in a covenant marriage that will or should not have any more consequence upon that partner. Thus we seek to recover our lives and break the curses of sin and consequences of sin that effect us physically, mentally and spiritually as we heal and seek God in every facet of our being. Recovering what is right and good and lovely.

    Marriage is not to signify the Christ / church covenant, but it most certainly should if properly lived out display the love in such a covenant.

    The union of Christ and His church is only perfected as Christ who through His righteousness has made perfect and although whilst in this world the bride is being perfected. She is still not fully ready.

    How any of this is signified by the marriage covenant even between two believers is beyond me, as this would surely mean that a marriage will never be perfect until believers are perfect. On the final day marriage will not be perfect as we will be effectively no longer married.

    Logically it does not play out as far as my mind’s concerned.

    We are to love each other according to Ephesians 5, but it only signifies the sacrificial love giving, not the covenant.

    Christ’s covenant with His church will be perfected and whilst His church is perfected, the earthly marriage covenant will no longer exist. This would logically [be] if it signified, then would surely mean Christian marriages will be made perfect on that final day and will continue to exist for eternity. Marriages will not be made perfect, but believers will be presented perfect. There’s a massive difference between the two.

    Therefore, the marriage covenant cannot surely signify Christ’s covenant with the church-bride. They are two very different covenants as has been explained many times here in ACFJ.

    To those still in abusive relationships, please grasp that you are not to blame and that if married the covenant is already broken. It took me a long time to realise that once the abuse started, those vows before God were broken, not by me but by my abusive spouse.

    The pastor who gave me so much spiritual abuse quoted Ephesians 5 in part only to me regarding husbands, and I told him I already knew my Scriptures and don’t quote out of context. He was trying to tell me not to give up on the marriage ,for Christ has not given up on His bride and all will work out and be made good in the end.

    These verses are not referring at all to divorce nor referring to the abusive situation I was in within my marriage. I asked, “Why are you only quoting to me and browbeating me quoting only the husband’s part of these Scriptures? I know my Scriptures and there are two sides to that marriage relationship.” They said nothing (not once referring my wife to her vital part of that marriage covenant) and changed tactic, but continued to accuse me.

    To be quoting these verses to me for not “loving” an abusive wife, yet not a word of encouragement / criticism or any words meted out towards her that whole time whatsoever was not only wrong, but sinful. It was gross negligence not to get to the truth of the marriage problem and gross negligence to not rightly divide the word of truth. This is what happens when one man has a view of divorce as totally sinful in God’s eyes and marriage partners must be kept together at any cost because of the premise you signify Christ and the church as His bride.

    I’ve totally renounced that day or meeting as abuse sinful, evil and wrong. I will not entertain it. I am still struggling with some consequences of it, but have made major breakthroughs since I have taken authority in Christ over those words spoken over me in condemnation and accusation – especially the utterance that I was cursed by God according to Ephesians 5. Something which I also had to battle with my family on who agreed with him on before really thinking it all through with all the facts. I rejected this view and meeting totally as of the devil and due to man’s ignorance of the facts that were laid before him, but not most certainly not listened to.

    In my opinion, no marriage can be perfect simply due to the Fall and until the final resurrection in the last day we are imperfect beings. However, in Christ we strive to follow His example and therefore to quote Ephesians to me alone as if I was the sinful party was very much one-sided, unbiblical and unethical.

    I am not to blame for the breakdown of my marriage and I was doing all in my power to keep it together until I realised that due to persistent abuse it was broken and could never be fixed. I had (for sake of my sanity and my life) to break free.

    If marriage is to signify Christ’s covenant then why did my marriage or any marriage break down, as Christ WILL redeem His church? This is why so many like my own pastor deny divorce as an option and say there is hope, stick at it, work through your problems for there’s hope. Totally missing the mark completely and because of never being given a voice, he put me out of the ministries I was involved in and quietly out of the church. He spoke based on a manipulated, twisted view and statements from my wife that to this day I have never got to hear what they were, made remarks and took actions that destroyed ministries and much more, inc at that time crushing my spirit. That was the last straw and I had no fight left within me and I just plain gave up.

    How anyone can take God’s word regarding love and make such a hardhearted, harsh accusation and condemnation before even being given a fair hearing just is staggering and sinful. When marriage is seen as Christ’s covenant and must not be broken, but all will be redeemed and put right, is it any wonder I got such abuse….and others I sadly so identify with here at ACFJ got similar spiritual abuse.

    Sad thing is, my church denomination does not see it as a sacrament nor advocates marriage as signifying any other covenant, but only refers Ephesians 5 as a demonstration of Christ’s sacrificial love and therefore in response the churches sacrificial love for Christ.

    Often spiritual abuse can occur when we do just deal with confessions of faith alone, or discipline orders of denominations, or simply taking Scriptures out of context to support our beliefs or doctrinal preferences. However, sometimes as we have already seen, pastors and leaders taking Scriptures out of context and sometimes out of line even within their own codes of denominational discipline.

    From experience the damage that can last a lifetime can be done so quickly and easily without any love or afterthought because of one wrong concept regarding the marriage covenant such as this one being discussed.

    1. Christ’s covenant with His church will be perfected and whilst His church is perfected, the earthly marriage covenant will no longer exist. This would logically [be] if it signified, then would surely mean Christian marriages will be made perfect on that final day and will continue to exist for eternity. Marriages will not be made perfect, but believers will be presented perfect. There’s a massive difference between the two.

      This^ is so good. Thanks for saying it, Now Free. 🙂

    2. You touched upon so much here that it’s hard to know where to start!

      I felt terrible reading things like this:

      The receiving of domestic abuse was not just a stigma for me personally, but I felt a terrible witness, especially to those around me whilst ministering….

      ….There is no doubt in my mind it has brought a bad witness to others, but only because of a false perception and not that of reality.

      I know what you mean. My abuser was my father, and I felt immediate pressure to witness to him after my conversion. It was one disaster after another. I felt awful—-as if I lacked faith or was doing it all wrong. I would lose my temper at times with him—-I was a brand new believer and not at all ready for such a heavy task. Not to make excuses—-just to explain how unwise and unrealistic my mind was working.

      Barb has mentioned in the past that an “overnight” type of conversion does happen, but it tends to be quite rare. I was certainly no overnight miracle!

      Therefore a Christ-less marriage is mere lip service just as much as is an abusive one.

      Spot on. Christians need to understand that He cannot be deluded. You can sing worship songs at the top of your lungs and make long, lengthy prayers that bring everyone to tears, but if you are living a lie—-He is not deceived. Never can be and never will be.

      An abusive partner cannot be held accountable for their spouse’s sin. Just as they cannot be held accountable for anyone’s sin.

      Statements like that have been incredibly freeing for me. Coming to Christ is of course about taking responsibility for your own personal sins. But it also frees you from whatever unnecessary weight you might have been carrying for the sins of others. God does not hold you responsible for what others have done to you, but so often we don’t realize that.

      It has taken me years to realize that I was not responsible for my father’s abuse. I could not fathom that I was not at least partially to blame.

      My dad would often push my buttons on purpose because he liked to pick fights with me. That way he could claim that I “made” him yell at me, if I started yelling first. In situations like that, I couldn’t quite discern where my sin began, and his took over—if that makes sense.

      Because I was the child, and he was the parent—-it got even more confusing when bringing in certain factors. When was I being an immature child or teenager, or young adult—-and I needed to be disciplined—-and when was he being an immature parent who needed to learn how to control himself when disciplining me?

      The truth is that an abuser is responsible for the abuse, period.

      As a marriage is not supposed to reflect our perfect union with Christ, a parent / child relationship does not reflect our perfect Heavenly Father / Biblical child relationship.

      This statement also applies to what I just said:

      Marriage is not to signify the Christ / church covenant, but it most certainly should if properly lived out display the love in such a covenant.

      A parent / child relationship CAN certainly reflect our Father in Heaven’s love for us, but only if it’s properly lived out, as you put it so well.

      But, all of the best earthly fathers in the world put together do not even come one bit close to the perfection of our Father in Heaven. There is no way they could all even come close to competing with Him, because He is a completely different arena than us. The best they can do is to aim to resemble Him, but it will only be a tiny glimpse of the reality that He is.

      I am so sorry for what happened with your pastor and that church. And your ministries. That was heartbreaking to read:

      This is what happens when one man has a view of divorce as totally sinful in God’s eyes and marriage partners must be kept together at any cost because of the premise you signify Christ and the church as His bride.

      Something I try to do to encourage newer believers, or anyone who is seeking Biblical wisdom, is to weigh and test everything. Yes, you may be a baby Christian who is looking to be mentored by someone who has been a believer for a lot longer than you. Or, you are in a bad situation and you desperately need an open, objective ear and sound, godly advice.

      You have the same Holy Spirit as they claim to have, so anything and everything they tell you can be confirmed or denied by He who lives in you. Yes, that takes discernment, but that too is something that He works in us. God doesn’t play favorites, so I don’t think others can claim that they have “more Holy Spirit” in them than you do. We simply ask for His Spirit, and He gives.

      If something doesn’t sit right with you, you might be onto something. Don’t dismiss it right away. I did that for years, and in looking back I was not as foolish as I assumed. Doesn’t matter if it is a popular preacher or famous Christian or someone with a ton of followers—well-loved and beloved by all. Trust the Lord before you trust the opinion of others!

      I’ll give an example. Years ago, Kathy Lee Gifford was being interviewed about her spouse’s affair. She said that when she found out, almost immediately God reminded her of all her sins (or at least some of them; can’t recall the exact words). If she was such a sinner, and God forgave her—-that humbled her to where she could forgive him. That was how I understood her explanation.

      That puzzled me. It sounded good on paper (especially if the marriage covenant remained unbroken) but that is not Biblical. God does not “remind” us of our sins in the way she described. When they are forgiven, they are wiped away for good. Not only that, but what does her sinfulness have to do with her husband sins? They are two completely separate issues. And her sinfulness had nothing to do with her husband choosing to commit adultery. Why in the world did she feel the need to bring that up?

      If she chose to stay with him, by all means. That was her choice. But professing that sort of pseudo Christianity is dangerous. I truly hope no one took her testimony to heart and tried to apply it to their own situations.

      1. Thank you, Helovesme, for your, as always, very encouraging words. I will take a few posts [comments] to reply to a few things, as you raised something very important in my mind which I will not deal in this comment but another.

        I am so sorry to hear of your father’s terrible abuse, but as you say abuse is abuse, in fact I only read it in scripture as being called sin.

        I do note it is extremely difficult for a child and probably even more-so as a teenager (trying to make sense of life amidst bodily changes) knowing when abuse occurs and when is it discipline. It is hard enough as an adult to fathom out, and often as I’ve spoken to people I have realised there is no real reasoning. It is what it is – sin! It can raise its head at any time and often there needs no reason or circumstances. We may try and keep it at bay, walking on eggshells or other means of self-protection, but we have found they do not really make a big difference. The abuser will find a way and some reason in their own mind should it only be to be playing some warped and wicked game to abuse anyway.

        (Jeremiah 17:9 [ESV])
        The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

        (Mark 7:21-23 [ESV])
        For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.

        As the scriptures say, the heart of man is above all wicked and deceitful. We are all born in sin, but we also have the capacity to know good from evil. Right from the Fall of mankind in the garden of Eden we have known this. It is what Satan tempted Eve with Genesis 3:4-5:

        “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” [NIV]

        We however do not need to abuse others, even though we have a sinful nature. God has given us common sense, an intellect and made us creatures that are still capable of love and concern for others. There is none of us exempt from that. There is an age of understanding, yes, built into the scriptures, but nevertheless we all have the capacity if we remain in sin to be such a slave to sin that we allow evil to control us. Some people choose to ignore any good or right way and as stated often they seem to allow their proud hearts to rule above all decency and they feel they have an entitlement to lord it over others.

        Even Peter makes it clear in 1 Peter 5:2-3:

        Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them — not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. [NIV]

        We are never to lord it over others no matter our circumstances, whether parent to child, marriage partners, boss to worker and vice versa, including pastors / leaders to church members. No one has any entitlement, not even a king over his subjects, to lord it over someone. We may have a position of authority, but we do not have a position to dominate or control.

  5. I have been looking forward to reading this! From a previous post, someone made a comment that got me thinking in this direction: what is the purpose of a Biblical marriage?

    My mind actually phrased it this way: Why do people get married? Is it out a sense of duty, or a fear of being alone, or a need for a partner in life, and in work or in ministry? Is it solely out of a desire for children? Are you pressured to settle down? Is marriage a way to signify that you are now officially an adult, and no longer a child?

    Of all people, Christians should at least, in part, know the answer to such questions. I am not implying that Christians should have ALL the answers. But we should try to be agreed and united about what marriage is NOT supposed to be like, and look like—and there are solid reasons why you should or should not get married.

    What Pastor quoted was about as good as you can get:

    The love between Christ and His church is to be emulated in marriage, but marriage isn’t a sacrament.

    Barb too is an excellent writer. When she used the phrase to describe what marriage is NOT:

    to display the covenant-keeping love of God.

    –I was blown away by how well she put it.

    I don’t know about everyone else, but as far as I can recall—marriage WAS described as a significant reflection of our relationships with the Lord. Not in its entirety, of course (that would be obviously blasphemous), but about as near as you could get.

    IMO, that sort of attitude opens the door for idolatry and all sorts of abuse. And the ones who are to blame for opening those doors, are the ones who need to take responsibility for their false teachings. The abusers choose to abuse, and they are responsible for that. But those that opened the door to give them “Biblical permission” are also responsible for their part.

    There is a big difference between life before and during a marriage. I heard all sorts of things about marriage before I got married, but I had no experience of my own to either back up or debunk their views. A lot of what they spoke of seemed Biblical—-at least on paper. They also seemed to have their own marriages as “proof” that they knew what they were talking about.

    When I did get married, I was finally able to test their theories, if that makes sense, in a real life setting. What was written on paper was now put into action!

    I have to make it clear that my marriage could have easily crashed and burned for all sorts of reasons. And without a doubt, false or inaccurate teachings did not help.

    What Barb wrote is 100% TRUE. Anyone can argue and debate all they want, but I’m living proof that she is right:

    Certainly, the love between Christ and His bride – all who have in humility recognised and received Jesus as their Saviour and Lord – is to be emulated in marriage. The example of Christ and the church is a model for married couples to aspire to, though in human marriage the spiritual depth of intimacy and oneness cannot be as pure or deep as that between Christ and His bride.

    My walk with the Lord is 100% separate from my marriage. My spouse and my Savior are in two completely separate and different arenas. No one owns me except for Him. I don’t recall my spouse shedding his blood for me, to purchase me as his own. And I didn’t do that for him, either. My spouse is not owned by me any more than I am owned by him. And I have no desire to own him like a possession—that is downright insulting.

    Can anyone imagine the Lord being honored in a marriage where one or both persons have this sort of attitude? How in the world does that reflect His love?

    And it’s useless to pull out arguments about sacrifice and suffering as displayed in the Word, to justify all sorts of misery that can exist within a marriage. That may have fooled me once, but not anymore.

    But a relationship like marriage—where a covenant IS involved, and it’s therefore serious indeed—-exists to love someone else, and to be loved in return. And to work hard so that the spouse knows and believes that they are loved. And your spouse should do the same for you. It is NOT selfish to want to be loved in return. You are not a horrible person for giving your love to your spouse, and wanting to be loved in return. It’s a two-sided covenant.

    Does anyone really believe that the Lord would ever put His daughters, all of whom He died for and loves just as much as His sons—-into a form of bondage, or slavery—-and cover it up by calling it “Biblical marriage?”

    I don’t trust my spouse like I trust my Savior. I DO trust my spouse, of course—but not like I trust Him. There is a purity and perfection to Him that my spouse could never match, or even try to aspire to. And again—-this works in reverse. I would absolutely cringe in horror if he tried to trust me in the same exact ways he trusts the Lord.

    Someone gave me a wonderful analogy once: we are equally yoked like two oxen, and the driver is Jesus—leading, guiding and directing us both as equals.

    That analogy cleverly debunks so much false teaching out there about marriage. I am in no way obligated to be submissive to my spouse in a way that he is not obligated to be submissive to me in return. And we are BOTH supposed to be COMPLETELY submitted to our mutual Savior.

    And by the way, we are compelled by His love to live that way. NOT coerced. If it is any way coerced, it’s not love. It’s a form of slavery. I don’t care if it’s for a so-called Biblical purpose, or that good will come out of it. If you were coerced, it wasn’t worth it, because you diminished your own sense of worth in the process—-and that is never worth it.

    If a marriage is not working the right way (or aiming to work that way), the results are disastrous. As a woman of God, you do not owe your spouse anything that you are not willing to freely give to him. This includes intimacy, in and out of the bedroom. That does not seem to be understood by churches or Christians in general.

    I used to hear marriage described as form of slavery. A spouse is open and vulnerable to being abused in the most personal ways, due to the structure of marriage. You live, eat and sleep with that person. Your spouse has access to you in a way that no one else does.

    Churches do not seem to understand this. They still seem to hang on to some strange, idealized version of marriage that is completely false, and therefore dangerous.

    When you have the idea that marriage reflects the bond between Christ and His church—-you make the assumption that Christ (as represented by the husband) would never harm his bride (as represented by the wife). So there is denial, delusion and downright deception right from the start—-if a wife dares to even imply that her husband is hurting her.

    No, Christ would never abuse His bride. But His creation can, and does. The reasons why abusers choose to abuse might be varied—-but the conclusion is the same: do not liken a spouse to our Savior.

    I’ve picked up on a few interesting things as I’ve walked with the Lord. One is that He is not like His creation. We are made in His image, but that does not mean that we reflect His image very well. In fact, we often prove the exact opposite. I’ve seen this in my life—-and it gives me great joy to know that while others flee and forsake—-He is faithful and never forsakes.

    The other is that romantic love seems to be idolized and held up as the highest form of love. I don’t see that in the Word. The Lord said that the greatest love is when you lay down your life for your friends. Married couples SHOULD be friends, by the way—-but you don’t have to be married in order to have friends that you love so deeply.

    The relationship between two human beings, in the Word, that I prize the highest and would most want to emulate—-in and out of marriage—is the love and friendship between David and Jonathan. They are the ones who, IMO, are one of the greatest demonstrations of His love. The verses that describe how much they cared for each other are incredibly powerful, and intense. I can only hope and pray that I can love others (including my spouse) like they loved each other.

    And may I note that these two men were NOT lovers, and they certainly were not married.

    John Calvin’s quotes you offered were brilliant, by the way. The union we have with Christ cannot be put into words—-because it reflects something so deep and intense. And marriage can never compete with that, nor should it ever try to.

    By the way, if a person does decide to leave a marriage due to abuse —-I believe you have actually honored Him, not dishonored Him. No, I don’t glory in divorce! Not at all! I cringe in horror at such an act, because it is a very painful process indeed.

    But God does not need marriage in order to be glorified. His glory was there before we existed, and it will be there after we are gone. He doesn’t need marriage to prove that He is worthy. If marriage is supposedly so glorious, then why did Jesus make it clear it won’t exist in Heaven? You would think it would carry over right into the afterlife, if He prized it so high.

    I’m sorry this went on for so long, but this is something I picked up on in the Christian world that made me very angry.

    Don’t let anyone use the argument about what’s “best” for your kids if you are ready to escape an abusive marriage. Do not let anyone idolize a “two parent” household over your own (and your children’s) safety and protection. Don’t believe the lie that if you choose to become a single parent, your home is going to be dysfunctional and you will be a “broken” family as a result. Your kids are doomed to be messed up and the resulting dysfunction will “curse” them. And they will be “cursed” in some way, because God hates divorce. Marriage is all about having kids (or is at least a major reason to get married), so to honor those kids, you have to honor your marriage.

    That is simply not Biblical. Yes, single parenthood is hard work! And yes, two parents are better than one—for sure. Yes, your kids might need some counseling to sort things out. But these are fear tactics. A household that is full of His love is what matters most. That is what your kids will hopefully carry away when they leave the house.

    By the way, I grew up in a two parent household, and it was a horrible childhood. Two parent households do not equal a healthy, functional family.


    Matrimony or wedlock is a state or a degree ordained of God, and an office wherein the husband serveth the wife, and the wife the husband.

    It was ordained for a remedy, and to increase the world, and for the man to help the woman, and the woman the man with all love and kindness; and not to signify any promise that ever I heard or read of in the Scripture.

    Therefore ought it not to be called a Sacrament. It hath a promise that we sin not in that state, if a man receive his wife as a gift given to him of God, and the wife her husband likewise; as all manner [of] meats and drinks have a promise that we sin not, if we use them measurably with thanksgiving.

    If they call matrimony a Sacrament because the Scripture useth the similitude of matrimony to express the marriage, or wedlock, that is between us and Christ;

    (for as a woman though she be never so poor, yet when she is married, is as rich as her husband: even so we when we repent and believe the promises of God in Christ, though we be never so poor sinners, yet are as rich as Christ; all his merits are ours with all that he hath;)

    if for that cause they call it a sacrament, so will I mustard seed, leaven, a net, keys, bread, water, and a thousand other things which Christ and the prophets, and all the Scripture use, to express the kingdom of heaven and God’s word withal.

    They praise wedlock with their mouth, and say it is an holy thing, as it is verily, but have lever be sanctified with an whore, than to come within the sanctuary.

    Source: The Works of the English Reformers: William Tyndall, and John Frith, 1531, Vol. 1. pages 287-288.

    1. Thank you so much for this, Grafted In! I greatly admire the work of William Tyndale, as you know. And I’ve heard of John Frith but don’t know a lot about him. The quote you put here is superb. I will be giving a heads up about it to Ruth Magnusson Davis.

      I changed your screen name to Grafted In as that’s what you have used before.

      I hope you keep giving us gems like this!

      1. You are welcome, Barbara!

        William Tyndale was truly a man gifted with heavenly graces. His “gems” seem to fit right in place with your post.

    2. Tyndale such a loving and insightful man! Thank you, Grafted In (and Barb). That is an interesting point about the modern church moving to a Roman Catholic view. I have been noticing that in a lot of things. And Roman Catholic-like coverups of abuse, too….

      1. You are welcome, Ruth!

        The humbleness and love of Tyndale shines through in all his writings.

        Thank you again, Barbara. May your post help give insight to those held in bondage to marriages, by treacherous men (or women). The leaven of the modern church teaching is in error.

      2. The Protestants that I knew who were covering up abuse were actually saying they were doing it because of the scandal of the Roman Catholic Churches in the country, and decided it was best to cover up some cases of domestic abuse simply to maintain the Protestant Christian ministries’ witness. They were afraid of being labelled the same and the pointy finger of accusation would then make it more difficult to witness when it was already receiving the strong opposition of the Roman Catholic and Ecumenical movements. I could see their [the Protestants] fear, but it meant women and children suffered on because of their [the Protestants] unwillingness to actually get them [the women and children] help when it was on a number of occasions asked for, and expose the abuser. That in itself is good reason to act, and act right.

        I have always said the witness of such ministries is strengthened by integrity and speaking out truth and against injustice. In my opinion, it would have served those leaders [the Protestants] better to have stood strong by those women and seen them receive justice and counselling etc. In my view, the witness to those around would have been strengthened, when many had already left the Catholic Church having lost faith in it due to abuse cover ups and scandals. Those people would have praised them [the Protestants] for standing up for truth and justice, rather than tearing them apart.

        Needless to say, when the stories eventually broke (when at last decent Christians spotted the abuse and gave them [the women and children] assistance), those who covered up were also exposed and the Christian people were ashamed of them and the leaders and ministries suffered severe criticism. In the end, it did them no good and brought shame upon their own heads.

        “Them that honour me I will honour”, says the Lord God. [Paraphrase of 1 Samuel 2:30]

  7. (Airbrushing….)

    I was married in an Anglican church, but certainly not using the words Barb cited in the post. To be honest, I don’t remember much about my wedding – only snippets.

    I married an unbeliever, not knowing this at the time. Like everything else, his lies hid the truth. And his family talked a good game.

    It was only after we married he mocked my faith, my participation in church activities, and my dogged obedience to God. I would sit in the empty church and stare at the cross. In later years, during periods of incredibly intense healing, I would cling to the cross I wear around my neck.

    I have followed God to some very odd places, and the Holy Spirit protected me. I wish I had had other choices, but they turned deaf ears.

    In hindsight, though I married an unbeliever, I did everything I could to be a Christian wife. Not because of wedding vows I no longer remember, not because a pastor told me this was the way to act, but because that is who I am and who God created me to be.

    I doubt my anti-x has changed, but I most certainly have — I have become closer to God, I have leaned on Jesus Christ as my Saviour and Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit continues as my closest Counsellor.

    1. It’s so encouraging, Finding Answers, to see how God is leading and guiding you into all truth, healing and restoring you. It’s such a blessing to hear.

      Truly God has given us His spirit as another comforter. The great “Paraclete” as the Greek puts it is also the great “dunamos”. He will continue to guide, comfort and give you strength to stand. He will see you through troubled waters and land you safely onto the shore.

      Praying for you as you continue to trust and see great breakthroughs.

  8. For whatever reason(s), it appears that many prominent neo-Calvinist pastors and theologians1 are intent on hyper-spiritualising the divine intention of marriage. This is somewhat ironic, however, given that, by its very nature, Protestant theology (Calvinistic or not) has always been vehemently anti-Roman Catholic.

    As regards the purported evangelistic purpose of Christian husbands and wives in marriage, the Ephesians 5 passage cannot be adduced as biblical support for this view. Challies’ assertion:

    The highest purpose of marriage is to display to the world the sacrificial love of Christ for his bride, the church.

    —is without foundation. In no way is a godly, sanctified marriage directly linked to the church’s promulgation (or the world’s reception) of the Gospel.

    As Piper will surely concede, the marriage institution, whilst a creation ordinance, is a temporal institution belonging strictly to this present, passing, evil age. In the coming age, the spiritual union of believers with Christ will be consummated and carry on everlastingly. The wedding is yet to come: at the return of the Lord Jesus.

    1(Especially those hailing from the United States (oftentimes of the Reformed Baptist variety.)

  9. On the purpose of marriage, William Tyndale said:

    Matrimony or wedlock is a state or a degree ordained of God and an office wherein the husband serveth the wife & the wife the husband. It was ordained for a remedy & to encrease the world & for the man to help the woman & the woman the man with all love & kindness.

    I am trying to find the original source of this quote. I came across it at @tyndaletweeteth

    1. For readers who might be interested in the answer to Barb’s question about the source of the quote she came across in the Twitter thread, @TyndaleTweeteth — and to save Barb the time of responding 🙂 —

      The response to Barb’s question was in the same Twitter thread and contained the following information:

      In “The Obedience of a Christian Man,” under the heading “Of Wedlock.” P. 287 of the Palmer edition of The Works I use.

      In my copy of the book, a Penguin Classics edition, edited with an introduction and notes by David Daniell, the quote is on page 110, and reads:

      Matrimony or wedlock is a state or a degree ordained of God and an office wherein the husband serveth the wife and the wife the husband. It was ordained for a remedy and to increase the world, and for the man to help the woman and the woman the man with all love and kindness,….

      The last part of the above sentence in my book is:

      ….and not to signify any promise that I ever heard or read of in the scripture

      I’m not sure, but the ampersands in the Twitter thread quote might be due to the fact that tweets have a limited number of characters.

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