What Is Marriage?

Rings marriage Pixabay before-695022_640.jpgBelow is a collection of quotes that have been written by different people defining what they believe marriage to be. They came from a variety of different books, web site and magazine articles that we’ve collected throughout the years. We pray you will find them to be insightful:

Marriage is a sacred covenant designed and blessed by God. In marriage, God joins two persons into one (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:5; Mark 10:8). Originally, marriage was created by God to reflect His image in humanity. Because of humanity’s fall into sin, marriage (and family) exists to magnify the worth, excellence, and glory of God in restoring His image in humanity through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In short, human marriage exists to preach the gospel of God (1 Timothy 1:11). God intends every human marriage to re-present the divine marriage of God to the new, redeemed humanity (the Church, Christ’s bride —see Ephesians 5:22-32; Revelation 19:7-10 and Revelation 21:9-27) through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. (Edited from a Familylife.com article titled: Overview: The Christian Marriage Covenant)

What is Marriage?

The most widely accepted ideas of “what the Bible says” about marriage all agree upon one important point: marriage is a covenant of lifelong commitment between a man and a woman. It’s not a contract which is subject to early termination. Certainly marriage involves contractual aspects such as compromise, bargaining, and many meetings of the minds over time, consideration, terms and conditions. But it involves much more.

Marriage does not have a fixed period of time like most contracts. It is for life. It is not based solely on mutuality, but instead involves the agreement to sacrifice, persevere in love, remain steadfast in sickness and health, for richer or poorer, sharing the good and the bad, the joys and the pains.

Marriage as a covenant, therefore, should not be seen as a contract that can be broken or set aside simply upon the mutual consent of spouses or upon the consent of one spouse because of irreconcilable differences or a breakdown in the relationship that leaves one or both feeling hopeless.

This is so because not only are two spouses involved and often times children as well, but God is at the center of Christian and Jewish marriages. (From a Familylife.com article titled: What is Covenant Marriage)

Marriage is a model of Christ and the church.

There are at least three reasons:

  1. This lifts marriage out of the sordid sitcom images and gives it the magnificent meaning God meant it to have;
  2. This gives marriage a solid basis in grace, since Christ obtained and sustains his bride by grace alone; and
  3. This shows that the husband’s headship and the wife’s submission are crucial and crucified. That is, they are woven into the very meaning of marriage as a display of Christ and the church, but they are both defined by Christ’s self-denying work on the cross so that their pride and slavishness are canceled. (Pastor John Piper)

For more of an explanation, please click onto the following links to either listen to or read 3 separate sermons:

• Staying in Marriage is Not About Staying in Love – Part 1

• Staying in Marriage is Not About Staying in Love – Part 2


• Marriage: God’s Showcase of Covenant-Keeping Grace

The following is wording for the “Oneness Covenant” —distributed by Family Life Today, which defines what they believe to be what God asks of us as we marry. This Covenant Contract is signed by the husband and wife and witnesses. It says:

“In consideration of God’s purposes for marriage as set forth below, we hereby agree to the following commitment:

• Whereas, our holy union is a state of fellowship that can be maintained only by mutual submission to the control and power of the Holy Spirit by faith;

• Our holy union is a trinity: husband, wife, and Jesus Christ;

• This holy union affects God’s reputation.

• Our holy union is an acceptable offering to God, performed on our part by the exercising of faith in Him.

• God uses our holy union as a strategic battle formation in His spiritual warfare with the prince of this world, Satan, and his fallen angels;

• God has established our holy union for His purposes. That is to:

— Mirror His image — Mutually complete one another — Multiply a godly heritage

• God has outlined a blueprint for accomplishing oneness in our holy union; that is to:

— Receive one another as God’s personal provision.

— Establish a new independent unit as a couple.

— Plus, establish an inseparable bond of commitment to one another.

— Establish personal sexual intimacy with one another

— Establish complete transparency by good communication with one another

— And establish appropriate role responsibilities

Now, therefore, be it resolved that we, the undersigned couple, in light of the above truths, forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead and with the intent of allowing God to make our marriage all He wants it to be, do hereby reaffirm our vows of holy matrimony to love, honor, and establish oneness whether in sickness or in health, in poverty or in wealth, until death do us part. Amen.

Legally, marriage is a contract with certain rights and responsibilities.

But we must distinguish between legal marriage and covenant marriage. In a legal marriage, if one party does not live up to the contract, then legal actions force them to do so or to end the marriage with an equitable settlement. A society could not exist without laws regulating marriage relationships, so in this sense, marriage is a contract. For a Christian, however, marriage is more; it is a covenant.

Contracts are important.

The problem arises when we come to view our marriage only as a contract or a series of contracts. When this happens, we have become totally secular in our thinking and have abandoned the biblical view of marriage. The Bible views marriage ultimately as a covenant although contracts may be an important part of carrying out our covenant.

Contract Characteristics:

There are five general characteristics of contracts.

1. Contracts are most often made for a limited period of time.

2. Contracts most often deal with specific actions.

3. Most contracts are based on an “If… Then…” mentality.

4. Contracts are motivated by the desire to get something we want.

5. Contracts are sometimes unspoken and implicit.

While marriage is a legal contract to be honored, and informal contracts within marriage often help us effectively use our differing skills to our mutual benefit, Christian marriage is much more than a contract. This “much more” is to be discovered in the word covenant.

Why the term covenant marriage?

Because it most clearly denotes the uniqueness of Christian marriage. Covenant is a biblical term. God is a covenant-making God.

(The following are some scriptures that deal with covenants in Scripture: Genesis 6:18; Genesis 17:3-8; Exodus 19:3-6; 2 Samuel 7:12-29; Jeremiah 31; Ezekiel 37; Hosea 2; Matthew 26:28; Luke 22:20; 2 Corinthians 3:6; Galatians 3:15; Hebrews 7:22; Hebrews 8:6; and Hebrews 13:20; 1 Samuel 18:1-3; Ruth 1:16-17; Proverbs 2:16-7; Ezekiel 16:8; Malachi 2:14-16; Matthew 19:4-9.)

Covenant Characteristics:

A covenant, like a contract, is an agreement made between two or more persons, but the nature of the agreement is quite different. 5 characteristics of a covenant relationship:

1. Covenants are initiated for the benefit of the other person.

2. In covenant relationships, people make unconditional promises.

3. Covenant relationships are based on steadfast love.

4. Covenant relationships view commitments as permanent.

5. Covenant relationships require confrontation and forgiveness.

Marriage is a God-planned creation, individually patterned and woven together to bring happiness and warmth to men and women —and joy and glory to the Creator.” (Shirley Cook from The Marriage Puzzle)

Did you catch those two words: planned and patterned?


The dictionary says a plan is a “detailed method for the accomplishment of an object; a proposed project or goal.”


This is “an ideal worthy of imitation —a model; a sample.” Plans and patterns are so necessary. But we come to God, the all-important ingredient of marriage. He is the permanent glue that bonds the pieces of the picture puzzle together. After all, marriage is God’s idea from the beginning, all the way through the middle, right to the end. (Shirley Cook from The Marriage Puzzle )

A common definition of marriage:

“It is two people seeking a peaceful co-existence together with the hope of obtaining a measure of personal happiness.” This is what people think marriage is —which is a “need-centered” approach to marriage.

A more Biblical definition:

Marriage is a man and a woman on a life-long journey together towards God. Marriage is about change. It’s about changing you and also changing your spouse. The purpose of marriage is that God wants to change all of us through it. And what helps us to change is when we begin to see that the hills and the valleys of the problems we live through together reveal the deeper character in our own hearts.

It’s important, from the very beginning, to understand the whole idea of marriage —that it’s not about making us feel good. That’s not why God brought us together. It’s not so you could have your needs met (although needs are met in marriage) but the primary purpose is to change us —to make us more into the image of Christ.

It is in the struggle that makes the journey of living a married life rich. It causes us to cling more deeply to the God who created us. And it causes us to have the courage to move in ways that makes us very vulnerable. And yet they’re also the ways we were made to bless our spouse as we live our lives displaying the character and values of Christ.” (Pastor Scott Engelman)

In Conclusion:

We’d like to share with you something we personally wrote on the subject of marriage a while ago. It tells of our passion and mission to help marriages. In it we reiterate some of the points that were made above. But it also makes some additional points that we think are important on this subject.

It talks about the difference between “Covenant Marriages” which seems to be the way that God intended for marriage to be all about in the first place. And it talks about “Contract Marriages” which is what we’re seeing marriage reduced to more and more in our world today. We pray you will find it to be helpful:


It is our passion to help couples work on their marriages so they are loving and healthy, as God intends for them to be. We personally feel God has given us the ministry of inspiring other couples to reveal and reflect the love of Christ within marriage. And with that foundation established, reaching out with the mission of drawing others closer to God because of the love witnessed through our covenantal, Christ-honoring marriages.

We also feel God has given us the message to those who are married. This message is that whatever is past is past —even if divorce is a part of your past. That’s between you and the Lord. But with the information that we’re giving you, it’s our prayer that “from this day forward,” you’ll work to make the marriage you’re in, a lifetime commitment,‘Till death parts you.”

Our passion to help other couples goes beyond just erasing the “D” word (divorce) from our thoughts, verbiage, and actions. However, that’s a great 1st step. Jay Kessler once said, “The absence of alternatives clears the mind marvelously.” Once you decide that divorce isn’t an even an option, you start finding different (healthier) alternatives to solving the problems you’re facing. It is our mission to help couples commit themselves to go beyond the “Contract Marriages” of today. We hope to inspire them to instead live out “Covenant Marriages” which is at the heart of God.

Marriage is a Living Picture

Throughout the Bible, marriage is referred to as a living picture. It is a living example displayed through those who are married of Christ’s love for the church. Christ is the bridegroom (just as the man who marries is to be a living example of the bridegroom). And the church (His people), are the bride of Christ (just as women who marry are to be living examples of the bride of Christ).

Jesus Christ takes very good care of His bride. He sacrificed His life for her. He also showed us through His example, how to love each other in the way He does and we should. God’s loving nature shows the world, by how we treat each other, how wonderfully different His love is than theirs. That way they will want to know His love better and eventually want to come to faith in Jesus Christ. When we enter into marriage we become models of God’s love for the world to see and want to know more about.

The bridegroom (displayed by married men) is to respond to his bride just as Christ does for His church. He is to sacrificially love her in his words and his actions. Christ is then given high visibility and honor and has the opportunity to display His loving nature through this man by how he treats his wife so that others will want to know God more personally. (The husband is to be faithful even if his bride is not. That shows forth the character of Christ in giving unconditional love. It’s an awesome responsibility.) The Holy Spirit is available, when called upon, to teach the man how to do this in his everyday life.

The Bride of Christ

The bride (displayed by married women) is to show her respectful ways to God’s loving faithfulness through how she interacts with her husband (the bridegroom). This is to be lived out to such an extent that others who don’t know Christ are drawn to the type of love that pours forth from her. Her faithfulness is to stay true despite the husband’s actions. That is also the nature and character of God. And that is part of being in a covenant relationship with God and your marriage partner. You are faithful no matter what —just as God is faithful! The Holy Spirit is also available, when called upon, to teach the woman how to do this in her everyday life.

It’s got to break the heart of God by the awful way so many spouses treat each other as He watches us distorting the picture of marriage. Think about it, when we, as His living examples of covenantal love, divorce each other, what does this say to the world of God’s promises to the Church of His love, faithfulness and devotion for them?

And what example, what message are we giving out to others of the “transforming power” that God can perform in our lives and marriages, when we, ourselves, don’t even utilize that power? It’s a sad testimony, that marriages today, are so weak and unhealthy, not to mention all the divorcing that’s going on!

Our Witness

We’ve personally known so many people who have expressed a disinterest in knowing Christ because of the nasty ways Christians treat each other by living unfaithful, dishonest, and dishonoring lives. If we, as people who claim to know Jesus Christ in a personal way, can’t act in loving and gracious towards each other, what makes others who don’t know Christ think He will change their lives for the better in any way? What will attract them to know Christ in a personal way?

How we pray more people will wake up to this fact and turn their lives around to the glory of God and help others to also do the same!

Recently, we heard of a young couple that had a Covenant contract written out before their wedding ceremony. They signed it during the ceremony and then had each guest also sign it before leaving the church.

The guests, by signing this contract, pledged to pray for this couple and keep them accountable to live in accordance to how a covenant marriage should be modeled. They pledged to make sure that this couple would never break this covenant. What a beautiful and yet practical way to start out a marriage —having God along with others help this newlywed couple forever keep the vows they made to each other.

Plug into God’s Help

We need to plug into the help that God can give us in our lives and recognize that our marriages are a mission field-pointing others to the saving, and abiding love of God through Jesus Christ. Does your marriage reflect the message that God will want for the world to read? If not, put your energies into making sure that your marriage points others to Christ’s abiding power.

We need to see marriage as a “one flesh” lifestyle. Legally, marriage is being treated as a contract with certain rights and responsibilities. In a Contract Marriage, if one of the partners doesn’t live up to their end of the contract, then re-negotiations are in order. If an amicable agreement isn’t reached, then the marriage is allowed to end with an “equitable settlement.” So a Contract Marriage is essentially, “You do your part and I’ll do mine,” or else!

A “Covenant Marriage” is more than a Contract Marriage.

It goes beyond that. It’s, “I’ll do my part —regardless of whether you do yours or not.” “A covenant marriage involves putting the other person first. It assumes a mutual response on the other person’s part. But it’s not conditioned upon the other person’s behavior.”

“In a Covenant Marriage, each spouse is committed to the other’s well-being. If both of them keep the covenant, then BOTH of them will be the benefactors. But the motivation and the attitude isn’t one of self-gratification. It is giving oneself for the well-being of the other.” (Dr Gary Chapman)

A Covenant Marriage is one of teamwork.

It is a commitment to “find the best solution to any problem at hand.” Each person is committed to the vow they made to their spouse, (even if their spouse doesn’t live up to their vow). But they are also committed to the vow they made to God. They view their actions with their spouse as though everything they do for them is, “as unto the Lord.”

It’s being committed to the vow we made to God, to love and honor the spouse God has given us. We need to know that when we break our vow to our spouse, we’re breaking our vow to God! It’s also realizing that how we treat each other in our marriage, is a witness to everyone we come in contact with what the love of God is all about.

Whether you like it or not, you’re witnessing to your children as you live your married lives in front of them. Do you want them to treat their spouse in the same manner that you treat yours? Do you realize by the everyday choice you make that you’re modeling a Christian marriage to everyone you come in contact with? Your marriage is on display for others to observe God through.

You’re a witness to others.

You witness in many ways. How you treat each other when you’re in public (and in private) is a way of “communicating the gospel without words.” Your marriage is a witness of your love for God and how you honor what He’s told us to keep sacred. Your marriage is a witness of how God can empower and transform those who are His. It is a mission field —pointing others to the saving and abiding love of God through Jesus Christ.

We have a lot of choices to make in our marriages to help them to grow in healthy ways. Our prayer is that you’ll “choose” your spouse everyday, with your hearts, your minds, and your actions. Remember when you first began to love each other. Remember the strong love and commitment that drew you closer to each other. And then choose to work that love into practical actions with the guidance of the Holy Spirit from this day forward so nothing can divide you.

Cindy Wright of Marriage Missions International wrote this article.

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Filed under: Preparing for Marriage Spiritual Matters

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9 responses to “What Is Marriage?

  1. (USA) I have a question… Can a couple have a covenant with God and not have a legal contract with the world?

  2. (USA) The question I would pose is why wouldn’t you do both if you are entering into a marriage covenant with your partner and with God? A covenant is the most holy and binding of all ties. What would be the big deal about also tying the marriage together in the world’s eyes as well as God’s so you could better witness to them? Why wouldn’t you jump through every hoop that is reasonable to declare to everyone around that you are serious about your commitment in the eyes of God as well as man? It becomes a true testimony that way.

    Even Jesus did that. You can see where Jesus went through the ritual of being baptized, just as men did. It wasn’t to wash away HIS sins as other people were symbolically doing, because He was sinless, but He did it for other reasons. And one of those reasons was to give us an example to follow. He not only followed God’s laws, but also man’s (when it was the right thing to do). He did that when He paid the taxes of the land and didn’t argue about following man’s laws. He said, “Give to Caesar, what is Caesar’s.”

    He also was big on publicly showing others what is important to God. You can see that when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. In John 11:41 it says, “So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE PEOPLE STANDING HERE, that they may believe that you sent me.'” Public demonstrations of our love and commitment to God can lead others back to Him.

    If you read Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:16-17, you will see how it is recommended to us to follow man’s laws when they don’t contradict God’s. By doing so, we may win others to Christ by our good example.

    We have many freedoms as followers of Christ. But we aren’t to run over people, or man’s laws, in order to practice our freedoms unless God asks it of us. But I can’t even imagine that God would say, “Do not make your marriage legal in the eyes of man.” It would could hurt your witness with non-believers if they found out you weren’t legally married and were living together (even if you vowed quietly before God of your covenant with Him). It would show your contentiousness in following the laws. And remember the verse in the Bible where Jesus talks of confessing our love for Him publicly because if we don’t confess Him “before men, neither will I confess you before my Father who is in heaven.” Again, public acclamation is important. You don’t have to have a big elaborate wedding to do so, but some type of legal public confession could benefit your witness to others.

    I’m reminded of the verse in 1 Corinthians 8:9 where it says, “Be careful that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block.” Also 1 Corinthians 9:12 says, “We put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.” And 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 says, “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one not having the law, so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”

    Also, 1 Corinthians 6:12 says, “Everything is permissible — but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible — but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.”

    Jesus did that. We can see in Philippians 2 where it tells us how Jesus emptied Himself of his rights and “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant…” He didn’t consider His rights above the good of winning others.

    You may think you have the freedom not to make a “legal contract with the world” as far as marrying, but are you trying to cling to your own freedoms and forgetting the witness you are to be to the world to draw others to the Lord?

    I could go on and on, but I won’t. But I appeal to you to pray about what you are asking and consider what would please GOD so you may be the best witness to those around who don’t know Him. I believe that if you legally marry as well as enter into a covenant with God, you will have more doors open to witness to others of the love of God and how He can make your marriage the best it can be.

    There’s a good article posted at http://www.gotquestions.org/marriage-constitutes.html that might help you further with all of this.

    In conclusion, I want to say that sometimes we “miss the forest for the trees” as the old saying goes. We want to cling to our rights and see how close we can put our toe up to the line of what we can and can’t do, and still follow the Lord’s ways. But by doing that we neglect being generous (as God is generous with us) and going beyond what is asked of us (going the extra mile). I would much rather do MORE than is expected of me, in order to win some, than to do less.

    But You need to ask God about all of this. I hope you will. I sense your motives on asking this question is pure rather than argumentative. I encourage you to “seek and knock” at the right doors — especially through prayer, and God will reveal to you His will.

  3. (USA)  I feel that a marriage license from the state has the state as the third part of the trinity and not Jesus Christ, as is what is happening now with sodomites being married by the state. Our third party is also bound with darkness. The covenant is with God.

  4. (LIBERIA)  I am married and I love wife and cheer her a lot. But one thing I don’t ready understand is about sex. Why must you go out there to have intercourse with another woman when your married wife is there to give you all you need in sex?

  5. (USA)  Abraham, There is no good reason. I wanted to mention one particular reason that people do it, both men and women. Some of us do it to impress our friends or the social group we are hanging with. IE: if your wife is hanging around a bunch of single ladies or married women who are having affairs, in order to fit better and to be able to relate good enough she may start cheating – then she will have something to talk about.

    All of us think we do things because “we wanted to”. What if “you wanted to” because who you where hanging around? You always have the ultimate choice, some times bad choices appear less dangerous “because everyone else is doing it”. It may just be your environment.

  6. (USA)  The covenant is 1st before God pledging your eternal soul. 2nd, it is with the other person before God, pledging their eternal souls for the lifetime of both parties and for us for eternity.

    Covenants in the Bible such as those made by Jefftah (in Judges) and Abraham, etc. meant dying if necessary to keep — The covenant was not made lightly because they were not just giving their word to another person, they were giving their word to God!

    You do all that is required to make it legal as soon as possible! You also make it public as soon as possible! It’s like getting saved in a bar or a brothel, as soon as possible you acknowledge Christ in a church and/or are baptized in a church setting and you tell others about your commitment to Christ.

    My wife and I were 1st in a situation that we were unable to marry legally. Like Jefftah and Abraham, we made our covenant 1st with God, then with each other before God. We told the world about it as soon as it was possible. We were married legally in a church and made another marriage covenant. The last one was written and witnessed by everyone at the legal marriage.

    The covenant is more binding than the legal marriage because many people see breaking the legal marriage as no more than running a stop sign or a so called “little white lie.”

    When the hard times and hard temptations have come into our marriage it was the verbal covenant, pledging our eternal souls before God, that kept us committed! Also the written covenant stating that if necessary we would mutually choose a counselor and then obey all that was said.

    Likewise, today, we celebrate 1st and most, our covenant marriage/anniversary, then 2nd, the legal marriage/anniversary! My wife gets 2 celebrations and 2 anniversary gifts.

    It has been 8+ years since our covenant marriage and 7 since our legal marriage. We recommend that the marriage covenant be a part of everyone’s legal marriage.

  7. Thank you very much for your sermons on marriage, but I would like to know about my case. Before I married my wife traditionally, I was not a believer. I found I have stayed with same one who is not of my faith and we have three children. But I came to find I am not in a good marriage according to God’s will. Then I told her to change to my religion so that we wed in the church. She refused to change and wed with me, for she’s Adventist 7th day faith, and me, I am an Anglican. We worship on Sunday. She has refused me totally. Also I can’t change to Sabbath and O want to wed in my church. What do I do?

  8. Wow!… This is really helpful. I’m a young man preparing to marry in the near future and I like to follow this material.