Marriage. The God-given ordination of the union of one man and one woman for the rest of their lives till death do us part. That is already a rather controversial statement. But even for the Bible believing Christians who can agree on that, the purpose of marriage can be a little murky. What is the point of marriage? Why do any two people get married? Is it just about gushy feelings or intimacy? Is it about convenience or tax deductions? In a time when it is socially acceptable (sadly even among evangelical Christians) for a couple to move in together before making a life-long commitment, why get married at all?
While much could be said and numerous books have been written, the short version of the purpose of marriage can be found in the origin of marriage: Adam and Eve. In Genesis 2:18, we find the first “not good” of God’s creation. At first glance, we are quick to read into this passage our twenty-first century, Americanized version of this passage. We think that Adam is sad and lonely, so God must provide him a companion. But that would imply that the relationship that Adam had with the Lord in perfect communion was inadequate in some way. No, marriage was about more than just another body for Adam with whom Adam could play charades or name the animals. Marriage was about a helpmate. Marriage was about a partnership to fulfill this monumental task of tending the Garden, subduing the earth, and expanding the reach of God’s kingdom by means of procreation. Marriage was about a God-given job that Adam and Eve had to do together. In his book, “Married for God” (Crossway 2016), Christopher Ash puts it like this: “God’s purpose for marriage is that those who are married serve him in and through their marriages.” So much more could be said about this, but for now, I just want to introduce you to a couple that really seems to have done this well.
Most people know about Martin Luther and the 95 Theses that began the Protestant Reformation. But far less attention is given to the helpmate even he didn’t know he needed in his wife, Katherina Von Bora. The union of Luther and Von Bora was the topic of gossip during the early 1500s as a rogue monk and an escaped nun wed. Friends even went so far as to tell the couple that the marriage wouldn’t last. What began as a marriage for the sake of demonstrating the appropriateness of a priest to marry grew into a marriage of friendship and hospitality. The story of their teamwork has been a topic of personal interest to me for several years as an example of what it means for a marriage to be focused on working together to ministering to those inside and outside of their home.
For various reasons, both Luther and Von Bora had lives marked with loneliness and guilt as they attempted to earn their acceptance in their families of origin. Yet both were radically transformed by the love of Christ as individuals, and this had ongoing implications to their marriage. Their marriage was about obedience to Christ and welcoming friendship with others. In the early days of their marriage, the Luther’s ministered to those afflicted with the plague and cared for the lonely. The warmth of the love of Christ carried them to the unloved to demonstrate the love of Jesus. Despite a busy preaching schedule, Martin and Katharina worked together to raise their ten children to love and serve the Lord in their community by visiting the poor, caring for the sick, and feeding the hungry. The companionship that their marriage fostered extended beyond them to their children and even to strangers.
The hospitality of the Luther home was a hallmark of the Reformation. Converting an old monastery, the Black Cloister, into a true home was a difficult task, but Luther and Von Bora utilized this team effort to welcome strangers, runaway priests, and students to their home for respite and revitalization. It was not uncommon for more than twenty additional people to be staying in their home on any given night. While each had their separate roles, Von Bora worked hard to manage the affairs of the home so that Luther’s work could continue. Luther’s famous “Table Talks” chronicle the daily times of family worship and teaching for all the residence of the Luther home that were made possible by Von Bora’s behind the scenes efforts. Their teamwork literally gave the next generation of reformers a place at the table to feast physically and spiritually.
There is such beauty and encouragement in this couple for me as I consider the ways in which nurturing faithful commitment in a marriage should have reverberating affects to the world around each godly couple. The purpose of marriage must not be so inward in focus concerning personal fulfillment or selfish attachments that we lose sight of God’s original plan. The spread of God’s kingdom was designed to be done first through marriages and families, but never to end there.
Is your marriage doing that today? Can someone look at your marriage and see the extension of the Garden of Eden? In what ways can we work with our spouse to nurture faithful love and partnership that extends its ministry to others? May we all strive to honor the Lord’s purpose in our marriage as He brings His kingdom to earth as it is in heaven.