On Christian Marriage
David G. Phillips
Marriage Preparation Course Presentation
John's Anglican Church, Lunenburg
February 9, AD 2007
The Purposes of
Mutual society, help and comfort
Hallowing of the union
man and woman
on Part 1.
Christian Marriage is a
Questions on Part 2.
Anglican Church has responded to the great increase in divorce over
the past forty years both within and outside of the Church by
recommending that couples intending
to marry in the Church take a course of preparation. Our National Church marriage
canon recommends that couples be instructed in six areas: an
understanding of Christian marriage; family of origin; expectations;
communication and conflict; finances; and sexuality. All of these
areas will be covered in one way or another in this course tonight
and tomorrow. The aim in having this course is to help couples
to be more self reflective before entering into marriage and to help
them to both know better God's purposes in instituting marriage so
that they might desire Christian marriage. I hope that you have high expectations for your
marriage – that you desire it to be a Christian sacrament. I hope
that you see that the marriage you hope for is impossible without
God’s help and that with God’s help all things are possible.
1. The Purposes of Christian Marriage
writings and marriage services of the Church over the ages we see a
common understanding of what are the primary purposes of marriage. Three
purposes are revealed to us in the Bible: (i) procreation;
(ii) mutual society, help and comfort; and (iii) the hallowing or
making holy the union between a man and a woman.
consider these three purposes of marriage in the order we find them
In the first chapter of the first book of the Bible, Genesis (1:28),
right after the creation of humanity – male and female, made in the
image of God, there is this blessing and command of God. It says,
And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and
multiply, and fill the earth…”
As Christians, because we believe in eternal life, we see this gift
of children, as not just populating the earth with people but also
heaven. Jeremy Taylor, a 17th century Anglican
theologian puts it like this: [Marriage] is the seminary of the
church, and daily brings forth sons and daughters unto God…Marriage
is the mother of the world, and preserves kingdoms, and fills
cities, and churches, and heaven itself.
Procreation is obviously not the only purpose of marriage. There
are those who are married beyond the age when they can (normally)
have children, and there are those who for one medical reason or
another don’t expect to have children, but still chose to enter into
marriage. But these exceptions are not to suggest that procreation
is not a primary purpose of marriage. Children, if it may be, are
the greatest gift of this union of a man and a woman.
The marriage bond – the vows to remain together until death –
provide the relationship within which children can best be
nurtured. We all know that many children are being brought up in
single homes by loving parents and that in some cases it can be
argued the children are better off than in homes where parents have
stayed together. And yet I think we all agree on the need to
continue to hold before our minds what is the ideal. A father and
mother who love each other and their children can provide a safe
environment for the raising up of their children without the
anxieties of a family breakup, the associated spiritual,
psychological and economic hardships. A healthy marriage enables
children to be more free to simply grow up and flourish within a
stable and loving environment that is closer to the environment of
Children are a good in themselves. Children also make us better
people – they make us less selfish, they draw out of us what is best
in human nature. Jesus holds them up to us as an example of
innocence of life and simple trust – to such, he says, is the
kingdom of heaven (Mark 10:13-16). Their presence demands and
inspires virtue and maturity. In nurturing children in the faith
our own faith is strengthened and challenged and nurtured. A
couple, whose second child I recently baptized, told me that when
they married they had no intention of having children. But after
they had built their home and were settled into married life they
felt moved to have children – their home seemed empty, they wanted
to share what they had, it seemed a natural outcome of their love
and marriage to desire children. It is part of what it is to be
The command of God to
be fruitful and multiply is not meant
to be an oppressive command from an oppressive God to take away our
freedom, but rather a great gift from the Creator of our human
nature. God, who made us in His image and likeness, knows how we
might best experience fulfillment in this earthly life in the
married state. To follow this call to be fruitful and multiply is
to enter into God’s greater purposes in creation itself, which is,
that there might be more joy in the universe – both on earth and in
heaven – and that that joy may be shared with many, everlastingly
ii. Mutual society, help and
In the very next Chapter of Genesis, we have a second account of the
Creation, this time another purpose of marriage is drawn out.
The Lord God took the man (Adam – who was made out of the earth) and
put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it…Then the Lord
God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make
him a helper fit for him.” So out of the ground the Lord God formed
every beast of the field and every bird…the man gave names to all
cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the
field; but for the man there was not found a helper fit for him.
[I hope you can see that there is a certain humour here!]
the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he
slept took one of his ribs, and closed up its place with flesh; and
the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a
woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last
is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh...” Therefore a man
leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they
become one flesh.
For modern minds we can get caught up by trying to read this account
only literally and many want to immediately reject it. But the
philosophers and theologians of the Church from the very beginning
have always looked upon this passage to understand the deeper truths
that are being intimated by it (considering the moral, typological
and allegorical or spiritual ways of reading Scripture).
It is not good that the man should be alone…
What is being stated is that there is something in human nature deep
down that desires fellowship, and one of the highest of goods –
friendship. And fellowship between a man and a woman can be held
together because of what we share at the core of our being: from
Genesis 1 – that we are both made in the image and likeness of God;
and from Genesis 2 – that we are in fact all made from a common
ancestry, we are kin (St. Augustine). [Such an understanding
undermines all thoughts of division based on race or nationality or
St. Augustine comments on the creation of the woman out of the side
of the man.
Nor did God create these each by himself, and join them together
as alien by birth[as if they were from different planets!]:
but He created the one out of the other, setting a sign also
of the power of the union in the side, whence she was drawn,
was formed. For they are joined one to another side by side, who
walk together, and look together whither they walk.
That woman is
from man in this passage recalls the depth of
intimacy – our common humanity. Augustine notes the implication of
being drawn from the side – it means walking together, of
looking together where they walk – marriage is to be a
uniting of wills and purpose – husband and wife are side-by-side.
Thomas Aquinas, in commenting on this passage, says woman was
created, not from the foot of man, that she might be under his
subjection, nor from his head, that she might rule over him, but
from his side as a sign of their companionship.
Scripture says the woman is
a helper fit for him. There is
something in this of the mutuality and perhaps the complementary
nature of the love. The word helper is in no way meant to
imply a slave or a mere servant, God is spoken in the Scriptures
elsewhere as “a helper”. But I think we will see later more fully
that there is a mutuality in the relationship of help and that in
fact both express their love in a kind of servanthood of one another
– Christ-like servanthood [see for example Matt 20:25-28, John
and comfort that each give the other is not just physical, Christian
marriage has the expectation that husband and wife will help each
other grow in spiritual maturity. There is a proverb that says,
Iron sharpens iron; as one person sharpens
another [Prov. 27:17] – as
husband and wife live with one another in love they call each other
to account, they sharpen one
another, make one another wise, more truthful, more righteous.
St. Paul describes the call to help one another to grow in Christ –
“use all your wisdom to teach and instruct one another.”
[e.g. Col 3:12-21 and Heb 3:13]. St. Peter refers to the importance
of being a good example (even more powerful than words) as a way of
leading your spouse in the way of life [1 Pet 3:1-7].
These first two purposes of marriage – procreation and “friendly
fellowship” – are found in the Bible before the fall of humanity.
They are purposes instituted by God in the time of man’s
innocency – in other words, they are what was intended by God in
paradise – both are intended by God to increase joy!
Hallowing of the union between a man and a woman.
This third purpose of marriage can be seen as related to humanity
after the fall (chapter 3 of Genesis), outside of the garden of
Eden. The hallowing of the union is another way of saying,
the making holy of the union between a man and a woman. It is
described in a slightly less positive way in the tradition – the
fifteenth century Prayer Book says this, 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.
The switch in emphasis is a little like describing the positive call
implied in the prohibitions in the Ten Commandments – "you shall be
faithful", rather than saying, "you shall not commit adultery". But
knowing the negative side also, helps us to draw out what is meant
by the positive.
Human beings are full of desire and that desire is a
gift. Love is desire, it moves us towards the object of our
desire. But as Christians we are realists – we want to be as honest
as we can about ourselves – and we recognize that in our souls are
competing desires and motivations for everything we do. If we
simply follow every impulse of our bodies, or every desire of our
minds, we get ourselves in trouble. We need a degree of restraint –
there is an unruliness, a disorder in the loves of our souls even
though Christ has received us and washed us and forgiven us.
Marriage helps in the right ordering of our loves. As Christians,
we easily admit that we are not perfect. We pray that God would
make us more holy – that we would be less selfish, and instead more
and more loving of God and of our neighbour.
All of Scripture, all of God’s revelation, is about the right
directing of our desire – to the love of God and our neighbour [the
two Great Commandments]. One of the strongest desires, if not the
strongest (at least in our younger years), is sexual desire – and,
as St. Paul says, it must be so - God has made us that way to draw
men and women together and to keep them together. God helps us to
see in Scripture that ultimately there are only two peaceful and
healthy resolutions of sexual desire. One way is to give it up – to
chose the celibate life (which is a gift God gives to some, not a
death of desire but a redirecting of that love). The other way is
to direct that desire within a life-long committed monogamous,
heterosexual union – i.e. marriage, as it has always been understood
by the Church.
Sexual faithfulness has a whole range of implications for our health
of soul and body.
Without such a commitment there are impediments to the full
flowering of love, selfishness is less easily transformed into
self-giving (there is a fear of being hurt). There are a many
reasons we can see (and probably some we can’t yet see) why it is
better that sexual relations happen only within marriage but it is
first and foremost a matter of the health of our souls – God is
saying that our hearts work best that way. [We can think of how other relationships, which have the
possibility of children, can leave them to grow up in a less secure
environment; of how many relationships before marriage can harden
our hearts and the hearts of others (of course as Christians we can
be forgiven and healed of all hurts); many partners before marriage
makes faithfulness within marriage a greater struggle (of course
Christ’ grace is sufficient if we seek it); in small communities –
many partners means future jealousies and distrusts, the breaking
down of society; and of course many partners has implications for
the health of our body, risks of sexually transmitted diseases.]
The commitment to sexual faithfulness in marriage is what Jesus says
is the ideal and a necessary part of what it is to be holy – it is
also related to the sacramental nature of marriage (which I will
speak of later).
Sexual faithfulness is to be expressed not only by forsaking sexual
intimacy with all others but also by the curbing of the thoughts of our hearts.
Jesus says that if a man lusts after a woman he has already
committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5). In marriage
you are freed up from always looking for another. When you
experience temptation from one who is not your spouse, and this will
happen, you are not to respond to it, but rather redirect your
desire towards your spouse. Love faithfulness to your spouse,
take pleasure in the good health of your spouse's heart and the
gift God wants to give you - a pure heart. Love these more
than some momentary bodily pleasure with another or even lusting
after another and being flirtatious to enjoy the flattering feelings
of being desired by another - this too is adultery. In the
Prayer Book marriage service you promise that forsaking all
others, [you will] keep thee only unto her/him, so long as
you both shall live. This is a promise of faithfulness in
body and soul.
In the following passage from Proverbs a
father gives advice to his son, on faithfulness to his wife.
Often we think of infatuation as a state of being, here it is
described as a choice:
Drink water from your own cistern, flowing water from your
own well. Should your springs be scattered abroad, streams
of water in the streets? Let them be for yourself alone,
and not for strangers with you. Let your fountain be
blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely hind, a
graceful doe. Let her affection fill you at all times with
delight, be infatuated always with her love.
Let marriage be held in honour among all, and let the
marriage bed be undefiled. Hebrews 13:4
Within marriage sexual relations are not a “free-for-all.” Towards
your spouse there is a call to faithfulness. Marriage is a place
where the mixed motivations of our hearts – lust and love – are
transformed, purified. Lust, using another solely for one’s
own pleasure, dies away and is changed into self-giving love, a
desire to give pleasure and to please the other whether that means
at any particular time having sexual relations or exercising
self-control. St. Paul describes the sort of mutuality in sexual
relations and of the giving to the other in a beautiful way:
The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and
likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not
rule over her own body but the husband does; likewise the
husband does not rule over his own body, but the wife does.
Do not refuse one another except perhaps by agreement for a
season that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come
together again, lest Satan tempt you through lack of
1 Corinthians 7:3-5
Pierre Trudeau said we should keep the government out of the bedrooms of the nation and
there will be some who think the Church should be there even less.
Yet regardless of whether one believes it or not, God is in the bedrooms of the
nation and in the hearts of His sons and daughters (or rather, the bedrooms and
God's children are in the mind of God). The experience of
pleasure in sexual relations is something that God intends (read the Song of
Solomon) but not as an end in itself. Even more, God
desires that a married couple experience the pleasure and true joy that happens in their hearts and minds and souls
when their faithfulness in thought and deed towards one another grows,
or in other words, as their union is hallowed. The words said in the giving of rings in the
Prayer Book service includes this phrase - with my body I thee
honour. Think about this and pray that God will give you
insight and a right heart in these most intimate matters.
Marriage is for the hallowing of the union between a man and a woman
- that there might be more true joy.
sum up – the Church teaches that the three goods of marriage are:
procreation; mutual society help and comfort; and the hallowing of
the union. Here’s what Jeremy Taylor says,
[Marriage] is the proper scene of piety and patience, of the duty
of parents and the charity of relatives; here kindness is spread
abroad, and love is united and made firm as a centre: marriage is
the nursery of heaven; the virgin sends prayers to God, but she
carries but one soul to Him; but the state of marriage fills up the
numbers of the elect, and hath in it the labour of love, and the
delicacies of friendship, the blessing of society, and the union of
hands and hearts; it hath in it less of beauty, but more of safety,
than the single life; it hath more care, but less danger; it is more
merry, and more sad; is fuller of sorrows, and fuller of joys; it
lies under more burdens, but it is supported by all the strengths of
love and charity, and those burdens are delightful. Marriage...
exercises many virtues, and promotes the interest of mankind, and
is that state of good things to which God hath designed the present
constitution of the world.
for a discussion of questions.
QUESTIONS ON PART 1 - THE PURPOSES OF
Have you spoken with one another about your expectations regarding
If not, discuss what each of you expect in terms of when you might
have children and how many children you hope to have in your family,
if you are so blessed.
What do you each expect so far as the religious instruction of your
What are the ways that you would use to teach your children your
Could you accept it if it was later discovered that your partner was
unable to have children?
ii. Mutual society, help and comfort.
Marriage is a walking together side by side. It does not mean
having the same ideas about everything, but sharing common ground on
the most important things both in terms of what is most important in
life and the overall direction that you hope your life takes.
Discuss what you see as being the most important things in life.
When you and your future spouse disagree on some issues, one partner
eventually must give in to the other for the problem to be solved.
This is what it means to submit. How will you decide in any
situation who gives in?
Discuss with one another how you will make decisions if you differ
about where to live; whose job has priority if one is called to
move; how to raise children; how to spend your money…
iii. The hallowing of the
union between a man and a woman.
Are you both committed to purity in your sexual relations? Discuss
what this means for you.
How have you handled sexual temptation in your relationship?
Do you agree that sexual faithfulness includes curbing lustful
Are you comfortable with your future spouse’s past?
Have you any unfinished business from a previous relationship?
Will you agree to pray for one another that your union might become
2. Christian Marriage is a Sacrament
What is it you are looking for in your spouse? (write up
on a flip-chart)
looking for Jesus Christ?
Jesus was asked by the Pharisees what happens in the case of a woman
who had 7 husbands who all died and then she died, who would be her
husband in heaven? Jesus’ response was,
when they shall rise from the dead, they
neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels
which are in heaven [Mark
12:25]. Marriage is not eternal but is for this life
only – it is a very high good, but it is not a final end.
What is the ultimate aim of every soul – what is it that you
truly want? (write up on flip-chart)
peace, to be more loving and be loved more, a sense of fulfillment,
adventure, freedom, wisdom, no suffering, joy, fellowship with
others, to have eternal life… (to be as God? to participate in the
human soul is made to desire God – and our hearts are restless until
they find their rest in God (Augustine). When we are God-like we
find true peace. Salvation, the kingdom of God, perfection, eternal
life, the vision of God, the mystical marriage of our soul with God
– all of these are ways of speaking in the Bible about the final end
of our life in God.
Marriage in this world is an image of something greater that God is
bringing about in all of Creation. The very first sign that Jesus
did on earth, the first miracle, was at the marriage of Cana –
turning water into wine (John 2:1-11). It has been seen as Christ’s
affirmation of the goodness and beauty of Christian marriage – God
in the flesh was there celebrating at a marriage – this holy
estate Christ adorned and beautified with his presence and first
miracle (BCP p. 564). That first miracle was also done at the
marriage feast to reveal to us that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of
God and that a new age is here. The Messianic age has always been
envisaged as a marriage feast of God and His bride - His chosen
imagery of God as husband and we His bride is found throughout the
prophets in the Old Testament:
Jeremiah, God describes the two divided kingdoms, Israel and
Judah, as unfaithful spouses (3:6-13). He laments of how "the
beloved of my soul" has abandoned him (12:7), and in
speaking of the Messianic age, God describes the new Covenant in
marriage terms: Behold the days are coming when I will make a
new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah,
not like the covenant which I made with their fathers and which
they broke, though I was their husband. But this is the covenant
which I will make with them... I will put my law within
them, and will write it upon their hearts… and I will be their
God and they shall be my people... and they shall all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest...
Ezekiel, there is a very long passage where God describes Israel
as his wife (the whole of ch. 16, which is over 60 verses long)
- "When I passed by you, behold you were at the age of love,
and I spread my skirt over you, and covered your nakedness: yea,
I plighted my troth to you and entered into a covenant with you
and you became mine... And God goes on to describe how He
beautified her with His love. But then, sadly, "you trusted
in your beauty, and played the harlot because of your
renown ... the apostasy of the people of Israel - is
described, not as idolatry, but as adultery.
Isaiah, God speaks hope to His people of the messianic age, "...your Maker is your Husband; the Lord of hosts is his name,'
and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the
whole earth he is called. For the Lord has called you like a
wife forsaken and grieved in spirit... with great compassion I
will gather you... with everlasting love I will have compassion
imagery is also found in the wisdom literature in the Bible:
book called the Song of Solomon is erotic poetry. It has been
understood by the Church over the ages as an allegory of the
marriage of Christ, the lover, to His beloved, His bride the
Church, or of the union of God and the individual soul. It is
not simply a celebration or affirmation of earthly love – though
it is that – but of how all that is good in earthly love is a
mirror, an image of the divine love for the soul.
the Wisdom of Solomon – if men find it more difficult to imagine
marriage to God who is described in male terms, the image is
reversed, holy Wisdom, (lady wisdom, a feminine image of Christ)
is described as a bride – Solomon says, I loved her and
sought her from my youth, and I desired to take her for my
bride, and I became enamored of her beauty - see chapters
New Testament there are many references to this allegory. In the
Gospels, Jesus gives us parables of a King who invites people to the
marriage feast of His Son.
Paul makes clear that the very institution of marriage by God in
Genesis is ultimately about the mystical marriage of God and our
souls. Remember in Genesis Chapter 2, "Therefore a man leaves
his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become
one flesh." St. Paul, after quoting this passage from Genesis,
says in Ephesians - this mystery is a profound one, and I am
saying that it refers to Christ and the church " (Eph 5 :32)
Think about it – the Son of God leaves his Father in heaven to take
flesh, He leaves his earthly mother Mary when he gives himself up on
the Cross, and His purpose is to make possible the union of God and
our souls, through the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy
Spirit - by which we become one flesh with Him. Think of the way we
pray in holy Communion: the bread and the wine, become for us
Christ’s body and blood – we receive Him, through faith, in our
hearts – become flesh of His flesh and bone of His bones. We pray
that He may evermore dwell in us and we in Him – this is the
language of mystical marriage. We pray that we might do God’s will,
that we might have the mind of Christ – this is the language of
does this have to do with your coming marriage? Marriage is
described as a sacrament – an outward sign of an inward spiritual
grace. In your marriages – you will vow faithful,
Christ-like love to one another. You will be in the world seeking
to be an image of the marriage of Christ and the Church. The
uniting of your bodies and hearts and wills on earth is to be an
earthly reflection of, and an evangelical witness to, this great
promise of God to us in Christ. As a couple you are a microcosm of
what God is doing in creation through Christ. This is the mystery
of marriage, this is why it is “sacramental” – you become an outward
sign through which God gives grace inwardly both to you as a couple
and to those to whom you bear witness.
marriage will only be a reflection of this heavenly plan to the
extent that the love between you and your spouse is like God’s
love. The character of a Christian marriage is that its love is
patterned on the love shown to us most clearly by Jesus Christ.
It is characterized by:
unending faithfulness – not just in the big things but in the
daily building up of one another in love;
humble serving love – Christ came not to be served but to
serve – remember the washing of the feet of his disciples (John 13);
the love shown us on the Cross – love is about forgiveness
and about self sacrifice – how many times must you forgive your
spouse? what is the degree of that forgiveness – whole and complete
(Matthew 18:21-35). What is the degree of self-sacrifice – even
your very life!
it is a kind of love that seeks to draw out the image of God
in your spouse’s soul; not responding to what is sin except with
forgiveness (forbearance); obeying every command that is from the image of God in
the other’s soul.
of you do this?
impossible – that is why I suspect that you are asking for a church
wedding, asking for God’s blessing.
miracle of Cana (John 2:1-11), Jesus takes earthen jars filled with water (an
image of the human body given a living soul) and turns them into
earthen jars filled with the best wine (an image of the human soul
partaking of the divine nature). God can do this to each of us – we
need only ask. Ask continually for the divine grace – there is so
much work left to do in our souls. Take advantage of all the gifts
that Christ leaves us to participate more and more in that divine
life, to become the best wine – read God's Word, follow the teaching,
partake of the Sacrament of Holy Communion often, live a life of
faith, pray always.
ultimately what Christ teaches us is the way to a full and happy
marriage – marriage that is a sacrament. It is simple, but not
easy; it is free, though it will cost you your life (but in losing
your life you will find it); and even if you don’t know it, it is
everything that you really want. Why would anyone want
QUESTIONS ON PART 2 -
CHRISTIAN MARRIAGE IS A SACRAMENT:
Discuss your response to each of these questions with one another:
Would you say that you have grown spiritually, become a better
Christian, since you met you future spouse?
Are you both committed to following Jesus?
Do you both agree that you are fallen – that your motives and
desires are not always good – and that you need help from God to
grow in holiness so that your marriage may be a witness to your
children, if it may be, and to the world?
Do you intend to make use of these Christian spiritual disciplines
§ corporate worship, especially Holy Communion (to give
thanks, to be fed and nurtured in your faith, to stay close to
Christ, to encourage others in their faith);
§ private prayer (including time for self reflection and
confession, to pray for others, for your spouse and yourself, and to
seek God’s will for your lives);
§ reading of the Bible (for guidance, for edification,
to stir up faith, hope and love in your soul, to contemplate God and
the kingdom of heaven);
§ serving Christ in some way in the Church and community
(as a way of giving thanks and to love);
§ saying grace before meals (as a way to give thanks and
to help remember God who is the giver of all things and to teach
your children to pray);
§ making a conscious commitment to financially support
the work of the Church and the wider community (to help others
out of love and to foster a spirit of generosity and thanksgiving).
spiritual disciplines, as well as a couple of others, are suggested
for the consideration of all Christians in the Rule of Life found in the Book of Common Prayer p. 555)