Maybe the statistics on divorce rates aren’t as grizzly as we have thought. Maybe there is some correlation between people’s godly perspective on marriage and the health of the marriage. The recent Barna Report provides some interesting numbers that suggest God’s design works.
The study showed that the percentage of adults who have been married and divorced varies from segment to segment. For instance, the groups with the most prolific experience of marriage ending in divorce are downscale adults (39%), Baby Boomers (38%), those aligned with a non-Christian faith (38%), African-Americans (36%), and people who consider themselves to be liberal on social and political matters (37%).
Among the population segments with the lowest likelihood of having been divorced subsequent to marriage are Catholics (28%), evangelicals (26%), upscale adults (22%), Asians (20%) and those who deem themselves to be conservative on social and political matters (28%).
Here’s a thoughtful perspective from another student in my class that adds substance to this notion that God has a purpose and that we do better when we align ourselves with that design.
Certainly an all-wise God who created order out of chaos, handcrafted man and woman in His own image, and then instituted and ordained marriage must have had a purpose in doing so. What then, one must ask, was God’s purpose in creating marriage? Indisputably the most fitting answer will be found in harmony with the will of God as it is revealed for us in His Word. It is for this reason that one must turn to His Word in order to find the divine purpose of God’s institution of marriage. And that is exactly what some Christian authors have done. However, for the most part, a large number of authors and theologians have run into incredible difficulty in actually clarifying what God’s purpose for marriage essentially is. Millions of pages and numerous books have been dedicated to offering help on how to save, better, grow, or even end a marriage and many more go as far as to describe the roles in, the tasks of, and the reasons for marriage, but it is difficult to find many pages that offer the purpose for marriage, and even fewer that offer God’s purpose for marriage. The problem with this is that we must first form a foundation that is the divine purpose for marriage in order for us to then process and understand the roles, reasons, and successful growth of marriage.
The following is a consideration of three of the leading proposals for God’s intention for marriage, followed by concluding thoughts on which purpose is the most biblically sound. These three proposals are as follows: God’s purpose for marriage is a functional purpose, God’s purpose for marriage is a sacramental purpose; and God’s purpose for marriage is a transformational or sanctifying purpose.
The first proposed divine purpose for marriage is one of function. Condron describes it as such:
The Bible gives us a three-fold purpose of marriage (…this order has nothing to do with one being of greater significance, for all are ordained). First there is the purpose of companionship, secondly, that of procreation, and thirdly, that of sexual fulfillment.
According to Condron and multiple other authors, marriage involves man and woman being fitted together for the purposeful function of mutual fellowship, encouragement, and understanding, the reproduction of children, and the physical and spiritual aspects of sexual satisfaction. Genesis 2:18-25 is certainly Scriptural evidence for the first portion of this “three-part” purpose. The only thing that God saw as “not good” in the garden was that man was alone. He then created woman, wife, as a companion for him to meet his needs of community. The second part of this purpose is supported in Genesis 1:28, where Condron claims that from the beginning it was in the purpose of marriage that the man and wife should have children – “Be fruitful and multiply!” (NET). And lastly, we can point to Paul for the final part of this three-fold purpose of marriage in 1 Corinthians 7:2, which says that to prevent man (male and female) from being temped by sin, “each man should have relations with his own wife and each woman with her own husband” (NET). George Dunivent promotes this same notion stated as such:
The purpose in having the institution of marriage is seen in God’s desire to provide for companionship, children, and the completion of the man and the woman in each other in preserving chastity.
Dunivent points out that companionship was the one thing lacking for Adam amidst all the wonders of the Edenic creation while it is still “uncursed” before the first sin of mankind. The heavens, the earth, the oceans, the fishes of the sea, the creatures on the land, and luscious fruit of the trees could not supply man with companionship, and thus, marriage was designed to fulfill the one thing lacking, or “not good,” in the garden. Dunivent, quickly thereafter, follows with the fact that having offspring is not only a resultant of marriage but is the only way that God has provided to propagate the human race, including the promised Redeemer that was to come through birth (Genesis 3:15). Therefore, procreation is a rather large purpose of marriage in that God created it as a means for Christ to come as Redeemer. Dunivent then interprets Paul’s directions in 1 Corinthians 7:5 as saying that the lack of normal marital relations is an avenue of attack by Satan resulting in lack of self-control. So sex, which God created solely for marriage, is not only for the purpose of procreation, but for satisfying natural sexual desire. Therefore, for mankind to have their natural desire for companionship met, marriage had to be created; for the proliferation of the human race to occur, marriage had to be contrived; and for mankind’s God-given sexual drives to be met, marriage had to be designed. So it is that a highly Scripturally-sound possibility for God’s purpose for marriage is one of function: providing companionship (Genesis 2:18-25), children (Genesis 1:28), and the fulfillment of sexual needs to prevent sin (1 Corinthians 7:2).
The second possibility for God’s purpose for marriage is one of sacrament. This view is held by numerous authors, theologians and philosophers from as early as Saint Augustine of Hippo (A.D, 354-430):
…it is not possible to be (still) married without indissolubility, which is what a sacrament points toward. As long as a couple is married, they continue to display—however imperfectly—the ongoing commitment between Christ and his church…
to as recent as John Piper (2007):
…the main meaning of marriage is to display the covenant-keeping love between Christ and his church. In other words, marriage was designed by God most deeply, most importantly, to be a parable or a drama of the way Christ loves his church and the way the church loves and follows Christ  
Paul seems to speak of this purpose in Ephesians 5:22-33, which is the basis for this argument. In verse 31, Paul quotes Genesis 2:24, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and will be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh,” and then he gives us his interpretation of this Old Testament writing in verse 32, “This mystery is great – but I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” In other words, it is feasible to interpret Paul’s words as saying that marriage (the covenant involved in leaving father and mother and being united to a spouse) is pattered after Christ’s covenant commitment to his church. Piper elaborates upon this interpretation adding that since Christ thought of Himself as the bridegroom coming for his bride, the church, according to Matthew 9:15 and John 3:29, Paul recognized his ministry as gathering the bride as he indicates in 2 Corinthians 11:2: “For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy, because I promised you in marriage to one husband to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.” In this, Piper says:
The most ultimate thing we can say about marriage is that it exists for God’s glory. That is, it exists to display God. Now [after looking at the passage in Ephesians] we can see how: Marriage is patterned after Christ’s covenant relationship to the church. And therefore the highest meaning and most ultimate purpose of marriage is to put the covenant relationship of Christ and his church on display. That is why marriage exists.
It is imperative to this argument of God’s purpose for marriage that one notices that God did not create the union of Christ and the church after the pattern of human marriage, but that it is just the reverse: He created human marriage on the pattern of (and the purpose of displaying) Christ and the church. Paul’s says that the mystery of Genesis 2:24 is that the marriage Moses describes is a parable of Christ’s relation to His people that has been planned since eternity past. Marriage is therefore only essential, mysterious, and magnificent because it points to something essential, mysterious, and magnificent. The love that binds husband and wife (even the first husband and wife before the fall) is a glorious love because it portrays something magnificent – Christ’s love for His people. According to this divine purpose for marriage, the greatest aspect and function of marriage is that it displays something unspeakably great. Dwight Small endorses this purpose and describes it as such:
To the Christian, marriage is the means to the fulfillment of divine ends. The marriage union, like man himself, is designed for the glory of God, and for the exhibition of His purposes of love on earth…marriage was instituted as an earthly symbol of the spiritual relation between God and man…
This echoes the divine purpose that marriage is a vivid, life-size, daily illustration of God’s plan of redemption, Christ’s covenant with His church. Thus, the second possibility for God’s purpose for marriage is an illustrative purpose in which the covenant made between a husband and a wife points to, or reflects, a much grander covenant between Christ and the church, according to Ephesians 5:22-33.
The third possible divine purpose for marriage is one of sanctification. The most well-known proponent for this proposal of God’s purpose for marriage, Gary Thomas, explains it this way:
What if God had an end in mind that went beyond our happiness, our comfort, and our desire to be infatuated and happy [in our marriage] as if the world were a perfect place? What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?
Scriptural substantiation for this purpose of marriage is also found in Ephesians 5. This time, however, the exposition of the text, verses 15-33, is focused not on the illustration that marriage provides in illuminating Christ’s covenant with His church, but on what marriage should look like, namely, Christ-like. Proponents of this purpose for marriage interpret these verses as giving insight into the fact that assuming the role of a husband requires one to sacrificially love their wife as Christ loved the church and came in all humility to die for her, and assuming the role of the wife requires one to humbly submit to her husband relinquishing self as their top priority. Philippians chapter 2 is also used as Scriptural support for this divine purpose for marriage, which recognizes God’s intentions, subtle at times and incredibly apparent at others, throughout the history of man to shape and mold His people into becoming the servant-rulers that He created us initially to be in Genesis 1:26-30, denying ourselves and our selfish ambitions for the sake of considering others more important: “Marriage calls us to an entirely new and selfless life.” In viewing marriage as being created for the purpose of acting as a primary constituent for this transforming work of God, it is perceived as the “twenty-four-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week commitment” that acts as a “crucible that grinds and shapes us into the character of Jesus Christ.” Entering into the covenant of marriage with another sinful, desperately depraved human being forces one to face character issues that they could possibly never run into elsewhere. This lifetime commitment of providing emotional, physical, and spiritual intimacy and care for another uncovers who you are as your true self, as Rabbi Aryeh Pamensky says, “ultimately revealing your unique purpose for being created.” Thomas summarizes the foundation of his book before moving into the implications that are the result of looking at marriage through the lens of holiness as follows:
I guess what I’m after is a quieter fulfillment, a deeper sense of meaning, a fuller understanding of the purpose behind this intense, one-on-one, lifelong relationship. As a man who believes his primary meaning comes from his relationship with God, I want to explore how marriage can draw me closer to God…For the Christian, marriage is a penultimate rather than an ultimate reality.
Just as celibates use abstinence and religious hermits use isolation, so we can use marriage for the same purpose – to grow in our service, obedience, character, pursuit, and love of God.
The purpose of marriage, then, becomes a much higher purpose when recognized as above in that it a part of something higher. As the previously mentioned proposal for God’s purpose for marriage was entirely about reflecting something much greater, Christ’s relationship to His church, this proposal for God’s purpose for marriage is entirely about producing something much greater, Christlikeness. So the third proposal for the divine purpose for marriage is one of sanctification purposes in that it was instituted by God to make His people more like Himself.
We have delineated and thoroughly considered three of the primary proposals for God’s purpose for marriage as a functional purpose, a sacramental purpose, and a transformational or sanctifying purpose, and can now decipher which purpose, then, appears to be the most biblically and theologically appropriate as God’s purpose for marriage. I would argue, as Reb Bradley does, that:
God’s primary intention for marriage, is not what most of us imagine it to be. He has not designed marriage as a place where we can finally try to get our needs met [through a functional purpose or fashioned marriage merely as an illustration]. He has created it as something much better –something far more grand than that. God intends to use marriage to accomplish a very important goal – one that is His primary goal for all Christians. God’s primary purpose for marriage is to use it to help shape us into the image of His Son. (Emphasis Bradley’s)
In reaction to the functional purpose of marriage, it is certainly comprehensible that God’s arrangement for lifetime companionship, the procreation of children, and the arena for our correct sexual expression is of utmost importance, however, it does seem to be missing a divine fingerprint of a higher, more eternal purpose that God seems to place on all of His created concepts and covenant relationships. And in considering the sacramental purpose of marriage, it is more than plausible that marriage was patterned, even in the Garden of Eden, after Christ’s relationship to the church, which certainly leads us to divine ends that are characteristic of God’s created concepts. This purpose, too, though having strong divine and God-glorifying ends, seems to be lacking in eternal ends. God has created marriage with an even more fantastic purpose – to direct us towards Himself. God intends for marriage to accomplish the primary goal for all of His children, to shape us into the image of His Son, as Bradley emphasized above. As Bradley alludes to below, a major theme of Scripture is the sanctification of God’s people which meets our greatest need of becoming like Christ, drawing us into Himself:
“The challenges offered in marriage are capitalized on by [God] to help shape and mold us into the image of Jesus….God knows that as we grow into the image of Jesus our greatest needs are met.” (Emphasis Bradley’s)
The trials we endure, the blessings we enjoy, and the experiences we are given are all challenges offered through marriage for the intimate purpose of leading us to the face of God and the grace and mercy that He bestows upon His people. Marriage, too, is one of these God-glorifying, God-ordained institutions that was created with the purpose of conforming us into the holy image of Christ. The joys, difficulties, and challenges of marriage serve as crucibles to refine our character and strengthen our faith in and knowledge of God. In summary, God’s primary purpose of marriage, in line with one of His primary purposes for us living in this depraved world, is to transform His people into the likeness of His Son.
In conclusion, upon thoroughly considering three of the primary proposals for God’s purpose for marriage as a functional purpose, a sacramental purpose, and a transformational or sanctifying purpose, it was evidenced that the purpose of sanctification biblically and theologically, on the whole, exceeds the other two purposes as God’s primary intention for the institution of marriage. Apart from recognizing the purpose of marriage as such, people are defrauded. If marriage allows us the opportunity to crave and become the holiness of God, as has been shown, we can apply this as the foundation upon which all other marriage quandaries can be answered. Questions concerning how to save, better, grow, or even end a marriage along with the roles in, the tasks of, and the reasons for marriage can only be deciphered by first going back to God’s primary purpose for marriage and building a biblical response from there. This is also true of defending the pro-marriage position to both believers and nonbelievers as well as answering to controversial issues such as cohabitation and same-sex marriages.
Ahearn, David Oki and Peter R. Gathje. Doing Right and Being Good: Catholic and Protestant Readings in Christian Ethics. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2005.
Bradley, Reb. “What is God’s Primary Purpose for Marriage?” Taken from Help For the Struggling Marriage. FamilyMinistries.com. Available from http://familyministries.com/marriage_purpose.htm. Internet accessed 15 February 2008.
Condron, Thomas R. The Biblical Meaning and Purpose of Marriage. Thesis (Th.M)—Dallas Theological Seminary, 1967.
Dunivent, George R. The Biblical Doctrine of Marriage. Thesis (Th.M)—Dallas Theological Seminary, 1951.
Forsyth, Peter Taylor. Marriage: It’s Ethnic and Religion. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1996.
Gushee, David P. Getting Marriage Right: Realistic Counsel for Saving & Strengthening Relationships. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2004.
Pamensky, Rabbi Aryeh. “The Purpose of Marriage.” aish.com – The Jewish Website. Available from http://aish.com/family/marriage/The_Purpose_of_Marriage.asp. Internet; accessed 13 February 2008.
Piper, John. “Marriage is Meant for Making Children…Disciples of Jesus, Part 1” (June 10, 2007). DesiringGod.org. Available from http://desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Sermons/ByDate/2007/2188_Marriage_Is_Meant_for_Making_ChildrenDisciples_of_Jesus_Part_1/. Internet; accessed 11 February 2008.
Piper, John. “Marriage: A Matrix of Christian Hedonism” (October 16, 1983). DesiringGod.org. Available from http://desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Sermons/ByDate/1983/409_Marriage_A_Matrix_of_Christian_Hedonism/. Internet; accessed 11 February 2008.
Piper, John. “Staying Married Is Not About Staying in Love, Part 1” (January 28, 2007). DesiringGod.org. Available from http://desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Sermons/ByDate/2007/1966_Staying_Married_Is_Not_About_Staying_In_Love_Part_1/. Internet; accessed 11 February 2008.
Piper, John. “Marriage: God’s Showcase of Covenant-Keeping Grace” (February 11, 2007) DesiringGod.org. Available from http://desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Sermons/ByDate/2007/1992_Marriage_Gods_Showcase_of_CoveantKeeping_Grace/. Internet; accessed 11 February 2008.
Piper, John. “Marriage: Pursuing Conformity to Christ in the Covenant” (February 25, 2007) DesiringGod.org. Available from http://desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Sermons/ByDate/2007/2006_Marriage_Pursuing_Conformity_to_Christ_in_the_Covenant/. Internet; accessed 11 February 2008.
Small, Dwight H. Design for Christian Marriage. Westwood, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1959.
Thomas, Gary L. Sacred Marriage: What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy? Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000.
 See Otto Piper’s The Biblical View of Sex and Marriage (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1960) page 34 – The title of the section is “The Purpose of Marriage” upon which he clearly offers what is not the purpose of marriage but never actually verbalizes what is. See also David Oki Ahearn and Peter R. Gathje’s Doing Right and Being Good: Catholic and Protestant Readings in Christian Ethic (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2005) pages 101-149 – Again incorrect purposes are laid out, reasons for marrying are laid out, and biblical foundations for marriage are described, but God’s purpose for marriage is merely skirted around.
 Thomas R. Condron, The Biblical Meaning and Purpose of Marriage. (Thesis (Th.M)—Dallas Theological Seminary, 1967), 67.
 See David P. Gushee’s Getting Marriage Right: Realistic Counsel for Saving and Strengthening Relationships (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2004) chapter entitled “The Creation Purposes of Marriage” pages 87-103.
 Condron, The Biblical Meaning and Purpose of Marriage,5.
 Ibid., 81.
 George R. Dunivent, The Biblical Doctrine of Marriage.(Thesis (Th.M)—Dallas Theological Seminary, 1951), 54.
 Ibid., 55.
 Ibid., 57.
 Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage: What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 31.
 John Piper, “Marriage is Meant for Making Children…Disciples of Jesus, Part 1” (June 10, 2007). DesiringGod.org. Available from http://desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Sermons/ByDate/2007/2188_Marriage_Is_Meant_for_Making_ChildrenDisciples_of_Jesus_Part_1/. Internet accessed 11 February 2008. See also “Marriage: God’s Showcase of Covenant-Keeping Grace” (February 11, 2007) and “Marriage: Pursuing Conformity to Christ in the Covenant” (February 25, 2007), also found at http://www.desiringgod.org.
 See also P.T. Forsyth, Marriage: Its Ethic and Religion (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1996), chapter 2 (especially page 27).
 John Piper, “Staying Married Is Not About Staying in Love, Part 1” (January 28, 2007). DesiringGod.org. Available from http://desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Sermons/ByDate/2007/1966_Staying_Married_Is_Not_About_Staying_In_Love_Part_1/. Internet accessed 11 February 2008.
 John Piper, “Marriage: A Matrix of Christian Hedonism” (October 16, 1983). DesiringGod.org. Available from http://desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Sermons/ByDate/1983/409_Marriage_A_Matrix_of_Christian_Hedonism/. Internet accessed 11 February 2008.
 Dwight H. Small, Design for Christian Marriage. (Westwood, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1959l), 22 & 24.
 Thomas, Sacred Marriage, 13.
 Ibid., 22.
 Ibid., 22.
 Ibid., 21.
 Pamensky, Rabbi Aryeh. “The Purpose of Marriage.” aish.com – The Jewish Website. Available from http://aish.com/family/marriage/The_Purpose_of_Marriage.asp. Internet; accessed 13 February 2008.
 Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage, 24.
 Ibid., 26.
 Reb Bradley. “What is God’s Primary Purpose for Marriage?” Taken from Help For the Struggling Marriage. FamilyMinistries.com. Available from http://familyministries.com/marriage_purpose.htm. Internet accessed 15 February 2008.
 Reb Bradley. “What is God’s Primary Purpose for Marriage?” Taken from Help For the Struggling Marriage. FamilyMinistries.com. Available from http://familyministries.com/marriage_purpose.htm. Internet accessed 15 February 2008.