What Constitutes A Legitimate Marriage?

Legitimate Marriage

"What Constitutes A Legitimate Marriage?"

"Why did Herod despise John the Baptist? Because he told the truth about his marriage and his unscriptural home. 'Am I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?' Paul asked in Galatians 4:16. Accept the truth about your home today; for if your house can be turned into a castle, it will be worth it."
from "A Man's Castle" by Hugh F. Pyle

"This prevailing immorality is found everywhere. Look at the legalized adultery that we call divorce. Much so-called marriage is little more than legalized prostitution. Men marry one wife and then another, and are still admitted into good society, and women do likewise. There are thousands of supposedly respectable men in America living with other men's wives, and thousands of supposedly respectable women living with other women's husbands."
from "The Power of Prayer and the Prayer of Power" by R. A. Torrey

As Christians, we shouldn't attend anything that, if doing so, gives the impression Jesus would approve of it, if He wouldn't. Ministers are constantly faced with the request to conduct marriage ceremonies for people. They have to decide if Jesus would perform such under each set of circumstances. For those of us who will never have to conduct such services, we may think we don't have to concern ourselves, but that's wrong. The concern goes just as much for those invited to a wedding. Like the minister who may conduct the service, our Christian presence bears the testimony that Jesus would approve.

God Approved Marriage
Jesus started his ministry with his first miracle being performed at a wedding (John 2:1-11). Jesus' presence and miracle showed his approval of the marriage. Not all marriages are that way, however. The first perversion of our day that must be realized, is that living with someone does not constitute marriage. Remember the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:5-42). She was living with a man, and previously had five husbands. Jesus said:

17 . . . Thou hast well said, I have no husband: 18 For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly.
John 4:17b-18

Marriage is not simply made by cohabitation. It means vows. But now comes the sticky part: Does simply making a vow constitute a marriage? Does making a vow, and performing a service, constitute a marriage God legally validates? John the Baptist's response to Herod over his illegal marriage gives us the answer:

18 For John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother's wife.
Mark 6:18

Even the Emperor of a country can't change the laws of marriage. Only God has that power (Matthew 19:6). Marriage was instituted by God back in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:21-24). He is the only one who has the power to define what meets the requirements of fulfilling a covenant He established.
Back to the question, "What kind of marriage services can we attend where we will be showing acceptance before God?"
We see couples that live together who have children. Some may be from previous marriages. Others may be from the two cohabitating. Suddenly, for some reason, they decide to get married. We think, "Good, at least they're doing the right thing by making their living together respectable and legitimate." Is it though? Is it really no more than that described by R. A. Torrey, at the head of this article?
We must consider that God does make allowances for divorce and remarriage in the Old Testament that Jesus defined as being an adulterous relationship. This was the divorce/remarriage that was God's permissive will. Even then, Jesus did draw a line in saying it was permitted only because of the hardness of their hearts:

3 The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? 4 And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, 5 And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? 6 Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. 7 They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? 8 He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives; but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.
Matthew 19:3-9

A Shotgun Wedding?
Consider another situation: the Samaritan woman at the well that Jesus met. Now she is converted and calls the town out to hear Jesus. The man she was living with is converted. Do they make the relationship right by getting married? WOW! WHAT A QUESTION! The answer to that can make serious waves.
In thinking this through, we have several points to consider.

First, think of the testimony to the world. If the world sees it as a laughing stock, there's a reason they're not blinded to the cover up of a wedding service. For instance, I know of a woman who was on her fifth husband. The people she worked with considered it a laughing stock. As non-Christians they saw it as shameful. Why? Why do you think? The vows of marriage have been demonstrably meaningless. So they are married. If they get in a tiff, apart they split and on to the next marriage! The world sees that and knows it.
Let's take a look at the Samaritan well woman. Say she gets married to number six. What does the world think? What testimony is born and what representation of Jesus' approval is shown? I'll tell you, they will look at the newly religious couple and laugh. They will be thinking, they are no different, they're grasping a way to make their same old lifestyle look virtuous. Big joke! If the marriage doesn't break apart, like the other five did, they will just chalk it up to a little maturity in being able to get along, or a better match. No way would they account it to the importance of vows.

Second, consider why non-Christians bother to get married after living together for ten years and bearing offspring. Why would they do this? Very likely for the reason of legitimacy. You see, we're aware that God requires marriage. We feel that if we are "married", we stand on grounds to soothe our conscience. God doesn't frown on us anymore and our neighbors won't frown. Are we right? Wrong! God does frown on it as Jesus made clear in His calling divorce and remarriage adultery. So, the long delayed marriage is no longer considered adultery or fornication by God? Is God fooled by a sudden marriage down the road? NOT! For the couple that has only known each other and comes to Christ, the marriage would hold ground on the basis of repentance and no charge of adultery. They would separate immediately upon repentance, thus forsaking fornication, and get married before living together again.
So, should we attend a marriage that's conducted to either help falsely soothe the above conscience or add legitimacy for the sake of the neighbors or children? I know Jesus would never lend His presence to something that would imply His approval where sin wasn't truly repented of. It's one thing to eat with publicans and sinners to minister to them (Mark 2:15-17). It's quiet another to go door to door with the publican in his scandalous extortion (disguised under the legitimate cover of tax gathering - perfect parallel to this whole marriage discussion) and stand beside them as if we were with him and approved of such oppression. If Jesus had done that, those oppressed would have seen him with the publican in his shady work and would have despised what He was doing. His presence during the true crime, without open rebuke, would have implied His approval of it. They wouldn't be fooled and would have hated the evil.

Excuses for Licentiousness
An important issue is the disgusting licentiousness taken in dress and conduct preceding many weddings. The "bachelor parties", and now "bachelorette parties", that precede many weddings. Parties where they essentially hire prostitutes to come in to "entertain" the attendants. Such evil is carried on without so much as shame by the attendees. What kind of marriage would we be attending that started like this? What a mockery of any virtue!
As far as clothing, wedding dresses have taken the low road to whorish immodesty. Even some jr. bridesmaids are donning lewd clothing. Things that greatly grieve the heart of God are performed in "weddings" now. Shall we attend marriages we know are preceded with vile "parties" and where we know the dress of the wedding party will be essentially pornographic? Jesus would never lend His presence to condone and show acceptance of such "services". These would be a stench in His nostrils!
Next time you're invited to a wedding, consider your testimony and what Jesus would do.

Nehemiah & Ezra
Take a close look at the marriages discussed in Ezra and Nehemiah (Ezra 9:1-10:5,17-19; Nehemiah 13:23-28). There we find Jews who had come back from being in Babylonian exile for a 70 year period. During that time, some had married wives who were from other nations such as Moab. This was forbidden by the law of Moses. These men had to face a decision. Either consider themselves cut off from Israel or divorce the illegal wives. These passages should be very sobering. They also carry important implications to consider in this day. Let's go into one of those right now.
Suppose Ezra finds himself about his daily tasks in Babylonian exile. Suddenly, a young man runs up with an announcement of his nephew's wedding. He reads the announcement and steps back in disbelief. His own nephew is marrying a young lady whom he knows to be a Moabite. This is a forbidden marriage by Mosaic law. Ezra naturally prepares to have a serious talk with his nephew, but what if he won't listen? Should he concede, simply show his politeness and attend the wedding? Any reading of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah will clearly show that wouldn't be an option to this great man of God. For Ezra to attend such a wedding would be tantamount to showing a degree of approval, or at least acceptance of it, as a legal ceremony.
From Ezra and Nehemiah, we see these offending men were truly married, but these marriages were not legal in God's sight. Really no less offensive than Herod's marriage to his brother's wife, that John the Baptist condemned as unlawful.
The matter of marriage is very serious. We are not talking about a simple convention of man. We are talking about the first legal covenant God ordained amongst men! This means that even amongst pagans, who know nothing of Christian or Jewish covenants, their marriages are still binding covenants whose terms are those established with the first parents of us all.

Any redefining is not merely a modification of the original covenant. It is a new kind of covenant! It is not a marriage in the eyes of God.

I read a science fiction novel that introduced a very probable convention of the future: "term" marriages. Since divorce had become so common, and nobody seemed to be able to remain married, they came up with 10-year and (wow, long) 20-year marriages. The really brave ones went for "lifers". The marriage was deemed a contract that expired automatically after the stated length of term. Kind of like modern leases on buildings. The idea is absolutely vile, but with modern man you can see how something like that may not be quite so far down the road. If so, will the "new law" make legitimate marriages that truly end at the expired time? Will God simply recognize such vile laws as legitimate, and accept that the new marriage contract for the next 10-years with the new partner is not really an act of adultery? Jesus made that clear in the verses already quoted from Matthew 19:3-9.

From here we make a side step to the issue of "same sex marriages". As I write this, a Canadian Province is predicted to legalize "same sex marriages". Many US States are battling the issue. If such is legalized, there's the issue of such perversions of marriage being recognized by other states. The same has to face us as individuals. Do we acknowledge such "marriages" as legitimate? Do we call them Mr. and Mr. J. Smith? If we do, we acknowledge the legitimacy, of something existing as a true marriage, that's a vile perversion of God's institution.
The "same sex marriage" issue provides good food for thought. It helps us see the principals more clearly. For most true Christians, the sodomite marriages are obvious issues. They wouldn't have any question over the ethics of attending a sodomite wedding. Carry this through: We see why we could courageously refuse to be part of such a wedding. They are immoral, unbiblical unions, that pervert the very meaning of "marriage"! What about the societally accepted marriages that Jesus called "adulterous" relationships? What about Herod's marriage to his brother's wife? What about weddings we are invited to that the couple had to search far and wide before they could find a pastor that would conduct the service? These are scary questions, but we can't pretend the responsibility of our Christian duty doesn't exist. If Jesus can't approve it, we (as His representatives on this earth) cannot show acceptability of the ceremony. I'm not saying I know the answers to all the situations this will bring us into, but we cannot pretend it doesn't matter. Going for the sake of "not offending" or to keep ourselves from being looked at as "judgmental, self-righteous dogs". We may very well be viewed that way, but wouldn't John the Baptist have been seen that way by Herod's wife? Wouldn't Ezra have been viewed that way in modern society? Won't we be viewed that way when we take a stand on "same sex" marriages, or on "term" marriages? Hopefully, we won't back off on our declared stance, even though many will scorn us.
Does their scornful view of us truly destroy our witness? If we claim to be "loving" Christians who never want to offend anyone as the "ultimate" Christian testimony, then it will ruin that witness. If we claim to be Christians who serve a holy God and fearfully follow Him, no matter what the cost in scorn, contempt or even life, it will not destroy that witness. Jesus was very offensive and "judgmental". Don't you remember, that was a major part of the reason they sought to put Him to death!

Wedding Vows
Another atrocity of our time, is the rewriting of the marriage vows.
I'm speaking specifically of the "love, honor and obey" part of the woman's vow. This has become so objectionable, due to the women's liberation influence, that I believe most marriages have dropped the "obey" from the vow altogether. In fact, I remember a pastor trying to talk a woman out of having the "obey" part in her vows, because he said it's a hard thing to do, so it's better not to vow to do it. That makes as much sense as saying we shouldn't promise God to obey and serve Him because we will probably fail. Look at Jesus' very instructions:

33 So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.
Luke 14:33

These would have to be turned down on the basis of, "We will fail at times so we shouldn't undertake discipleship since we will not consistently forsake everything without failures."
It is the same for the conditions of marriage. Just because we will fail perfect obedience is no excuse for rewriting the terms upon which the institution of marriage exists. God created marriage and He is the One to define its terms and conditions. Just like we cannot change Jesus' words for the terms of being His disciple, so we have no power to change God's decree of the terms of the marriage partnership. As soon as we start changing the terms, we are creating a "new" institution other than marriage. That leads to the serious question of whether such a "marriage" can now be called a "marriage". If not, will we as Christians show endorsement of these new "living together" partnerships as being acceptable alternatives to marriage? To do such would be tantamount to taking what Jesus said in the Luke passage and rewrite it like: "So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsakes not what suits his fancy, he cannot be my disciple." From there we latch on to this new revised verse and think we can consider such arrangements as acceptable discipleship. We live our lives in accordance with that new definition and think that because we wanted that new form, Jesus will endorse such discipleship as acceptable. We will be seriously fooling ourselves. We will hear something we won't be able to revise such as:

23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
Matthew 7:23

Christians Marrying Non-Christians
Paul was clear that a Christian should never marry a non-Christian (1 Corinthians 7:39; 2 Corinthians 6:14-18). Unfortunately, many Christians are slack in their commitment to obey the Lord in this area. They often suffer great consequences for their disobedience for the rest of their married lives.
Beyond this, however, comes the aspect of our response as fellow Christians. Can we, as representatives of Christ, show approval and acceptance of this disobedience though our attendance of such a forbidden marriage? To attend such a wedding would be in direct contradiction to our responsibility to both our fellow Christians and to God.

Indicating Christ's approval
In everything we do, we need to be careful as to what we are saying Christ approves of. For example, consider some of the hired help for a wedding. You have caterers for the wedding party. The caterers are not showing approval or disapproval of the marriage by preparing food for hire. The florists aren't showing any yeas or nays in selling a wedding party a supply of flowers. The guests and the minister, however, are not in the same boat. By presence in this capacity, we're specifically indicating acceptance of what is going on and giving our best wishes in that pursuit of a marriage. If it's a biblical marriage, that indeed is something to give best wishes to, but not if it defies God in the face in one form or another. That is our primary concern: "What are we showing Christ approves of?"

Copyright 2004 Darrell Farkas

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Free to Copy under Creative Commons BY-NC-ND3.0 License by Darrell Farkas
All quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible

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