Toward a Christian Understanding of Marriage

We live in unusual times.  Just 5 years ago the concept and definition of marriage was a settled issue.  Both Republicans and Democrats alike agreed that marriage as defined by the United States government should be defined as it has always been defined—as between a man and a woman.  As we all know, things change very quickly in our modern world and what seemed certain is now uncertain.  As the constitutionality of Defense of Marriage Act is being decided by the Supreme Court, one thing has become increasingly certain: the verdict from the court of cultural appeal has already been decided.

My primary concern is not that world is thinking in a worldly way.  Actually, the world seems to be trying desperately to frame this issue in a pseudo-Christian way.  The arguments put forward to support so called Gay Marriage are being posited using “Christian-ish” arguments.  What concerns me is that the popular Christian response falls generally along two lines.  The first response comes from those who instinctively know that this is wrong and yet don’t know how to answer without saying something like, “homosexuals are just perverts” or “God made Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve.”  The second type of response is equally knee-jerk, but more accommodating.  It is sympathetic to the abuse that homosexuals have received, and thus responds to this guilt by saying something like, “I personally don’t believe in gay marriage, but who am I to say what’s right and wrong.”  My concern is that Christians don’t know what marriage is or why it is important.

Marriage is most definitely a “religious” institution.  While I recognize that most marriages are not Christian, I assert that marriage is a sacred and divinely authored institution.   Even though the deep meaning of marriage has been lost in most cultures, there is the residue of common grace that still benefits cultures where marriage is valued and practiced.  The cultural push to redefine marriage as something other than what it is, is akin to me calling my dog a cat.  She may be furry, have four legs, and a propensity for getting into the trash, but a cat is a cat and no personal redefinition changes that.  My intent is not to persuade non-Christians of something they don’t want to believe.  My concern is to help Christians to understand the depth, mystery and theological beauty of marriage and to encourage them to live this mystery out in a way that is compelling and winsome to a world that is desperate for meaning and significance.

The definition of marriage was decided a long time ago, by the one who invented marriage.  In Genesis chapters 1 and 2 we find the account of God creating the cosmos.  In this account we read of God creating the universe, level by level by speaking powerful words.  Words are important things.  Words are powerful things.  God used words to create, and he used words to define.

God spoke and created light.  The light God named the day, the darkness he named night and then God defined the light as good.  Level by level God spoke and created the universe and after each day God defined what he had created as good—with one exception.

In Genesis 2 we find a detailed account of the creation of man.  You are probably familiar with all the elements there.  God forms man from the dust of the ground, he breathes into him the breath of life, man comes alive, he is placed in a special place that God created for him called the Garden of Eden, and gave him clear instructions as to his work and his life, but I want to draw your attention do something that you may have missed before.

After every day of creation God declares it good, but here we find God saying something quite different.  In chapter 2 verse 18, God looks at man standing in his perfect place with the task that God had given him, and says, “It is not good…”  “Not good?”  “Not good.”

Why not good?  Everything else is good.  Why is man called “not good?”  God said, “It is not good that man should be alone.  I will make a helper fit for him.”

We see that God put Adam to sleep and take from his side a rib (a hunk of his flesh) and created for him and from him a wife—a perfect compliment for him; a partner for him; a completer for him.

Man and woman together—that, God calls good.

“And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” 24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”

Here we see the bedrock foundation for all of marriage.  This is what Jesus pointed back to when talking about marriage (Matthew 19) and this is what the Apostle Paul reference when he wrote to the Ephesians about the picture of marriage.  When a man and a woman join together in the mystical union we call marriage, they demonstrate a unity that is deep and profound and unique and very good.

Unity in Identity

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”  27 So God created man in his own image,in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Christians have a tradition of the wife taking her husbands name.  This is significant.  When a father gives away his daughter she is leaving his house, his care, his protection and joining another man’s house, care, and protection.  This is rooted in our identity.  In Genesis 1 we see God creating man and woman in his likeness and giving them collectively the name man.  When Adam names Eve in Genesis 2:34 he names her woman.  In English man and woman sound alike and in Hebrew it is the same.  They are unified in their identity.  Theirs is not a difference in kind, but a difference in function.  This will become even more important when we look at the Gospel and how marriage pictures something far greater, but for now I just want you to meditate on that.

As a couple make their vows to each other they are making a covenant of becoming one.  Marriage is no 50/50 agreement it takes 100% of each of them.  Each, giving up their life for the other.

Unity in Intimacy

 Secondly we see unity in intimacy.  The Bible is not prudish.  It is wonderfully romantic.  Fathers blush at these verses, but there is beauty in a man leaving his mother and father and holding fast to his wife on becoming one flesh.  In verse 25 we read, “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”

The intimacy that comes through self sacrifice and covenant love is the highest form of intimacy this world can know.  That marriage is an intimacy killer, is a lie.  The covenant commitment of marriage is in fact the only place where true intimacy can grow.  In marriage you can completely and freely give yourselves to one another without fear.  They were naked and unashamed.  God says the marriage bed is good.  Traditionally Christians have argued that sex was only for procreation, but we see that view has no Biblical basis.  There is a joy and freedom that comes from within a God ordained sexual union, but it is an intimacy that has its boundaries and those boundaries are within the covenant of marriage.

Unity in Picture

 While marriage is not an analogy of the Godhead, the unity in difference that is a marriage reflects something of the image of God in us.  Both man and woman are made in the image of God.  Man and woman have an essence before God that is at its core the same.  And between man and woman there is also a fundamental and inalterable difference.  There are different roles and yet a singular purpose.  There is love, communication and joy, between a man and a woman in a marriage union that mimics that of the love, communication and mutual enjoyment the Father, Son, and Spirit.

Unity in Purpose

Lastly in marriage there is unity in purpose.  Originally man and woman together were to rule God’s good earth, but we know that mankind sinned instead of ruling God’s earth, became tyrants and enemies of God.  But God made a promise to Adam and Eve—that someday a descendent of Eve would come and break this curse and restore God’s people into God’s place.  Jesus Christ came into this world to fulfill that promise.  He fulfilled God’s law, he took our punishment on the cross and then rose from the grave in a way that every fairytale ever written bears the echo of.  Jesus broke our curse and in doing so created a new people.  He redefined what it means to be human.

In fact, the Bible says that marriage is a picture of just that.

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Marriage is more than just a marriage—it is a living drama that shows the saving relationship that Jesus has with us. This a big deal.  It is also very, very good.

So how should we respond?  I’ll give some suggestions as to how Christians can respond in the days ahead.

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The New Less-Social Psychology of China’s Generation Without Siblings


This new post in the Atlantic concludes what most sane people have assumed for years: tinkering with the natural social order will eventually have negative consequences.  When will our society wake up and learn?

The new only-child generation grew up to be less trusting, more risk-averse, less competitive, more pessimistic, less conscientious, and it appears, more neurotic.

PROBLEM: China’s one-child policy, introduced in 1979 and strictly enforced, succeeded in slowing population growth. The first of the children who were born — one per family, under threat of heavy penalties and by means, for some, of forced sterilization — are now fully grown. What does it mean, for them and for China, that an entire generation grew up without siblings?

METHODOLOGY: Researchers at the University of Australia seized on the natural experiment created by the Chinese government, recruiting thirtysomethings from Beijing who had been born before and after the one-child policy was implemented. The study had a small sample size, of about 421 participants, that nonetheless marked a large change in demographics. Despite being close in age, they were from vastly different generations, from those who were born in 1975, when only about a quarter of Chinese families had only children, to those born in 1983, where the number rose to 91 percent.

The participants played a variety of “Deal or No Deal” style econ games designed to test behaviors and attitudes with real-world social and economic correlations.

RESULTS: Compared to children born right before the one-child policy was implemented, children born under its jurisdiction scored lower on a whole spectrum of measures: They grew up to be less trusting, more risk-averse, less competitive, more pessimistic, less conscientious, and it appeared, more neurotic.

In one example, 66.4 percent of children born pre-policy were willing to invest 100 yuan with a 50/50 risk of tripling their return or losing it all, while only 51.8 percent born after took the risk.

The only children were also less likely to hold risky jobs, like self-employment or a position in finance. The differences were seen even between people born one year before and after the policy’s introduction.

Spending a lot of time around peers while they were growing up was no substitute for siblings, the researchers found as well. This “sibling deprivation” was associated with them being more self-centered and less cooperative.

CONCLUSION: Children born after the introduction of the one-child policy developed different, less social psychologies from the previous “generation,” born as little as two years earlier.

IMPLICATIONS: The findings the China’s only children have fewer of the qualities necessary for being social and entrepreneurial, compounded across an entire nation, may very well have real world implications in the global marketplace, say the authors.

The research also highlights the unique circumstance of families being forced to limit the number of children they have — other studies have found that only children in the West, whose parents are more likely to have made the conscious decision not to give them siblings, do not differ much from their non-sibling deprived peers.

The full study, “Little Emperors: Behavioral Impacts of China’s One-Child Policy,” is published in the journal Science.

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Uyghur or Uighur?

Uyghur or Uighur?.


Even the English spelling of this ethnic group’s name causes controversy.

Photo: RFA

The word “Uyghur” written in Uyghur script.

Anyone researching the Turkic people living in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region, and scattered throughout Central Asia, must almost immediately make what seems to be a major editorial decision:  Are they Uyghur or Uighur people? Do they inhabit the Xinjiang Uighur or Uyghur Autonomous Region?

“Uighur,” with an “i,” has appeared for centuries in writings by Western scholars, and many Western media and experts on the region still prefer this spelling.

One early original source in English for the history of the region, British explorer T. D. Forsyth’s Report of a Mission to Yarkand in 1873, refers to “Uighur” people. Other early English spellings include “Ouighour” and “Ouigour,” derived from French and German scholars’ renderings.

But members of this mostly Muslim ethnic group overwhelmingly prefer the spelling “Uyghur,” which they say more closely approximates the proper orthography and pronunciation in their native language, “Uyƣur.” (The word sounds, when spoken, closer to “oy-gher” than “wee-ger,” as most Westerners enunciate it.)

In fact, the spelling “Uighur” suggests a different orthography in the Uyghur language itself.

“I use the ‘Uyghur’ spelling because it’s the most faithful to the way the word is written in the Uyghur script today,” said Gardner Bovingdon, a professor of Uyghur studies at Indiana University.

Different systems agree

The language is often written in the Latin alphabet, including online.  Although Uyghurs use different transliteration systems when writing in the Latin alphabet instead of the modified Arabic script, all the transliteration systems agree that the Latin “i” and “y” represent different Uyghur letters.

Indeed, the word represented in Uyghur by the “Ui” spelling places two vowels in one syllable, violating the Turkic language’s own linguistic rule of vowel harmony.

Two major exile groups, the Washington-based Uyghur American Association and Munich-based World Uyghur Congress, also use this English transliteration, “Uyghur.”

Chinese authorities have, moreover, officially adopted the same spelling, although other usages by official Chinese sources are common.  A circular from the Terminology Normalization Committee for Ethnic Languages of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, dated Oct. 11, 2006, states:

“At present, there is utter confusion on how to render and use in English the name of that nationality, with no fewer than seven different spellings attested: Uyghur, Uygur, Uighur, Uighuir, Uiguir, Uigur, and Weiwuer. This situation causes a number of problems in our work and daily lives.

“Therefore, the Terminology Normalization Committee for Ethnic Languages of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region based on research and consultations with relevant experts on this issue recommends that the spelling Uyghur, corresponding to the pronunciation [ujγur], be used as the English transcription of the word.”

“Government organizations and individuals are invited to conform to the present notice,” the circular says.

But China’s official news outlets often use “Uighur” or “Uygur” in their English reports.

“If Beijing is going to be ‘Beijing’ [e.g. instead of ‘Peking’] because that’s how the government in Beijing wants it to be known, then Uyghurs have the right to decide how to spell the name,” Bovingdon said.

“And the Uyghurs I know who are intellectuals and concerned with transcription spell it “Uyghur.”

Reported in Washington by Rachel Vandenbrink.

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I have said tha…

I have said that he did not understand the design of the vision; for, while he was hearing, from the mouth of Moses and Elijah, that the time of Christ’s death was at hand, he foolishly dreamed that his present aspect, which was temporary, would endure for ever. And what if the kingdom of Christ had been confined in this way to the narrow limits of twenty or thirty feet? Where would have been the redemption of the whole world? Where would have been the communication of eternal salvation? It was also highly absurd to conceive of Moses and Elijah as companions of the Son of God, as if it had not been proper that all should be reduced to a lower rank, that he alone may have the pre-eminence. And if Peter is satisfied with his present condition, why does he suppose that earthly supports were needed by those persons, the very sight of whom, he imagined, was enough to make him happy?

Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Mt 17:4). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

John Calvin on Peter’s response to the transfiguration.  The sad reality is that many of our desires, if fulfilled as we wish, would result in the Kingdom of God being limited to the “narrow limits of twenty or thirty feet.”  May God expand our vision and enlarge our capacity to embrace the cross.

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The Kyrgyz of Xinjiang

China is full of ancient and wonderful people groups each with their own unique history and culture, tucked away in the crooks and crannies of China’s vast geographical mashup. One of the most isolated of these people groups are the Kyrgyz people of Xinjiang.  There are about 145,000 Kyrgyz in China and the people group is about 4.5 million worldwide.  They are Sunni muslims who’s customs are of a distinct folk muslim variety.  They live in isolated mountain settlements that are often far from big cities and access to the Gospel.  This slideshow from NPR gives a unique look into the challenges this people group faces.

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The Chinese Church and the Global Body of Christ

The Chinese Church and the Global Body of Christ | Chinese Church Voices.

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Uzbek Christians in Kazkhstan

God is moving among believers of muslim backgrounds to reach other people’s for the Gospel.  Pray for Pastor Makset Djabbarbergenov who is facing deportation back to Uzbekistan.

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Third-Culture Kids

What is a Third-Culture kid?  A person growing up in a culture that is different from his parents culture.  The child is growing up in a culture that is not the same as his family culture, and not the same as the culture around him.  He is a third culture kid.  This is so important for understanding what missionary and immigrant children are going through.  I hope you’ll watch, comment and pass it along.  (Thanks to Tony Beckett for posting this on his facebook page).

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Seed fund for business as missions?

Grand Rapids has started a great vehicle for providing small businesses with start up funds.  How hard would it be to develop the same sort of idea for B.A.M. ideas?  Business is one of the only vehicles through which the gospel can enter some of the least reached countries in the world, but the vision gap, the knowledge gap, and the funding gap is huge.  What are some ways that ordinary Christians could see this changed?

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What Keeps the Chinese Up at Night

What Keeps the Chinese Up at Night

This New York Times Op-Ed piece astutely captures the real anxieties of the vast majority of Chinese people.  Through it all God is working.  Literally millions have come to Christ in the past 50 years.  Pray that God will continue to open doors among the Han Chinese and that new doors will be open to the millions of minority people groups within China.

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