My youngest niece just got married—before a Justice of the Peace. When my oldest niece tied the knot some years ago, it was before an altar. Both times my sister (Laurie) and brother-in-law (Tom) were present. Their own marriage isn’t perfect, but it has endured nearly four decades—no small accomplishment in today’s society. Both times, the young men asked Tom for his blessing before proposing. Both times he, a former career Army Ranger, gave it—along with some choice words about his expectations about his daughters’ care.

Weddings typically involve a lot of “yeses.” Yes from the future in-laws. Yes from the bride-to-be. Yeses pronounced in front of witnesses, secular and religious. But what does saying “yes” to marriage really mean? What are God’s purposes for marriage and family?

Finding the answer is more complicated than we might think. Examining the lives of Christian couples only gets us so far, since so many are virtually indistinguishable from non-Christian couples. In terms of divorce and premarital sex, those inside the church often struggle as much as those outside of it.

How about a look into the Bible? Here, too, the models often fall embarrassingly short. Father Abraham has many sons—but the first one is not with his wife (Gen. 16). Judah has sex with his daughter-in-law (Gen. 38). David has an affair with a married woman and murders her husband to cover it up (2 Sam. 11). And these are just a few examples of broken families in scripture.

Deeper Considerations

Discovering the deepest truths about family requires starting with God’s own Trinitarian nature. In the Creation account, we see that God is both one and three (Gen. 1:26). The triune relationship is marked by the constant, joyful outpouring of self in generous love. Desiring to invite others into this Divine Dance of love, God—out of sheer grace—makes humans in His own image and places them in a beautiful, superabundant creation. As God’s image-bearers, men and women are made for community, for that self-giving love that characterizes their Creator. But as in the Trinity, their relationship is not to be exclusively pointed inward, but outward in generosity. A marriage partnership is made not only for the partners. The yes spoken to each other is also one spoken for the life of the world.

Let It Be

This kind of yes marks the best biblical example of marriage: the family of Jesus. When God’s angel visits Mary and explains God’s plan of salvation, she responds, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Though what she’s been told is utter mystery, she says “Yes” to God. Likewise, when Joseph is visited by the angel to learn of his part in the Lord’s plan for this unique family, he too says “yes.” Through these courageous yeses, they take up their role in God’s spectacular plan of salvation: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son …” (John 3:16).

When we say “yes” to marriage, we are saying “yes” to the life of the world because we are declaring “yeses” to spouses, children, family, and neighbors. In God’s design, a healthy family is the foundation of a thriving society. Family life is the fundamental school of love where we learn that our calling as God’s image-bearers is to flow outward in generous love and blessing.

Loving, Encouraging, Blessing

We spring from and are created for Love. This is a glorious gift. Its outworking in family life, though, is often unromantic, mundane, and humbling. We slowly, often painfully grow into our self-giving nature not so much through grand gestures to save the world as in normal everyday struggles to offer ourselves to one another in love, encouragement, and blessing. We become more Christ-like as we push against squabbling, lying, and cheating, and cling to God for the strength to give and forgive.

In messy family life, we say our first, foundational “yes” to living into our truest selves. My older niece has been seeking to practice this Christ-like pouring out of herself for her husband, children, and neighbors for 10 years. My youngest niece will be learning hourly in the days ahead what a solid marriage will require. And with God’s help, both these families will increasingly live into their God-given calling to turn outward and give themselves for others’ flourishing.