Christian Marriage as "Fellowship"

This article is the first from our current issue of Higher Things Magazine. The Spring 204 issue is a special topical issue on Marriage.

by Rev. John C. Drosendahl

Then God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper, fit for him.” - Genesis 2:18

We don’t often hear the word “fellowship” associated with marriage. But “fellowship” is more than just a “relationship” or being together. “Fellowship” implies a participation and oneness with the other person. With the words above, the LORD gives us His first “holy hint” about the purpose for the institution of marriage. It was not God’s intent from the get-go that anyone would be an island to him or herself. Two are better than one—as wise Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes— because they can help each other. So God made a helper for Adam—somebody with whom he could fellowship.

Yet not just any old fellowship would do. God brought all the animals He had created to Adam, but not one of them was fit to be a helper for man. So God made Adam comatose for a bit, grabbed a hunk of bone and flesh out of his side and fashioned it into a woman. Bone of Adam’s bone, flesh of Adam’s flesh—woman was made out of him to be his perfect complement.

You see, Adam needed fellowship with somebody who was the right “fit”—someone who was suitable, who corresponded to him. God had a special fellowship in mind for this very first husband and wife, and for all those thereafter. He blessed them with the wondrous fellowship of marriage, in which the two would fit together quite nicely, two becoming one, intimately so, as the one-flesh gift of God.

So now, even today, this gift of marriage fellowship is the same. The man leaves his parents (as does the wife), and they are joined together as one flesh. But superimposed over their own vows and actions is the work of God, the same One who created the first husband and wife, and the same One who established the institution of marriage as this special fellowship. As Jesus says concerning this wondrous gift, “What God has joined together, let no man tear apart.”

Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, describes fellowship in general in the body of Christ in chapter 5 as one in which we all are subordinate to one another. In other words, every single one of us is to be just like Eve when she was first created—a helper fit for the God-given tasks of meeting the needs of others with whom God places us in fellowship. Brothers help sisters, friends help neighbors, parents help children, and so on.

Paul is inspired to continue, zooming in on the most intimate of fellowship between people: the communion of husband and wife. Since men and women are indeed different, Paul spells out the unique tasks of husbands, and those of wives. But the over-arching theme of these inspired words of God strikes us somewhat unexpectedly: Christ is head of the church, so the husband is head of the wife. As the church is subordinate to Christ, so, too, is the wife subordinate to her husband, just as Eve was first created as Adam’s helper.

And so the relationship of husbands and wives reflects the fellowship of Christ and His holy bride—the Church. Husbands have the God-given vocation which calls them to care for their wives with the same sacrificial love Jesus has for the Church. A husband loves His wife and is considerate toward her, respecting and protecting her as the weaker vessel which brings life into the world. In turn, the wife is made subordinate to her husband in the same way the Church relies upon Christ’s love. By faith the Church accepts the sacrifice of Jesus, and likewise the Christian wife respects her husband as the one whom God has provided to care for her. This is why He gives to us the biblical picture of the church as Christ’s Holy Bride, so that we may use our understanding and experiences from earthly marriage fellowship to better comprehend our own “Bride-ness” to Him. Likewise, the fellowship of Christ and the church teaches husbands and wives how to live toward one another in holy marriage.

Just like earthly brides wear white as a symbol of their purity until marriage, so, too, is the church made pure. A similar white garment was most likely worn by you at your baptism, when Jesus cleansed you at the font from all your sin and unrighteousness, and sanctified you to be His holy beloved. Your baptism took all of your sins from you, and that filthy flood from the font was deposited directly onto Jesus at the cross, where He who had no sins of His own became your sin. In return, you are now made holy with Christ’s own righteousness, credited to your account by faith--—a bridal gift from Him to you. You are adorned by Jesus to be spotless, holy, and blameless before God forever.

In addition to the bridal fellowship with Jesus you enjoy in your baptism, you have another place to be in communion with your Savior. This is at the Lord’s Supper. This meal is a wedding banquet of sorts—a foretaste of the feast to come of the Lamb with His eternal Bride in His everlasting kingdom. For your Groom, Jesus, loved you by giving Himself up to die for you on Calvary. Jesus made Himself to be expendable for you, both risking and suffering death in your place to save you. The fruits of His death become your feast at the Lord’s Supper; His body given and His blood shed for you is your wedding feast of communion with Jesus your Bridegroom.

Just as God has given husbands to wives and wives to husbands so they may have a special fellowship together, so, too, He has given you to be in communion with others. The Spirit has called and gathered you into the fellowship of His holy church, to enlighten, sanctify and keep you there in the one true faith. Jesus has made you, in that church, to be His holy, well-fed bride, bringing you to Himself at the Cross in Baptism, and bringing the fruits of that same Cross to you in Holy Communion. The special fellowship that a man and woman have in marriage is a reminder of God’s good institution before the Fall and that Christ and His holy church will be together forever, long after earthly marriage has ceased. After all, from the very beginning, God’s purpose was to unite His holy bride with Him, in 
and through His Son, our holy bridegroom.

Pastor John C. Drosendahl is privileged to serve Peace Lutheran Church in Goldsboro, North Carolina, and Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Wilson, North Carolina. He has served as breakaway instructor, catechist, and chaplain for Higher Things conferences. He can be reached at john.drosendahl@gmail.com.

Created: April 22nd, 2014