Marriage is an economic reality. Every wedding is an economic transaction and creation. The word “economy” itself comes from the Greek word that meant “household management.” An economy literally is the establishment and norms of a household. So every wedding is the establishment of a new household, and therefore a new economy. But we are a Christians, and so we should want to know whether the Bible actually teaches this, and if so, what does it mean?
I want to begin with a couple of negative examples. First, the Bible describes sexual sin and sexual infidelity in economic terms. In the Old Testament law, a man who conspired to divorce his wife by falsely accusing her of not being a virgin prior to marriage was fined a hundred shekels of silver (Dt. 22:19). Likewise, a man who slept with a woman prior to marriage was fined fifty shekels of silver (Dt. 22:29).
Texts like these have scandalized many modern ears. Moderns accuse God of disrespecting women by putting a price on their virginity. But in the place of this outrage, they de facto insist that a woman’s virginity is worthless. They will not insist that anything is owed to a woman who has been dishonored. She may be accused of anything and divorced for no fault of her own.
In addition to the emotional scarring, the various dangers and vulnerabilities a young, single woman is often exposed to (especially in the ancient world), she has also been robbed. She has been robbed of her honor. She has been robbed of her dignity, her reputation, her power as a woman made in the image of God. Not only would the fines significantly discourage these kinds of criminal acts, they acted as restitution and gave the young woman substantial protections from men seeking to take advantage of her.
Today, a woman’s virginity is scorned and despised. This is because on the one hand, evil men prefer guilty and helpless women. A woman who has been convinced that she is damaged and helpless is far more willing to put up with mistreatment. In her desperation and lack of recourse, she will stay with a man who pays her bills, who buys her clothes, despite his lack of anything approaching Christian love. And on the other hand, a woman’s chastity is scorned and despised because it remains one of the chief glories of a powerful Christian woman.
And this leads to the positive side of all this: In the Christian vision of purity, virginity is not something that once lost can never be restored. No, that’s the point of the restitution. Through the fines, through an economic transaction, God demonstrates that He restores the dignity of a vulnerable woman. Our modern culture, by rejecting God’s law, also rejects God’s grace.
By refusing to call sexual sin fraud and theft, the world has left millions of women out in the cold, essentially agreeing with the men who misused them, leaving them unprotected. But the Christian gospel is the glorious announcement that all debts have been paid, of an inheritance far better than you could ever imagine, of purity restored. In Jesus Christ, every spot, every wrinkle, every blemish, every lustful glance, every stolen kiss, every fraudulent act is paid for out of the infinite treasury of God’s love poured out in the precious blood of Jesus Christ shed on the cross.
All of this is why, within the marriage covenant, Paul says that a husband and wife “owe” one another affection and sexual intimacy. For one spouse to refuse the other is also an act of fraud. For when a man and woman are married they give themselves to one another, such that they no longer own their own bodies, but now they belong to one another.
“For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does” (1 Cor. 7:4). Marriage is an exchange of property and goods and treasures, and at its center is a union, which freely gives to the other.
The fundamental presupposition of sin is scarcity. Sin presupposes that God’s goodness will run out, that there will not be enough, or that God is for some reason holding back. But God’s love is the fundamental power of productivity in the world. John says this: “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 Jn. 4:10) And again, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear… we love him, because he first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19-20).
Wherever there is a deficit in our lives, God’s love in Christ makes up the difference. Where we are slow, God’s love is patient. Where we are ungrateful, God’s love is kind. Where we doubt, God’s love believes. Where we falter, God’s love bears all things. When we want to give up, God’s love endures. But this is not merely a spiritual reality that gives us warm feelings and goose bumps. This kind of love drives Christian action.
This kind of endowment drives productivity. In our sins, we are afraid, we are impatient, we falter, we doubt, — and so we are tempted to take matters into our own hands, stealing, defrauding, grasping, coveting, holding back. But God in His love paid it all. Our debts are completely paid, and He has given us an inheritance that surpasses our wildest dreams. And this, if we can get our heads and hearts around it, makes us bold. We love because he loves. We live because he lives. We work because He works.
And so the full court press to destroy the sanctity of marriage and to dishonor the marriage bed is not merely a sin against God and other people in some kind of mysterious spiritual way; it is a sin against the economic foundations of the world. It is an economic sin. But it is not only robbing men and women of their dignity, and leaving them enslaved to regrets and guilt and shame, it is also robbing the world of what God has designed to be a powerhouse of productivity.
When a man and woman come together in marriage, they are asking God to do what He designed the first man and woman to do: to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and to subdue it. This means studying horticulture, weather patterns, biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, languages, history, ship building, mining, zoology, nutritional science, educational philosophy, not to mention deep sea exploration, space travel, nano-technology, and even, international business and web design.
And as the first man and woman set out to tackle all of this, they would have become aware of one of the central, most valuable resources they would need to carry out this task — a unique contribution that only a husband and wife together make for the world, namely, people. Marriage is designed to produce the most valuable thing in the whole world: people. People who sing, people who paint, people who build, people who invent, people who explore, people who write, people who fix, people who share, who give, who serve. People are producers, creators, manufacturers, explorers, inventors, storytellers, poets, and gardeners. This is why, as one of my favorite historians is want to say about weddings (quoting Shakespeare, I believe): the world must be peopled.
So Justin, my exhortation to you is that you understand that God is giving you out of the abundance of His goodness and grace a person, a valuable, precious woman, who is made in the image of God, who carries within her eternal being untold powers of creativity, wisdom, and joy. As a husband, the Bible teaches that you receive those gifts by giving yourself completely to her. You lay your life down for her; you sacrifice in order to make her powers more potent. You are to love her the way Jesus loved His bride the Church, by laying His life down for us, so that there would be no blemish, no spot, no wrinkle. Your temptation will be to think that you do not have enough to give. Sometimes you will get tired. There will be less money, less time, less food than perhaps you had hoped for or planned on. Perhaps you will face trials, difficulties, tragedies, and you will be tempted to hold back, pull back, to reserve some for yourself. But this is to imagine that the goodness of God is scarce. But the love of God in Christ is abundant, overflowing, and it never runs dry. So the only way you can love your wife the way God requires is by drawing off of His infinite reserves. Today God is giving you a priceless possession. Honor her, guard her, – she is your glory, your crown. God is making you rich beyond your wildest dreams.
Morgan, today, you need to understand that God is also giving you a priceless possession, a person of infinite value, a man made in the image of the eternal God. He carries within himself the extraordinary powers of creativity and wisdom and joy. As a wife, you are called by God specifically to receive his gifts by respecting him, thinking highly of him, looking up to him, following his lead. As you do this, as you give yourself completely to him, you are a potent ministry to him. In the economy of God, when you give what you have away, you always end up with more. This does not mean that you always end up with more of what you gave away. But you always end up with more of God’s goodness. You may be called to give away your time, and you may not end up with more time. But when you give away your time, you will end up with more of something better. Perhaps it will be more joy, more opportunities to serve, more riches in friendship and love. Morgan, every wedding is an answer to many prayers, frequently offered by parents and grandparents and close friends. But it wouldn’t be right to finish without noting the fact that this wedding is the answer to the prayers of thousands. When it seemed like there wasn’t enough, we asked God for more, we asked God for this. And God, drawing from His infinite treasury of goodness and love, has given it to you and to all of us today. There will be times in the future when energy is scarce, when difficulties seem insurmountable, when you will be tempted to hold back, when it will seem like you just don’t have enough. Never forget this day. It is a sign of God’s infinite reserve for you. You will run out, but He never does. He never will. Because His love never fails.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.