Quick: What's the first commandment God gave Adam & Eve? If your first thought had something to do with the fruit of certain trees, you're probably not alone, and you're close, but that's not quite it.
The first commandment God gave the couple was to be fruitful and multiply. This came before any discussion about ruling over creation or not eating specific fruits. As noted in yesterday's post, marriage has been around, per the Bible, since the beginning of recorded history. Since we're going back that far in recognizing the place of marriage, we may as well start there in talking about the many purposes of marriage. The first one is for procreation, the continuance of humanity.
Now, it seems obvious that unless God was going to create ex nihilo each individual person, we would need to be procreative creatures in order to grow our species. And it also seems reasonable that childbearing and child rearing would need to be done in a context that created the ideal mix of protection, education, sustenance and social tutoring. For this purpose, God created marriage as a covenant relationship in which children could best (ideally) be raised.
Of course there are exceptions. Many single parents have done quite well in raising children. I'd argue, though, that those exceptions are greatly outnumbered by others as evidenced by the disproportionate number of young men and women who (a) come from single-parent homes, and (b) run into serious trouble. The ideal is that children be raised in a two-parent home, with the parents committed to each other through marriage. The existence of exceptions does not disprove the notion that the ideal is childbearing and child raising within a family headed by married parents. (And yes, the parents should be married to each other.)
Continuation of the species, and providing the ideal context for raising children is the first purpose of marriage. Does this mean that couples who cannot or do not intend to have children should be kept from marrying? While I know some would argue that they should, I'm not ready to go that far. There are, after all, more purposes in marriage. I'm also not ready to say that using contraception is a sin, although I do believe that intentional childlesness does go against God's plan. We were designed, men and women, in complementary fashion for procreative purpoases. A married couple who chooses not to have children misses out on one of God's greatest blessings.
For this reason, too, marriage should not be entered into lightly. The call to raising children is a hard calling at times. We are to be available whether rising or heading off to bed. We are to avoid exasperating our kids when they so often exasperate us. We are to instill discipline in them - something which is often painful, even to the point of proving true the cliche that it hurts us more than it hurts them. Children disappear on us, as even Jesus did, scaring us to death. They disobey, need to be fed, clothed and taught. But oh is it worth it. The greatest blessing I have, short of my Savior and my wife (not the same person, btw) is the privilege of fathering two wonderful daughters. The hard days are worth it; the blessings are real. And parenting is one of the absolute most important things I do. I can't imagine a better place for me to do that than in the confines of marriage, as God designed: complementary people, created to bring children into the world and raise the next generation together.
Tomorrow: The next purpose. Not so much a secret, as I'm hoping you'll come back to find out tomorrow!