Marriage is a subject that has been – and continues to be – talked about to infinity and back. More specifically, how to have a “happy marriage” (with “happy” being open to interpretation).
Warning – Jesus talked a lot about dying to yourself and taking up your cross. He also talked about the evil of hurting others. If you are in an abusive marriage, this article is not for you. If you’re an abuser, it would be evil for you to use this article as a tool to continue abusing your spouse. The abuser must die to himself/herself. The abused must find help immediately.
It is interesting in today’s ever-changing social milieu that marriage, despite its variable definitions, is still viewed by many as a preferred means of achieving lasting satisfaction and fulfillment in life.
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Unfortunately, people usually undertake these pursuits by such misguided reasoning as, “I consent to add you to my life for reasons that are important to me and, likewise, you consent to add me to your life for reasons that are important to you,” and voila! – as if pulling a rabbit out of a hat – marital bliss!
But as elementary as this way of thinking may appear, it is rather ironic that the thing that motivates most people to pursue marriage in the first place – personal happiness – is very often the one thing that contributes to the demise of those relationships.
Namely, the failure by one spouse to live up to the unrealistically nirvanic expectations of the other.
With few exceptions, the overwhelming majority of individuals who contemplate marriage embark on their journey toward “living happily-ever-after” by making the mistake of putting the proverbial cart before the horse. They do this by creating for themselves a visage of the kind of person they want to marry, without giving due thought and consideration to the purpose of marriage.
To harbor such an inverted view of marriage, one that values person above purpose is, to say the least, unwise. For in doing so we make marriage a self-centered proposition as opposed to a God-centered one; an attitude that leads only to disappointment in and discouragement with both God and our spouse.
I am not suggesting or implying that one should not have any standards or expectations of the person he or she hopes to marry. Not at all.
God’s word is clear. As followers of Christ, we are not to be unequally yoked in our relationships (2 Corinthians 6:14). It is a prescription that applies not only to marriage – though many Christians limit it to that – but to every aspect of a believer’s life.
And yet, in many ways, marriage is a yoke that a man and woman volitionally choose to take upon themselves; a burden that they each willingly consent to bear up under (1 Corinthians 7:32-34). Even so, a question remains: whose burden is your spouse taking on? Yours or God’s (Matthew 11:28-29) There is a difference.
The importance of placing purpose above person in a marriage is underscored by these words from theologian Douglas Wilson who writes that:
God is preeminent in all things, including marriage. Our marriages are to glorify God. A mature Christian understands these truths and seeks to live them out. Therefore it is necessary to be a mature Christian in order to be a mature spouse. – Reforming Marriage: Gospel Living for Couples
Wilson is right.
Nonetheless, “glorifying God” in marriage, or in life in general, is not easy. The reason it’s not easy is that our nature is such that we have no innate desire to glorify God (Romans 3:11-12).
Ask ten unmarried people what characteristics or qualities are most important to them in a potential marriage partner, and I would venture to guess that “sensitivity to sin” would not be among the traits mentioned. But as pastor and author Dave Harvey reminds us:
Marriage is the union of two people who arrive toting the luggage of life. And that luggage always contains sin. – When Sinners Say “I Do”: Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage
To glorify God in marriage means the desire of our heart (Psalm 37:4) mirrors the desire of the heart of God, namely, to display His purpose for marriage within the bonds of covenant relationship. Husbands and wives demonstrate these ideas as they mature in their understanding that:
Marriage is patterned after Christ’s covenant relationship to his redeemed people, the church. And therefore, the highest meaning and the most ultimate purpose of marriage is to put the covenant relationship of Christ and his church on display.
That is why marriage exists. If you are married, that is why you are married. If you hope to be, that should be your dream. – John Piper, This Momentary Marriage: a Parable of Permanence
The Bible calls this maturation process sanctification. And our sanctification (Philippians 1:6), the means, methods, and, yes, the people that God uses to conform us to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29), has very little to do with our satisfaction.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard married people say, “Marriage is hard” (as if the institution of marriage is inherently burdensome and oppressive by nature). The truth, however, is to whatever degree marriage seems difficult it is not because marriage itself is hard, but because you and I are (Mark 7:17-23).
If you are reading this, and you are married or hope to be, my prayer is that you will come to realize that marriage has been designed by God to destroy in you all manner of pride, selfishness, self-centeredness, arrogance, entitlement, and any other sinful attitudes and behaviors that may have led you to believe–at one point or another–that marriage is about you and your satisfaction and gratification. I assure you it is not (John 3:30).
There will be times, perhaps often, when, by God’s grace, you and your spouse will bring joy and happiness to one another. But such moments, regardless how frequent, are ancillary to God’s primary purpose for your marriage which, ultimately, is that you reflect the image of Christ in that relationship.
God purposely designed your marriage to kill you. He did this so that, as the 16th-century reformer John Calvin implored, “the invisible kingdom of Christ would become visible in our midst.”