It is a subject that has been – and continues to be – talked about to infinity and back.
That subject is marriage.
More specifically, how to have a ‘happy marriage’ (with ‘happy’ being open to interpretation).
It is interesting in today’s ever-changing social milieu that marriage, despite its myriad definitions, is still viewed by many as the preferred means of achieving lasting satisfaction and fulfillment in life.
Unfortunately, these pursuits are usually undertaken on the basis of 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 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.
Two Burdens: Yours or God’s
With few exceptions, the overwhelming majority of people 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 hold to 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.
This is not to suggest or imply 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 Cor. 6:14). It is a proscription 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 Cor. 7:32-34).
Even so, a question remains: whose burden is your spouse taking on?
Yours or God’s (Matt. 11:28-29)?
There is a difference.
Sanctification or Satisfaction?
The importance of placing purpose above person in marriage is underscored by these words from theologian Douglas Wilson who writes:
“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.
Nevertheless, “glorifying God” in marriage, or in life in general, is not easy. The reason it’s not easy is because our nature is such that we have no innate desire to glorify God (Rom. 3:11-12).
Ask 10 unmarried people what characteristics or qualities are most important to them in a potential marriage partner, and I would venture to guess that “a 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 (Ps. 37:4) mirrors the desire of the heart of God, namely, to display His purpose for marriage within the bonds of covenant relationship. This desire is demonstrated as husbands and wives 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.
When “I Do” Means “I Die”
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). In reality, however, the truth is that to whatever degree marriage is difficult it is because of the hardheartedness of those who are married.
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 kill you, to destroy within you all pride, selfishness, self-centeredness, arrogance, and any other sinful attitudes and behaviors that might lead you to believe that marriage is about you and your personal satisfaction and gratification.
I assure you it is not (John 3:30).
Yes, there will be times, perhaps many, when, by God’s grace, you and your spouse will bring joy and happiness to one another. But such instances, regardless how frequent, are merely ancillary to God’s primary purpose: to conform you to the image of His Son.
God designed your marriage to kill you.
He designed it in such a way that as we die to ourselves, as John Calvin stated so very well, “the invisible kingdom of Christ becomes visible in our midst.”
Soli Deo Gloria!
Image credit: thegospelcoalition.org
This post first appeared here on Darrell B. Harrison's website and was reprinted with permission.