The real purpose of marriageby Eddie Thompson
Did you hear about the woman who wanted a new car for her 40th birthday? Instead of telling her husband exactly what she wanted, she simply told him, “For my birthday I want you to surprise me. What I want is something that goes really fast, like zero to two-hundred in about four seconds flat.” On her big day she unwrapped her gift only to discover he had bought her a bathroom scale.
Marriage is a wonderful invention of God, but let’s be honest: It seems to be harder today than ever. But why? As Christians, don’t we expect our view of marriage to be different from the world’s view? I think so. In that case, shouldn't we expect our marriages to really be different? Well, yes. But even those who teach us how to do it differently sometimes misunderstand it the most. For example, a pastor once said to me, "If things don't work out with my wife, I guess I could just leave her." He missed the point of marriage entirely.
After teaching on marriage for more than 20 years and meeting with hundreds of couples in counseling settings, I now know something that once completely eluded me. We have to rid ourselves of the notion that marriage will be different if we learn a few principles, read a new book on marriage, or pray harder. That's because there is a deeper question at stake. What if God didn't design marriage to be easier? What if God had in mind something different, something beyond happiness, comfort and our own desire to feel “in love”? What if God designed marriage (get this) to make us holy? What if marriage is something between us and God, perhaps even more than it is between us and our spouses? If you read Ephesians 5:25-33, you see this in action. The whole thrust of the passage, where the husband assumes the role of Christ who gives His life away while the wife assumes the role of the bride of Christ who responds to sacrificial love, is all about being holy (5:27). Did Jesus give up His life for the church so she would be happy? Hardly.
No, I'm not suggesting God has anything against happiness or that holiness and happiness are mutually exclusive. But if we’re honest, most of us wake up in the morning wanting to be happy. Not too many of us are on a search for holiness.
I admit this is a very unique look at marriage. It asks not how can we have a happier marriage, but can we use marriage as a spiritual discipline. That is, can we learn to use the challenges and trials of marriage to grow in character and draw closer to God?
Three questions help us to begin thinking about marriage in a different light:
- What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy? This is shocking to most of us. Someone once said, “What if one of the best wedding gifts God gave you was a full-length mirror called your spouse? Had there been a card attached, it would have said, ‘Here’s to helping you discover what you’re really like!'”
- Is romanticism, as we know it in our current culture, part of our problem? Consider marriage in light of today’s mainstream media. Undoubtedly it communicates one message: Find the person who will romance you and make you happy; when they eventually fail to live up to that goal, find someone else who will. That line of reasoning tends to produce a lot of divorces and a lot of new marriages. If we buy into this message, we’ll need a new marriage every two to three years. That’s about how long couples feel happy before they feel, well, unhappy. Romantic love seems to have no elasticity to it. It doesn't stretch; it just shatters.
- Can we see how a wedding calls us to an almost impossible task? It doesn’t take being married long before we realize we married a flawed human being who brought sin and huge character issues into the marriage, yet most of us want a spouse who is perfect. Many have attempted to change their spouses back to the people they thought they were to begin with, but trying to change someone always goes downhill quickly. It’s truly an impossible task and one that’s doomed unless we see a better and higher reason for it – God’s reason.
What if the real goal of marriage is to please God? Paul says this is the basis for everything we do in life. “Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him” (2 Corinthians 5:9, NKJV). This 24-hour a day, 7-day a week crucible is the very one that God can use to shape us into the image of Christ. This means He intended for marriage to bring our sins to the surface and expose them. Of course, this forces us to see marriage in a different light. Instead of concentrating on the flaws of my spouse, I need to concentrate on the changes God needs to make in me, so I can become the best marriage partner I can be. Even that is hard because I’ve already proven I don’t change myself well because I can’t see myself honestly. God uses my spouse to help me see who I really am, even when it’s painful, and I go to Him for the power to be different. Only He can accomplish that.
What’s the real purpose of marriage? Good question. Perhaps we better figure out how to make our marriages pleasing to Him. It will be tough, but it will be worth it.