In the next 30 seconds, name all the great marriages you can think of. (‘Great’ simply = marriages you’d like to emulate). Ready, set, go.
I’m not sure about you, but adding extra time would not have added many names to my list. Today, marriages in the church end nearly as often as marriages outside of it. Countless others are icy or stale.
God has given my wife and I a great (note: not perfect!) marriage, but it wasn’t always like that. Years 2 and 3 were especially rough.
Looking back, we had lost sight of something critical, something that – as you begin to grasp it – will transform your own marriage and make it a thing of beauty.
The Purpose of Marriage
In Ephesians 5, the Apostle Paul gives us the secret sauce for an awesome marriage:
‘“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.’
Paul is quoting Genesis 2:24 and talking about marriage, where two people become one. The surprising thing, though, is that he says marriage is like a sign, pointing beyond itself to Christ and the church.
This is the key to having a great marriage. Our marriages were never supposed to be all about us. They’re supposed to direct our attention to the relationship between Jesus and us, his church.
In other words, as Tim Keller puts it, marriage and the gospel explain each other. The kind of intimacy (Ephesians 5:31), sacrifice (25) and selflessness (28) that Jesus displays toward his church should be living and active in our marriages.
The Meaning Of Marriage Made Practical
If we started to understand that, how would our marriages be different? I can think of at least 6 ways. No doubt you can think of others.
- We would do anything we can to avoid divorce. There are times when it’s unavoidable (and biblical), but Jesus would never leave his church (people), so we should stay if at all possible.
- We would aim for holiness more than happiness. Our marriages may make us happy much of the time, but Paul says that ‘husbands [should] love [their] wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her’ (25-26).
- We would joyfully make sacrifices. Instead of putting ourselves first, we would put our spouse first, just as Christ ‘gave himself up’ (25) for us.
- We would forgive each other quickly and fully. We get angry and hold onto offenses (real or imagined), but Jesus has forgiven us for way more than we will ever be called to in our marriages.
- We would treat each other with deep respect. Paul calls wives to respect their husbands (33), but certainly this goes the other way around, too. Practically, this includes speaking well of our spouses, especially in public.
- We would avoid manipulation. Have you ever worked behind-the-scenes to get your way with your spouse? I certainly have! But that’s not how Jesus rolls: he does everything above board, giving it to us straight, but, with our best interests in mind.
So, there you have it. If you want to have a great marriage (and find the right person in the first place), you need to understand what it’s all about: reflecting Christ’s relationship with us. It really does make a world of difference every day.
Question: How exactly would grasping the meaning of marriage change the way you relate to your spouse? (Or, if you’re unmarried, change what you’re looking for in a potential mate?) Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.