Let’s start with a little exercise.
In the next minute or so, think of five great marriages that you’d like to emulate. To pattern your own marriage after.
I’m not sure about you, but I had a hard time completing this exercise. I just don’t know that many marriages where it seems like the husband and wife love Christ – and each other – deeply.
Today, marriages in the church end nearly as often as marriages outside of it. Countless others are icy or stale. Sadly, my wife and I have seen many examples of both.
To our amazement, 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’m sure there are more, but here are seven.
1. 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. Which may require some serious, holy fighting for your marriage.
2. 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). This will require calling each other out in love, something husbands in particular seem to struggle with.
3. 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. Usually, this kind of sacrificial love starts with truly noticing our spouse, then following through with small, but meaningful sacrificial acts. Like the day my wife picked up my favorite hot sauce from the grocery store.
4. 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. If Jesus can forgive us for countless acts of rebellion, we can forgive our spouse for that snippy comment in a moment of stress. We can also invest time in learning how to resolve conflict well.
5. 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. It also involves taking each other’s ideas seriously, rather than dismissing them quickly in favor of our own.
6. We would avoid manipulation.
Have you ever worked behind-the-scenes to get your way with your spouse? I certainly have! In a fallen world, we are tempted to obtain good things in bad ways. Husbands may manipulate their wives to have sex. Wives might pressure their husbands to step up and lead spiritually, or come to Christ.
But that’s not how Jesus rolls: he does everything above board, giving it to us straight, but, with our best interests in mind. That’s what he wants for us, too. Husbands can tell their wives they’d like to be physically intimate, yet without pressure. Wives can conduct themselves like Christ, and pray earnestly for their husbands, as they desire them to come to Christ.
7. We would accept that marriage isn’t always butterflies and rainbows.
When we start dating, and often during the early days of marriage, everything is shiny, magical and new. And it’s supposed to be. But when the excitement dies down, we often panic and wonder if something’s wrong. Usually, it isn’t. It’s just the normal trajectory of a marriage that’s deepening, and we shouldn’t feel pressure to recreate those early days.
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 would grasping the meaning of marriage change the way you relate to your spouse?
If you’re unmarried, how would the meaning of marriage change what you’re looking for in a potential mate? You may also be interested in our free, Ready For Marriage course.