Marriage has always been part of God’s good purpose for humanity: Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”… So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. Genesis 2:18, 21-25
From the first pages of the Bible we learn that men and women are different and marriage is a central part of the way God designed humanity to relate. It is through marriage and families that we are able to obey God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth“ (1:28). Marriage is different from the other relationships we have. It is different from our relationship with parents, brothers, sisters, children, friends, workmates. It is a life-long commitment, it is an intimate partnership, it is about oneness and unity as well as being the relationship in which you are most accepted as you—a unique individual.
Marriage is a life-long union between a man and a woman which is for:
- mutual companionship, help and comfort,
What most people are slow to realise is that marriage is for holiness not happiness. People have all sorts of expectations going into marriage, many of which are quickly shown to be unrealistic. One of the major problems we have in our time is the expectation that marriage is for happiness. Marriage can indeed bring great happiness, but that is not what it is for. And so today if people aren’t happy in their marriage, they forget whatever promises they have made and leave their spouse. But leaving is not an option. In God’s good design the purpose of marriage is not to make us happy. Great happiness may well be the result of marriage, but it is not the purpose.
The marriage relationship is given to us as the place in which two people can seek to present not only themselves holy before their Lord on the last day but also their marriage partner. One helpful way of thinking about marriage is that it is an environment in which we can learn to love. Or in other words, marriage is a school of love.
In Ephesians 5 we read that husbands should love their wives as Christ loved the church. Christ loved the church self-sacrificially and with the purpose that he might present the church to himself holy and without blemish. Husbands are called upon not just to echo the method by which Christ loved the church (self-sacrificially) but also the goal (holiness). In part this is about marriage as the right place to express our sexuality, but this is only the beginning. Marriage is the place where we can encourage and help one another grow in Christlikeness.
One important implication of this is that we need to examine our expectations of marriage. Marriage is primarily an opportunity to love and serve, not be served. It is primarily a chance to change yourself, not your spouse. It is an opportunity to be yourself, not find yourself. The comforts and joys of a good marriage come as the, sometimes unexpected, result of our efforts. Happiness cannot usually be directly grasped or sought, or it will provide elusive. More often it comes as the wonderful by-product of not seeking our own needs but serving others.