One of the greatest problems today plaguing marriage is the idea that one gets married to boost their own happiness. It’s this faulty understanding that has led to the rise of divorce, and even homosexual marriage which champions the idea that, “If it feels good, do it.” However, the purpose of marriage isn’t to make us happy.
If you asked a random person on the street (or social media) what the purpose of marriage is, they would say self-pleasure. Perhaps they wouldn’t say this in so many words, but in their actions and ways of speaking about romance and relationships, this definition becomes clear.
But no where does the Bible describe pleasure or happiness as being the end purpose of marriage. God created marriage, and described it’s purposes in the Bible, so if it’s not in the Bible, then it’s not one of the purposes of marriage.
So what are the purposes of marriage?
While there are many, I think they can all be summed up in the following 3 categories
1. First and foremost, marriage is supposed to reflect the relationship of Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:23-25)
3. Raising godly children (Genesis 1:28)
Happiness, or pleasure, is not one of the purposes, and yet (and perhaps this is just me since I study marriage as a hobby) it seems like the “marriage isn’t for our happiness” idea has been beat to death, and I’m kind of tired of it. Is it just me, or have you heard this message too much too?
If you perhaps haven’t heard the idea that marriage doesn’t equal happiness from Christian sources, then perhaps you’ve heard it from the world.
An article in the Daily Mail reported that marriage could go “extinct” in just the next 30 years. Whether or not this claim is accurate is besides the point, though. The point is our culture doesn’t like marriage. Instead of marrying, most couples simply act married, living together, perhaps having children, without actually getting married first. I would not be surprised if marriage became the exception rather than the norm. Some predict that we will instead see “constellation” relationships become the norm in the future, where couples have a series of long-term relationships with children from each.
Marriage is increasingly being seen as a bad idea. Marriage is boring, marriage is oppressive, marriage kills romance. Why ever get married when it shackles you with all kinds of terrible side-effects? Dating is seen as exciting and fun, while marriage is dull, and difficult. It’s much better to just be in a long-term relationship, free of the commitment of marriage. You get all of the perks of dating with none of the negatives of marriage, right?
Plus, you never know if you’ll get tired or fall out of love with the person you are currently with. Throw in the increasingly popular view of Evolutionary Biologists that we did not Evolve to be monogamous, but that it is actually beneficial to our species to have many sexual partners, then it’s no surprise that many are asking why get married and cut off your ability to experience many different romantic partners. Much better to not marry and never have to go through divorce. Breaking-up is much simpler.
Of course, those who do forgo marriage in favor of life-long dating are not any better off. They are not experiencing real love and romance the way we were designed to receive it. They are instead experiencing a diluted and empty form of that which can never really fulfill. They’re filling up on candy, rather than the 3-course gourmet dinner from a 5-star restaurant. Sooner or later, that candy is going to make you sick, and it can never satisfy like dinner.
Romantic love was only ever meant to be experienced in marriage, and when you remove it from marriage, it is merely a cheap counterfeit which will crumble into dust.
But didn’t we just say above that marriage is NOT for our happiness? In a technical sense, yes, marriage is not for our happiness, but I’m tired of hearing how bad marriage is. Plus, the reality is, in a practical sense, yes, marriage actually is for our happiness.
Will our marriage to Christ be lame too?
Let’s look again at the main purpose of marriage—reflecting the relationship between Christ and the Church. What is this relationship supposed to look like? What will our relationship with Christ look like on the New Earth? I’ll let God speak for Himself:
“Fear not, for you will not be put to shame; And do not feel humiliated, for you will not be disgraced; But you will forget the shame of your youth, And the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.
For your husband is your Maker, Whose name is the Lord of hosts; And your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, Who is called the God of all the earth.
For the Lord has called you, Like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, Even like a wife of one’s youth when she is rejected, Says your God:
‘For a brief moment I forsook you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In an outburst of anger, I hid My face from you for a moment, but with everlasting lovingkindness I will have compassion on you,’
Says the Lord your Redeemer.
‘For this is like the days of Noah to Me, When I swore that the waters of Noah Would not flood the earth again; So I have sworn that I will not be angry with you Nor will I rebuke you.
For the mountains may be removed and the hills may shake, but My lovingkindness will not be removed from you, And My covenant of peace will not be shaken,’ Says the Lord who has compassion on you.” –
I don’t know about you, but I think is is a beautiful picture. His love for us will not be removed. He has everlasting lovingkindness and compassion. He is our Redeemer. He will not put us to shame. We’ll feel no humiliation or disgrace, and will forget the shame of our past. Instead, there will only be everlasting joy and happiness, as Psalm 16:11 tells us that, “In [His] presence there is fullness of joy; at [His] right hand are pleasures forevermore.” This is incredible, and this is a relationship we will be able to fully take part in when we arrive in Heaven.
However, until then, Earthly marriage to a human spouse is meant to be a picture, a promise of this relationship, our betrothal to Christ. Therefore, our Earthly marriages should resemble this eventual relationship with Christ. Love should never be removed. Lovingkindness and compassion should not cease. There should be no shame, no humiliation, only fullness of joy and pleasures forever more.
Is the romance going to die with Christ? Will it be dull with Christ? Will there be shame and judgment and hurt with Christ? Of course not! Just the opposite! So that means our Earthly marriages need to paint the same picture—No shame, no dullness, no loss of love, but ever expanding joy, love, and brilliance.
So marriage may not be for happiness, but we had better be happy, darn it!
Not for ourselves, or our own pleasure, but for Christ, and this is the only way there can be happiness in marriage. When we seek it for ourselves, like the world does, we’ll end up disillusioned and miserable. This is why so many have become jaded against marriage and are seeking alternatives. But they can’t find what they’re looking for in alternatives, but only in dying to self and taking on Christ. It’s true that our spouse cannot give us complete fulfillment, nor can marriage in and of itself. Marriage is but a reflection of what can and does bring us true fulfillment, a personal relationship with Christ.
But the two are not mutually exclusive. We do not have to pause loving our spouse in order to love God more. Rather, we love God, and grow in Christ, when we die to self and put our spouse first. We love our spouse best when we seek to glorify God first.
Ironically, it is only through dying, and forsaking the Self that we can truly find life and fulfillment (Mark 8:35). The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. Would you give up everything you had so you could find a treasure? Would you give up a dollar if it meant you could become a billionaire? Of course you would! And this is what it means to die to self and follow Christ.
This same principle applies to marriage. We have to be willing to give up our little so that we can gain all the more. Yet too often we’re reluctant to “sacrifice” our little. We fear that we won’t get it back. We don’t trust God.
If our marriages do not resemble Christ and the Church, then we have work to do. If our marriages do not resemble Christ and the Church, the problem isn’t with marriage, but with us. Or rather, I should say you. Me. Not counting extreme situations, you living a great and God-honoring marriage isn’t really dependent on your spouse. Christ loved us even when we despised Him and killed Him. Wow! If you love your spouse this way, then fulfillment will come, if not from your marriage, then from God. That doesn’t mean it will be easy, but it will have its rewards. I cannot fall into thinking if only my spouse did this, or if only she was like such-and-such, all would be well. Christ did not wait until I changed and become more loveable, but acted and died so as to make me loveable.
God gave us marriage to bring heaven to Earth, yet all too often it becomes a hell on Earth. This is not how marriage was meant to be. Satan doesn’t want us to see the glory of marriage, because through it, we will see the glory of God. We can’t buy into the lie that marriage is simply a big wet blanket on life.
If we are married, then we have an obligation to pursue a heaven-resembling marriage.
This will take work, hard work, and “sacrifice”, but the return on the investment should far-outshine the expense. Of course, I am not married, so I cannot speak from experience, but from what I know of the Bible, and the wisdom of those who are married and have experienced this reality, I have faith that this is so.
So is marriage for our happiness? Yes and no. What is true is that marriage requires us to completely forsake self. This is because this is what entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven requires, and marriage is a mirror of this celestial relationship. However, contrary to popular belief, death to self does not result in death. Death to self, for Christ’s sake, results in everlasting life, both in the here-and-now and the life to come.
Marriage done right is kind of like a, “You are gunna eat your dessert, and you are going to like it!” command from God. Yet for some reason we don’t trust God, but instead trust our Self, so we don’t partake, and we don’t enjoy. This is definitely something I struggle with now, trusting that God really does have my best interests in mind. Trusting that He knows better than I do what is good for me.
So to practice now for the mission of marriage, I should practice trusting God, and do what I know He wants me to be doing right now, rather than letting my flesh lead me.