Focusing on your marriage can be a good thing. And it can really mess you up.
It depends on what kind of focusing you’re doing. If it involves a season for extra attention and conscientiousness and investment, to deepen the roots, or to heal — and so to better reflect Jesus and his bride — that can be a Godsend. Many of us have profited from seasons like this, and perhaps should do this more often.
But there’s another kind of focusing on your marriage — and in particular, the good effects of marriage — that can actually rob marriage of its God-designed, world-transforming power.
Marriage’s Amazing Effects
Marriage is an extraordinary reality, which bears extraordinary fruit not only in the church, but also in society. It’s a tragic sign that a tsunami of pain is coming when a civilization begins tinkering with its conception of marriage.
The good effects include, among other things, improved health, employment, increased earnings, the material success of children, even the remedying of poverty. Marriage holds unparalleled societal sway in benefitting the poor, minorities, and children.
Start making a list of the fruit, and it seems the pragmatic effects of strong marriages are inexhaustible. But a danger lurks.
Who’s at the Center
God didn’t create marriage to be the center of our life’s universe, but his uncreated Son. He means for us to have our crucified and risen Bridegroom at the center, and for the weight of his person and work to keep the planet of marriage — of great size in terms of planets, but dwarfed by the sun — in its proper orbit in his life-sustaining gravitational field. Marriage is no mere means to a fruitful society. Marriage is meant to show us Jesus and his world-changing work.
In This Momentary Marriage (newly available in paperback from Crossway), John Piper acknowledges that he leaves much unsaid about the good effects of marriage. But there’s a design in this. Trouble comes when we focus on our marriages as the great remedy to society’s troubles, rather than the grace of the Bridegroom to whom marriage points.
Focusing on the pragmatic effects of marriage undermines the very power of marriage to achieve the effects we desire. In other words, for the sake of all these beneficial practical effects, we should not focus on them. This is the way life is designed by God to work. Make him and the glory of his Son central, and you get the practical effects thrown in. Make the practical effects central, and you lose both.
. . . I want people to flourish in every way. I want the poor to rise into joyful, self-sustaining, productive work and stable households. Therefore, for the sake of these good effects of marriage, let it be heralded with joy that there are reasons for marriage that are vastly more important.
Marriage is not mainly about prospering economically; it is mainly about displaying the covenant-keeping love between Christ and his church. Knowing Christ is more important than making a living. Treasuring Christ is more important than bearing children. Being united to Christ by faith is a greater source of marital success than perfect sex and double-income prosperity.
If we make secondary things primary, they cease to be secondary and become idolatrous. They have their place. But they are not first, and they are not guaranteed. . . . So it is with marriage. It is a momentary gift. It may last a lifetime, or it may be snatched away on the honeymoon. Either way, it is short. It may have many bright days, or it may be covered with clouds. If we make secondary things primary, we will be embittered at the sorrows we must face. But if we set our face to make of marriage mainly what God designed it to be, no sorrows and no calamities can stand in our way. Every one of them will be, not an obstacle to success, but a way to succeed. The beauty of the covenant-keeping love between Christ and his church shines brightest when nothing but Christ can sustain it.