Maybe marriage isn’t all that great after all.
When divorce rates are high and the surviving marriages around us seem broken, messy, and unhappy — and there are plenty of other good things to keep us busy — lots of young men and women in their twenties and thirties have basically given up on marriage.
With all the pain, failure, and friction, it simply can’t be worth it, can it? Surely I can find other ways to enjoy love, companionship, and even the feeling of a family. That’s what Facebook is, right? There are other ways for me to be known and loved, and marriage really isn’t necessary for my happiness or significance here on earth.
That last sentence is true, but I fear my generation is missing some important things about what marriage really is and why it’s worth all the time, patience, and even heartache. Lots of single people my age — myself included — need to be reminded that marriage is spectacular and needed, and that’s because it is God’s. The beauty of marriage far surpasses the functional, social, relational, and, yes, even the sexual benefits. For believers in Jesus, the importance and allure of matrimony ought to be deeply spiritual, missional, and eternal.
Come One, Not All
Now, marriage is not for everyone. The Bible is wonderfully clear on that matter (1 Corinthians 7:6–7). God has lovingly and specifically called, set apart, equipped, and sent lots of unmarried men and women into the world for a lifetime of bearing witness to the satisfying sufficiency of Christ. Paul made no apologies for skipping marriage himself, and he celebrated those who joyfully made the sacrifice with him.
“Marriage is spectacular and needed, and that’s because it is God’s.”
Freedom from caring for a spouse and children is a good and dangerous weapon in the church’s mission to spread the fame of Jesus (1 Corinthians 7:32–35). Those called by God and commissioned by him to this life of singleness need not despise marriage, though. Even though the realities and blessings found in marriage might be foreign to them this side of heaven, they have every reason to rejoice that marriage exists and that it continues to have such a prominent place in God’s purpose and work in the world.
Five Supernatural Reasons to Pursue Marriage
So twenty-something or thirty-something, don’t let worldly trends convince you marriage is a small and unnecessary accessory to the full and happy life. Before you pour yourself deeper and deeper into your career instead of pursuing a partner, consider these five reasons your wedding is still something worth wanting.
1. When God made the world, marriage was a good and productive part of his perfect creation.
There was a day — or at least a few hours — when marriage was pure, undefiled, free from sin and selfishness. In fact, the whole world was that way. God had looked on his creation, and it was good — complete, flawless, rich, and filled with life (Genesis 1:31). And a central part of that truly utopian world was marriage — a man and a woman joined together as one in a God-ordained, God-filled, and God-glorifying union (Genesis 1:27).
Marriage wasn’t an optional, incidental arrangement in God’s agenda. It was right there at the center, tying together the two most significant characters in this new and epic story. For sure, sin has broken and marred what was good and pure about that first marriage. But Paul says — quoting Genesis 2 — that from the very beginning, the mystery of marriage is that it’s meant to represent Jesus’s relationship with the church (Ephesians 5:32). This means sin wasn’t a surprise in God’s design for marriage. Rather, it tragically, but beautifully, served to fulfill God’s good design. Marriages today, though flawed, are still carrying out, though imperfectly, the glorious purposes God gave them in the Garden.
2. Christian marriage defies and exposes the ignorant, short-sighted dreams and priorities of our society.
Marriage is under attack, and I’m not even thinking mainly of so-called “same-sex marriage.” Individualism, consumerism, and career-ism have cheapened the perceived value and centrality of marriage. It’s now more often viewed as simply a convenient social complement to a person’s other dreams and ambitions. And it’s regularly (and sadly) evaluated, and even ended, based on whether it’s serving our other aspirations. People are happy to be married if it’s making them happy and helping them accomplish their goals. If it gets difficult or slow or boring or requires more of us, we just withdraw, punish our spouse and kids directly or indirectly, and eventually get out and cut our losses.
“Marriage wasn’t an incidental arrangement in God’s agenda. It was right there at the center.”
Unless, of course, Jesus is the point and power of your marriage. Anyone who’s experienced marriage will testify that it’s hard. That has been true across generations, cultures, and worldviews. Marriages don’t survive for decades on comfort and self-fulfillment, at least not happily. Marriages endure and thrive on unchanging, selfless mutual commitment to one another, and — I would argue — to something bigger, stronger, and longer lasting than the marriage. Christian marriage, therefore, is an opportunity to show the world something — better, Someone — strong enough to keep a marriage together and make it unbelievably meaningful and happy.
3. Christian marriage is the only godly, healthy context in which to experience the miracle of making children.
Bearing or adopting children is not the only way to bring people to faith in Jesus Christ, but it’s proven again and again in history to be one of the most effective ones. You will have a natural, unusual, and God-given authority and influence on your own kids. It gives you the unique ability to structure their growth, speak into their hearts, and model God’s love. And they are a miracle, every one of them. Every new person — formed and sustained by God in their mother’s womb — is a stunning miracle (Psalm 139:13).
Children are a miracle worth making, which means they are a miracle worth planning and sacrificing for. Future generations of men and women will run the world, the church, and your local neighborhood. Who will those future men and women be? What kinds of homes will they experience? What lessons will they learn at age four and twelve and fifteen? When will they hear about Jesus? Who will be the Christian examples in their lives? It’s difficult to overestimate the lasting productivity and treasure of bearing children and training them to be men and women after God.
Of course, there are other ways — countless other ways — to invest in raising up future generations of young people. You can teach. You can mentor. You can support other parents. But nothing really replaces the lifelong, every-moment relationship, commitment, and responsibility of having them in your home, under your roof and care.
4. Among all the means of sanctification, marriage is one of the most effective crucibles for Christ-likeness.
This one admittedly is inspired more by anecdote than a quote from the Bible, but it’s also fair to say it’s a common-sense conclusion. If you put two God-fearing, Jesus-following, but sinful people in such close proximity, with a covenant to keep them from running away, there will be tension, conflict, and hopefully change.
“The behaviors and rhythms of the marriage covenant are a billboard of Christ’s love for sinners.”
Perhaps the greatest means God has given us, under the Holy Spirit, for making us more like himself are the people in our lives who love us enough to confront our patterns of selfishness, unhealthiness, and sin. Marriage places that loving person with us in the same family, the same house, the same budget, and the same covenant promise. If God is unfailingly faithful to his promises, and the Spirit really is more powerful than our weaknesses, and we both truly want more of God, he’ll be using us to eradicate sin and cultivate righteousness in one another.
5. Christian marriage declares the gospel more humbly, consistently, and clearly than almost any other kind of relationship we have in this life.
God’s counsel for marriage is cross-shaped. The path to the most beautiful, most powerful, most satisfying marriages is the road to Calvary. The Bible is clear that the behaviors and rhythms of the marriage covenant are a billboard of Christ’s forgiving, sacrificial, redeeming love for sinners. Paul repeats this in several ways, speaking to husbands and wives.
The husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. (Ephesians 5:23)
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. (Ephesians 5:25)
“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. (Ephesians 5:31–32)
“We were made for this kind of love — covenantal, enduring, lavish, promise-keeping love.”
You rarely see this kind of Christ-like love in other relationships because the stakes are never as high. A husband and wife have covenanted before God to love each other until death. There are no exit ramps or escape hatches. That might sound scary to some, but we were made for this kind of love — covenantal, enduring, lavish, promise-keeping love. It’s how God loves us, and it’s the kind of love that confirms — tangibly and regularly — the gospel we share with our needy world.
Marriage cannot make you complete or happy. Only God will ever satisfy the deepest longings and ambitions you have. But God also made marriage, and he wants lots and lots of his children to experience it, because he loves them. He wants them to make the lifelong promises, to do the everyday hard work, and to enjoy the deep and abiding streams of his grace unique to that relationship.