Recently, an old friend messaged me and asked for prayer. He had come home from work to discover an empty house and an absent wife and child. No, his house hadn’t been robbed and his family hadn’t been abducted. His wife left him. I asked him if he saw it coming. Were there any warning signs? He said that it had been clear for quite some time that she was done. I asked if there was any hope for restoration. He didn’t think so. He thought the best possible outcome would be joint custody. Even though we hadn’t talked in years and I’d only met his wife once back when they were dating, my heart sank. I could only imagine the pain he was experiencing.
I don’t know the details of their marriage and separation, so the following isn’t an indictment on the couple in any way. But anytime I hear stories of divorce and abandonment, I can’t help but think about the serious and weighty call of marriage and how lightly we too often take it. Many enter this covenant flippantly and superficially, without considering the responsibility they’re accepting and the promises that they’re making before God and man. I was guilty of this.
We see stories in movies of people getting married drunk at a random chapel in Las Vegas. We laugh at their foolishness, and could never see ourselves doing something so ridiculous. But people get married drunk all the time. They’re not under the influence of alcohol. They’re filled with dopamine — infatuation, so-called love, and lust. Just as a covenant entered under the influence of alcohol is unlikely to survive, these marriages are also likely to struggle. Marriage should be entered by a man and woman with a sober mind and heart, who can take seriously the vows they’re making before God and others.
Preparation for Marriage
In Ephesians 5:15–21, Paul exhorts his readers:
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
What follows this passage are the well known household codes, starting with the relationship between the husband and wife. Before Paul writes about marriage, he paints a beautiful picture of sober-mindedness. Paul urges Christians to look carefully at how we walk, not to be unwise, make the best use of our time, and not to be foolish but to understand what God’s will is. He then summarizes this picture of sober-mindedness by exhorting readers: Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.
This exhortation prepares his readers to be able to embrace the picture of marriage that reflects the beautiful relationship between Christ and the church. Only sober-minded, Spirit-filled men and women can embrace, “Wives submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22) and “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).
Drunk on Dopamine
Psychologists believe that dopamine is one of the key chemicals released in our brain that results in feelings of infatuation. Infatuation, as defined by the Oxford Dictionary, is an intense but short-lived passion or admiration for someone or something. It becomes dangerous when it’s confused with the love it takes to make a marriage last.
Serial daters are dopamine addicts. They date for about six months, enjoy the euphoric experience that a new relationship brings, and then break up when real life begins and infatuation ends. They do this over and over and over again. Serial daters generally have a hard time once they decide to marry because committing to one man or one woman means giving up access to the experience they crave. They lived life drunk on dopamine and now they’ve made a commitment that keeps them from that high.
When you compare the effects of drunkenness to those of infatuation, you find a lot of similarities. Drunkenness causes irrational behavior (Genesis 9:20–22), suppresses our conscience (Genesis 9:24–25), and impairs our ability to make good judgment (Proverbs 31:4–5). The same is true with infatuation and lust. Those driven by their passions and lusts are usually irrational, go against what their conscience says is right and wrong, and make terrible decisions that could negatively affect the rest of their lives.
God-Centered Satisfaction Makes Us Sober
A God-centered life is the key to a sober-minded lifestyle. Singles must weigh carefully the callings and warnings we have concerning marriage in community with other faithful believers. If God is infinitely more satisfying to us than significant others, spouses, and sex, we will approach marriage with a sober mind, a humble heart, and an anchored soul.
The term sober-minded is mentioned throughout Paul’s letters. Men and women who are sober-minded are characterized by self-control, seriousness, and sound moral judgment. Paul exhorts young Timothy to “always be sober-minded” (2 Timothy 4:5). He commands Timothy and Titus to require that elders be sober-minded as well (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 2:2). Peter encourages Christians to be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of their prayers (1 Peter 4:7). When we approach marriage with a sober mind, we embrace the vision of life and marriage that is revealed in the Scriptures.
The Supremacy of God in Dating
Couples that enter marriage drunk with love don’t glorify God, because they have made their spouse ultimate, instead of God. Their destiny is similar to those who tarry long over wine. Their lives will be full of sorrow, strife, complaining, and hurt unless they repent (Proverbs 23:29–35).
The alcoholic’s problem is simple — he or she thinks that alcohol is greater than anything in the universe. They drown life’s problems, trials, and disappointments in a bottle. Likewise, singles and married people drunk on love have made one another ultimate rather than God.
Ultimately, the alcoholic doesn’t have an alcohol problem and those drunk in love don’t have a dopamine problem — both have worship problems. Their view of God is too low and the throne in their hearts has been given to someone or something that is insufficient to satisfy the desires of their soul.
God Over Marriage
Scripture has a high view a marriage. Spouses are commanded to forsake family and cling to one another (Genesis 2:24). We’re exhorted to hold marriage in honor among all (Hebrews 13:4). Men are counseled that it is a good thing to find a wife (Proverbs 18:22). But as high of a view as the Scriptures have of marriage, its view of God is infinitely higher.
In our good pursuits of marriage, we must be sure that our pursuits and our marriages remain secondary and our love for God is always primary. God is supremely more satisfying than marriage could ever be. He made marriage, at least in part, to say just that.
When we display to the world that we love God infinitely more than we love marriage, God is glorified and his worth is displayed to the world. Furthermore, we set our marriages up for success because they’re rooted in the Creator of marriage rather than in the idolatry of marriage. Marriage is for the sober-minded and the only way to enter marriage with a sober mind is by making God the center of our lives.
More from Desiring God
A Husband’s Manual for Marriage | A husband’s calling to love his wife like Christ loves the church is an impossible mission. Impossible without Christ, anyway. There’s a place to go for husbands looking for help.
Ten Principles for Personal Productivity | Pastor John gives ten principles for personal productivity.
Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die | The central issue of Jesus’s death is not the cause, but the meaning. That is what this book is about.