How long do you think your marriage will last? Will you make it another five years? Ten? Fifty?
I think we can all agree that it’s not going to last very long — not in light of eternity.
Eternity changes how we enjoy marriage and everything else in this life. Eternity changes how we love. It would be unloving to get my wife and kids so focused on this life that they are unprepared for the next. Some Christians emphasize marriage so much that it might lead some to believe the goal of Christianity is to have a happy marriage, and God becomes a means to that end. I hear many Christians thank God for their families more than they thank him for the cross. Obviously God wants us to love our families, but let’s be careful.
Which Passage Would Jesus Quote?
Don’t get me wrong, I love being married. After twenty years, I love my wife Lisa more than ever. One of the keys to our marriage, however, has been to keep marriage in its proper place. While God commands us to value marriage, he also is clear that we must not over-value it. After all, we are on a mission during our brief time on earth. That’s why Paul says,
“The Bible is not a book about marriage, it is a book about God.”
Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none. (1 Corinthians 7:27–29)
Paul, who wrote Ephesians 5, also wrote 1 Corinthians 7. The one who said “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church” (Ephesians 5:25) also wrote “let those who have wives live as though they had none” (1 Corinthians 7:29). We need to find the healthy tension of obeying both passages. And let’s not forget the words of Jesus: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).
Our tendency, when teaching on marriage, is to dismiss some of these passages with a sentence or two, and then quickly return to Ephesians 5. But is that okay? Or could it be that God wants us to emphasize all of these passages equally? Give them equal “air time”? Which passages would Jesus quote if he performed a wedding ceremony this weekend?
It’s understandable that we spend a lot of time teaching through Ephesians 5. After all, families are falling apart. Divorces are happening at an alarming rate. There is a crisis in the church. Husbands are neglecting their wives and vice versa. At first thought, it may even seem dangerous to teach certain passages. Human wisdom tells us to skip passages that warn us that our families can distract us from kingdom work. But preaching the “whole counsel of God’s word” means we value, trust, and teach the whole Bible.
Don’t Get It Backwards
Because divorce runs so rampant even in the church, it makes sense that we tend to overcompensate by emphasizing marriage more than Scripture does. But by doing so, we may be hurting marriages rather than mending them. Couples become self-centered, rather than mission-focused. Singles who once radically served Jesus now spend their days merely improving and enjoying their marriage. Either that, or they quarrel incessantly and spend their days in counseling and despair. Either way, they become virtually worthless for kingdom purposes.
Can you think of any couples that serve Jesus more faithfully now that they’re married? It doesn’t have to be this way. This is why Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 7. “I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:35).
“Because divorce runs rampant, even in the church, we tend to emphasize marriage more than Scripture does.”
The goal is “undivided devotion to the Lord.” Meditate on those words. Remember that the Bible is not a book about marriage; it is a book about God. The best thing we can do with our brief lives is to devote ourselves to him and his mission. This is the goal. And marriage can actually help us achieve this goal. That’s why Paul encourages marriage for those who are tempted sexually. A healthy marriage helps to prevent temptations that would destroy our effectiveness. But remember that the goal is to be completely devoted to God. Marriage can be used as a means of improving our devotion to Jesus. Let’s not get it backwards and think of him as the means of improving our marriages.
Lisa once described our marriage as a long episode of “The Amazing Race.” If you’ve never seen the show, it’s a competition where a person chooses a partner and then races around the world against other couples. Her point was that she and I view our lives much like the contestants on that show. Like Paul, we see our lives on earth like a race (1 Corinthians 9:24–27). We don’t have time to fight, nor to settle down. We are in pursuit of a prize. We are trying to make as many disciples as possible (Matthew 28:18–20), at as much depth as possible. There will be plenty of time to celebrate after we cross the finish line. For now, we just keep running.
Enter the Battlefield Together
The Bible teaches that we are in a real war with a real enemy (2 Corinthians 10:3–4; Ephesians 6:10–20). God has given us a mission, so we cannot allow ourselves to get “entangled in civilian pursuits” (2 Timothy 2:3–4).
Picture a nice house with a white picket fence and your happy family lounging inside. Now imagine a full-scale war unfolding just a few blocks away. Your friends and neighbors are fighting for their lives while you are remodeling your kitchen and hanging your new big screen TV. You have contractors installing better windows so you can tune out all of the noise.
“Being in war together may be what keeps us from being at war with each other.”
It is a pretty pathetic picture, but it’s an appropriate comparison for the lives that are offered to so many Christian couples. They are ignoring Jesus’s mission in hopes of enjoying this life. But don’t fall for it. Real life is found in the battle. Right now, we have many brothers and sisters being tortured overseas because of their faith. Let’s pray for them and be encouraged by their example to enter the fight.
Being in war together may be what keeps us from being at war with each other. Rather than neglecting the battle to work on your marriage, maybe the best thing for your marriage is to enter the battlefield together.