The following is a lightly edited transcript.
Before I pray, let me say some things about my own marriage because it seems to me that if I’m going to talk about marriage lived to the glory of God, you should know a little bit about me and be immediately relieved of any thought that I have a perfect marriage. I’ve been married to Noël for almost 38 years — since December 21, 1968. We have five children: four sons who are grown, married, and all of them have children. They range in age from 36 to 23.
Parent for a Lifetime
Then we have Talitha, who is eleven years old as of yesterday. Talitha we adopted when I was fifty. So, you can do the math, which is old to adopt a baby. She was eight weeks old when we adopted her, but if you’ve never had a daughter and you want a daughter, you do it however you have to do it. My wife always wanted a daughter, and the Lord in his way, one son, two sons, three sons, four. And so, we had a daughter for number five. I think he was pleased with the way we did it. So we were walking through parenting a little one again, and now we’re learning what it means to be a married couple, parenting adult children with all of the pain and joy that that involves.
I had the naïve notion when I was thirty that parenting lasted until a child was eighteen, and then they’re gone. That’s not true. You never stop being a parent. That is, you never stop carrying the burden that your children will walk with the Lord, that their marriages will last, that their children will grow up to know Christ, that they won’t make shipwreck of the lives in any foolish way. You never get beyond carrying that burden. Like Job every morning, you get on your face and you intercede for your grown children that they will walk steadfastly with the Lord. Of course, you do that with your little teeny ones as well.
Ask for Help
The third observation is that our marriage has been a tumultuous one — a difficult and happy one. I don’t know many marriages that are not difficult. I was praying for you before we came over here, that in this room on the scale from blessed marital happiness to marital misery — where some of you are right now, probably scarcely talking to each other— that God would minister to you. And that every one of you who is married, or someday hopes to be married, would go out feeling hope for your relationship. That’s one of my goals for tonight. So, I thought it would be helpful just to say that I’m speaking out of a marriage of 37 years of mingled pain and ecstasy.
“You never stop carrying the burden that your children will walk with the Lord.”
At the end of the 1980s, there were 33 months in which my wife and I went to a Christian counselor. I just want to say openly: if you feel like the relationship is not working, you’re not communicating in a way that is helping, it’s only hurting, everything that comes out of your mouth seems to wound the other person instead of build them up — no matter how you work at it, it seems to get nowhere. As a pastor, do not be ashamed of seeking help.
I was over my Bible thinking: I’m a pastor of a large church. My marriage is a mess. As far as I’m concerned, nobody knows it as well as I do. We’re not communicating well, we’re hurting each other by almost everything we say. As hard as I try to humble myself to speak in different ways, and she — as hard as she tries — we just don’t get it. I was over my Bible wondering, is Christian counseling biblical? I drew the conclusion from reading Proverbs that the reason there are wise men, wise women, and sages in the world is for when a couple needs a wise referee: somebody who listens to him, listens to her, and says to him, “That’s not the way to say it.” And to her, “That’s not the way to receive it,” and back and forth.
Now you have a third person in the mix, helping them hear the way they’re being heard. I just want to say, if that’s where you are, as a pastor, do not be ashamed to go to your elders, deacons, whatever you have, and say, “Would you guys support me if I sought out a Christian counselor to be a referee so that my wife and I could learn to love each other better? Show love better?” So that happened for 33 months for us. You need to know all this because I’m going to set some pretty high standards here in just a moment. I’m not naïve. I’m not stupid when it comes to pain in marriage.
‘We Made It’
One other thing came to my mind while I was praying that helps me. It helps me when I counsel families or counsel couples who are feeling hopeless about their relationship. You’re forty years old. You’ve been married for fifteen years say. And it feels like it’s a mess. It’s just a mess. “I can’t live with this woman another thirty years. You are tempted to bail out on the relationship. I want you to imagine something. This is what Noël and I imagine.
I want you to imagine you’re now seventy-five years old, you have grey hair, and your skin is all wrinkled. She’s not shapely anymore and you’re not shapely anymore. You’re sitting across from each other at a little restaurant on the shores of Lake Superior, and outside little birds are jumping between the bushes. Little waves are rippling, the sun is shining, and you’re looking at each other across this table at age seventy-five. Don’t you want to be able to look into her eyes at age seventy-five, and with tears perhaps running down your face say, “We made it;” we made it”?
I want that more than ten million dollars. I want to look into my wife’s eyes when I’m 75, which is very close. It feels very close. I want to look into her eyes and say, “Noël, it was hard at times, and I’m very glad that you’re here. And I’m here. We made it.” That will be sweet. It will be worth it all. It will be worth it all to be able to say in ripe old age, “We made it.”
Marriage for a Season
My topic is “Marriage Lived for the Glory of God.” Now the word “for” in “Marriage Lived for the Glory of God” is the keyword. It’s not the other way around. It’s not the glory of God for marriage. You have to get your priorities right. It’s marriage lived for the glory of God. That little word means there’s a priority to God. God is ultimate. Marriage is not ultimate.
In Mark 12:18–27 and Matthew 22:23–33, the Sadducees want to know which husband a woman would have in heaven, when she was widowed and remarried. They thought they had him tricked — polygamy in heaven. And Jesus said,
You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.
This means your marriage is temporary and it’s over. That’s very sobering. God is supreme and ultimate and eternal. Marriage is for a season.
My mother died when I was 28. I did my father’s second marriage a year later. I was thrilled to do it. Twenty-five years later, his second wife died. He’s not married again. He’s 86 years old. Now he has two wives. And they’re both in heaven. I don’t doubt it. Very soon my dad will be there. Will he be a bigamist, a polygamist? He will not. Because there is no marriage in the age to come — no marriage in heaven. It will be better. Nothing gets worse in heaven. That’s good news. At least if you enjoy sex, it’s good news — and all other good things in marriage. It only gets better in heaven.
Marriage Exists to Magnify God
Marriage exists to magnify the truth and worth and beauty and greatness of God. That’s a rehearsing of what we said already today. We’re answering the question: Why does marriage exist? And we’re answering it: the same reason everything exists. It exists to magnify the truth and worth and beauty and value and greatness of God. Marriage exists to make God look good. That’s why marriage exists: to magnify God.
Telescope to Glory
You can magnify something with a microscope or you can magnify something with a telescope. Microscopes magnify in one way and telescopes magnify in another way. Microscopes magnify by making little tiny things look bigger than they really are. Telescopes magnify by making unimaginably big things, which looks small to the naked eye, look more like they really are.
“God is a fountain. We’re thirsty. God is bread. And we’re hungry. God is riches. And we’re poor.”
Now, I’ll give you a little quiz here. When the Bible says that you and your marriage should magnify God, should you do it as a microscope or a telescope? Yes, telescope. If you said microscope, you’re a blasphemer. You can’t make God look bigger than he is. If you try, you blaspheme. So, let’s just get this clear for our young people, for ourselves, for everybody.
When the Bible talks about magnifying Christ, it doesn’t mean doing it like a microscope. Like: “Poor Christ, he’s just like a little tiny virus or a little tiny bacterium, and he needs our help to look bigger.” No, no, no. Christ is like a galaxy. If you could put people’s eyes to the Hubble Telescope, about a million miles away from the earth, and let them look at that galaxy, they would discover it’s not a pinprick; it’s millions of light years across. That’s the way God is.
An Unsurpassed Calling
Marriage exists to help people put their eye to the telescope and see God for who he is. Now that is a calling that surpasses all of our abilities. That’s the kind of callings we should live for. God is unimaginably great, infinitely valuable, unsurpassed in beauty.
Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised. (Psalm 48:1)
From him and through him and to him are all things. (Romans 11:36)
For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him. (Colossians 1:16)
And woe to us, if when we hear the words all things and we think God needs help from us. He doesn’t need your help. We know that because in Acts chapter 17:25, Paul says,
God is not served by human hands as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.
God is not served by human hands, as though he needed marriage, as though he needed pastors. Or think of Mark 10:45: “The Son of Man came not to be served.” We should just pause right there and let it sink in. “The Son of Man came not to be served.” So watch out, lest you serve him as though he needed anything.
There are ways to serve, which do not meet God’s needs, but receive our needs from him and empowers us to meet the needs of other people. That’s service. God is the giver. We receive and spill over to the benefit of other people. God does not benefit from our supplying of his needs. He has no needs, which is why he can be a fountain and not a watering trough, where we carry our buckets of labor and duty and dump them in for him to drink.
God is a fountain. We’re thirsty. God is bread. And we’re hungry. God is riches. And we’re poor. We’re always the receiver in this relationship. So to serve him, that is to live for him, is not to improve upon him. Is to take his perfection, be so deeply satisfied by it, that we become servants of other people.
We need to let this sink in: that we exist for God in that way; that God is absolute and we are not absolute. We are dependent upon him. God never had a beginning. God will never have an ending. God is never coming into being. He is never developing. He is absolutely. “I Am who I Am,” says the Lord (Exodus 3:14). Whereas we come into being, we develop, we are totally dependent on him, God is absolute and we are not. The universe is not ultimate reality. Marriage is not ultimate reality. The universe is of secondary importance.
There are some very simple truths in the world — we hardly ever say them and they are mind-blowing. And that’s one of them. How many people in Montreal or all of Quebec say that the universe is of secondary importance? Not many. That’s one of the most basic truths in the universe. The universe is of secondary importance. If that’s not a truth that is at home, in your heart, something is profoundly wrong with your heart. You are of secondary importance because you’re part of the universe.
A Display of Glory
God is of infinite importance. God is more important than marriage. God is very much more important than marriage. God is infinitely more important than marriage, which is why marriage should exist to call attention to that. That’s why marriage exists: to call attention to that truth, which our culture in North America does not believe. And when they think about it, they dislike it very much.
So, there’s the starting place for us in understanding marriage. We mustn’t get this wrong. If we get this wrong, namely, that God is infinitely more important than marriage, everything in marriage goes wrong. To get this wrong, it all goes wrong. We exist in marriage to display the truth and the worth and the value, the beauty, the greatness of God.
The Greatest Command
Now that leads to a very special simple conclusion: we should love God more than we love our wives, and love God more than we love our husbands. We should esteem God more than we esteem our spouse. We should value God more than we value our spouse. Our passion for God should be a bigger passion than our passion for this woman in bed or out of bed. It should be bigger. That’s very simple, very obvious, and very controversial, and shocking, and life-changing.
“God never had a beginning. God will never have an ending.”
Most young people today do not bring to their courtship and their marriage a vision of God and who he is and what he’s like and how he acts. In the world, there’s almost no vision of God. He’s not even on the list to be invited to the wedding. He’s simply and breathtakingly omitted. That’s where the world is. God is omitted. He’s just neglected. That’s where he is. It’s breathtaking.
Now, in the church, the view of God that couples bring to their relationship is so small, instead of huge; so marginal, instead of central; so vague, instead of clear; so ineffective, instead of all-determining; so uninspiring, instead of ravishing; that when they marry, the thought of living marriage to the glory of this God is an idea — if it exists at all — without any meaning.
Do You Know This Glory?
What would the glory of God mean to a young wife? What would the glory of God mean to a young husband who spends almost no time thinking about getting to know the glory of God?
What would it mean, the glory of his eternality that makes the mind explode with the thought that he didn’t begin and he doesn’t end?
What would they make of the glory of his knowledge that makes the Library of Congress look like a children’s book? And quantum physics look like a beginning reader?
What would they do with the glory of his wisdom that makes him free from all human counsel? Who has ever been his counselor or who has ever given a gift to him that he should be repaid?
What would they make of God’s authority over heaven and earth and hell, so that no man and no devil can move one inch without his permission?
What would they make of the glory of his providence without which not one bird anywhere in Canada falls to the ground, and not one of our hairs turns white?
What would they make of the glory of God’s word that upholds the universe by the word of his power, and keeps all the atoms and molecules together by speaking them together?
What would they make of the glory of his power to walk on water and cleanse lepers and give sight to the blind and hearing to the ear and walking to the lame and stilling storms and raising the dead?
What would they make of the glory of God’s purity so that they never sin and Jesus never had two seconds of a bad attitude?
What would they make of the glory of his trustworthiness so that he never breaks one single promise? Nothing of his mouth ever falls to the ground.
What would they make of the glory of his justice by which God settles all accounts in the universe justly either on the cross or in hell, so that you know justice will be done for every wrong that’s ever been committed in the universe?
What will they make of the glory of his patience when he endures your dullness and my dullness decade after decade after decade?
What will they make of the glory of God’s obedience in his Son — sovereign obedience, slave-like obedience — embracing the excruciating pain of the cross because his Father said, “Let’s do this, Son.”
What will they make of the glory of his wrath, wrath that will one day cause the whole world who has not believed to want rocks to crush them to death quickly, lest they have to look upon the face of the wrath of the lamb?
What will they make of the glory of the grace of God that justifies the ungodly?
What will they make of the glory of the love of God that dies for us while we are yet sinners?
In other words, when a couple comes together, and they spend almost no time in their teenage years, almost no time in their young-adult years, and now in marriage almost no time passionately trying to get to know the glory of God, how are they going to live for the glory of God?
They don’t even know him. How are people going to live their lives and their marriages to display this God when they devote almost no time to vividly seeing him and loving him and cherishing him.
My ministry is really based on some simple observations. What have I said that doesn’t lie on the face of Scripture? There’s no fancy footwork here. No nimble, subtle exegesis here. This is just Theology 101: God is great. My life mission and our church’s life’s mission is I exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things — including marriage — for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ. So simple. So basic. It’s what the world needs to hear and what Christians need to hear, what married couples need to hear.
“We exist in marriage to display the truth and the worth and the value of God.”
Marriages lived for the glory of God are the fruit of churches permeated by the glory of God. Churches are permeated by the glory of God when pastors are permeated by the glory of God. It’s a river, so it’s got to start somewhere. And it sweeps people into it. And when people can see the glory of God as their all-satisfying passion, marriages change.
If you get two people together who are very self-oriented, you have war on your hands. And if those two people suddenly become ravished with something outside themselves and outside the marriage, namely God, when they come back down here to live, everything’s going to be different.
If we want marriage to glorify the truth and worth and beauty and greatness of God, we must preach God more and marriage less. The issue is not that we preach too much on marriage, but that we preach too little on God. I doubt that any of you has preached too much on marriage. My guess is that proportionately, the glory of God unpacked in all of its magnificent specificity and fullness, perhaps is not being unfolded as much as it should be.
The Solar System of Life
I wrote a letter to one of my sons about eight or nine years ago because he was far away from home, and I was concerned from what he was saying and what I was watching that he might not be walking with God in the way I hoped he would. So, I risked writing a long letter. In the letter, I basically developed a metaphor of the sun. In the solar system of life, the sun is the star at the center of Mercury and Venus and Earth and Mars and the planets. It’s the sun that keeps the planets moving in a beautiful symmetry and order, so that a year is a good thing in the life of the earth because the sun is exerting its massive gravitational power over these planets.
I wrote to him and I said I was concerned that one of the planets might be striving to become the sun, around which everything else is to revolve. And that God and his glory, which is the sun that will hold everything in life — including marriage and children and money and academics and relationships of all kinds — is shifting out of center. And another thing is moving in.
But if you move the sun with this massive gravitational pull out of the center of the orbits of the planets of your life, everything will be ruined. Everything will bang into each other. The perfect orbits that God has designed for your life will not hold.
Then I developed that in about three pages and sent it to him with fear and trembling that he might say something like, “I listened to your preaching for eighteen years, thank you very much. Don’t preach to me anymore.” That is not what happened. He called me on the phone. He said to me one of the sweetest things I’ve ever heard. He said, “Daddy, I read your letter and you’re right. That was happening and I want to thank you. I want to thank you for sounding the alarm.”
The Key to Satisfaction
Marriage lived to the glory of God must have this massive sun with all of its untold heat and light and gravitational pull holding everything else in its proper orbit. And if you move that out of center, things will start banging into each other and be ruined
So, the key that unlocks a thousand doors in marriage and everywhere else is superior satisfaction in God above all earthly things, including above your spouse. Superior satisfaction in God is the source of the kind of long-suffering and self-denial that is required for a husband who wants to live like Christ and a wife who wants to live like the church in relation to Christ.
Death Through Marriage
Now, that’s an allusion to Ephesians 5, right? Ephesians 5:22–27 says,
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
Those two things are the hardest things in the world. For a man to exercise leadership like Christ did and for a woman to exercise submission like the church should are impossible for fallen, selfish human beings. Which means that a resource has to be found for the constant dying that is required of husband and wife in these two roles. There must be daily dying in order for him to lead like Christ because he’s not Christ. And there must be daily dying for her to submit like the church because she’s not an ideal church. They both are sinners and that makes things very complicated.
God Will Keep You
I should bring you up-to-date on the imperfection of the Piper marriage. I fill out an accountability form for my executive pastor every week. We are mutually accountable, and I have a sheet of paper that asks me, Have you looked at any pornography? Have you misused any money? There are about seven of these questions and one of them is, On a scale of 1–10, how is your marital harmony? Last week, I think I circled 3. I almost always circle 7 or 8. I’ll never circle 10 because that’s perfection. Some weeks it’s really good. But I circled 3.
“We should love God more than we love our wives, and love God more than we love our husbands.”
About a week ago, Noël and I went to eat together. I wanted to approach an issue I was concerned about. I wanted her to be doing something differently. You don’t need to know the details. I broached the issue and an hour later, we couldn’t talk to each other. Not out of rage, not out of anger, but out of an emotional paralysis of totally different perceptions of what was going on. About forty-five minutes into it, I said, “I just wanted to talk about this and it’s not working.” And she said, “You’re like a bulldog.” I didn’t think I was like a bulldog. I still don’t think I was like a bulldog.
So, I was upset. Maybe I was like a bulldog. That did not get fixed for one week. So, picture yourself in our house for one week. It is emotionally chilly. No intimacy — hardly touched each other. Every comment was subdued. Now, we always go out to eat on Monday. That’s our day off. And so we have a state-of-the marriage lunch. There it came again the next week.
This time we were at Famous Dave’s. We were just sitting there because we both knew this is a mess. There’s nothing to talk about except the issue and we can’t. You can imagine how hard I prayed all week long. I’m going to talk about marriage in Quebec. I have to get this fixed. I’m pleading with the Lord, “Lord, if I’m a bulldog, make me a puppy.” Do whatever you have to do.
I can’t remember the details. I just know there were some tears at that table. She made a little step and I made a little step and it’s okay now. We’ve done that now a hundred times. We’ve had a hundred weeks like that or more. Isn’t that awful? Now, the point is this: underneath my sin and her sin, is a passion in both of us to find our contentment in God and not in each other. Now, you can see how imperfectly we apply that. But I just want you to know it’s a massive foundation on which to be miserable.
There’s never been a point, I don’t think, in our marriage where we have looked into each other’s eyes with very great sadness and misery, and would not say, “Divorce is not an option because we’re standing on a rock together. As much wind is blowing, as much sleet and snow is coming down on this Rock, we’re standing on a Rock, and we’re both going to the same Rock to get strength to press on. We know that Rock is sufficient. We know that Rock is going to get us through. We know that Rock will satisfy our souls to get us through the long, lean seasons. When there’s not much satisfaction going this way, there can be satisfaction coming from God, and eventually, that will suffice for me to humble myself.
The reason I said, men, that loving a wife like Christ is hard is because headship is not about bossing her around. Headship is mainly about going ahead and apologizing first, even if you think it’s her fault. That is very hard. Husbands are called upon to lead out of misery — no matter whose fault it is.
“There must be daily dying in order for a husband to lead like Christ because he’s not Christ.”
That is a very hard role to fulfill. We would much rather say, “I’m the head. It was your fault. When you get fixed, come talk to me.” If that’s the way you lead your wife, you’re not leading. Your kids will see that, and they won’t ever want to be like that, and they’ll bail on this biblical model. To be a head means to go ahead with the apology. Humble yourself like Jesus, got on the cross when it was our fault. It was our fault, and he crawls up on a cross to make it right. How you doing, husbands?
This is our job and it’s an impossible job. The only hope in my marriage is that God would heal me of my bulldogishness by teaching me what self-denial and the crucified life means. My point is: satisfaction in God, not my wife, is the key to doing that. Finding my satisfaction in God, not her is the key to loving her. We will only magnify God in our marriages if we love God more and love her less.
Love Her More, Love Her Less
My son, Karsten, has three children and has been married 11 years. He asked me to write a poem to read at his wedding. Which just amazed me because he just spent a year at St. Andrews doing a master’s degree in poetry. He is a world-class poet.
So, he asked me to write this poem, and I worked hard on it. The reason I’m reading it now, is because it preaches this sermon another way. Listen in the poem for what I’ve been saying as a summary of tonight’s message. It begins with me explaining how thankful I am that he asked me to write this poem and so on. Then I get to the meat of the matter and tell him the secret, the secret of glorifying God in his marriage, which he has done now for these eleven years. So, here’s the poem for Karsten and Rochelle at their wedding.
The God whom we have loved, and in
Whom we have lived, and who has been
Our Rock these twenty-two good years
With you, now bids us, with sweet tears,
To let you go: “A man shall leave
His father and his mother, cleave
Henceforth unto his wife, and be
One unashaméd flesh and free.”
This is the word of God today,
And we are happy to obey.
For God has given you a bride
Who answers every prayer we've cried
For over twenty years, our claim
For you, before we knew her name.
And now you ask that I should write
A poem — a risky thing, in light
Of what you know: that I am more
The preacher than the poet or
The artist. I am honored by
Your bravery, and I comply.
I do not grudge these sweet confines
Of rhyming pairs and metered lines.
They are old friends. They like it when
I bid them help me once again
To gather feelings into form
And keep them durable and warm.
And so we met in recent days,
And made the flood of love and praise
And counsel from a father’s heart
To flow within the banks of art.
Here is a portion of the stream,
My son: a sermon poem. It’s theme:
A double rule of love that shocks;
A doctrine in a paradox:
If you now aim your wife to bless,
Then love her more and love her less.
If in the coming years, by some
Strange providence of God, you come
To have the riches of this age,
And, painless, stride across the stage
Beside your wife, be sure in health
To love her, love her more than wealth.
And if your life is woven in
A hundred friendships, and you spin
A festal fabric out of all
Your sweet affections, great and small,
Be sure, no matter how it rends,
To love her, love her more than friends.
And if there comes a point when you
Are tired, and pity whispers, “Do
Yourself a favor. Come, be free;
Embrace the comforts here with me.”
Know this! Your wife surpasses these:
So love her, love her, more than ease.
And when your marriage bed is pure,
And there is not the slightest lure
Of lust for any but your wife,
And all is ecstasy in life,
A secret all of this protects:
Go love her, love her, more than sex.
And if your taste becomes refined,
And you are moved by what the mind
Of man can make, and dazzled by
His craft, remember that the “why”
Of all this work is in the heart;
So love her, love her more than art.
And if your own should someday be
The craft that critics all agree
Is worthy of a great esteem,
And sales exceed your wildest dream,
Beware the dangers of a name.
And love her, love her more than fame.
And if, to your surprise, not mine,
God calls you by some strange design
To risk your life for some great cause,
Let neither fear nor love give pause,
And when you face the gate of death,
Then love her, love her more than breath.
Yes, love her, love her, more than life;
O, love the woman called your wife.
Go love her as your earthly best.
Beyond this venture not. But, lest
Your love become a fool’s façade,
Be sure to love her less than God.
It is not wise or kind to call
An idol by sweet names, and fall,
As in humility, before
A likeness of your God. Adore
Above your best beloved on earth
The God alone who gives her worth.
And she will know in second place
That your great love is also grace,
And that your high affections now
Are flowing freely from a vow
Beneath these promises, first made
To you by God. Nor will they fade
For being rooted by the stream
Of Heaven’s Joy, which you esteem
And cherish more than breath and life,
That you may give it to your wife.
The greatest gift you give your wife
Is loving God above her life.
And thus I bid you now to bless:
Go love her more by loving less.