Less than a year ago, an article was published in Huffington Post entitled “Is Marriage an Outdated Tradition?” As it seems, the authors answer is: yes.
Sadly, many Americans would agree.
According to a report issued by the Center for Disease Control in March of 2016, when prompted to respond to the statement “marriage has not worked out for most people I know,” roughly a third of those surveyed answered in agreement.
Respondents also generally demonstrated indifference towards what some would call a ‘traditional’ family structure. Marriage, in their view, isn’t really essential to a couple’s decision to enter into parenthood.
Researchers, writers, and experts across the country are wondering whether or not we should ditch this formal union and leave it in the dust of generations past. Marriage is hard and promising to stand by someone amidst the chaos and change of life seems unpractical in our modern, ‘have-it-all’ cultural context. Many wonder, like the author of the aforementioned article, why should we bother entering into these life-long commitments if they’re no longer satisfying our needs?
This argument, of course, presupposes that marriage has nothing to do with self-less love, but the selfish desires we have in our own hearts. It assumes that marriage is a social construct that—just as quickly as it was created—can be dismantled and destroyed to serve a broader cultural agenda.
But try as the media might to convince us that marriage is just another means for our own happiness—and one in which individuals can set their own rules and independent bounds for—we know the truth. God created this union, among many reasons, to eventually give us a fuller understanding of his relationship with the church—his holy bride.
He wanted us to learn to love him more through our love for a spouse: another person created in his image. As his love is faithful to us, so too are we called to be faithful to our partner even on the days, weeks, or months when we don’t particularly feel like it.
Marriage, ultimately, is not about us; it’s all about him.
We are called, as Paul tells us in Hebrews 13:4, to “honor marriage” and “keep the marriage bed pure.” While even faithful Christians don’t always do this well, we can begin to peel back the pages of Scripture and allow God to redeem our misperceptions of holy matrimony.
Marriage is a Created Good
But the truth is that marriage isn’t ours to change and label to suit our ever-morphing preferences—it belongs to God. It was conceived and created by him and for his glory at the dawn of creation in the garden of Eden.
God made the world and everything in it—and it was good. After forming the world’s first human, Adam, he stipulated that it was not good for man to be alone; he needed a companion with whom he could live and love all the days of his life (Gen. 2:18).
God proceeded to give Adam the woman Eve, saying, “This is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). This is the infamous ‘leave and cleave’ moment in the Genesis 2 portion of the creation account. But notice, the creation of the marriage covenant occurs pre-fall—marriage was part of God’s ‘Plan A’ for life in the garden. It wasn’t some last-ditch survival effort or backup strategy; instead, it functioned as an integral part of his perfect, original design.
One man, one woman, and one permanent union in the sight of God—this is marriage as the Creator intended it.
Even in our 21st century context, allowing God to redeem marriage means giving it back to him. It means working to understand what this union really means in the greater biblical narrative and leaning into its true created purpose in each of our lives.
Marriage is Not a ‘Must’
While we want to give marriage its due, there is another temptation we must be wary of in Christian circles. Often in these conversations it’s easy to respond by elevating marriage past its position of due importance. Instead of rightfully labeling it a created good, we turn it into a created essential that mustn’t be found missing from the Christ follower’s journey.
This, my friends, is simply incorrect.
Marriage, while important, isn’t mandatory nor essential for one’s spiritual development. In fact, Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 praises the calling of singleness, citing its advantages to the Christian journey; namely, one’s ability to focus first and foremost on God—not a spouse. He affirms the different callings that the Lord places on each of our lives arguing that “each has his own gift from God, one person has this gift, another has that…” (1 Cor. 7:7).
As followers of Christ, we must appreciate and honor the unmarried members of our church communities, thanking God for their service and dedication to him.
Marriage Isn’t Easy
Widespread in our church cultures is the notion that somehow marriage will fix everything that is broken about us in our singleness. Many of us imagined as youths or still idealize now about the euphoric sense of joy and fulfillment that our spouse will someday bring us.
This, friends, is wishful thinking.
Does marriage provide us with companionship? Yes. Does it provide us with someone to love and be loved by? Certainly. Does it fix our problems and rid us of all insecurities? No, of course not. Marriage, if anything, challenges us to step outside of ourselves and into someone else’s imperfect (likely messy) story. It’s about loving unconditionally and choosing to commit to our spouse on the days when words like ‘euphoric’ and ‘joyful’ hardly describe our present state of mind.
Redeeming marriage as God intended requires that we learn to be faithful on all days—good, bad, and ugly. It means humbly walking in step with his design for this union working diligently to emulate the beauty of Christ’s relationship with his bride, the church.
Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.