This week we continue our new series, I Do, by talking about what marriage is for. Knowing what marriage is (which we established a couple of weeks ago) is great, but knowing what God designed it to accomplish gives us a huge boost in terms of making sure we’re doing it right ourselves. Keep reading to learn the purpose of marriage and what you can do to see that realized in your own life.
A Higher Purpose
I have a little quiz for you this morning. I hope you studied. Some of you who were never very good test takers in school are already starting to get a bit nervous, aren’t you? There’s just one question to this test, though, so you can relax just a bit. Are you ready? What is this thing in my hand? No, that’s not a trick question. Yeah, it’s a hammer. Here’s a bonus question for extra credit: What is a hammer? (And no, saying it’s the thing in my hand is not the correct answer.) In answering that bonus question, you might be tempted to say something like, “A hammer is a tool used for driving nails into wood,” but that is not the correct answer. If you were thinking anything along those lines, no bonus points for you. “Wait a minute,” you might be wanting to protest, “That is what a hammer is!” No, that definition tells me what a hammer is for. I asked you simply what a hammer is. Two different things there. Now, had you stopped after the word “tool,” you would have been more correct, although not terribly specific. Had you wanted to be more specific, you could have said something like, “A hammer is a tool, often made of shaped steel, with a round, flat peen which is often set against a divided claw located at the end of a short shaft made of wood, steel, or some composite material and which serves as a handle.” That’s what a hammer is. See the difference? But, because our brains are wired for purpose and meaning, we often define things according to their intended purpose.
Well, last week I gave you a definition of something that stopped at identity and promised that when we gathered again this week we would talk about its purpose. That thing was, of course, marriage, and I’ll be honest: as I was working on giving form to the definition I gave you last week, I had to stop myself several times from defining it according to its purpose. Several times I started writing something like, “Marriage is a God-designed relationship for…” and then had to stop because I was getting into this week’s topic. I suspect too that some of you felt the definition we settled on last week wasn’t totally complete because it didn’t say anything about purpose. I mean, to know that marriage is a covenantal relationship between a man and a woman established by God in creation is good, but as with simply knowing what a hammer is, there’s a big part of us that naturally stretches forward to know what marriage is for. So God designed this incredible relationship at the tail end of creation…why? This morning we are going to try and tackle that question.
This morning we are in the second part of our series, I Do. The whole idea for this series is that while many of us have said, “I do,” at some point in our lives, not as many of us have done that and then known exactly what to do. Now, that doesn’t mean we all just wander around in the dark for most of our marriages. No, most of us figure out a system that works at least pretty well and get by on that. The problem, though, is that while “pretty well” may carry us through for quite a while, if “pretty well” doesn’t get us to the heart of what marriage is for, then we run a great risk of missing that. And if we miss what marriage is for, then while we may be accomplishing a lot of things being married people—having and raising kids, serving in our communities, working jobs, and so on—we will necessarily be missing out on the centerpiece of why we’re doing what we’re doing. And if you miss that…what’s the point?
You’ll either end up in a relationship that isn’t serving either of you well; out of a relationship that didn’t need to end, it just needed to be used properly; or else in a kind of copycat relationship (for example, living together and acting like you’re married even though you’re not) that’s not nearly as good as the real thing (a state of affairs that modern sociological research is increasingly recognizing does far more harm than good for a couple’s long-term relational prospects). The problem with this is that settling for a substitute in that kind of situation invariably winds up hurting you by driving a wedge between you and God which always ends up being a wedge between you and other people because whenever we take a good thing God has given us, distort it, and don’t use it according to its intended purpose, we come out the losers.
Think about it like this: Say you go out and buy a hammer. But, you never use that hammer for driving nails into wood. Instead, in those early days when you’re really excited about the hammer and you’re trying to have it with you everywhere you go, you discover that if you beat on a piece of wood long enough with it, you can break it in half. What’s more, you discover that it will break big rocks into little pieces too. And, if you hold it at just the right angle, the claw on the back can drive a flathead screw into something. Phillips head screws are a bit trickier, but with a little extra finesse, you can make them work too. What you have on your hands is a multi-functional tool! It’s a good thing, too, since you’re getting ready to build an addition onto your house and you don’t have a screwdriver or a saw or access to any kind of fill gravel. But that’s okay because your hammer will take care of all those things.
But as you start working, you quickly discover that it takes a lot longer to get some of the individual steps of raising up this new addition accomplished, that after several smaller projects the hammer is not in very good shape anymore, and that you’re getting pretty tired of the whole thing not working as well as you thought it would too. But then, just before you throw it away in disgust, a wise friend comes over and asks a simple question: If you weren’t going to use it for what it was made for, why did you buy it in the first place? Since you have it, though, what makes more sense? To throw it away and start over? Or to fix it and learn to use it as it was always meant to be used? After all, which would you rather come out with: a lesson you may or may not apply to the next hammer you buy, which means the likelihood of your purchase ending in the same way is pretty high, or a product that’s doing for you what it was designed to do? And just so we’re clear, I’m not talking about hammers anymore.
So then, let’s ask the question again: What is marriage for? Well, that’s a big question. It’s a big question with a lot of potential answers. Some folks argue that one of the central purposes of marriage is procreation—having kids. After all, the stable home headed by a biological mother and father is by far and away the best environment for the raising of children who are emotionally, relationally, physically, mentally, financially, spiritually, socially, and any other adverbs you want to add to that list, healthy. (By the way, that’s not just me thumping on you with the Bible; there’s a growing mountain of sociological research to back that up.) But not all couples have kids. And while the reasons for that are many, to place procreation at the center of what marriage is for means there are not a few couples who won’t ever be able to experience the central purpose of marriage. It doesn’t seem likely that our just and loving God would design something whose purpose is unattainable for a significant minority of people who are called to it.
Other folks will argue that marriage is mostly about personal fulfillment. This is certainly the modern spin on marriage. Well, this does make it something all couples can reach, but if you think much about it, personal fulfillment seems to be too small a goal for marriage. For example, my best friend in the world is Jason Pinder. We’ve been best friends nearly since birth. If I really needed him for some reason, he would be on the next plane to Charlotte to get here regardless of the cost. I’d do the same for him. My goodness, we both married girls named Lisa, both Lisas have business degrees, both Lisas have recently started working fulltime again after making the sacrifice to mother fulltime for several years, we’re both active in our respective churches, and we both have three boys under the age of 12! As far as relationships go, mine with Jason is incredibly fulfilling…but it’s not a marriage.
So again, then, what is marriage for? Well, if you will grab a nearby copy of the Scriptures and find your way to Ephesians 5, we can answer this question together. Starting in v. 22 Paul writes some of the most important words about marriage ever written. In our culture today they are also some of the hardest ever written. We’ll come back in a few weeks to deal with the culturally hard part, but for this morning I want to draw your attention to an idea that’s slightly more implicit when you first read it. I’ll start reading at v. 22, but we’ll get closer to the heart of things about v. 25.
Listen to this: “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord, because the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of the body. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives are to submit to their husbands in everything.” Still with me? There’s lots to talk about, but for now, pay close attention to this next part because this is important. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her to make her holy, cleansing her with the washing of water by the word. He did this to present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and blameless. In the same way, husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own flesh but provides and cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, since we are members of his body.” Let’s stop there and talk about what we’ve just heard.
Now, the stuff there about wives submitting to their husbands is hard to get our hearts and minds around. All the same, it’s really important. We’re not going to talk about it this morning, though. We’ll come back to that in a couple of weeks. But when Paul turns and starts talking to husbands, where does he go when describing the kind of love we should have for our wives? He compares it with Christ’s love for the church. And, according to Paul here, what does Christ’s love for the church do? It cleanses her. It makes her beautiful. It enables her to stand before Him in perfect, spotless splendor. In other words, it draws her to Him to become fully who He designed her to be.
Stay with me here. A husband’s love for his wife should result in her becoming more fully who Jesus designed her to be. To put that another way, a husband’s love for his wife should result in her becoming more like Jesus. And, because of the principle of mutual submission from v. 21 which, again, we will talk about in a couple of weeks, a wife’s love for her husband ought to do the same. So what we have here is that according to Paul, marriage is a relationship in which each partner should be drawn closer to Jesus. It points them to Jesus.
Come a little further now. If someone is successfully moved in the direction of Jesus, what happens? They become better people, sure, but beyond just them, more people are drawn in the same direction. It’s Jesus’ principle of salt and light put into action. When you take a light and plug it in in a dark room where people are gathered, they will naturally gravitate toward it. When you take a person and plug her into Christ such that His light shines through her and then put her in a dark place a in the world where people are gathered, they will be drawn to her; or perhaps when you take a person shining dimly with the light of Christ and turn up the wattage so he shines even brighter, people will be drawn to him. And the great likelihood is that from there they’ll plug into Christ.
Paul points to this even more firmly in the rest of the passage here. Come back to v. 31: “‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, but I am talking about Christ and the church.” Like Jesus Himself did when talking about marriage, and like we did last time, Paul points back to the beginning in order to talk about it. Specifically, he points to the two becoming one aspect of marriage. And if that idea has ever seemed a bit fuzzy to you, you’re on equal footing with Paul. He is basically saying here, “I don’t have any idea how exactly that works, but I do know this: It’s a reflection of the union between Christ and the church.” Marriage done well reflects the relationship between Christ and the church and when people see that relationship played out before them, they are drawn to Him in ways they otherwise are not.
In other words, while we can say a lot of things about the purposes of marriage, from what Paul describes here, the most central purpose of marriage is to point people to Jesus. The purpose of marriage is to point people to Jesus. That’s what marriage is for. Marriage is a covenantal relationship between a man and a woman established by God in creation. Marriage is for pointing people to Jesus. The purpose of marriage is to point people to Jesus.
In light of that, then, let me offer you a challenge and some encouragement. The challenge is this: If your marriage is not resulting in your moving intentionally in the direction of Jesus, you’re not doing it right. Now, that could be your fault. It could be your spouse’s fault. More probably there’s more than enough blame to go around. Where the problem is with you, you can fix that. Commit to connecting yourself more fully to Jesus and let His light shine more brightly through you. This will alter the way you view and behave toward the people around you, most especially your spouse. Rather than nagging them to change in order to make you happy, you will be the one doing the changing to be more like Jesus which has a naturally attractive quality to it. In doing this you don’t force them anywhere, you woo them by your example to become more fully who God designed them to be.
If the problem is them…well…you can’t “fix” them. You can encourage them and work to move them toward Jesus by your example (which sometimes works), but you can’t force them there. This is actually something the apostle Peter talked about in his first letter to some believers living in a hostile cultural environment.
There were several believers in this church community—specifically believing wives, but what he says is applicable to both partners—who were married to unbelievers for some reason. Culturally speaking they had probably come to Christ since their marriage. Neither Paul nor Peter nor any of the other New Testament writers could have imagined a situation in which a believer knowingly married an unbeliever. That’s just setting yourself up for eventual trouble down the road. In any event, what Peter had to say was this: “In the same way, wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, even if some disobey the word, they may be won over without a word by the way their wives live when they observe your pure, reverent lives.” Are you with him? If the problem or even simply part of the problem is your spouse, the right approach is not to try and change your spouse. The right approach is to submit yourself more fully to Jesus, live out of that submission, and let the Holy Spirit do the changing work in your spouse. Because the simple reality is that you can’t change your spouse. If you try, you’ll fail and you’ll both be frustrated, or worse, you’ll succeed and create a climate of deep resentment that will only serve to sow the seeds of future destruction. You love your spouse like Jesus and let Him take care of the rest.
Now, sometimes—especially in situations when a believer is married to an unbeliever—the unbeliever walks away. And as painful as that is, you can’t do anything about it. Paul talks about this in 1 Corinthians 7 and makes clear this does not indicate a failure on the part of the believer. After all, why would someone stay married to someone with whom they are divided on such fundamental worldview issues unless something else was compelling them to remain in such a place such as a higher commitment to Christ? Again, Paul assumes this disparity of worldview has come about since the couple got married. He says this: “But I (not the Lord) say to the rest: If any brother has an unbelieving wife and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. Also, if any woman has an unbelieving husband and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce her husband. For the unbelieving husband is made holy by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy by the husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is they are holy. But if the unbeliever leaves, let him leave. A brother or sister is not bound in such cases. God has called you to live in peace. Wife, for all you know, you might save your husband. Husband, for all you know, you might save your wife.” You simply cannot control everything, and if your spouse is not a believer and behaves like someone who isn’t a believer, that’s not on you.
But, if you are both followers of Jesus and in this situation where everything is not fully as it should be here’s the challenge: You’ve lost the central purpose of your marriage. The purpose of marriage is to point people to Jesus starting with the husband and wife and you’re not doing that. Begin taking the steps you need to take in order to begin moving each other in the direction of Jesus again. And the very first step is to get yourself moving in the direction of Jesus again. You need to be ruthlessly intentional about seeking your Lord each and every day. You need to spend time in His word…every day. You need to spend time in prayer, learning to love and follow your Lord more fully. You need to spend regular time fellowshipping with other Jesus followers, especially those who can give you encouragement and accountability in your marriage journey. You need to be intentional about pursuing the spiritual disciplines (for example: silence, giving, serving, praying, studying, celebrating, fasting, and so on) to create a climate of constant spiritual growth in your life. And then, you need to take all that you gain from this process and direct it toward your spouse in order to move him or her in the direction of Jesus. Remember: You have no control over them. You do you and let Jesus through the Holy Spirit do the rest.
That being said, here’s the encouragement: When you do this—and you can do this—and when he or she does this—in fact make a commitment to each other to do it together and hold each other accountable—you will gradually find yourselves enjoying the marriage relationship you always wanted to have but could never quite experience. You will find yourself in such a place because the purpose of marriage is to point people to Jesus, and you’ll be doing that. You’ll be doing it for each other which is the first goal, and then, when other people see what you have, they’ll want the same thing. They’ll want the same thing and they’ll move in the direction of Jesus in order to get it. Your kids will see it and they’ll move in the direction of Jesus in order to get it. They’ll intentionally seek out a spouse with whom they can have the kind of relationship you have with your spouse. Can you imagine something you want more for them than that? That’ll set up not only your kids for success, but your grandkids will seek out the same thing as well which will be a gift for them. One strong marriage—your strong marriage—can result in multiple generations of faithfulness and blessing. Who wouldn’t want that?
Come on, come on: Imagine if we as a church developed the reputation of being the place, not where everybody has a perfect marriage because no such place exists, but where couples could come and be equipped to experience a revival in their marriages. Imagine if every married couple here grasped the central purpose of marriage and put that into practice. We would move not only ourselves, but our whole community in the direction of Jesus. Think about it: How many married couples in this community are struggling right now with some issue that just won’t seem to go away? I’d wager the number is pretty high if for no other reason than we all struggle from time to time. What if they heard about this local place where couples can go, experience no judgment for their issues, and come out stronger than when they went in? We’d have to bar the doors to keep them out! Imagine if we had such a healthy marriage culture here that single people started coming because they knew they would receive the training—both explicitly and observationally—they needed to have a great marriage when their time came. Imagine if even single people for whom marriage was not in the cards because that doesn’t happen to be God’s call on their life still flocked here because our deep grasp of the central purpose of marriage resulted in their experiencing a more fulfilling relationship with Jesus as a single person. Friends, that doesn’t have to remain only something that sits in the realm of possibility.
These are the kinds of things God made marriage for. This is the central purpose of marriage put into action. The purpose of marriage is to point people to Jesus. If we grasp that and practice that these are the kinds of things that can happen. And if you’ll come back over the next few weeks, we will talk more specifically about some of the things we can do to see that it does.