Best Of, Christian Life, Theology

Marriage isn’t for you – it’s for Jesus

November 6, 2013

 

To my knowledge this is the first time I’ve written a post in response to something I’ve read on another blog. Generally I feel that internet debates lack positive fruit, however, several people I know and respect have shared this blog post and said that it was a must-read via various social media outlets. Kelly, my beautiful wife, was reading it on Sunday night and commented her disappointment with what she had expected to be an excellent article, asking my thoughts. I read and was similarly disappointed. Over the last day or so I’ve put some time into thinking through what was wrong with the post “Marriage Isn’t for You,” and figured I would write out some of my thoughts for the benefits of my friends.

First, a disclaimer. From a brief browsing of Seth Adam Smith’s blog I don’t see much evidence for him being a follower of Christ. If that’s the case, then my post here isn’t any judgment of him since, without the Holy Spirit, there’s no way to truly know the ultimate goal of marriage. My goal is to correct what may be an error in our understanding of what marriage is about, which is a critical thing to understand in our increasingly anti-marriage culture.

The point of Seth’s post can be seen in his quotation of his father’s advice on marriage;

You don’t marry to make yourself happy, you marry to make someone else happy. More than that, your marriage isn’t for yourself, you’re marrying for a family. Not just for the in-laws and all of that nonsense, but for your future children. Who do you want to help you raise them? Who do you want to influence them? Marriage isn’t for you. It’s not about you. Marriage is about the person you married.”

The post has obviously struck a cord. Published two days ago, it already has over 3000 comments. I’ve seen it posted approximately 10 times in the last two days on my Facebook feed. Seth has tapped something that we know we need to hear. Marriage isn’t about us. It’s not about what we get out of it. It’s about loving and serving someone else.  Excellent truth, right? No. Not really.

The problem with the post isn’t that it’s totally wrong – it’s that it falls far short of the mark (Rom. 3:23). While statements like, “No true relationship of love is for you. Love is about the person you love,” connect with Biblical morals found in places like 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 that emphasize marriage’s other-contentedness, they hang terribly disconnected from their Gospel end goal.

If marriage is indeed “about the person you married,” even if it’s for your family and your future children, then marriage becomes the sin that Paul warns of in Romans 1:23 where we “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man”. Marriage becomes idolatry when its end goal is your spouse’s happiness. When your marriage becomes an idol then it’s on your shoulder to carry it, and the burden of two human souls is not something that we have the strength to bear. It’s a weight that will inevitably crush the structure it sits on, leaving your marriage cracked and crumbling.

According to God, marriage isn’t about you, your spouse, your kids, or your family. It’s not even about being “better together” and serving more people. According to Ephesians 5, marriage is about Jesus. The Apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, writes, “’a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh [be married].’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” God’s declaration is that marriage is about Christ and the church, not about the person you married. The main reason that our King created marriage was to give the world an image of what his love for his people looks like. It’s not about you. Her. Him. It’s about Jesus and the gospel.

Marriage isn’t about us because it’s about Jesus. In marriage we serve each other because Jesus served us. We sacrifice for each other because Jesus sacrificed for us. We raise children, sacrificing for their sake, loving them, and giving unlimited grace to them because Jesus made the way for us to become children of God and is loving us, raising us up in his image, and being infinitely patient with us. Seth Adam Smith’s blog post isn’t all wrong, but it does fall far short of the full truth, and that’s a terribly dangerous place to be.

Kelly and I have been married just over a year, and we have certainly learned that marriage doesn’t work when we’re thinking of ourselves first. But we’ve also learned that we need our marriage to orbit around something much larger than ourselves for it to work. When our marriage is lived out from the grace of Jesus for the glory of Jesus, everything works. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from prison in his “Wedding Sermon from a Prison Cell,”

Marriage is more than your love for each other. In your love you see only the heaven of your own happiness, but in marriage you are placed at a post of responsibility towards the world and mankind. Your love is your own private possession, but marriage is more than something personal—it is a status, and office. Just as it is the crown, and not merely the will to rule, that makes the king, so it is marriage, and not merely your love for each other, that joins you together in the sight of God and man.

Check out a couple of other great resources on Biblical marriage below;

 

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15 Comments

  • Reply Andrea November 6, 2013 at 12:46 am

    What a timely response to a ‘good’ article that was just missing ‘something’ (or rather, someone). We should always bring the focus back to the Gospel – no matter the situation or topic.

    I really appreciate your insight and the scriptural support for the statements you are making.

  • Reply Coltan Severson November 6, 2013 at 8:07 am

    “Marriage becomes idolatry when its end goal is your spouse’s happiness”

    We must have different definitions of happiness then, because everything you said corresponded to me as true, but the quote above threw me off. Now, who am I to speak, for I am not married or even engaged, but This is a great question in my life. Happiness as I know it is more than what the common mentality sees it is, it’s more than a surface level feeling, but actually it is recognizing that Christ is a presence happening to me here and now. That he is a father loving me and giving me my life. I want this understanding for everyone I know, especially my girlfriend. It is for this reason why I continue to date her, to come to know Him better through our happiness and the realization that it is He who gives us that happiness. Thanks for the blog post.

    • Reply thefallout November 6, 2013 at 10:58 pm

      I think I’m tracking with what you’re saying, Coltan. What I was aiming to say is that if happiness, the fleeting emotion, is the end goal of your marriage (even your significant other’s happiness) then you’ve placed happiness before Jesus. However, like you’re saying, having Jesus at the center of our relationships doesn’t negate happiness. Quite the opposite. In many ways it brings us even greater pleasure and joy. I know my wife and I have experienced that in our time together!

  • Reply Megan Wiese November 6, 2013 at 1:37 pm

    Thanks for doing this post Ben! You hit all the concerns I felt after reading the post you are responding to. How sad my marriage would be if I was just doing it for Jon! Doing it for the glory of God and to mirror Christ and His church is a much greater calling. And Biblical 🙂 thanks for taking the time to write this. I hope it will be a challenge to many!

  • Reply Jim November 6, 2013 at 4:46 pm

    So what about marriages between Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, etc?

  • Reply E. Bend November 6, 2013 at 5:14 pm

    Ben,

    While I understand the reason for this blog post. You have misrepresented scripture: Romans 1 is discussing the mindset of unbelievers and why they reject God; I Corinthians 7:3-5 is dealing with misconduct among the Corinthian’s; and Ephesians 5 is dealing with the proper conduct and behavior of a mature saint. Ben, you are telling Scripture what it should say. Christ is only mentioned in Ephesians, which makes that the only viable reference for your conclusion: marriage is for Christ. However, if we go back to Genesis marriage wasn’t for Christ, it was for a help so that Adam could act upon God’s will to have dominion over all creation. So then, it would be understandable that marriage is a help for a Christian so that they can act upon God’s will that we conform to the image of Christ.

    Marriage requires love, and love (in a sense) is all about the other person. Perhaps that is where you see the disconnect in Seth’s article: an unbeliever loves solely for the object of their love, it is that shallow: a believer loves because Christ has made it possible for him to love as God does by removing all restrictions to that love through the Cross. Marriage isn’t for Christ. No where in scripture does it say we marry for Christ. Marriage is for the overall health of the body so that we can help each other conform to the image of Christ. Then when Christ presents us as a body before God we will be holy and acceptable and ready to fulfill his purposes.

  • Reply Jacie Davis November 6, 2013 at 5:39 pm

    Thank you so much for letting God speak through you and allowing for the Holy Spirit to lead you to writing this. Thanks for taking the time. As soon as my husband and I read the original blog, “Marriage Isn’t About You”, we immediately looked at one another and said, “why is everyone sharing this?” It’s not about us at all; nothing is. I was praying about how I was going to respond to the rapid sharing on this blog and you spoke up for not only me but ultimately God. Thanks for writing this in love as well.

    • Reply thefallout November 6, 2013 at 10:49 pm

      My wife said the exact same thing to me after reading the blog. Seth’s point in his original article were good and noble, but not didn’t tap into the fullness of truth.

  • Reply Amy November 6, 2013 at 7:35 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing this! I had read the other blog and was somewhat irked by the number of believers who shared it. Not because I think there was no merit at all whatsoever in it, but because it seems pretty clear in the Bible that our marriage is not about us and not about our spouse either. It’s all about Christ and glorifying Him. Thank you for clarifying this. I hope I see this shared frequently.

  • Reply StephT November 6, 2013 at 8:17 pm

    Ben – This is such a well written post! While I was expecting to be disappointed by the “Marriage isn’t for You” post (I did read it first), I found it copacetic. Your response stated that it was dangerous to be only partially in the truth.

    Quite simply, I wouldn’t have thought more in depth about what I’d read, but thank you for clarifying what was wrong with that article for the rest of us! Your conclusions were precise.

    The way you related marriage back to Christ is right. Everything we do is a reflection of our relationship with the one who gave everything for us, being a perfect example of how to love.

    We need to be challenged in our thoughts and I commend you for sharing your revelations with the world. Keep sharing truth and to God be the glory!

    PS: Your awareness of potential idols is profound, but your work can glorify God. Colossians 3:23 — Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as though you were working for the Lord and not for people.

    • Reply thefallout November 6, 2013 at 10:48 pm

      Much thanks for the encouragement Steph. You’re absolutely right about all work being glorifying to God. That’s part of the reason why I felt like the right thing to do was to pursue a full-time position, to test myself and to demonstrate that all of our lives are to be lived as missionaries.

  • Reply Ruth Schneider November 7, 2013 at 3:21 am

    I enjoyed reading this follow-up and appreciate it although I definitely would not criticize Christians that shared Smith’s post. Smith was lacking the knowledge of the foundation of marriage: Christ. Yet, I feel confident in saying that not everyone took the post the same way. Ultimately, our goal in our marriages is to please Christ, and yes, our Christian marriages are to be a picture of Christ and the church. Therefore, yes, we have a responsibility. But Smith’s blog I did not see as teaching anything idolatrous or wrong. He was actually sharing biblical principle although he may not have realized it: the principles of charity (1 Corinthians 13) and loving his wife as his own self (Ephesians 533), and of putting others first (Philippians 2:1-4). I appreciated hearing how his wife acted out a biblical principle when she reverenced him when he was selfish and put him first. Her unselfish response was indeed something that a Christian wife should model. I greatly appreciate your follow up post which pointed back to the foundation of marriage, but I want to say I appreciated the godly truths that Smith portrayed in his blog whether intentional or unintentional. 🙂 Don’t be disappointed in those that shared Smith’s, for I believe they saw these truths. However, thank you for clarifying that marriage is not just about two people wanting to make each other happy. You are correct in pointing out that if that were the only goal as a Christian it would be idolatrous. I noticed immediately that Smith’s article lacked because of the missing foundational truth, but let’s not be disappointed in others for sharing something that did indeed have biblical principles that could be applied and challenged by.

  • Reply Ruth Schneider November 7, 2013 at 3:52 am

    I have seen Christians post “my kids mean more than anything to me!” Were they wrong and out of focus to post such a statement? Should they have posted “Christ means more than anything to me” or “my kids mean more than anything, besides Christ?” Well, it’s how you interpret it. If they were really saying their kids were more important than Christ…then yes, they were putting their kids before Christ. Yet, if they were saying their kids are more important than anything material in life…then they are simply being wonderful biblical parents with the right Christ-like value on children. So are the Christians that shared the original blog any less spiritual or did they simply see the positive of the Christ-like principles of serving others and loving others and esteeming others better than yourself? Again, thank for the follow up that shared the missing truth. It was vital and needed to be said. But I just want to speak up for all the well-meaning Christians that shared the first post. Let’s not get irritated at one another over something like this. Facebook sometimes irritates me for this reason.
    You did the right thing in simply putting the focus back on Christ. I’m glad someone like you did so, for I get the feeling that this could have easily turned into a silly offense among many good friends and family. Something that one person originally shared because they admired the selfless love the young man learned could easily have turned into friends hurting each other’s feelings. Thank you for doing this the right way.

  • Reply JR November 7, 2013 at 4:37 pm

    I normally don’t comment on this kind of thing but I have to say I agree with Colton…

    “Marriage becomes idolatry when its end goal is your spouse’s happiness”

    That seems pretty harsh to me. I don’t see how pouring out your life for the good of another is wrong. I think we are all moved by sacrifical acts of love. Sacrificial love is a beautiful thing. Jesus is the ultimate example of that kind of love. I know I am incapable of loving my husband in that way without help from God. I think marriage is suppose to make us look more like Jesus by learning to lay our lives down for another (our spouse/family.) Maybe Seth didn’t say it directly to I think that was at the heart of his message. Was his theology perfect? Maybe not, but I think the heart of his message was good. In any case, the world would be a lot better off if husbands and wives tried to put their spouses before themselves. I agree that Jesus needs to be the center of our marriages. Our marriages should be a reflection of Jesus. I just found the idolitray comment a bit harsh.

  • Reply amy November 7, 2013 at 4:44 pm

    YES YES YES. Excellent. Sharing. Thank you!

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