“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 5:31–33 ESV)
Fifteen years ago, a man waited by a church stage in Chicago as a beautiful young woman from Texas walked down the aisle. When you get married, you do it without knowing, fully, what is ahead. You know the other person, of course. You get wise input from friends and mentors and parents. You spend time together getting to know each other.
But you don’t really know the person you are marrying. This is part of what makes marriage mysterious and wonderful if you are committed to it. It is mysterious in that you have no ideas what life with this other person will bring, what vistas are ahead, what sorrows and joys lay in your future. Making a commitment to someone deeply different in every way–personality, gender, background–“till death do us part” is a great adventure. It’s also wonderful because marriage can be a vehicle by which God forms and shapes you and because if you fight for intimacy, you can truly experience it, regardless of your circumstances. Nobody has influenced me toward godliness more than Angela.
But here is the thing. Marriage is only wonderful if you both commit to it and if you invest in it. You enter your marriage with starry-eyed love and wonder but you are sustained in your marriage by those vows you took. The commitment to “death do us part” forces you to die to yourself, to engage in the gospel rhythms of confession and repentance that are the catalyst for true intimacy. I heard a friend recently say, when performing a wedding: “Your love initiated this commitment, but it is your commitment that will build your love.”
Good marriages require deep investment. One of the most frustrating and heartbreaking things about ministry is seeing the unwillingness of couples to invest deeply in their marriages. I’m not just talking about regular date nights, which are important. I’m not just talking about getting time away together, which is also important. I’m talking about financial, spiritual, and emotional investment in your marriage. We invest in the things we consider important and, sadly, for many, their marriage is pretty far down the list of things that will initiate a sacrifice of time and resources.
Marriage also needs Jesus. You cannot do this on your own. I consider it a gift of grace that God has allowed Angela and me to enjoy fifteen years together. We have prioritized our marriage, but we are only doing well because of Gods’ rich grace. Lately, we’ve both grieved the shipwrecking of several marriages of couples our age–ministry couples who seemed bullet-proof–and our response was simply to weep and thank God for his goodness to us and to recommit to fighting for our marriage till death do us part.
Fighting sounds a bit melodramatic, but it’s not. To fight for our marriage, it means we commit to walking with Christ and fighting sin. It means we embed ourselves in a local community of believers, where we weekly confess our sins, pray and are prayed for, and allow the Word to penetrate our hearts. It means we love each other with humility and self-sacrifice, knowing our own weakness and frailty. It means we are intentional and not lazy. Our marriage is worth fighting for because, as we’ve experienced, there is a sweet fellowship God gives us when we walk with Him and with each other. I love Angela today more than when she walked that aisle. Our commitment has bound us together and has given us fertile soil for a deeper and holier love to emerge.
We also fight for marriage, not because it’s better and healthier than the alternative–it most assuredly is–but because by faithfulness to each other we demonstrate faithfulness to marriage as one of God’s symbols of his love for the church. We enjoy marriage as a good gift when we recognize that marriage was not designed by God to be our source of joy and happiness. We enjoy marriage as a good gift when we don’t expect from our spouses what only God can give in Christ. We enjoy marriage when we realize it is a mere signpost of something better to come in the New Jerusalem: intimacy with Jesus. This long-term view of marriage helps sustain two sinners during difficult seasons, hard decisions, and times of sorrow.
If God allows you to experience the good gift of marriage, my word to you is this: enjoy your marriage, fight for your marriage, and see in your marriage the faint echoes of something even better on the horizon.
photo credit: Ilovebutter