This Sunday’s message at New Vintage will be on marriage. I used to avoid talking about marriage very much–for a couple of reasons. First, I hadn’t been married very long–so I felt unprepared to do so. Having said that, the task of the preacher is to reveal what Scripture teaches on the subject–not simply preach out of one’s personal experience. Second, it felt really “topical” to me. I enjoy preaching through books of the Bible, and the thought of offering a few trite tips for having a better marriage seemed theologically thin to me. Many of the marriage books I read seemed humanistic and needs-based rather than rooted in biblical theology. Also, frankly, none of my peers had been married long enough to have their marriages split up.
Times have changed.
Marriage is a vast, deep subject to which the Gospel speaks radically. Gospel defines marriage–what it is and what it isn’t. Gospel defines the attitudes and practices of a biblical marriage. We need to talk about these things, because the counter-gospel is preached loudly every day from television sets and Ipods everywhere.
One of those counter-gospels is that a good marriage is one in which both spouses are happy–at all times. I’m so thankful God led me to the writings of Gary Thomas. Sacred Marriage has become the standard book I give couples who want to work on their marriage or who are preparing for marriage. The over-arching thesis of the book is that marriage is something God designed to make us holy more than happy. This of course doesn’t preclude happiness. It simply makes happiness subordinate to much more important reality of marriage as spiritual formation–marriage as part of the Romans 12 life. This perspective orders our affections and expectations rightly. Rather than romantic fulfillment running point, aspiration of mutual closeness to God runs point and romance becomes frosting rather than the cake itself.
Talking about the impact of romanticism on marriage, Thomas writes: “I believe that much of the dissatisfaction we experience in marriage comes from expecting too much from it.” Again, there is nothing wrong with romance. It should be ignited as often and as hotly as possible. However, it cannot be the foundation of any marriage. Marriage wasn’t designed to fulfill each human being’s passions and comforts. It was designed by God as a journey for man and woman to grow in following Christ together. To me, expectations of marriage mean a lot. Foundation of marriage means even more. Thomas writes:
“The key question is this: Will we approach marriage from a God-centered view or a man-centered view? In a man-centered view, we will maintain our marriage as long as our earthly comforts, desires, and expectations are met. In a God-centered view, we preserve our marriage because it brings glory to God and points a sinful world to a reconciling Creator.”
Emily and I have been married nearly 11 years and have 3 children. I’m so, so blessed to have a strong marriage by God’s grace and provision. As a church leader, I get so angry at the Evil One’s effectiveness in pulling apart what God joins together. My perception is he usually begins by swapping out foundations. God for romance. God for sex. God for security. God for ______. I’ve felt him trying to do it my marriage. You’ve probably sensed his efforts in your own marriage from time to time. We all must remember that God doesn’t exist to serve our marriages or help us meet our personal desires. Rather, our marriages are a gift from God for His glory and our holiness. Romance and “happiness” are far more likely to endure with substance if the right foundation is in place.
It’s vital we teach on marriage–practically and theologically. It is perhaps more vital than every before. However, we must remember to point people in the right direction–toward the Lord first, then toward one another. As Gary Thomas writes, “For Christians, marriage is a penultimate reality.”
“But what both of us crave more than anything else is to be intimately close to the God who made us. If that relationship is right, we won’t make such severe demands on our marriage, asking each other, expecting each other, to compensate for spiritual emptiness.”
It begins there. Now, we can talk about some practical pointers for having a “better” marriage.