My wife and I just recently celebrated our first wedding anniversary. I can’t believe how fast a year can fly by! By God’s grace, we have experienced one year of happiness and satisfaction together. Not only that, but we both would admit that being married is the most influential thing that God has used to grow and challenge us in our entire life. We have learned that marriage can be really great, but it can also be very difficult.
What Happened to Marriage?
It appears that less and less of my generation is making the decision to get married. In fact, the percentage of American adults (age 20-54) who are married has dropped at least 21.4% since 1970 (1). Also, those who decide to marry are less and less likely to stay married. Today’s divorce rate sits somewhere around 40-50% (2). So why do we see a decrease in marriage and an increase in divorce?
Surely we could spend an eternity diagnosing the problem, but I believe that one reason stands head and shoulders above the rest.
The single most important factor for the decline in marriage is attributed to the change in the marriage ideal. Over the course of the last few decades, our culture has redefined the purpose and understanding of marriage. Marriage used to be widely understood as a covenantal, lifelong relationship where both the husband and wife sought to love each other unconditionally, mature together, serve God together, and contribute to the common good of humanity together. This was a generally accepted view for hundreds of years. More recently, however, marriage in American culture has been redefined primarily to help the individual find emotional and sexual fulfillment and self-actualization. With this shift in thinking, people are now looking for partners who can fulfill their personal desires, people who can make their lives more interesting, and people who can help them attain their goals. Tim Keller puts this another way, “marriage used to be about us, but now it is about me.”(3)
Single men and women now spend more and more time looking for the person who completes them, that one person somewhere in the universe that is their soul-mate. This soul-mate should meet every single one of their unrealistic expectations, should fulfill all of their sexual desires, and shouldn’t try to change them in any way. The idea is that this person will bring them true happiness, and give their life ultimate meaning. The disappointing reality is that this person simply does not exist.
The Truth About Marriage
What we desperately need to understand about marriage is that no two people are truly compatible. No one has a soul-mate. Because we live in a world where every human being is sinful (Romans 3:23), in many ways, we will always be married to the wrong person. Admittedly, some people are more wrong than others, but there is no living person that God has designed to complete you. The sooner we understand this the sooner we can understand what marriage is really about, and the sooner we will be content with the spouse that God gives us.
So what was marriage truly designed to be? We find the answers in God’s word. God ordained marriage in the Garden of Eden to be the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime (Genesis 2:18-25). Marriage is a relationship in which, “a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24, Ephesians 5:31). Marriage is a relationship that brings glory to God by reflecting the relationship between Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:25-33). Marriage is a relationship in which God desires for us to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28).
It is also important to note that because all people are sinful, no earthly marriage can be perfect. This means that no marriage can or should be easy. Why would it be easy to continuously love and care for another human being who has a vast number of flaws and shortcomings? So how are we supposed to find happiness in the midst of such brokenness?
The Secret to Marriage
What is the secret to a healthy marriage? Paul gives us an answer in Ephesians 5:25: “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” Paul explains that the secret to marriage is to do what Christ has already done. And what was that? Christ gave himself up for us. Jesus willingly went to the cross to remove our sins, to take our guilt and shame, and to unite us in a relationship with him. He willingly gave up his power and glory and became a servant (Philippians 2:5-10). In short, you should do for your spouse what Jesus has done for you, and you will experience the healthy marriage that God intended. Ironically, when we lay down our needs and desires, and instead look to serve our spouse, we find real and lasting satisfaction in our marriage.
- Marriage Index
- The Public Discourse
- The Meaning of Marriage (Page 22) by Tim Keller