Last week, I took on what I think is a false dichotomy: Whether marriage exists to make you happy or holy. I came up with several biblical purposes of marriage, including holiness, happiness, children, and witness to the world.
But if there are several purposes to marriage, what should we be aiming for? (And for those of you who know me to write about sex, don’t worry . . . I’ll get there.)
I gave this a lot of thought this past week, and I came up with all kinds of ideas with theological bases and implications. Frankly, I could write a doctoral thesis on this subject. But theologian Karl Barth was once asked in a college lecture Q&A to summarize his life’s work. He answered simply: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
Sometimes it’s about the basics.
Here’s what I know about God’s design for marriage: The Bible never prescribes how to get a mate. There are no instructions to find someone perfectly compatible to you, someone you have amazing chemistry with, someone who gives you the sizzle-wizzles down to your toes. We have biblical examples of marriage that occurred to connect families (Genesis 24:3-4); as a gift for a deed well done (Judges 1:12-13); for romantic love (Genesis 29:18,20); and as a witness of God’s love to the world (Hosea 1:2). Oftentimes, we don’t know why two people married, just that they did.
The Bible instead focuses on how to be a good mate. God seems to be saying that you can develop a good marriage. And it comes down to basics. Galatians 5:14 says: “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
If we all approached our marriages with that command, which Jesus said to be the second most important (Luke 10:27), we’d go a long way to getting everything out of marriage that we should.
The Bible shows us through stories and passages like 1 Corinthians 13 what that love looks like. We have numerous “one another” passages in the New Testament that give us specifics, like forgiving each other (Colossians 3:13) and encouraging one another (Hebrews 3:13). We have Jesus’ example of ultimate love.
It’s simple to understand, but it is hard to do. Because we are selfish and because we often mistakenly define happiness as having a pain-free life. In fact, studies have shown that happiness is not about an absence of hardship, but rather comes from earned success. When we aim to make each other both holy and happy, we become more holy and happy ourselves. With God’s divine help, we earn that marital success.
This aim to love our spouse the way God loves us oozes into every part of our relationship. It breaks my heart to read stories from commenters who say that their spouse is loving in every way but sexual intimacy. Our aim for loving our spouse shouldn’t end at the threshold of the bedroom. God’s Word for us should infuse every part of our lives.
Indeed, the bedroom is a place where you can aim to help your spouse be both holy and happy as well. Plus, this is where other purposes can be fulfilled — like conceiving children, supporting one another, and reflecting Christ’s love for the church.
It’s not a matter of head knowledge. Honestly, I prayed for years for improvements in my faltering marriage. It wasn’t until I started putting into practice the specific commands on how to love that I noticed a real difference in how I saw my husband and how we were getting along. I’m still working on that, of course. In the list of the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), my husband and I can both attest that I have not yet mastered gentleness and patience.
But it’s what I aim for . . . to love my husband as closely as I can to the way God loves him.
When I treat him that way, he’s happier, he’s holier, and so am I.
So what do you think? What do you aim at in marriage? Are you being consistent with those aims in the bedroom? Does your holiness and happiness extend to your sexual intimacy?