Tag Archives: holy vs happy

So What Should We Aim for in Marriage?

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.

Target

Photo from Microsoft Word Clip Art

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.

Bull's-eye! Illustration from Microsoft Word Clip Art

Bull’s-eye!
Illustration from Microsoft Word Clip Art

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.

This is why I’ve written posts like Love Is Not Self-Seeking and The Gospel in the Bedroom.

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?

Related posts: See Generous Husband’s post on Her Happiness Is Her Responsibility and my guest post on One Flesh Marriage, Marriage: Mission Possible.

Holy or Happy? What’s the Purpose of Marriage?

Debate

Has anyone else noticed this debate going on about the purpose of marriage? Is marriage supposed to make you happy? Or make you holy?

Granted, our culture promotes happiness as the end-all-be-all of life. We are told to pursue happiness, follow our dreams, arrange our lives to avoid pain and increase pleasure, to esteem ourselves and make daily choices that will bring joy.

Too often, people consider happiness the ultimate goal and even get married with the idea that this intense love will make them happy. Then life happens. Marriage challenges appear. Conflict occurs. “This isn’t what I signed up for! I’m not happy!” And sometimes spouses walk away from a marriage that could have lasted, if only they were willing to work toward mutual benefit rather than demand personal happiness.

The answer many preachers, marriage educators, and down-here-in-the-masses Christians have given is the saying: “Marriage isn’t meant to make you happy, but to make you holy.” They point to such verses as Ephesians 5:31-32 (“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery — but I am talking about Christ and the church.”)  and Proverbs 27:17 (“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another”). This is the premise of the excellent book Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas.

But like other juxtaposed concepts, I have this nagging feeling that we have set up a false dichotomy. Like the answer shouldn’t be one or the other (holy or happy), but simply YES. Take, for instance, these examples of when you knew the answer was not either/or but yes:

Nature or nurture? Yes.
Do I look thinner in this dress or this one? Yes.
Tastes great or less filling? Yes.
Chocolate syrup or whipped cream? Yes.

Moreover, these two possibilities don’t encompass everything. For instance, it’s a peeve of mine that psychology discusses nature and nurture ad infinitum without ever giving a passing nod to free will. (Which is especially foolish since counseling and treatment have some free will involved in them.) Two opposites do not explain all of the layers of some ideas.

Marriage need not be only about holiness or happiness, although it is about both of those. Let’s take a look at some scriptures that give some idea of the purposes of marriage.

Support.

Genesis 2:18:  “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.'” Adam and Eve were to be partners in life, working together and supporting one another.

Ecclesiastes 4:9: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor . . . Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?” We can accomplish more than another person than we can alone, and it helps to have that someone be a spouse with whom you can keep warm at the end of the day.

Romans 16:3: “Give my greetings to Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in the ministry of Christ Jesus.” Looking for a biblical marriage to emulate? Try Priscilla and Aquila who worked together in ministry, teaching and opening their home to others. Many married couples pool their talents and resources to reach out to others for Christ.

Children.

Genesis 1:27-28a: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.'” This is the first command God gives a married couple: Go have kids. Of course, not every marriage will produce children, but marriages as a whole are the way that God has chosen to give us offspring and fill the earth.

Malachi 2:15: “Has not the one God made you? You belong to him in body and spirit. And what does the one God seek? Godly offspring.” Our children are a mission field in our midst: People whom we can convert to the Lord through care and instruction. I have known married couples who conceived or adopted children with this very thought in mind — to increase the number of godly people in the world.

Holiness.

Ephesians 5:25-27: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” This is a beautiful picture of love, that our husbands would care not only about our bodies and hearts, but our very souls.

1 Corinthians 7:14: “For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.” This scripture is a little confusing, right? What exactly is meant by “sanctified”? But clearly, a Christian wife has influence on her husband and can help him to become holy.

Happiness.

Proverbs 5:18: “Let your fountain be blessed, and take pleasure in the wife of your youth.” This verse is followed by the one all husbands like to memorize: “She is a loving deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts satisfy you always. May you always be captivated by her love.” But yeah, it’s about enjoying your spouse. Feeling good and happy and excited about being with them. God wants you to experience pleasure in marriage.

Song of Songs 1:2: “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth — for your love is more delightful than wine.” If it was all about holy, why is there kissing? What does kissing accomplish? It just makes us feel good.

There’s nothing wrong about wanting to take pleasure in your marriage. Indeed, when Jacob worked for seven years for Rachel — “but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her” — he didn’t finish his time and say, “Now give me my wife, so I can get to working on this holy thing.” (Not that anyone says that, but you get the point.) He was pretty focused on his enjoyment of her: “Then Jacob said to Laban, ‘Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to make love to her.'” (Genesis 29:20-21.)

Writing about sexuality, I am convinced that God is in favor of us getting some happy in our marriage. Of course, happiness is certainly not just through sex. We enjoy our spending time with our spouse, laughing with them, sharing experiences, and more.

Witness.

Isaiah 54:5: “For your Maker is your husband — the Lord Almighty is his name — the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth.” Just awed by that image.

Ephesians 5:31-32: “‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a profound mystery — but I am talking about Christ and the church.” Our marriages reflect Jesus’ relationship with His church.

Revelation 19:7: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” Get ready! Our bridegroom is coming.

Ultimately, the relationship of husband and wife provides a testimony to ourselves and the world of what the relationship of God to His people is like. His love for us mirrors the pursuit and passion of a loving marriage. He commits to and delights in us. When others ask what God is like, we can honestly say, “Like the most loving husband you can imagine.” People get that. They can fathom what that’s like, even if they haven’t experienced it themselves.

Hopefully, however, we do experience what God desires us to have in marriage. And yes, it includes holiness and happiness, but other things as well. God also designed marriage to be the crucial institution for the rest of community life. It is a pillar, if you will, for the structure of society.

What do you think the purpose of marriage is? Is there one goal that stands out to you above others? What do you think about the holy vs. happy debate?