The Scriptures on the other hand paint a broad, clear picture of the key elements that make a marriage last. And when we contrast these views, two major trends of how marriage is perceived in our culture are exposed as faulty:
Marriage as Romanticism: Concepts such as "falling in love" or "finding a soul mate" are rather recent developments. When they describe the romantic elements of the marriage relationship they can be healthy things. Human beings are highly complex creatures, and romance can be a powerful and positive thing. But when romance, and the idea of living "happily ever after" is viewed as the essence of marriage, it can actually destroy it. How often have you heard a divorcing couple say something like "well, we just fell out of love?" That is a marriage built on the sinking sand of "romance."
Marriage as Consumerism. This is capitalism applied to the marriage relationship. Too many marriages today are a social transaction. I seek a wife because I need someone to meet my needs and serve my interests. In other words, its about "what I get" out of the relationship. Our culture has been groomed to treat marriage this way because we believe individual happiness is the ultimate value. So marriage becomes like a trip to my preferred store. When they stop carrying the product line I like, or new policies emerge that don't work for me, I shop elsewhere. When your marriage is rooted no more deeply than the amount of "relational currency" the other has, sooner or later one or both will run out of currency, and the relationship is over.
Marriage, according to the Scriptures, isn't romanticism or consumerism. Marriage is Covenant! Genesis 15 and Jeremiah 34 are two areas of the Bible where this Hebrew practice is outlined graphically. Two parties would reach an agreement, cut an animal in half (nose to tail!), and walk between those bloody halves as a way of saying "may I become like this animal if I do not keep my word to you." Ever seen that picture on the front of a wedding invitation?
But this is the essence of a marriage that lasts--a dual promise to sacrifice and commit unconditionally to the other. Yes, marriage can be romantic and fun. But at heart, marriage is a bloody struggle of spiritual warfare. It is one man and one woman, arm in arm, facing all the hardships of life together, and bringing glory to God together.
Marriage is war. And winning that war together requires a covenantal commitment that understands three things about marriage.
Marriage is grounded in creation. One man. One woman. One lifetime. Yes, humanity deviated radically and early from this God-given precedent. Polygamy, rape, premarital and extramarital sex, divorce, homosexual behavior, and a host of other "expressions" emerged early on. But Genesis 1 and 2 describes what has been God's standard since the beginning. When we are given to each other in marriage, we are being given a great gift from a loving God that is grounded in the created order itself.
Marriage is a tool of sanctification. No, you don't have to be married to grow in your faith, and there are hundreds of ways that God makes His people holy. But marriage, if it is done right, is the expressway to husbands and wives both becoming more like Jesus.
Marriage is a proclamation of the Gospel. Marriage, Paul says in Ephesians 5, is "a profound mystery" that we should spend a lifetime exploring together as husbands and wives. But this we know for sure from the beginning: our marriages should be a reflection of Jesus and His church--and of the Gospel of His sacrificial death and resurrection that makes successful marriages possible.
This is the meaning of marriage--hand in hand, walking through the war zone of life together--and in the process, going deeper and deeper into the mystery. Does this describe your marriage? It can. Whatever your background or that of your spouse, God can bring your marriage to this place, and over the next several weeks, we will look more deeply into how this happens.