I’m increasingly feeling like marriage is way too hard. All I can see around me are couples struggling, fighting, and getting divorced. The problem is this trend is increasingly picking up even within the church. I used to say I can’t wait to get married, be a dad, all that. Not anymore. I’m just not seeing what good can come from two broken people getting together. I know it’s supposed to be a picture of Christ etc but it just seems like a life of more struggle than joy. Do you have any encouragement for young Christians who are really anxious about what they know to be a good gift from God but are only seeing as a massive uphill struggle due to the lack of good models around?
Marriage is tough and often a struggle, and this has been true since the fall. When God cursed the woman, he said “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16). This element of the curse operates in all human relationships, not just between husband and wife. Inter-personal conflict fed by pride, arrogance and selfishness is a common element of all relationships — at home, at work and, yes, even in the church. This is why Paul, in speaking to the Philippian church, urges them to be “of the same mind” and entreats them to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4).
Similarly, the passage in Ephesians 5 which lays out the roles and responsibilities in marriage begins with the injunction to “be filled with the Spirit… submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:18-21). The call, whether in relationships in the church or in marriage, is to shun pride and be humble. Biblical instructions on marriage pre-suppose that it would be difficult and fraught with problems. The reason Paul had to urge husbands to love their wives as their own bodies was because this was not the natural and normal instinct among husbands of the time — nor is it today. So, conflict and struggle in marriage is nothing new, nor is it true that marriages today are any worse than in the past. Perhaps these days, due to societal changes, we are more exposed to the real state of marriages than in the past, and problems that previously remained hidden are now more out in the open.
The reason Paul had to urge husbands to love their wives as their own bodies was because this was not the normal instinct among husbands of the time — nor is it today
Given this reality, it is not surprising that young people, looking at the condition of marriages around them would wonder if it’s really worth it. Yet, as I read the question, I can’t help but wonder if perhaps we are often looking at marriage from just our own perspective — the perspective of “what’s in it for me?” rather than going back to the original holistic intention God had for marriage.
Further, we need to put the entire marriage relationship into the broader context of the fallen state of humanity, and the way in which God takes believers through the process of sanctification and becoming more Christ-like. Certainly, God intended marriage and the fruits of marriage to bring joy and happiness. However, Scripture teaches us that He has even greater purposes for it.
Marriage is an important part of God’s plan for mankind, and especially for the church. To write it off and reject it because it is difficult is not prudent for a believer in Christ. To do so is to reject something that Scripture makes clear is very important to God. So important, in fact, that it is the first human institution that He ordained, and He further re-affirms its importance in the New Testament by making it analogous to the relationship between Christ and the Church. For the purpose of this discussion, I will set aside the matter of those called by God to a life of singleness, which is the exception rather than the norm. Let’s look at why God ordained marriage as such an important part of human life.
Need for helpmate
Marriage was instituted by God because it brought about a completion in His act of creation. God Himself declared in Genesis 2 that it was not good that the man should be alone and that he needed a suitable help. Whatever the purposes that God had for humankind, those purposes could not be fulfilled by man alone — he needed a suitable helper.
When He created the woman, God is explicit in saying that a man should leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, thus making it clear that marriage is the ultimate vehicle to remove the “aloneness” which was not good, to bring about the completeness that was missing, and to be the means by which man received the help he needed to fulfill the purpose God had for him. It’s important to note that this completeness was not brought about just by the creation of woman, but by the two of them entering into a marriage relationship, which was to be built up through leaving all else, cleaving to each other, and becoming one-flesh.
To write off marriage because it is difficult is to reject something that Scripture makes clear is very important to God
Legitimate exercise of God-given sexual desires
Marriage was also ordained as the only legitimate, God-sanctioned outlet for fulfilling the God-given sexual desires of man and woman. 1 Corinthians 7:2-5 makes this very clear. A man and a woman are to have their sexual desires fulfilled only by their wife and husband. Any other means of fulfilment would be fornication or adultery. The “leaving and cleaving” aspect, including the physical union, was intended to be a source of joy and one-ness that cannot be possible in any other relationship.
Perpetuation of the human race
Marriage was instituted for the purpose of procreation and perpetuating the human race. God commanded the man and woman to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28) — a command He repeated to Noah and his family after the flood. He intended for mankind to procreate and He instituted marriage as the vehicle for this to happen. As husband and wife satisfied their God-given sexual desires within the sanctity of the marriage relationship, one outcome is that they would produce progeny and thus, perpetuate the human race.
Reflection of Christ and the Church
For the Christian, God created marriage as an institution to reflect the relationship between Christ and the Church. Paul instructs the Roman believers to “receive one another as Christ has received you” (Romans 15:7). Christ received us into His church just as we were, with all our sin and our flaws, and thus begins the long journey of walking with Him through a life filled with difficulties, suffering, pain and joys — each experience drawing us closer to Him and maturing in our relationship with Him. He does not reject us when we fall, sometimes even repeatedly, but forgives and gives abundant grace.
Christ does not reject us when we fall, sometimes even repeatedly, but forgives and gives abundant grace. God intends for marriage to reflect that
Similarly, God intends for marriage to be a reflection of the mystery of the union of Christ and His Church (Ephesians 5:32). The intimacy, love, forgiveness and grace that God intended between husband and wife should reflect the relationship that every believer has with Christ.
Vehicle for Christ-likeness
Marriage is also a vehicle by which God seeks to make the believer mature in his walk and become more Christ-like. If you focus on the things that husband and wife are called to do in Ephesians 5 — submit, demonstrate sacrificial love, nurture, care, respect — these are clearly tied to the fruits of the Spirit which should be increasingly visible in the life of a growing Christian. There is no better laboratory than a marriage to bring out the true nature of our hearts and expose the areas that need work. Going through the struggles of marriage should not depress us — but if husband and wife work together in humility and build each other up, it becomes a vehicle for spiritual growth and maturity.
I trust that understanding the broader purpose of God for marriage will help young people think of it differently. The question to ask is not, “How can I survive marriage?” Rather, a better question would be: “How can I have a married life that fulfills all these purposes while grounded in the reality of life in a fallen world?” If we approach marriage with the view perpetuated in popular culture, that it is to be all bliss and happiness, we will most certainly be disappointed. However, if you look at it as part of God’s greater plan of shaping you into the image of His Son, I think you are more likely to have a blessed marriage.
If we approach marriage with the view perpetuated in popular culture, that it is to be all bliss and happiness, we will most certainly be disappointed
Conversely, when we see marriage as just a means of self-contentment, and bring selfish expectations into the marriage that are not aligned with God’s greater purpose, we end up with unresolved conflicts, lack of forgiveness, and insufficient grace, which eventually lead to broken marriages and divorce.
When both husband and wife see things from God’s perspective and look at things as part of God’s sovereign plan, they are likely to experience the joys that God intended for marriage, while still going through all the challenges inherent in a relationship between two fallen human beings. Rather than be discouraged by what you see around you, resolve to make your marriage one that’s patterned according to God’s design.
I also want to encourage all young people, and those in difficult marriages, to realise that God supplies us with all mercies to fulfill our roles in marriage. Even if you end up with a difficult spouse or the most difficult circumstances, let us remember that He who called us is faithful and that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).
To take the point of the question in a slightly different direction, one could even look at the life of many ‘Christians’ today, and wonder if becoming a believer is worth it. As an elder in a church, I have had to deal with the worst kind of sins among those who call themselves believers. Should I then conclude that the gospel is not worth it, and that we should just give up on telling people they need to turn to Christ for salvation and transformation? Of course not!
Likewise, when we look at marriage, let us take our gaze off fallen people and turn it onto God and His Word, understanding His true purpose for marriage, being guided by His grace to strive to achieve those purposes, and stepping into marriage with faith and trust in Him. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater!
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