Traditionally marriage is viewed as an exclusive bond between a man and woman, blessed by God. But it is also a learning and growing experience during which we build character and realise spiritual truths that would be difficult to learn any other way.
In addition to my responsibilities as managing editor for Beyond Today, I also teach college-age students and serve as a volunteer pastor. In those capacities (plus being married to a wonderful woman for 42 years!) I’ve learned a lot about marriage. What are some things I’ve learned?
Although it was several decades ago, I remember counseling a young couple the night before I officiated at their wedding. I was new to it, as this was the first wedding I would perform. Together we read Ephesians 5:22-33, where the apostle Paul gives marriage instruction for husbands and wives.
“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord,” Paul tells wives (Ephesians 5:22). “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her,” he tells husbands (Ephesians 5:25). “A man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh,” he tells both (Ephesians 5:31).
We discussed these verses at length, noting what a high standard God sets for both partners in a marriage.
Then in the next verse—as often happens when I’m deeply contemplating the meaning of a particular passage—I saw something I’d never quite understood before.
Concluding his discussion of marriage, Paul writes, “This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32, emphasis added). In hindsight this is obvious, but at that moment I grasped for the first time a truth that had been clear to Paul when he wrote about marriage—that marriage exists to teach us about our relationship with Jesus Christ.
Let that sink in.
Marriage is much more than a social arrangement, a physical and emotional pairing, or a financial partnership. It’s also a learning and growing experience meant to help instill in our lives character lessons and spiritual truths that would be difficult to learn any other way. While we might learn these things intellectually on our own, through marriage we learn them through experience—a much deeper level.
What are some of these lessons?
In a world that today esteems marriage far too lightly, marriage teaches commitment. What does it say about commitment when roughly half of all first marriages end in divorce (with far higher percentages for subsequent marriages)? Or, even worse, that so many couples choose to live together without even bothering to marry at all?
Jesus Christ showed His commitment to us by offering the supreme sacrifice—not just emptying Himself of the glory, might and splendor He shared with God the Father before coming in the flesh, but also giving His very life and assuring us He will never leave nor forsake us (Philippians 2:5-8; Hebrews 7:25-27; Hebrews 13:5).
He is the living example of the kind of commitment partners should share in marriage—and the perfect example of the kind of commitment we should have toward Him.
A second lesson is that marriage teaches us there are things more important than ourselves. As the saying goes, “It’s not about you!” Even the most stubborn people usually—though not always—learn that the universe doesn’t revolve around them. Jesus Christ, to carry out His and His Father’s great plan, came in the flesh to die as a common criminal to “bring many sons to glory” in the family of God (Hebrews 2:10-13).
If a marriage is to last, the husband and wife must at some point learn that it’s not about him or her, but about them—together—and about “esteeming others better” (Philippians 2:3-4). We have no greater role model in this than Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:5).
A third lesson is that marriage teaches sharing and sacrifice. It’s commonly assumed that marriage is a 50-50 proposition. And while most people might view it that way, a truly loving marriage is 100-100—meaning 100 percent giving to the other person. When marriage partners are focused on the needs, happiness and well-being of the other person, it’s remarkable how well they’ll get along! Neither is focused on his or her own wants above the other, but on sharing and sacrificing.
And what an astounding example of sharing and sacrifice we have in Jesus Christ who gave everything, including His own life, that we might share eternal life with Him in the family of God, when “we shall be like Him” as glorified, immortal children of God (Romans 8:29; Hebrews 2:11; 1 John 3:2; 2 Corinthians 6:18).
To sum all this up, marriage teaches us to love. And what is God’s defining characteristic that His children should emulate? “God is love . . .” (1 John 4:8, 16). Love is outgoing concern for others—the opposite of self-centeredness.
Marriage is indeed one of God’s greatest gifts to us. Shouldn’t we be treating it that way?
Beyond Today Magazine