Spend five minutes surfing the Internet and you’ll discover how the world views marriage. Rather than buy a wedding ring with no return policy, a couple can now lease their rings on a month-to-month basis. The traditional marriage vow that once read, “As long as life shall last,” has been rewritten to promise, “As long as love shall last.”
The Pew Research Center, which regularly polls Americans on a range of issues, reported that the marriage rate is down by almost one-third compared to 60 years ago.
Additionally, the age when people first get married is rising significantly. Most first marriages in the mid-20th century occurred when the spouses were in their early 20s (20 for women and 23 for men). Today, first marriages are taking place closer to age 30 (27 for women and 30 for men). The sad reality is that more young people are now cohabiting than marrying.
What caused this decline in marriage? One actress put it well when she said in response to her second divorce, “I don’t think it’s natural to be a monogamous person . . . it’s a lot of work.”
In the eyes of our secular world, having to work at a faithful marriage is unnatural! After all, how can someone be expected to work at something so difficult?
Because of our sin nature, marriage certainly is challenging, isn’t it? In fact, the relationship between a husband and wife is the most challenging of any human relationship, and some of the reasons are immediately obvious: spouses see each other at their worst—and best; a spouse has to compromise and negotiate their own plans and desires; a spouse sacrificially serves their partner's needs more than any other friend or family member. All of that translates into work, commitment and humility.
While God designed marriage— like the rest of His creation—in the perfect, sinless environment of the Garden of Eden, His plan for marriage did not change with the fall. God still desires marriage to honor His design and reflect His faithful and sacrificial love to our world. In order to fulfill God’s plan through marriage relationship, let’s remember three important principles.
1. You are building your marriage in a fallen world.
The temptation for a married couple is to reject God’s picture of selfless love and replace it with the world’s expectation of selfish gratification.
In our American culture especially, consumerism and self-gratification are the standards for earthly happiness. The world believes that happiness can be achieved by getting as much as you can, no matter the cost to others.
But as people follow their selfish paths, do they end up fulfilled? No, the most fulfilling moments in life are the ones when pride is crushed, and a person sacrificially serves someone else. This is the example of our Lord, who “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8b).
Service to others should start with your spouse.
2. You committed yourself in marriage to a fallen sinner.
You married a sinner, and you are a sinner. Despite the saving grace of God and the process of sanctification in all our lives, sin will always be an ever-present participant in every marriage.
Sin causes us to care more about ourselves than others. Sin leads us to take offense easily and give grace rarely. Sin desires for us to neglect our spouse, because we are so busy loving ourselves.
Now, the goal of marriage is not to eradicate sin from our lives, although God does use marriage in His sanctification plan. Rather, marriage exists to show how love and grace can overcome our sinful disposition. Just as Christ loved us “while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8), we reflect God’s glory by doing the same for our spouse. When people see us love and honor our spouses—in spite of their shortcomings—they see a reflection of God’s love for His sinful creation.
3. A fallen spouse is God’s assignment for developing grace.
When you first met your spouse and fell in love, you were convinced that they would be the world’s first “Mr. or Mrs. Right.” It was virtually impossible to see any flaws or failures. However, not long after marriage, you realized how different you were from each other; how—in many ways—you were “Mr. or Mrs. Wrong.”
In a sense, marriage shows that you did indeed marry the wrong person, and you are the wrong person yourself. Nothing shows us how fallen we are more effectively than marriage! And that is when marriage turns into ministry.
Like iron sharpens iron, spouses in marriage—through the guidance of the Holy Spirit—conform each other into reflecting God’s character of faithfulness and unconditional love. Loving confrontation from one spouse to another creates positive reflection, change and conformity to the image of God.
Paul David Tripp writes that the flaws we see in our spouses are not accidents, but tools used by God to pry us out of worshipping ourselves and into worshipping God.
In other words, by choosing to love someone—despite their flaws, despite the ways they don’t meet all of our needs—we understand, in a very small way, how God loves us, in spite of who we are. When we work at our marriage, we not only learn to love our spouse, but we learn to love our Savior—for His amazing grace and never-ending love.