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Meaning-of-MarriageOn Saturday mornings, my wife and I go to the Italian Centre on 51st Ave for a latte, and there she reads for us a section of a marriage book we would be going through at the time. Recently she’s been reading to me from Timothy Keller’s excellent book, “The Meaning of Marriage:”

What keeps a marriage going is your commitment to your spouse’s holiness. You’re committed to his or her beauty. You’re committed to his greatness and perfection. You’re committed to her honesty and passion for the things of God. That’s your job as a spouse. Any lesser goal than that, any smaller purpose, and your just playing at being married.

This represents a different worldview than the prevailing culture.  As marriages are mocked, broken, downplayed, swapped in & out, or just ignored, the Biblical perspective is radical. It was radical when it was written 2000 years ago, and remains radical today.

Jesus died not because we were lovely, but to make us lovely. He died, Paul says, to “make us holy.” Paradoxically, this means Paul is urging spouses to help their mates love Jesus more than them. It’s a paradox but not a contradiction. The simple fact is that only if I love Jesus more than my wife will I be able to see her needs ahead of my own.

Invariably it is easy to come to a point in the marriage where one has had “enough” of the mess of another person’s life.  It is easy to look at your spouse’s weaknesses and say, “I need to find someone better than this.”  Keller replies:

… when you envision the “someone better,” you can think of the future version of the person to whom you are already married. The someone better is the spouse you already have… Some people with serial marriages go through the cycle of infatuation, disillusionment, rejection, and flight to someone else – over and over. The only way you’re going to actually begin to see another person’s glory-self is to stick with him or her.

I do not want to down-play “flaws” as if every ill can be cured; I am making no excuses for spousal violence. But to be fair, most marriages aren’t dealing with that.  Most work in the rough and tumble arena of exposed desires and character issues.

I like to call Christian marriage “the living parable” of what it means for Christ to love us, and for us to love Him in return; marriage is the ecosystem of the wider wonder world of God’s own relationship with us. The Bible calls this a profound mystery (μυστηριον μεγα ~ mysterion mega).

Commitment to your spouse in marriage is more enigma than dogma – for it points you, not to the institution of marriage, but to the unspeakable (and unmerited?) worth of the person to whom you promised to love and honour.  This, in some fractional way, is a reflection of God’s own commitment to us, for as Augustine said,

Quia amasti me, fecisti me amabilem.”

In loving me, you made me lovable.

No matter how much we talk about it, marriage is [still] about sacrificial love.  I like how Matt Glezos puts it in his article called, “Sacrificial Husbandry:”

Let me put it even more strongly: husbands who expect a marriage of equal partnership are missing the point.

When we first got married I knew the word sacrifice and the biblical concept of loving Dawn in this way, but I had no idea what it meant to actually do it. This resulted in a marriage which was primarily give and take. Meaning, I gave a fair amount, but I expected a lot in return. Compromise, discussion and taking the time to impress upon my wife the best way I thought things should be done were the mainstays of our early marriage. I wanted to love Dawn, but I also wanted respect – that seemed only fair, and I was pretty sure both things were in the Bible.

Looking back I see now that even though I tried hard to show her love, Dawn didn’t truly feel loved. There was an essential component missing in my actions and attitude towards her – genuine sacrifice. Even though I could have (and would have been eager to) give you a list of the ways I was loving Dawn, I also knew that things weren’t entirely as they should be. There was distance, hardness of heart and a lack of trust between us. And while there were many reasons for this, and much sin to repent of, it was primarily through sacrificial acts on my part that the distance between us was bridged, that our hearts were softened and that trust grew. My sacrifices were in fact a tool God used to do good work in Dawn’s life. Through my sacrificial love, Dawn felt God’s love and understood her saviour more deeply.

I have learned that I can’t love sacrificially if I have not received the love of God in some substantive, relational way.  It is not enough to merely exhort husbands to love their wives as Christ loves His Bride, the church; we must receive His love to be able to give it.

Although it isn’t all about you, it is a lot about you. It’s about you entering into the relationship for which you were created, and being able to give out of that. As the Lord Jesus said, “as I have loved you… so love one another.” Not the other way around.