Thursday, June 20, 2019

Marriage Is Not the Greatest Thing

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(Duck in my back yard.)

When I became a Jesus-follower God told me to take a full year off from dating. I did. It was a wonderful experience. I focused on what Colossians 1:18 calls "the supremacy of Christ." Christ was my "head," I was part of his "body," the body of Christ, his "Church." (Col. 1:18 again)

I felt free from cultural pressure to date. My life goal was no longer to find some "soul mate," because my soul was mated to Christ. My desire was to know Christ, and be found in him. I was allowing God to change me in ways that would be good for any future relationship I might be in.

If you are not dating, or not married, give thanks to God. You have a Pauline opportunity (1 Corinthians 7:8) to draw close to the Only One who purely loves your soul. Take advantage of this and rejoice!

If you feel pressure to date and mate, ask yourself, where does this come from? I have met many who get into a relationship to satisfy cultural expectations, or to please their mother and father. Or, who have the idea that without being married I will be unfulfilled. This pressure is not from God. It's a very non-Pauline idea, since Paul himself seemed to do more than fine without being married. It creates the idolatrous idea that marriage is life's greatest thing. It is not. 

I've seen Christian marriages that are toxic, not because of "irreconcilable differences" or "incompatibility," but because of spiritual and emotional immaturity. These marriages are hellish. If you are not in a marriage like this, give thanks! You have been spared from a dark existence. Be thankful you are not in a world where adult babies are making babies, and then abandoning them in divorce (at a 50% rate).

Simply because a husband and wife are Christians does not guarantee a wonderful marriage. There is a ton of ongoing marital work to be done. This never ends. Few people count the cost of marriage, and end up paying in ways they never imagined.

There's nothing wrong in desiring and praying for a life partner. There is something wrong with the idea that life will never be flourishing without one. Imagine how Christ feels about that! Overwhelmingly, marriage is not God's greatest thing.

Ben Witherington understands this ("Family First!— Not a Biblical Viewpoint"). He writes: 

"Anyone who has carefully read 1 Corinthians 7 will know that Paul says that being married in the Lord or being single for the sake of Christ are both good stations in life, and BOTH require a certain ‘charisma’ or grace gift to live in such a state. That is, Paul does not agree that marriage is the normal default for every believer. He doesn’t think we should think that way at all. It is not the highest goal that everyone should strive to reach. Frankly, says Paul, I would prefer various of you be single like me, for the sake of the Kingdom. But each according to his gift. 
What is radical in its day, and even now, about the teaching of Jesus and Paul (remembering Jesus in Mt. 19 says disciples can be eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom) is what they say about the viability and goodness of never marrying, or remaining single after you lose your spouse. Frankly, Jesus would have been appalled at the name of a Sunday school class at my old church— ‘Pairs and Spares’. Single persons are not like spare tires. They are not like fifth wheels. 
Indeed the NT warns us that some people are just not cut out for or gifted [or called] to be married, and we should stop trying to goad all believers in that direction. [Stop doing this please!!!!!]  Instead, we need a more viable theology of and support for single persons. We need to stop exalting marriage as if it were the only good state of being for any true believer. It isn’t. As Christians our highest good and highest calling is to follow the example of Christ and the teaching of Christ, and neither of these things encourage us to put up banners that say ‘Family first!’. Rather the body of Christ needs desperately to get on with being a family towards all of its members and learning what in fact that means and entailed." [Parenthetical remarks and emphasis mine.]

What if you are in a marriage that is struggling? See my post - How to Save Your Failing Marriage.

My three books are:

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Encounters with the Holy Spirit (co-edited with Janice Trigg)

After a break I'll continue writing Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart.

Then: Technology and Spiritual Formation.

Then, the Lord willing, Linda and I will write our book on Relationships.