Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Trouble With Marriage

Oh, the trouble with marriage.

While I love being married to Sarah, marriage is fundamentally a big problem—it’s a devotion divider. The apostle Paul wants us to be free from concerning ourselves with it. In fact, he counsels married people to live as if they were not.

Impossible? Paul writes,

"What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; . . . For this world in its present form is passing away. 32 I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord's affairs—how he can please the Lord. 33 But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— 34 and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord's affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband." (1 Cor 7:29,31-34, NIV; italics mine.)

Keep in mind that this living as if you had no spouse is not a grueling sacrifice, nor is it a cold, logical point of self-denial. Instead, it is a command to our own fulfillment, especially in marriage, and the highest development of our life in Christ. It is the way to a happy marriage.

Paul continues, "I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord." (1 Cor 7:35, NIV; italics mine.)

Paul isn’t on a marriage-ending crusade; that would be unbiblical and ridiculous. Obviously, he doesn't mean we should dump our spouses or mistreat them in any way, but that we should continue to keep our devotion to Jesus genuinely primary—no, our devotion to Jesus must be undivided. Why? Because our devotion to Jesus is the only relationship that will produce love.

God is love—He doesn't have love, His love doesn't ebb and flow, rise and fall. He is love, and intimacy with Him will produce it in you and me. No other relationship can do that. At best, all that other relationships can do is elicit love or provide a place for it to go, but they cannot produce love. Undivided devotion to Jesus means love with a capital L.

So when we book and sermon and seminar ourselves nearly to death out of concern for marriage and how to have a good one, take loads of notes and make plenty of pledges and commitments about how we'll behave from now on, we're likely dividing our devotion, the very thing Paul warned against. We’ve got only so much devotion to go around. Five techniques to have a happy wife (make sure you've got them all!), six tips for a happy husband (don’t forget any!), plus assorted marital pitfalls to avoid, and our devotional pie is getting eaten up. How much is left for Jesus? No wonder we’re too tired to pray or read or worship or spend enjoyable time with God—we’re not devotionally single, we’re devotionally used up.

By focusing our concern and devotion upon marriage (or any worldly relationship, for that matter), we're unintentionally saying, "Here's how to mess up your marriage—be really concerned about it. Focus on it, work tirelessly on it, and pray about it unceasingly. Give it everything you’ve got." But Christian marriage is not about out-committing or out-performing non-Christian marriages. Yippee! Our divorce rate is lower than yours! Marriage for the Christian has a radically different starting point—union with God and union with each other—and it has a radically different way forward.

Again, no one is suggesting you abandon your marriage! If you’re a klutz at loving your spouse, if you ignore him, if you demean her, if you have no idea that your wife likes flowers and chocolate, and that your husband likes gadgets, then take a class on marital manners—you need them! But if you want to truly love, then no amount of marital techniques will bring it about. The fount of love is God—growing devotion to knowing and loving Him will baptize you and everyone around you in love.

My wife knows that when I'm overwhelmingly devoted to Jesus, she is going to get love, love which is way better than anything I might cook up on my own. In fact, she and I believe that marriage provides a unique opportunity to grow in devotion to Jesus by being weaned away from the many lesser devotions of this life. That's not easy—it’s takes time to grow in faith. When everything says, "Think of the benefits of being deeply devoted to your spouse, and here’s how!" we're learning to put it under our devotion to Jesus. It's not difficult to imagine what a great step of faith that is.

But, oh, the benefits.


  1. I still got your back!!! Marriage works better when God is at the center.

    But in case my hubby reads this (we are both readers) I like gadgets more than flowers.

  2. You reminded me of one of my favorite passages:
    2Co 11:2-3 For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin.
    But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from **the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.**
    (stars are mine ;0) )

    Thank you for the clarity on this regarding marriage. And I know it applies to everything else...parenting, jobs, friends, etc. Thank you for blogging and being a voice pointing others to Jesus alone. You have been an encouragement to me and my 2 young adult daughters.

  3. Ole Henrik Skjelstad9:28 PM

    Couldn't agree more!

  4. Rebekah Royal9:29 PM

    Absolutely agree. I've written a book that describes a lot of what you are talking about. I was first ticked when God told me to lay my expectation for a Godly marriage on the alter like Abraham laid Issac on the alter. My questions was, "Why? You ordained marriage." Then God showed me my idea of a Godly marriage was what I wanted more than HIM. When I surrendered it, God then gave it to me.

  5. John Harris9:29 PM

    Good one and wise to remember!

  6. Robert Cook9:30 PM

    Ralph you are speaking the truth my brother. Only Father can be the husband my wife "needs", so why try to be a better me (i know what I said can be taken the wrong way, but you know what I mean).
    But I do have a question for you. Why is it always my fault when my mother-in-law pops off something rude??? I don't get it!!!

    Love ya bro, keep writing!"

  7. Dave Geisler9:31 PM

    Wonderful and reminds me of the courtship of Samuel Brengle and Elizabeth Swift from the Salvation Army.

  8. Kevin Reems9:33 PM


    You so hit it on spot! Many times I’ve tried to really get the centrality of Paul’s point. I’m one of those that have been blessed with the gift of singleness and marriage is not for me which Paul is very clear on when he says it is better to remain single. But the other regarding marriage now makes perfect sense in the light you’ve shed abroad on it. Oh my prayer is all married couples in the Body of Christ could grasp and take this truth in.

    Thanks bro!

  9. Jeanette Frances9:34 PM


    RIGHT ON!!! Too bad that message has not gotten thru to the “followers… the sheep of the flock… there’d be a lot less divorce among Christians!”

    Since I’ve lived three score and ten plus, I’ve lived long enough and been around a number of congregations to know that this message is not stated nor is the reality that one’s commitment to God is primary and all others is secondary.

    Along side this issue is the one that says… “Love God first, others second and yourself last!” How can I love you if I don’t have a sense of self that is loved by God and thus to honor the reality that I am loved of God so that I can share it with “others”. No wonder things get so messed up. Enough said.

    God bless you brother!

  10. Megan O'Leary11:04 AM

    I randomly ended up at this note because it was on a friend's page.... i love it!!! probably the best thing i've read about this topic yet. i wholeheartedly agree.