Marriage is Not About Staying in Love

I’m getting married in March.  So how does a bibliophile prepare for marriage?  By reading books on marriage.  I also strive to learn from the godly men and women whom I know personally, but learning from the writings of other godly men and women isn’t a bad idea either.

Lately, I’ve been working through John Piper’s This Momentary Marriage.  His opening chapter, which this blog post is titled after, lands a direct blow against a common notion about marriage: It’s strictly about staying in love, and if two people fall out of love, they should get a divorce.  In light of Paul’s quotation of Genesis 2:24 in Ephesians 5:31 and his next declaration that marriage was designed to point others to Christ’s love for the church, Piper writes:

Staying married, therefore, is not mainly about staying in love.  It is about keeping covenant.  “Till death do us part” or “As long as we both shall live” is a sacred covenant promise–the same kind Jesus made with his bride when he died for her.  Therefore, what makes divorce and remarriage so horrific in God’s eyes is not merely that it involves covenant-breaking to the spouse, but that it involves misrepresenting Christ and his covenant.  Christ will never leave his wife.  Ever.  There may be times of painful distance and tragic backsliding on our part.  But Christ keeps his covenant forever.  Marriage is a display of that!  That is the ultimate thing we can say about it.  It puts the glory of Christ’s covenant-keeping love on display.

The most important implication of this conclusion is that keeping covenant with our spouse is as important as telling the truth about God’s covenant with us in Jesus Christ.  Marriage is not mainly about being or staying in love.  It’s mainly about telling the truth with our lives.  It’s about portraying something true about Jesus Christ and the way he relates to his people.  It is about showing in real life the glory of the gospel.

Jesus died for sinners.  He forged a covenant in the white-hot heat of his suffering in our place.  He made an imperfect bride his own with the price of his blood and covered her with the garments of his own righteousness.  He said, “I am with you…to the end of the age…I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Matt. 28:20; Heb. 13:5).  Marriage is meant by God to put that gospel reality on display in the world.  That is why we are married.  That is why all married people are married, even when they don’t know and embrace the gospel.

He later adds:

If you want to understand God’s meaning for marriage, you have to grasp that we are dealing with a copy of an original, a metaphor of a greater reality, a parable, and a greater truth.  The original, the reality, the truth refer to God’s marriage to his people, or now in the New Testament we see it as Christ’s marriage to the church.  And the copy, the metaphor, the parable refer to human marriage between a husband and a wife.

After reading those quotes, there may be a temptation to fixate on Piper’s stance on divorce and remarriage.  But if we did that, we’d be missing his main point: The fundamental purpose of marriage is to act as a visible word of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I’m not married yet, but it doesn’t take a signed marriage license to know that marriage has its ups and downs.  What can we expect when two sinful people try to coexist?  Conflict.  Even though it’s the last thing I want to do, I know there will be times when I sinfully hurt Margaret’s feelings.  Problems in marriages range from financial pressures to guilt over a barren womb to home decorating.  Regardless of the particular source, conflict is the universal theme that runs through all marriages because sin is the universal theme that runs through all individuals.

When times get really difficult, I know there will be the still, small voice of Satan saying, “Give up.  Get a divorce.  You’re better without her anyway.”  The gospel should be a daily message that we preach to ourselves, but it should be especially prominent in our lives when we’re dealing with marital conflict.  We must constantly remind ourselves of the love and grace that Christ lavishes upon us, and in turn, we must lavish that love and grace on our spouse.

Even when “you’ve lost that lovin’ feelin’,” you must still remain true to the commitment that you made to God and to your spouse.  Why is it so important?  Because the way we approach marriage sends a message to the world about how we approach the gospel.  God designed it that way.

You want a better grasp on your marriage?  Get a better grasp on the gospel.  Know it.  Cry out to God for grace to live it.

Marriage is a gift for our good.  But marriage is also a means to an end.  The end is that the nations would catch a glimpse of Christ’s love for the church.  Is your marriage accomplishing this?  Cry out to God for forgiveness and the power to change.


3 thoughts on “Marriage is Not About Staying in Love

  1. Great post. I think you’ve already got a head start over most couples. Most couples (I admit that I fell into this category), go into marriage thinking that it will be more like the romantic movies, where they get married and live happily ever after. Unfortunately, as you said, marriage isn’t always easy. It has it’s ups AND downs. You will have days that while you love the other person, you don’t feel like you are IN love with them anymore. Satan will definitely try to feed off those emotions and drive a wedge between the two of you. But as you so eloquently stated and as John Piper stated in his book, marriage is a covenant; it’s not about how you feel, but about the commitment you made to your partner and to God. I wish you and Margaret a wonderful marriage that consists of many happy days and lasts until death do you part!

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