There is a reason why we see so many unhappy marriages today, and that reason has to do with the impotence of idols. Idols always promise to hang the moon, but idols uniformly fail to deliver. Not only do they fail to deliver, but one of the first things they usually fail to deliver is whatever central bauble was promised to the idolater. In other words, we don’t have unhappy marriages because we perversely value unhappiness. We have unhappy marriages because we value happiness in the wrong way.
I said that idolatry was the culprit. In this case, the idol is human happiness. A phrase from the Declaration of Independence—that phrase being the pursuit of happiness—is taken out of context, fashioned into a brass idol, and is turned into the summum bonum. People seek to be married, they come into marriage, with the full expectation that it will somehow complete their happiness, that it will somehow make them happy. But marriage is a creature. It is a created thing, and it cannot supply what only the infinite God can supply.
And this is the sum and substance of idolatry—trying to obtain from a finite thing what only the infinite can provide.
But do not conclude from this that I am saying that marriage is supposed to make you unhappy. That is to fall into a category mistake. Of course not. We are supposed to be happy in our marriages; we are called to be happy in our marriages. But a sure way to wreck that great calling and gift is by making marital happiness into your highest good. Rather, we are to place this whole question in the category of “seek first the kingdom, and all these things will be added” (Matt. 6:33).
The straight pursuit of happiness for its own sake is the sure road to unhappiness. The straight pursuit of God’s glory is what it means to forget yourself, and forgetting yourself is the first and foundational step in obtaining creaturely happiness.
In the famous first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, we are asked, “what is the chief end of man?” And the answer to that question is wonderfully provided—the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. This accords with what Paul teaches us in Corinthians—whatever we do, whether it is eating or drinking, we are to do it all to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).
Now if seeking God’s glory and enjoying Him is to be considered the point of all human activity whatever, then certainly it also has to be considered the point of one of the central human activities, which is marriage. What is the chief end of marriage? The chief end of marriage is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.
This truth is a characteristic turn in the Lord’s teaching.
“Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it” (Luke 17:33).
“He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal” (John 12:25).
Whoever places his marital happiness in the number one position shall lose it, and whoever places that marital happiness at the foot of the cross shall receive it back again. Whoever loves husband or wife more than Christ is cut off from the source of all love, which means that the idolized person involved is going to be shortchanged. And this means a wise spouse should seek the great advantage of being #2.
Joy is a central aspect of marriage—it is just not the point of it. Trying to force it into a role it was never intended to occupy is a good way to distort everything. Why should a man seek a wife? To build the kingdom. Why should a woman receive a man’s proposal? Because together they can be productive in kingdom work. Their love for one another is designed by God to bear fruit that multiplies well beyond the boundaries of their own lives. Fruitfulness has its rewards, but it is not principally an internal reward.
If a woman enters into marriage with the expectation that a mere man is going to make her happy, she is going to be bitterly disappointed . . . and he is going to be squeezed dry. If a man seeks a wife because he believes that she will be his everything, then he is going to be gravely disappointed as well, and she is going to be suffocated.
All of this is a roundabout way of saying that Christian marriages need to be made of three people—Christ, the husband and the wife. And Christ is the Lord of all of it.
Given this point, my charge to the two of you is going to be similar.
Aaron, my charge to you is this. As a Christian husband, I want you to be an all-in Christian, one who loves Jesus Christ more than anyone or anything. But you must be the kind of Christ-follower who abounds in love for his wife precisely because you love Jesus Christ more than you love her. If you love Christ the way God summons us to do, this means that others will see your love for Christ through your imitation of Him, and the principal action of that imitation will be how you love your wife as Christ loved the church. You cannot love Him rightly without imitating Him, and He has commanded you to imitate Him by how you lay down your life for your Elin.
Elin, you are called to the same great task, that of loving your husband less than Christ, but I would urge you to make some adjustments as you approach this. Men and women both are tempted to idolatry, of course, but women are more vulnerable to the temptation of fashioning idols from relationships. Men tend to do it with stuff—gear, toys, careers, cars. Women tend to prioritize relationships more highly than they ought. And so my charge to you is this—prize your relationship with Your heavenly Father, and prize the Savior who brought you into that relationship. As God gives you grace, become a woman of the Word, a woman of wisdom, a woman of grace. There is no greater gift that you could give to your husband than this.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, amen.