Marriage is instituted by God, and rightly understood it is one of the most glorious pictures of the gospel given to man. And of course, abused as it often is, it presents a potent false gospel as well. That false gospel either seduces people into a sentimental mess, or it presents a caricature that causes people to be repelled. But as Christians who want to structure all of our lives on the bedrock of the Scriptures, we should certainly do the same with marriage. And we will quickly discover that this way of living presents the world with a stark alternative.
Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge. Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee (Heb. 13:4-5).
The author of Hebrews tells us that marriage is an honorable estate. He goes further and tells us that marriage does not become dishonorable somehow because of the marriage bed—a thought that some with ascetic tendencies might be tempted to embrace. Marriage is honorable, and the bed is undefiled, and undefiling. But this does not mean that the marriage bed cannot be defiled—God will judge those who defile marriage by means of adultery or other forms of immorality. Having said this, he goes on to say that our conversation (i.e. our way of life) needs to be free of covetousness. It is not an accident that this is here, right next to the verse on marriage. Be content with what you have, he says. This includes the spouse you have. God will never leave or forsake us, and that is grounds for comfort and contentment.
Why begin our discussion of marriage here? We can easily see how discontent leads to certain obvious sins, and this includes sins that will plague a marriage. For example, discontent can breed lust—violating the tenth commandment through desiring another man’s wife. Or discontent can breed financial disaster and debt slavery, in turn placing pressure on a marriage. But that is not the central reason I want to begin this series on marriage at this point. A great problem with discontented people (and that means discontented husbands and wives) is that they are the most unteachable people on earth.
It is important therefore for us to begin all our consideration with this basic lesson. All of us must thank God for our condition and estate. “Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christö (Eph. 5:20). ôGiving thanks for all thingsö is one of the prerequisites for understanding anything that St. Paul says in the following verses about marriage between a man and a woman, between Christ and the Church.
Often discontented married people come from discontented unmarried people. In other words, discontent is very rarely fixed by rearranging the furniture, or by walking from over here to over there. Wherever you go, there you are.
There are three kinds of unmarried adults. The first are called to that station by God, and are uniquely gifted for it. The apostle Paul was in this category (1 Cor. 7:7). Almost by definition, contentment is not an issue here. The second are dealing with what to them is a hard providence, especially if they are a single parent. They want to be married, and they don’t like being unmarried. The temptation to discontent here is very real. The third category consists of lazy people who need to get off the dime. The problem here is a spurious discontent. But as we consider these categories from a distance, let us be careful to mind our own business. The exhortation here is for the second category. Often unmarried people in this station are afraid of contentment “because if I get content with my condition, then God will make me stay this way, and because I am content, I won’t care anymore!” But remember that being discontented is like taking ugly pills . . . and they are addictive. You will find yourself still taking them even if you get married.
But You Don’t Know . . .
The Word of the Lord is this. If we are discontent in our marriages, we are not capable of learning anything fundamental about marriage. And the more we refuse to learn, the more we think we know because we have all kinds of “stories.“ The irony is that today so much material on marriage is actually used (whether the authors intended this or not) to inflame discontent. And sermons series on marriage (like this one) can inflame discontent. ôLord, here am I. Change him.ö And if someone calls us on our discontent, we will display that unteachable spirit I mentioned earlier. ôThe Scripture doesnÆt apply here.ö ôHe doesnÆt know my situation.ö But God does know, and He is the one who inspired St. Paul to introduce his teaching on marriage by saying that we should give thanks for all things.
There were two characteristics of the Israelite camp in the wilderness—two things that ought not to go together. They were the Shekinah glory in the sky and the grumbling on the ground. Far too many Christian marriages are like that.