Reflections and Blog

Marriage Is Not Ultimate

I remember once trying to encourage a single young man who was struggling with contentment and sexual purity. In the course of our conversation, I mentioned something about the imminent return of Christ, and he said to me only half-jokingly: “I hope Jesus doesn’t return until after I’ve gotten married.” What the comment revealed in his thinking is an error that many Christians inadvertently end up believing: that the romantic and sexual relationship of marriage represents ultimate good in life and something on which you should not miss out.

It’s not surprising that many believers feel this way since such is the frequent anthem of our unsaved world, especially Western culture. So much of our media, especially music and movies, glorifies romantic/sexual love and portrays it as the key to lasting fulfillment, even “happily ever after.” We are promised that if we can only find “the one” or just experience sexual fulfillment in our own uniquely preferred way, we will know true joy. All obstacles to this ultimate good, therefore, should be removed, including God’s rules for marriage and sexuality. After all, why would a good God want to keep us from enjoying life’s ultimate treasure (cf. Gen 3:1-7)?

But if we are willing to think more soberly, we can see this kind of thinking for what it is: vain idolatry. To be sure, marriage is a good gift from God (Gen 1:31; 2:18), but it is one of many lesser gifts in this world and not an ultimate gift (Eccl 9:7-9). If we look to romance and sexual fulfillment as our great treasures in life, not only will we fall under the wrath of a jealous God (Ex 20:4-5) but we will also be thoroughly disappointed. As Solomon says in Ecclesiastes: “Vapor of vapors! All is vapor! There is no lasting profit from anything under the sun!” (Eccl 1:2-3) Though love can make intoxicating promises, the truth is that no amount or kind of love will satisfy; in fact, the more you chase love, the less satisfaction you will experience in your love (Eccl 1:8; 6:7, 9)!

Solomon most likely wrote the song named after him that celebrates as holy the love of marriage, the “Song of Songs” (Song 1:1). Yet even Solomon didn’t find lasting satisfaction in his relationship with the lovely Shulamite; instead, in his quest for ultimate fulfillment in the things of the world, he ended up multiplying marriages with one-thousand great and beautiful women of his day (1 Ki 11:3; Eccl 2:8). These additional relationships, though, also could not satisfy Solomon but instead led Solomon astray and filled him with regret (1 Ki 11:1-13; Eccl 2:11, 17). Therefore, whether within the proper confines of a monogamous heterosexual relationship or in some deviant version, romantic/sexual love represents another broken cistern that, by itself, can hold no water (Jer 2:13), even an empty idol unable to provide (Ps 135:15-18).

I sometimes meet men holding on to 1 Corinthians 7:9 and the belief that problems with relational/sexual contentment will be resolved by marriage. There is, to be sure, a certain practical advantage in having a spouse to whom one can legitimately direct sexual passions and from whom find refreshment (Prov 5:15-20; 1 Cor 7:2). But marriage does not itself bring contentment, and, unfortunately, many who struggle with discontent before marriage find that they continue to struggle after marriage—sometimes even more so. The solution to contentment, of course, is not getting what you want but do not currently have, but accepting and giving thanks for what you currently have from God as his perfect provision (Eccl 5:18-20; Eph 5:3-4; Phil 4:12-13).

And really, Paul’s whole point in 1 Corinthians 7 is not about finding fulfillment but mitigating distraction: in which state will you be less distracted in serving Christ, remaining unmarried or getting married? Go with whichever one lets you pursue and serve Christ better. Why? Because as the Bible testifies emphatically: Christ is the true treasure (Col 2:1-3; Phil 3:7-8; Heb 11:24-26). Knowing, imitating, and serving him is where lasting joy is found (Jn 15:10-11; 17:3). He is the spring that ever satisfies thirst and the food that gives eternal life (Jn 4:13-14; Jn 6:27, 35).

You see, when we proclaim to others God’s standards for marriage and sexuality, as Pastor Babij did in the Sunday sermon, we’re not trying to use God to keep people from life’s true treasure. Rather, we’re trying to prevent people’s obsession with a false treasure from keeping them away from the one who truly saves and satisfies. Indeed, many formerly immoral persons, including those who practiced homosexuality, testify that it is was the greater prospect of knowing Jesus that led them to give up their sinful lifestyles (cf. 1 Cor 6:9-11).

Marriage truly is a good gift from God and is to be nurtured and enjoyed in holy thankfulness. But we must not look for too much from marriage or lead our single brothers and sisters to do so. We must consciously push back against our culture and its heavy promotion of romantic and sexual love as ultimate. The unmarried Christian life can be just as satisfying as the married—and often with fewer troubles and distractions (Mt 19:10-12; 1 Cor 7:28, 32-35)! Rather than focusing on marriage, then, let us direct one another to the one to whom all true marriages ultimately point (Eph 5:22-33).

Revelation 19:7-8, “Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.

Questions to Consider:
1. Can other human relationships be as rich as or richer than a marital relationship? Consider David and Jonathan (1 Sam 18:1; 2 Sam 1:26).
2. How does idolizing sex, romance, or marriage cause one to act unbecomingly in marriage?
3. Are you content in whatever state God has placed you? Why or why not?