Planning for “the day” or for a lifetime?
This question was written with big cursive lettering on a booth display that Erin and I used at bridal fairs to advertise our premarital seminars. It was always so much fun to watch not only the prospective brides but also their mothers walk by as the mothers responded to our banner with a sassy “Mm-hmm!”
You see, rarely did we get any brides to stop at our booth. Each bride was so busy planning for her special day — the dress, the cake, the venue, the photographer, the honeymoon — she hardly gave much thought to planning for her future marriage. Sadly, only about 35 percent to 40 percent of engaged couples will receive quality premarital education. And by quality, we mean at least eight to 10 hours of instruction from someone who has been equipped to do so. This is unfortunate because the premarital research is strong.
The moms who were walking around with their daughters at the bridal fair understood this, and that’s why the majority of the tickets we sold were to the mothers — as gifts to their daughters and future sons-in-law.
As the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” We believe that the first step in your journey toward the marital relationship you’ve always dreamed of is to understand God’s true design for marriage. So …
Marriage in the Bible
God is the creator of marriage — it was His idea from the very beginning. Listen to how Eugene Peterson, author of The Message, paraphrases this truth: “God, not you, made marriage. His Spirit inhabits even the smallest details of marriage. And what does he want from marriage? Children of God, that’s what. So guard the spirit of marriage within you. Don’t cheat on your spouse. ‘I hate divorce,’ says the God of Israel. God-of-the-Angel-Armies says, ‘I hate the violent dismembering of the “one flesh” of marriage.’ So watch yourselves. Don’t let your guard down” (Malachi 2:15–16).
God is so passionate about marriage that He gave it an important place throughout the Bible. The Scriptures begin with a marriage: “It is not good that the man should be alone. I will make him a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:18). Then right in the middle of the Bible is a remarkable and very provocative book: the Song of Songs. It’s a love story — passionate, provocatively physical, something that makes good Christians blush — between two lovers, a husband and wife. Finally God’s Word ends with a different but even more important wedding: the marriage of Christ to His imperfect but redeemed bride, the church, “the wife of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:9).
Intended to make us Christlike
God created marriage with something far more wonderful in mind than simply a place where we can get our needs met and find happiness. God uses marriage to accomplish a very important goal: to help us become like Christ. The apostle Paul clearly understood this: “Those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29). If you miss out on this understanding, your marriage is destined for pain and frustration. But if you “get it” — especially now as you prepare to walk down the aisle — then you’ll be far ahead of the rest of the pack.
As you prepare to get married, rather than asking yourself, “How will my needs be met?” ask, “How will my life show evidence of Christ’s character?” Marriage was never designed to meet our needs. In God’s infinite wisdom, He knows that our greatest relational needs will be met as we become more like His Son. As with everything else He created, God wants to use marriage to direct us toward himself. God uses the challenges and the joys of marriage to help shape and mold us into the image of Jesus — and that’s been His goal from the very beginning: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:26–27).
Evidence of Christlike-ness
This seems so simple: A great marriage is the outcome of becoming Christlike. So the real question is, “How do we know if we are becoming like Jesus?” The good news is that Christ himself gives us the answer in John 13:34-35: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love on another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” As you both become Christlike, the evidence is your ability to love each other as Christ loves you.
God’s paramount goal for your upcoming marriage is not your mutual happiness. It really isn’t! That will surely come, if you cooperate with God’s real purpose for your marriage. But He wants so much more than mere happiness for you. He wants joy, significance, spiritual power and a compelling attractiveness that turns people’s heads. In other words, He wants to use your marriage to help you and others become more like His Son.
Dr. Greg Smalley is vice president of Family Ministries at Focus on the Family. Erin Smalley serves in the Marriage and Family Formation department at Focus on the Family.