The Shifting Purposes of Marriage

"What if the purpose of marriage is to make you holy, not to make you happy?"
Gary Thomas, Author of Sacred Marriage

Sociologist Andrew Cherlin at John Hopkins University eloquently documents the changing role of marriage in his book, Marriage-go-round.  He notes that the purpose of marriage has changed historically and often mirrors the greatest value of the time.  Pre-modern (prior to the 1700's) marriage focused procreation.  Marriage was not necessarily for friendship or personal satisfaction, as it was towards legacy.  Modernity brought the understanding of friendship and camaraderie as the central theme.  Post-modernism (1970's onward) marriages are focused on self-satisfaction and self-fulfillment.  Contemporary suitors for marriage are often concerned chiefly whether a potential partner can meet their needs, desires, and dreams.

This is not revolutionary.  Many cultural commentators, such as Yale professor and theologian, Miroslav Volf, have discussed the the American shrinking vision.  He notes that early Americans identified God or a divine calling as the primary motivator life (Think Puritans).  By the mid-nineteenth century, that huge God-vision, was narrowed to a national vision (think Civil War).  By the 1960's, the primary motivator was not national interest, or even regional interests, but self and self-expression.  Unfortunately, despite the age of the marriage institution, it simply changed and adopted to the interests of the age.

Marriage has been in a crisis for sometime, and the idea of Christian marriage is suffering with divorce rates approaching 50%.  A couple of things to ponder:

1. Christian marriage was to be the context for spiritual growth:  Marriage was not to be easy, casual, or even comfortable.  It was designed to cause the couple to grow through learning patience, forgiveness, gentleness, self-control, etc.  I contend, that marriage will show you more about yourself and your spiritual state than any other experience you can know.

2. If you enter into marriage with the idea that it is your spouses job to make you happy, keep you entertained, and provide every physical desire, you will be disappointed.  No person can fulfill you in that way.  Christian marriage asks you to focus on your spouses need, while working on your development, not the other way around.  If you have an unrealistic understanding of the role of your partner, you have set the marriage up to fail from the start.

3. Christian Marriage is centered and focused on God, not one another.  This is the failure of our age.  Marriage is to be a covenant between a man and a woman and God.  It is to be done to honor God and to model His love for humanity (Ephesians 5).  I find that God as very little to do with most marriages other than lip service paid to what church the ceremony will be held at.  Jesus told his disciples that without him, they can do nothing (John 15), yet we often attempt to marry without any thoughts of Jesus.

4. Self-worship is a form of idolatry which destroys marriages.  Self-idolatry is revealed in the need to have  your desires met and to have your agenda prioritized.  It places yourself and your desires (not necessarily bad or evil desires) on the throne and simply asks your spouse to worship it.  Marriage is the humbling of your agenda to a new agenda that is formed and promoted by God.

As I have conversations with people considering marriage, I find that the most important thing to discuss is not the ins and outs of marriage but the definition of marriage for a solid foundation.  Praying that you will honor God in your relationships!

May God bless you today,


Pastor M Traylor