November 17, 2013
Pastor Joe Wittwer
The Meaning of Marriage
#4—The Mission of Marriage


ILL: Did you hear this story?  Last month a German couple’s marriage got off to a rocky start when the groom forgot his bride at a highway gas station. The couple was heading home from their honeymoon when the man pulled over to gas up their van. His new wife had been sleeping in the back but unbeknownst to him, she got up to use the bathroom, and he drove off before she returned. 2½ hours later, he finally noticed she was gone and called police.  They told him she was patiently waiting at the gas station.  Later in a radio interview, she said, “My first reaction was, ‘Is he stupid?’”  We do have a picture of the happy couple. She forgave him, and said, “I know he didn’t mean it.” 

Bad start!  Of course, it’s not how well you start, but how well you finish—that’s the big deal.  So what’s the finish line for marriage?  What’s the goal, the mission of marriage?  Is it to be happy?  To have great sex?  Is it financial gain or to improve your social status?  To have children? 

Today, we’re going to talk about the mission of marriage—what is the goal or purpose of marriage?  It might surprise you.


This is part four of our series, “The Meaning of Marriage,” based on this book by Tim Keller. (We sold out last week and got another shipment in this week—so we have copies for $10.)  Today, we’re talking about the mission of marriage—chapter 4 in the book (it’s one of my favorite chapters).

People marry for lots of reasons.  In the past, people married to have children to be heirs to whom they could pass on their land or business.  Or they married for social status, to raise their standing in the community. Couples have married to solidify financial or political empires—think of Solomon with 700 wives—bad idea! It might have been political genius, but it was marital stupidity!  People marry for companionship.  Today in our culture, the primary purpose for marriage is personal happiness.  We look for someone who makes us happy and hope that they can keep making us happy for a long time.  It rarely works out when that is your goal.  Make happiness your primary goal and you’ll never reach it; make something bigger your primary goal, and when you reach it you’ll find happiness thrown in.

So what is the mission of marriage?  Does that Bible give any hint of what the goal ought to be?  Yes.  In Ephesians 5, the apostle Paul tells us that the secret to understanding marriage is the gospel.  When you understand what Jesus did for you, you will understand what husbands and wives do for each other.  You will understand the mission of marriage. 

Ephesians 5:25–27 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

Why did Christ love the church and give Himself up for her?  Here are the two purpose phrases:

  • To make her holy.
  • To present her to himself radiant, without stain, wrinkle or blemish, but holy and blameless.

Jesus gave His life to make us holy and to make us beautiful.  He died to make us awesome! In the same way, husbands are to love their wives just as Christ loved the church.   We make each other awesome!  We’re going to unpack this.  Here’s:

The Big Idea: Marriage is a way for two spiritual friends to help each other become the persons God designed them to be.

We’re going to talk about three things. We’ll explore this idea of friendship and how it relates to marriage—this will be especially valuable for singles as well as marrieds.  We’ll unpack the goal of marriage, which is helping each other become the persons God wants us to be.  And we’ll finish by talking about some pseudo-spouses that threaten the priority of marriage.

1. Marriage and friendship.

In the creation story in Genesis, at the end of each creative cycle, God looked at what He had made and He said, “It is good.”  It is good, it is good, it is good. Then He says, “it is not good.” What broke the string of all goods?

Genesis 2:18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a companion for him who corresponds to him.”

How could it be “not good?”

Adam was living in Paradise (an early version of Spokane) and enjoyed face-to-face friendship with God, and had sole control of the remote. How can it be “not good?” Something—or rather someone—was missing.  There was no one “like Adam”—no one that corresponded to him.  Here is an amazing thing: Adam was not completely fulfilled by his vertical relationship with God, as good as it was; he needed a horizontal relationship with someone like him.

ILL: We used to sing a chorus: “You’re all I need, You’re all I need, Jesus, You’re all I need.”  I loved it and it was meaningful to me—but it’s not true.  Jesus isn’t all we need.  If Jesus is all we need, it would still just be Adam and God in the garden, getting along fine, just the two of them.

God saw that Adam needed someone else, someone like him, so He made a woman.  A helper.  A companion. A friend.  When Adam sees Eve for the first time, he says, “At last!  This is bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.”  It’s as though he is saying, “Meeting you fills a void in me.”  It seems that the first purpose for marriage is friendship. 

Let’s talk about friendship.  What are the marks of a good friendship?

First, constancy. A friend sticks with you through thick or thin; friends don’t bail when it gets tough.

Proverbs 17:17  A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.

Proverbs 18:24 One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

A friend is someone you can count on no matter what.

Second, transparency or candor. A friend tells you truth about himself and about you.

Proverbs 27:6 Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.

John 15:15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.

Friends let you in without letting you down.

Third, shared interests.   C.S. Lewis says that the essence of friendship is the exclamation, “You too!”  You like peanut butter and mustard sandwiches too! Friendships develop around shared interests, common causes, something that both friends are committed to.

In Christian friendships, in addition to whatever else we may have in common, we have Jesus. We’re both following Jesus.

Amos 3:3 Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?

If I say, “Let’s go for a walk,” and you want to walk south and I want to walk north, we won’t walk together. But if we agree, “Ok, let’s walk south,” then we walk together.  If you are following Jesus and I am following Jesus, we can walk together. Any two Christians can have a robust friendship by helping each other on the journey of following Jesus.

Christian friendships have the other qualities we mentioned.  Christian friends are constant.  They carry each other’s burdens; they share their resources when there is need; they are there through thick or thin. And Christian friends are transparent.  They confess their sins to each other, or when needed, point out each other’s faults in order to help.  They stir each other up to love and good works.  They admit wrongs, ask forgiveness and take steps to reconcile.  And Christian friends may share other interests. I love sports and share this with many of my Christian friends—some of whom are buying my lunch on Thursday since they lost the bet on the NCAA tourney pool!  Woohoo! 

So Christian friends are constant, transparent, and share common interests, like anyone else.  The difference is that they also share a spiritual goal: to help each other become the people God wants them to be.  As a Christian friend, my role is to help you follow Jesus and become all God wants you to be. Read the New Testament letters and look for the “one another commands”: love one another, honor one another, spur one another on to love and good works, forgive one another, teach one another, and many others.  The goal of all these is to help each other follow Jesus and become the people God wants us to be. 

This is what Christian fellowship is all about.  We define our Life Groups as small groups who meet for friendship, spiritual growth and service. As you become friends, you want to help each other follow Jesus and become your best self—the person God wants you to be.   This is what Christian friends do—we help each other follow Jesus and become the persons God wants us to be.

So how does all this relate to marriage?

First, marriage is a friendship. God created Adam and Eve to be companions and friends as well as lovers.  So when two Christians marry, they bring their friendship into the marriage and add romantic love and commitment to it.  The goal of their marriage is to help each other become the persons God wants them to be.

Second, if you’re single, it will change the way you think about potential marriage partners. You will put friendship above being attractive.  Typically, we screen for attraction first: is he a hunk?  Is she a babe?  But if marriage is first a friendship, then we need think friend first. Screen for friendship first and explore whether than friendship could become a romance and marriage.

2. The goal of marriage.

The goal of marriage is to help each other become our future “glory selves”.   We see this in our text:

Ephesians 5:25–27 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

Jesus loved us and gave himself in order to make us lovely, “holy, radiant and blameless.”  He didn’t die for us because we were lovely; He died to make us lovely. This is the gospel: we are more flawed than we ever imagined, and in Jesus we are more loved than we ever dreamed.  Jesus came to save us—that word means “to rescue” but also “to heal.”  He heals us and makes us new creations. In the same way, spouses are to love each other sacrificially and help each other become new creations in Christ that are holy, radiant and blameless.  That’s our Big Idea:

Marriage is a way for two spiritual friends to help each other become the persons God designed them to be.

This was a shockingly new and different vision of marriage from the culture’s view of it as a social transaction to better your family.  Paul is often accused of taking his culture’s view of marriage and imposing it on everyone. Paul is a product of his culture (like all of us), but he also transcends it in many ways. Paul’s vision of marriage is radically different from his culture or ours.  It is wrong to think that Paul’s teaching only reflects his culture, and so is culture-bound and irrelevant. Paul gives us a distinctly Christian vision of marriage.  Jesus has a vision of our future glory, and everything he does moves us toward that goal. In Christian marriage, spouses do the same for each other. 

A few weeks ago we talked about being new creations in Christ.  I said that it’s a process.  We are being changed day by day.  And every now and then, we get glimpses of the person we are becoming. 

ILL: In the mid-1990’s, I climbed Mt. Rainier with some friends. Twice.  The first time, we set out in light snow. You couldn’t see the top of the mountain—sometimes you could barely see 100 feet in front of you. By the time we got to Camp Muir at 10,000 feet, we were trapped in a storm.  Winds that night gusted near 80 miles an hour.  No one left the stone shelter—summiting was out of the question.  In the middle of the night, a couple guys stumbled in swearing.  They were in tents a couple hundred yards away. They got out to go potty, and the wind blew their tents away!  They had to army crawl to the shelter. 

The next summer, we tried again.  This time, we had beautiful weather. Occasionally, a cloud would obscure the top of the mountain.  Then it would part and we could see where we were headed.  It was inspiring!  This time, we summitted; we made it easily. 

It’s like that in marriage. Every now and then, the clouds part and we get a glimpse of the person our spouse is becoming. We think, “Yes, that’s where we’re headed.”  We have to hold that vision and remember that it’s a process; it’s a long climb to the summit. We are all works in progress. But we have a vision of what we are becoming.

“Within this Christian vision for marriage, here’s what it means to fall in love. It is to look at another person and get a glimpse of the person God is creating, and to say, “I see who God is making you, and it excites me! I want to be part of that. I want to partner with you and God in the journey you are taking to his throne. And when we get there, I will look at your magnificence and say, ‘I always knew you could be like this. I got glimpses of it on earth, but now look at you!’” (p. 113).

This is not some Pollyanna-ish, romanticized view of marriage.  To the contrary, it is very realistic. We each recognize that the other is a work in progress.  We see our flaws, weaknesses and imperfections.  But we also see growing in them the person God wants them to be.

The romanticized view of marriage is our cultural view that tells us to look for the perfect spouse, the one who will make you happy, the one with whom you will be perfectly compatible.  This person doesn’t exist!  We’re looking for a finished statue when we should be looking for a nice block of marble!

ILL: When Michelangelo was asked how he carved his magnificent David, he reportedly said, “I looked inside the marble and I just took away the bits that weren’t David.” 

This is process we’re all in. God is chipping away at us, making us into something beautiful, something awesome.  And this doesn’t mean that you look for someone you can shape the way you want.  It means that you are looking for someone who is moving towards Jesus, and becoming what God wants.  Please give up the notion of looking for David, and find a good block of marble that God’s working on! 

Every wedding should remind us of this.  At a wedding, the bride and groom dress up.  She gets a gorgeous dress; he dons a suit.  She gets her hair all gussied up; he takes a shower. Every bride and groom wants to look their very best at the wedding.  And they do.  She’s gorgeous!  He’s cleans up well. They stand before the pastor in all their splendor.  But they’re not just playing dress up.  They are reminding us and each other: “This is what we’ll be one day—only better! One day, when we stand before God, we’ll turn to see each other, and say, ‘Look at you!  You’re radiant!  You’re perfect!”  And it will be true.

Meanwhile, “what keeps your marriage going is your commitment to your spouse’s holiness. You’re committed to his or her beauty. You’re committed to his greatness and perfection. You’re committed to her…passion for the things of God. That’s your job as a spouse. Any lesser goal than that, any smaller purpose, and you’re just playing at being married.”  (p. 115).

This is the gospel in marriage.  This is what Jesus did for us.  He didn’t feel any chemistry for us on the cross; He gave Himself for our good. He died to make us holy. He didn’t die because we were lovely; He died to make us lovely.  And here Paul tells us to imitate not only the quality of Christ’s love, but the goal of it.  We sacrifice to make our spouse lovely, holy, blameless—perfect.  This is the goal of marriage: to help each other become our future “glory selves.”

3. The priority of marriage.

When Laina and I married, one of the promises we made each other in our vows was to love each other second.  I promised her that she would always be second—not what you usually say at a wedding! I would love Jesus first, and then love her; she made the same promise to me.  We did this because we believe that by loving Jesus first, we love each other better.  By loving Jesus first, we love each other as we should. 

The Bible is clear that we are to love God first.  When Jesus was asked what was the most important commandment, He said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.  Love God with all you’ve got. The second is to love your neighbor like yourself.”  Love God first. 

In the Old Testament, God gave Israel the Ten Commandments to define how they were to love Him. The first command:

Exodus 20:3 “You shall have no other gods before me.

God first.  Paul describes Jesus relationship with us:

Colossians 1:18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.

In everything, Jesus is supreme. He is first.  This is how we live as Christians.  Jesus first.  And this is how we live in Christian marriage: Jesus first. Not me first, not spouse first, not kids first—Jesus first.

Make the promise to make your spouse second, to love Jesus more than you love your spouse. Only then can you love your spouse like you should. 

“But,” you protest, “you said a couple weeks ago that marriage is a priority.”  Yes.

Genesis 2:24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.

Your marriage is your new primary relationship, replacing your parents who have been the primary relationship, and who now take a back seat, or preferably, get their own car.  “No other human being should get more of your love, energy, industry or commitment than your spouse.” (P. 119)

We understand marriage by looking at the gospel.  In everything, Jesus is supreme; we make Jesus first.  Jesus asks for the same thing that any spouse expects: put me first.  To treat our spouses like Jesus means we put them first, before any other human being or any other thing…second only to Jesus.

Why is this important? Because many marriages suffer from competition with a pseudo-spouse. Instead of your spouse being most important after Jesus, he or she slides down the list.

ILL: When I was first married, there was a situation that made a lasting imprint on me.  A marriage in our church broke up.  The wife left her husband.  It was a shock to me, a couple that I never would have imagined divorcing.  But there they were—she had filed and wasn’t going back.  I asked my pastor who knew them, what happened.  I’ll never forget his answer.  “He loved his hobbies more than his wife.  She just got tired of being second.” 

That is seared into my memory, and I made a vow not to let that happen to us.

Sometimes it’s still the parents—one spouse hasn’t really left mom and dad, and their opinion matters more than the spouse’s. Or for many, it’s a career; when husband or wife take back seat to career demands, the marriage is threatened.  For others, it’s the kids.  The best thing you can do for your kids is to make your spouse first.  Be a great spouse first, then be a great parent. 

So when I promised Laina she would always be second, I didn’t mean she would be second to my hobbies, or second to the kids, or second to my career.  And that last one has been difficult.

ILL: I remember as a newly married man and newly appointed pastor, I was told this by an old seasoned pastor: “Every pastor has a mistress. It’s the church. It’s the ministry.” I was shocked—but I quickly learned it was true.  Being a pastor isn’t a 5-day a week, 9-5 job.  It’s who you are.  I’m a pastor when I go to Costco as much as when I’m here. 

Once, on my day off, Laina and I went to Costco. At the front doors, I met a couple from church coming out.  We stopped to talk; before long, Laina excused herself to do our shopping while I finished the conversation.  As it was winding down, another couple stopped and we talked.  In fact, I listened and gave spiritual advice to four different couples or singles in a little less than an hour.  I never moved from the front door!  When Laina came out pushing the cart, she found me where she left me, and said I should just open an office at Costco!

I’m not complaining.  I love my job and I love meeting people everywhere and anywhere. So if you see me somewhere, come up and say hi—I love it!  I’m just saying that when you’re a pastor, you’re always on. 

That makes it all the more important to make sure your wife is first, before your job.  Laina and I have worked at this, because if I’m not careful, the job can suck me in and eat me up.  She keeps me grounded.  She tells me, “Just step away from the cliff.  It’s time to unplug, bucko.”

When I told Laina she would be second, I met only to Jesus.  Our marriage is the most important human relationship I have, and I treat it accordingly. Your marriage can’t be a sidebar to a great career or hobbies.  Your spouse, like Jesus, expects to be first.

Your Next Step:

Married: Ask your spouse for one example of the new you and one of the old.
Single: Thank a friend who is helping you become your new self.