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Are you unmarried?

Author’s note: I wrote this at a point in my courtship with my fiancée when it dawned on me that nothing short of my death (and her death) will make our marriage work. Want to know what I mean? Read on…

“A man in love is incomplete until he’s married. Then he’s finished.” Zsa Zsa Gabor

A couple of verses from a Pauline epistle gave rise to these thoughts. Let’s revisit the passage.

1 Corinthians 7:25-28 MSG
25 The Master did not give explicit direction regarding virgins, but as one much experienced in the mercy of the Master and loyal to him all the way, you can trust my counsel. 26 Because of the current pressures on us from all sides, I think it would probably be best to stay just as you are. 27 Are you married? Stay married. Are you unmarried? Don’t get married. 28 But there’s certainly no sin in getting married, whether you’re a virgin or not. All I am saying is that when you marry, you take on additional stress in an already stressful time, and I want to spare you if possible.

Very typical of Paul. Sharing thoughts in lumps—sometimes in lumps that are too difficult to swallow. Here, it’s understandable. It was a time of distress (7:26) when society was going through change (7:31). There was not much time left for serving the Lord (7:29). For all we know, it is possible that there were political and economic pressures in Corinth at the time. So in view of the difficulties, Paul submitted that it would be better for a person to be unmarried.

However, the lenses through which Paul viewed marriage here reveals more than some first century circumstantiality to some age-long all-time deep truth about marriage! And that is the quarry where we’ll be mining . . .

Attending a wedding for the first time, a little girl whispers to her mother, ‘Why is the bride dressed in white?’ Mother decides to keep things simple and replies, ‘Because white is a happy colour and today is the happiest day of her life.’ The girl thinks for a second, then says, ‘So why is the groom wearing black?’ (You figure that out!)

And while you are figuring that out on one hand, and looking forward to walking down the aisle in white gown with Mr. Right on the other hand, may I inform you in-between both thought threads before you get too deep into the journey that: MARRIAGE IS DEATH!

Song of Songs 8:6 GWT
“. . . Love is as overpowering as death. Devotion is as unyielding as the grave. Love’s flames are flames of fire, flames that come from the LORD.”

Marriage is death—death to self. Death to “I”. Unfortunately, our culture has turned individualism into a virtue—a culture that screams that we “deserve” to be fulfilled and have a “right” to personal satisfaction and true-to-me happiness. That model just doesn’t work with the model of marriage! The cruel irony is that fulfillment, satisfaction and happiness are ultimately found in sacrifice, serving and giving—even to the point of giving one’s “life”! Are you ready for this?

“Are you married? Stay married. Are you unmarried? Don’t get married. ”
(1 Corinthians 7:27 MSG).

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This death-thing is counter-cultural.  It’s a paradox to logic.  In the book of Ephesians, Paul calls it a “mystery”—something that we wouldn’t have figured out with our human logic.  This is a model that was given by God.

Andrew Peterson poetically captures the difficulty of this journey. I recently stumbled across his song “Dancing in the Minefields”—a lovely wedding anniversary song! (I look forward to penning my version of that to Eleos in about twenty years’ time).

The second verse of the song refers to John 15:13 – “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” In stating this, Jesus is referring to what He was about to do for His people. Jesus calls us His friend (John 15:14) and He laid His life down for us so that we may live eternally with Him. And remember, our marriages are a reflection of Christ and His church (see Ephesians 5). I once heard that the love of God, and His sacrifice in Jesus Christ for us, is a frame for us to place our wedding picture in. (Cute, right?)

Through a beautiful word-picture, Peterson makes a poignant point of what happens at a wedding, and it is something that most people fail to recognize when they enter into marriage. A very large part of marriage is giving up your own life for your spouse.  I do not mean this in terms of your literal life, although many of us readily admit we’d die for our spouse, but when we marry we must recognize that our life is forever changed and that some of our old habits, friends, interests, and activities might, and sometimes should, end. Are you ready for this?

“Are you married? Stay married. Are you unmarried? Don’t get married. ”
(1 Corinthians 7:27 MSG).

Too many young couples marry with the illusion that they are adding their “soul mate” to their existing life, and then they get frustrated when their spouse necessarily demands more of their time, interest, resources, and affection than anticipated. We seem to think that our spouses are just going to adopt our lifestyles as their own, which is a faulty assumption. Well, that was my assumption, and few months into the prelude to the melody of my marital life, I can see how wrong I was!

Christ makes it clear that we are to “submit to one another” (Ephesians 5:21). Husbands are to love their wives “as Christ loved the church.” (Ephesians 5:25) How did Christ love the church? He served her! Wives are to submit to their husbands (not in a demeaning way, as if they are their husband’s maid or slave—but equal partner with different roles). Each person in a marriage should be willing to give up their independent life to become one with their spouse, in all areas of life.

A good marriage is hard work. A great marriage is the hardest of all because it requires the equally selfless devotion of both parties. Are you ready for this?

“Are you married? Stay married. Are you unmarried? Don’t get married. ”
(1 Corinthians 7:27 MSG).

Refreshingly, there is an anchor—God’s Grace!

Grace changes us. Slowly. Emphasis on slowly. We learn to look at our spouse through the lenses of grace.  We begin to see our spouse (and by extension to the community of believers) not as sinners trying to become saints by more right behaviour but rather as saints who still sometimes err. (Many times, in the case of people like me). It is an important distinction. We are all saints who are righteous because of Christ alone. We still err. We need grace. All of us. So when I err (as I often do), grace compels Eleos to run towards me and not to run away. Grace does not allow her to condemn and judge me. I need grace to be restored as she will need that same grace soon. Likely very soon.

Grace is always the answer.

Paul wrote to the Church at Corinth about hardships and the message he received from the Lord. I like his choice of words—His choice of words:

“My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12, NLT)

Jesus told the story of a Father who runs to embrace His child who has made terrible mistakes. He doesn’t wait for him to crawl back and grovel. At the first turn of repentance He sprints to him and throws a party. That is grace.

The same grace that appeared to you does appear to your spouse

  • Are you willing to give up habits (good or bad) if they seem to be detrimental to the health of your marriage?
  • Are you willing to end relationships that do not honour your marriage?
  • Are you willing to pool your financial resources into one account?
  • Are you willing to participate in leisure activities that are not of interest to you—but that your spouse enjoys—so that you can have quality time together?

If you aren’t, well, there is an alternative . . .

1 Cor 7:33-34
33 Marriage involves you in all the nuts and bolts of domestic life and in wanting to please your spouse, 34 leading to so many more demands on your attention. The time and energy that married people spend on caring for and nurturing each other, the unmarried can spend in becoming whole and holy instruments of God.

So? Maybe you should consider staying single!

Until you are willing to give up your life and lay it down for the sake of your spouse, your marriage will not be what you desire it to be.

Marriage is when a man and woman become as one; the trouble starts when they try to decide ‘WHICH ONE’. I know without a doubt that marriage, and life in general, will eventually be harder than we dreamed that it could be. But I have no fear at all that, with Christ at the center of our relationship, Eleos and I can accomplish anything. Face anything. Walk through anything. Together. Clinging to Jesus. Always. (We know which “One”!).

I can’t wait to start that journey!

 

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