Making the Most of Marriage

January 9, 2012 at 5:15 am 3 comments


At the end of each year, major news outlets publish their lists of the year’s top news stories.  For 2011, Osama bin Laden’s death and Japan’s earthquake and subsequent tsunami were the top news stories according to the Associate Press. [1]  Interestingly, it is not only mainstream news outlets that provide such lists.  Religious news outlets, editorial writers, and bloggers are now following suit.  I have seen lists of 2011’s top religious news stories in Christianity Today [2] and the The Huffington Post[3]  But it is a top ten news story in the Gospel Coalition blog that really caught my attention.  It is titled “Marriages Need Help.”  Collin Hansen, who penned this list, explains why this story made his top ten:

This story could have appeared in my 2010 list, and it might warrant an encore in 2012. Same-sex “marriage,” legalized by New York state in 2011, continues to grab the headlines. But here’s the bigger story: a growing number of Westerners have abandoned the institution altogether. The Pew Research Center recently revealed that a record low number of Americans – 51 percent – are married. The rate dropped 5 percent in just one year, between 2009 and 2010. [4]

If that statistic from the Pew Research Center does not make your jaw drop, it should.  At an increasingly rapid rate, Americans are either (A) getting divorced, (B) never getting married in the first place, or (C) living in lifeless, loveless, romance-less marriages.  It is worth noting that the statistics from Pew do not account for those in category C.

In his book, The Meaning of Marriage, [5] Pastor Tim Keller distinguishes between two kinds of relationships:  consumer relationships and covenantal relationships.  A consumer relationship lasts only as long as the needs of the partners in the relationship are being met satisfactorily.  As soon as needs stop being met, the relationship falls apart.  These kinds of relationships, then, are inherently self-centered, for they exist merely to gratify their participants.  Covenantal relationships, on the other hand, are binding relationships in which the good of the relationship trumps the preferences and immediate needs of the individuals in the relationship.   These relationships are based on a continual commitment rather than on a consumer-fueled contentment.

Part of the reason marriage is on such a sharp decline, Keller argues, is because we have taken what should be the covenantal relationship of marriage and have turned it into a consumer relationship.  In other words, many marriages last only as long as the partners are having their needs met.  As soon as a marriage hits a rough patch, or as soon as one spouse or both spouses feel as though their desires are going unaddressed, divorce all too quickly ensues.  Indeed, this is why many people don’t get married in the first place.  They don’t want to bother with the kind of covenantal commitment that marriage inevitably brings – at least from a legal standpoint, if nothing else.  As a pastor, I have heard more times than I care to remember, “We don’t need a piece of paper [i.e., a marriage license] to tell us that we love each other.  We don’t need to get married!”  This kind of statement breaks my heart.  For what a person who makes such a statement is really saying is, “I don’t love this person quite enough to make things as permanent as a marriage makes things!  I don’t love this person quite enough to enter into a covenant with them!”

Jesus’ words about a Christian’s life apply equally as well to a spouse’s life:  “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will find it” (Matthew 16:25).  Self-sacrifice is the way of the gospel…and the way of marriage.  Marriage is not about getting your needs met.  It is about sacrificing selflessly for the sake of your spouse.  And yet, through such willing sacrifice, Jesus promises that your needs will indeed be met, even if ever so mysteriously.  You will “find your life,” Jesus says.  But take heed of Jesus’ warning:  If you enter a relationship with a consumer mentality, looking only to your own needs, wants, and desires – if you try to “save your life” – you will only wind up sorely and sadly empty.  You will only wind up losing your life.  Fulfillment in marriage – and in life – begins with emptying yourself in service.

So if you are married, but times are tough, in almost every instance, except those instances in which a family member is in danger, the road to recovery begins with serving your spouse.  If you are not married, but you’d like to be, selfless service is the path to your future spouse’s heart.  This is the help our marriages need.


[1] David Crary, “The top ten news stories of 2011,” The Associated Press (12.30.11).

[2]Top 10 News Stories of 2011,” Christianity Today (12.28.11).

[3] Paul Brandies Raushenbush, “Religion Stories of 2011: The Top 11,” The Huffington Post (12.8.11).

[4] Collin Hansen, “My Top 10 Theology Stories of 2011,” The Gospel Coalition (12.28.11).

[5] See chapter 3, “The Essence of Marriage” in Tim Keller with Katy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage (New York: Dutton, 2011).

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Reflections For A New Year ABC Extra – Daunting Decisions

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Pastor Bob+ Nordlie  |  January 9, 2012 at 8:40 am

    Marriage was intended by God not so much for our happiness as for our holiness. In marriage we learn to forgive and to love sacrificially.

    Reply
  • 2. Donna Markey  |  January 9, 2012 at 8:49 am

    Should a sad state that the “Institute of Marriage is dying”,
    As People worship the one thing Jesus warned about most
    “The Love of Money.”

    Reply
  • 3. Pastor Kevin Jennings  |  January 9, 2012 at 10:16 am

    Hi, Zach! As always a good presentation, and in this case, about a sad, sad state of affairs.

    Martin Luther is reported to have said that we live in God by faith and in our neighbor by good works. If that’s true, and it is, then we serve God by serving our neighbor. If that’s true, and it is, then shouldn’t the very FIRST person to be considered a neighbor be our husband or wife? That’s how Paul describes marriage in Ephesians 5.

    In 2011 I had a record number of weddings. I hope they all last. You so well note it, that marriage has become more and more a consumer institution rather than covenantal. What I routinely tell couples is that there will be days that you don’t even like each other. Yet, as God loves you in spite of your sinfulness, you are called to love one another in the same way, in spite of…

    Again, a great treatment of a problem that is the embodiment of the The Fall. Think of how husbands and wives today when complaining of each other, sound like, “The woman whom Thou gavest me…,” or, “The serpent beguiled me…”

    God bless!

    Reply

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