Reading three books on marriage has been a bit like that. Marriage is a complex and mysterious thing. Sometimes it can be hard to distinguish its contours through the mess on the page. But viewed through a different colour—as a mirror of the divine marriage, a spiritual friendship, or a partnership of service—it shines with a different light.
So what is marriage for? I started by arguing that one, overall goal would be more helpful than the three traditional goals for marriage. Yet we are still left with three goals, looking in three directions:
- Marriage looks upward—its purpose is to display God’s glory by presenting a picture of the covenant between Christ and the church.
- Marriage looks inward—its purpose is spiritual friendship leading to holiness, as husband and wife partner each other on the journey to glory.
- Marriage looks outward—its purpose is to serve God in partnership as we rule and care for his world and make Jesus known.
It would be neat and satisfying to conclude this article by pointing at a goal and saying ‘that one’, but I can’t. I suspect the Bible’s teaching on marriage is so richly textured that it can sustain all three. And I think they’re in the right order: marriage should first be God-directed, then characterized by faithful love and joyful intimacy (Deut 24:5), and then, if it’s not to become insular and selfish, pour itself out in loving service.1
Marriage looks upward, inward, and outward. Like a three-legged stool, if it lacks a leg it will stumble and fall. Yet ultimately marriage looks forward, to the day when our small marriages will be swallowed up by a greater one. For marriage is a temporary permanence, a life-long bond that draws its final breath only when we do. As we step into eternity, all the purposes of marriage will find their end in Christ. And so I give the final words to John Piper:
Marriage… is a momentary gift. It may last a lifetime, or it may be snatched away on the honeymoon. Either way, it is short… Very soon the shadow will give way to Reality. The partial will pass into the Perfect. The foretaste will lead to the Banquet. The troubled path will end in Paradise. A hundred candle-lit evenings will come to their consummation in the marriage supper of the Lamb. And this momentary marriage will be swallowed up by Life. Christ will be all and in all. And the purpose of marriage will be complete.2
You can read the rest of this article at The Briefing.
1. A useful workbook to help couples put the three together is Tim Chester’s Gospel-Centered Marriage.
2. Piper, This Momentary Marriage, p. 178.