Priorities in Marriage (1)

July 11, 2004 / No. 3210

Dear radio friends,

     The Westminster Shorter Catechism begins with a famous question.  Perhaps you know it.  The question is, “What is the chief end of man?”  The answer:  “To know God and to enjoy Him forever.”

     This same question could be given to marriage:  What is the chief end of marriage?  What exactly is the purpose of your marriage?  And the answer:  To know God and to enjoy Him forever.  Or, if I may paraphrase, “To glorify God.”  The chief end or purpose of Christian marriage is, as with all things, to glorify God.

     Today we have idolized ourselves.  We are more and more the product of the “me” generation, which produces self-absorbed people.  And flowing over to marriage, Christians more and more are tempted to idolize their marriage, that is, to believe that their marriage exists for their own personal enjoyment.  We would ask the question:  What else is the purpose of a husband and what else is the purpose of a wife but to make me happy?

     What desperately needs to be heard in our day and age is the sound of the living Word of God declaring that the chief end of all things is to glorify God.  Or we may put it this way, that domestic happiness in our marriage is not the chief end or purpose of that marriage.  But the chief purpose of our marriage is to glorify God.  This is an important truth that is taught us time after time in the Holy Scriptures.  That truth is this, that God has created all things for His own glory and, therefore, God has created but one way for our own happiness.  Our own happiness is to be obtained in the way of obedience and service of the living God.  So to speak, happiness is never something that we obtain by aiming at it.  But happiness in the biblical sense is always a by-product.  It comes from obedience to God.  The Scriptures declare to us that in everything God must be first, that He cannot be second, that He alone deserves to be the object of all that we do.  We are to glorify God.  When God, therefore, by His wonderful grace and Spirit is become the priority of our entire life, and now of our marriage, happiness — true, spiritual, lasting happiness — will certainly follow.

     What we are talking about is priority.  One must have the right priorities in his marriage.  One must know the purpose of his marriage if he is ever to expect happiness or contentment.  If one does not know the priority or purpose of his marriage, misery must surely come.  And that priority is God.  This is a forgotten message in Christianity today.  Therefore it is very appropriate that we be reminded of this truth.

     The Reformed Witness Hour today, therefore, is privileged to bring to you the first half of a message on the subject of “The Biblical Priority of a Christian Marriage.”  The speaker is the Rev. Barrett Gritters, professor in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.  He gave this message as part of a conference on marriage in October of 2003.  The message, then, is timely.

     Without further comment, let us listen carefully today to the first half of Prof. Gritters’ message on the important subject of the priority of Christian marriage.  Prof. Gritters:

      The topic that was given me is “Priorities in Marriage.”  I would like to tweak that topic just a little bit and say, My topic is the one priority in marriage, because there are not priorities in marriage.  There is one priority only in marriage.  There may be only one priority in marriage.  There can be only one priority in marriage and not many.

     If you think about it, then, that makes sense to you, too.  This is the priority:  given the truth in Ephesians 5, the priority may be stated in this way:  That we learn and know and love how Jesus Christ relates in marriage to His church so that our marriages conform to that reality, to His glory and not ours.  There is one priority in marriage.  That is that we look and learn and come to love what we see in the relationship between Jesus Christ (the Bridegroom) and us (the bride) and model our marriages after that marriage, so that He and His Father (Jehovah God) are glorified.  One priority.

     The pastors who are speaking with me have had more experience in the ministry than I have.  But I am guessing that if you would ask them, you would find that they have had the very same experience that I have had as a pastor.  That is this, that if you would go to every couple that came to you as a pastor with marriage problems, if those problems were solved by the grace of God, they would admit, looking back, that they would not have had those problems had they had that one priority in their marriage, that they wanted, more than anything else, their little picture-marriage to be just like that great reality-marriage, not for their sakes, but for His sake.  One priority in marriage.

     Everything else I have to say is simply an explanation of and an expansion on that.  Look at Christ and how He loves and is married to the church and model your marriages after that, not for your sakes but for His.

     The first implication of that main principle is:  Marriage is not about us, it is about Him.  The purpose of marriage is not our joy and our prosperity and our welfare; it is for Him.  One priority, not many.  All the others (if there are others) flow out of that.

     Let me put it very practically.  Your goal is not your happiness, is not the welfare of your marriage, period.  But it is about God’s glory.

     Maybe I could take an informal poll:  How many of you are listening with the interest that your marriage would improve so that your joy in marriage would increase?  That is not the purpose of this message.  That is not the goal of the believing child of God.  If that was your goal, God forgives you, and now God calls you to repent.  And repentance means this:  Turn away from yourself and turn to Him.  Quit thinking about what you want to make you happy and think about what He wants to give Him the glory.  That is the priority, that is our goal.  Look at the real, eternal marriage.  Conform your marriage to it so that your marriage gives honor and glory to Him.

     That is what makes this conference different from every other conference on marriage.  I dare say most of the other conferences on marriages will not have that as their theme and that as their goal.  That is why we do not tell the members of our congregations that there is a good conference over there, and another conference over there, so, because it would cost a lot of money for us to advertise a conference and a lot of energy to promote a conference like this, why don’t you just go there or the other place?  Why do we not do that?  Because those conferences do not have that as their goal, mainly.

     I think, for example, of the interest that the President of the United States has in marriage.  I am very thankful for that.  We may praise God for that, that he is doing something and calling the people and teaching us that marriage is, as Rev. Kleyn said, for one man and one woman.  But read the small print.  And hear what the goals are.  “Children raised in households headed by married parents fare better than children who grow up in other family structures.”  Not bad.  “Government organizations promote healthy marriages and a better quality of life for children.  We want them to grow up in a safe and loving home.”  Not bad, as far as it goes.  But, you understand, it does not go far enough.  Then a comment and a paragraph about a tax relief package and a desire that married couples be able to move out of poverty and that we create a compassionate, welcoming society where all people are treated with dignity and respect.  Fine, as far as it goes.  But it does not go far enough, because the goal of every Christian, not just Reformed believers, but the goal of every Christian must be the goal of the apostle Paul in Ephesians 5 that our marriages are for this one purpose:  a godly marriage honors God, and a godly union between one man and one woman is a reflection of the union between Jesus Christ and His church.

     There is another reason why we do not want the people whom we know and the members of our churches to go to these other conferences.  One is that these conferences have a very different view about divorce and remarriage than we have.  Another one is that many of them likely have a very different view about headship than what the Bible teaches about headship.

     A couple of years ago — maybe more than a couple, probably more like ten years ago — a young couple in the congregation came to me for premarriage counseling after they had gone to another church for premarriage counseling.  A couple, a man and a wife, led that premarriage counseling.  The woman in the premarriage counseling told the young women in her group who were about to be married in no uncertain terms:  “You are not to submit to your husband.  He is not the head in marriage.”  That was in a Reformed congregation!  So there are other reasons why we want to have a special conference on marriage.

     But all of those aside, there is one reason:  because our conferences must promote that God is to be praised in our marriages.

     What is the theme of a Reformed believer?  Soli Deo Gloria.  Not just Deo Gloria.  Not just to God be the glory, but to God alone be the glory.  It is not about me.  It is not about my wife.  It is not about our joy and our happiness.  It is about the glory of God.

     I have the time tonight to work that out practically in only a couple of areas.  Let me draw the main lines as to how that works out practically.  The theme that I am trying to develop tonight is that we must look at and learn and grow to love what we know about the relationship between Christ and us, and so model our marriages after that that they look like that, not so that we may be happy, but so that He may be glorified.

     Learn about Jesus Christ and Christ’s church.  Love what that union is and then make your marriage to be like that.  Do not let yourself be satisfied with this:  “I know I’m married to Jesus Christ.  I know the church is the bride of Christ.  I know we live with Jesus and He loves us.  And that’s all I need to know.”  Do not be satisfied with that.  Say, “I want to know all the details.  I want to know everything about that relationship, the real relationship, that I possibly can.”

     How did it come to be that He chose us to be His spouse?  That is going to tell you something about your marriage.  How did it come to be that we were willing to be married to Him and are happy in that marriage to Him?  How does it go in the relationship between Christ and the church?  What is that relationship like?  What is the day-to-day existence that we may experience when we are married to Him?  What is it all like?  What place does Christ have in it?  What place do we have in it?  Equal partners?  All of those questions are going to tell us something very important about our own earthly marriages.

     That is where good theology comes in.  That is why having this as a priority in marriage makes this also a priority in marriage that we are members of good, biblical, Reformed churches, where the Word of God is preached and theology is heard.  Good theology, sound theology, biblical theology.  We need to learn about the priority of Jesus Christ in that relationship.  We need to know why He chose us and why He did not choose others.  What are the reasons?  We need to know why we are willing.  We need to know the reasons why not.  We need to know in detail.  We need to learn and grow to love the Reformed truth of the relationship between our Savior Jesus Christ and us, so that we can form our marriages, always reaching up, always embracing that union to make our marriages what they ought to be.

     When I learn about that relationship, then I learn about two main things.  Jesus Christ loves me.  And I live with Him.  When Jesus Christ loves me, He loves me so much that He dies for me.  When I love Him, I love Him so much that my life is spent for Him.  Jesus Christ loves me to death.  I love Him so that all my life is spent in my love for Him.  When He loves me, He sacrifices Himself.  When I love Him, I sacrifice myself for Him.  It is not about me, it is about Him!  It is not about my joy and my honor.  It is about His glory and His pleasure.