What does a successful Christian marriage look like?
Some people say any marriage that does not end in divorce is a successful marriage. Still others say it is more than just not divorcing. Some say it is when two different people come together, and over time they become as one. But even this “oneness” in marriage is defined in many different ways.
Some say it is when a couple become best friends, when they barely if ever fight anymore and they become the very picture of unity. Still others say that not only is longevity a sign of a successful marriage, but a successful marriage is one that has passion and romance throughout its time.
Before I get into what the Bible shows is a successful marriage, let me give an illustration.
Let’s imagine that you are a servant of a king. He asks you to go and build him a beautiful house off in a faraway land he has a purchased. He gives you detailed plans for this house, and tells you that after you build this house, he wants you to live in it and take care of it for him until he comes to take possession of it one day. He says if you build the house according to his plan, and maintain it and keep it up for him, he will reward you greatly when he comes.
You reach the land the King has given you to build on, and you find that some materials he has requested are much harder to find than others. You also find that some parts of his design, are just very difficult to build in the fashion he has requested.
So you decide to alter his design, you build with different materials than he requested and you alter the design where it seems too difficult to build it the way he has requested. But eventually – you build what you believe to be a stable house, what works for you, and you begin to live in it and take care of that house.
Twenty years go by before the King finally comes to see this home you have built for him. You hear he is approaching, and you quickly go around and clean the house – ready and proud to show him this house you have built. This house has stood strong for 20 years, what else could he ask for right?
The King comes to your home, but instead of a look of delight, he has a look of sorrow. He asks “why did you not follow my design?” You respond “because my King, some of the materials were hard to find, and some of your designs were too hard to build”. The King responds – “I did not ask you to take the easy way out, I asked you to do the hard work, and to build the house exactly as I requested it”. You respond “but lord, this house has stood strong for 20 years, is that not good enough?” The King responds “each part of the house, each material and design, was meant to symbolize different things that are important to me – you have broken those symbols”.
When it comes to marriage – God does not care if a marriage just “works”, or that a couple never gets divorced. God had a very specific design and purpose for marriage.
So what does God consider to be a Successful marriage?
Let me first say what God does not consider a successful marriage (based on his Word).
A marriage is not a success in God’s eyes, simply because it does not end in divorce.
A marriage is not a success in God’s eyes, because a couple love one another, act in unison and rarely fight.
A marriage is not a success in God’s eyes, because a couple have passion and romance in their marriage.
The primary (spiritual) purpose for which God design marriage is found in Ephesians 5:22-33.
“22 Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord, 23 for the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of the body. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so wives are to submit to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her with the washing of water by the word. 27 He did this to present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and blameless. 28 In the same way, husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hates his own flesh but provides and cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, 30 since we are members of His body.”
31 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.
32 This mystery is profound, but I am talking about Christ and the church.
33 To sum up, each one of you is to love his wife as himself, and the wife is to respect her husband.”
God meant for a husband and wife to model the relationship between God and his people, in the New Testament this represented as the relationship between Christ and his Church. But even in the Old Testament, God’s relationship with Israel was often pictured in prophesy as the relationship between a husband and wife.
Christian Feminists and Egalitarians say marriage is a “partnership of equals”. I don’t know how anyone could read Ephesians 5:22-33 and come away with such an absurd idea. In the model of Christ and the Church, are Christ and his Church equal partners? Or is Christ the head of his Church? It’s a very simple question, with a very simple answer.
God cares about how we build our marriages, he cares how we model the relationship between Christ and his Church. That is why God wants man to model his leadership, his protection and provision in his relationship with his wife. It is also why God wants woman to model the submission, and servant attitude that he asks of his people toward himself.
It is not enough to say “well this works for our marriage”. Is it modeling what God has purposed for marriage? Is your husband following God’s distinct model for him? Is your wife following God’s distinct model for her?
The Secondary purposes for marriage
A companion and helper for man
“It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper as his complement.”
There are definitely some secondary (temporal and physical) purposes for which God made marriage. God made woman as a companion and helper for man. Some have tried to make much to do about the “helper” “ezer kenegdo” saying it usually speaks of God helping.
The fact is God was not made for us, we were made for him. So in the context of Genesis 1, ezer kenegdo takes on a different meaning, because Eve was CLEARLY made for Adam, not Adam for Eve.
The New Testament confirms this interpretation when the Apostle Paul states “And man was not created for woman, but woman for man.”(I Corinthians 11:9).
A lover for man
“encourage the young women to love their husbands”
The phrase “to love their husbands” is a translation of the Greek word “Philandros” which literally means to be “lovers of their husbands”. This is not the Agape (love of the will, love of duty) that men are commanded toward their wives. This is a different kind of love, the Philandros love that women are commanded to have toward their husbands. This is an affectionate love, it pictures a woman showing affection, both physically and emotionally toward her husband.
A mother for man’s children, and caretaker for his home
“Therefore, I want younger women to marry, have children, manage their households”
I Timothy 5:14
In addition to creating a companion and lover for man, God also created in woman a mother and home manager for man. In very much the same way that we as believers go and make disciples for Christ, so to women make children for their husbands. In the same we follow Christ’s leadership in teaching young believers, so to a mother is meant to teach her children, as she is follows her husband’s leadership.
Woman – a person to be loved and cared for
“Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.”
I Peter 3:7(KJV)
God purposefully created woman as the “weaker vessel”, so that man would have someone who would need his leadership, his provision, his protection and his love. God knew that men need a purpose, something to strive for, and something upon which to exercise their gifts. So God gave women to men, and he purposefully made them to need a man’s leadership, provision and protection. In the same way that God wants to be our hero – each husband should want to be his wife and children’s hero.
But what about romance and friendship in marriage?
Romance and friendship are wonderful things in marriage. But romance and friendship in God’s view are to marriage what in-ground swimming pools and central air are to homes. They are nice to have, they definitely make our homes more enjoyable, require a lot of maintenance, but are not ultimately required.
Don’t get me wrong, romance and friendship are wonderful goals to pursue in marriage – but if we pursue them at the cost of the primary purpose for marriage, our marriage will not be a success in God’s eyes.
This is why we have such a huge amount of divorce today – even in the Christian community. Because Christians are being led by their feelings, and not by the Spirit of God.
And as far as romance and friendship goes, very often what women find is, if they model the wife that God calls them to be, if they are submit to their husbands, respect their husbands and are affectionate lovers to their husbands – they will get at least some of that romance they desire.
We as believers, in America and around the world, need to return to God’s purposes for marriage, both the primary, and the secondary reasons. We need to keep each in their order of importance.
So how will you build your marriage? Will you build it upon the foundation of the Word of God? Will you build you marriage based on the model that God has given us in Ephesians 5:22-33? Or will you do “what you feel is right” or “what works for us”?
Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, played the role that God gave him to play as the Savior of mankind. It was not easy, but he played his role just as his father willed him to do. Are we today so wrapped up in our modern American ideas about equality, that we are too proud and too arrogant to play the roles that God has given to us based on our gender?
I leave you with the Apostle Paul’s words in I Corinthians 3:11-15 to mediate upon:
“11 For no one can lay any other foundation than what has been laid down. That foundation is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on that foundation with gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw, 13 each one’s work will become obvious, for the day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire; the fire will test the quality of each one’s work. 14 If anyone’s work that he has built survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, it will be lost, but he will be saved; yet it will be like an escape through fire.”
All Scripture passages unless otherwise stated are quoted from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.