When I ask Christian couples, “Why do you think God instituted the concept of marriage?” I get many different answers, but they seem to fall into the following categories.
“To combat loneliness.”
“So that we have support.”
“To help us achieve our goals.” and
“To give a stable place for children to grow.”
Any or all of those may be true, but as I work with couples one thing stands out for me. Marriage is perhaps the best tool AND the best opportunity that any of us will ever have for learning what it means to love another individual. Many people get married with the expectation that now they will BE loved. Precious few go into a marriage with the expectation that now they will learn to bless someone else with loving behaviours. While we think we’re getting married because we’re “In Love,” it is in fact living within a long-term ie. Committed Marriage that teaches us how to love.
God seems to take our intimate relationships very, very seriously. When He says, “I hate divorce,” and “The only reason that I allow divorce is because of your hard and evil hearts,” what other conclusion can there be.
Agape love, which is the willed, volitional, desired, choice to love another human being is the ingredient that is most missing in our world today. Back in the day a rock group sang a song called, “All You Need Is Love.” That’s a theme that’s been sung to death in countless versions by the lost and lonely among us. Yet it’s true. All we do need is love, but I suspect that agape love is not the kind of love that musicians have in mind. In fact, the word “love” as it’s used in popular music is simply a euphemism for sex because that's the only type of love they'll ever experience. The kind of love that most musicians sing about is the kind of love that we “get,” NOT the kind that we give. Hence, the majority of our relationship breakdowns come from the attitude, “If you don’t love me, if you don’t give me what I want or what I think that I need, I’m out of here.” That is why traditional wedding vows did not ask “DO you love this person . . . ?” but “WILL you love this person for better or for worse . . .?” Love, real love, the love that counts is a love that's a decision.
The kind of love that God is trying to grow in us is the kind of love with which He loves us.
. God chooses to love us, but not because we’re lovable.
. God chooses to love us, but not because we have something of worth to offer Him in return.
. God doesn’t need our love nor does He have some desperate need to love us.
Yet His love is the greatest entity in the universe. And because He loves us, and because experiencing His love is the greatest good that we will ever have, God wants to not only share His love with us, He wants us to know what it’s like to share that kind of love with others. Agape love is the currency of heaven. Those who have no interest in agape love will not reside in heaven.
So how does marriage promote or develop agape love? Sooner or later in any marriage couples reach a point where each partner can see nothing lovable about h/her spouse. It is at that point that we have a choice. Will we give up or will we press on? Will we walk away or will we enter more fully into the relationship?
Soon or later in any marriage, the spouse seemingly does everything wrong and nothing right. Over time our bodies become less physically attractive and sometimes our personalities go the same route. We become disengaged. We quit trying to impress and we become impervious to being impressed. Life becomes routine and as the saying goes, we begin to take each other for granted.
. If our main attraction to the other person was based on looks, in the absence of the desire to love and appreciate, that kind of attraction is not going to last.
. If our main attraction to the other person was excitement or money, in the absence of the desire to love and appreciate, sooner or later those things will fail to impress.
However, for those who have experienced God’s love and forgiveness and mercy and grace, for those who have been infused with the very character of God, giving love and forgiveness and mercy and grace to those who do not deserve it becomes an amazing experience that brings a peace and joy that simply cannot be snuffed out. Nor can it be matched by anything else in this temporal life. To have one’s character built in the midst of difficult relationships, to have one’s personality become one whereby getting love is not required for one’s well-being or security becomes such an otherworldly experience that eventually the other partner almost always responds in a positive manner.
What’s the purpose of marriage?
. To teach us to love.
. To develop our character.
. To change our personality from one that demands love to one that is able to give love and mercy and grace.
In other words, the purpose of marriage is to make us more like Jesus.