When Courtney and I were engaged on October 12, 2000, she was 19 and I was 21, 20 and 22 when married on June 8, 2001. As the news began spreading about our engagement, we had a lot of people cheering us on, very excited to share with us in the joy-filled experience. However, there were also many nay-sayers (in particular, leaders and pastors) who voiced their thoughts that we were “too young,” “not mature enough,” or “not financially stable enough”. In all statistical reality, the odds were stacked against us. My family was dysfunctional with a mother who had multiple personalities, and Courtney’s family was dysfunctional, resulting in her parents divorcing when she was 13.
So I can see where people were concerned. And while I appreciated the concern, knowing it came from a genuine love for us, and knowing the staggering statistics of divorce within the church and the appropriate fear that something similar might befall us being married at such a young age, something never seemed right about their perspective. When I think back upon the arguments that were posited as to why we should wait, I cannot help but think that much of their perception (though not all of it) came not from the Scriptures, but from the worldly culture around us, and what it deems to be correct concerning marriage preparation.
By the cultures’ standards, sure, we were too young. I mean, you need to be done with college, be done with your masters degree even, you need to be in a stable job, have some money saved up, you need to live single-life first before you’re “tied down” and enjoy some things, right? You need to do this, do that, A, B, C, blah, blah. However, all of the aforementioned points are things the world values more than glorifying God through the work of Christ, which, though I cannot know my own heart for it is deceitful above all things, yet I can honestly say Courtney and I desired and pursued (imperfectly) to found our marriage upon the bedrock which is Christ. We wanted Him to be at the center, though we were and are imperfect in this task.
I can honestly say looking back now that I would totally get married at a young age again. There has not been a thing I have regretted. I have missed out on nothing and have even got to experience everything with my best-friend. Most of the apprehensions people have about missing out on things after getting married is totally unfounded. Maybe they obtained this idea from looking at broken marriages? Our culture values education, money, success, materialism … on and on the list goes of things that are not God. As God’s people, we value His glory and reconciliation to it through the Gospel as more important than anything. Despite the warnings, Courtney and I prayed, consulted the Scriptures, and still felt led to marry, even though I had not finished school and was starting a low-paying job at a bank.
Some of the concerns raised by these leaders were correct concerns though, and they translated into our pre-marital counseling, which greatly affected our thinking concerning marriage. We read the statistics within the church and were shocked. They are sobering, to say the least. On top of that, Courtney and I read the book Reforming Marriage by Douglas Wilson which so beautifully showed from the Scriptures that marriage is not a contract (which is how it is portrayed in our culture) but is a covenant; a covenant, in fact, that is the clearest picture of the covenant relationship between Christ and His bride, the church. This greatly affected our picture of marriage.
It was made apparent to me during these times, from the conglomeration of sources inputing their thoughts, how serious marriage was. It was not something to play around with or to treat lightly. It is something that requires work, diligence, and careful attention to maintaining our focus upon Christ. It is not just something you can throw around like other trite things in life that come and go. It had weight to it, weight that could fundamentally alter relationships for a life-time, for either good or bad, that would change the course of the rest of your own life and others’ as well. We went over the Scriptures concerning marriage and were struck with Jesus’ statements as it pertained to divorce in particular. “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery” (Luke 14:16). Whoa.
Evangelicals talk a whole lot about just letting the Scriptures speak on certain things, yet when we come to verses like this (and other really hard verses) we want to gut what it is saying so we can continue to live our lives uninterrupted, living our lives in the way we want without being cut by the harshness of the words. Being molded into conformity with Christ is painful to our fleshly nature, because it has been, you know, crucified with Christ. Yet there is still some reeling of that sinful nature against the holiness of God, because when someone is crucified, they don’t die right away. Paul was very specific in using that analogy.
Regardless, in coming upon the verse above in Luke as well as others, Courtney and I realized something together: divorce is not even an option. We were in this thing for the long haul, literally, ’til death do us part. In our culture, we tend to think very much in terms of “choices” and “rights”. The thinking goes, “Well, we can choose to back out of this at any moment down the road. Therefore, we need a prenuptial agreement to plan for that event so in the case that we are so emotionally upset at each other, we don’t ruin one another financially.” There’s another term for this: risk management. This thinking leaves open the possibility and maybe even probability (depending on the relationship) for a future divorce and it absolutely distrusts God that He can and even will provide the means to make the marriage last, the means provided through the cross of His own Son, Jesus, clearly spoken to us in His Word.
However, God seems pretty one-way about this whole marriage thing, does not give you a whole lot of options and “rights,” that is if you get into it, do not even seek to get out of it. In fact, if you get married, you are going to give up your “rights” in the service of your spouse, just as Christ gave Himself up for us. It’s not an option. And if you get out of it while your spouse is still alive, you had better not marry someone else, for the rest of your life, or there will be consequences, even relational consequences with God, i.e. the witness of His Spirit in your life.
To get out of a marriage is to slap God in the face concerning Himself and His plan of redemption even. Marriage is a picture of His salvific work to save His people in His Son. To skew that picture or to alter it is to make a bold proclamation (to Him in particular) that His plan is null and void, that it possesses no power. That is a lie. This is harsh to the sinful human soul to hear, and most people, even in the church, shudder at such an idea, because many are divorced and would not think of their divorce as a slap in the face of God. Yet Jesus said that if you divorce and remarry, you commit adultery. Is not all sin itself a back slap in God’s face? Is adultery any different? This just seems like clear language to me. We reap what we sow, though we ourselves may be saved through faith in Christ.
We like to have our “options open” our “right” to leave whenever we dern feel like it isn’t working out. Yet that it is not Biblical and totally unsubmissive to God and the opposite response we should have in the church in light of Christ crucified on our behalf. All of this really gave Courtney and I great perspective on marriage. It is a concrete deal once it is done. I saw the importance to take great care and concern in not only preparing for our wedding day, but most importantly preparing for after we were married and cultivating our marriage in a way that honors Christ. Have I failed many times? Yes, I’m a sinner. To say I have not failed would be a lie. Yet I praise God for His unending mercy and grace, because it is in that very grace of the Gospel I have been able to continue the cultivation to this day, albeit imperfectly, stumbling at times. God’s grace alone is the only reason our marriage has been so great, I take no credit. If anything has gone right, I owe it to God working in and through both of us.
Many people seem to view marriage as a legal, long-term dating relationship, where you live together, get to share finances, benefit from each other in different ways, etc. But if it just doesn’t work out, oh well. Move on to yet another relationship. This is so skewed and twisted from the Scriptural mandate of what marriage is though. Marriage is vital, both to individuals, but also to society. Divorce should not be an option. But if you do divorce, you should under no conditions get remarried as long as the other person is alive. Only by the spouses death are you freed to remarry. (To consult the Scriptures related to this, look at Piper’s position paper on Divorce and Remarriage below). These are hard truths, but they highlight the absolute importance God places upon marriage in relation to the Gospel. It is not something to be messed around with and treated lightly. This is especially true within the church, where the divorce rate is just as high and in many cases worse than the cultures’ rate. This to me is telling of where “believers'” faith lies, though by no means is that conclusive, just indicative.
Many Christians seem to value putting into their kids lives the foundations for success in the worlds’ eyes, all the while neglecting the health of their souls and preparing them for a godly marriage, godly leadership, godly submission, and spiritual success within an idolatrous, blasphemous culture. I’m not negating the importance of a good education, discipline, and an excellent work ethic. If anyone knows me, they know I love these things. These should be pursued and must if we are to maintain a vibrant economy and nation. But what is the church specifically valuing as success? Money or God? Jesus said, “You cannot serve both God and money.” I cannot tell you how many parents I see squandering the vast resources they possess that are wrapped up in the service of education and (spiritually) fatal monetary success. The morality in their kids lives is just there for reinforcement so they don’t make dumb mistakes and ruin their materialistic, “American Dream” success, the final end of all their goals, not Christ.
We are setting our kids up for spiritual failure if we value their education and worldly success more than their spiritual success and glorifying Christ with their lives. We need to be putting into our children that Christ is more valuable than all the riches of the world, first and foremost, and actually live that out in our marriages, by His strength and power. We need to be showing them both in words and deeds that Christ is the supreme one, who we’ve rebelled against, who has paved a way for reconciliation to the most valuable one in all the universe, God Himself. Yes education is important, but not at the expense of your child’s soul. Christian’s nod at this in theory and then in practice it falls to the ground, because still, the end goal is worldly success. This makes me sad.
There’s nothing wrong with being a lawyer, a doctor, or a business person. But those are the three professions our culture puts up on a pedestal and defines as successful. And kids pursue them in college with ruthlessness, even if they hate it, because that is taught to them as what will make them happy and successful, just having a bunch of stuff and peaceful home life. Should we not be putting into our children to be successful husbands and wives to the glory of Christ and the spreading of the Gospel? Is this not what makes “successful” communities, even in the midst of economic distress, uncertainty, and persecution? A group of people in love with Christ, centering their families upon Him, desiring to proclaim Him as a family unit, something ordained by God in Genesis?
With the recent rulings on marriage and bioethics in Britain and California, yes, the culture around us is crumbling and the seeds of wickedness are sprouting into weeds and thorns. But before we go out and blame them for what they are doing, maybe we should point the finger inwardly and look at how we are treating and viewing marriage. Could it be the way we treat marriage so poorly in the church is making a statement to the world that “God [and His redemption] is not great,” since we don’t act on what He has said to us in the Scriptures?
May God have mercy on us and turn our hearts in repentance from how we have treated such a vastly important institution. May He move on me and my marriage as well and by His power alone keep me from falling into the same sins I have mentioned above. My heart wanders back and forth, to and fro, and I know it is only by God’s grace that I don’t turn away in disobedience. I am utterly reliant upon Him to be saved as well as to grow in Him. May we return to the Scriptures and see the vital importance of marriage in society and especially within the church, for the Gospel and God’s glory are at stake.
John Piper’s take on Divorce/Remarriage: http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibr … ion_Paper/
Voddie Baucham: A Church’s Guide to the Family: http://www.gbc-capecoral.org/files/serm … 70804a.mp3