The Seamstress — image via wikiart.com
It is an interesting phenomenon to be unmarried, yet desirous of marriage. The subject can indeed be a very painful one, especially when situations in life that are already difficult are complicated with false ideas, especially about the purpose of marriage, romance, and one’s self.
So that is what I’m rambling about today: marriage and the unmarried Christian. First of all, it is clear that our culture has a rabidly unbiblical view of marriage and romance — and that Western culture has been afflicted with one ungodly view or another for many years.
Before I go any further, I just want to say that godly romance is a beautiful thing — and that, yes, I do find the painting with which I have opened this post beautiful because of the happiness and quiet seriousness there portrayed. Romance in a godly setting is a blessing, indeed, but those of us who have not been given this are truly no better off (as a form of pietism would fancy it) nor worse off (as our feelings sometimes would have us believe) than those who have it, because this, too, is from the gracious hand of our Father.
Anyways, it seems to me that for many in the church, “old-fashioned” ideas of romance, and of what married life is supposed to be like, have been taken up in an effort to replace radical feminism — but this sort of romanticized mindset still fails us. It cannot and does not truly bring peace to the believer either before or after marriage because it is not from a thoroughly biblical perspective. For, while this rather superficial view of the purpose of marriage may be more appealing to our Christian sensibilities than the harsh, impersonal sexuality of contemporary society, this does not mean that it is actually godly. The popular culture of our WWII-generation grandparents was dripping with an autonomous, nearly magical, perception of romantic love, marriage, and the purpose of life that it would behoove us younger folk to learn from and return to the Scriptures as our standard for gauging our longings for marriage and romance.
For, according to the Scriptures, the ultimate purpose of marriage is essentially the same as the purpose of our existence in the first place — the glorification of God, the advancement of the kingdom of Christ, and the edification of the church. Obviously, this is in the context of being a Christian and thus existing in the covenantal outlook on life that we are called to stand in as children of God.
It was this purpose for the people of God — dominion of the earth under God — that was in place even before there was woman. It was for this overarching reason that woman was even created, since God said that it was not good for the man to be alone in the execution of this task. Therefore, God gave him a wife for a companion and yoke-fellow in his work as steward upon God’s earth. In its most basic fundamentals, this is the purpose of marriage: it is a reason outside of ourselves, focused upon God, maintained by the help of the Spirit of God. The woman is not to be, as various pagan interpretations of femininity would teach us, either the moral and civilizing element of humanity, nor some sort of matriarchal goddess type of life-giver and therefore primary power in the world; rather, by the Word of the Creator, she is to be the helper suitable for her man, neither man nor woman existing without the other. (Please see Genesis 2:15-24 and 1 Corinthians 11:7-12.)
Elsewhere in Scripture, it is explicitly stated that marriage had the covenant of promise in view, as well, for “what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring” (Malachi 2:15). Children are sent into a family as heirs of the covenant of the Lord (Psalm 78:1-8;1 Corinthians 7:14; Deuteronomy 28:1-6; Acts 2:39; etc.). Hence, the vital importance of the Scriptural emphasis upon passing from generation to generation the knowledge of the word of the Lord (ex. Deuteronomy 6:1-9).
And then there is this: the marriage covenant is used time and again in Scripture to illustrate the relationship of the Lord God with those he was calling out to be his people, that they might know him and that he might be their God. Our Lord clearly delights in ornamenting, beautifying, and blessing his people, even as Adam loved Eve and showered her with kind words before she had ever done anything for him; and even more so as Christ Jesus loves the church and continually provides for her abundantly in every way.
But this example of the love of God as an illustration of what human marriage is supposed to mirror certainly does not mean that the husband is to live for his wife. This is where many people’s thinking seems to get twisted under the influence of some sort of romanticized ideas of “love.” It seems that Hollywood has taught the American woman to think that they can only be truly loved if her man’s life is centered on her and what she wants. But this is not exactly so…. Jesus does not live for his church; he died for her redemption and purification and rose for her glorification — but he lives and rules for the glorifying of the Father and obedience to his holy law. This is what men and women are to likewise live for, whether married or not.
And here is where the romance part comes into the picture. It is a beautiful blessing, indeed, but it is actually not fundamental to what marriage is. Marriage is a covenant relationship, implying that it definitely involves a legal status. Thus, a man and a woman can be truly married, though not partakers of romantic affection towards one another. The absence of the latter does not mean that the former is void, regardless of how Hollywood or Victorian Romanticism might seem to portray it. For romantic affections are certainly not the bedrock of marriage — though, in a biblical schema, the word of promise and the covenant of marriage is certainly the foundational bedrock of a lasting, solid, romance to be fostered and rejoiced in. Need I even mention the Song of Solomon here?
Yes, romance is a desirable thing, for it is to be developed in the context of the promise of marriage. And marriage with one of a kindred spirit and like mind before the Lord, one going towards the same place and delighting in the same purposes and goals of life before him, this is indeed a desirable and good thing and it is here that the most unity and harmony is found. But it is not and cannot be the reason for which we live. Feelings, be they ever so strong and powerful, are never sufficient to be our purpose in life.
Finally, for those of us who are unmarried and desirous of marriage, there is much that could be said. But the heart and core of it is this — “‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity'” ~2 Timothy 2:19. And then there is this: “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him” ~1 Corinthians 7:17
God gives us what is best for each one of us at the very best time possible. Until we learn to apply this to ourselves in our deepest being, we are living in unbelief and denial of the very clear teaching of Scripture: “And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” ~Romans 8:27-30
And prayer is vital to all of life, including in our own areas of need. We ought not to pray pietistically and self-destructively, but are to humbly seek great things from a great God. Are we, as unmarried Christians, in difficult situations with no one in sight as a potential spouse? We must remember the purpose of marriage and remember our own purpose in life, remembering that the Lord is working all things for the advancement of the kingdom of Christ Jesus and for the good of his church — and delight in this. For God knows what we need. We must love God and the things that he loves more than we love the idea of possessing that beautiful thing called godly romance.
“For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” ~Matthew 6:32-34
This is the Word of the Lord; therefore, this is a promise. We are called to believe our Father; to kiss the Son; and to stand fast in the Spirit. This is spiritual warfare. We must fight according to the Lord’s terms, not according to the world’s definitions. Only then can we stand strong in the Lord and pray boldly with Moses before the throne of grace, “Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!” ~Psalm 90:16-17