The Purpose and Privileges of Marriage

by Garrett Kell March 30, 2015

"Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”—1 Corinthians 10:31

The Purpose of Marriage

1 Corinthians 10:31 tells us that getting married and staying married is to be done to the glory of God. To glorify God means we do things in such a way that we put His greatness on display for all to see. In marriage, husbands and wives do this by speaking, serving, struggling, and persevering in a way that makes much of God.

That's the purpose of your marriage, of my marriage, and of every marriage ever since the first marriage in the Garden of Eden.

In the opening chapters of Genesis we discover that God created our world, and called it “good.” It was a wonderful place in which God's beauty, creativity, and glorious goodness was put on display. Into this world God placed a man (named Adam) and a woman (named Eve) whom He brought together as the first husband and wife (Genesis 2:24).

Their marriage was unique because it was perfect. Adam was the perfect husband and Eve was the perfect wife. They lived together in a perfect world. Sin had not stung in that land yet. Selfishness wasn't even a possibility. Their hearts produced nothing but love for God and love for each other. There were no barriers between them. They “were both naked and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25).

In the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve enjoyed the perfect marriage. Shame had not scarred them. Fears were nowhere to be found. Insecurities were non-existent. There were no regretful words. No conflicts. No bitterness. No baggage. They knew nothing but perfect love. Complete freedom. Total trust. They were two perfect people in a perfect world.

Obeying God came intuitively, and so did serving each other. Their most routine thought was, “I get to serve you and bring you happiness.” This selfless response fulfilled their purpose of giving God glory in their marriage. And as they loved and enjoyed God, He blessed their marriage with abounding privileges.

The Privileges of Marriage

In His goodness, God created life and marriage with countless ways to enjoy each other. These “privileges” of marriage came naturally in the Garden of Eden as they glorified God and served one another.

Conversations flowed effortlessly and encouragement abounded. They always felt understood and affirmed by their spouse. They experienced acceptance and security in their love for each other. They were lovers, best friends, and partners in worship.

They had no reason to distrust the other person. Transparency was instinctive and there were no secrets to hide. They never had snide remarks or hurtful words reverberating in their memories. Sexual intimacy was always fulfilling and was void of disappointment or shame. Adam led Eve in doing God's will with bold tenderness while Eve submitted to Adam with contentment and joy.

All they knew was perfect, unhindered, untainted love. This is how marriage was supposed to be.

The Problem in Marriage

Adam and Eve's innocent bliss did not last forever. They sinned against God and against one another (Genesis 3:1-12). In response, God sent Adam and Eve out from the Garden of Eden to live in a world marred by the curse of their own sin. And this is where we find ourselves today.

We're no longer perfect people in a perfect world. We're sinful people in a fallen world. And while we still enjoy many evidences of God's love in this life and in marriage, there's no escaping the effects of sin. Every bit of strife and struggle in marriage can be traced back to that scene where we traded God's glory for sin's empty promise of a better life.

While we feel this sin everywhere, we feel it uniquely in marriage. Marriage has been evicted from a sinless home enjoyed by two perfect people, and has settled in a house where two sinners are haunted by their sin. Marriage now bends and threatens to break under the pressures of work, family, ministry, and countless other things.

But the chief way we're affected by sin is that purpose and privilege get twisted in our hearts. Outside of Eden our natural bent is now to seek the privileges of marriage as its purpose. We take the good things God has designed for us to enjoy and put them in His place. The focus of marriage becomes attaining privileges, rather than enjoying the privilege Giver.

Where did our romance go? Why doesn't he listen to me any more? What do I have to do to get some honor and respect around here? Shouldn't she want to spend time with me? Why do I feel so alone? Does sexual intimacy have to be so mechanical? Where's the passion? Why don't we have anything to talk about any more? Why are we so distant?

When privileges are wanting, we know it, even if we can't put our emptiness into words.

And when our spouse doesn't deliver the privileges as we've come to expect, our sinful heart gets hijacked with frustration. We get angry. We say and do things that hurt each other. We become bitter. We get distant. We grow cold.

It's important to point out here that the swap of purpose and privilege also shows up in “good” marriages. Oftentimes couples that get along more easily can settle into the comfort of enjoying a life of privileges together. They enjoy each other's companionship in such a way that they coast into a self-sustaining pattern that ultimately leaves them spiritually dry.

The scary thing about “good” marriages that delight supremely in privileges is that their unattended affections for God die a slow, unnoticeable death. This death will show itself in difficult times, or even more terrifyingly, won't be exposed until the last day when we give account of ourselves before God Almighty.

The problem of purpose swapping is something we all face, in some form or fashion. We're all tempted to make privileges supreme and exalt them as idols in our hearts.

And what happens to God in all this? He's often still in the picture, but rather than being enthroned front and center, He becomes part of the supporting cast, a privilege, if you will. The One who can make your marriage better. The One who can fix things so you can enjoy your privileges again. He becomes a servant of our happiness rather than the source of it.

This is why marriages dissolve into divorce or into spiritual wastelands. No marriage fades because God receives too much glory in it. Marriages fade because glory is neglected and redirected to empty cisterns that hold no water (Jeremiah 2:13).

While there is no escape from the presence of sin, there is a promise that gives hope to sinners…

The Promise for Marriage

Though we have sinned against God and stand under His condemnation, He still delights in extending mercy to unworthy rebels (Ezekiel 18:32; Micah 7:18). He has graciously provided His Son Jesus to rescue us from sin and to reconcile us to Himselfand to each other (2 Corinthians 5:18).

Jesus did this by living a perfect life of obedience to God (Hebrews 7:26) in which He gave the Father glory in everything He did (John 17:4). Jesus then willingly went to the cross to receive the judgment we deserved for all the times we traded God for idols (2 Corinthians 5:21). After three days, God raised Jesus from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:3-5) and He now intercedes for us (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25) until the day He will return to judge the world (Matthew 25:31-46; Acts 17:30-31).

The good news of the Gospel is that all who turn from their sin and trust in Jesus will be forgiven and reconciled to God (Mark 1:15; 1 John 1:8-9).

And what is equally amazing is that God doesn't stop giving grace once we start following Jesus. That's good news because Christians never graduate from being weak, broken, sinners in need of His grace. The good news of the Gospel is that in marriage, there is help for us as we struggle to keep purpose and privilege in their proper place (Hebrews 4:14-16).

And it is in this struggle, outside of Eden, that imperfect husbands and imperfect wives fulfill their purpose of bringing God glory. We do this by looking to the heavens and saying “You are our strength” and “You are our hope” (Psalm 18:1-2, 28:7, 39:7, 71:5, 73:26). God is glorified when our weakness is led by the hand of faith to call upon Him to be our strength (2 Corinthians 12:9).

We learn to do this in days when privileges are sparse and when they abound because we believe that one day soon we will be together in that Land where we shall struggle no more. Until then, may God help us look to Him and trust that He will supply all we need to have marriages that bring Him glory.

My wife and I host a monthly Honeymooners Group (young marrieds) in our home. This is a summary of one of our lessons. A special thanks to Paul Polk, the friend and brother who taught us this all important lesson during our pre-marital counseling. Below are a few suggestions to help you consider how to make the most out of this lesson over the next month.

1. Memorize 1 Corinthians 10:31.
2. Discuss ways your marriage brings glory to God. Use this as a time to praise God and encourage each other for His grace in your life.
3. List out many of the privileges you've seen God give in your marriage. Thank Him for giving you these gifts to enjoy.
4. Take time to discuss what privileges you find yourself most tempted to make into idols. How have you seen this happen in your own hearts? What can you do to guard each other's hearts from this temptation?
5. Take time to reflect on how God's grace in the Gospel encourages you to fight sin and pursue giving Him glory.
6. Look up the Psalms listed above and use them as a guide to pray for God to be your strength and hope in marriage.

How does God's Word impact our prayers?

God invites His children to talk with Him, yet our prayers often become repetitive and stale. How do we have a real conversation with God? How do we come to know Him so that we may pray for His will as our own?

In the Bible, God speaks to us as His children and gives us words for prayer—to praise Him, confess our sins, and request His help in our lives.

We’re giving away a free eBook copy of Praying the Bible, where Donald S. Whitney offers practical insight to help Christians talk to God with the words of Scripture.