This month, my husband and I will celebrate five years of marriage. Our anniversary marks five years of laughter, five years of tears, five years of stupid (and not-so-stupid fights), and five years of making up.
I love my husband. I can’t imagine life without my husband. But I’ve never considered this question until coming across a Desiring God article by John Piper: Has Marriage Become My Idol?
Piper writes that our spouses are not our own, just as we are not our own. Our spouse belongs to the Lord.
We would be “... right to say, ‘My husband [or wife] is not mine. He [She] belongs to the Lord. He [She] is on loan to me for this life, and then it’s over. Because in the age to come, Jesus says there is no marriage or giving in marriage in the resurrection.’”
God wants us to love, cherish, and enjoy our spouses. But at what point does our love become an idol?
1 John 2:15-17 warns, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world — the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life — is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”
Piper explains, “The issue is not simply loving the world, delighting in the world, enjoying the world, or being thankful for the world. Rather, the issue is loving the world the way the world loves the world. That is idolatry.
“When it comes to a husband or a wife, the issue is not merely ‘May I love my husband? May I enjoy my husband? May I cherish my husband?’ The issue is, Do we love them, enjoy them, or cherish them the way the world does or the way a Spirit-filled Christian does?”
Ask yourself these questions about your own spouse:
1. Does the thought, the real prospect of losing him [her], produce debilitating anxiety?
Piper says, “What I mean by debilitating anxiety is the kind of worry, fretfulness, or fear that undermines a wife’s faith or keeps her from joyfully doing the ministry God has called her to do in the home, in the church, or in the world.”
We probably all exhibit some level of anxiety when we think about continuing our earthly lives without our partners by our side. This is normal. But after an appropriate time of grieving (which varies greatly from person to person), we should be able to continue living our lives and working to glorify Christ with our time remaining on earth.
If we cannot fathom continuing our lives after the passing of our spouses, that is a sign that we’ve wrongly placed our security entirely in our spouses, instead of in Christ.
2. Does your affection for and delight in your husband [wife] detract from or diminish your delight in the word of God, the people of God, and the service of God?
Piper writes, “Jesus says, ‘Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me’ (Matthew 10:37).
“I think he would say, whoever loves husband or wife more than me is not worthy of me. We can measure the superiority of our affection for Jesus both by what would happen if we lost our best earthly beloved and what happens while we enjoy our best earthly beloved.”
Yes, we are told to love our spouses (Ephesians 4:2, Ephesians 5:25, 1 Peter 4:8), but our love for them should never overshadow the love we have for the Lord. You’ve probably seen the illustration of the triangle, where the husband and wife are represented by the bottom points of the triangle, and the top point of the triangle is God. As the husband and wife grow closer in relationship with the Lord, they move up the triangle, so they also grow closer to one another. This is the picture of marriage that God intended, not an idolization of marriage.
Remember Ecclesiastes 4:9-12: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
A marriage is not simply husband and wife. God is the third strand that binds husband and wife together.
3. Is your relationship with your husband regulated by the word of God?
“A good sign that we are moving toward idolatry is when we neglect the word of God and decide that we’re going to define the meaning of love, the meaning of faithfulness, and the meaning of a good relationship on our own terms or from books or movies we watch, but we’re not going to pore over the Scriptures pleading with God to shape our relationship by all of his revealed truth,” Piper says.
This is pretty straightforward. If you are rating your marriage’s success on a worldly scale, comparing your relationship to fictional ones you see in romantic comedies or romance novels, or to the real-life relationships of celebrities, or even others you know personally, you are in danger of idolizing marriage. But if you hold your marriage to the standards set in the Word of God, you are on the right track.
Piper sums it up like this:
“Happy is the husband, and happy is the wife, whose love for each other is secondary to their love for Christ. When we love him more, we love each other better.”
I would encourage you and your spouse to do one more thing to keep the Lord at the center of your relationship: pray.
Author Amelia Rhodes writes for Crosswalk.com that spouses should be in constant prayer for one another, and for their marriage. She offers 5 Things to Pray for Your Marriage here; this prayer is my favorite:
“Father, help us not to just go to church on Sunday, but to recognize that your presence goes with us wherever we go. May we know a deep communion with you every day. May our marriage be a place where we grow together and lean on You in every situation. Help us to grow to be more like You every day, having a unity in Spirit, being patient, humble and gentle with each other, and bearing each other’s burdens with Your love and strength. Fill our marriage with Your peace. When a struggle or strife arises, may our first response be to come to You together for help. Help us make talking about You and Your Word a priority. We ask your Spirit to help us understand Your Word and grow together in our love and service to You.”
God is delighted by our secure, happy marriages. As Mark 10:9 says, “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
My prayer is that you and your spouse enjoy a God-honoring relationship today.
Carrie Dedrick is an editor of Crosswalk.com. When she is not writing or editing, she can usually be found teaching dance classes, running marathons, or reading with at least one adopted dog on her lap. Carrie and her husband Dustin are anxiously awaiting the arrival of their first baby, a daughter, in October 2017.
Photo credit: ©Thinkstock/Jason_Lee_Hughes