Marriage and Commitment
Marriage is the oldest of all social institutions. The second person God created was the wife of the first (Gen. 2:18-24). The world’s first two people were also its first married couple. Like many of our oldest institutions, marriage is being challenged. While the ratio of divorces to marriages (a whopping 1:2) has held quite steady over the last twenty years, even declining a bit, the number of new marriages was 38% less in 2020 than in 2000 (CDC). This means that much fewer people are choosing to be married. People are asking the question: Why should I commit to just one person my entire life?
God, the Creator of mankind and marriage, can give the only authoritative answer. God made marriage to be a lifelong commitment. Divorce has never been pleasing to God, only permitted in certain circumstances. It is the duty of man to obey the Lord’s commands (Eccles. 12:13), and God has commanded that marriage be honored for life (Matt. 19:3-9).
What does this mean? To commit yourself to a single person is to reject every other person in the world. Marriage, at least in this culture, is ceremonially sealed by the phrase “I do.” But “I do” has a much broader corollary: “I don’t.” “I don’t permit myself to have any other lover nor any of the infinite potential lives correspondent to that. I don’t want any life but the life I will have with you.” Now, that is romantic. But what happens when the romance fades? Can this rash commitment stand the test of time?
Anything worth having requires commitment. Think of health, wealth, and relationships. Obtaining and maintaining these things is difficult and time-consuming. Thus, they require commitment. Likewise, marriage is difficult and time-consuming (1 Cor. 7:28). It requires commitment. This is an indication of its value, not of its disvalue. If you remain conscious of the value of marriage, your commitment will last.
What then, you may ask, is the value of marriage? First, it beats the alternative. God said of Adam, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18). If you abandon marriage, you are not only denying yourself a lifetime of partnership but the gift of children (Ps. 127:3-5). Second, it is the only righteous means of sexual expression. If you intend to have sex any time between now and when you die, you had best be married (1 Cor. 7:9; Note: some are called to celibacy for the Lord’s sake, but this article is not directed towards them). Third, it is a way to increase your holiness (more on that later). And lastly, it is a picture of the love between Christ and His church (Eph. 5:22-33). In this sense, it is evangelical.
Perhaps at this point, you are saying, “Yes, that’s all quite nice, but you do not understand my situation. I have good reason for breaking my commitment!” I would like to address some of the most common reasons to break a marriage commitment, providing a Biblical perspective for each.
What if I chose the wrong person?
Well, you probably did, and that is okay. With so many people in the world, it is virtually inevitable. Dr. Jordan B. Peterson, in his book Beyond Order, puts it well: “There are seven billion people in the world. At least a hundred million (let us say) might have made good partners for you… the probability that you found the theoretically optimal person approaches zero.” Even if you had chosen the right person, how would you know? He or she would make you happy all the time, never argue with you, and always act the way you expect him or her to, right? If that is what you seek in a spouse, you do not yet have a mature conception of marriage. As Sacred Marriage author Gary Thomas suggests, marriage is not supposed to make you happy, it is supposed to make you holy.
Like all things in life, marriage is not about you or your spouse. It is about God. Recognizing this is the beginning of a healthy marriage. To quote Gary Thomas again, “I believe that much of the dissatisfaction we experience in marriage comes from expecting too much from it… my wife can’t be God, and I was created with a spirit that craves God.” When you and your spouse direct your attention at pleasing God more than pleasing each other, you enter a new world of joy. This shared purpose, more than the compatibility of your personalities, is what will bind you together.
“But the person that I have committed to is not a Christian.” Though being bound to an unbeliever in this way is a difficult road (which is why the Lord forbids it in 2 Cor. 6:14), it is still the Lord’s command that you remain bound to your unbelieving spouse unless they leave you (1 Cor. 7:12-16). You can sanctify your spouse and children through your godly influence.
What if I love more than one person at the same time?
We have already said that the world is full of people who might make a good match for you. It is not surprising then that you may encounter more than one of them. And if such Biblical figures as Abraham, Jacob, David, and Solomon all had more than one wife, with God never directly intervening, you may begin to question why you should not. However, you must look no further than the very lives of those Biblical figures to see the sort of havoc that polyamory wreaks. Abraham’s wives were at odds with one another and so were the sons they produced. Those sons grew into great nations which are still at war today. Jacob’s wives also resented each other, and the hatred among his sons saw one of them tossed into a pit and sold into slavery. The conflict between the children that David had by different wives began with rape and ended with murder. And it was Solomon’s many wives that eventually turned his heart away from the Lord. Do not invite this chaos and destruction into your life by multiplying lovers. While monogamy is never explicitly commanded in Scripture (except to particular groups, see Deut. 17:17, 1 Tim. 3:12), a careful reading reveals a strong implication in favor of it. If you are still not convinced, remember that the fundamental practice of a daily devotion is also never directly commanded in Scripture. Be grateful for the one that God has given you and put away your desire for any other.
What if my spouse was unfaithful to me?
God understands your pain. God has been betrayed by His people all throughout history. As it was the adultery of the Jews to follow false gods, so it is the adultery of the modern Christian to idolize the dead things of the world around us. Let the pain of unfaithfulness be a lesson of the seriousness of idolatry. God has permitted that those whose spouses have committed adultery may divorce them (Matt. 5:31-32, 19:9). It would be no sin for you to do so. Be mindful, however, that God has remained with His people through all our betrayals (Hosea). If you believe that it is God’s will for your life, I encourage you to endure as God has endured with us.
What if I am already divorced? Is there any hope for me?
There is always hope in Christ. If your divorce happened because of disobedience to God, He will forgive you. God sent His Son Jesus to pay the price for our sins, so that we may once again have a relationship with Him. As God has reconciled Himself to us, He desires that we be reconciled to each other. Seek reconciliation with your spouse, and if you cannot, remain unmarried (1 Cor. 7:10-11). You have been given the chance to walk in the freedom of your redemption, to go and sin no more. There is nothing better you can do.
So, why should you commit to just one person your entire life? Marriage, like all gifts from God, is good. Only when you have made the commitment that marriage requires may its full goodness and beauty be revealed. As you show the glory of God’s design to a world that has long since forgotten it, you offer a glimpse into the far-surpassing glory of Christ’s commitment to us, His beloved bride the church. Commit yourself fully to your marriage and watch as God’s glory is revealed in your life.