Marriage gets a very bad rap from way too many people. It is because sin always aims its corrupting darts at the noblest of things. Marriage is often treated as the ugly sister of all earthly pursuits, the reason for many a married person to spend more time at work or sport, have more getaways with friends, or indulge in secret escapes. Marriage is easily reduces to a cultural status achievement, a right of passage, or a bucket-list box to check. Marriage is sadly often experienced as a prison of sexual restrictions and forced submission. Marriage is publicly slandered and privately resented. All this because each, or both, in the marriage are doing it all wrong.
What would marriage be like if done rightly? What would a husband and wife’s relationship be like if marriage was properly understood? What are the words that we ought to think of as soon as we think of marriage?
Rarely do we, even as Christians, really think of marriage in terms that the Bible uses. Or, if we have the right terms, we interpret them in terms of another passage instead of the passage in which they are used.
For example, Genesis 1:18 says the wife is the “helper” of the husband. But it is not a helper as a servant under the headship of another (using 1 Cor 11:3 or Eph 5:23). Instead, as Genesis 1:18 says, this “helper” is a friend to overcome loneliness.
Ephesians 5:23 mentions the headship of the husband to the wife. The next verse (Eph 5:24) calls a wife therefore to “submit” to her husband like the church does to Christ. Then, turning to the husbands, Ephesians 5:25 calls a husband to “love” his wife as Christ loves the church. These implications of “headship” are not an authority hierarchy, but a sanctifying (Eph 5:26-27) and pampering (Eph 5:29) experience among one another not shared even with close family (Eph 5:31-32). The summary in Ephesians 5:33 confirms that this passage is not about leadership and obedience, but is instead about individualised care and respect.
1 Peter 3:1-7 focusses on godliness. Especially in a more difficult marriage, adopt the phrase “I need to be more godly for the benefit of my spouse”. Win your spouse by your behaviour, by an attractive character, and through prayer. Then you will have a marriage with much less fear and much greater understanding.
Another marriage passage is 1 Corinthians 7:1-5 which focusses on the sexual dynamic of marriage. It gives a practical echo of Genesis 2:25, affirming that though prayer and self-control can dictate otherwise, there is great freedom in intimacy if marriage is done right.
But perhaps the clearest passage on what marriage done rightly would look like is, not surprisingly, found in the book of Ecclesiastes.
Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun.Ecclesiastes 9:9 (ESV)
Marriage done rightly is the oasis of meaning in the never-ending cycles of life. Marriage done rightly is the escape to joy from the burdens of this world. Marriage done rightly is the pause-button in the rat-race of life.
To complete the sentence “if you would do marriage right, …” it would therefore be helpful to say “If you would do marriage right, you would be doing life together”. You would have a good friend for the tough times and a partner for the good times. You would be able to love freely, and always be loved. You would refine your godliness for the benefit of your spouse. You would pray for your spouse. You would make every effort to enjoy being with your spouse as the solution to your busyness and stress.
If you would do marriage right, you would be godlier and you would be happier.