On several occasions I have spoken to Christians, instructing them that God did not create marriage to make you happy but holy. This concept has typically been greeted with steady resistance. The concept is a paradigm change and that kind of reorientation does not come easily. Some of the support offered for resistance comes by way of; 1 Corinthians 7:32-35
32 But I want you to be without care. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord — how he may please the Lord. 33 But he who is married cares about the things of the world — how he may please his wife. 34 There is a difference between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman cares about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she who is married cares about the things of the world — how she may please her husband. 35 And this I say for your own profit, not that I may put a leash on you, but for what is proper, and that you may serve the Lord without distraction.
The rebuttal to holy not happy is that a married man is to strive to please his wife or put another way to make her happy. This is not Paul’s point at all, in fact Paul argues quite the opposite. The Apostle’s point is that it is natural for a man to seek the approval of his wife, to please her and make her happy but that desire to please her can constitute a distraction to serving the Lord. St. Paul is not commanding husbands to please their wives, that is what men do already. He is instead calling men to not put that natural desire above serving the Lord. To that end he advocates singleness as an easier path, while not condemning those who are married.
The grammar here is crucial to understand the meaning of St. Paul. The phrase “Please his wife” in Verse 33 is not an imperative, but an indicative. An imperative is a command or an instruction, where an indicative simply indicates a truth or a situation. Paul is not commanding husbands to please their wives, he is stating that husbands already want happy wives and already strive to please them. This is not something that is unique to Christendom, but the normal situation of humanity. Why husbands want to please their wives is an altogether different question and perhaps the topic of a future post.
In the garden, Adam ate the forbidden fruit at the request of his wife. [i] Adam apparently let the desire to please his wife occlude his desire to please the LORD. This is what the apostle is concerned about, husbands who care more about their wife’s happiness than holiness. For Adam that dereliction of duty to God ushered sin and death into creation. Bad things happen when a man puts the desire of female approval above communion with God.
But Paul does not limit himself to just husbands, for he observes that women also are tempted to make their husbands happy more than serve the LORD in holiness. The terms holy and world can give the wrong idea that marriage is not holy but worldly[ii]. Here Paul uses the term holy as consecrated to the Lord and set aside for temple service. World is an order or arrangement and if she is married the arrangement goes God – husband – wife, but a single woman that order goes God- woman. She is free from changing diapers, cooking and being an intoxicating lover for her husband to serve God without distraction. Again the temptation is to think that the duties of a wife and mother are not acts of worship, but they can be some of the purest worship on earth[iii].
One irony is that if a husband and wife are equally yoked, and both are seeking the Lord, they will increase joy in each other. A husband does not need to give up headship to make his wife happy, but he can lead her in holiness and multiply her joy. Same for a wife, she can present her body to her husband, imaging the worship of the church to her husband, and not be defiled but united to her husband in holiness, joyfully as his helper. A result of the sexual union is a child and childbearing is indeed holy[iv] when accompanied with faith, love and self-control.
Another misused example of scripture is Jesus washing His disciples’ feet. Some have made foot washings almost sacramental and white-knighting feminists have used it to destroy the headship of the husband. The Bible gives a true historical account of Jesus and his words, this is an indicative. But, Jesus makes it clear that this is an example to be followed[v] and so the indicative is in fact an imperative. Jesus is at first resisted by Peter who does not yet understand that authority is service. Jesus does not give up His authority, he restates it in verse 13. He already has established His headship over His disciples and they have for the most part submitted to their rabbi and His teaching. Jesus shows that we must allow God to help us and if we are in authority we are to imitate Christ and use it to serve each other. It is not an instruction for a subordinate to demand a foot bath that is insubordination and sin. Nor is it a call to those given authority of allowing the subordinate party to become their ruler; that is abdication and that is sin. It is a call to humility; to humble ourselves before the LORD that He might raise us up and in service to Him we do not use authority to lord it over others as the gentiles do, but to to serve others by the kind use of that authority.
A second rebuttal to the purpose of marriage is centrally holiness and not happiness has been presented from Deut 24:5.
“When a man is newly married, he shall not go out with the army or be liable for any other public duty. He shall be free at home one year to be happy with his wife whom he has taken.
It seems odd that God would only command happiness for the first year of marriage. That is because the phrase here is a Hebrew idiom that refers to the creation of a bounding bundle of joy. While the concept of having children and an heir as a happiness is foreign to the modern narcissistic mind, it has been in the history of mankind one of the greatest sources of happiness and joy to be found. Before a new husband went to battle, he was allowed one year to produce an heir and pass on a human legacy. If he died in battle his line did not perish with him. This was happiness for both him and his wife, the two joined sexually to create new life that is the union of both sets of genes.
It is shameful that the modernist glories in fornication and the prevention of pregnancy. These things society says makes you happy! Women divorce their husbands who fail to make them happy; they divorce to find the elusive happiness they desire. God wants something better your happiness, He sent His Son to make you Holy. We count it all joy when various trials [vi] exercise our faith and develop steadfastness, for we know this is the road to holiness[vii], and without holiness no one sees the Lord[viii]. Happiness is fleeting and often the fulfilling of the desires of the flesh, but joy in holiness is eternal and the result of sanctification.
Marriage images Christ and his bride the church. This is holy matrimony! The traditional christian marriage vows include the phrase “for better or for worse – in sickness and health”. In other words the vows say the marriage continues whether happy or not for it is a holy estate that God has joined two and made them one flesh. That may not make some feminists happy, but to those who seek the Lord, there could be no grater source of joy!
[i] Genesis 3:6 She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.
[ii] Hebrews 13:4 Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled;
[iii] Romans 12:1-2 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
[iv] 1 Timothy 2:15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing- if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.
[v] John 13:13-17 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.
[vi] James 1:2 2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,
[vii] 1 Thessalonians 4:7 7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.
[viii] Hebrews 12:14 4 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.