God gave marriage to humankind as a good gift. But just like food, rest, pleasure, money, authority, or any other good thing, we get into serious trouble when we idolize the gift. Whether married or single, we will get wounded and disappointed if we make marriage an idol.
If you’re married, making an idol out of marriage can lead to making your spouse responsible for your happiness. You become disillusioned and feel like a failure when marriage presents problems and you realize your spouse is a sinner. Your continued struggle with lust even when married leaves you confused, and you consciously or unconsciously blame your spouse for your lack of fruitfulness as a follower of Jesus.
If you’re single, making an idol out of marriage relegates you to feeling like a second-class Christian until or unless you get married. Your whole focus is on finding a spouse or pining that you don’t have one. You imagine marriage will be your savior from loneliness or lust, and you see your singleness as only a waiting game. You wonder why God is withholding marriage from you.
It’s not that surprising that many fall into this trap. The contemporary Christian church has too often promoted the perhaps-unstated belief that marriage is God’s best ideal for followers of Jesus.
Really? How tragic!
In the New Testament, Jesus never married. Paul did his missionary work without a wife. Not once is marriage pictured as more godly than singleness. One could even make the opposite case – that marriage is frequently pictured as complicating one’s service for God.
I’ve been single. I’ve been married. And I’m single again since my husband died. I understand the desire for a life partner. I understand the complications of even a high-quality loving marriage. And I can affirm like Paul that the only healthy option for a follower of Jesus is “in whatever state I am, to be content.” (Philippians 4:11)
Am I Idolizing Marriage?
If you’re married, here are some questions to thoughtfully and prayerfully ask yourself, to see if you may be idolizing marriage. (And if you’re not married, you may be interested in our resources especially for singles.)
- Can I be happy even if my spouse is unhappy?
- Am I in any way holding back in my walk with Jesus because I’m waiting for my spouse?
- Do I see God as giving me a less-than-good gift if my marriage is less than happy?
- Am I using my marriage as an excuse for any of my sinful thoughts or actions?
- Who am I more interested in pleasing – God or my spouse?
You can make marriage an idol whether your marriage is good or bad. As important and good as the gift of marriage is, it’s temporary. Among other things, marriage is a laboratory where we learn to love well here on earth. It’s one of the best ways God has of preparing us for eternity. God’s plan for most people likely involves marriage. But marriage is temporary.
This in no way minimizes God’s interest in and ability to transform your marriage where He needs to. A healthy loving marriage is one of the best advertisements for God’s kingdom, and can produce much good in the world. But it is not the end. Jesus said marriage will not be in eternity. (Matthew 22:30)
Taking Marriage Off the Throne
Keeping God in His rightful place in our hearts is something every Christian must continue to wrestle with. Removing any of God’s good gifts from the throne in your life takes God’s grace and your determined effort. Here are a few steps that will help.
Make the Choice
The only way God remains on the throne in your heart is by your continued choice. Money, power, sex, comfort – or marriage – will displace Him if you are not diligent. While God never enjoys your pain, marriage challenges can be a stimulus to once again evaluate whether God is really first in your life.
Make sure you are intentionally nurturing your own individual relationship with God. Enter His presence often. Listen for His voice. Read His Word. Invite His Holy Spirit to keep changing you.
Look to God as your Source
If marriage is your god you will look to your spouse or to the marriage relationship to meet your deepest needs. Only God can do that. God may often use a growing spouse and a healthy marriage to meet many of your needs, but only He Himself can be Enough.
Make sure you are opening the deepest parts of your soul to God Himself. When you face a challenge or irritation, make it your default response to call out to God for His wisdom and guidance. That habit does not develop easily; it will take time and intentionality.
See Your Marriage as your Mission
Not your entire mission, but perhaps the most important mission God has given you is to be His hands, feet, and God-with-skin-on to your spouse. Your job is not necessarily to make your spouse happy, but it IS to seek to be the kind of husband or wife that God needs you to be in your marriage.
The intersection of your relationship with God and your marriage needs to be like a flowing river. You absolutely must be spending time alone with God, getting filled up, being changed in His presence. Some people try to be everything to their spouse without getting filled up from God first.
And then you must also get out of the prayer closet and be with your spouse. That may mean practical help around the house, or sexual intimacy, or deep conversation, or having fun on a date night. Getting filled up first means you have something to give to your spouse. And giving to your spouse means you have space in your soul to receive more from God.
Marriage is a good gift. A very good gift from God.
But has that good gift become an idol for you?
Only God deserves to be on the throne of your heart and life.
Your Turn: Has marriage become an idol for you? How do you know? What are you going to do about it? Leave a comment below.
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- Is your marriage an idol? You can idolize marriage whether you’re married or single, and whether your marriage is good or bad. Only God deserves to be on the throne of your life. Tweet that.
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