Most couples do not realize that glorifying God is the deeper meaning of a Biblical marriage. In most marriages, the focus on Jesus is the missing puzzle piece to the abundance God planned. We seek the ways of the world (riches, lust, vanity, self-absorption) to guide us in marriage, while Jesus is waiting for us to seek Him through His Word. Gary Thomas, in his book Sacred Marriage, says, "What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?"
A marriage between a husband and wife is not about them, but about God, and how running after Him, and taking the focus off of ourselves, gives us the abundant marriage He wants for us.
Does this mean a marriage cannot be successful without Christ? No, it does not. By the looks of things, Jeff and I had a wonderful marriage, but did not know what we were missing. Now we know our ignorance, and understand what it means to allow Christ into our marriage and to capture our hearts. This time around, we are experiencing far more than we could have ever asked or imagined.
How do we miss the importance of putting Jesus first? Many times, it is ignorance. We had no idea how the depth of our spiritual focus related to the state of our marriage. Now that we know the difference, we cannot imagine going back to how we were living, back to the lack of focus we had.
I wrote about the dawnings of this realization in I Do Again:
For six weeks I sat nearly disbelieving as I listened to [pastor] Tommy Nelson. He was teaching that God intended us to experience deep emotional, sexual, and spiritual satisfaction in marriage. He spoke about keeping romance alive, about growing closer together while resolving conflicts, about treating each other with respect. He explained how a marriage with God at the center looked completely different from a "worldly" or godless relationship. He was talking about a marriage filled with greater love, joy, and commitment than I'd ever known. I felt numb as it dawned on me that Jeff and I had lived our marriage very far from God's plan. I had not even known God had a specific plan for marriage. This was all new to me. Relationships, God-style.
Another way we miss the importance of this is to ignore it. We humans are prideful, and often think we can control our lives better than God can. We did this for years. Look where it got us, 10 shallow years of marriage, and seven years of painful divorce.
What does a marriage focused on Christ offer? It offers us guidance from the Bible, such as insight on how to love one another, how Christ looks at our spouse as a broken sinner just like ourselves, direction on how to live out Scripture, and God's wisdom and knowledge about how to love each other. The fullness of God's plan and order works so well because God created it, "and God saw all that he had made, and it was very good" (Genesis 1:31).
When we ignore God's plan, we end up frustrated, trying to control our lives on our own. The focus in our marriage can become a form of, "if you scratch my back I will scratch yours." It's like we have an unwritten contract where each spouse maintains a list in the back of their mind, hoping their spouse will perform. Yet this only leads to anger, bitterness and frustration. When expectations are not met, conflict only grows.
God's plan for us is just the opposite. He wants each of us to forsake our own desires and live for Christ, not ourselves. A biblical marriage is one in which each spouse submits themselves to Christ and seeks after God's purposes, not their own.
In God's order, Christ is the head of the husband, and the husband is the head of the wife. The wife then submits to her husband, who is called to lead and serve his wife while he simultaneously submits to Christ. Couples who follow these biblical roles in marriage give their marriage the opportunity for great blessing and fulfillment.