By Stephen W. Hiemstra
For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? (v16)
Do you believe in salvation?
Because my father married at age 21, I spent of most of my 20s anxious that I had missed the boat. My consolation was that my grandfather married at age 28.
My anxiety was misplaced. For example, in my first visit to a lock-down, psychiatric ward in college, I was shocked to run into the president of my senior class in high school—I was not there to visit her! Two years out of high school, she had had two children and attempted suicide when her husband divorced her. While I envied my peers in graduate school who were married, many of them were divorced only a few years later. By the time I married at age 30, many of the people I knew had been divorced and remarried one or more times.
The Apostle Paul seems aware of this problem of unstable relationships and advises us not to be anxious about our marital status. He writes: Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called (v 20). Elsewhere, he advises: I wish that all were as I myself am [single]. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another (v 7). Do you think of your marital status as a gift of God?
Paul expands on this thought. Before God, neither male nor female, neither circumcised nor un-circumcised, neither slave nor free, counts for anything (vv 17-22). In case you were thinking Paul was having a bad hair day, he repeats this point in Galatians 3:28. Why is Paul adamant about this issue? He gives at least 2 reasons:
- For the present form of this world is passing away (v 31). In other words, don’t be rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titantic!
- But the married man [woman] is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife [her husband], and his [her] interests are divided (vv 33-34).
In fact, Paul maintains a balanced view of relationships, not favoring the married or the single (vv 7-9), the man or the woman (v 4). He also gives his motivation for this balanced view: I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord (v 35).
This brings us back to the question about salvation. If your identity is in Christ and you sincerely believe in salvation, then it will bear fruit in your relationships. For example, how patient are you? Are you willing to wait on God’s timing for your marriage?
Paul sees marriage as a formative institution instituted by God himself. It is interesting that the Kellers describe the Bible as a book that begins with a wedding! Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh (Genesis 2:24 ESV). It is interesting that Jesus’ first miracle was saving a wedding (John 2) and the book of Revelations reaches a climax in the wedding feast of the Lamb (Revelations 19:9). God cares about marriage: it was His idea!
If marriage is instituted by God, then how is it formative? It is formative because spouses care about the health and well-being of their spouses. What is one of the signs that the person you are dating is serious about your relationship? They start working on your bad habits—if you smoke, they ask you to stop—that kind of thing. In marriage God gives us someone who cares enough to tell us things we do not want to hear.
The photograph above is of my wife, Maryam, and I when we were engaged. We will celebrate our 30th anniversary in November.
Timothy and Kathy Keller. 2011. The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God. New York: Dutton. page 13.