On Saturday, Michael and I celebrated our seventh anniversary. We have a “Saturday breakfast” tradition at the base – it’s the only day of the week we serve breakfast, and it’s a gathering point for those energetic enough to drag themselves out of bed for 9am. There’s usually coffee and a baked good of some variety, and being gluten-intolerant, the coffee is the draw for me. On the Saturday breakfast of our anniversary, I sat with one of our SBS students, who was saying that now Michael and I have been married seven years, our marriage is “complete.” I joked that yes, our marriage would be perfect from that day on. You see, our students had recently studied the book of Revelation, and they now know that numbers are highly significant in that book, and in apocalyptic literature in general. In Revelation, the number seven is highly symbolic – it refers to completion, or perfection.
Now that you know the level of our Bible-joke “nerd-dom” at YWAM Turner Valley, you should also know that in no way do I think Michael and I’s marriage is “perfect.” But the conversation, and some things I’ve been listening to and reading lately, have caused me to reflect on marriage, its purpose, and where Michael and I are at as we celebrated seven years together.
In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul writes,
“Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:27-31).
At first glance, it might seem as though Paul is not too stoked on the idea of marriage. The context of this passage helps us to understand where he’s coming from. Considering 1 Corinthians 7:12-16, it seems the Corinthians were wrestling with what to do if one was married to an unbeliever – whether divorce was the way forward. In response, Paul urges the Corinthians, “let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him” (7:17). In the words of the Message, “don’t be wishing you were someplace else or with someone else. Where you are right now is God’s place for you. Live and obey and love and believe right there. God, not your marital status, defines your life.”
Paul’s focus is on the proclamation of the Gospel, and on living to expand God’s Kingdom. He quite possibly believed that Jesus would return in his lifetime, and as he counseled the Corinthians, he reminded them that the present form of the world is passing away. This means it’s not the time to get wrapped up in marriage/singleness, mourning/rejoicing, and worldly dealings. It’s time to live for Christ, whatever your situation, wherever you find yourself. In the context of marriage, this means your marriage is a tool for Christ. Is your marriage serving to expand the Kingdom of God? Is your marriage pointing others to Jesus? Is your marriage so different from the ways of the world that others glorify God because of His work in your life and relationship?
I don’t know if Jesus will return in my lifetime, but one thing I do know is that I am closer to Christ’s return today than Paul was almost two thousand years ago. If he advocated living from the perspective of the present form of the world passing away, how much more should I be living in that way? If he believed one’s life, including one’s marriage, was meant to be a tool for pointing others to the goodness and grace of the Lord, how much more should I believe the very same? “Complete” or “perfect” marriage isn’t about being married x number of years. The marriage I hope for is the marriage that points others to Jesus.
Meditating on this has been a challenging and convicting process for me, and I know it’s far from over! Many of the thoughts I’ve expressed were prompted by this sermon by Francis Chan, which I “happened” to listen to the day before I read 1 Corinthians 7 in my devotional time (isn’t it amazing how God so often gets our attention by speaking to us through different means, one after the other?!). I believe Francis and Lisa Chan’s book, You and Me Forever is in part about what God has been speaking to me through His Word, and I’m looking forward to reading it when it comes in from my local library, though I suspect the Chans and I will differ on some aspects of our interpretations of other “marriage passages.”
My prayer is that God will continue to speak to me about what it looks like for Michael and I to live out a marriage that glorifies Him, and points others towards the One who created them, the One who created marriage. I pray that at the end of my life, when I think about whether my marriage served to expand the Kingdom of God, and whether it pointed others to Jesus, Michael and I’s relationship will have been so different from the ways of the world that others glorified God because of His work in our lives and in our marriage.