To single Christian men who want to be married: How are you preparing?

Cross against blue sky with clouds

If you’re a Christian man who might possibly like to be married someday, then pay close attention to Ephesians 5:

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”

Men, how can we possibly dare to take this lightly?

I think we need a transparent look at what we’re really asking for by getting married. We desire marriage, get engaged, and go to the altar with an incomplete view of what we’re getting ourselves into. We might as well take the job of President or pastor, thinking only of the perks without considering whether we’re up to the challenge.

Now, I’m certainly not an expert on marriage — in fact, I’m not even married, which is why I address this only to unmarried men who are in the same position as me. This is going to be distilled from what I’ve learned over the past eight years or so from pastors, writers, mentors, and married friends about what marriage means and how to prepare for it.

Because it focuses mainly on the challenge, so this post might come across as blunt, and even harsh. However, the point here isn’t to discourage marriage: it’s to encourage healthy marriage with an eye to its true nature and purpose. With that aim, here’s what I’ve learned about how to prepare, why to prepare, and what to prepare for.

(Fair warning: “marriage” might start to sound like a funny word before we’re done).

How to prepare

Paradoxically, I think the best way to prepare for marriage is not to focus on preparing to be a great husband, but rather on pursuing God himself with everything you have. This is what you were made to do.

Your purpose, worth, and identity do not depend at all on whether or not you’re married or marriageable. Your purpose in Christ is something that is far greater than your relationship with any human being. The fulfillment of this purpose will look different based on whether you’re married or not, but, if you’re faithful to pursue it, Christ will accomplish it in you either way — so focus on fulfilling your purpose where he has you now. In a nutshell:

Before you seek to be a strong, godly, loving husband, seek to be a strong, godly, loving man. Being a great husband will grow out of  this later. 

That means that, for us singles, all of the following is not something to aim for now, but something to check yourself on when you’re actually considering getting married to a specific person whom you’ve been dating for some time. When that point comes, are you mature enough to handle the following ‘why’ and ‘what’?

For his sake, seek to be the best example of yourself that you can possibly be now. Do this in humility, depending on his strength, rejoicing in his love.

Why to make sure you’re prepared

I once heard a pastor (probably David Hegg) say that a godly marriage is one of the closest pictures that we have on earth of what God is like. This seems incredibly true. A godly marriage lives and breathes mutual service, love, and self-sacrifice.

Furthermore, as Paul writes in Ephesians 5, the union of two persons in one marriage is a profound mystery. This is a reflection of Christ’s relationship with his church, as well as (I believe) a reflection of the three-in-oneness of God. This is a great and sacred image to be trusted with, and to represent it is a solemn and joyful duty.

If you want to mar that image, go right ahead, but you will be called to account.

Like all gifts that God gives to us, he will require this from us in the end. In the end we will stand before him and render back every gift he’s given, and it will be plain what we did with them.

If you get married, your wife will be entrusted to you for God’s glory and the sanctification of both of you. Ultimately, marriage is not for you or your satisfaction, contentment, fulfillment, happiness, joy, or consolation. Marriage will (hopefully) lead to all these things, but they are its byproducts, not its purpose. The purpose for which marriage was instituted is for the glory of God, and it’s for the glory of God that we will fulfill our roles as husbands.

If and when your time comes to get married, will you have let Christ mold you to the point that you’re ready to take on this responsibility?

What to be prepared for

The command “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” means so much more than we usually care to think about. We can infer several roles for the husband from this verse alone:

Loving self-sacrificially

Consider carefully how Christ loved and loves his church (I mean it. Take a few minutes to just think about it).

Love means putting your wife’s needs before your own. If you’re incapable of doing this, you’re not fit to be married.

In Christ-like love for your wife, there is no room for your good to trump hers.

There is no room for you to neglect or hurt her for any reason. There is no room for you to serve yourself first or put your own individual interests in any way ahead of hers. There is no room for your anger, boredom, indifference, selfishness, fatigue, anxiety, discontent, or bitterness to cause you to not give her the love she needs.

This is not drudgery: I fully expect it to be an incredibly joyful task (once we’ve learned and let ourselves be molded by its discipline), but it’s also very serious, and we need to count the cost before we commit ourselves to it.

Loving as a covenant

Christ’s relationship with his church is a covenant: a relationship in which he has sworn to uphold his end of the bargain even if we don’t uphold ours. Honestly, thank God for that, because we often don’t.

Marriage is also a covenant. You unilaterally agree that you will love your bride even when she is unlovely, just as Christ does.

To make this clear: even if she’s failed to respect or love you

even if she’s disappointed or hurt you or let you down

even if she seems to pay too much attention to the kids and not enough to you

even if she burns dinner for the eighth time in a row

even if she hasn’t acted beautifully

even if she betrays you

even if she doesn’t respect you

you are still to love her.

You may have to tell her how she’s hurt you, get help from others, and even put restrictions on her if things get bad enough, but you are still to love and forgive her. Are you secure and mature enough in God’s love that you can handle that?

Loving constantly

Will your love be so good and so constant that your wife can take it for granted? Not that she should—but will she ever even have reason to wonder whether you’re going to love her, provide for her, meet her needs, lead her, and protect her? [1]

Loving humbly

Pride has no place in love. They are opposites. Putting yourself first has no place in this pursuit, in which your constant action will be to put her before yourself.

Christ’s love is full of humility: “though he was in the form of God, [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped [literally, clutched or held onto], but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Php. 2:6-7). All for the sake of God’s glory and the love of his church.

Christ’s love even stoops to indignity. Was it dignified for the Prince of Heaven to descend to earth and be born bloody and naked as the rest of us are, in a cave or barn, to a pair of poor peasants? In the same way, we will have to lay down even our dignity, if necessary, to love our wives as Christ loves the church.

Loving provisionally

Christ provides everything his bride needs, and more. In the same way, when we’re married, we are to provide for our wives physically, emotionally, and (such as we, as humans, are able) spiritually. This addresses a very practical aspect of marriage (i.e. having a dang job before you’re married), but there’s much more to it than that. This will take hard work on our part, and a lot of it won’t be with our hands.

Loving to build up

If we read Ephesians 5:26, we find this: “that he might sanctify her”. This is the aim of Christ’s love for his church: to make her all that she can be, in every way, for the glory of God. That is the aim of all his work and sacrifice and long suffering.

Loving your wife as Christ loves the church means that you will strive to make her the very best example of herself that she can be. You will provide her roots to grow and be safe and her wings to fly. You will provide the environment for her to feel safe, secure, loved, and valued, and in which she can be the best wife, mother, friend, and child of God that she can be. [2]

Loving with desire

It can be easy to think and feel that Christ’s love for his people is a sort of dispassionate, far-off, purely formal love. But get this:  in all of the Bible, there is only one time that Jesus uses the phrase, “I desire.” It’s in John 17:24, when he’s praying for his disciples and ‘all who will believe in [him] through their word.’ He’s praying for his entire church throughout all of time.

The one thing that Christ said he desired was this: ‘Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.’ [3] His desire is that we would be with him.

In the same way, desire your wife when you’re married. You might not always feel like you do, but even then, still desire her and act on it.

For the joy set before us

Joy

If I make marriage sound like a burden, it’s not. I firmly believe in and look forward to marriage being deliriously joyful for us, as well as undreamably hard and heartbreaking.

This is also not to say that there’s no room for your wife to serve you or sacrifice for you. Her doing so is part of the healthy give-and-take of a godly marriage. However, I believe that we are called to be the initiators and primary givers.

I hammer us guys on this issue because I want to write against the deluded, self-centered, emotional fluff that fills the minds of so many men, promising endless, easy bliss in marriage. Still more, I want to write against any notion that your wife’s purpose in life is to serve and satisfy you — God forbid that any such damnable notion should creep into his church, but we have to always guard ourselves. Ignorance from the outset cripples marriage, and selfishness kills it: knowledge and love grow it and make it joyfully thrive.

Grace

If I make it sound like we always have to perfectly love our wives in order to be good husbands — well, we should, but we can’t. Even as we strive towards the ideal, we will fall and fail and sin along the way. That’s why we look to God’s grace to restore us when we fall and keep us on our way while we walk. We recognize our failures, acknowledge them to our wives, and ask her forgiveness, but our failures are not final.

Looking forward and forward

If we want to get married, we are really asking to take all the better and all the worse that unavoidably comes from uniting ourselves to another human being in marriage: the better, because we covenant ourselves in God and for his name, day by day, and the worse because we are still living in a world and body of sin.

Because of this, we always look towards the feast and the wedding of our Lord and his church, of which the most beautiful wedding on earth is only a shadow.

Thanks

David Hegg, Ron Merrell, Gabe Garcia, Dan Smouse, Todd Roughton, Landen Llamas, Paul David Tripp, Joshua Harris, Paul and Virginia Friesen, Andrew Peterson, and Dustin Kensrue: their writings, teachings, and songs have all clarified and built up my view of what marriage can and should be.

Recommended reading:

Boy Meets Girl — Joshua Harris. A book of wise principles (rather than strict rules) for walking the balancing act of dating in a way that honors God and one another.

Before You Save the Date: 21 Questions to Help You Marry with Confidence  — Paul and Virginia Friesen. Guides you through asking the tought questions that need to be asked, like, Who was this person before you met one another? Are your lives truly governed by God’s word? What role will your future in-laws likely play in your marriage? What sort of parent will your date make? An invaluable resource.

What He Must Be if He Wants to Marry my Daughter — Voddie Baucham, Jr. This was recommended by a mentor whom I hold in high regard, though I haven’t yet read it.

Notes

[1] I have Paul David Tripp to thank for this question.

[2] I largely owe my conception of this point to David Hegg.

[3] A note on ‘my glory’: In the smallness of our minds and hearts, we tend to think of “his glory” as something merely pleasant to behold: something at which we might yawn after a while. Really, it’s the greatest and most awesome thing that has ever been and ever shall be, the mere beholding of which is endless, transformative, utter bliss.

And come what may

I won’t abandon you or leave you behind

Because love is a loyalty sworn

Not a burning for a moment

 

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1 Comment

  1. Mila

     /  June 8, 2014

    HI Nathan, absolutely fascinated with this article . Thank you for sharing this and l am looking forward to reading more! , I will read 21 questions to help you marry with confidence. I recently listen to a program on Family life where they ask men if they love their wives like God loves them , unfortunately Not one of could answer that question . Anyway keep up the good work , Love this article.

    Mila

    Like

    Reply

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