It flies in the face of conventional human wisdom…the pursuing of self-interest. It undercuts the dominate value of human existence…the ultimate concern for self-preservation. It makes mockery of the curse of every human being… the bent toward self-centeredness.
To enter into the depth of the mystery of marriage is to die to self.
Now that’s terminology that is usually reserved only for the act of following Christ, but I would submit that our rules for marriage ought to have the same character as the rules for discipleship, if we want or expect our marriages to rise above the bar of civil unions.
I recognize that one of the great gifts we have is the freedom to define the ground rules and expectations of marriage for ourselves. It’s been a long time since I used the terminology “Biblical marriage”. Any first-year seminarian would be able to point you to rules of marriage in the Bible that we wouldn’t dream of following…cultural rules that defined how men and women interacted during Bible times that would be looked at as criminal activity in this century.
The fact is, the Bible has very little to say about the complexities of marriage. For something as central to the human story, I’m pretty blown away by the lack of specific teaching regarding marriage “how to” in the Bible. The Old Testament teaching on marriage is dubious, at best (“were Adam and Eve really married?”, or “what about that polygamy stuff?”, or “did husbands really own their wives?”).
The few places in the New Testament that refer to marriage make a whole lot of assumptions, rather than giving detailed instruction. And don’t say that Ephesians 5 is the definitive text on marriage. It leaves much to imagination and interpretation.
But where the Bible is limited, confusing or even silent on the purpose and design of marriage, it is abundantly clear on what it means to look like Jesus and to follow in his steps.
The way of Jesus is opposite of self-interest, self-preservation, and self-centeredness. Marriage in the way of Jesus, is a relationship of self-denial. It is not simply a partnership, because partnerships are 50/50 deals. Marriage in the way of Jesus, requires the surrendering of personal “rights”. It keeps no record of wrongs. It exists completely and totally for the well-being of the other.
Marriage in the way of Jesus, serves and gives and forfeits the pursuit of individual aspirations and sees only the collective. It is never “I”. It is always “We”. It is never “Me”. It is always “Us”. Each partner exists for the good and the best interests of the other. Each partner willingly lays down private goals for greater, shared goals.
Can a marriage partner still pursue personal dreams? Of course. Do marriage partners lose personal identities and squash out personal giftedness? No way. But personal dreams and identities and giftedness are always measured carefully against the perfect, sacrificial life of the One whose example defines how we are to live ours.
Yeah. Marriage is a ridiculous proposition.