“To be wise and love exceeds man’s might.”
(This is part 2 to the previous blog of “Glass Half Full for my Boys, Glass Half Empty for My Girls” by Darol)
A foreboding Shakespeare quote seemed the best way to begin a blog on relationships. I must warn the reader that I have little wisdom and experience to offer on the subject. (For a riveting tale of what NOT to say and do, contact my wife!) Alas, I do have a few unoriginal thoughts and bad jokes, and Darol did ask me to share them…
So, here are three zingers/reminders/proverbs that came to mind after reading Darol’s original blog:
- “Right Person, Right Time, Right Reason”
Somewhere along my own tempestuous journey from singleness to marriage, this advice was given to me. While working in campus ministry for a few years, I may have shared this with college students on a weekly basis! (College ministry, it appears, can sometimes be something akin to “Relationship Consulting.”)
The above maxim is not printed in your Bible, of course, but it is a helpful grid for men and women who are considering dating in general or (more likely) dating someone specifically. Three good diagnostic questions to ask yourself before dating are: 1. Is this the right person? Would I consider marrying this person and spending the rest of my life with them? 2. Is this the right time? Am I even prepared to commit to dating someone in order to consider marriage? And 3. What is my motivation for wanting to date this person? Do I have God-glorifying intentions?
The goal of this exercise is not to simply “check three boxes,” but to prayerfully and soberly consider what marriage really means. A wise man once said you should only marry someone with whom you would be willing to start a business. If you’re going to get married––and stay married––you need someone you can trust and someone you can work with in the business of family life.
Also, as a corrective to the terrible condition known as “finding-the-right person-itus,” many saints have found that time is normally better spent when you focus less on finding the right person and more on becoming the right person.
“Singleness isn’t Hell, Marriage isn’t Heaven”
This zinger comes from the book Gay Girl, Good God by Jackie Hill Perry. I think she does a good job of shooting down two misconceptions about relationships in our culture. The first misconception is that singleness is some sort of “state of punishment” from which we need to escape. It isn’t. At least, not according to the Bible. In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul offers the following counsel:
I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. 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.
Near the end of the chapter, Paul writes: “So then he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better.” Hardly a glowing endorsement of marriage!
In all fairness, Paul definitely has much more to say on marriage in other places. But it is helpful to see in this passage that singleness is as much of a normal, God-glorifying “relationship status” as marriage. (Hence why Paul commends it.) There are no second-rate Christians. Single Christians have just as much access to “fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16) as married Christians do.
The second misconception, that marriage is some sort of “paradise of fulfillment,” views marriage as a heaven where you can escape from all the loneliness and miseries of singledom. (Cue smiles from married people.) That’s not exactly true. Paul’s next words in 1 Corinthians 7 are:
Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that.
My mom always told me that when one incomplete person finds another incomplete person… what you have is two incomplete people! Inevitably, marriage is learning to love another sinner unconditionally. That’s why some of the loneliest people in the world are married––they were expecting to be redeemed from loneliness by another person. And marriages fail when people try to harvest from their spouses what only Christ can provide. (Bill Hall has a wonderful aphorism for this: “Two ticks trying to suck each other dry.”)
So, single people: You are not living in limbo––you are living for God’s will, and Jesus has called you and redeemed you for his glory and your joy, whether you get married or not.
Married people: Whether your marriage is good or bad, you’re not defined by it. Your identity is in Christ, and the greatest treasures and pleasures to be had will come from him, not your spouse.
- “Remember the Gospel”
Admittedly this is not a flashy point, but it sure is useful. The gospel is the news that Jesus chose you to be his spouse. And if he hadn’t, then you and I would be on our way to a place of darkness, loneliness and despair for millions and millions of years without end… Great for perspective, the gospel is!
One novel thought is that the hastening of the Day of the Lord and the impending final judgment of the cosmos should factor into our relationship decisions. This could be the “present distress” Paul is referencing in 1 Corinthians 7. He elaborates on the idea a little further for us:
This is what I mean, brothers [and sisters]: 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.
Remembering the gospel gives us perspective: Should we spend our lives seeking the perfect spouse (good luck!), or seeking the lost who will perish for an eternity apart from Christ? “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19).
Remembering the gospel gives us hope: If God is our bridegroom, what more could there possibly be to look forward to? “As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you” (Isaiah 62).
And remembering the gospel gives us the power to love: “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4).
For an excellent resource on the Biblical definition of love, you can’t do much better than CS Lewis’ Four Loves. His aim is to show that there are actually four words for “love” in Greek, and he explains the differences. One of the more interesting observations he makes is that eros, the Greek word for “Romantic love,” is not used at all in the New Testament. The love that the Bible describes most often when referring to the gospel is agape, a word which means “self-giving love.”
By this definition, love is not being attracted to someone at their best––it’s being committed to them at their worst. A love that defies greed and self-service, a love that gives until it hurts and doesn’t keep records of the cost, and a love which creates the stable conditions for true romance and friendship to flourish.
Amazing as it is, this is the type of love that Christ has for us all––men and women, married or single. More than any other relationship, we would be wise to cultivate the one we share with him.