“So, what’s in it for me?”

It’s a question worth asking about marriage, and not without reason. After all, many of us go into marriage to get as well as to give, to be loved as well as to love.

It’s thus natural to ask ourselves: “What can I expect to get out of my marriage? What’s the payoff? Will my hopes and dreams be realised?”

Yet, we know people change, situations differ, and dreams are shattered. But the same God who made marriage made it to also endure the disappointments and predictable seasons of life that mark all good relationships. He can help us grow through the different stages of marriage.

After being married for some time, some of us might slip into subconsciously believing the more common expectations people have for marriage today. And like a breath of fresh air, we can turn to the Bible to see what God expects of our relationship to refresh our own marriage, years on from the day we said our wedding vows.

Expectation 1: Marriage will meet my needs.

Many of us are looking for affection, sexual intimacy, companionship, family, conversation, financial security, and social acceptance, which we hope to find in marriage.

Many people go into marriage expecting it to solve their problems.

Many of these expectations reflect reasonable and even God-given desires. The problem comes, however, when we pursue these desires with short-sighted strategies and motives.

Many people go into marriage expecting it to solve their problems. A daughter who cannot any longer tolerate the anger and coldness of her father, or the criticism of her mother, may get married just to get out of the house. A son who feels that he isn’t respected by his parents may see marriage as a way of finding some of the personal affirmation he longs for.

Yet, all too often, those who get married to solve their problems end up in the humiliation of a divorce court, saying, “She (or he) just isn’t meeting my needs.” Why don’t couples see this coming? Part of the answer is that many of them assume that . . .

Expectation 2: Marriage will change my husband/wife.

Many people enter marriage with a predetermined idea of what they want their partner to become. They may disclose it a little before the wedding, but it becomes all too obvious soon enough.

You’ve probably met someone like Jonathan, who was looking for his concept of an ideal wife when he got married to Joanna. He wanted a woman who would take good care of their home, live thriftily on a tight budget, produce two children (preferably a boy and a girl), and always be upbeat and happy.

Not surprisingly, it wasn’t long into their marriage before the trouble began.

Joanna was sometimes moody and sad. She wanted to spend a little more on herself without having to account to him for every cent. She wasn’t big on cleaning, and she was often ill, and had problems conceiving.

The more John pushed Joanna to fill his expectations, the more she withdrew from him. She simply could not fit his ideal, no matter how much he pressured her.

To avoid such mistakes, some people try the opposite approach . . .

Expectation 3: Marriage lets me do what I want.

Some people are generous in offering their spouse a great deal of latitude and freedom—perhaps more than the spouse is comfortable with. But it comes at a high price: they want even more freedom for themselves.

They want to continue living the life they had as singles, going out with their friends, spending most of the evenings out, and not worrying about the needs of their new family.

God’s Expectations

Do any of these expectations resonate with you in any way?

God’s expectations for marriage, however, are apt to be different from our own. When He said, “It is not good for the man to be alone”, and created Eve as an answer to that aloneness (Genesis 2:18), He did more than just make a provision for man’s needs. The rest of the Bible shows that God has these expectations for marriage:

God’s expectation 1: Marriage will enable us to serve someone else’s needs.

In his letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul makes it clear that those of us who are married can expect not only the joys of the relationship, but also the responsibilities that come with it (1 Corinthians 7:28–35). In committing themselves to one another, he notes, husbands and wives must spend much of their time working hard to please one another, which would inevitably limit the amount of time that they can spend in undistracted service to the Lord (vv. 33–34).

When we marry, we are choosing to serve Him by serving the needs of our partner.

For all of its joys, marriage has responsibilities that limit our freedom to serve God in an unencumbered way. Our Lord knows that when we marry, we are choosing to serve Him by serving the needs of our partner. Over time, we even have to learn how to keep the marital commitment from rivalling our commitment to, and dependence on, the Lord.

God’s expectation 2: Marriage will change us for the better.

Scripture doesn’t tell us to make sure our life-partner loves, respects, and gives us all the affectional, financial, and physical satisfaction we long for. The Bible never promises that God will make our mates into the kind of people we pray they will be.

It does tell us, however, what kind of a heart God can enable us to have if we do our part in bringing out the best in our mate.

Marriage, by its very nature, demands our own spiritual growth. For us to live with and love someone else “for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health”, requires that we learn to put his or her interests ahead of our own. Such love is a general biblical principle (Philippians 2:1–4), but the closeness and responsibilities of marriage give us an ideal setting to help us learn the real meaning of love.

By its very nature, marriage demands commitment, risk, and unselfish investment. For a couple to achieve the unity, love, and loyalty that God expects, they must take giant strides of personal growth. They must learn how and when to abandon personal rights so that they can experience the richness that comes when the true needs of others (not the selfish demands) are put before their own desires.

Marriage, by its very nature, demands our own spiritual growth.

As you and your spouse learn to love in this way, you become a window through which others can see the kingdom of God at work. As you surrender themselves to the Spirit and rule of God, you become exhibits of the kind of spirituality that God designed marriage to produce.

Your friends, children, and extended family will see the kind of faithful love, honesty, moral courage, true humility, incredible patience, and tender understanding that God can give in marriage. Instead of manipulative or fearful compliance, they will see honest caring and friendship.

God’s expectation 3: Marriage will place us under the mutual spirit of love.

The Bible makes it clear that when a man and woman join in marriage, they become one. And the controlling factor of their oneness is their mutual commitment to care for one another’s well-being for as long as they both live.

This commitment to love means that we must always be looking for positive ways to bring out the best in our mates. It also means that after dealing with our own faults and sins (Matthew 7:1–5), we will find timely and sensitive ways to discourage significant faults in one another.

With love comes the responsibility to do everything possible to bring out the best in a mate rather than the worst.

Proverbs 27:6 reminds us that to be faithful, a friend must sometimes say things that will be painful to hear. The Bible does not give permission to nag, harp, or harshly criticise one another; Proverbs says that it is better to live on the roof than in a big house with a brawling or contentious woman (21:9).

But, with love comes the responsibility to do everything possible to bring out the best in a mate rather than the worst. Love will not let us indulge the immorality or support the destructive addictions of our partner. As our God shows us by His own example, love is tough when circumstances call for it.

God’s expectation 4: Marriage will be a picture of Christ’s relationship to the church.

God’s expectation is that husbands and wives will develop an enduring love by keeping their eyes on the “marriage” between Christ and His church (2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:22–33).

After urging both husbands and wives to see their distinct roles defined by the relationship between Christ and the church, the apostle Paul writes: “We are members of his body. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery, but I am talking about Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:30–32).

A Godly Basis for the Marriage Covenant

These expectations of God offer great promise for a new or restored marriage. They are expectations that lift us above ourselves, and call from us the kind of love that has its source in God. These expectations form a basis for the covenant that is at the heart of marriage.

Marriage offers a “made in heaven” opportunity to discover the real meaning and richness of love.

Yes, it will take a lot of work. But so does everything worthwhile.

Yes, we’ll have to make sacrifices. But what we receive in personal dividends from a healthy relationship far outweigh the losses.

Yes, it’s a big responsibility, especially when children come along. But with that responsibility comes the authority and help of God to turn that responsibility into satisfying results.

These expectations of God offer great promise for a new or restored marriage.

We will then see the possibilities of people who will put as much into marriage as they did into their dating relationship. We will see husbands and wives filled with gratitude for being treasured in spite of all of their flaws and imperfections. And we will see the possibilities of two mature people who love each other deeply, not because of what they don’t know, but because they have learned the meaning of a love and a forgiveness that endures.

May God give us a vision of embracing, encouraging, and extending grace to our spouse until we are parted only by death itself. We need a vision of our marriages not as they are, but as they could be.

What’s your vision for your marriage today?

Extracted and adapted from What Is the Promise of Marriage?, a Discovery Series booklet by RBC Ministries © 2010 Our Daily Bread Ministries, Grand Rapids, MI. Visit discoveryseries.org for more.

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