Due in part to my idolatrous view of marriage, the last several years of my singleness were some of the most acutely painful years of my entire life. Paradoxically, those years also ended up being some of the most fruitful of my life. I guess you could say it was the best of times and the worst of times.
It was the best of times because God was doing a lot of beneficial work on my heart. It was the worst of times because I was a single person living in a married person’s world, and I longed to be married. Events like Valentine’s Day only served to remind me of what I didn’t have.
What I needed to read was that famous piece of literature addressed to singles about marriage. Being a good Christian guy, I’d glanced at it before, but when I buckled down and studied it in depth, my romance-starved heart was pierced—in a good way. Here’s the passage:
I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife—and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord. (1 Corinthians 7:32-35, NIV)
One thing that stuck out to me was the word “please,” used three times in the passage (all of which have been italicized above). According to Strong’s Concordance, the Greek means, “to strive to please; to accommodate one’s self to the opinions, desires, and interests of others.”
That’s what I want, I thought. I want to get married so I can have someone to accommodate my opinions, desires, and interests. Paul seems to imply there’s a lot of pleasure involved in the marriage relationship, and I want to experience it.
I soon realized, though, that I had missed Paul’s point entirely. The biblical goal of a husband is not to be pleased by his wife but to seek to please her. Likewise, the biblical goal of a wife is not to be pleased by her husband, but to seek to please him. Marriage and romance provide a context in which to learn how to accommodate the opinions, desires, and interests of someone other than yourself.
Marriage (the true goal of romance) is a means to pursue service, not self-interest. The question for a married person is, “How can I serve and honor and please my spouse?”—not, “How can my spouse serve and honor and please me?”
One of the great paradoxes of the Christian life, for single and married people alike, is that we must die in order to live. We find our life by losing it. The greater blessing comes when we seek to serve, not when we seek to be served (Acts 20:35).
Here is what I wrote in my journal as an application for myself as a single man:
In verse 35, Paul writes, “I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you.” So this passage was written for our benefit, to help us. Are we encouraged by this passage, or are we only made more aware of what we don’t have? Does this passage encourage discontentment in our heart? It shouldn’t. If it does, something is wrong. Could it be that we are looking at marriage as an opportunity to have our selfish expectations met? If so, we need to reorient our thinking so that we look to marriage as an opportunity to glorify God by serving someone else—and, in the process, find true joy.
I don’t want to be insensitive to the plight of my single friends just because I’m married. Even now, I still remember the anguish of my unfulfilled desire to enjoy holy matrimony. Rest assured, I am not attempting to say that you need to learn a particular lesson before God allows you to marry. I’m certainly not implying that if you just get over yourself your struggles as a single person will magically dissipate.
What I am saying is that when you lose sight of those around you due to the cloud of your overwhelming desires, you’re setting yourself up to miss out on both happiness and holiness. Ask yourself, “What am I wanting right now? What craving is causing me to lose sight of the opinions, desires, and interests of others?” You may well discover that much of your turmoil may be caused by internal sources rather than external sources. You may also need to be reminded of the One who laid down His life to accommodate Himself to your greatest need—reconciliation with God, the all-satisfying fountain of joy.
Valentine’s Day is coming up, and it’s all about romance: cards, jewelry, candlelight, fancy meals, and teddy bears holding hearts. There’s nothing inherently wrong with those things (well, except maybe heart-holding teddy bears). But for the Christian, true and lasting and satisfying romance is rooted in the soil of self-sacrifice. You don’t have to know this truth in order to get married, but the more you’ve put that truth into practice, the happier—and the holier—you’ll be.