As a general rule, you shouldn’t listen to a single man’s ideas about marriage. It’s like asking your cat for tech support.
I remember my own attitude as a youth. I hate to admit this, but I thought I was too cool to be married. Marriage would be fine for some people, but I had a high and lonely purpose that exempted me from family commitments. Of course, I couldn’t tell you what that purpose might be, but it was obvious I was “different”.
Looking back, I think I had a pathetic fear of responsibility. And I wanted to imitate the men on television. Most of the heroes on TV were single. They battled crime with courage and wit, then rode out of town alone, with the eyes of that week’s beautiful guest star tracking them into the sunset.
That I would plan my future based on television shows is embarrassing. I didn’t yet realise that what makes good TV does not necessarily make a good life. But Providence smiled on me: an attractive English major came along who laughed at my jokes and suddenly, I was convicted of the value of marriage. Today, I will tell anyone who asks me that marriage is one of the best things in life, right up there with Italian cooking and Twitter jokes.
While most single blokes have nothing useful to say about marriage and family, there are exceptions. Two men who were decidedly single have set out a formula for a happy marriage that has stood for thousands of years.
Let’s start with the apostle Paul, who brought an arrogance to being single that was unmatched until the arrival of James Bond. “Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do,” he declares in the Bible (1 Corinthians 7:8). Then he goes on to imply that since many in his audience were sex obsessed, it was better for them to go ahead and get married than to “burn with passion” (verse 9).
Paul sets up marriage as the best way for both partners to defend against promiscuity—which he viewed as an express path to personal and spiritual corruption.
I don’t know exactly why he recommends the single life, except that he really was on a high and noble mission to bring Christianity to Western civilisation. Maybe he was like those Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who say they are “too busy” for a relationship. Or maybe he saw marriage as a kind of unessential hobby, like sport fishing, but he did provide some brilliant advice on marriage in the book of Ephesians. He starts by saying, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22).
OK, that sounds terribly old-fashioned. But I will offer two things in defence of the apostle. First of all, he was always telling everybody in the church to submit to each other—men as well as women (verse 21). And second, he balances the statement by turning to the other matrimonial party and saying, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (verse 25).
Notice he prescribes a self-sacrificing attitude for both sides of the relationship. It’s hard to improve on that advice. In fact, it hasn’t been improved on during all the centuries that have passed since Paul was scribbling letters to the early churches. Even in cultures where women had no more rights than slaves or cattle, Paul’s words put out the radical idea that each husband should value his wife as he does his own body (verse 28).
The other single Man who spoke some timeless words on marriage was Jesus. He emphasised the permanence of marriage. He was the One who said, “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Matthew 19:6). Wedding vows are made not only between the bride and groom, but also in the sight of God.
Jesus knew men in His time who were as ready to leave their marriages as we might be to drop a mobile phone contract. He had something to say to them: “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Matthew 5:31, 32). Jesus meant for marriage to be a lasting and secure relationship.
Thankfully, Jesus seems to have a more romantic view of marriage than Paul. “A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife,” said Jesus, “and the two will become one flesh” (Matthew 19:5). Marriage wasn’t like a contract we might see between business partners. He actually saw marriage as a way for two people to enhance and complete each other.
“Jesus knew men in His time who were as ready to leave their marriages as we might be to drop a mobile phone contract.”
Jesus’ words remind me of a dear couple I know. Trevor is a wise and hardworking member of society. He’s the kind of chap you can trust to have the facts in any situation, but he’s not one with the greatest of personalities. As a person, he has the entertainment value of a trip to the dentist. On the other hand, his wife, Jenny, never has her facts straight—if she can remember any facts at all. But she is a fireworks show of fun, always planning social events that bring people running. Together, these two add up to more than the sum of their parts.
At the very beginning, God looked down at the first man and said, “It’s not good for this guy to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Marriage was evidence of God’s desire to bring people into loyal relationships. It is not His plan that we live like the solitary heroes of TV shows. He creates a whole new organism by combining a husband and wife and adding children. The new entity can have more strength, more intelligence and more compassion than any single one of its members.
And in the case of people like Paul, for whom marriage is not a ready option, God still brings them into meaningful relationships. It’s interesting that the Bible describes the church as one body made up of the various parts or members. This sounds similar to the text that defines marriage as combining two people into “one flesh” or one body. Church, when it is done right, takes individuals and helps them accomplish greater things than they could do on their own.
How interesting two single men have taught us the deepest truths about marriage. As they pursued their primary mission of bringing humans back into relationship with their heavenly Father, they also seemed to realign all of the threads that connect us to each other, bringing a shimmering beauty to marriage and family.