Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Anxious Marriage

In 1 Corinthians 7:32-34 we read, "I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. . . ."

It seems from Paul's argument here that he doesn't want us to be free from anxieties as much as he wants us to be free from what he calls "worldly" anxieties. Paul appears to be just fine with anxieties concerning "things of the Lord." I take Paul's use of the words "anxieties" and "anxious" to be referring to priorities. He doesn't use anxiety in a negative way in these verses. He's not talking about an anxiety attack. He's talking about fulfilling daily obligations.

Unmarried people are free to serve God whole-heartedly because they don't have the obligation of prioritizing around the pleasure and whims of a spouse. Married people, on the other hand, automatically deal with dividing their interests between serving God and pleasing their spouse. That is the concern that Paul is dealing with here. Marriage isn't to be forbidden, but it must be properly oriented "to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord" (1 Cor. 7:35).

We cannot escape the fact that Paul calls marriage "worldly," and expects it to be treated as such. We cannot have a happy marriage if we try to give marriage a significance that Scripture does not. We'll be fighting against God if we do that. Bad plan. If we go through marriage on auto-pilot, our natural tendency may be to treat marriage as the central reality in our life. We have to fight that tendency. We have to deliberately make our marriage serve God. I'll give a concrete example of how this works.

Jim and Judy recently moved into a new neighborhood. The church they've started attending is big on building new friendships as a way of reaching out with the gospel. Judy has a strong desire to reach out to their new neighbors and build relationships. But every time she mentions inviting a new couple over for dinner, Jim complains about how drained his new job is making him. He'd rather wait till they get a little more "settled in" before making new friends.

Do you see from this simple illustration how pleasing a spouse can interfere with a godly desire to love your neighbor as yourself? If Judy is single, she can use her home any way she pleases. But because she is married to Jim, she is at the mercy of Jim's mood. Now, Judy's interests are divided between serving the Lord and pleasing her husband. That's what Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians. That is what married couples must consciously fight against if we are going to have "undivided devotion to the Lord" while being married. Married couples must be anxious to use their marriage to serve the Lord on a daily basis. How would you solve Judy's dilemma? I'll give some possible answers later.

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