A parishioner heard me preach on Ephesians 5, where Paul says that the purpose of marriage is to “sanctify” us. She said, “I thought the whole point of marriage was to be happy! You make it sound like a lot of work.” She was right—marriage is a lot of work—but she was wrong to pit that against happiness, and here is why. Paul is saying that one of the main purposes of marriage is to make us “holy . . . without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish” (verses 26–27). What does that mean? It means to have Jesus’s character reproduced in us, outlined as the “fruit of the Spirit”—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithful integrity, gentle humility, and self-control—in Galatians 5:22–25.
When Jesus’s love, wisdom, and greatness are formed in us, each with our own unique gifts and callings, we become our “true selves,” the persons we were created to be. Every page in the Bible cries that the journey to this horizon cannot be accomplished alone. We must face it and share it with brothers and sisters, friends of our heart. And the very best human friendship possible for that adventure is with the lover-friend who is your spouse.
Is all this a lot of work?
Indeed it is—but it is the work we were built to do. Does this mean “marriage is not about being happy; it’s about being holy”? Yes and no. As we have seen, that is too stark a contrast. If you understand what holiness is, you come to see that real happiness is on the far side of holiness, not on the near side. Holiness gives us new desires and brings old desires into line with one another.
So if we want to be happy in marriage, we will accept that marriage is designed to make us holy.