Does marriage impede one's relationship with God?

Paul addresses how marriage might impact one's relationship with God in 1 Corinthians 7. He writes that he wants people to serve the Lord "free from anxieties" (1 Corinthians 7:32). As he says, "the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband" (1 Corinthians 7:33–34). Naturally, those who are not married have more ability to serve the Lord without the added concern of a spouse or children. Because of the freedom to serve Christ that exists in singleness, Paul says, "I wish that all were as I myself am," i.e., single (1 Corinthians 7:7). He also clearly says that this is his (Spirit-guided) opinion, not a command from the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:6). Both marriage and celibate singleness are affirmed throughout the Bible; neither situation means a person is closer to or further from God.

In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul is not saying that marriage is a bad thing, or that marriage hinders one's relationship with God. Marriage is a good thing created by God (Genesis 2:24). He structured the continuing of the human race through marriage and the bringing up of children through the context of family. God created marriage as an intimately sacrificial way we can walk out love and as a means of sanctification. Paul has a high view of marriage as we see in Ephesians: "Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself" (Ephesians 5:22–28). This view of marriage is sacrificial on both parts as husband and wife are called to love each other and submit to the roles to which Christ has called them. Paul is not saying that marrying is a bad thing or a lesser thing. It is a different thing, and one's focus in ministry is different because of it. Your husband or wife is often the one God will use to sanctify you the most, which means that your spouse is your primary ministry.

Because marriage is such a life-sacrificial thing, Paul expresses that marriage might not be the wisest thing for everyone. He writes, "To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion" (1 Corinthians 7:7–8). The single person is able to sacrifice any and every part of their lives for other people without having to worry about neglecting their spouse or their children. For example, someone who believes God is calling him to missions in a dangerous country might have an easier time giving himself to God's calling on his life without a wife or children. On the other hand, perhaps partnering with a wife who is similarly called will be more effective. Each person should seek out what God is calling him or her to, and see from there if marriage fits the calling God has on his or her life (1 Corinthians 7:17).

While it seems single people may be more easily able to serve in ministry or to have more time to spend developing an intimate relationship with God through things like Bible study and prayer, this does not mean that married people are ineffective in ministry outside of their marriage nor that marriage impedes their relationship with God. In fact, Paul affirms, "Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?" (1 Corinthians 9:5). In 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 Paul gives qualifications for elders in churches. In part, the way such a man manages his own household (i.e., how he is with his wife and children) will be indicative of whether he can care for God's church. So clearly there is ample opportunity for those who are married to effectively serve the Lord both within and outside their own family. In fact, when done correctly, a marriage relationship can help both husband and wife draw closer to God. Each spouse can encourage the other in the Lord, they can seek God's will together, and they will learn and experience different aspects of God's love as they strive to love one another well.

There are benefits and hardships to both singleness and marriage. It is not singleness or marriage in themselves that cause a hindrance to our relationship with God. Rather, it is our own sin nature. People have the infamous ability to turn any good thing into an idol, and singleness and marriage are no exception. Singleness can negatively affect your relationship with God if you see it as an opportunity for selfishness and self-indulgence, rather than as a gift from God. Marriage can hinder your relationship with God if you value it over God. If you are seeking all your affirmation, all your belonging, all your meaning or your purpose from your spouse, you have put something in the way of your relationship with God. Another way marriage might hinder one's relationship with God is if one spouse is not a believer or one spouse is committed to earnestly following the Lord when the other is not. But this could also be an opportunity for the believing spouse to draw closer to God. Loving your wife or husband doesn't have to get in the way of loving God. Rather, you can learn to love your spouse because you love Christ and are changed by the gospel. While a married person's life is lived in part for their spouse, a married Christian can still put his or her spouse above themselves while living their life wholly for Christ. In the best of situations, a married couple will find that the benefits of faithful companionship serve to strengthen their relationship with God; they can build one another up and be a mutual encouragement, better together and stronger in the Lord because of the influence of their spouse (Proverbs 27:17; Ecclesiastes 4:9–12; Hebrews 10:24–25; 1 Peter 3:1–7).

Related Truth:

With all its challenges, why even consider marriage?

What is the purpose of marriage?

What does the Bible teach about marriage?

Does marriage impede one's relationship with God?

How will I know when I've found the right spouse for me?

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Truth about Marriage

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