This week we’re continuing our series, Better Half, in which we’re looking at the secrets behind a flourishing marriage. For example, statistics show that Christian couples who attend church together are 35% less likely to experience divorce than the religiously unaffiliated; just by being in church you’re building into your marriage! Last time, we learned that marriage is designed by God as a covenant designed for self-sacrifice. This week, we’ll focus on the God-given purpose of marriage.

Question: What do you hope to gain through marriage? What expectations do you have for marriage?

In Genesis 1, God says, “Let us make mankind in our own image”, and He creates Adam. In the next chapter, we see the first “not good” in the creation narrative; it is not good for Adam to be alone. Thus, God creates a helper for him.

In Hebrew, the word for “helper” is “ezer”, which means helper-companion, or in the modern English, friend. God created Eve to first and foremost be Adam’s friend. Song of Solomon reiterates this view of marriage: “This is my beloved, this is my friend (Song of Solomon 5.16).

The most important way of thinking about marriage is through the lens of friendship rather than the lens of romance. Our culture almost exclusively focuses on the romantic part of marriage— emphasizing the importance of physical attraction and sexiness. While romance has its place, friendship is fundamental to God’s view of marriage.

If friendship is the foundation of marriage, what is required for a strong, healthy friendship?

One element that’s required is constancy. Proverbs 17.17 says, “A friend loves at all times”. Friendship requires us to be faithful and dependable even when the relationship is challenging; it means committing to our friends even when it’s difficult—sticking with them through the good, bad, and ugly.

Another element that friendship requires is honesty. Good friends are honest with us about both the good and the not so good parts of ourselves; they offer us both affirmation and accountability. Proverbs 27.6 tells us that “wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses”. Good friends will lovingly ask the hard questions to help chip away anything about us that isn’t good or godly.

Finally, friendship requires commonality. This commonality takes place on two levels—natural and spiritual. On a natural level, we’re connected through similar interests, like sports, cooking, or taking care of our kids. On a spiritual level, we’re connected by ultimate purpose and life direction (see 2 Corinthians 5.9).

This understanding of friendship, and of marriage as friendship, offers a greater purpose to marriage. Marriage is no longer primarily about romance, common interests or even raising a family. Marriage is a spiritual friendship focused on encouraging one’s spouse in his or her pursuit of Christ.

Question: How does this understanding of friendship affect how you think of marriage? Which of these characteristics do you currently see or would you like to see in your marriage?

Ephesians tells us that Jesus’ relationship with the church is the model for Christian marriage. Jesus gave Himself up—and served—His spouse, the church, that He could present her as radiant, that He could wipe away every stain, wrinkle, and blemish that she may be holy and blameless. Likewise, we as spouses are called to love our spouse into radiance—to help him or her become everything God intends him or her to be.

When Michelangelo was asked how he carved his famous David statue, it’s told that he said “I looked inside of the marble and just took away the bits that weren’t David. This is exactly what Christian marriage does; it takes a raw block of marble and asks, “How can I love you in such a way that I can help you remove the things that aren’t radiant in your life?” Marriage isn’t first heat, passion, and romance. Marriage is first a friendship dedicated to helping someone become more like Christ.

Question: How are you aiding your spouse in their walk with Christ? How has your spouse “chipped away” what isn’t radiant in your life?

Practically, how do we do this? How do we partner with someone in their journey toward Christ?

Notice that the goal of this verse is maturity in Christ. The means to that goal is speaking the truth to one another in love.

Marriage is often the ultimate truth-teller because we’re brought into such close contact with another person that we can’t hide our flaws. Those little irritants that were once ignored now must be addressed. And while this can be uncomfortable at times, one of the most powerful things that a married person can do is help his or her spouse see where his or her shortcomings lie. Knowing our shortcomings so we can work on them now is far better than trying to undo the damage of unaddressed shortcomings in the long term. Speaking the truth also means inviting your spouse to speak truth into your life.

Speaking truth is the first tool for transformation. A second tool is the expression of love. As we mentioned, marriage is the ultimate truth-teller because our spouse knows us so well. It’s powerful when someone who knows us deeply—knows all of our flaws, ugly habits, and shortcomings—loves us regardless. Marriage is a beautiful and powerful example of God’s unconditional love for us. It’s powerful enough to overcome past hurts and lies in our lives.

In order for these two tools to be most effective, they must be used together. Speaking truth without love can be harsh, hurtful and harmful, while loving without speaking truth can ignore harmful habits and likewise be damaging. However, speaking the truth in love can be incredibly difficult. Thankfully, Christ gives us the ultimate example of love and truth when He died on the cross for us. In doing so, Christ acknowledged the truth that our sin is so bad that death is required to atone for it, and He affirmed that God’s love is so great for us that Jesus was glad to die.

In order to practice truth and love, we have to take what Christ has done for us to heart. Knowing that we’re bad enough that Christ had to die humbles us and forces us to accept our brokenness. It humbles us to speak truth into the life of another person in a way that doesn’t feel like we’re better than that person. Knowing Christ’s love also fills us with great joy and confidence, giving us the security and boldness to speak truth to another without letting fear stop us.

Question: How does knowing Christ died for you impact your relationship with others? How does it empower you to speak the truth in love?