“Marriage isn’t about your happiness; it’s about your holiness.”
“Marriage isn’t primarily about being ‘in love’; it’s about covenant-keeping.”
Maybe you’ve heard something similar to those lines in a recent sermon/book/blog post on marriage. I have. In fact, I’ve said those very things in sermons. Yet, I think that it can be possible to push the emphasis on commitment in marriage too far. In a reaction to the wider culture’s emphasis on marriage as personal fulfillment, some of the language coming from Christians seems to reduce the essence of marriage down to bare commitment (Remember: I have done this).
Now, of course, covenant-keeping is the foundation of marriage. God does not allow us to just pick up and leave because we’re not “in love” anymore. Passion waxes and wanes, and during those “waning” periods, spouses need to stand firm on their covenant commitment.
But, passion, desire, and attraction do play a significant role in marriage. Here’s the evidence:
1) God regularly uses marriage language to describe His relationship to His people, in both Testaments. For example, in Hosea, God yearns for His people. He even goes so far to say that He will “allure” Israel. In other words, God will win Israel’s affection back to Himself because of the self-giving affection He will show to her (Hosea 2:14)! If God is passionate about His “spouse,” should we not also be passionate about our spouses? God delights in His people. Should we not delight in our spouses?
2) God does not want disinterested duty/obedience from His people. That’s what the Sermon on the Mount is all about: you can be outwardly conformed to the Law, but if your heart isn’t in it, it’s not real obedience. God regularly condemns outward obedience, outward religiousity without inward affection: “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me (Isaiah 29:13). In a similar way, I do not think that mere outward commitment to our spouses is an adequate cover for disinterest and lack of passion in them. Don’t misunderstand: I am not saying that it’s ok only to do things for them “if we feel like it.” My point is that love consists of two things together: covenant commitment and affection.
3) If God commands married couples to have regular sex—which He does (1 Corinthians 7:1-5)—then it is hard for me to see how passion and desire don’t play a significant role in marriage. Sex is a lot of things, but one thing it’s not: passion less. There seems that there must be some level of attraction, some level of desire and overwhelming passion which moves a married couple to engage in sexual intercourse.
Christian marriage, like anything in the world, is stained with sin. We are not always on an emotional “high” with our spouse. We do not always love them like we should. But Christian marriage is also something which Christ is redeeming. So we can have a passionate and loving marriage, even as we get older with our spouses. Let’s keep covenant with our spouses; but let’s also be passionate about them too.