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The Idol of Marriage

I think far too many Christians and evangelistic churches have made an idol out of marriage. And in some ways even I have made an idol out of marriage.

Not so much my marriage or really the marriage of any two specific people, but the idea of marriage.

This might seem contrary to how most people would approach the subject because of the problems divorce is causing our society, but I do believe it remains true.

Paul says that is it good for people not to marry. And that singleness, for him, has been a gift from God. Paul even goes as far as saying those who marry lack self control (1 Corinthians 7).

To that many would say, God created Adam and Eve to be together. And absolutely, he did. But we can’t just throw out what Paul was saying either.

I don’t know about you, but I find what Paul has to say about singleness and marriage to be a far cry from the way many Christians and churches treat the subject.

How many churches do you know that have a single pastor? There aren’t many.

Should part of the goal in our Christian lives really be to marry? Isn’t pursuing our relationship with Christ the higher calling?

Part of the reason I have some passion in this area is because I don’t deserve to be married. I made all the wrong decisions when it came to relationships, and even now I have no idea why my amazing wife said yes to me. I can easily picture myself as the single guy working at a church where everyone says I need to get married, as if my life wasn’t complete yet.

In many ways a church full of single pastors is able to devote more time and energy to their ministry calling. Marriage takes time and effort on a daily basis.

In my life, marriage has truly been a gift from God and a blessing. But I’m concerned we’ve place too high of an importance on getting married instead of valuing singleness.

What do you think? Have Christians made an Idol out of marriage?

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  • http://www.distort.it Matthew Snider

    I think you are miss using what Paul is saying, I think 1 Cor 7 has been studied and found to be called to a certain peoples within the Corinthian church.

    Besides that I think many Christians these days do hold up many things as idols. How many marriage seminars have you been too?

    Great word!

    • http://manofdepravity.com Tyler

      I’ve been to a couple, not any of the huge conferences though.

  • Ben

    I certainly would argue that it is more difficult for a single person to exist in a church. Everything is centered around married couples, their activities, their retreats, etc. I have some friends that only hang out with married friends. They gave me some justification for it, pretty much my complaint that they never include me in any activity with, “it’s just easier for couples to hang out with one another.”

    I don’t know if I will ever get married but as a single person, it is difficult to participate in a church community where married people are trumped over single people.

    • http://thoughtsaboutnothing.com Kyle Reed

      You are right on with that Ben.

    • http://catalystspace.com Jesse Phillips

      I agree that it is harder to be single in a traditional church – as far as hanging out with others. In my house church, tho, singles are much more free to do stuff, and visit the marrieds for dinner & stuff (b/c they have no kids).

      I feel I personally have made an idol out of marriage, I’m not married, but really want to be (for companionship, not being lonely, to have kids & sex!) – but I am constantly haunted by what Paul said, and I know it’s better not to marry. =( it sucks.

      • Ben

        You want to have sex? So overrated. =P

      • http://www.manofdepravity.com JP Single 4 Christ

        You are describing my situation verbatim. Its not easy. Its depressing most of the time. Its a struggle at times to recognize and defeat the lies satan throws at us in terms of insecurity and pessimism. Its even worse when you spend a half year happy to be single, free from the bondage of wishing for someone to “complete you.” Then, you meet the woman of your dreams who loves The Lord with all her heart at the wrong time in your life when you will be moving 500 miles away within two months, and you lose the peace, confidence, and joy inherent with apathy on this subject as a single.

        I am reading “Sun Stand Still” by Steven Furtick. My professional life has ran into a wall, and student loan debt is still there rearing its ugly head. This is a time for God to really reveal himself to me, you, and all other single Christian men out there. Remain steadfast in growing. Read his word, pray, and don’t allow satan to do his work when you are alone at home on a weekend night. Go out and do something, no matter what it is, and regardless of whether or not a female companion is by your side.

  • http://thoughtsaboutnothing.com Kyle Reed

    Absolutely. Almost like if you are not married by 25 you have a problem.
    I have been in several churches where I am “being fixed up” because I am not married.
    I do think the bigger issue here is that if you are single and a minister you are treated completely different then if you are married and a minister.
    When I was going in for my job as a teacher at a private school I was told by the principle that I would be teaching Jr High guys because I was not married and it was a little risky to put a single guy with high schoolers. And that another guy who was my age and was a first year teacher would be teaching High Schoolers because he was married and in turn was more mature.
    There is this perception that if you are single then you are way more prone to either be immature or that you cannot handle being involved with people of the opposite sex.
    I think the issue that comes into mind is the perception of single people and how they need to be made complete or fixed.

    • http://manofdepravity.com Tyler

      I’m sure there are people where them being single is because of some personal issues but it seems that too many people in churches think that is the case for everyone who is single.

      • Jana

        Hey Tyler,

        Your statement on some people are not married due to some “personal issues” gives the impression that the gift of marriage is based on the person themselves and not God… We don’t deserve His grace or mercy on the Cross, and the only reason why we are His is because HE chose us before the foundation of the world. Seeing that He already knew how our lives would pan out, I would believe it’s God that grants us the gift of a spouse, not if you’re the right height, weight, personality, etc, etc etc… I’m not going to front, I’ve been battling this internally for some time and getting to a place that like God’s unmerited favor on His elect that I don’t deserve, marriage is the same thing, and isn’t something that can be earned or deserved as well… Therefore it’s not about me, but all about Him and what ultimately glorifies Him.

  • http://www.ricianne.com patricia

    coming from a single mother…who has really no desire to get married…[ofcourse unless God changes my mind] i think making the choice to remain single freaks people in church out.

    it seems like everyone else wants to “marry you off”.. like if you’re not married, you’re not a complete person.

    it’s pretty sad.

  • Yonas

    Single people are cool!

    I think once you’ve past the 10 year mark you’ll get a free toaster.

    (I got the whole kitchen set already).

  • http://lamontenegro.blogspot.com Victoria

    I totally agree with this, Tyler! I think the church (and the individuals she is comprised of) definitely idolize marriage. Funny enough I think the struggles this creates in the church fall mostly on the single men. There are a LOT of single women in the church (more women go to church than men statistically so it makes sense) and they aren’t usually kept from serving due to their marital status or lack thereof.

    Growing up at my church in Portland, you pretty much reach “old maid” status by about 23 if you’re a woman and still single. This is unfortunate and I think it creates a sense of desperation in some people. Personally, I’m glad I got to stay single until I was almost 26.

  • http://www.ellweezie.com Katie Ellwood

    I’d be a rich woman if I had just a penny for every time a Christian friend has said to me: “I just don’t understand why you’re single.” In fact, sometimes I feel like this is seen as a problem and it becomes a mission to “fix” it…to fix me. But when I say “I’m fine,” I truly mean it. Why aren’t they fine with it?

    If I’m not careful and I take these words and attitude to heart, I can feel discouraged and confused about my lack-of-relationship–almost to the point of resentment and bitterness. But, when I pray and search my heart, I remember that I enjoy my singleness and have found contentment in my dependence on God alone. Nonetheless, I could certainly use more understanding and encouragement from my Christian community regarding my relationship status.

  • Kathy

    Right on, Yonas. Single people ARE cool!

    I know several single moms who have a hard time in church. It breaks my heart to see them so discouraged and unsupported. Yet I know as a married woman and a mom with a supportive husband, I’ve often overlooked or shied away from women who are in a different place from me. Maybe the way we treat single parents (consciously or unconsciously) in the church is part of our idolizing of marriage….

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  • Yonas

    Thanks Kathy, of course we are :)

    I’m generally fine with being single at church…but my biggest pet peeve is when I’m sitting in church trying to listen to the sermon, normally there are two lovebirds in front of me with intense PDA (Public Display of Affection..not the new Droid). The guy carressing the woman’s hair, while she lovingly look into his eyes and smile..holding hands…sighing together in harmony.

    Makes ya wanna just throw a bible at them and say “Get a room already!”

    Don’t adjust your monitor guys, maybe I’m just green with envy!

  • http://www.paulaboardman.posterous.com Paula

    And with that pressure to marry, also comes the inability to form real friendships with people of the opposite sex – because if you’re going out for coffee, that automatically means you’re dating, which also means that your friendship becomes everyone elses business…

    • http://manofdepravity.com Tyler

      Oh yes, I remember that even in college at a Christian school.

  • Yonas

    My own experience…for the most part it’s an American thing.

    When I used to have lots of International friends, they didn’t care what other people think…and we were able to go hang out, have coffee, lunches, dinner, etc and established good friendships.

    The American ones (read: seminary student volunteers) were too busy caring what other people think, and one even gave me a four paragraph email on how to guard my feeling, wanting to know God’s existence in my life, protecting each other’s feelings, etc.

    All I said to her was “Would you like to have coffee sometime?”

    My experience also that the immature ones care so much about their own image, so unless they’re seen with a seemingly desirable person of opposite sex, then they usually are very defensive of what people think of them.

    Another one gave me a few verses on drinking when I invited her to host a wine party…and this is somebody who admits to like drinking wine. (maybe she’s a closet christian drinker…and didn’t read the part that they do drink wine back in the old days).

    Maybe it was just the people (and the age) I met before…it was really stressful dealing with such people.

  • http://godsidekurt.com Kurt

    Definitely! And if I have one more person tell me I need to “get a wife” I think I am going to punch them in their throat.

    I don’t “need” a wife…but I do “want” a wife. To me there’s a huge difference between the two.

  • http://theycallmepastorbryan.com Bryan Dormaier

    Interesting question. Scholastically, it is most likely that Paul writes that advice as a widower rather than as a lifelong single, as we know from other places about his role with the Jewish world prior to his conversion. He wouldn’t have been allowed to have that role had he not been married, as marriage was a requirement from the Jewish world.

    That aside, I too think that we don’t take Paul seriously. I think there’s a couple ways that what Paul says can be applied. He argues that it’s okay to hold out on getting married (if your purpose for not being married is to serve God), but while he insinuates that marriage is for the weak, he also says that you’re not doing anything wrong by marrying. If memory serves in the letter he gives advice specifically for widows and for virgins specifically but I can’t remember quite what it was.

    Does the American Evangelical church over emphasize marriage? Absolutely. It fails to have a concept for the goodness of singleness, which is fairly ironic since Jesus was a single man. But, I suppose how and why one remains single is also a factor that must be considered as well.

    For me, being single has been great as it allows me to focus on a church plant while also engaging in ministry as a church planter.

  • Adam Shields

    If you do get married (I am all for it, I love being married), wait until you start hearing the sermons and friends tell you that God’s purpose for marriage is children. It really doesn’t matter what group you are in, there is always a cooler group that people think you need to be moved into.

  • Susie

    Two are better than one…

    Marriage keeps men seeking God first because (hopefully if their wife is Godly) she is striving to meet his needs first. I think our culture puts way too much of an emphasis on women in the work world and equating them to Men, and that in my opinion is the much BIGGER problem and issue. How can a woman serve her husband first and a career? Speaking from experience, it’s pretty impossible.

    • http://manofdepravity.com Tyler

      So if I’m reading this right, a wife should put her husband above God by “striving to meet his needs first”? I think we’re on completely different pages here.

      On another note, there is a big difference between a church valuing marriage and devaluing those who are single. We don’t need to put pressure on those who are single to get married. I just don’t think there is a Biblical principle that Christians need to be married.

      • Susie

        Absolutly a wife should put God first, then her husband, then her children and household. I did not mean to say that a wife should put her husband before God in her life. What I meant was that men and women in my opinion and according to all the pastors I have been taught by were created for one another. I find the opposite of what you are saying to be true in that I feel unsupported by the church as a married person. I think an emphasis on building strong Godly marriages should be preached about more. I do believe that some people will never get married because maybe God has other plans for their ministry, but humans were created for the marriage relationship. In my opinion people make an idol out of cultural selfishness and not marriage.

  • Susie

    And another comment on marriage in general, I don’t think the church in my opinion speaks enough about it. Love and Respect, The Five Love Languages, these best selling book are a perfect example of that. If marriage and the type of marriages that God requires christians to have were spoken more about, maybe we wouldn’t have such a high divorce rate in this country. I’m going to go ahead and disagree with all these comments and just say that I don’t think the church can drive home enough the importance of marriage. Yes, some people are created to be single. But the church needs to support the majority of people who have entered into the covenant and bring more Godly perspective to it. I have searched high and low for a young married ministry, and it does not exist. So we resort to reading books and doing it on our own, that’s dangerous ground. There should be more church support for this.

  • http://bondchristian.com/ bondChristian

    Interesting discussion here, guys and gals. Thanks for sharing.

    I definitely agree with Tyler that it’s easy for us to idolize marriage. Consider “Focus on the family.” Whether it’s their intention or not, that name itself pushes God back in the equation to emphasize the family, which is exactly what an idol is.

    That said, many of the comments here feel a bit whiny to me. Many sound like a bunch of single people complaining that the church isn’t offering them enough. That might be true, but I think each of us should quit pointing fingers at church leadership and should instead get in there and do something about it.

    Paul was able to say that singleness was a blessing because he proved it was for him. Most singles I know aren’t really proving that their singleness is allowing them more opportunity in the ministry. Most are just complaining that the ministry isn’t providing for them.

    And I include myself in all that because I’m single too. It’s a wake up call for me to really show that singleness is amazing instead of gripping about how my needs aren’t being met by the married side of the church.

    As singles, we should turn this around – people should look at us and think, “Wow, they’re so blessed to be able to do all that without the ties of a family to hold them back.” That’s how the church will quit idolizing marriage.

    -Marshall Jones Jr.

  • http://www.anidolheart.com Grant Jenkins

    This is really great stuff, Tyler. Our “not so small” community group (of 100+ people) at Cross Point Church is about to dig into some of these issues in an upcoming series we’re doing called “Diagnosis: SINGLE”.

    An idolatrous view of marriage makes it the goal whereby many view their singleness as a disease or affliction. We’re hoping to debunk some of that and put the focus back on the condition of our hearts. I’ll be sharing this blog with our group.

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  • http://www.reflectionofgrace.wordpress.com Brandi

    This post is great! I am on staff at a medium sized church in a retirement community in Florida working as the Girls Ministry Director with 7th-12th grade girls. Being single has afforded me the opportunity to have an open door policy with girls who literally hang out at my house every single day for hours & hours on end which has led to a sense of community among their Christian peers like I’ve never seen or experienced before. As obvious as it is that God is indeed maximizing my singleness and using it for His glory in this church & city, there is a tension that comes in being literally the only single girl my age in our entire church of 1000 people. Many of our staff & volunteers know how difficult it is to not have friends & “prospects” for a potential husband locally in this culture of older folks & families, so their answer is to press me to get married so that I’ll be able to fit in with the “young marrieds” (the majority of whom are still 30+ with young children). Instead of encouraging me to find my contentment in Christ alone or encouraging a way to cultivate my long distance friendships & community, the answer automatically becomes “Find a husband and then you’ll be happy”. It’s discouraging and so often I find myself questioning if something really is wrong with me because I’m not married or dreaming of the time when I will hopefully be married and finally “happy” because I will have “arrived”. It’s a struggle to remind myself that I already have all that I need in and through Christ when so many of the older, wiser voices around me are giving me a distorted message.

    I say all that to say, yes! The church, in my experience, has made an idol out of marriage. I wonder what it would like if we took all the energy we put into making marriage an idol and put such emphasis on the fact that, although we may be culturally single, we are indeed already a bride. And because of THAT marriage we are already whole. Takes a lot of the pressure off us single people in our desperate seeking & allows those of us who are feeling the pressure to breathe.

  • Stephanie Weis

    Hello Mr. Tyler Braun,

    I stumbled across your posting in search of what Godly people had to say about the idolization of a man, and saw that you had “the idol of marriage”.
    I 100% believe that our generation, as well as others in the past has idolized marriage. I think more so in the past generations, I would say my grandparents’ generation (I’m 26) even more because everyone right out of high school was married.
    I think you nailed it on the head when you said singleness should be a time of giving our full attention to Christ, instead of thinking that something is wrong if we don’t have that ring on our finger.
    But I also think it goes deeper than just the fact of marriage. I think, (speaking for myself) that the root goes deeper in regards to idolization of a man or woman. I wanted to see what other people had to say on this topic after reading a comment posted by someone saying “Are you idolatrous? — Cut yourself off from the things that you worship”.
    I agree with this statement up until the point of, what if you idolize a man/woman or even your spouse? You can’t simply cut them out of your life, so what do you do?
    Not only do I fall short in idolizing men, but also marriage and what fantasy I cook up in my head. I am constantly asking “what is real God?” concerning marriage.
    Far too often the church is telling our youth to hold out for what God has, and I agree with this, but what I don’t agree with is how no married couple is talking about how hard marriage is. I know godly couples who have poured their hearts out confessing that sometimes you wake up lying next to your spouse wanting to be so far away from them. Or even hating the way they brush their teeth, the list goes on. Nobody in the church talks about that stuff, not even to our youth.
    It takes root in peoples’ heart which leads to idolism. If no one is talking about the bad stuff, how can we not put a man/woman/marriage as an idol in our life? Look at the divorce rate within Christians, 60% I think. People go in marriage not prepared for the icky stuff; marriage falls short of their expectations, and what they were “holding out” for. I think that it what Paul is driving home when he says it is better to be single. Marriage is hard, dying to yourself and putting the your spouse first takes the holy spirit. And don’t get me wrong, I think marriage has a ton of beautiful blessings. I just think the church does a good job at telling us what to hold out for, but fails to talk about the stuff in marriage that is extremely hard which lead to these unrealistic expectations of marriage, and the idolism of marriage.

    Thanks for your time and your writing :)

    In Him,
    Stephanie Weis

  • God’s Daughter

    Tyler

    I came across your page because I just went through what I believe is a wake up call from God to say that I have been idolizing men/marriage. I think that is why God is dealing with me harshly these days because it is number 2 of the bible. I goggled marriage as an idol and here we are.

    Since I was 18 (13 years now) I have dreamed about what my husband would be like or act like. I even joined match.com when I was 18 because so badly I wanted to be married and have kids.

    I wanted so much to have the family which I never had. I am now a 31 year old single female seeking God and trying to be emotionally faithful to GOD.

    Twice 2001-2002 and 2009-2010 I fell in love with men who five months later married someone else. What I have now realize is that I wanted the idea of marriage and children with them more than I wanted them.

    Each time I think I wanted these men to be my rock and source of strength and to take away the one thing only God could take away. My tainted past of rejection, abuse, and neglect. I just wanted so bad for someone to love me back. When I didn’t even love myself or allow myself to receive Gods love for me.

    I guess I felt for so long that if I got married and had kids I would be happy. I could give my children what I never had. Even writing this it hurts my heart to know that I placed someone before Christ and wanted them more in my heart without knowing it until now.

    Children and relationships change so why would I assume they would love me forever?

    I find myself comparing my life and self to others a lot. The fact that I am saved and living for the Lord and some others I encounter could care less about Him yet they get blessed with husbands and children annoyed me greatly.

    I’m hold a masters degree… yet I’m unstable in that I honestly don’t want to work a 9-5 job. My dream would be to be a stay at home mom and do my online business. But it’s not what God wants me to do. He wants me to minister to women….which my flesh is against but it is my cross since they flock to me. I believe God chose me because of all the things that I have gone through.

    Anywho I think the idea of the “perfect marriage” is an idol. People change and are inconsistent.

    I think when we have right motives that marriage is a ministry as well to serve the other.

    just my thoughts.

  • http://twitter.com/PFNikolai Pete Nikolai

    After having been married for over 20 years and seeing most of my friends divorce, I have started to consider all the time I have invested in one person and to wonder if my marriage relationship has become an idol. I Googled “marriage idol” and found this blog post. The comments brought to mind a lot of the thoughts I’ve had over the years. God can use marriage in the sanctification process (see Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas http://is.gd/g4JU5). But when one spouse decides that they are not happy and the other spouse begins to go to extraordinary lengths to try to make their spouse happy, it is difficult to determine where sanctification and ministry end and where idolatry begins. Should a spouse go to extraordinary lengths to make their spouse happy—even if they neglect their calling to do so? What if not doing so leads to divorce?

  • Daniel

    Tyler, when you say “Paul even goes as far as saying those who marry lack self control (1 Corinthians 7)”, you’re trying to make marriage sound wrong. Remember in 1 Timothy 4:1-3 it says that in the last days some would turn from the faith and follow the doctrines of demons, and that they would “preach that it is wrong to be married” (verse 3).

    ALSO, remember in Matthew 19:10 (can’t remember the exact verse), Jesus also agrees that it is best not to marred, BUT he goes on to say that not everyone is able to accept that teaching, but ONLY TO THOSE WHOM IT IS GIVEN. That’s why many of us are not able to accept the single life, is because God pre-installed us with a natural desire to marry and be with a partner with the opposite sex.
    Although I do agree with you on one thing, making marriage the top priority instead of God very well could be the reason He won’t bless us with a spouse. The Bible says to “seek first the Kingdom of Heaven” and all those other things will follow”.

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