You may have heard the question before: Did God design marriage for our happiness or for our holiness?
My answer would be, “Yes, He did!”
Let me explain.
We tend to think of holiness as something that has to do with being good, staying in line, and doing the right things. But when we understand principles of covenant, we realize that “keeping all the rules” is an inadequate description of holiness.
Holiness is the essence of a fully honored relationship. Holiness is a covenant term which describes both the complete, undefiled union of marriage, as well as the complete, undefiled union of the Godhead.
As God designed it, marriage is holiness.
In Hebrew, the word traditionally used for marriage derives from the word for holiness.
Many Christians understand that holiness means being “set apart,” and they think about being set apart from sinful behaviors. But that is like saying that marriage is about giving up old romantic friendships. “No more girlfriends or boyfriends” is a starting point, but it is not the main point.
Holiness is being “set apart from” in order to be “set apart FOR.”
God took the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt, yes; but the goal was to get them into the Promised Land. Holiness is about far more than what we don’t have in our lives; it is also about what we do have in our lives. In marriage, we set ourselves apart from old boyfriends or girlfriends so that we can be set apart for our spouses.
Holiness means cutting out what does not belong in a relationship so that we can be devoted to what does belong.
Holiness is the “belonging” that is created within a covenant relationship. In the covenant of marriage, holiness is a man committing himself to belong to a woman as her husband, and it is a woman committing herself to belong to a man as his wife. The marital relationship belongs to them.
When everything that belongs within the marriage is present in the marriage, and when nothing that does not belong is not present, then there is holiness in that marriage. And sheltered within that holiness is a core of pleasure, as covenant partners delight in one another.
God designed marriage to reflect the holiness of God.
Within the Triune God, all that belongs is fully present. And there is absolutely nothing present within the Godhead which does not belong.
The Old Testament Tabernacle provided an incredible picture of holiness. The courtyard of purification represented the “setting apart” aspect of holiness. After removing all that did not belong, the priests could then enter the Holy Place, which housed symbols of all that did belong within holiness. The sacred core of the Tabernacle was the Holy of Holies, corresponding to the very heart of relational covenant. This protected core of holiness depicted the fullest experience of the covenant. The “setting apart” and the “belonging” allowed entrance into the place of glory.
The center of holiness is happiness.
This is the truth that the enemy of our souls frantically, feverishly, and furiously tries to keep from us.
God designed marriage as holiness and happiness. Undefiled and honored, the covenant of marriage safeguards a core of pleasure.
Of course, our marriages are fallen. We can fail to experience happiness in marriage because we belong to our self-centeredness more than to our spouses. We bring things that do not belong, such as bitterness and anger. And we fail to bring things that do belong, such as focused attention and devotion.
But even in our brokenness, we can understand God’s design.
We can fight the defiling of our marriages, and we can belong fully to the good of our covenant partners.
And whether we are married or single, we can rejoice in the holy covenant that our God establishes with us as individuals. He brings nothing that would harm us, and He withholds nothing that would bless us. He offers Himself to belong fully to us as our Father, our Shepherd, and our God.
We can offer ourselves entirely to Him, belonging fully to Him as His children, His sheep, and His people.
And within that holiness of covenantal belonging, there is pure joy.