The Purpose of Marriage is Not to Make You Holy

by Jonathan Trotter on February 12, 2015

Before we moved abroad, we did some marriage counseling. What I mean is, we sat in an old guy’s office for fifteen hours and cried. It was amazing.

He told us our marriage could be a safe-haven on the field. Or not.

He said we could strengthen and encourage each other on the field. Or not.

He said that our marriage could bring peace and stamina and even joy to the mission field. Or not.

He was right.


Some Questions

If you and I were chatting at a local coffee shop and I asked you, “Hey, I’m curious, how would you describe marriage?” In general, what words would you use?

Would you say, “Marriage is…




&#^$? [that could mean good things or bad things, I suppose]

How do you describe your own marriage? Often, the first word I hear people say is “hard.” And after they say “hard,” they quickly follow up with, “but it’s good.”

Now, think about your relationship with your best friend. How would you describe that relationship?

Would you say, “Our friendship is…





Would you call it “hard, but good”? Honestly, what would you think of someone who spoke of their closest friendship, first and foremost, as hard? Um, weird.

What about your relationship with God? Is it, first and foremost, hard?

Is that really what we’re going for? Is our chief end to endure the hard, with God and our spouses?

On a gut level, I think we know there’s more. There has to be more.


A Dangerous Idea

“The purpose of marriage is to make us holy.”

“Marriage is hard, but it’s ok, because it makes us holy.”

“My marriage is really difficult. But that’s good, because marriage is supposed to make me holy.”

Have you ever heard a variation on this theme? Often, people don’t say it so explicitly, but I’ve heard this a bunch, and I think it’s dangerous. It’s almost like we looked around and said, “Well, marriage is really difficult, and a lot of folks never experience intimacy or joy or happiness in their marriages, so let’s just tell them marriage is supposed to make them holy instead.”

We sound so spiritual when we talk like this, and we think we’re elevating the institution of marriage, when in fact, we’re simplifying it and cheapening it. We’re robbing it of beauty. And, we’re insulting people.

We’re insulting the people who aren’t married. How are they made holy? Are they doomed to a life of less holiness due to their marital status? Are they holiness-deficient? Are we implying that our single brothers and sisters, widows and widowers, or folks who’ve dealt with the trauma of divorce, don’t have access to the thing that can make them holy? Namely, a spouse?

Can marriage make you holy? Sure. Any relationship with another human has the potential to wear off rough edges, point out selfishness, expose our sin, and through the work of the Holy Spirit and the sacrifice of Jesus, make us holy. (See: Parenthood.) But saying “marriage can make you holy” is very different than saying “the purpose of marriage is to make you holy.”

The real-life implications of this belief are what scare me the most. If marriage is to make me holy, and if what I really mean by that is that the hard parts of marriage make me holy, then I’m actually completely justified in staying in the hard parts, without any hope of or desire to change. There is no impetus to seek deeper intimacy with the one I’ve promised to be with forever.

You know, sometimes marriage is hard because we’ve got issues that need to be worked on. But instead of acknowledging the emotional pain, or the fear of intimacy, or the past offenses, we deflect and avoid, consoling ourselves, “Well, at least it’s making me holy.”

This is not God’s plan for marriage.

Instead of hitting conflict or hardships and deflecting to “holy,” we need to start asking the tough questions, like “Why are we having this conflict?” or “Is there deeper emotional pain that’s making this so hard?” Can we stop using the idea of holiness as an excuse to avoid the hard questions?

And more to the theological core, I think we believe marriage can’t be pleasurable and enjoyable, because then it wouldn’t be as spiritual. This is an ancient discussion. Pause and analyze for a second if any of these fallacies have crept in to your thoughts on marriage:

Marriage can’t feel good.

Marriage can’t be good unless it’s purely spiritual.

Spiritual intimacy is the most important part of marriage.

Physical and emotional intimacy in marriage is inherently “less than” spiritual intimacy.

Again, we don’t really talk like this, but it is often our meta-message.

Marriages are not meant to be endured.


Marriage is for intimacy.

The sharing of souls and dreams and flesh.

The first taste of summer.

Marriage, the joining together of two unique persons, predates sin and exists beyond it. Marriage satisfied Adam. It excites Jesus.

The first marriage was designed by a loving Father, for joy and companionship. Closeness. It was good. The last marriage, a proclamation of Love’s victory that echoes in eternal joy and companionship and glory. A celebration such as the cosmos has never seen.

Marriage is the mysterious coming together of two people; the blending of heart and vessel and marrow. The tearing of the veil. Intimate. At least, that’s what it’s supposed to be.

But intimacy can be a scary thing. It’s vulnerable and exposed and leaves us naked. It’s also amazing.

The opposite of intimacy is withdrawal. Distance. Disconnection. Ask yourself, ask your spouse, “Are we close? Are our hearts even in the same room, communicating easily? Have we settled for a dull disconnect?” It’s worth talking about. And for the record, if one spouse feels like there’s distance and disconnection but the other spouse thinks everything’s great, the first one’s right, and the marriage needs help. If you’re the spouse that’s denying distance, I beg you to stop. Now. Listen to the heart-cry of your husband or wife.

Every relationship will have seasons. Seasons of grandeur and awe and warmth, and seasons of darkness and winter. But there’s a big difference between a season of winter and an ice age. If you’re living in an ice age, please get help. It doesn’t have to be that way.


A Blessed Arrangement

Intimacy with your spouse is a gift, a fountain of youth. Treasure it, protect it, and fight for it. Here are some ideas:

Explore the relationship between Christ and the Church. Study Ephesians 5. Read the Song of Solomon. Slowly. Find a marriage counselor, even if you don’t have any “issues.” Pursue emotional healing.

Say no to good stuff so you can say yes to better stuff. Do not embrace your mission so much that you lose your marriage. Keep porn far, far away. Porn will destroy intimacy faster than you can click “delete browser history.”

Read good books about marriage. Trade babysitting. If at all possible, when someone comes to visit you on the field, let them get over jet lag and then leave the kids with them so you and your spouse can get away overnight. When you’ve got little munchkins at home, even 26 hours away (our last getaway) can be awesome. (And someone please tell me I’m not the only one who counts those getaways in hours!)

You may be in a place where getting away is impossible, or unsafe, or just really stupid. So, change your definition of “a date.” Putting the kids to bed early and catching up with your spouse over coffee (or tea, I guess) can be romantic, if you want it to be.


Regarding Sex [a word for my brothers]

Sex and intimacy are not synonyms. But still, a marriage characterized by emotional intimacy will include some form of healthy physical intimacy.

Men, we think we know a whole lot more about sex than we actually know. And that’s a problem, because we think we don’t need to learn, or even worse, we think that we’ve learned about sex already, you know, because we watched some porn once or listened to guys in the locker room. Yikes. Our wives deserve better than that.

Having sex doesn’t take much skill or special knowledge, but really making love to your wife’s heart and body, now that takes some practice. And research.

I think you should research sex. I know you think about it a lot, so why not study it from a healthy source? Have your wife do some research, and read whatever she thinks you need to read. And if she thinks you need to read something, then you need to read it. However, if she doesn’t want you reading about sex, she’s probably got a very good reason, and you should look into that before you start calling her names. For example, if you’ve violated her trust, or pressured her in the past, she’s probably not going to be too excited about this paragraph. And she’s probably right.

That being said, a pretty basic book that might be a good place to start your research is A Celebration of Sex, by Dr. Douglas Rosenau.

A longtime missionary and medical doctor once told me something interesting about sex. (And I always listen when someone tells me something interesting about sex.) He said, “Often, the sex life of a missionary couple is a barometer for the health of their marriage in general.”

Sex doesn’t create intimacy, and you can’t fix an unhealthy marriage by having more sex. That wasn’t his point. He was just saying that emotional distance, or a lack of emotional intimacy, will show up early in a couples’ sex life. It’s a warning sign. And if the emotional intimacy between a husband and wife begins to diminish, it should be addressed sooner rather than later.

It should be noted here that a healthy sexual relationship has nothing to do with frequency. It has to do with intimacy. Do you, as husband and wife, regularly connect with each other both physically and emotionally?

Husbands and wives, enjoying each other physically and emotionally, is very pleasing to God.


When One Partner Doesn’t Care

Maybe you hate this article. Maybe you’re already gearing up for the comments section. Please, hear me out.

For most of this article, I’m assuming that both husband and wife want to grow closer. I’m assuming you both want a healthy marriage characterized by deepening intimacy.

However, I realize that many people live in marriages that aren’t like that. Maybe that’s you. Maybe you’re in a marriage that’s missing something and you already know it and it’s breaking you. Maybe you wish things would change, but they haven’t, and you don’t think they ever will. If that’s you, I want you to know that I totally believe you. I see you, and I’m so very sorry.

It is not good to be alone. But being married to someone and still alone, now that might be worse still.

If that’s you, you may find yourself in a valley of grief, and that might be right where you need to be for a time. Grieving the loss of dreams. Grieving for the broken places, and the broken things.

If you’re in that hurting place, may the Lord of Peace surround you with his love. May you find friends and confidants who will walk beside you, encourage you, and strengthen you. May you find the Church to be a welcome and warm place, full of people who care about you, about seeing you. Not you, the part of the “bad marriage” or the “failed marriage,” but you, the child of the King, who is worth so much. May you know intimacy, with your God and with his people. And may he bring you safely home.



Marriage is a great gift, and we honor the Giver when we accept the gift with joy and excitement. We honor him when we treasure each other, respect each other, know each other.

We miss the Father’s heart when we think he gave us marriage “to make us holy.”

Yes, marriage is sometimes hard, and life is not all peaches and cream, but if your default description of marriage is “hard,” I’m telling you, there’s more. Look for that. Pray for that.


A Marriage Blessing

May your marriage be beautiful. May it remind you often that God gives good gifts. Very good gifts.

May people look at your love and see that there is a God and he is awesome.

May you show the world – and the Church – that it’s not about submission or obedience or “who’s in charge.” That in your love and mutual submission, you will race each other to the bottom. And when you get to the bottom, may you find love, wholeness, joy, peace, and life. In other words, Jesus.

May you laugh often. At each other, with each other, because of each other. And if and when God fills your home with children, may you sit around the table and laugh and laugh and laugh.

May you taste heaven when you taste each other.

And when you walk through the shadowlands, and you will walk through the shadowlands, may the One who led you together continue to lead you together. He is the Creator of the soaring mountaintops and the scary valleys. May he sustain you and remind you.

May 2015 be the best year of your marriage. Until 2016. And may 2016 be the best year of your marriage. Until 2017. May you experience the intense joy of being known, deeply, and the great honor of knowing another.

May your love, promised and given, echo into eternity.

May people hear your stories, witness your love, and say from now until forever, “Look at what the Lord has done!”


*photo credit

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About Jonathan Trotter

Jonathan is a missionary in Southeast Asia, where he provides pastoral counseling at a local counseling center. He also serves as one of the pastors at an international church. Before moving to the field with his wife of sixteen years and their four kids, he served as a youth pastor in the Midwest for ten years. He enjoys walking with people towards Jesus and eating imported Twizzlers. | | facebook: trotters41 | twitter: @trotters41
  • Richelle Wright

    Appreciate what you’ve shared here, Jonathan.

    I do think that this statement is a response to those who would make marriage “all about me and my happiness,” and carries it too far. I would also add that I think when some people say marriage is hard, what they are really saying is that a good marriage requires hard work, i.e. intentional and continual investment in the relationship and preferring another over self it doesn’t just happen with no effort – well, at least not in my case. The amount of work varies from marriage to marriage, I’m sure… and from season to season – at least based off of my personal experience.

    I’ve often had this awkward moment where people have started to compliment or “glorify” our family because we’ve got so many kids who are, for the most part and on many days, likeable and well-behaved and seeking to allow God Lordship in their lives. My response has often been that my husband is the anvil and my kids are the hammers with which God pounds out impurities and does some of His most painful reshaping of me. Sometimes that is just because I see myself and my own sinfulness reflected in family struggles and other times it is because this many people can’t live in this close of proximity consistently without our sinful selfish natures showing up and staging a coup d’etats – some only momentary and others (sadly) lasting much longer. But is the primary purpose of those relationships my holiness? There actually seems something inherently selfish and arrogant in saying that – at least that is my initial reaction…

    Thanks for this very important reminder.

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      Funny you should mention “selfish and arrogant” here, Richelle, because I’ve thought for a while that there is something inherently Americanized and individualistic about saying “marriage is to make me holy.” It’s still all about ME. I think that’s too much focus on the individual and not the couple, especially now after having lived a few years in a collective society and beginning to read the Bible in a more collective way as well.

      • Richelle Wright

        i would say the same thing regarding individualistic . And on further thought, I’d also say that, right or wrong, people get married for lots of different reasons. Getting married… or even staying married (which I think we should)… only or even primarily because you think that is how God is going to make you holy – seems sad because while that may be partly true, you are missing so much. In fact, to add to Jonathan’s “pie analogy” below 🙂 – it is like eating the crust only of that pie instead of enjoying the whole slice.

    • Marla Taviano

      I love this, Richelle. (And I love the post, Jonathan.) I “know” the guy who coined the “marriage is to make me holy” phrase, and I think his heart is in the right place. Like you said, Richelle, I think it’s more of a response to, “I’m going to get married, because then I’ll be happy.” When, actually, marriage isn’t a sit-back-and-get-your-feet-rubbed kind of deal. I love my marriage and I’m in love with my husband, but we’ve been through some tough stuff in the past few years. The love I feel for him now is so much deeper and sweeter for the hell we’ve endured.

      It’s such a weird, fine line between being honest about the challenges of marriage and celebrating the awesome. I don’t want to be happy-gushy OR moany-whiny.

      Anyway. Good stuff. Thanks for sharing! Love the blessing at the end. And see you guys next week!

      • Marla Taviano

        p.s. I just read this cool post along the lines of how I’m feeling but can’t seem to articulate. “I don’t believe realism has to remotely equal pessimism.”

        • Absolutely! I never want to communicate the whole “pie in the sky” idea, where marriage is devoid of conflict or anything difficult. Perhaps the “pie on the ground” idea is better. That is, it can be sweet, it can be very good, but it has to be protected, fought for, and prepared. I don’t know, maybe that’s a bad analogy. I just came up with it. I’ll probably delete it tomorrow. : )

          • Richelle Wright

            Don’t delete it. Its a “smileworthy” analogy. 🙂

      • Hey, Marla! Disclaimer: I don’t know anything about what the intent was behind the phrase. : ) I’m just looking around and listening to how people use it; how are some people (not all people) applying the phrase in their own lives, where the rubber meets the road? Where does that line of thinking sometimes lead? And then, how can I as a pastor help to correct that? This article is my measly attempt. : ) We should totally discuss this further over Indian food next week with the fam!

    • Richelle, so glad you joined the conversation! It looks like Elizabeth beat me to the comment section! Oh well, what she said. : )

  • Anna Wegner

    I appreciate your perspective. I understand that the “marriage is to make you holy” is probably more of a reaction against those who use trivial excuses to end their marriage. But when we were first hearing that a lot, it almost seemed like you were doing something wrong if you were happy in your marriage. I think there can be times in marriage or life that are hard, but you work through those times to something better.

    I would like to see the one word everyone thinks for marriage to be something along the lines of “wonderful” or “amazing” instead of hard. For me, the best part has always been the knowledge that you have someone else always there for you- in your corner, at the end of the day, your joys are shared, your sorrows are shared. There’s no other human relationship that comes close. 🙂

    • Thanks, Anna! That’s really funny about the whole “you’re doing something wrong if you’re happy” idea. Elizabeth and I have had that same conversation! : ) One marriage researcher I’ve read actually states that the way a couple deals with conflict is a MUCH better predictor of marital satisfaction than whether or not there is conflict.

  • Elisabeth

    Thank you… HUGE! Needed! Real! Practical! Kind!

  • walking in the valley during

    Marriage…reminds me of the line in Princess Bride. I have been through 2. The first was for holiness the second I am on the fence. The second marriage we have our issues. I have my own. And we are in thereapy. But I question, doubt and don’t know where it will be next year. And the effed up thing is this we will be moving to another country another calling to serve. It scares me to think that our barometer is way off. But this article gives me a glimmer of hope. I will not settle for less than and I will address the issues full on.
    We are disconnected at the moment and don’t know intimacy if it showed up on our doorstep. But I am willing to do the work but I wonder if he is too?

    • In fact, I almost used a line from The Princess Bride as the title for the whole article! : ) Thanks so much for sharing some of your story, although I am so sorry you find yourself in this valley. It sounds like you have access to resources and support; that’s so, so important! May the Father of Peace surround you with grace and mercy as you walk this path, and may he continue to give you boldness as you hope.

  • Kristy

    Thank you! This will be our “date night’ material tonight after we get the kids to bed and sit down with a cup of tea 🙂 Very practical and real!

    • Well that’s cool. : ) May you’re marriage be strengthened and intimacy deepened! Happy weekend!

  • Beth Douglas Saavedra

    I believe that I understand your perspective and your heart as wanting to see people relishing marriage as the amazing gift from God that it, indeed, is. Thank you for that. However, I think you make a crucial error (or perhaps you are just reflecting a crucial error that you see many people make) in equating holiness with drudgery and unhappiness. What an impoverished view! Holiness (and the pursuit thereof) is actually life-giving, invigorating, joyful, shalom-bringing, adventure-filled, and whimsical! By characterizing the “marriage is for holiness” perspective as gnostic, I think you are setting up a false dichotomy between holiness and pleasure/satisfaction in marriage (which – ironically – is rather gnostic!). So, perhaps you would consider: instead of attacking the idea of “marriage is for holiness” as dangerous, why not attack the anemic idea of holiness that many Christians have? Why not write a piece seeking to rehabilitate the warped view of holiness as a some sort of necessary, but distasteful “trip to the dentist” experience? I think in your piece you are hinting at that with the picture you paint of how beautiful, fulfilling, delightful and playful marriage can be. My marriage is all of those things, AND it has been and continues to be a vital place for God to bring about holiness in our lives. And for me, THAT is a source of great happiness. No contradiction between the two.

    • Marilyn Gardner

      I think you’re on to something critical Beth. I love what you say about rehabilitating the warped view of holiness. It’s true. That word needs to be redeemed.

    • Thanks for your comment, Beth! I totally agree with you that there is no contradiction in having a marriage that is a “source of great happiness” and one that is bringing about holiness. I hope I didn’t come across as denying the possible coexistence of those two things. However, the fact that my marriage can “bring about holiness” does not mean that the purpose of my marriage is to bring about holiness. The distinction remains large, in my opinion.

      I hope the article elevates marriage without devaluing holiness. The “crucial error” you mentioned is just that, and I would never want to equate holiness with drudgery. In fact, witnessing folks believe that error was in part what motivated the writing of this article. : )

      Your suggestion about rehabilitating “the warped view of holiness” is well-taken. In fact, that’s precisely what I was trying to do with this article, at least where holiness and marriage intersect. To write something about holiness in general, well, that just might have to go in the “to write later” pile. If you beat me to it, let me know, ok? Thanks again for taking the time to comment. Blessings to you and yours!

  • 3JinItaly

    My husband and I are in our first term in Italy and before coming here, I would have classified our marriage as “amazing.” He was my very best friend and favorite person in the entire world. Somehow over the course of the last 3 years, I look across the table and feel like I don’t even know this person anymore. Between daily work, language struggles, trying to balance kids and responsibilities and merely surviving, we lost ourselves somewhere. I don’t want to have to pick my marriage or my ministry, but at some point, something has to give. Thank you for your words, and for the knowledge that we are not abnormal and in fact, this life is brutal on a marriage. May God bless you and yours!!

    • Thanks so much for your brave comment. May you continue to be brave as you listen for the Father’s heart, particularly where it concerns your marriage and your family. I hope you have wise counselors and friends for support and encouragement as you walk through this. If folks don’t know about your struggle, I encourage you to share this with some trusted people (not necessarily your whole mailing list!) and get their input. And for what it’s worth, I think that most of the long-term workers I know would say that if you have to choose between “marriage or ministry,” you should choose your marriage. Praying for you and your husband. May the Author of Peace surround you and yours!

  • Blake Williams

    Thanks for writing this. I appreciate yours thoughts on this subject.

    In my missions theology class there was a “grand” discussion on the purpose of missions. Some said “to glorify God” while others said “to reach the lost for salvation” and still others said “to grow the missionary while they make disciples.” I was left feeling a bit frustrated because all of them held weight in the argument. Then I realized that, like the marriage relationship, the journey of missions and all that takes place on that journey are complex and multifaceted (as you well know). To limit the purpose to a singular declaration of purpose could very well be the dangerous action.

    It could be compared to saying that ONLY the Father is God, and therefore Jesus is JUST the Son while the Holy Spirit is JUST the Spirit of the Father. As to say that Jesus or the Holy Spirit alone are not God.

    My point is that when a human attempts to limit an area of life to one purpose they are like an ant declaring that their single mound is the only one that exists. God, in His infinite wisdom and diversity likely did not bring Eve to Adam for a singular purpose. To declare such seems to be the truly dangerous action. I believe that marriage is both for the purpose of intimacy and holiness and it appears evident that they work in tandem on a daily basis. And because God is so full of good grace and mercy and finds pleasure in lavishing His love on His children, I expect that there are other purposes as well, some that maybe on He knows.

  • Blake Williams

    Thanks for writing this. I appreciate your thoughts on this subject.

    In my missions theology class there was a “grand” discussion on the purpose of missions. Some said “to glorify God” while others said “to reach the lost for salvation” and still others said “to grow the missionary while they make disciples.” I was left feeling a bit frustrated because all of them held weight in the argument. Then I realized that, like the marriage relationship, the journey of missions and all that takes place on that journey are complex and multifaceted (as you well know). To limit the purpose to a singular declaration of purpose could very well be the dangerous action.

    It could be compared to saying that ONLY the Father is God, and therefore Jesus is JUST the Son while the Holy Spirit is JUST the Spirit of the Father. As to say that Jesus or the Holy Spirit alone are not God.

    My point is that when a human attempts to limit an area of life to one purpose they are like an ant declaring that their single mound is the only one that exists. God, in His infinite wisdom and diversity likely did not bring Eve to Adam for a singular purpose. To declare such seems to be the truly dangerous action. I believe that marriage is both for the purpose of intimacy and holiness and it appears evident that they work in tandem on a daily basis. And because God is so full of good grace and mercy and finds pleasure in lavishing His love on His children, I expect that there are other purposes as well, some that maybe only He knows.

    • Hey man! It’s always good to hear from you, Blake! I’ll defer to our Facebook conversation on this one, since I think we already hashed this out there. : )

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  • Mary Stephens

    I agree with a good chunk of what you wrote here. I didn’t get married till I was 38. My husband and I do not have children. We are a “bread and butter” fit in many ways, if I do say so who shouldn’t. I have to say that I am weary of hearing the things about how being married and having children with “give” you holiness or make you a better Christian in ways that nothing else can. Really? Is God that short-handed that He can only perfect the image of His Son in us through marriage and having kids? That doesn’t agree with what He has to say about it. Romans 8:29-30 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. — Nope, not a thing there about marriage being necessary.

    Thanks for making a distinction between “marriage can make you holy” and “the purpose of marriage is to make you holy”. I’ve heard two men say from pulpits things that really seemed to imply that marriage is for making us holy. One or both of them also said that God will put you with someone who is extremely different from you for this specific purpose. At least that was how it came across to me. Wow! So, we should marry someone on purpose who rubs us all the wrong way in order to get more holy? No, that wasn’t what they meant. (I hope!) But, even with the disclaimers one man gave, I can’t help wondering if this thinking might not have some bad repercussions when actually choosing a spouse. I find that rather disturbing!

    • Thanks for stopping by, Mary, and thanks for sharing your story and insights. I totally agree with you…it is rather disturbing! May God bless your “bread and butter” marriage. : )

  • mark273

    You say that one reason we should not view a(the) purpose of marriage to be to make us holy because it would be insulting to those who are not married. Another commenter agreed with this and wondered that God should be so short-handed that he needed marriage and children to “perfect the image of his son” in us. I think you are both making a logical fallacy that undercuts your argument. If we say that a(the) purpose of marriage is to make one holy, there is no reason to assume that we are saying that that is the only way God has to make someone holy. The purpose of reading the Bible and going to church could also be ways God designed to make us holy, and that in no way effects his purpose for marriage. You both made a logical leap that is not valid. Nor is it necessary to say that if the purpose of marriage is to make one holy, that that is the only purpose for marriage. Also a logical fallacy. I could say that a(the) purpose of going to school is to get an education, it would not therefore be untrue to say that another purpose is to qualify me for employment. Both can be true and don’t need to be exclusive.

    • Hey there, Mark! I’m just now reading your comment, so sorry for the slow reply. I see what you’re saying about logical fallacies, and I appreciate your specificity. I’m very interested in being logical, I’m also very interested in observing how folks actually live out what they believe. Some of the dissonance you observed comes from that, I think. That is, some singles I know actually DO feel insulted, despite the fact that those who state “marriage makes you holy” might not mean, exactly, that “marriage is the only thing that can make you holy.” For many, the message that has been heard, whether it was the message sent or not, was what I was addressing and seeking to correct. Thanks so much for your input and addition to the discussion!

      • mark273

        Thank you for your friendly response. I believe that listening is important and the concerns of single people should valued and respected. I guess theologically I tend to be more of a maximalist than a minimalist. So instead of taking away the idea that the(a) purpose of marriage is to make us holy, I would simply want to add the idea that the(a) purpose of being single, with all its blessings and challenges, is to make us, to make single people, holy. In each stage of life, in every situation, God is working to make us like Christ.

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  • Anna Duerst

    This is a wonderful, life-giving article! It gives singles HOPE! I think it’s great you were willing to address this idea or teaching that “The purpose of marriage is to make us holy.” Every time I’ve heard this idea being presented as a Biblical concept (at Bible School and in other conservative Christian settings), it has never settled well with me. First of all, the connotation surrounding this teaching seems to put marriage in a negative light. Almost like, “If you want to be fully stripped of your immaturity and selfishness as a believer, just get marriage and have kids!” Not only does this put the gift of singleness in a negative light, but it can also make us committed singles feel overwhelmed to consider marriage. If our life already feels extremely challenging as we walk through God’s refining process – in our work, ministry, and relationships, why would we CHOOSE an even more intensive refining process? God ultimately designed marriage for companionship. And it is encouraging to consider marriage in the light of “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor” – Eccles. 4:9 I completely agree, Jonathan with your statement that “any relationship with another human has the potential to wear off rough
    edges, point out selfishness, expose our sin…” So, why not look at a life-companion as a gift from God to help us face and overcome these relational challenges so that we can experience greater levels of emotional connection, victory, and joy in our lives? Why would we accept a belief that makes our spouse or children out to be “the cause” of these challenges rather than God’s gift to us so we don’t have to face these challenges alone?

    • I love this comment, Anna! Thanks so much for sharing and adding some perspective to the discussion!

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  • I just came back to reread this, a favourite of mine. It’s just so good. Have you ever considered building these thoughts out into more? Into a whole book?

    • Thanks for the encouragement, Phyllis! At this point, though, a book is a long, long ways off… : )

  • Thank you for this, Jonathan. It hurts my heart when I hear people discussing their marriages as hard and in terms of proving grounds and refining fire, etc. Yes, there are those moments. But that’s never the purpose or end all point! I’m very thankful to be married to my best friend, and that part of that is when we’re struggling, our goal is not to uphold the institution of marriage, but to reconnect as each other’s favorite people, even and especially when we’re not really feeling it at that moment in time. We just hit ten years, and we’re still racing each other to the bottom.

  • Love this post. Especially… “Any relationship with another human has the potential to wear off rough edges, point out selfishness, expose our sin, and through the work of the Holy Spirit and the sacrifice of Jesus, make us holy. (See: Parenthood.)”


    I always tell people that I had thought marriage would show me how selfish I was, and I was wrong. Marriage was fun, and easy. HAVING KIDS… well.

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