Christians everywhere observe Advent as a season to prepare ourselves not only to celebrate Christ’s birth, but also to prepare ourselves for His second coming.

Which has me thinking this year about how we all—marrieds and singles alike—view marriage in our culture. I know, marriage doesn’t sound like an Advent kind of thing, but hear me out.

Marriage held in its proper place is meant to serve as an icon pointing us toward the coming reality when Christ, the Bridegroom, will come again, dry every tear, fulfill our deepest desires, and satisfy our every need completely.

But marriage as an idol points us away from the coming reality. Marriage as an idol makes itself the goal, the aim of our lives, the well we believe will satisfy our desires and meet our needs.

Looking at these two, it seems to me in much of our present Christian culture we—again, singles and marrieds alike—have lost sight of the icon, and instead worship at the altar of the idol. Sadder still, I think we’ve unwittingly mixed up this idolatry with Christianity to such a degree that many of us see worshipping this idol as a “Christian” thing to do.

I first started suspecting something was off as I talked with godly singles about how they felt on the “outside” of their church communities. This is an odd thing for communities committed to following an unmarried Rabbi and taught by an apostle who believed it is better not to marry (1 Corinthians 7).

And then similarly, I noticed how many men and women I talk to feel ashamed because their lives don’t fit some “ideal” of what a Christian marriage or family is supposed to be, and instead they’ve got a kid who is severely struggling, an addicted spouse, or some other difficult circumstance.

And then, I started noticing more and more Christians affirming divorce and remarriage and gay marriage on the grounds that the alternative (singleness) is unbearable and so untenable.

All these suggest to me we’re looking at marriage more as an idol than the icon it was intended to be.

Hear me: Marriage is great and singleness can be really hard. But the opposites are also true: marriage can be painfully difficult and singleness can be an incredible gift.

What’s more, godliness is not a fruit of one’s marital status. For singles and marrieds alike, it’s a fruit of following Jesus where He leads and walking intimately with Him through whatever comes.

What if God’s heart for all of us is less about our marital status, and much more about growing us up to become men and women who unite with Him, and so learn to love God and others sacrificially, whatever our station in life?

The idol of marriage suggests that happiness comes from marriage and family.
The icon of marriage teaches that true love and happiness come from God.

The idol of marriage makes a happy marriage and healthy kids the goal.
The icon of marriage makes learning to receive and return the love of God the goal.

The idol of marriage promises “happily ever after” if you find the right man or woman.
The icon of marriage promises “happily ever after” only with God, the Creator of man and woman.

The idol of marriage undeservedly puffs up the married and belittles the single.
The icon of marriage calls us all equally to learn to lay down our lives daily in a million acts of self-giving love, just as our Bridegroom has.

The idol of marriage excludes those whose marriages (or lack thereof) don’t fit the “ideal”.
The icon of marriage includes us all in every season and station of life, no matter our circumstances.

And so this Advent, let’s repent of worshiping anything—including the idol of marriage—that lulls us from looking expectantly for our Bridegroom’s return. Instead, let’s hold marriage in its proper place: to serve as an icon pointing us toward the coming reality when Christ, the Bridegroom, will come again, dry every tear, fulfill our deepest desires, and satisfy our every need completely.

I’d value hearing from you. Leave a comment below.

Expectantly,
Josh

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17 Comments on "Advent and Idolatry"

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Craig Wilson
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This piece aims right at the Christian and our churches who make any good thing into an ultimate. That can only lead to disintegration of the good thing, since it’s not made to bear that ultimate glory. I am passing this on to many. Thanks Josh.

Ann Marie Thro
Guest

Thank you for this piece , Josh, short but deep, pointing out that Christmas includes a marriage and gently but powerfully explaining how all of our variations on marriage forget that “Christ, the Bridegroom, will come again, dry every tear, fulfill our deepest desires, and satisfy our every need completely.”

Scott J Cooper
Guest
Josh, I am a cradle (and try to be) devout Catholic, which can slightly divide me from many of those who follow your posts as well as from you yourself along theological and denominational grounds. However, we are all united in our love and worship of Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the Father. I just wanted to say that I frequently read and enjoy your posts, particularly this one. And I frequently find myself agreeing with your viewpoints as well as those of the good folks who comment here. Keep doing what you are doing and keep helping all Christians… Read more »
Bill Wingard
Guest
I am in complete agreement with you, Josh. So many things today are getting put in front of Jesus. I believe the reason why marriage is in such disarray today is because we have made an idol out of it. God never intended it to have this position. I give talks on the Shroud of Turin which many scientists believe to be the actual burial cloth of Jesus. Recently I returned from giving two talks in Washington state. You have no idea how this talk centered on Jesus Christ draws people back to the first reality – God’s infinite love… Read more »
Ruth
Guest

Amen. There is little more to be said. There is no ultimate or lasting satisfaction outside of Christ, even when we turn our desires towards the “appropriate place” in our marriages. It is still a human relationship fraught with the equivalent failings.

betsy
Guest

As someone who was single for many years, I clearly remember feeling like an outsider in some church settings. I have been happily married for 14 years now, and my husband and I have one daughter, age 13. This post is an important reminder to me to not make my family an idol. My relationship with Jesus Christ should always be first, and I need to make sure that prayer and Bible reading is a top priority. Thank You!

Don Dinnerville
Guest

Well said, Josh. Too many churches treat singles as second class citizens, even as they are the most free to serve in those church’s ministries, often making them possible. Until churches catch your vision and repent of the idolatry of marriage, they will continue to not only discourage singles (especially young believers), but to setup their married couples to put way too much hope in their marriages, instead of the One that their marriages should be pointing them towards. Thanks for your insight and your challenge to all of us – single and married alike.

Michael M
Guest

One of the best pieces that you have written. Thanks for putting words to a truth that we all know when we hear it but seldom recognize it without direction.

Nola
Guest

Thanks for your insight. It is hopeful to hear that a happy marriage is not the Christian’s end game.

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