The Surpassing Goal: Marriage Lived for the Glory of God (John Piper)

My topic for this chapter is “Marriage lived for the glory of God.” The decisive word in that topic is the word “for.”  “Marriage lived for the glory of God.” The topic is not: “The glory of God for the living of marriage.” And not: “Marriage lived by the glory of God.” But: “Marriage lived for the glory of God.”


This little word means that there is an order of priority.  There is an order of ultimacy.  And the order is plain: God is ultimate and marriage is not.  God is the most important Reality; marriage is less important — far less important, infinitely less important. Marriage exists to magnify the truth and worth and beauty and greatness of God; God does not exist to magnify marriage. Until this order is vivid and valued — until it is seen and savored — marriage will not be experienced as a revelation of God’s glory but as a rival of God’s glory.


Why Marriage Exists


I take my topic, “Marriage lived for the glory of God,” to be an answer to the question: Why marriage? Why is there marriage? Why does marriage exist? Why do we live in marriages? This means that my topic is part of a larger question: Why does anything exist? Why do you exist? Why does sex exist? Why do earth and sun and moon and stars exist? Why do animals and plants and oceans and mountains and atoms and galaxies exist? The answer to all these questions, including the one about marriage is: All of them exist to and for the glory of God.


That is, they exist to magnify the truth and worth and beauty and greatness of God. Not the way a microscope magnifies, but the way a telescope magnifies. Microscopes magnify by making tiny things look bigger than they are. Telescopes magnify by making unimaginably big things look like what they really are. Microscopes move the appearance of size away from reality. Telescopes move the appearance of size toward reality. When I say that all things exist to magnify the truth and worth and beauty and greatness of God, I mean that all things — and marriage in particular — exist to move the appearance of God in people’s minds toward Reality.





God is unimaginably great and infinitely valuable and unsurpassed in beauty.
“Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable” (Psalm 145:3, ESV). Everything that exists is meant to magnify that Reality. God cries out through the prophet Isaiah (43:6–7, ESV), “Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory” (emphasis added). We have been created to display the glory of God. Paul concludes the first eleven chapters of his great letter to the Romans with the exaltation of God as the source and end of all things: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (11:36, ESV, emphasis added). He makes it even clearer in Colossians 1:16, where he says, “By [Christ] all things were created, in heaven and on earth . . . all things were created through him and for him” (emphasis added).


What It Means to Be Made For God


And woe to us if we think that “for him” means “for his need,” or “for his benefit,” or “for his improvement.” Paul made it crystal clear in Acts 17:25 that God is not “served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (ESV). No, the term “for his glory” and “for him” means, “for the display of his glory,” or “for the showing of his glory,” or “for the magnifying of his glory.”


We need to let this sink in. Once there was God, and only God. The universe is his creation. It is not coeternal with God. It is not God. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . All things were made through him” (John 1:1, 3, ESV). All things. All that is not God was made by God. So once there was only God. Therefore God is absolute Reality. We are not. The universe is not. Marriage is not. We are derivative. The universe is of secondary importance, not primary. The human race is not the ultimate reality, nor the ultimate value, nor the ultimate measuring rod of what is good or what is true or what is beautiful. God is. God is the one ultimate absolute in existence. Everything else is from him and through him and for him.


That is the starting place for understanding marriage. If we get this wrong, everything goes wrong. And if we get it right — really right, in our heads and in our hearts — then marriage will be transformed by it. Marriage will become what it was created by God to be — a display of the truth and worth and beauty and greatness of God.


What We Mean By the Glory of God


What would the “glory of God” mean to a young wife or husband who gives almost no time and no thought to knowing the glory of God, or the glory of Jesus Christ, His divine Son . . .


  • the glory of his eternality that makes the mind want to explode with the infinite thought that God never had a beginning, but simply always was;
  • the glory of his knowledge that makes the Library of Congress look like a matchbox and quantum physics like a first grade reader;
  • the glory of his wisdom that has never been and can never be counseled by men;
  • the glory of his authority over heaven and earth and hell, without whose permission no man and no demon can move one inch;
  • the glory of his providence without which not one bird falls to the ground or a single hair turns gray;
  • the glory of his word that upholds the universe and keeps all the atoms and molecules together;
  • the glory of his power to walk on water, cleanse lepers, heal the lame, open the eyes of the blind, cause the deaf to hear, still storms with a word, and raise the dead;
  • the glory of his purity never to sin, or to have a two-second bad attitude or evil thought;
  • the glory of his trustworthiness never to break His word or let one promise fall to the ground;
  • the glory of his justice to render all moral accounts in the universe settled either on the cross or in hell;
  • the glory of his patience to endure our dullness for decade after decade;
  • the glory of his sovereign, slave-like obedience to embrace the excruciating pain of the cross willingly;
  • the glory of his wrath that will one day cause people to call out for the rocks and the mountains to fall on them;
  • the glory of his grace that justifies the ungodly; and
  • the glory of his love that dies for us even while we were sinners.


How are people going to live their lives so that their marriages display the truth and worth and beauty and greatness of this glory, when they devote almost no energy or time to knowing and cherishing this glory?


The Mission of My Life and Church


Perhaps you can see why over the last twenty years of pastoral ministry I have come to see my life-mission and the mission of our church in some very basic terms: namely, I exist — we exist — to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples. That’s our assessment of the need. Until there is a passion for the supremacy and the glory of God in the hearts of married people, marriage will not be lived for the glory of God.





And there will not be a passion for the supremacy and the glory of God in the hearts of married people until God himself, in his manifold glories, is known. And he will not be known in his manifold glories until pastors and teachers speak of him tirelessly and constantly and deeply and biblically and faithfully and distinctly and thoroughly and passionately. Marriage lived for the glory of God will be the fruit of churches permeated with the glory of God.


If we want marriage to glorify the truth and worth and beauty and greatness of God, we must teach and preach less about marriage and more about God. Not that we preach too much on marriage, but that we preach too little on God. God is simply not magnificently central in the lives of most of our people. He is not the sun around which all the planets of our daily lives are held in orbit and find their proper, God-appointed place. He is more like the moon, which waxes and wanes, and you can go for nights and never think about Him.

For most of our people, God is marginal and a hundred good things usurp his place. To think that their marriages could be lived for his glory by teaching on the dynamics of relationships, when the glory of God is so peripheral, is like expecting the human eye to glorify the stars when we don’t stare at the night sky and have never bought a telescope.


How to Live to the Glory of God In Marriage


So knowing God and cherishing God and valuing the glory of God above all things, including your spouse, is the key to living marriage to the glory of God. It’s true in marriage, as in every other relationship: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.