Sitting in my office, excitement radiates from this newly engaged couple. It’s been a few weeks since their engagement, and they’re still living off the emotional high of the proposal.

Their excitement stems from this being the first step in their new life together – premarital counseling with me. Even though they are excited, I can tell they’re a little unsure about what this is going to entail.

In order to put them at ease, I ask them to share the story of the proposal. “It was a magical night,” she says, as she begins to describe the details of the evening. He talks about all his planning, preparation, and the nerves he was experiencing. It’s clear they are in love, and it brings me back to the time when my wife and I were engaged.

After a few more exchanges about their proposal and engagement timeline, I begin to give them an overview of the counseling. I hand them the material. We walk through how it’s laid out and talk through expectations.

Their heads move up and down in a simultaneous nod as they flip through the counseling packet. While they’re still nodding, I tell them with our time remaining that I want to share with them what I share with all couples in their first session. And that in some ways this is one of the cornerstones, if not the cornerstone to having a good marriage.

Their eyes look up from the counseling packet to meet mine. They lean forward. He pulls out a pen to write down what I’m going to say next.

“Marriage is death,” I tell them.

Confusion and consternation come across their faces. Their expressions communicate that perhaps they’ve made a mistake in asking me to marry them.

Marriage is death? What a killjoy!

All too often people enter into marriage asking themselves the wrong questions. We often ask, “Will this person make me happy? What’s in it for me? Will this person complete me?” These questions stem from a view of marriage centered on a “me mindset.” The motivational drive being, what can I get from this relationship?

Rather at it’s core, marriage is gospel re-enactment. This is a phrase I picked up from Tim Keller during a marriage seminar. In his message he said, “Think of marriage as a play. In this play both the husband and wife have roles to enact. They both play the role of Jesus. They both lay their lives down for the sake of the other person.”

Therefore, when entering into marriage the questions we should be asking are, “What can I give? How can I serve? What can I do to help this person flourish and thrive?” Essentially, what’s needed for a marriage to last is a “ministry mindset.” It’s an attitude that relinquishes your desires, your demands, and even at times your dreams, so that you can help your spouse become the version of them self that God desires them to be.

And while this view of marriage is weighty, and even a bit sobering, “marriage as death” isn’t intended to incite despair. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. There is nothing more thrilling than being the cause and catalyst of your spouse coming fully alive. And when a “ministry mindset” in marriage goes both ways, it releases joy and creates a strong bond that can withstand the most challenging seasons of life.

You often hear the phrase that marriage is about finding the right person, the person who matches my like and dislikes, my hobbies and interests. Again, a view of marriage that’s centered on “me” and “my preferences.” But marriage isn’t about finding the right person, it’s about being the right person. It’s about being willing to love, serve, and even sacrifice for the sake of your spouse. Marriage is about being more and more conformed to the likeness of Christ through the practice of putting your spouse first.

That night as we talked through this paradigm of marriage in my office, this couple moved from confusion and consternation to embracing the high calling of marriage. But it’s one thing to have a conversation about it in a pastor’s office or to write a blog post about it. It’s another thing to live into that calling day in and day out.

So, rather than trying to tackle every area of your relationship, pick one thing. Spend a few moments and come up with one thing or one area in your relationship where you can put your spouse first. Then, go do it and see what kind of joy and satisfaction you experience. Let that joy be the catalyst to fulfilling Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 13.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy… it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love… always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.