The reason there is so much misery in marriage is not that husbands and wives seek their own pleasure, but that they do not seek it in the pleasure of their spouses. The biblical mandate to husbands and wives is to seek your own joy in the joy of your spouse. Make marriage a matrix for Christian Hedonism.
There is scarcely a more hedonistic passage in the Bible than the one on marriage in Ephesians 5:25–30.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body.
Husbands are told to love their wives the way Christ loved the church. How did He love the church? “He gave Himself up for her.” But why? “That He might sanctify and cleanse her.” But why did He want to do that? “That He might present to Himself the church in all her glory.”
Ah! There it is! “For the joy that was set before Him, [He] endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). What joy? The joy of marriage to His bride, the church. Jesus does not want a dirty and unholy wife. Therefore He was willing to die to “sanctify and cleanse” His betrothed so He could present to Himself a wife “in all her glory.”
And what is the church’s ultimate joy? Is it not to be cleansed and sanctified and then presented as a bride to the sovereign, all-glorious Christ? So Christ sought His own joy, yes—but He sought it in the joy of the church! That is what love does: It pursues its own joy in the joy of the beloved.
In Ephesians 5:29–30, Paul pushes the hedonism of Christ even further: “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body.” Why does Christ nourish and cherish the church? Because we are members of His own body, and no man ever hates his own body. In other words, the union between Christ and His bride is so close (“one flesh”) that any good done to her is a good done to Himself. The blatant assertion of this text is that this fact motivates the Lord to nourish, cherish, sanctify, and cleanse His bride.
By some popular definitions this cannot be love. Love, they say, must be free of self-interest—especially Christlike love, especially Calvary love. I have never seen such a view of love made to square with this passage of Scripture. What Christ does for His bride this text plainly calls love. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church.” Why not let the text define love for us, instead of bringing our definition from ethics or philosophy?
According to this text, love is the pursuit of our joy in the holy joy of the beloved. There is no way to exclude self-interest from love, but self-interest is not the same as selfishness. Selfishness seeks its own private happiness at the expense of others. Love seeks its happiness in the happiness of the beloved. It will even suffer and die for the beloved in order that its joy might be full in the life and purity of the beloved.
For a husband to be an obedient person he must love his wife the way Christ loved the church. That is, he must pursue his own joy in the holy joy of his wife. “So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself” (verse 28). In other words, husbands should devote the same energy and time and creativity to making their wives happy that they devote naturally to making themselves happy. The result will be that in doing this they will make themselves happy. For he who loves his wife loves himself. Since the wife is one flesh with her husband, the same applies to her love for him.
Paul does not build a dam against the river of hedonism; he builds a channel for it. He says, “Husbands and wives, recognize that in marriage you have become one flesh. If you live for your private pleasure at the expense of your spouse, you are living against yourself and destroying your joy. But if you devote yourself with all your heart to the holy joy of your spouse, you will also be living for your joy and making a marriage after the image of Christ and His church.” This is what God intended for marriage: Put the glory of Christ on display by pursuing your joy in the holy joy of your beloved.
Piper, John. 2001. The Dangerous Duty of Delight. Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers.