Why Marriage Matters to our Life in Christ

When we consider the matter, we cannot help but be struck by the extent to which the theme of marriage pervades the entire Scriptures. From the second chapter of Genesis, where the marriage of the first man and his wife is recorded, to the 19th chapter of Revelation, where the marriage supper of the Lamb is depicted, the subject of marriage is woven throughout the pages of Holy Writ. The will of God concerning marriage is revealed throughout the pages of Scripture - in Genesis, the Law of Moses, the historical books including Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther, the works of Solomon, the prophets, the gospels, the epistles and the Apocalypse.

The Race For Eternal Life

Those of us who are married recognize that marriage has a profound impact on many aspects of our life. How will marriage influence our outcome in the race for eternal life? By way of positive example, there is the case of Aquila and Priscilla whom together, the apostle Paul called "his helpers in Christ Jesus" (Romans 16:3); and then there is the sad case of Ananias and Sapphira, who "agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord." (Acts 5:8). How will marriage affect our ability to serve the Lord? How will marriage affect the amount of time that we can give to his work, considering the principle, But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife? (1 Corinthians 7:33) The goal of marriage in the Lord is to form a complementary team that can labour together in his service, under the equal yoke, seeking the blessing of "being heirs together of the grace of life." (1 Peter 3:7). In the context of this Scripture, the reference is to the example of Abraham and Sarah. In Genesis 18:1-8, we see how they worked together as a team to extend hospitality to their angelic visitors, Abraham playing an active role alongside his wife. He ran to meet them; he fetched the water for their feet; he fetched them a morsel of bread, running to the herd to personally choose the tender young calf one of his young men was to dress, while Sarah worked in the tent on kneading the bread and preparing cakes upon the hearth.

A Bible-Based View

How is our understanding of marriage different from that which prevails in our contemporary society, that is, how it is viewed by the world?

Man Has Made No Improvements To The Bible Model

In our contemporary society, an increasing number of people are co-habiting without the formality, as they perceive it, of marriage. This kind of improvised structure of convenience can be appealing to young people, in particular, who may see it as a means of trial prior to making a formal commitment. It is not just a life-style choice made by young people, however. We know of cases among our neighbours where their elderly parents live common-law, justifying it in order to maximize their pension benefits. Such arrangements that are not sanctified by marriage are sinful and contrary to the will of God. While the fact these arrangements are contrary to the will of God is sufficient reason why we reject them, it is also the case that statistics from such informal unions testify to the principle that "...the way of transgressors is hard." (Proverbs 13:15) The rates of domestic violence, poverty and emotional turmoil are much higher in such unions than those in which husband and wife come together in marriage, without previous sexual experience. Children born to such illicit unions are also at a great disadvantage in terms of mental health and achievement. God gave us marriage for our good. There is an abundance of social evidence that man's attempts to circumvent it bring a cycle of misery and harm in its wake.

A Living Covenant

In one Scripture, marriage is described as a covenant. (Malachi 2:14-16) This is a helpful way of viewing marriage, as a living covenant between two people of the opposite sex. One of the characteristics of a covenant is that there is an exchange of promises and commitments, which we call the wedding vows, by which the covenant is sealed. While wedding vows vary, the following form has been used in the marriage of many brothers and sisters in Ontario, as it was once approved by the Province, for use by Christadelphians, in the days when governments were stricter in their requirements. (Only the vows as made by the husband are reproduced below but the wife also makes reciprocal vows):

Wilt thou have the woman to be thy wedded wife, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of matrimony? Will thou love her, comfort her, honour and keep her, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others, keep thee only unto her as long as you both shall live?

I do take thee to be my lawful wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish till death do us part, and thereto I plight thee my troth.[1]

Doest thou give this ring in token that thou will keep this covenant and perform these vows?

In the language of this ceremony, there is an acknowledgment that a covenant is being made with obligations to keep it; there is also an acknowledgment that the covenant is binding as long as both parties live. Because the vows are unconditional and permanent pledges, they need to be thoughtfully reflected on by the prospective husband and wife together, before they are made. Among the answers to the questions, "...who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill?" provided by the Psalmist is, "He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not." (Psalm 15:1-4). There may be times when marriage might appear to work to our own hurt. For example, there might be a healthy and active spouse who is burdened with a spouse that has serious, chronic health problems. Yet the vows obligate us to be faithful in our care in all the circumstances of life - to change not - even when the marriage may bring adversity and hardship into our lives. If we enter into marriage primarily with our own interests first - that is, with a selfish intent to receive as much as possible from the marriage - we are not well prepared for our role. Marriage is an opportunity to apply the words of the Lord, "...It is more blessed to give than to receive."(Acts 20:35) It is necessary to look upon marriage as an opportunity to give acts of love, kindness and service regardless of the capacity of our spouse to reciprocate in turn.

Marriage and The Media

The media tends to give the perception that marriages are breaking down at astonishingly high rates and that adultery is rampant in our society. Frequent publicity about this trend can give the idea that it is "normal" to have serious marital difficulties that might best be solved by ending the unsatisfactory relationship according to the premise, "Why not? Everyone else is doing it." Many movies and celebrity magazines give the impression that happiness can be found in new relationships with enhanced opportunities for self-fulfillment. The toll of human misery on children, grandparents and wider family relationships is not depicted, even as the pursuit of temporal happiness and fulfillment crowds out any higher purpose to life.

While the published statistics indicate that, in Canada, one in three marriages will end in divorce, this data overstates the true rate of marriage breakdown, because second marriages have a much higher statistical probability of ending in divorce than first marriages. That is, this "one in three" factor double-counts divorcees involved in their second or third marriage breakdown, thus overstating the rate for first-time marriages. It is also a fact that marriages that are entered into after a period of co-habitation have a much higher rate of breakdown than those in which the husband and wife come together, without previous sexual experience are. It is important for us in our ecclesias to celebrate the positive aspects of marriage. One way of giving this recognition is on the occasion of anniversaries. They provide important opportunities to counter the negative message of divorce statistics and to demonstrate positive role models in our ecclesias.

Sowing The Fruit Of The Spirit

While there is no Biblical commandment to be married, once we voluntarily choose to enter into the marriage covenant, there are obligations that can affect our standing at the judgment seat of Christ. There is the principle presented in the epistle of 1 John 4:20: "...for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?" Because the closer we are to an individual in Christ, the greater is our obligation to show the love of God. It is particularly important that the principle be applied first to our own marriages. That is, if we cannot demonstrate the love of God towards our spouse, how can we love God whom we have not seen? If we cannot be faithful to our temporal covenant with our own spouse, why should we expect to participate in the Kingdom blessings of God's eternal covenant with the seed of Abraham? There are many opportunities every day in the circumstances of marriage to sow the fruit of the Spirit. The following table summarizes some of them:

Fruit of the Spirit

Scriptural Application To Marriage

Love

"Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the ecclesia. Love is not self-seeking..." (NIV)

Joy

The blessing of children: "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in the truth."

Both the Song of Solomon and the Book of Proverbs also express the joy and comfort that the Almighty intended would come from the sexual union of husband and wife. [Proverbs 5:15-19; Song of Solomon 1:2-4] That sensual joy is tempered by the apostle's admonition, "...Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh."

Peace

"Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone?"

Long-suffering

"Love suffereth long and is kind... is not easily provoked."

Keeping In The Right Way

As the following table summarizes, in those places in the New Testament Scriptures where there are lists of the sins of the flesh, the sins concerning unlawful sexual relationships outside of marriage always come first:

Reference

The first sins on each list and the consequences which follow

Galatians 5:19-21

Adultery, fornication, uncleanness...they that do such things shall not inherit the Kingdom of God

1 Corinthians 6:9-10

Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers...shall not inherit the Kingdom of God

Mark 7:32-33

Out of the heart of men proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications...and defile the man

Why is it that, of all the sins of the flesh, sins of this kind are put first? Could it be because when account is taken at the judgment seat of Christ, it will be the most common reason for rejection from inheritance in the Kingdom of God? Could it be that in the close quarters of our marriages we have failed to develop the measure of the fullness of the mind of Christ? The teaching of the Lord Jesus is that a commitment to purity in the heart is needed: "But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart." This Scripture places pornography in all forms, including lurid romance novels, outside the boundaries of that in which the servants of Christ might engage. The idea that it is all right to look as long as one does not act is not consistent with the teachings of Christ.

Time Together

Why are many marriages in this modern world under a measure of strain? Is it because husband and wife increasingly lead busy, independent life-styles where their paths cross less frequently than in previous generations? Is it because there is less commitment to Biblical values? Is it because the modern world provides more opportunities for the wandering of the desire through a wider sphere of external contacts, not only in the work place but also in the virtual world of the Internet? Is it because the media and entertainment industry sow unrealistic expectations of sexual fulfillment that are difficult to sustain in marriage? Is it because the social stigma associated with marriage breakdown is much less than in previous generations and therefore the disapproval of the community is less and less of an inhibiting factor?

There is no single or simple answer to the causes of marital strain, even among those who are married in the Lord. One of the antidotes to marital strain is spending time together. Eve was given to Adam because "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him." (Genesis 2:18, NIV) Eve was a companion provided by God to end his loneliness. Companionship cannot exist when husband and wife are not spending time together. It is doubtful that husbands and wives "drift apart" as helplessly as two branches floating in the downstream current of a river. It is a conscious choice to pursue divergent rather than convergent interests. In the Lord, the convergent interest that binds together is the commitment to the Word and the ecclesia. It is important for husband and wife to attend services and Bible Schools together as a family.

Constructive Marriage-Building Steps

There was discussion at the conference on marriage on constructive marriage-building steps. Our ecclesias are bodies made up mainly of individual family cells, with the marriage of each couple at the nucleus. The spiritual health of our ecclesias is largely correlated to the health of the marriages that make it up. Therefore, building up our marriages will also implicitly strengthen our ecclesias. The following are among ideas for strengthening our marriages.

  1. Emphasize the positive role models of those who have been married in the Lord for many years and the benefits of the "equal yoke" as a means for labouring together in the Lord.

  2. Provide instruction for young couples planning on marriage where the decisions which they will be required to make in their marriage are discussed in advance - decisions involving such matters as the way in which money is spent and relations with the extended families of both bride and groom.

  3. Encourage couples to set time aside for themselves, and time to take counsel on such matters as ways in which they can better meet the needs of their aging parents and their maturing children.

  4. Recognize in all things that marriage is of the Lord and pray without ceasing for the Father's blessing and guidance.

  5. Ensure that Bible teaching on marriage is given prominence in our ecclesias and the necessity of abstaining from fornication is inculcated among our young people as an essential virtue.

  6. Recognize that there are times when external intervention can be beneficial to a troubled marriage, when both husband and wife mutually agree on the need for help. The expectation is not that an experienced intervenor can fix or solve the problems in a marriage, or take sides, but work with both partners to help them identify positive changes that only they can make. It is not a shame to admit the need for help and seek it out from a source that shares our commitment to Bible-based principles.

Marriage is a precious ordinance, given by God, to govern how one man and one woman can live together in this life as companions, preparing one another for the life that is to come. Let us each do our part to seek to preserve marriage as God intended it, in precept and in practice.

James Farrar, Grimsby, ON



[1] The expression, "plight thee my troth" is an archaic form of English speech. "Troth" is a form of the word "truth" and plight, in this context, means "pledge." The idea is the pledging of one's honour and fidelity to one's spouse.