The Trials and Duration of Marriage

The Apostle Paul, who remained single to serve the Lord, would hardly have been considered an authority on marriage. However, under inspiration, Paul was able to present sound advice concerning the potential for distractions for those who marry. He wrote "Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife. But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you." (1 Cor. 7:28-29)

He was also very concerned with the reality that a married person will often struggle between the desire to please either his spouse or the Lord. "But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife."(1 Cor 7:32-33)

Many have resisted Paul's advice and chosen marriage rather than a life alone. Some of these have certainly experienced the blessing and joy of a long term marriage relationship, and they would likely tell Paul that the benefits associated with having a spouse, helping, sharing, supporting, comforting, far outweigh any advantage that there may be to a single life.

Trouble in the Flesh

Paul mentioned trouble in the flesh for those who marry. In the NIV this is rendered "But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this." These troubles or trials in this life are often the result of the choices that are made by the married individuals. These choices are, as Paul warns, the result of an attempt to please both our spouse and the Lord.

The struggle that the flesh encounters, in establishing good priorities, usually results from the lack of spiritual development by one or both parties. When and if the marriage partners are both dedicated and focused on the right goals, ideally to "seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness;" these troubles in the flesh will be minor and will be quickly resolved.

Typical Troubles

Many marriages go through similar troubles that are often related to the various stages of life. For many young newlyweds one of the first common difficulties is the financial crisis; their earnings are often low and the needs are enormous. Many succumb to the pressure to obtain material things now, thinking it necessary to have all of the materials that their parents have, perhaps forgetting that it took them a number of years to reach their current state.

In time a new dimension is likely to complicate the marriage experience. The arrival of little ones, who require much attention and care, can make parental sacrifices a necessity. These "children are an heritage of the Lord," and can be a real blessing to a marriage.

The responsibilities and challenges associated with bringing them up in the "nurture and admonition of the Lord" can bring either purpose to the family, or trials. The husband and wife must be of one mind in their education and discipline. The words of Paul to the Philippians can be good advice for a married couple, as well as for all brethren. "Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves." (Phil. 2:3)

Another trial for many marriages involves the relationships generated around the extended family. The goals and objectives of the "in-laws" may be completely different than those of a God fearing couple. Those family occasions and related obligations can be a real trial for the marriage, especially when there is a conflict of interest. One spouse may be struggling with a commitment to their family, which may lead to a compromise of spiritual values.

When the family is also a part of the ecclesia, the relationship of the extended family can take on new meaning. Centering our activities and fellowship within the family of God can provide us with unlimited support and understanding. In our spiritual family, there ought to be no conflict in goals, struggle with the flesh, or trial to present a challenge to the marriage.

The Ecclesial family connection is one that can be a blessing to the married couple. It carries with it a responsibility for the ecclesia to provide an environment that will help to edify and build its members. Part of that responsibility is to support and encourage our married couples, as they face the related trials.

Unfaithfulness

Of all the troubles in the flesh, the greatest of challenges are related to our faithfulness to each other. The flesh is naturally inclined to find attraction in "stolen waters"; the lure of the strange woman, (or a strange man for the wife) is ever present in this world that encourages adulterous relationships and enjoys the illustration of such as a matter of entertainment.

There is no place for thinking about, or flirtation with, the pleasures of sin. The scriptures are clear: "Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret."(Eph. 5:11-12)

"Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because the LORD hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant. And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth." (Mal 2:14-15)

Only In the Lord

It is a consistent principle of scriptural teaching that marriages be established between individuals who are 'in the Lord." (1 Cor. 7:39) Many of the trials associated with the marriage relationship are more likely to be overcome successfully when the couple shares the same faith.

Financial struggles will have a new perspective and we will learn to be content with those things that the Lord has provided. When both parents are using the same principles, the same discipline, and the same education, they will raise their children in the Lord. Extended family obligations will be developed within the household of faith and outside commitments will be minimal and accomplished without compromise.

The ideal relationship of a husband and wife, both strong in the Lord, both sincerely dedicated first to the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, is not a common thing. We are more likely to be in a relationship where at least one of the partners is weak in the faith, and/or an unbeliever. Paul provided instruction for those who find this as their experience. "...If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him...For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?" (1 Cor 7:12-13,16)

We are most likely to help save our spouse when we are strong in our own faith, committed to following our hope, without compromise, as a good example to our partner. Our trials will be great and we will have trouble in the flesh, but if we are patient and consistent, seeking help from God, our prayers for the conversion of our spouse to be "in the Lord" may one day be answered.

Love suffers Long

The trials of a marriage will be much more severe when selfishness reigns in the relationship. When either or both partners are interested only in their own way, in their own gratification, in their own needs, then trouble will abound. The application of love is the only answer to these problems.

God is love, and we must accept this divine characteristic as something for us to seek after, to develop and to apply, as we strive to mold godliness into our own characters. Love is more than a word, and in the marriage relationship it must also be more than a feeling of affection. Love is well defined by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:

"Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends..." (1 Cor 13:4-8 NRSV)

What can we possibly add to this definition? If each marriage partner will read these verses on a regular basis, putting their own name in the place of love to see how it sounds, they will have some of the best advice ever written for the survival of marriage through trial. The words must be read, understood and assimilated into our being; most of all, they must be applied liberally and often in our own relationship with our spouse.

The Duration of Marriage

Love never ends, and when our marriage is joined together and strengthened by true love, the marriage will endure. God established the marriage relationship, with the intention that it would endure for a lifetime. This principle is made very clear in Paul's letter to the Romans. "For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man." (Romans 7: 2-3)

We all know that the world around us has made a mockery of this established principle for the duration of marriage. As sons and daughters of the living God, we remain obligated to keep His commandments, having respect also for the wisdom in the teaching of the master, "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder."

This is not a matter of having to stay together for a lifetime; it is about wanting to honor the covenant that we have entered into before God. Perhaps if we were to spend the same time and energy looking for solutions, as we do in seeking a way of escape, we would not have as many failed marriages as we do.

The world and its counselors do not provide any encouragement for you to endure in a marriage that is having troubles. The scriptures, on the other hand, teach that troubles are a necessary part of the process, and they provide an abundance of comfort and help for overcoming the selfishness of our own flesh. It is the flesh that drives us to find a way of escape, but the way of the natural man is rarely consistent with directions that will be most pleasing to our Heavenly Father.

The Blessing of Marriage for Life

God did not place us into a marriage bond that was a life long commitment to try us or punish us. As our Creator, He understood the need for man to not be alone; He provided a woman as a helper, to share the way, to be a companion in trouble. It was in His design that they be joined together in a bond so close that they would be "one flesh."

This relationship was intended as a benefit, a blessing, and indeed such is the case. Those who have experienced the joy as God intended, seek no other way. There is no desire to be alone; our thoughts are rather on finding ways to enhance the blessings that we share with our spouse in the covenant. It is our firm desire to continue this wonderful relationship until he comes, and we pray that we will both be together and "alive and remain" to witness the fulfillment of our glorious hope.

Jim Millay, Springfield, VT