Volume 44 | Number 1 | January–February 2016

Inglés Español

Till Death Us Do Part

By Dr. H. T. Spence

In these crucial days a Christian husband and wife must face the future together. No greater joy could God have given under the sun than the precious life together of a man and woman as husband and wife. We must fully understand that this relationship was first divinely appointed by God, prior to the Fall, prior to children, and prior to the revelation of the Church. It was the first of social relationships that God gave to mankind. Man and wife were literally one in the beginning: she was found within him; she came from his deep sleep, she came from his bones, and she came from his flesh. She was the closest thing to him throughout all creation. God appointed them to be together for the journey of life. These two, man and woman, were together prior to the Fall. And yes, they fell together, both partaking as if it were one act of sin. Together they would face life after the Fall—its sorrows, its griefs, its agonies, its travails, and yet there would be earthly joys God would sprinkle along the way of the fallen path.

One Man with One Woman

We never read of Adam marrying another woman or of children from another union. Only seven generations later do we read of Lamech having two wives Adah and Zillah. It must be said God never intended for man to have more than one woman, and one woman to every man; this was fully established by God in creation. But by the seventh generation, with mankind deepening in sin, lust takes the place of love and principle. No doubt jealousies arose between the two wives, resulting in disunity in the family, a division of fully-committed love by the husband, and strifes between the children of these two women. We will read of such strifes throughout the Bible when such unions and offspring exist. There is the evidence of the increase of such a spirit among men during the years prior to the Flood: “They took them wives of all which they chose.” But we read of Noah and his sons taking only one wife each. Even postdiluvian history began with God’s appointed unity of one man and one woman.

We then read of Abraham and Sarah; no doubt the two were in love, and there was respect for each other. In Genesis 16 it seems that Sarah’s motive in making the suggestion to Abraham to take Hagar to wife simply was out of her love for him and the longing she had to give him children. But the plan of Sarah brought greater heartache through the countenance and actions of Hagar, who now, herself with child, despised Sarah. Then Sarah cried unto Abraham, “My wrong be upon thee: I have given my maid into thy bosom.” It is evident that Abraham loved Sarah more than Hagar the handmaid, for he told Sarah to do with the maid as it pleased her. After the death of Sarah, Abraham married Keturah, and many sons were born; yet, many of these and their offspring became enemies to the children of Isaac and Jacob. Only Abraham and Sarah were buried in the cave of Machpelah before Mamre; this is once again reiterated at the end of Genesis.

As for Abraham’s son Isaac, he maintained love for one woman throughout his life. Then Isaac’s son Jacob, at 77 years old, left home and went to Haran. At the end of seven years and one week (though he had to work an additional seven years to resolve Rachel as his wife), he was married to two sisters, Leah and Rachel. Great struggles arose between the two women: jealousies and envy, all in the vying for Jacob’s heart in love. It must be acknowledged that God’s will for Jacob was to be found in Leah, the older sister. Rachel was the subjective heart of Jacob; she was a woman of immaturity, selfishness, moodiness, and the secret love for idolatry. We do not doubt her love for Jacob, but her love for him was not found in God, as Leah’s love was.

When one reads carefully through the Bible, wherever God’s men fell into the sin of polygamy, there were increased problems in the home. David and Solomon are prime examples of this.

Today’s View of A Biblical Oneness

The tabloids of our times are replete with the news of the normality of adultery among the Hollywood stars, politicians, and even religious personalities. Many do not even take the time to divorce the spouse before they are in the arms of some strange woman or some loose-living man. These days are truly like the times of the Flood in both the lifestyles of the rich and the famous as well as the average unknown citizens. The passion for divorce is running wild throughout our land; in several states a divorce can be granted in less than twenty-four hours.

The fallout from this explosion of divorce is far more extensive than most people realize. For instance, in Great Britain, where the divorce rate is just slightly ahead of the United States, for every three divorces there are five children involved. Here in America the family structure has been the stability of this country for nearly three hundred years. But now our country has disintegrated; divorce for any cause is a crucial reason for our destruction. One of the reasons for the continued growth in divorce figures is the apparent apathy with which modern man views the dissolution of a marriage. Even professing Christians and the institutional Church have been desensitized to this plight. We both read and hear of more and more Christians marrying for as long as they both shall “love,” instead of as long as they both shall “live.” Many of the Protestant denominations, such as the United Methodist Church, are now providing formal observances of divorce in their churches. It is the belief now that since the church plays a significant part in the “initiation” of a human relationship (marriage), perhaps it needs to assist in the honorable dissolution of a marriage. If the church is now solemnizing and legitimatizing divorce, who is left to represent God’s standard?

Another astounding problem is the staggering growth in the number of people who are living together without the legal formalities of marriage. Some government statistics declare that the number of such relationships is possibly equal to those who are married, while some declare the percentage is actually higher. The open declaration of live-in couples has become so common that the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development has changed its rules to permit such couples to occupy public housing. The courts throughout our land are wrestling with the legal and property complications that arise when such “non-married” couples “divorce.” Hollywood has made popular the “marriageless marriages.” Etiquette columnists write about which names to use in addressing unmarried partners; and “couple counseling” has emerged in these recent years as a new professional service alongside marriage counseling. It must be realized that these so-called “marriageless marriages,” besides violating God’s law, are destroying the security of commitment that is necessary for rearing children with a strong sense of worth. More and more, throughout our jail ministries, we meet prisoners who have children back home, yet the mother of these children is simply a live-in.

For several decades now the feminist movement has been giving battle to literally eradicate the concept of the home and marriage. Gloria Steinman, for a number of years the editor of MS. magazine, called upon women to raise their children to believe in human potential, and not to believe in God. She was pressing in the early 1980s the need of living in equal partnership and the demand to abolish and reform the institution of marriage. Her call truly has come to pass in our society.

Many of the prominent women leaders today believe that children raised in families mean there is no equality, and in order to raise children with equality, we must take them away from families who raise them. For a number of years now women such as Dr. Mary Jo Bane, Nancy Lehmann, and Helen Sullinger (to name just a few) have declared that marriage has only existed for the benefit of men and has been a legally sanctioned method of control over women. Thus, according to them, the desperate need is to completely end the institution of marriage and bring about the liberation of women. Such feminist leaders for years have openly encouraged American women to leave their husbands and not to live individually with men, but with women. Yes, they are aggressively campaigning for the absolute destruction of the very need of marriage.

We are at a crucial hour in Western civilization when the concept of the “family” is radically being redefined. The hope now is for a new form of family where individuals live and work together to help meet the needs of all people in society. This in turn brings about a new way of looking at children. It is now the belief by political liberals that it is the responsibility of the entire society to raise the children rather than individual parents.

The Goals of Present-day Leaders

There are five basic goals that stand behind the major liberal movements in our country today: (1) Man (the male) is the enemy; (2) babies lead to bondage; (3) total equality is a fact, and not simply a goal; (4) marriage must be eliminated; and, (5) above all, religious absolutes must be eradicated from society. But amidst these goals, we must never be fooled. Underneath what seems to be a desire for compassionate concern for the selfhood of women, there is a cloak of hatred and envy of males (because of their own failure in motherhood).

We also see the aggressive erosion of the American family through the alarming deterioration of television and movie standards. The “average” family presented in the media is no longer a conventional family made up of a mother, father, and children. It consists of lesbians, homosexuals, transvestites, or more “conservatively,” divorced partners and couples living together outside of wedlock. Yes, this country is bent with an intense passion to destroy what God has given to us through love, commitment, and companionship. And we are witnessing the entrance of modern Christianity into the debate of all this and the changing of scriptural views, changes based on emotional or personal considerations. We must never yield to the temptation to develop a theology that is compatible with our human experiences. Neither should we interpret Scripture to justify the popular, preconceived conclusions. We must declare with strength of conviction: “What is the will and heart of God for my wife and me?”

God’s Precious Pattern of Permanence in Marriage

What is the pattern of Scripture in this matter? God’s original pattern for marriage requires that one “cleave” to his spouse (Gen. 2:24). This word cleave means “to cling, to adhere, to abide fast by.” It means “to cement together, to stick like glue, to be welded together so that the two cannot be separated without damage to both.” We must not question the fact that God intended marriage to be a permanent, life-long bond and commitment between a man and a woman. In fact, at the point of marriage, God declares the man and woman to be permanently united together as “one flesh.” This is to be a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual oneness.

In the New Testament Jesus affirmed God’s plan for marriage by repeating the statement of Genesis 2:24. He further emphasized the permanence of marriage by adding, “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matt. 19:6). The apostles held to this principle of permanence of marriage. For we read of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7:10, “And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband.” This principle is not based on the spiritual condition of one’s spouse. For Paul proceeded to apply the principle to the marriage where there is an unbelieving spouse:

If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased [willing] 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 (1 Cor. 7:12, 13).

Paul further explained that the death of one spouse is the only thing that dissolves the permanent, “one flesh” relationship of marriage in God’s sight.

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 (Rom. 7:2, 3).

Oh, dear reader, we must not allow the constant weariness of this world’s philosophy to grind away at our marriage. This pressure comes from both the media and places of secular employment. It is important to understand that the permanence of marriage is not an arbitrary law of an old-fashion God. All of God’s laws regulating human life are based on His righteous, unchanging character. God is a covenant-keeping God. He has never broken a covenant. Even when His chosen people Israel were spiritually adulterous and unfaithful, He remained faithful to His covenant. Moral laws and standards of right and wrong are absolute and unchanging, because they are determined by God’s unchanging nature. And it will never be right for a man and woman to break their marriage covenant of companionship.

Casualties in Marriages

But there are those who have had casualties in their marriages. We must declare that God is able to forgive those who have remarried, and they are just as much saved and forgiven by grace as any other Christian. But it still does not change the fact of God’s Word on the matter.

There are some questions that may arise, such as the exception clause given by Christ. The question refers to two statements of Jesus, both found in the Gospel of Matthew.

But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery (Matt. 5:32).

There is a similar statement found in Matthew 19:9. Matthew is the only Gospel writer to record this clause. Mark and Luke, in parallel accounts, make no reference to any exception permitting divorce. The apostle Paul never speaks of such an exception in his teaching on divorce and remarriage. In Matthew 19 Christ takes us back to God’s intended purpose of marriage (notice this in verses 4–6). It was in their response for a “loophole” that Christ responded with the exception clause. The Pharisees, like many believers today, were preoccupied with establishing grounds for divorce. (Today the most common reason given for divorce on the submitted applications is “incompatibility.”)

Jesus was concerned about the permanence of marriage. In this passage of Matthew 19, the Pharisees appealed to the law of Moses, in which he recognized and regulated divorce (found in Deut. 24:1–4). While Jesus acknowledged Moses’ regulation of divorce, He reminded the Pharisees that such laws were merely concessions to the hardness of their hearts. He returned to the heart of His message, a restatement of the intent of God when He created marriage: “from the beginning it was not so.” Some have stated that this exception given by Christ is only referring to the espousal period of engagement and not the actual consummated marriage. But truly, it covers marriage itself. This clause “saving for the cause of fornication” would not only include adultery, but also homosexuality, lesbianism, incest, and perhaps in certain persistent addictions, pornography. He uses the general word for “fornication.” But this passage is not stating that there must be a separation and divorce if these evils take place; it simply means there are grounds for divorce. But again, the greater point of Christ’s words in this passage is the permanence of marriage. We took vows, “till death us do part.” We must honor those vows!

Perhaps another word needs to be given in regard to those who have suffered such a tragedy of life. There must be the willingness to repent of any sin that was involved; agree with God about the failures in your life that contributed to the failure of that marriage. Many things may have been involved: a willful, independent spirit against your parents as you were growing up; marriage against the counsel or authority of godly parents or pastor; premarital sexual relationship; wrong attitudes toward your spouse, such as selfishness, pride, ungratefulness, anger, resentment, impatience, laziness, unkindness, harshness, critical words that damaged your spouse’s spirit; failing to love, cherish, and nourish your wife; failing to meet the emotional and spiritual needs of your wife; failing to reverence, honor, and obey your husband; or failing to serve your spouse and put his/her needs and desires before your own.

Yes, recognize all your sins and lay them before the great throne of God for forgiveness and covering by the blood of the Lamb. Purpose to clear your heart and conscience with those you have wronged; purpose to remain unmarried (or be reconciled if possible) as long as your former spouse is living. Turn your past failure into a present message and ministry of witness. And make your highest motivation and lifetime goal to seek God, to please Him, and to bring Him glory.

Present Troubles in Marriage

But perhaps you are a reader who is now having marital difficulties. When reading the Word of God concerning separation or divorce (forbidding it), you may feel a desperate sense of being locked into an impossible situation. Do not look to the world for a way out of your difficulty; look to God. Keep in mind some precious truths: (1) There is no conflict too great for God to reconcile. There is no spouse too wicked for God to change; look to God as being greater than the situation, and be willing to wait for Him to work. (2) Don’t focus all your thoughts upon your spouse’s failures (although you may think he/she may be fully at fault while you are not wrong); begin to accept personal responsibility. Anything that is not like Christ will certainly contribute to a failure in the marriage. (3) You must be willing to allow God to use the pressures of your marriage to achieve eternal spiritual results in your own life. (4) In order to become more conformed to the image of Christ, you must be willing to suffer in a quiet, patient spirit. Stay in the marriage, praying for God to perform a miracle of healing in your spouse.

Certainly those in the conflict of difficulties in a marriage must also learn to control their thoughts. Do not allow evil surmisings to destroy your heart for the other. Learn to love through the difficulty.

Concluding Burden

Perhaps some concluding words would be most appropriate as we have viewed the marriage of a husband and wife in these perilous times in which we live.

First, to the husbands we declare Proverbs 18:22, “Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the LORD.” How can one view this text? Initially we ought to see simply the word wife. A wife, though she be not the best of her kind, is to be esteemed a blessing. She is useful both for society of life (according to Gen. 2:18) and for the mitigation of man’s troubles and cares. Paul will go so far as to state in 1 Corinthians 7 that a wife is for the prevention of the sin of fornication by the man (although this should not be the main reason for a Christian to get married). But there is also a thought, which may be implied (in the Hebrew) of a good wife: “one who deserves the name and performs the duty of that relation is a wise and worthy wife.” She is a good thing, meaning a singular blessing. But the verse goes on to state that when he finds a wife, he obtains favor of the Lord. If a man finds such a wife, he needs to remember that he obtained her not by his own wit, craft, or diligence, taking all the credit through his good looks and romantic ways to snare her. But this Scripture tells us that God’s good providence brought this about in our lives. God compassed land and sea to bring the blessing to you. Therefore, the man must honor that; she is what he needed. And the man must love her! Martin Luther was asked the question one day if a man should love his wife. He answered, “Of course, the Christian should love his wife. He is supposed to love his neighbor, and since his wife is his nearest neighbor, she should be the deepest love. And she should also be his dearest friend.”

In the coming days, dear husband, you will need your wife; therefore, cherish her, love her, desire to be with her more than any other earthly friend. Your love for her must endure long, act kindly, rejoice in truth in her life, bear all things, believe all things, and hope all things. When she fails, your love for her must not fail. Be aware of her needs, be thoughtful of her, notice her, and appreciate her. There is no such thing as love without awareness. There are two factors concerning our awareness of our wives. First, we must develop an awareness in our mind by thinking of her and praying regularly for her. Second, we must express that awareness to her. We need to spend time with her. Don’t let your busyness, duties, and responsibilities draw you away from your wife. Pray for God to give you creativity in your expressed love for her. Times of compliments will be needed, times for talk, times to listen. Pray with her, play with her, sport with her (as the Bible speaks of Isaac with Rebekah). Don’t allow the years of marriage to rob your romance and love with her; pray for the love of your youth for her to ever be in your heart. How often when two get married, after a few years they enter into a humdrum life; the flame of love is gone; responsibilities and the pressures of life overwhelm the marriage. Don’t allow this to happen! Refuse to be caught in the bondage of life; pray for eagle wings to lay hold. Amidst your burdens, your bills, your agony over your children, keep the flame burning for your wife! She is the greatest friend you have.

Dear married woman, be the wife God intended for you to be to your husband. Become that rare jewel of a woman whose price is far above rubies. Remember your first priority is to that man; your love for him should be one of the motives for the duties of the house and for the care of your children. Don’t ever allow the children to take the place of your husband. Be trustworthy; live with happiness in your lifelong commitment to him; be a willing worker; be thrifty with the money; be a wise planner; keep yourself attractive for him, ever wooing him as a bride does a bridegroom; be creative in your love to him; be a “woman” and feminine in your ways; pray for God to clothe you in humility—to be known as his wife; be wise in your dealings and with your words; be diligent; and above all, fear the Lord. Yes, love, honor, and obey him, till death parts you from him. And if God chooses to take him in death before you, be the strong woman after his death to maintain the legacy of his name while you live.

Yes, dear husband and wife, you will need one another for the future. Become a strength to one another. Don’t allow anything to make a breach between the two of you. Walk hand in hand to meet the onslaught of this world, for two are better than one. But yet, meet whatever comes against your marriage; meet it with communion with Christ. He will be the security of your love and your life together.