We cannot help but see the deterioration and collapse of marriage in our country and throughout the world. And sad to say, we may see such failure in marriage among professing Christians as well. Therefore, it is important that we understand what it will take to start and maintain a good marriage in Christ.
Beginnings are always important in life, especially if they are the commencement of something good. Beginnings are simple, non-complex, basic, foundational, elementary, and yes, immature. They are the commencement of and entrance into something. Beginnings that are not good often end in disaster, unless there is an honorable recovery that leads to a fresh beginning. Beginnings from one perspective are the initiation of a vision that has a specific goal in mind.
The New Birth is our beginning in the spiritual world. According to John 3:5, this New Birth is the commencement, the entrance into the Kingdom of God. And such a beginning is so very simple that even a child can understand it. Once one has entered this spiritual world through the New Birth, where does he go from there? What is the purpose of the New Birth and this entrance into the Kingdom, and where is it to lead me?
The commencement of a marriage in the natural life starts with the wedding—a typical ceremony, pictures, festivities, etc. But to many couples there was no consciousness of what the wedding really meant, where it was to lead, and what was to be the goal and vision of this beginning together.
The wedding is a crisis beginning of two lives becoming one in the presence of God and witnesses. It is the day when two lives begin building a marriage together that is to last (all things being equal in providence) a lifetime. Some couples have better beginnings than others. Some never had a good beginning, and the collapse of their marriage seemed inevitable. Even though two may declare themselves Christians at the beginning, this does not assure that the building of that marriage will continue. For there is an overwhelming rise of failures and collapses in professing Christian marriages today that gives witness to the fact the individuals do not live in accordance to what they profess.
A good beginning is very important. A marriage is based on the building process from its very beginning. What was our spiritual condition at the time of our wedding? Some couples started without the presence of Christ in their lives, though they may have had a church wedding. Oh, the hypocrisy of a church wedding without being a true Christian. It would be better for a couple to go to the justice of the peace for their wedding than to feign a church wedding when they are not Christians. The church wedding does not make the wedding more complete or acceptable in the eyes of God. A church wedding should only be for two true Christians who want to identify their lives together in the Christian context of the sanctuary.
Perhaps a couple did not profess to be Christians, or they professed but they were not truly Christians. Then later in the marriage they came to trust Jesus Christ as their Saviour. This coming to Christ and His Word brought a new beginning to that marriage (now in Christ); He became its lifesaving power.
Whatever state the couple was in on their wedding day, they were just as truly married in the sight of God that first day as they are today. Now it is the hope that their relationship together has developed and matured over the years, resulting in a deeper and stronger marriage.
Cultivating a Good Marriage
It is amazing that people labor to perfect and strengthen so many things in life. Athletes push themselves beyond ordinary limits in order to be good at whatever sport they are engaged. Businessmen will work tirelessly, sacrificing family and time to make it to the top of their corporate ladder. Millions of dollars are spent annually on education, preparing people for jobs and careers or to advance their positions in their careers.
In contrast, when it comes to the most important human relationship on earth, people think that their marriage will just automatically work without any preparation before the wedding or any building process afterward. If couples had the same mindset about their marriage as those in the business profession and sports world, there might not be so many failures. Good marriages do not just happen. To make a marriage strong and lasting requires work, development, and cultivation. But what kind of work, development, and cultivation is needed for a strong marriage? Since God is the One Who instituted and established the existence of marriage, it stands to reason that we must look to Him to find out how this institution is to work. Amidst all that the Bible reveals about so many truths for living life, the revelation of God is also needed for the perfecting of the marriage relationship.
The first insight we must find in this relationship called marriage concerns its beginning. Genesis 2 establishes the historicity of the beginning of marriage. God brought Eve from Adam’s side, forming his perfect counterpart. Then God brought her to Adam. There was no awkwardness in that first moment, for it was evident that it truly was of God—it was love at first sight. Immediately Adam knew what she was and who she was. He called her bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh. Tremendous insight was given to Adam; he knew what a man must do in the future. He must leave his father and mother in order to cleave to his wife. Adam commenced his life with a knowledge about her and what this relationship was to be. Multitudes of couples begin life together and have no knowledge of what they are doing, and where this life is to lead them. Though Adam failed in his authority with his wife, he did have the knowledge of what she was, what she was to be with him, and what they were to be together.
Next, we must consider Matthew 19:4. In this classic view of marriage four thousand years later, Christ twice mentions in this context, “in the beginning.” With so much having radically changed over four millennia, He calls our attention to the “beginning.” Matthew 19:4 states, “Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female.” Verse eight continues, “Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.” Our society has gone far away from the concept of marriage as it was in the days of Christ. As a result, there is no building, no house, no structure of relationships in marriages today. There is no wealth, beauty, glory, or character in marriages.
So even before contemplating the building of a marriage, there must be an understanding of its beginning. What we see today is not what was at the beginning. Therefore, we as Christians must go back and view briefly the beginning, and perhaps establish principles just for the beginning of our marriage.
The Four Biblical Purposes for Marriage
Perhaps a key to the beginning of a marriage is to understand four biblical purposes for marriage from a simplistic perspective.
(1) The first purpose of marriage is the provision of companionship. Man was created on the sixth day, following the creation of animals. Seven times God saw what He did, and said, “It is good.” But when it came specifically to the creation of man, God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone.” Seven times “It is good,” but now for the first time He said, “It is not good.” Loneliness is a terrible thing. Even though man lived in a perfect environment with all the blessings of God around him, Adam still lacked companionship. Remember, it was not Adam but God who said, “It is not good that man should be alone.” God created Adam the way He wanted him. In Adam’s nature, even before the Fall, there was a longing for a relationship that all the animals and fowls God had created could not satisfy. This longing was carefully planted within the nature of man. Since the Fall, when sin entered into the human race, this desire has been satisfied by many means that God never intended. By the time we get to Genesis 19 and Romans 1, such relationships have become strange abominations—of man with man, and woman with woman, and humanity with beasts. This is why we must go back to the beginning to see God’s original plan for mankind concerning marriage, which has not changed. Only God Himself has provided the solution for “not good,” man’s aloneness.
God took from within man in order to make the counterpart of woman (Gen. 2:23–25). This is where building a strong marriage must begin. It must begin with an understanding that our spouse is a gift from God to meet a divinely-created need in our life. As an individual, we will grow and develop in our personal relationship with the Lord as we fulfill our role in the marriage relationship, loving our spouse, and being loved. So many believe that things such as money and pleasure are all that are needed to make one happy. But God tells us that we need companionship to solve the problems of loneliness, and that marriage is God’s plan for meeting this need.
(2) The second purpose for marriage concerns a God-given responsibility. When God created Adam, He had a purpose for him: “And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it” (Gen. 2:15). Before the Fall in the Garden of Eden, Adam had responsibilities with which God had charged him. Man was created with work as part of his life. Idleness has never been a part of God’s plan for mankind. It is true that the Fall brought a curse; man’s work would be hindered and made more difficult (Genesis 3). But part of Adam’s loneliness was that he did not have a help meet for him in his responsibilities. The word help meet means “one suitable for him.” When God made Eve, He was making someone like Adam with whom he could share his responsibilities of life. This is a blessing from God even today. Having a companion by your side as you live and work in God’s appointed will is truly part of the purpose of marriage.
Today it is easy for a husband and wife to see themselves going their own way, doing their own thing. But this attitude is very harmful to a marriage. They must always see themselves as help meets for one another. Our lives are more than our jobs or possessions. Though we may need some of these things for life, they should not be our goals for living. We need to see ourselves as God intended for us to be—living for Him, serving Him together in life, and sharing the responsibilities of this great opportunity of life. We may need to ask ourselves, “As a husband, am I truly helping my wife to be and to become all that God wants her to be?” “As a wife, am I truly helping my husband to be and to become all that God wants him to be?” From the beginning this has been God’s will for the purpose of marriage.
(3) A third purpose for marriage is for replenishing the earth. According to Genesis 1:28 this replenishing of the earth is through children. God in His creation set the principles of reproduction in motion. Offspring is to be “after his kind,” not an evolution unto different kinds. We must realize that God did not intend for mankind to replenish the earth without any boundaries or guidance. This is where marriage comes into its appointment. When God brought Eve to Adam, she was to be his companion, his wife for as long as they lived. She was not to be one among many. It was not to be a relationship of instinct as in the animal kingdom, but one of love and devotion to each other. Children were to be the product of a loving relationship between a man and a woman within the marriage union. God never intended for this replenishing to be outside of marriage. The Devil is doing all he can to destroy the home, the family unit, and to remove the boundaries that God has set. Same-sex marriage cannot reproduce; it is anti-God in its very concept. While children are truly a gift from God, He wants to give them through the way that He has ordered, by a man and a woman who are in a marriage relationship.
(4) The fourth purpose of marriage (after the Fall) was for the sake of keeping us from all forms of fornication, a sin of the body. This burden is unfolded in 1 Corinthians 7, the classic chapter in the New Testament on marriage.
Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: it is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence, and likewise also the wife unto the husband. Defraud ye not one the other [do not keep your body from intimate love with your spouse], except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency [your inability to control yourself].
If these verses and those surrounding them in 1 Corinthians 7 were truly honored, it would greatly assist in keeping all forms of fornication out of a married couple’s secret lives, including the secret pursuit of pornography. God included this protection against the growing powers of fornication in a given generation. We must not undermine the marriage appointment against this sin. We observe that these sins are at the top of the list in Galatians 5:19–21 of the works of the flesh: “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness.”
The apostle Paul also speaks of the need of sanctification in the Christian life to deal with this sin problem:
For this is the will of God even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: that every one of you should know how to possess his vessel [either the body or the wife] in sanctification and honour: not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God: That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified. For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness (1 Thess. 4:3–7).
One of the precious stories in the Old Testament concerns Noah, who with his family built an ark because of an impending flood God was to send upon the earth. Noah received the promises from God for him and his wife and family. At the end of the confined days in the ark, for the first time the word burnt offering is mentioned in Scripture (Gen. 8:20). “The Lord smelled a sweet savour; and the Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake.” What prompted Noah to offer a sweet savour to the Lord? From somewhere deep in his heart, Noah brought forth the highest offering mentioned in Scripture. This offering was in his heart before God while leaving the ark. The Hebrew word for burnt offering is Olah, meaning “that which goes up.” This going-up refers to the smoke and fragrance of the offering rising upward to God. Noah’s heart was filled with gratitude to God, and it was the offering of his heart that God was smelling. The olah was a complete, self-consecrated offering. According to Leviticus 1, this offering in its entirety went up to God. It was the aroma of a man’s heart. Paul declares in Ephesians 5:2 of Christ’s offering of Himself on the cross, “a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour.”
Each home has an aroma, some pleasant, some not so. Sometimes the presence of pets within the home, a constant wood fire, or the daily cooking of certain highly seasoned foods cause smells to permeate the home. Often a visitor detects the smell immediately, whereas the family has become accustomed to it.
Similarly, a marriage could be said to have an aroma—not a physical smell but a character aroma coming forth from the lives of the husband and wife together. This aroma bespeaks the spirit and the manner of that marriage. Maybe after beginning a marriage in deep love, cultivation year after year has kept that marriage fresh and aromatic. Or, maybe neglect of this cultivation has stagnated the love between the two. This aroma includes how they get along together, how they enjoy being together. As the years unfold, there is a fragrance that becomes a part of that marriage. It is the result of two hearts and what they have made of themselves together. The ideal has been present in their marriage: they are walking in love. True love has become the governing principle of their lives, yea, their whole hearts. Certainly there are obvious acts of obedience that must be kept, or the marriage will be destroyed in its foundation. But those smaller ingredients of love, the collateral side of the marriage, insure the fullness of the contract or covenant between them. This produces the true aroma or fragrance of love within a marriage. There are some external things you may try to counterfeit about a walk with God, but one cannot feign a true loving heart for God. The heart always shows up in certain areas. Yes, you can imitate some things of a marriage in public, but other things you cannot; the heart comes out in actions and words.
What produces this fragrance in a couple? It is how they treat one another when they are alone. When this, whether good or bad, becomes the pattern of their private living together, they cannot detect it when they are with others, though others see it. There are certain areas you cannot fake. In a precious marriage, the aroma will be evident. A healthy, fragrant marriage is greatly established through how a husband treats his wife. Some women are able to be outwardly happy even when unhappy inwardly; at times others can detect this. But when a woman is truly happy in her soul, her husband is part of the health of it. How does her husband love her, cherish her, nourish her? If a husband is truly loving his wife, cherishing her, respecting her, and nourishing her (Greek, the “warming” of her heart, Eph. 5:29), it will be very easy for the wife to be in subjection to such a husband. Her obedience is found not only in biblical principle but also in the spirit of love.
Often husbands will only occasionally express their love; there is an erratic manner of his love for her. A husband truly must walk in love with her. If he is harsh with her in private, he will tend to be harsh with her in public; though others see it, he remains oblivious to his failure to walk in love. If he ignores her, if he is unkind to her, or only occasionally shows her kindness, then he is not walking in love. This precious marriage love must be constant; this is part of cherishing and “keeping her warm.”
A husband may retort, “I don’t know how to do it.” The truths found in Ephesians 5:21–33 tell us that Christ is the example of this very thing. This is another important reason why we need to read the Bible—we read the Bible to find out how to love and cherish a wife. Such insight will not simply be found in the beautiful Song of Solomon; we must read the New Testament, for in those books there will be much insight of what Christ did and does for us. His heart and spirit must be known; this heart and spirit must become the fragrance of our marriage. Do not look to humanistic five-step formulas for a happy marriage. The externals are not the key. Marriage counselors and psychologists are the ones who have the worst lives and marriages. Come to the heart of godliness found in Christ, and you will come to it as a husband. You cannot be godly and live ungodly with your wife or husband. Marriage simply amplifies what a person is. The marriage will constantly be tested by life.
Remember, your wife is not your adversary. She is your appointed weakness; you are her appointed strength. If children obey the father and not the mother, the weakness is the father’s; he must become her strength. This will be true in all aspects of the marriage.
Though there is a fragrance in every marriage, I am fully convinced that the health of that fragrance is the husband’s love for the wife. May God help both the husband and the wife to build a Christian marriage of love in Christ.