The Need for a Restatement of the Biblical Principles of Marriage
The reasons for a restatement of the Biblical principles of marriage in the modern church are these:
The church’s inadequate response within itself to the moral decline of the culture. This is reflected in the media bombardment of antiChristian values and the declining sexual and marital morality of the culture as a whole; the so-called sexual revolution was not only a cultural rejection of the Biblical standard of sexual conduct but also of the Biblical meaning of marriage; the symptoms of this are the rates of sexual immorality and marital difficulties within the professing church which are comparable to that of the culture as a whole; these are discipleship issues to be approached from a Biblical perspective first and foremost. The church itself suffers too often from a distorted and unreasoned approach to the issues of marriage and sexuality.
The inadequacy of much of the current teaching within the church from a Biblical standpoint. Teachers unqualified to deal with the Biblical text have promulgated distorted teachings. These are based upon the common errors of selective citation, linguistic, contextual and historical errors, and overspecification. This is not a merely partisan issue within the body of Christ, because the testimony of scripture itself is that God does not speak through misinterpreted scripture.
The underlying attitudes within the church of fear, shame, legalism and suspicion in regard to marital and sexual fidelity instead of the scriptural attitude of reverence, modesty and honesty. In some cases this seems to have come from underlying guilt and shame from sexual sins, but in other cases from distorted teachings from the church and family. This has often resulted in vicious gossip and judgmentalism, instead of the atmosphere of love and honesty which would encourage a Christlike confrontation and correction of these problems. See Romans 14:4-12 and I Corinthians 10:12-13 for scriptural perspectives on our attitudes toward each other on these issues.
God’s Intentions for Marriage from the Scriptures
1. Marriage was a part of God’s plan for mankind from the beginning of creation, as a substantial part of the fulfillment of what it means to be either male or female: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).
2. Marriage is part of God’s provision for the lifelong, mutual companionship and assistance of a man and a woman: “The LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make a helper suitable for him” (female counterpart) (Genesis 2:18).
3. Marriage is the inception of a new, lifelong relationship across the totality of life, and marks the separation and independence from the parents: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).
4. Sexual fulfillment:
“Drink water from your own cistern,
running water from your own well.
Should your springs overflow in the streets,
your streams of water in the public squares?
Let them be yours alone,
never to be shared with strangers.
May your fountain be blessed,
and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.
A loving doe, a graceful deer —
may her breasts satisfy you always,
may you ever be captivated by her love”
“But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband” (I Corinthians 7:2).
Sexual fulfillment is definitely restricted to marriage within scripture. It is unfortunate, however, that marriage has too often been treated as an answer to problems of lust and immorality among believers. The truth is that lust and sexual immorality are not the result of merely physical appetites, but of sinful human nature that encompasses mind, body, spirit and emotions. (“What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’ For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, . . . adultery . . .” — Mark 7:20-21.) Therefore marriage is no cure for lust and immorality for someone who does not accept the Biblical teaching on sex and marriage, or a believer who is caught in a sinful sexual habit. The sad testimony of many pastors, counselors and counselees is that marriage does not change a prior sexual problem. The scriptural answer is first and foremost the sanctification of the mind, body and spirit.
Even so, the Biblical standard is that sex within marriage is a good gift of God, and is to be protected with modesty and reverence: “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” (Hebrews 13:4). For a believer in Christ, therefore, all sexual expectations should be confined to a marital relationship.
5. Expression of romantic love and interest:
The Bible seems to be ambiguous about the matter of physical attraction and romantic love as the basis of marriage. There are three passages in the Bible where physical attraction and romantic love are mentioned as a major part of motivation for marriage:
A. With Jacob and Rachel:
” . . . Rachel was lovely in form, and beautiful. Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, ‘I’ll work for you seven years in return for your daughter Rachel’ . . . So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her” (Genesis 29:18, 20).
In the early years of Jacob, as God worked through circumstances despite his cunning and scheming, this love for Rachel stands as one of the more commendable aspects of his character. His love was more than a temporary infatuation, as his willingness to work and wait demonstrates. Among the two sisters Rachel was clearly the inferior in spiritual maturity, as it would seem by her actions in Genesis 29:31-30:21, until she put herself to prayer for children in 30:22-24. Nevertheless she does not seem to have demonstrated greater spiritual immaturity than either Sarah or Rebekah did, and the Bible does not fault the reason behind his choice. Indeed, his choice was comparable to that of Abraham for his father Isaac, of a woman related to him from their Mesopotamian homeland (Genesis 24:4), in line with his father’s directions (Genesis 28:1-2), and contrary to the choices of his brother Esau which so offended their parents (Genesis 26:35, 27:46). It should also be noted that Sarah and Rebekah were likewise beautiful women (Genesis 12:11, 26:7). His preference seems to have been based upon the example and commands of his father and grandfather and the kind of women that his mother and grandmother were.
If Jacob had not been deceived into marriage with Leah first, his marriage to Rachel would have by itself probably been seen to have been comparable to that of Abraham and Isaac, of a beautiful but spiritually immature wife whose spiritual potential came to fruition by having to trust God for children.
B. Samson, his first wife and Delilah:
The choice of his first wife: “Samson went down to Timnah and saw there a young Philistine woman. When he returned, he said to his father and mother, ‘I have seen a Philistine woman in Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.
His father and mother replied, ‘Isn’t there an acceptable woman among your relatives or among all our people? Must you go to the [pagan] Philistines to get a wife?’
But Samson said, ‘Get her for me. She’s the right one for me.’ (His parents did not know that this was from the LORD, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines . . .)” (Judges 14:1-4).
Samson’s choice was rightly faulted on the basis of the commands of God not to intermarry with the nations around them; his parents properly pointed this out to him. The matter was under the permission of God, though, since he would use this attraction of Samson for pagan, Philistine women to accomplish his judgment of the Philistines through him, to keep them from becoming too strong and make the later victories of Israel over them easier. Nevertheless, Samson would suffer the personal consequences of his foolish, unscriptural choices, and he stands as an example of how one unscriptural choice can lead to a pattern of attraction to the wrong kind of men or women, and the disastrous personal consequences this can entail.
Unfortunately there is no indication what would have happened if Samson’s choice for a wife had been in line with the Word of God. God’s purpose for his life was to begin the deliverance of Israel from the Philistine yoke (Judges 13:5), which would continue under Samuel and Saul and be completed under David. This purpose would doubtless have been achieved in some way or another.
C. David and Michal: “Now Saul’s daughter Michal was in love with David . . . Saul gave him his daughter Michal in marriage” (I Samuel 18:20, 27).
Michal was both a help and a heartache to David as a wife. She saved his life on one occasion (I Samuel 19:11-17), but ridiculed him for his unrestrained praise for God (II Samuel 6:16, 20-23). Apparently spiritual incompatibility grew during the time of their separation, when she was married to someone else by the command of her father Saul (I Samuel 25:44, II Samuel 3:13-17). If they had not been separated during the time of David’s running from Saul, she might have become a good queen for him during the time of his ascent to the throne. But as it was, she suffered the judgment of childlessness due to her ridicule of David, and the line of Saul would never again have a connection to the throne of Israel, and David would find his heir through his other wives.
Thus in the case of David’s first marriage, the romantic love was not a fault in the reason for the marriage, but spiritual incompatibility later on grew due to an unscriptural and forced separation.
The Bible, on the other hand, does describe romantic love as part of marital love:
A. As the confirmation of God’s leading to the right choice: “Isaac . . married Rebekah. So she became his wife, and he loved her” (Genesis 24:67). God had led the chief slave of Abraham, a godly man of faith himself, to Rebekah as the one that he had for Isaac, and the fulfillment of this choice was someone he loved in a romantic sense.
B. As the motivating passion in the sexual life: see the Song of Solomon.
Perhaps it is best to say that the Bible does not fault romantic love and physical attraction in itself but demonstrates the consequences when they become reasons for marriage apart from spiritual and moral compatibility. In some way it is desirable that it should be present before marriage, or there may be difficulties in its inception after marriage.
6. Lifelong companionship for mutual enjoyment of life:
“Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this . . . life that God has given you under the sun . . .” (Ecclesiastes 9:9).
Too often a couple which has approached marriage too much from the aspect of romantic love and physical attraction must face social and recreational incompatibility after marriage. This is one strong justification for the modern practice of dating: a husband and wife will be spending much of their leisure time together, and this can be the foundation for learning to enjoy things together before marriage (i.e., good clean fun).
7. Godly children from a godly marriage:
“Has not [the LORD] made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth” (Malachi 2:15).
Distorted reasons for marriage:
“If one were to give all the wealth of his house for love,
it (or he) would be utterly scorned”
(Song of Songs 8:7).
But: a couple’s vocational plans should be well underway, and they should be able to muster sufficient financial support to maintain financial independence from the parents after the wedding.
2. Physical attraction alone:
“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting,
but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised”
Physical attraction and romantic interest are a normal part of the courtship process, but are not to take precedence over spiritual and moral compatibility. For both men and women, character comes before attraction.
The Essential Ingredient for a Godly Marriage:
A good marriage with a godly partner is a gift from God:
“He who finds a wife finds what is good,
and receives favor from the LORD”
“Houses and wealth are inherited from parents,
but a prudent wife is from the LORD”
A godly marriage partner is the gracious gift of God for either a man or woman. In the Bible, when parents contracted marriages for their children, this is a plain acknowledgment of the limitation of parental involvement and capacity to make good marriages for their children compared to the sovereign grace of God. The Bible does seem to indicate a substantial involvement for godly parents, but they are simply the agents in the fulfillment of God’s sovereign plan.
A godly marriage partner should then fulfill the following qualifications:
1. Definite experience of salvation:
“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?” (II Corinthians 6:14-15).
Each believer should then be certain of a definite commitment to Jesus Christ by the marriage partner, and know the testimony of the other’s experience of salvation.
2. An ongoing commitment to Christ as his disciple, and obedient walk with Christ toward spiritual maturity:
“If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (I John 1:6-7).
A mere profession of faith in Jesus Christ is not enough to assure that there will be spiritual and moral compatibility in a marriage! The observation of the ongoing walk with Christ of the prospective marriage partner is essential. Therefore these factors also come into consideration:
- Does the prospective partner have continuing struggles with a major moral difficulty, such as sexual immorality, drinking or drugs? Remain in contact and encourage your friend to find counseling, but do not continue dating seriously or attempt to solve the other person’s moral difficulties yourself! Godly and happy marriages are the product of mutual spiritual strengths and shared moral convictions, not a rescue or rehabilitation operation on the behalf of one partner. In addition, a prospective partner that professes Christ yet does not hold to Biblical morality may be a romantic impostor, i.e. , a person who makes a false profession of Christ in order to win the object of his or her affections.
- Does the prospective partner have contact with a Bible believing church and remain in regular fellowship with that body? Has church attendance and involvement already been a significant part of your courtship and engagement? This will then form the basis for your mutual dedication to the body of Christ after your engagement.
- Does the prospective partner follow spiritual disciplines such as regular Bible reading and study, prayer, etc.? Has Bible study and prayer together already been a regular part of your courtship and engagement? This will form the basis of mutual spiritual growth and encouragement after your marriage.
- Does the prospective partner hold steady employment and work toward Biblical goals for his or her life?
- Does the prospective partner have a grasp of Biblical guidance about finances and demonstrate his trust in God as his provider by following them? Does he/she avoid debt, tithe, etc.? This will form the basis of financial stability after marriage.
All these issues should be covered during premarital counseling at a sound evangelical church, but they give indication even before engagement of the basis for a sound and godly marriage. A Christian man should not offer a proposal of marriage until he is satisfied of his prospective partner’s adherence to these kinds of qualifications; a Christian woman should not accept a proposal until she is satisfied of her prospective partner’s qualifications. Perhaps preengagement counseling is in order where there may be doubt before a proposal should be offered or accepted. Once a sufficient moral and spiritual basis has been established, the man should consider how to offer the proposal in a playful, God honoring and romantic way.
Many Christian marriages have been formed on less than these qualifications, but major struggles occur on these issues unless there is resolution.
Preparation for a Godly Marriage:
1. Prayer comes first of all. Ask for guidance to the right person through the circumstances of your life. Express your desires before God according to his Word, and commit of the matter to him and his sovereign love and wisdom. Be assured before God that marriage is a good, enjoyable and permissible undertaking in the will and blessing of God.
“Delight yourself in the LORD,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the LORD;
trust in him and he will do this:
He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn,
the justice of your cause like the noonday sun”
“Fear the LORD, you his saints,
for those who fear him lack nothing . . .
those who seek the LORD lack no good thing”
2. Understand the scriptural responsibilities of your marital role beforehand. Marital preparation means not only seeking the right person but seeking to become the right person. God’s Word declares the responsibilities of each person in marriage. Therefore prepare to become the type of person who can fulfill God’s assignment of marital responsibilities. The fulfillment of God’s job description for the marital responsibilities God assigns to you demonstrates your faith for God to bring the right person into your life.
Men: study Ephesians 5:25-33 and I Peter 3:7.
Are you willing to become the spiritual leader in your home, and give Biblical direction and prayer for your wife and children? Are you willing to love your wife as Christ loves the church? What concrete steps can you take to prepare yourself for this role?
Women: study Proverbs 31:10-31, I Peter 3:1-6, and Titus 2:3-5.
Are you willing to follow your husband’s direction of the home, and to trust God when you disagree? Are you developing a cooperative and peaceful spirit in yourself, and ability in homemaking responsibilities? What concrete steps can you take to prepare yourself for this role?
As prospective parents: read Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21. Are you willing to prepare yourself to become godly parents? What concrete steps can you take to prepare yourself for this role?
3. Develop a scriptural understanding of love and romance. Read and study the Song of Solomon. Avoid worldly depictions of sexuality and romance and their infiltration into your dreams and imagination for your own future. Rather, think about and dream about your future according to scriptural guidelines.
4. Discuss the matter with your parents. Get their input and their assistance, and reconcile your past difficulties with them. State your goals for a godly marriage according to the scriptures with them, even if they do not personally have a commitment to Christ.
5. Strive to be a person of sympathy, compassion, integrity and honesty. Allow God to make you as deeply into the image of Christ by the Holy Spirit as possible (II Corinthians 3:18). The basic character ingredients for marital success are the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).
6. Avoid deceitful and exploitative methods of dealing with the opposite sex, upon the principle that like finds like:
“I find more bitter than death the woman who is a snare,
whose heart is a trap and whose hands are chains.
The man who pleases God will escape her,
but the sinner she will ensnare”
Thus the probability is that a man or a woman who uses deceitful and exploitative methods in dating and courtship will end up with someone who has serious moral problems, or, at best, a relationship of shared selfishness.
- Make no personal claims or attempt to give an impression that is contrary to the reality of who you are as a person, your personal capabilities and resources, or moral convictions to a prospective marriage partner.
- Avoid “testing” the other person’s love or commitment. The circumstances of life will provide sufficient tests of a person’s character and moral convictions, without your having to resort to these means. Rather, keep your eyes open. Listen to your prospective partner’s conversations, jokes and memories; observe his actions toward you, his family, and others in general.
- Do not look to the other person as someone whose strengths or capabilities you can exploit to take care of your desires or ambitions or to enable you to continue to avoid issues of your own independence, moral compromises or bad relationships with family, friends or the opposite sex.
7. Learn how to express your desires clearly and fairly to another person, and learn to yield to the other person where your desires are unreasonable or wrongly timed or where it would cause unnecessary conflict. You are going to have to work together with someone else to accomplish the goal of a godly marriage. Philippians 2:1-11 applies to married believers!
8. Learn how to deal with disagreement, anger and conflict in a godly and scriptural fashion. A minor disagreement does not have to flare up into a major war! See Ephesians 4:25-5:2.
9. Learn how to become a productive worker in your profession, to use money scripturally and wisely, and to live within your means. One of the leading causes of divorce and marital conflict is financial difficulty and disagreement!
Developing Realistic Expectations of Married Life
One of the most realistic depictions of marriage is that of the traditional wedding vows. Consider before you make the promise to marry someone whether you can honestly promise to fulfill these vows before God to your spouse for a lifetime (even if you use other vows during your actual ceremony).
Husband: “I . . . take thee . . . to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I give thee my troth.”
Wife: “I . . . take thee . . . to be my wedded husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, to cherish, and to obey, till death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I give thee my troth.”
The promise is to be with each other and to love each other throughout all circumstances until death brings an end to the marriage.
Bringing an Already Existing Marriage to a Scriptural Basis
Sometimes an already married couple may find that they entered their marriage upon a less than scriptural basis. The marriage is still valid before God in that case, but it does definitely help to seek to make the reasons to continue the marriage and the working of the marital relationship according to Biblical standards.
1. Understand that your present marriage commitment is God’s will for you (unless the bond has been broken by the adultery of your partner; then you have the choice to end the marriage). While entry into a marriage for unscriptural reasons may have extremely painful consequences, and the effort to turn it into a God honoring and happy marriage may be considerable, the latter is the choice in accord with God’s will.
2. Take the time alone to consider the reasons why you were married. Confess before God, the marital partner, and any other involved person wrong reasons for marriage. Confess all before God, before the marital partner only as far as the partner knows, and others only as far as their knowledge and involvement. Clear your conscience before God and man and go on to remedy the reasons for your marriage.
3. Find what scriptural reasons for marriage are already fulfilled in the marriage as it stands. Thank God for every good thing you can find in your partner and your marriage.
3. Study the scriptures with your partner and commit yourself to scriptural reasons for your marriage.
All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.