Marriage – a bed of roses or a bush of thorns?

Love, Romance, Sex and Marriage. These can be amazingly wonderful human experiences; but when things go wrong, they can be the source of great pain, betrayal, disillusion and loss of faith. In His recorded Word to us humans, which collection of books we call The Bible, our Creator God has much to say on the subject of marriage. If we want to have a successful, happy and prosperous marriage, we do well to reflect deeply on these scriptures and ponder how they can apply in our own lives. There is nothing new under the sun, and nothing we think or do surprises God. The scriptures were recorded long ago, but they have as much relevance today as they have always had. Remember that it was God who created love, romance, sex and marriage.

Some claim that sex, in the human sense of that, was created by Satan. They argue that the original sin in The Garden of Eden was sexual activity. They say that Eve was not in season to conceive, but was made sexually aware and active when Satan seduced her; that Eve then went and seduced Adam. This, at best, rests on a confusion, and at worst a sophistry. Rest assured that the original sin was disobeying God, and at that time that disobedience had nothing at all to do with sex. As a result of this rebellion Adam and Eve lost their innocence and gained a moral consciousness as Genesis 3:1-7 tells us.

We were created differently to the animals in sex as in so many other things. When we are familiar with scripture we understand the intimacy God intends; and we know it is not sinful. If it were not so, Jesus would not be described throughout The Bible as the Bridegroom, and we would not be collectively described as his Betrothed. Of course this speaks of Spiritual union and intimacy. Jesus said he is One with The Father, and we are to be one with him.

Adam and Eve were certainly married (though the Bible records no wedding ceremony). In Genesis 2:24 we are told, “This is why a man is to leave his father and mother and stick with his wife, and they are to be one flesh.”

Some denominations of Christianity have doctrines that either explicitly, or implicitly claim that, even in marriage, sexual activity ought to be restricted to times when procreation is desired. Hebrews 13:4 and other scriptures make it clear that this is not so. Furthermore, God has given us The Book of Solomon which makes it abundantly clear that romance and marriage are meant to be passionate experiences. As we are told in Rev 3:16, Jesus wants us to be passionate about everything that is ordained by him.

Sexual activity outside the context of marriage is wrong and sinful. This is so because of the damage it does. This is a very complex subject about which one could write several books, but one or two examples may help to make it clear.

Firstly, let’s look at what happens when a person has sexual relations before marriage. One gives something precious away to someone one has no covenant with. This de-values what one gives to the level of something ordinary; something one does not save only for one’s spouse. So it badly affects any eventual marriage and the children of that marriage.

Secondly, an adulterous person devalues both the marriage and the spouse. They are no longer special and privileged in one’s life.

In both cases the affects of this cause tensions in any present or future marriage, the results of which have a negative affect on the children of the marriage, who in turn have less than ideal relationships with their own eventual spouses, and thus down again unto their own children.

Thus says The Lord in Exodus 20:5, “I visit the sins of the father unto the children to the third and fourth generation.” It is the negative affects in the lives of the children that have their working out, causing more damage.

CS Lewis tells us, “The monstrosity of sexual intercourse outside marriage is that those who indulge in it are trying to isolate one kind of union (the sexual) from all the other kinds of union which were intended to go along with it and make up the total union.”

Conversely, when sexual activity is kept solely within the context of marriage between one man and one woman wedded for life, the positive effects on the children also flow on for the subsequent generations due to the enhanced love and security of that family. Those who want more information on this subject could do well to read, “The Ancient Paths” by Craig Hill.

King David’s sins of murder and adultery followed him and his offspring even after he had truly repented. The damage flows on. If we have truly repented of sin the consequences in the hereafter have been washed away, but still we must live out the Earthly practical consequences. Any offspring or any illness that comes as a result of our sin still exists, and we must deal with it in this life.

Well, what if we lust after another, but do not have illicit sexual relations? Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:27 and Exodus 20:17 that if a man lusts after a woman he has already sinned.

This may seem strange when we know that romance can not even begin to flourish unless there is mutual attraction and desire. The difference is in the context. In the marriage context it is right and proper to desire one’s spouse. For single couples it is not wrong to develop mutual desire for each other if there is no hindrance to them progressing towards marriage. They do not sin in this desire, and if betrothed may move on to consummate the relationship and marry as the bible clearly says in 1Corinthians7:36 and Proverbs 30:18,19. It was the norm in ancient days in Israel to consummate the marriage before the wedding feast. God is not fooled, if either person is undecided or opposed to moving on to marriage they cannot have sexual relations without sinning. If both intend marriage at the earliest possible time, they do not sin. For most of ‘Christian’ history in The West, commoners would just begin to live together and would make plain to all and sundry that they were wed and it was so. Only the wealthy could afford special services and weddings and in fact, in the early days of Christendom, priests would sometimes be asked to bless the marriage, but never to perform it.. it was not then a sacrament.

A marriage is a covenant between three people. It is between the bride, the groom and God. For this the young are to leave their parents and cling to each other. They will be one flesh before God as Genesis 2:24 tells us. They begin a new family unit.

Romance has bloomed; the relationship blossoms and both persons are ‘in love’. This is a time of great passion and commonly the couple are so besotted with each other that they can easily ignore any faults the other displays. They may be seeing with such ‘rose-coloured-glasses’ that they actually don’t see any faults. This stage in the relationship may last for some months, or perhaps a year or two. This is the ‘honey-moon’ season. After many days it is normal for this great passion to become less intense. If all is well, a different kind of love will have had time to grow and develop between the couple. This mature kind of love is what can sustain the marriage through the troubles that life inevitably brings. Passion remains in the marriage, as it should do, but this is a new, measured passion that has its foundation in mutual respect, commitment, and abiding love, that causes each spouse to want the very best for each other, and for their offspring.

This is the kind of love that empowers us to love unconditionally. We see our life partner much more clearly, faults and all, but know our own faults more clearly too. We understand each other better, and have more compassion for each other than we did at an earlier time in the relationship. We are able to over-look those things that would annoy us greatly if we did not have such a true love for our spouse. Things that we perhaps did not even notice during the season when we were greatly ‘in-love’.

1) 1Corinthians 13:4-8 declares such a love then helps us against temptation. For example, a man finds himself admiring and possibly lusting after a woman who comes unbidden across his path, or one he sees in a magazine etc. that caught his eye when in a shop for ordinary purposes. The first time this happens to a young married man he may be shocked and wonder how this can be, when he does in fact love his wife. The answer lies partly in how men are ‘hard-wired’. We have been created to see and desire pretty women. If it were not so, not many children would get conceived. But because it is so, we do find ourselves tempted suddenly and without premeditation. When confronted with such sudden and strong feelings, men who love their wives with an abiding love are more able to stop looking at the source of the temptation and to put it out of mind. Not only do they know that if they do not do so they begin to sin, but also they recognize that indulging their desires would hurt this wife they truly love. Note that being tempted is not sin, but our reaction to the temptation may become sin.

2) It helps us share our burdens. This is confirmed by Galatians 6:2. A mature love between two people allows them to help each other to bear that burden. “A burden shared is a burden halved.” This is particularly so in marriage when both spouses have great respect and care for each other.

3) It helps us to build each other up as 1Thessalonians 5:11 tells us. A mature love that is not easily upset by the stresses of ordinary daily life is more able to always see the good side of things, and compliment for those things achieved rather than be concerned for what may be seen as shortcomings or failures.

4) James 5:16 advises it urges us to confess to each other and to be quick to forgive. When secure in the knowledge of being blessed with the true mature love of our spouse, we are able to tell of our own failings and thus be free to strive for better things, and at the same time to respond in like style when the boot is on the other foot.

5) Each spouse must submit one to the other says Ephesians 5:21. Too many marriages suffer because there is selective application of scripture to enforce a distorted view of rightful authority and responsibility. Even the church, through bad doctrine has at times and places caused this distortion to become accepted as the norm. Consider the marriage vows that used to have the woman vow to obey her husband, whilst no such vow was required of the husband. This is not the will of God and cannot be supported by any honest application of scripture. Some men love to quote verse 22 without also quoting verses 21 and 25. Wives are to submit to their husbands. (Eph. 5:22). Husbands are to love their wives. (Eph. 5:25). Each spouse must submit one to the other. (Eph.5:21).

Think of it as each spouse having the power of veto in any situation under consideration.

God has created great and very real differences between the genders, but there is no lack of equality. Men and women are different but equal in value and rights, as in authority and degree of responsibility, though some responsibilities are more appropriate to one and others to another of the genders.

In practice this means that each spouse ought to put the needs of the other first. In this way each spouse has all needs well met.

6) Love is not self-seeking declares 1 Corinthians 13:5 and 1 John 3:16. When each spouse is able to place the other’s needs ahead of their own they seek to do well for, and support and encourage what is best for the other. They are seeking the welfare of the other, rather than seeking their own gratification.

7) Love is not rude… it keeps no record of wrongs. We are told this in 1Corinthians 13:5. When we keep no record of real or imagined wrongs and failings we have truly forgiven. On the other hand if we are able to recite a litany of such wrongs done to us by our spouse then we have not truly forgiven. Such un-forgiveness is a cancer eating away at the vitals of our marriage, and if not corrected will cause the destruction of that marriage.

8)  Love always protects in 1 Corinthian 13:7. It is very important to protect each other in marriage. We ought not to allow anyone to speak badly of our spouse, and we ourselves must never speak badly of our spouse, nor demean them. If we demean each other we will be destroyed by each other (Gal. 6:15). If there is a need for counselling; still we do not tell all. Even when our spouse dishonours us we are not given permission to dishonour them.  If we do so we are in adultery. Yes, adultery covers much more ground than just sexual activity. It covers a number of things which can destroy marriages. Proverbs tell us much – The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit (18:21). A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his/her own opinions (18:2) A person of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a person of understanding is even-tempered (17:27).

9) A man who finds a wife finds something good. (Prov 18:22) When God gave Eve as wife to Adam, He gave Adam a very good thing. Men and women are wonderfully different and equally wonderful. They have different propensities and skills, and aptitudes; each well fitted by God for their natural roles.  Of course this is a generalization; it is generally so. In any given pairing the roles may differ due to individual strengths and weaknesses. Each couple must discover which of them is best to take care of which tasks for the benefit of the whole family. Only fools let pride get in the way of wise division of labour. In my own home, I do the dish washing because we both work and my wife is the better cook. I maintain the vehicles and my wife does our accounts; each of us is capable in either role, but each is more efficient in the one role.

10) An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, but she who brings shame is rottenness to his bones (Prov. 12:4).  When a man is shamed by the wrong attitudes and actions of a wife, he is undone in many ways. Men and women both are badly affected by such actions from their spouses. A man may feel he has lost his ‘manhood’ if he is cuckolded, or even scolded in public. He may lose his confidence and not be able to function successfully in life. Of course it is also said that, ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” A man may be undone in such fashion, and may lose his competitive edge and become a loser in life. Not many admit to such experiences as this too is seen as unmanly. A woman may be so disheartened and beaten down, both emotionally and physically, that she is unable to live a normal life, though some may be  spurred on to greater competiveness and success in a narrow range of activities in order to show up the former husband whilst losing the more valuable things in life. Either way; when one spouse brings shame to the other, both lose.

The Golden Rule:

The entire Law (of the Ten Commandments) can be summed up in a single command  in Galatians 5:13. “Love your neighbour as yourself.” The world says, “Do unto others as they do to you, but get in first.” God says, “Do unto others as you want them to do to you; regardless of what they actually do to you.”

How much more true it is that we ought to love our spouses as ourselves, and even prefer them.

It is important to have many shared interests in marriage. And it is important to have some, perhaps one, unshared personal interest that does not threaten the marriage. We need to understand boundaries, and to maintain our self-confidence, but if we have too many personal, unshared interests, and too few shared interests we cannot avoid creeping apart. This in turn leads to boredom, and eventually to unfaithfulness.

To sum up: if we want to do all we can to help our marriage to prosper, we need to keep Jesus in the centre of the marriage as 1Corinthians 7:1-5 says. A marriage that works at conforming to the Word of God does indeed have Jesus in the centre of it. Such a marriage will be strong and strongly blessed. We have that promise in Ecclesiastes 4:12 and Psalms 133:1.

Have confidence (faith) that the God Who created us, does know what is best for us, and has given us His Word to help and guide us.

Neavei

November 2012

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