(From Restoring Christian Marriage Book)
As I have said many times, in many different places on many different topics, ideas have implications. The basic assumptions we make about the nature of the world will over time, work themselves out in our values, ethics, morality and practices. While there have been many fine works written over the past thirty years on the subject of Christian marriage, many fall short because they do not deal adequately with the proper theological basis. Since marriage is the foundation of the family, and the family both the foundation of the Church and the State, until develop Christian presuppositions about marriage, we will never be able to subdue the rest of creation to the glory of God.
Commitment to Christ; the Foundation of Marriage
Now I realize this sounds terribly pietistic, and the more theological astute might respond with a cogent, “Duh!” But the reality is “in Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).” Christ is the center of all things, for “all things were created by Him, and for Him and through Him (Col 1:16-17).” We therefore live, not for ourselves, but for the glory and honor of God in Christ.
However, many Christians assume that marriage is primarily about living out some romantic fantasy, or meeting one’s own emotional, psychological or physical needs. True, a good marriage is perhaps the most intimate, rewarding and fulfilling of all human relationships. But to make your marriage truly Christian, you have to be committed first, foremost and always, to being God’s man or woman, centered always on Christ.
Now, but what does this mean, in real-life terms? Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commands,” (Jn 14:15). Your views, expectations, assumptions, values and behaviors in marriage must be re-oriented to the Scriptures. This may not sound like rocket science, but at the root of many Christian marriage problems are unstated assumptions that are unbiblical, and unprofitable.
Remember, Adam already had a perfect relationship with God, before he was given Eve. True, he was not created to be a solitary individual, “it is not good for the man to be alone (Gen 2:18).” But still, he already had a perfect relationship with God before marriage. Remember, the first sin entered the world, when the dominion mandate of Genesis 1:28 was overturned. Adam did not protect his wife from temptation, and Eve assumed that she could determine good and evil for herself, without consulting her husband.
Perhaps the most common false assumption today is that somehow, marriage will fill a void or vacuum in us. Many young Christians enter marriage with the idea that they have needs that will be fulfilled by the other person. Thus, whether they realize it or not, they have a selfish orientation that then colors every other aspect of their relationship. This inevitably leads to frustration, conflict, confrontation, unfulfilled expectations and bitterness.
But Christ Himself set the standard when He said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).” Since Christ loved us, and gave Himself up for us, a solid Christian marriage is based not on seeking to have our needs met, but rather in being committed to meeting our spouses’ needs. A husband takes a wife, and vows before God to protect, nurture and sanctify his bride (Eph 5:22ff). A woman takes a husband and vows to “love, honor and obey” her husband, trusting in that man, respecting him and submitting to his leadership (1 Ptr 3:1ff).
The only way you can fulfill your duties towards your spouse is if you are fully committed to obeying Christ. Remember, love in Scripture is never defined as a feeling, but as a commitment to do what is right and proper for another, regardless of the personal cost. That is what makes a Christian marriage, Christian.
How do you keep Christ at the center and maintain this kind of focus? One way is through consistent, daily, family-worship. As opposed to some dead, dry ritual, family worship requires husbands to take personal responsibility for teaching their wives (and children when they come along). Every day that he opens that Bible, reads the Scriptures to his wife, and teaches her God’s commands; he is forging a new link in their relationship. As they pray together, confess their sins to one another, and then encourage each other to apply what they are learning together, it keeps their priorities straight, puts their petty squabbles into perspective, and fuels their own intimacy and affection. Family worship is NOT just something “nice” Christians should do, but the very lifeline of their faith, their relationship with God, and each other.
Marriage is a reflection of the nature of God
The nature of God is unity in diversity; there is one God in three distinct persons. Each person has all the attributes of God, all the power of God, all the glory of God, yet they have mutually distinct roles within the Godhead. All of creation was intended to display God’s glory but nowhere is this remarkable aspect of God’s nature more clearly seen then in Christian marriage.
The relationship between husband and wife is a picture of the Trinity where there is equality of honor (1 Ptr 3:7), but distinction of function. The old women of both sexes who attack male headship never seem to understand that Biblical marriage works, because it is based on the unchanging nature of God Himself. Husbands must love their wives “as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” And wives must submit and respect their husbands.
Understanding and working out the implications of this fundamental theological truth is the basis for any successful marriage. The Christian husband is not a tyrant, lording it over his family as if he were some sort of oriental potentate and she no more than either a pretty decoration, or a child-making machine. Instead, He represents the Sovereign God of Creation, and is granted true authority, to which both wife and children are bound to honor and respect. And as the head of his house, his duty is to protect his family, to care for them, if necessary even to die for them, just as Christ died for His bride, the church. Furthermore, the husband is given a divine responsibility to sanctify his wife (as well as bring his children up in the “discipline and admonition of the Lord,” Eph 6:2ff). When he takes her as a bride, he is vowing before God to work every day for the rest of his life to present her to God perfect, “having no spot or wrinkle… but that she should be holy and blameless” (Eph 5:27).
And her vow is that she will submit to Him, as the church submits to Christ. She will honor him, respect him, and yes, obey him as she would respect and obey God. She willingly lays aside her own goals and dreams, just as Christ laid aside His own glory (Jn 17:5), and becomes “one flesh” with her husband, helping him in his dominion calling (Gen 2:16).
And the husband grants her honor, as a fellow heir of salvation (1 Ptr 3:7), and treasures her (Pvbs 31:1ff) and exalts her (Pvbs 31:28-29). Thus, when husband and wife share equality of honor, yet distinction of function, they are then freed to minister to each other, and the world.
Christian Marriage Represents God to the World
The honor of God’s name is in many respects, reflected in your life (Rms 2:24). Since we were created in His image, and Christ has restored the damage done to that image by sin, Christians represent the name of God to the rest of creation. As we noted above, Christian marriage is a picture of the triune nature of God. Thus your marriage, whether you realize it or not, is intended to reveal something of God’s nature to the world. And when Christians realize their marriage is a witness to the world of the glory of God in the most fundamental aspect of His nature, and when they strive to uphold that image by fulfilling their covenant obligations to one another, they glorify God and receive all the blessings He promised.
Therefore, your marriage will work, only when it is firmly grounded in its true purpose; reflecting the glory and image of God. You have a divine duty to fulfill your covenant duties towards your spouse because in doing so, you are demonstrating your true submission to King Jesus. Let us be clear here, most modern evangelicals believe that romantic love is the foundation of a successful marriage, and hence when they “fall out” of love, believe they have justification for seeking a new partner. This myth of romantic infatuation as the basis for marriage is so deeply ingrained in our thinking, that even to suggest it might be deficient garners howls of outrage in some quarters.
In our modern culture, we have lost the idea of commitment that transcends the vagrancies of our emotions. Christians today assume that life is to be lived on feelings, rather than on commitment to principles and ideals. And so, we suffer the highest divorce rate in history.
However, there is another way to live; according to the eternal, unchanging standards of God’s Law. This is true, Biblical Christianity and the sort that allowed our ancestors to enter the arenas of the Roman Empire singing songs of praise to Almighty God, even while wild animals tore them to pieces. Our fathers in the Faith, won the Empire, survived the Dark Ages, built Medieval Christian Civilization, Reformed the Church, and settled new continents for Christ, were not victims of their emotions. They were willing to sacrifice all because they BELIEVED God and were submitted to His Law.
And they bore the name of God before the nations. Your marriage therefore must be based on a mutual submission to the principles, statutes, and commandments of God, motivated by the confident assurance that in so doing, you are bearing witness to the grace, mercy and nature of God. This kind of conviction builds marriages that stand the test of time. This commitment to doing what is right, regardless of your feelings allows you to overlook each other’s faults and frailties, to meet each others’ needs regardless of your feelings, and build a true, lasting relationship that only grows stronger, and closer over the years.
Marriage is only for this life; there will be no marriage or giving in marriage in the eternal state, for God will have brought all of His Elect into existence by then. But in THIS life, marriage is one of the primary means we have of reflecting God’s image, and subduing His creation to His glory. Therefore, it really does matter what kind of marriage you build; it says something about what kind of Christian you really are.
For most of us, the cutting edge of discipleship will not entail going to the mission field, or dying a martyr’s death. Just love your wife, as Christ loved the church. Respect your husband as you would respect Jesus Himself. Bring up your children in the discipline and admonition of the Lord. And if we learn how to conduct our marriages, and govern our families, in time, God will give us the world.