Making Marriage Work

In the eight years since Abundant Life first appeared, we have written countless words on the subjects of home and family. We do that for two reasons: first, God's word says much on these subjects as well; and second, no matter how much we write, people always request more. As such, in an issue devoted to refuting those who say marriage doesn't work, we believe it is important to look at God's instructions for making marriage work.

In such an examination, it is important to explore some of the problems which cause marriages to fail. It would be nice to be able to pinpoint what makes Christian marriages fail, but unfortunately, we have allowed worldly influences to so permeate our thinking, that Christian marriages fail for many of the same reasons worldly marriages do. For this article, we have narrowed the list of reasons people give for divorcing to the three most prominent. These problems are deep and disturbing, but through careful study of God's word, we can see how His will for man and woman in marriage gives thoughtful, marriage-saving instruction on how best to deal with them.

The majority of American marriages break up over some form of financial problem. Ours is a society obssessed with money, and marriage is a price many are willing to pay for "financial security." The divorce courts are filled to overflowing with couples who let money stand in the way of their happiness together. The Christian, however, can look at Paul's instructions to the young evangelist, Timothy, and see God's warnings concerning those who would make riches their ultimate aim. "But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many a pang" (I Timothy 6:9-10).

How many have brought the pangs of heartache to their marriages over such a fleeting pleasure as riches? How many have, through their seeking after such, wrought ruin and destruction upon their marriage? We would do well to heed the words of our Saviour in the Sermon on the Mount, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matt. 6:19-21). In marriage, two people working to lay up treasure in heaven will, by virtue of their common goal, grow stronger in love toward God and one another.

A second major cause of divorce is sexual problems, and it is little wonder, with our society's distorted view of what makes for a good sexual relationship. The emphasis in our culture on "performance" shows just how skewed our values have become. God's plan however, reaches deeper, finding sexual fulfillment in the tenderness and love between a husband and wife. Perhaps Solomon explains it best in Proverbs 5, as he warns against adultery and counsels on the beauty of the sexual relationship: "Drink water from your own cistern . . . Let them be yours alone . . . Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth. As a loving hind and a graceful doe, Let her breasts satisfy you at all times; Be exhilarated always with her love" (vv. 15-19). Clearly, God did not intend for us to shy away from the subject of sexual fulfillment in marriage; one could even make a case for our unwillingness to discuss such in times past contributing to problems for some couples.

Besides the need for tenderness, there is also the need for dealing honestly with one another, as dealt with by Paul in I Corinthians 7: "Let the husband fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Stop depriving one another . . ." (vv. 3-5). In a culture which glorifies Lorena Bobbitt, it is important to remember that husbands and wives have a sexual duty toward one another.

Finally, a third problem which causes divorce is a failure to adhere to God's appointed roles for man and woman. The feminist movement has wrought many vexing problems to the Lord's church, but nowhere more so than in the relationship of marriage. We live in a society where women choose to work and where men refuse to. In God's plan for the family, it is the man who is given the responsibility of supporting the household (I Tim. 5:8; II Thess. 3:10). The woman is placed in subjection to man (Eph. 5:22-24; Col. 3:18; I Pet. 3:1-6), and when she violates that domain, she risks destroying her family and her soul.

It is clear the world views the Biblical concept of the role of husbands and wives to be old-fashioned and outdated, but it is just as clear that these instructions are not given so God can be obeyed. They are not given to perpetuate a system which holds women as less than worthy (see I Pet. 3:7's instructions to husbands). They are given for man, and when he is willing to accept them, he will find happiness in his marriage.

The Lord's church deserves better than to be held to worldly ideas about how to make marriages work and what to do when they fail. Christians need to return to God's word as the standard for their lives and their marriages. Only in Him will we find true joy and fulfillment in the vows we took with our spouses. Only in Him will we find the truth about staying husbands and wives.