Have you ever heard the expression, “That marriage was made in heaven”? Over the years in the pastorate, I’ve performed a host of weddings, and I must admit, occasionally I’ve thought that — very occasionally! However, being a rather realistic person, I’m more inclined to ask, “If marriages are made in heaven, why are so many of them failing, even among Christians?”
By this time, the statistics have become almost monotonous: almost one of every two marriages is ending in divorce in the United States. Lurking beneath the statistics is the fact that many couples are enduring a marriage in name only for the sake of children or society’s approval. The statistics also do not include the increasing number of men and women who are not even bothering to get married, but are just living together. Those couples now number in the millions.
That’s why I think it’s important for us to find out what Jesus has to say about real marriages. One of His teachings is found in
Even though they wanted Jesus to talk about divorce, He began with simple statements about marriage. In a society in which divorce is becoming more and more prevalent, the big question we should be discussing and debating is not divorce. Our urgent need is to articulate again and again what the Scriptures teach about marriage.
Notice how succinctly Jesus responds: “‘… at the beginning of creation God” made them male and female.” “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate'” (
In these brief sentences Jesus gives us His thoughts on the subject of marriage. This passage is not exhaustive of Jesus’ teaching on the subject, but it is the basis for our discussion of real marriage. We will be considering five fundamental principles which must be incorporated into marriage if it is to be real.
Marriage Is a Divine Institution
First, marriage is a divine institution. The Pharisees wanted Jesus to talk about divorce, specifically hoping He would disagree with the teaching of Moses. Instead, He took them back to a time before Moses — the very beginning of creation. In doing so, Jesus was emphasizing an important fact. Our biblical model for marriage goes back to the very beginning of time.
Every society we’ve ever explored recognizes some form of marriage. Even the most primitive societies have some sort of legislation, some sort of rules regulating family life. I want to make it clear, however, that this is not what I’m talking about. We do not base our understanding of marriage on contemporary human legislation. We go back to what God has said from the very beginning of creation.
Our modern tendency is to look at what our state or federal law allows us to do. We tend to base our behavior on “commonly accepted” norms. All these may or may not be valid, but they are of secondary significance at best. Of primary significance is what God has said from the beginning of creation. Let’s consider some of His basic laws.
God has built physical laws into His creation. And if we ignore them, we suffer the consequences. For example, if I decide that the natural heat don’t operate and I put my hand in the fire, I will nonetheless be burned. Or, if I disregard the laws of gravity and decide to jump off a seventh-floor balcony, I will make quite a splash when I land. We cannot disregard God’s physical laws with impunity.
By the same token, God has built sociological, theological, and psychological laws into us from creation, and we can no more disregard these with impunity than we can physical laws. Disobeying God’s fundamental Laws–psychological, theological, and Sociological–will only do us harm.
Marriage is not a human Institution–something dreamed up by humanity. Therefore, man’s alternate lifestyles, as he calls them, cannot be valid if they contravene God’s Word. That is why I begin by treating marriage as an institution of God, not man. Marriage is ordained by God for the welfare of human society. There are three reasons for this.
First, God ordained marriage for profound psychological reasons. According to psychologists and psychiatrists, we human beings need to learn to receive and to express love. We suffer severe psychological trauma if these needs are not fulfilled, as they are fundamental to our human psyche. But where are we to learn to love, and be loved? Where are we to see love modeled and take those first steps of risking love?
The answer, of course, is in the family. And if we do not have a solid family situation, there is a very high probability that we will be deficient in our own experience of love and the ability to express it. What makes the family a secure place, where we can learn to love and be loved? A secure marriage builds the foundation for the family. That’s why God ordained it. If we disregard the importance of marriage and family, we will be doing extreme psychological damage to everybody concerned. It is not an accident that many of the disturbed people in our society are the products of broken homes and broken marriages.
Secondly, God ordained marriage for profound sociological reasons. John Donne told us that no man is an island. We know that! No man lives unto himself. No woman lives unto herself. We do not live in a vacuum. Whatever we do affects somebody else. We are sociological as well as psychological creatures. The question is, how do we learn to function properly in society? Sociopaths are people who cannot relate properly to others — and our world is full of such deviants.
The family provides an opportunity for us to learn how to relate to others. If their parents are functioning properly, children very quickly learn the meaning of authority. And they soon learn from brothers and sisters that they are not the only pebbles on the beach. They learn to give, to take, to adjust. They learn that the same people who dirty dishes are capable of washing them. Thus social skills are learned in the family. And if the family is falling apart because marriage is failing, society most likely will reap a harvest of misfits.
Thirdly, God ordained marriage for profound theological reasons. The Old Testament repeatedly uses the idea of marriage to illustrate a theological truth as does the New Testament. In the Old Testament, God promises or covenants to be our God eternally and invites us to respond by being His family. But we have difficulty grasping that truth and we need a model or an illustration. The Old Testament uses the model of marriage. In exactly the same way that a man makes a covenant with his wife (and the wife to her husband), God commits Himself to His people.
In the New Testament, the marriage model is used to show that Christ is the head, the “husband” of the church, which is His body. Christ so loved the church, that He gave Himself for it. He is the model husband. We learn this as we study the Scriptures, seeking a model for the divine institution of marriage.
Marriage Recognizes Divinely Ordained Sexuality
Sexuality has been part and parcel of humanity from the very beginning. If we are to grasp the meaning of our humanity, we need to understand our sexuality. This is where the problems arise. Look at what has happened. There is total confusion about sexuality in our day.
Some of our so-called “traditional” norms no longer work. The old idea of male-dominated marriage is not valid in a world where more than half of the work force is made up of women. The man as “king of his castle” is as outdated as most monarchies in our fast-changing world. Wives and children are no longer expected to submit to a “lord-and-master” mentality where the husband and father rules like a tyrant.
The “everything-goes” approach is equally invalid. How can you have “open marriage” in a world where AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases are spreading like wildfire? More and more people are beginning to recognize and recommend the biblical norm of monogamy in a world going mad in its pursuit of pleasurable sex.
If our marriages are to function properly, we cannot base them upon traditional norms that have departed from Scripture, nor can we base them on radical concepts that reject Scripture. We must take a closer look at what the Bible teaches about the nature of men and women and how they are to relate to each other. One reason we are having such terrible problems in our marriages is that most of us have not come to grips with a biblical understanding of sexuality.
We preachers are usually not considered too wise in these matters. In fact, we’re considered naive and out-of-date by most young people today. But I’ve been around a while and have learned some things.
Many years ago in England I worked with young people in a coffeehouse ministry. I didn’t approach them with any kind of canned talk. I’d simply invite them to talk about what concerned them most. And sex was always at the top of their list.
“Whoever heard of a preacher who believed in sex?” was obviously their attitude. My response was usually very simple: “I’ll be very happy to talk to you about sex. It’s one of my very favorite subjects, because if it were not for sex I would not be here. If it were not for sex, you would not be here either. Therefore, if it were not for sex, nobody would be here–what a dull meeting that would be!”
When the laughter died down, I would go on: “In fact, the only reason we can have a meeting tonight is because of what?” And they would chorus, “Sex!” Then I would say,” Wonderful, you learn very quickly. Therefore, let’s have three cheers for sex!- hip, hip, hooray!” and we would all applaud sex.
After this introduction, I would then say: “Now then, the next thing we notice about sex is that God invented it, and He’s not a dirty old man. Therefore, if you want to understand sex and its beauty, fullness, and purity, you had better find out what God says about it.” At that point you usually could have heard the proverbial pin drop. They were eager to hear what God has to say on the subject then, and I think young people today are just as eager.
To sum up, the second principle of a real marriage is that it incorporates a healthy, biblical grasp of sexuality. We must be willing to reject ideas antithetical to Scripture and be ready to respond to all that God says on the subject. Otherwise, we get into all kinds of trouble.
Marriage Means Commitment
I know some men who have it pretty good with their fathers and mothers. They are single and well cared for. Somebody does their laundry. They don’t even have to pay room and board. They have life by the tail–and then they throw it all away. What do they do? They decide to leave mother and father, giving up all that security, and get married, picking up all the expense of a wife and home of their own. Why on earth would they do that? Because God, from the very beginning of creation, “created them male and female.” A divinely created male felt a response to a divinely created female. If it’s right, it is also a divinely created response. For that reason the man chooses to leave the old life, and moves into a whole new situation. But notice the key to this. He chooses to leave.
This relates particularly to the society in which Jesus was living and to which He was addressing His remarks. In those days the male left his family to move to the area in which his wife lived for a very simple reason. If anything should happen to him (if he suffered an untimely death), then her father and brothers would care for her. She had no welfare or insurance. They were her insurance.
Even though the situation is different today, this matter of choice still applies. One of the reasons marriages get into difficulty is this: people choose to get married. They choose to leave the single state to become involved in a new situation. Accepting responsibility, they say they will leave the old life. But they don’t. Although they say they are willing and prepared to move into this new experience, they look back. They lack commitment because they don’t know what the new relationship involves. Marriages fall into all kinds of problems in this area.
Let me illustrate this from a counseling experience I had many years ago when I first came to the United States. One very cold night in November a young couple with whom I’d met for premarital counseling came to my home for a late appointment. As they came in the door, the cold blast of wind outside seemed warm compared to the atmosphere between them. Something was wrong, as I detected quite quickly. Tactful person that I am, I decided to be diplomatic. So I said, “I see you had a fight on the way over here.” After several denials, they finally admitted it. This is what had happened.
For many years, the young man had gone deer hunting.
I said, “Don’t tell me…. Your wedding day is on the opening day of deer season.”
She looked at me and said, “Right. And you know what he has said?”
“Yes. I know what he has said. He has said you’re going to spend your honeymoon deer hunting.”
“Yes. Can you believe that?”
I glanced at him and he said, “I go to the symphony with her, don’t I?”
This was developing into a real problem in premarital counseling. I had to do something to defuse the situation, so I said to him, “I think we have a problem here. As I understand it, you feel that your young bride should go and sit up in northern Wisconsin, freezing and shooting deer as part of your honeymoon?”
She interrupted, “Right, right.”
“And you feel that because you’ve gone to the symphony with her, she should go along with this?” He nodded yes.
“We’ve got to compromise, haven’t we?” I asked. I turned to her, “Why don’t you agree to go with him, and take your tape player and all your tapes of Beethoven and Mozart and Haydn and play them up there in the woods?” Then I looked at him, “How about you taking your rifle to the symphony and seeing if you can bag yourself a cellist?”
By this time they were smiling a little, and we could begin to address the problem. The solution to their problem was not compromise. Taking Beethoven on a deer-hunting trip was as ridiculous as bringing a rifle to the symphony. That kind of compromise simply wouldn’t work.
This was my counsel to them: “To the best of my knowledge you don’t have to get married. Why are you choosing to get married?” Looking at the man, I said, “If hunting is more important to you than marriage and your wife, why do you need a wife? Stick with deer. The simple fact of the matter is this: If you’re going to enter a new relationship, it ought to be because you’ve chosen that new relationship over the old one.”
I’m happy to say the young fellow recognized how unfair he was, and the couple worked out their differences. Even though they didn’t go deer hunting on their honeymoon, they went together later!
The King James Version renders the rest of
I could put it this way. At the end of a marriage service it would be quite legitimate for the groom to turn to his bride and say, “I am going to stick to you through thick and thin.” And she could respond, “Right, and you’re stuck with me!” We are emphasizing here that commitment is the bedrock of marriage-a truth that needs to be reiterated in our day.
Instead, our society takes a very sophisticated approach: “We will go into marriage and accept the fact it’s not easy,” people say. “It’s for mature people, and there’s a high possibility we may make a mistake, or we may not be suited to each other. If that is the case, we’ll be sensible and adult about it. We’ll divide our resources and decide who gets custody of the children. Our lawyers will take care of it, and we’ll remain the best of friends.”
Sounds great, doesn’t it? But what a gross parody and caricature this is of marriage as God ordained it. Let’s call it what it is. God intended for us to take our marriage vows seriously. He knew that if we entered marriage with all the attractive options open, we wouldn’t bother to work at it. So God, in effect, said, “Make the commitment. Recognize that once you take that step it’s ‘for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, for better or for worse, till death us do part’.” When you make that kind of commitment, you’ll survive the difficulties. On the other hand, if you know that there is an easy way out, you won’t bother to try.
Our society does not recognize marriage as a divine institution and is not committed to it. But when the wedding vows include a deep commitment, a couple can build on that commitment a superstructure of thoroughly mature living.
One of the most beautiful things about marriage is to observe couples who have truly committed themselves to that relationship. Believe it or not, love can grow! I know couples who have been married forty, fifty, and even sixty years. One spouse may be nursing the other, but their love is growing more Christlike as they serve one another. Josh McDowell and Paul Lewis wrote a book called Givers, Takers and Other Kinds of Lovers. It’s the givers who are truly lovers!
Marriage Creates a Unique Entity
After talking about “leaving” and “cleaving” (
During a marriage ceremony in our church, we often have the man enter the sanctuary, with all his support group, through one door near the front. (It’s astonishing how many people a fellow needs at that particular moment!) I always give the group a little pep talk before they come in; then they enter, looking very stiff in their rented tuxedos. Down the aisle come all the ladies, and finally, at the end of this procession, the bride comes in on her father’s arm. The groom takes one position, and the bride another. He’s one and she’s one.
They stand before the world, one and one. I have done dozens upon dozens of weddings, and I never do one without a sense of awe because I know something very remarkable is going to happen. The officiating minister leads them into something very remarkable. After that age-old rite is performed, God joins them together. The couple goes out a totally new entity. God has joined them together.
Marriage is analogous to the creation of water by combining hydrogen and oxygen (colorless, odorless gases) and passing an electrical charge through them. In fusing these two substances, a totally new entity is created. The new entity is made exclusively of hydrogen and oxygen, yet by no stretch of the imagination is water a colorless, odorless gas. The new entity is made exclusively of the other two, but it far exceeds the sum of the parts of the two.
In the same way, when God unites the bride and groom, He takes all their qualities and fuses them into a new entity. He takes the best and the worst, the strengths and weaknesses of both, and fuses them into each other so that they might be mutually complementary and enriching. As we begin to understand this, we also begin to see the very real possibilities of marriage.
Have you noticed how opposites attract — for about six weeks? After that, opposites irritate. Wouldn’t you think that when God in His wisdom brings two people together, they would be people who could agree on the temperature of the house? Wouldn’t you think that when God ordains two people from eternity to be made for each other, they would be people who had been brought up to treat toothpaste the same way?
If we have come to recognize that two have become one, we also have begun to see that these two are melded into a new oneness. But this process requires adjustment and commitment. Why do marriages fail? Because people are not prepared to accept that marriage is a divine institution and refuse to recognize the divine principle of sexuality.
Jesus goes back to the beginning when He says that man and wife are no longer two but one flesh. This is a clear statement concerning the physical aspect of the union. One flesh. In essence, this means that in a complete marriage, there is a coming together in every aspect of life that is demonstrated in the physical union of two people. In a marriage where there is not a healthy sexual union, something is profoundly lacking. But by the same token, when people have sexual relations outside of the oneness of marriage that only God can create, theirs is a phony relationship.
As two people surrender and fuse their bodies, they have surrendered and fused themselves for richer, for poorer, in sickness, in health, till death do them part. And God has sealed it.
Marriage Imposes a Profound Responsibility
Jesus’ final words in our passage are, “Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” If God created marriage, we should do absolutely nothing to destroy it. This is a profound responsibility. Is there a real possibility that our actions could break up a marriage? God has said, in such a case, the union we are breaking up is something He has put together.
Consider some questions with me. First, are we allowing our marriage to collapse by default, because we refuse to work on it, to make adjustments, to build in what is necessary? Remember that God joined couples together so they could discover His plan for them–a new and divine oneness. If, by default, we allow it to collapse, one day God will ask, “Why did you let my creation collapse?”
Second, are we guilty of being too casual about our sexuality? Are we abusing that divine spark within us? Are we carelessly toying with an alternative lifestyle, feeling that we can do it with impunity? Remember this: God ordained marriage and if we are doing anything to smudge that divine principle, we will answer for it.
Third, consider the Old English expression, “Marry in haste, repent at leisure.” We have to live with our bad choices, so a hasty decision can mean a lifetime of misery. Bad marriages happen. But we make our own choices. If God has allowed us to marry under these circumstances, He can give us grace to live it through. The far wiser thing, however, is to be very selective in our choice of a mate. Shop in a store that handles the best merchandise. Take time — and let God lead. Make absolutely certain that the marriage is made in heaven!
Here’s a final thought for those who are looking back on a failed marriage. If you are responsible for a broken marriage or feel you are guilty of some unmentionable act, there is forgiveness available. But how do you obtain it? Admit your sin. Repent of it. Don’t blame it on anybody else. Call it what it is. Seek God’s cleansing and forgiveness and allow Him to gather the broken pieces of your life and put them back together.
What are real marriages made of? Real marriages are made of two people coming together under God, doing it God’s way.
Reprinted by permission from What It Means to be Real by D. Stuart Briscoe. (c) 1988 by Word Books, Irving, TX.