by John Meador
Is it possible to live in marriage according to the Word of God? In Ephesians 5 the Apostle Paul teaches the church about the mystery of marriage. Over the past 25 years my wife and I have been exploring and experiencing God's wonderful purpose in marriage. In this series of articles I will share many of our experiences and how God has taught us so much about marriage from His Word.
We had been married seven years when I began to pastor. There is something about seeing God working in your marriage that helps you realize that God has everything to do with marital success. If that factor is missing, how can it truly succeed? That is the foundational principle Paul lays down in this Scripture passage.
The secular world's perspective of marriage is portrayed daily on TV. Our culture's idea of marriage is to create some unrealistic environment and then ask a contestant, after going through some "incredible dates" at incredibly expensive places, to pick from the group of candidates his or her perfect spouse. And they get married and "live happily ever after."
When we watch these shows we know they are not reality. I am reminded of the old cigarette ads depicting a neat guy having a great time smoking cigarettes. They didn't show what his lungs looked like after twenty or twenty-five years. We think if we can find Mr. or Mrs. Right and if they look right, have the right kind of job, and they seem to be a fit, bingo! It's believed marriage under those conditions will always work.
I have news for you: American culture shows that marriage, under those conditions, almost never works. Fifty percent or more of couples who marry with high expectations end up divorcing. God's ideal and design for marriage, according to the Bible, is that it is permanent. As we look at the Divine Design of Marriage, we will also look at what God has given us to make that divine design come to life, to make it last, to make it real.
We begin by looking in Ephesians. It is a book based on three different understandings of the Christian life. The first three chapters deal with who we are in Christ. Chapters four, five, and the first part of six talk about our walk in the Christian life. And in the heart of that section, Paul writes to us about how we walk in marriage. (The last part of the book, Chapter 6:10 to the end, is about how Christians stand against the forces of darkness.)
In the "walk section" of Ephesians 5 we learn the way we walk in Christ is based on what Christ has given us in Himself. When you have Christ in your life, He enables and empowers you to walk according to the way He calls all believers to walk. Ephesians is a treasure chest of riches for those who are followers of Christ.
It is in 5:22-33 that we read about marriage: "Wives, be subject to your own husbands as to the Lord, for the husband is the head of the wife as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband."
Three principles about marriage come through very clearly in this passage:
1. Marriage needs a divine influence, without which we cannot find fulfillment. Scripture teaches you cannot have a successful marriage without the God-element in your life.
2. There is a divine design in marriage. God designed it with God-given roles and God-given responsibilities. Our culture has taken great pains to dismantle those roles and to unravel those responsibilities and the results are disastrous.
3. Marriage is the mirror of the relationship between Christ and the church. Ultimately Christian marriage should be a testimony to the world about how we relate to Christ as believers. Christian marriage ought to point people to Christ.
Non-Christians, when they observe Christian marriages, ought to scratch their heads and ask what it is in these marriages that they themselves don't have. Unfortunately, many believers today are not living the life of testimony that they ought to be. Why is that? What do we need to do to change that?
Go back with me a few thousand years to the Garden of Eden. Remember that God said, "It is not good for man to be alone, therefore, I will make a helper suitable for him." And so He took a rib out of Adam and from that rib He fashioned a woman. And Adam named her "woman" because she was taken out of man. And the Bible gives us the picture of marital harmony in the Garden of Eden. But that marital harmony was guided by their relationship with God. They walked in harmony with each other because they were in harmony with God. They could speak with God and God would speak to them.
True, after the Fall, all relationships began to disintegrate. But when you look at how God created marriage, you will realize that He created it from the very beginning to be a spiritual union. And today God wants to be part of your marriage. That is why in the Book of Ecclesiastes, the Bible says a cord of three strands is not easily broken. You have a husband, a wife, and that third strand—God Himself—and it is not easily broken.
A few years ago, author and Christian researcher Neil Clark Warren did a study on marriages experiencing serious problems and which ultimately failed. Here, in reverse order, are the five leading causes he listed for marriages failure:
5. A fantasy perspective of marriage.
4. Culture's impact. Culture says satisfy yourself and meet your own needs and don't worry about anybody else—and the grass is always greener on the other side.
3. Inability to deal with differences and problems that arise.
2. Demanding performance from your spouse. At times we demand behavior that our spouses cannot or will not live up to—and as a result the marriages fail.
1. According to Warren, the #1 reason marriages fail is spiritual weakness in one or both spouses.
People simply aren't capable of remaining happily married without God's help! They go through life and their marriage inadequately equipped and inadequately empowered to do what God has said could be done with the power of His Spirit.
When we have conflict and difficulty, our spiritual weakness causes us to turn inward instead of upward. Our spiritual weakness causes us to lash out instead of reach out. And as a result of that spiritual weakness, we wonder how we got ourselves into this situation and how in the world we are going to solve it.
(To be continued)
John Meador is the pastor/teacher of the Woodland Park Church in Chattanooga, Tenn<![if !supportEmptyParas]> <![endif]>