MARRIAGE AS INTENDED BY GOD
ERNEST G. SMITH, JR.
I dedicate this work firstly to my Lord and Savior whose Calvary experience redeemed my once lost soul, secondly to my parents who gave birth to me and reared me. Thirdly to my dearest sweet heart Olive (HD) and our kids (Oliver and Ernestine/Gifty) who had to endure the agony of severe loneliness all through the course of my being away from home in an earnest effort to acquire this requisite degree. Fourthly, to Rev. & Mrs. Okekunle B. Adewale, Rev. Dr. O. O. Bucknor, Evang. Lanre I. ‘Saanu (my counselors), the Liberian Refugee community – Nigeria who graciously granted me leave to obtain my degree while serving as her Public Relations Officer and to all those youths who are diligently striving academically, spiritually and physically to become Christian Marriage and Family counselors in this shaky generation.
Divorce has permeated our society so much that the marriage rate and divorce rate is almost equal. This is not restricted merely to the non-Christian community. Christians are also flooding psychologists and marriage counselors seeking to resolve seemingly “irreconcilable” conflicted.
Not only are personal lives in a quandary, but the way pastors and biblical scholar have varied on the issues of marriage, divorce and remarriage has left millions with enough confusion: if the experts can’t agree, what is the laity to do or think? Therefore I have taken up the Herculean to thoroughly study the works of distinguished writers on marriage, revisit the Holy Scripture (God’s infallible blue print for marriage) and endeavor to discover and propagated God’s intention for marriage.
In an earnest effort to reveal the truth I shall refer to a plethora of biblical verses. Some of the major passages are Genesis 2:24. Leviticus 18:6-18, Deuteronomy 24:1-3, Matthew 19:3-12, especially verse 9 – Make 10:2-12 and I Corinthians 7:12-16.
It will also be observed that there is considerable controversy over the meaning of certain Hebrews or Greek words.
A wider and astonishing range of questions concerning God’s blissful intention for marriage, the status quo of marriage, divorce and the future of marriage are also treated in this work. It is my fervent and sincere prayer that this work revives many broken and shaky marriages.
I joyously recognize the importance of the Blessed Holy Spirit in making this work a reality despite the numerous odds.
I am exceedingly grateful to Prof. Rev. Dr. C. I. Ohiku, Provost West African Christian University, Sango-Ota, Ogun, Nigeria who whole-heartedly granted me a blissful scholarship at WACU to study adequately in an effort to be a good work in His Vineyard. May the Lord bountifully steer the affairs of all that concerns him.
I am also grateful to all those scholars, counselors and lectures that tireless efforts have brought me thus far especially Rev. Dr. Mrs. Pat I. Okafor my thesis supervisor.
Finally, I indeed grateful to all my Liberian brethren at WACU and other institutions of higher learning worldwide who counsels, financial, moral, spiritual, physical aids significantly aided me through my course of study at the West African Christian University, Sango-Ota.
Remain Blessed and Progressive.
The present state of the family is rapidly turning the opposite direction as intended by Him who designed the institute of the family.
There is no doubt numerous reasons and factors responsible for this odd trend the family is taking. Unless something meaning is done, the family and, humanity at large are doomed for more havoc; it is my prayers that as you go through this work, you will have a Biblical understanding of God’s intention for the family and have you own family experience the God-given bliss of the family as God intended.
1.0 WHAT IS MARRIAGE?
According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, marriage is a formal union, which is comprised of a man and woman who are legally wedded under the law and custom of their vicinity and state.
The essence of marriage, the family and the questions of divorce and even remarriage cannot be seen in their proper perspectives until we diligently establish what exactly is marriage. In the Biblical days of old, marriage was not a specifically religious ceremony. Even in Christ’s day, there was no legal registration of marriage, neither was it really accompanied by a religious service or ceremony. This was because the whole of life was deemed to be “religious.” God has handed over to society the responsibility for supervising and upholding the sacred bond of marriage, and the guidelines God gave to society are to found in a simple but concise statement made by the Almighty in the Garden of Eden and recorded for us in Genesis. 2:24: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” This, by the way, is the only statement about marriage that is repeated on four occasions in the Bible in the same form and language – (Matthew 19:5, Mark 10:7, 1 Corinthians 6:16 and Ephesians 5:31).
Marriage, according to this biblical statement, consists of three vital steps and stages; and although I will list and expand these three steps somewhere in this work, I feel it necessary to do a sketchy projection of them here:
- Leaving: Moving away from the emotional ties of a father /mother relationship.
- Cleaving: Entering into a new husband/wife relationship for life despite circumstances.
- One flesh: Consummating the new union by the act of sexual intercourse.
As I earlier mentioned, society has been given the responsibility by God to supervise and uphold marriage commitment. It does so when it encourages two people about to enter into marriage to do so openly and publicly before the whole community, thus demonstrating two significant things:
- They are no longer “in circulation on the market for purchase”, so to speak.
- They are making a lifelong commitment to each other in the presence of witnesses.
Marriage in our contemporary society, are of three types viz. religious (church, mosque, temple, synagogue, etc), traditional and court or civil marriage. In my view a civil marriage is as authentic as a religious one even in the eyes of Jehovah God. The heart of the covenant of any marriage, it should be remembered, is the agreement made between the two persons sealed with a solemn oath. Some people often make this statement, “the minister who married us,” but to be quite realistic no minister married the people they married themselves. The minister only volunteers to direct them broad the path, which lead to success in that the venture – marriage.
In my native country Liberia, the only major difference between a church wedding and one conducted in a registry is that, in the former, prayer is made and a minister pronounces God’s blessing on the union. It is, of course, good that a Christian couple make their commitment in church, surrounded by Christian traditions and ceremonies, but whether married in a church or registry, God honors both marriage. (Romans 13:1-6) and (Matt. 19:6).
1.1 BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY
It is no doubt an established fact that everything has a beginning from which it originates. This work is indeed no exception.
This work is an answer to a perennial question I have always asked myself until recently: If God’s intention for marriage is peaceful co-existence and lifetime bond, why did my loving parent choose divorce?
Humanists have got numerous answers to the above question of which many eluded sound meaning to me; therefore I have chosen to dig into the Scripture which contains the original blue print for marriage as God intended.
Although, there is an abundance of literature on marriage, divorce and separation, they seemingly concentrate on human, personal efforts at contracting, managing and rebuilding broken marriages, which so far have done little to keep the marriage Institution sacred and stable.
1.2 STATEMENT OF PROBLEM
Matthew 19:4-6 reaffirms God’s desire your marriage, yet paradoxically unfaithfulness in marriage and divorce has crept into the body of Christ. The irony is that those in authority are very lackadaisical about this issue of the degeneration of the family.
There is a problem! Whether we refuse to acknowledge it or not, there is indeed a grievous attack on the family. Mankind has abandoned the Originator of marriage and His design for it and yet they want to enjoy the bliss of marriage. That is really not feasible!
Except the church revisits the Designer of marriage, glue to His precepts, and lead mankind out of the nightmare of broken family, it (the church) has failed humanity to an extent. Indeed, the family is under a severe ATTACK!
1.3 SIGNIFICANCE AND PURPOSE OF THE STUDY
The very essence of this thesis cannot be overemphasized. The issue of shaky marriages, divorce, separation and remarriage in the society and most regrettably in the church of God is not longer a secret.
The purpose of this research is to probe into the crises in the family, discover the fundamental causes, revisit the Creator of mankind and marriage, rediscover His master plan for marriage and propagate the gospel which will lead mankind into re-experiencing marriage as intended by God.
It is also geared towards exposing the devices used to torment marriages.
1.4 SCOPE OF STUDY
The issue of marriage is being viewed by many from far different perspectives – humanistic, Islamic, African traditional, Asian, etc. There various perspectives make any universal study and/or research on marriage somehow an impossible and very bulky task.
Nevertheless, the study and work presented in this work is treated from the Christian perspective and my primary audience is the Church.
The Holy Bible, which serves as the constitution of Christianity and, of course, humanity, is the chief source of many of my reference.
However, the theories, quotation and views of many who are not Christians are being used in this work for the purpose of better explanation.
Though written from the Christian perspective, this work has the power to positively affect humanity at large.
1.5 RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
This work is based purely on the thorough study of the works of authorities and renowned teacher, counselors, researchers and students in the noble field of family counseling as well as the re-visitation and proper exegesis of scriptural passages on marriage, the family and its functions and divorce.
It is also made up of analyses of data collected from various literatures and from interviews I personally conducted.
1.6 THE STATUS QUO OF MARRIAGE
The author of Proverbs 18:22 emphatically declares, “Whosoever finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favour from the Lord”. And, no doubt, this very promise is significantly meant to be enjoyed by Christians. But paradoxically, it is no longer a secret that both “sound” believers and unbelievers do visit the offices of psychologists, psychiatrists and marriage counselors in quality number on a daily note.
If the reverse of what is clearly written in the Holy Scriptures as mentioned is that which Christian are experiencing, then I’m exceedingly afraid that something disastrous, which is being intentionally overlooked by the church is bound to happen.
Is it that the Word of God is nowadays shaky and losing its authenticity? God forbid! Let God continuously be true and we mankind be liar. That which the Lord has spoken is forever established come sun or rain.
Whether we chose to view the above circumstance from a Christian or non-Christian perspective, it is glaring that the institution of marriage is in a very serious trouble. Its critics are assailing it on every side. The so – called “new morality” has grievously affected the biblical concept of marital as well as premarital behaviors. When the “sexual revolution” first attracted the attention of the church years back, many “Laodicean” Christians felt that was only a change in attitude toward standards of sexual conduct, but not in behavior.
Researches, nowadays, indicate that behavior was liberalized in the late 1960s so that there is actually more immoral sexual activity today than every before.
The humanistic scholar Ferdinand Lunberg in his book, “ The Coming World Transformation,” predicts that ‘the family is near the point of extinction.” William Wolf, another humanistic scholar (Sociologist) claims: “The family is dead, except for the first year or two of child raising. This will be its only function.” There can be no doubt that we are passing through an important turning point in history, when marriage and the family are in perennial crises.
Against the secular view that the institute of marriage must deteriorate and parish like all others institutes, I am of the staunch conviction and an advocate of the biblical concept, which stresses, “Marriage is a blissful venture.”
In an effort to convincingly debunk the secular views and prejudice held against marriage and lead you into the path of discoveries and revival, I have deemed it worthwhile to encourage you to read the next chapter where you will subsequently discover the originator and origin of the institute of marriage, His intended purpose for the institution, some causes of the turmoil this blissful entity is experiencing and its future.
2.0 MARRIAGE AS INTENDED BY GOD
Moses the inspired author of Genesis 2:18-25 boldly records that, the family as an institution was originated, empowered and blessed by God in the beginning of the human race and He had a specific purpose:
“And the Lord God said, it is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.
And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.
And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam, there was not found a helpmeet for him.
And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof:
And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.
And Adam said, this is now bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of man.
Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed”.
Humanists have strived and are still doing so to deny this vital and eternal truth as they do the rest the Scripture and are formulating their own quack theories of the origin, originator and purpose of marriage. They have blindly resolved that the entity called the family is merely a social institution that has evolved through the ages. In her book “The origin of the family”, Kathleen Gough points out this view of one humanist. “It is not known when the family originated, although it was probably between two million and a hundred thousand years ago. It is not know whether some kind of embryonic family came before, with or after the origin of language… The chance are that language and the family developed together over a long period, but the evidence is sketchy.”
It is quite clear that this confused writer attempts to explain how the family developed from primates and the ancestors of homo sapiens. Since evolutionists reject divine revelation, they are forced to “speculate” as to the origin, originator and purpose of the human family. And, it might surprise you to discover that many “Christians” have fallen prey to such heresy thereby experiencing what I may refer to as “endurance – marriage”.
Christians should have no doubt about the origin, originator and purpose of the family. It is indeed a piteous saga that some “Christians” do fall prey to the humanistic lifestyle of marriage. Jehovah God very carefully gave an inspired record of the first marriage/family and His purpose for it. Genesis 2:18 tells us that the Lord God did create man with a social urge: It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a help meet (uniquely suitable) for him”. The natural attraction, which does exist between the opposite sexes, is no doubt divine except it is being otherwise abused. Every normal man, at some very crucial time and phase in his life, tremendously desires the company of a woman. And, it is expedient that this desire be satisfied in accordance with the blueprint of the desire/urge in the scriptures.
In the verses, which follow Genesis 2:18, survey is made of the animal world, but a mate “fit” or “worthy” or suitable for Adam was not found. Consequently, by direct creation (for Eve was taken from out of Adam while he was formed from out of the dust), God produced Eve as a companion “uniquely suitable” for Adam. Quite often the phrase, “help meet for him” has been mistakenly termed “helpmate for him”. It is true that Eve was a helpmate, but she was not created to be merely a servant, but a help “fit” or “worth” of Adam. Saint Augustine brilliantly remarked that “God did not take a bone from Adam’s head from which He created Eve that she might be above him neither did he obtained a bone from his foot that she might be beneath him, but from his side that she might be beside him”
The words of Genesis 2:24, which is the bedrock of this thesis, are frequently interpreted as being those of Adam. However, it is unlikely that Adam, even in his pre-Fall state, would have had such an insight into marriage and family life.
The New Testament comes to our aid at this point. In Matthew 19:4-5 Jesus answered the Pharisees: “He who created them in the beginning made them male and female, and SAID, ‘For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (NASB). According to Jesus, the words of Genesis 2:24 are not those of Adam, but those of the Creator of mankind and marriage.
This verse had three parts and mentions three things which are essential to marriage as God intended:
- A public act, “leaving” one’s family with a view to establishing a new home.
- Permanent bond, “cleaving” or being permanently bound in a partnership as husband and wife.
- Becoming “ one flesh”, a physical embrace through sexual union.
2.1 LEAVING - GOD’S PLAN FOR MARRIAGE
God’s plan for marriage first involves “leaving”. The Hebrew word for “leave” (azab) means to “leave behind” or “depart from”. In Exodus 23:5 it has the sense of “set loose” or “let go”. The phrase “for this cause” refers back to verse 22, “And the Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man” (Genesis 2:22 NASB). Because God made woman to meet the highest needs of man, a man must let go of his parents, with a view to establishing his own home and family. There can be no firmly established and lasting marriage outside this first paramount step – ie, LEAVING.
While some young people can hardly wait to cut loose from their parent, for others, this is not an easy step. I have on several occasions noticed that it is even harder for parent to let go of their children. There are many marriages where the husband or wife is still emotionally glued to parent. Answering to their demand, living under the authority of Mon and Dad. This kind of situation, no doubt, creates unnecessary tensions for the newly married couple. Someone has said that the two best legacies parent can leave for their children are “root and wing” the security of knowing that Mon and Dad are always there to help and encourage in time of special need, but also the freedom to live one’s own life and develop one’s own family.
Leaving does not, of course, imply abandoning parents. The responsibility to “honor your father and mother” (Exodus 20:12) in applied by Jesus to adult Pharisees (Mark 7:6-13). In his instruction on caring for widows, Paul asks that believers make some recompense or return to their aged parent – that is, the provide for their needs (I Timothy 5:3-4). The “leaving” of Genesis 2:24 does not mean that the young couple should avoid contact with their parent. Rather, they must “let go” of their former live as son or daughter in order to concretize their partnership as husband and wife.
The second essential ingredient for a marriage in cleaving. “A man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife”. There is a divine mystery, order and purpose in their process. It is impossible to “cleave” until you “leave”. And the purpose of this leaving is to establish a new marriage relationship and home under God’s guidance and supervision.
The word cleave (dabq), means to “cling” or “keep close”. While retaining the idea of physical proximity, it is used in the Old Testament as a figure of loyalty and affection. The word used by Joshua of a military alliance (Joshua 23:12); by Ruth of her commitment to Naomi (Ruth 1:14), and of the men of Judah who remained faithful to David during Sheba’s rebellion ( 2 Samuel 20:2). The noun form of this word is used of joining metal by soldering (Isaiah 41:7). So what we know and refer to as, “wedding” is a form of “welding” or “soldering” together a man and woman who have decided to cleave to one another.
A study of the word cleave suggests that marriage involves a partnership commitment to which the husband and wife must be loyal. It is significant that the term covenant (brit) is used of marriage in Malachi 2:14, and Proverbs 2:17. The word is used of a pact made between two persons and of the constitutional agreement made by God with Israel at Sinai. It is also used of the alliance of friendship between David and Jonathan (I Samuel 18:3). Implicit in the idea of a covenant is that of a binding relationship which shall not be broken Psalms 89:34; Daniel 9:4).
The Biblical concept of “cleaving” suggests the idea of being “super glued” together bound inseparably by a commitment to a life long relationship.
While tape is used to bind things temporarily glue in normally used to bind things together permanently. Only with great difficulty can two articles, which are glued together, be separated. If you try to separate two pieces of wood that have been glued together for instance, you will notice that they usually don’t separate at the joint. While the glue holds the joint firms, the wood pulls away from its own grain and breaks! Items, which are glued together, cannot be separated without great damage. The same is very much applicable to person bound or glued together in a marriage covenant.
You or I might have used the word “Love” in place of “cleave” God used a word, which would be less affected by changes in feelings and emotions. Cleaving included love – agape – a sacrificial commitment patterned after Christ’s own example of personal sacrifice (Ephesians 5:2,25).
It may be well to point out; in this decade of moral looseness that cleaving to one’s spouse would obviously exclude marital unfaithfulness. Being “glued” to one’s wife or husband and at the same time, engaging in sexual immorality is mutually an exclusive concept. Marital faithfulness is essential to the biblical cleaving relationship.
2.3 BECOMING “ ONE FLESH”:
The third essential ingredient to marriage is the physical union, “ they shall be one flesh”. This phrase refers to the physical or sexual aspect of marriage. Becoming “one flesh” symbolizes the identification of two persons from different backgrounds, communities, interests and pursuits, to a union, which is naturally through the physical act of sexual intercourse. Although they remain two persons, the married couple becomes “one flesh” in a mystical, spiritual unity. Through acts of physical union, married couple celebrates and renews their oneness in the most intimate and personal manner. This explain why God said, “… Increase and multiply….” (Gen.1: 22).
Becoming “one flesh” does not in and of itself make a marriage. The “leaving” and “cleaving” must also be inclusive. And the “leaving” must be recognized by society and regulated by the law of the government.
On the other hand, against the humanistic view that there is “casual sex”, there is no sexual intercourse, which does not result in two people becoming “one flesh” (I Corinthian 6:16). A married man who has intercourse with a prostitute becomes “one flesh” with her, thereby destroying the uniqueness of the “one flesh” relationship with his wife. Alarmingly enough, this deliberated issue has crept into the core and hierarchy of Christendom while the church hypocritically looks on. By God’s special grace, forgiveness and healing are always available to the repentant. Yet, unfaithfulness to that most unique and intimate relationship will always leaves hurt, sorrow and, of course, some scars which might only be forgotten in heaven.
I’m obliged to bring to your notice that Genesis. 2:24 says nothing about children. A childless marriage is indeed a marriage in every sense of the word. God may in his infinite wisdom and fore knowledge withhold children to enable a couple have a ministry or even reach their destiny, which would be impossible with the responsibilities attached to childrearing. Yet, while the couple may be “one flesh” without children, procreation and the raising of children is a significant aspect of marriage (Genesis 1:28). This means that while sexual union in marriage is beautiful and honorable (Hebrews 13:4), “sexual gratification is not designed as an end itself.
The concept of “one flesh” is beautifully illustrated in the children God may be pleased to give a couple. In their offspring, husband and wife are indissolubly united, into one person – the child. The kid possesses the features and traits of both parents. There is no way one of or both couple can retrieve their features and traits from the child. Any attempt to do so will result into multi-damages on the child in every ramification. Something unique and permanent is formed whenever a child is born, and the same is applicable to when the “one flesh” relationship is established in marriage.
The concept of “one flesh” does also imply that the marriage bond is indissoluble. Certainly, Genesis 2:24 makes no provisions for divorce. Our Lord Jesus himself acknowledges that “from the beginning” marriage was designed to be lifelong and permanent (Matthew 19:8).
It is important to note that a divine order is involved in establishing the “one flesh” union. Becoming “one flesh” – the physical union – follows the “leaving” and “cleaving”. In our modern, promiscuous society however, steps are often reversed. Yet the Bible tells nothing of “trail marriages” or “cohabitation” where the opposite sexes live together apart from wedlock.
Premarital sexual intercourse is not only immoral; it defrauds one’s future spouse of the right to take a virgin into marriage (I Thessalonians 4:3-5).
The Bible as I’ve already said, calls marriage a “covenant” (Malachi 2:14, Proverbs 2:17), and God is not in the business of breaking convent relationships. Marriage involved a vow or promise, which make the obligation binding.
God’s Word instructs that “a man shall not violate his word; he shall do according to all that proceed out of his mouth” (Number 30:2 NASB). Ecclesiastes 5:4-6 warns of God displeasure towards those who make a vow they refuse to keep. Psalm 15:4 highlights the priority of faithfulness to one’s word in spite of the personal cost.
Marriage is built on a promise made before God, family members and associates. Indeed, promise keeping is the key issue for the doctrine of the permanence of marriage. Lewis B. Smeden, professor of theology and ethics at Fuller Seminary, has written, “When you make a promise, you have created a small sanctuary of trust within the jungle of unpredictability. Human destiny rests on a promise freely given and reliably remembered”. What a unique place this world would be if we would keep our promises!
3.0 WHY DO MARRIAGES CRUMBLE?
To every given problem there’s always a solution. But en route the solution one must firstly classifying and analyze the problem – fundamental or surface. There are no doubt, many reasons, which lead to the crumbling of thousands of marriages. But paramount amongst those identifiable factors are the below fundamental ones which I shall endeavor to examine.
3.1. SOCIETY’S INCREASING ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF TEMPORARY MARRIAGES
Prior to this time of immoral pervasiveness, society once viewed and regarded a married couple who were not living together or divorced with a good deal of displeasures, distain and suspicion. Sadly enough, that has been termed “old fashioned”.
I quite recently saw a cartoon in one of the local dailies, which drove a shock down my spine. Though shocked for a while, I later burst out in laughter because of the witty creativity of the cartoonist. The cartoon pictured a minister performing a wedding, and instead of repeating the usual “Till death do us part’, after the minister, the groom loudly said “Till divorce do us part’. And this is not entirely unreal, for as Dr. Carl Rogers says in his book, “ Becoming Partners: Marriage are its Alternatives:”
“We are living in an uncertain age and the institution of marriage is more assuredly in an uncertain state… people are groping, more or less blindly, to find alternatives to marriage…. serial monogamy (with one divorce after another)… new divorce laws which do away with the concept of guilt-those are all grouping toward some new form of man – woman relationship for the future.”
Alvin Toffler who has been described as the greatest social prophet of this century claims that everything in the century is moving with such increasing speed that it becomes impossible to establish, any relationship which is both meaningful and enduring. He observed that people today have a “throw away mentality; they not only throw away products, but they also make “throw – away” friends, and it is this mentality (he claims) which produce “throw – away” marriages.
I believe that Toffler is right; we live in a society, which increasingly accepts and pampers the devilish concept of “throw – away” marriages. Sadly, the external pressure of a society buttressed by strong moral guideline is no longer with us.
I do wonder what would have happened if 30-50% of the Toyota cars fall apart within the first few years of their manufacture, society would definitely demand a public enquiry. But it is astonishing that very few “faint” voices are raised in concern over the shaky state and breakdown of marriages, which is fast approaching the 50% breakdown figure.
3.2. INADEQUATE PREPARATION FOR MARRIAGE
David Mace, and internationally well-known and acknowledged authority on marriage and family life, asks, “Why do many marriages run into trouble? It is because people don’t get the proper counsel they need about marriage either before or after they get married.”
Generally speaking, it is a glaring reality that most young people about to be married do not get adequate preparation either from their parents or from their churches. People are loosely getting married nowadays. I am strongly convinced that if society and the church had given a little more attention to the subject of pre-marital counseling, we would not now be required to spend so much stressful time in marriage counseling and in struggling to save marriages from falling apart. Prevention, we are told is better than cure, and never is that more true than in the area of marriage.
It is sometimes said that in previous centuries, marriages tended to stay together without a good deal of pre-marital advice. But we need to remember that past generations had the benefits of a society that saw a broken marriage as a stigma. Today, that is not so!
The need for pre-marital preparation in our society is urgent. The churches, as well as some Para-church organizations, are in an excellent position to provide services. It is interesting, as well as sad, to note how some churches treat this matter of pre-marital counseling. Out of about fifty churches of different denominations polled in Monrovia, Liberia, recently, only fourteen claim they had a mandatory program of pre-marital counseling. We should always bear in mind that the church’s business is not simply to conduct weddings but to nurture marriages and reinforce family life as a matter of necessity, which requires urgency and expediency.
3.3. SEX BEFORE MARRIAGE
One vital, yet overlooked of the factors, which contributed immensely to the failure of some of today’s marriages, is sexual involvement prior to marriage.
Few months ago, I was opportune to have laid hand on a statistics in Redbook (a Canadian Magazine) on pre-marital sexual involvement. And, to be very honest, I almost cried literally.
In this book, a survey concerning women’s sexuality and sexual behavior involving 100,000 women from around the world was conducted in Ottawa, Canada. I am not sure, if the World Council of churches has conducted any of such researches, but I would imagine the finds would serve as a litmus paper, which could change the church’s lackadaisical attitude towards the family.
The report indicated that the likelihood of a woman experiencing sexual intercourse before marriage has been steadily increasing over the past decade. For example, 43 percent of the women in this aforementioned survey; who were married prior to 1976, experienced pre-marital sexual relations. Among those married after 1980, 69 percent did so. However, the number was 92 percent for those who married after 1990.
The survey also revealed that a woman who had a very strong religious conviction was more likely to remain a virgin prior to marriage, but today’s religious influence are so adulterated that one can no long sense it in the society. There is not doubt that fornication, in our present time significantly undermines the foundation on which a marriage must be built. And unless necessary and important steps are taken to clear up the damage, which the act of fornication has created, marriage and indeed the family as the bedrock of society remains vulnerable to fatal demonic attacks.
Apostle Paul speaks out strongly against sexual impurity in many of his letters. For example, in 1 Corinthians 6:9-20, he warns, “Those who continue to practice fornication “shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (verses 9-10). He adds, “Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord’ (verse 13), and that our “bodies and the member of Christ” (verse 15), and temples of the Holy Spirit who is in us (verse 19).
In Galatians 5:19-21, sexual immorality, impurity and sensuality are included in Paul’s list of “the worker of the flesh’ and ‘they who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”
In Ephesians 5:3-12, Paul exhorts the Ephesians Christians not to let sexual immorality or impurity even be named among then (verse 3). An examination of God’s word clearly shows that in the matters of sex one should wait until marriage.
My advice to hundreds of couples, which are guilty of wrong standards in courtship, is to confess this to the Lord, ask his forgiveness for the violation and then ask each other for forgiveness. It is a very simple procedure, but when done in true, humility and genuine repentance, it removed the seed of disintegration that lie at the base of the marriage.
3.4. CHANGING ROLES
Another essential factor in the failure of most of today’s marriages is the movement away from fixed, biblical marital roles to more fluid roles and the rapid cultural change/force, which have greatly affected society and numerous fragile Christians. In order to successfully play their God-given respective roles, young couples need to have an adequate knowledge of how the family structure has been and is being influenced by modernization.
William Ledrerer and Donald Jackson, both secular writers, in their book, “The Mirages of Marriage, “ point out that one of the most destructive elements in a marital relationship is the failure of the marriage partners to identify, determine and mutually assigned area of responsibility – who is responsible for what? Many married couples today live together in a sort of “non leader co-existence”. One sociologist says,
This is a fairly recent occurrence, a more militant outgrowth of the feminist movement. Anthropologists tell us that in any given group of human beings or animals, a leader will emerge through election or a power struggle. For the modern liberated husband and wife to agree to a leaderless co-existence is to agree to a life of frustration in which there is no established procedure for resolving problems.
Likewise, several social psychologists have designated at least five kinds of ‘social power’ authority or influence that human beings exercise over each other. From Group Structured: Attraction, Coalition, communication and Power, a book written by Barry E. Collins and Bertram H. Raven, I have discovered that the first kind of power is that which comes from one person knowing more than another. A person exerts this sort of ‘power’ when the information or knowledge he controls influence someone else’s thinking and behavior.
The second kind of power is capability. When a person, is being more capable than another he influences the lives of others by his superior ability.
A third kind of power is what I describe as ‘coercive reward factor ‘power. This exists when a person believes that the one to whom he relates can punish or reward his behavior.
The fourth power is that which evolves from a relationship where one party idolizes the other so highly that he earnestly desires to emulate him. This is some time referred to as ‘reference’ power.
Finally, the fifth form of power is called “positional power”. It exists when one person accepts a relationship whereby another, because of his position, is allowed to dictate to him.
When we examine the nature of the husband – wife relationship from the Scriptural perspective, we see that of the five kinds of power listed above ‘ positional power’ is said by the New Testament to belong to the husband. This power is given to a husband by God so as to enable him steer the affairs of the family and be the head of the home and the leader in the relationship. More will be said later about this, but let is be noted that the movement away from clearly identifiable marriage roles, where the husband is the leader, in impending rather than advancing the cause of marriage
3.5. ROMANTIC LOVE IS NOT STRONG ENOUGH
One last cause that contributes to the downfall of marriage is the utopian attempt to build a marriage on nothing more than a “romantic love”. Lest I be misunderstood, I do agree that a certain degree of ‘romantic love” is an important ingredient of marriage, especially in the early stages. But I want to focus on the fact that ‘romantic love”, by itself is not a sufficiently strong base on which to build a marriage.
“Romantic love” or ‘Eros” as the Greeks call it, has been called “cardiac respiratory love”. Its emphasis is placed upon excitement, sensual thrills and palpitation of the heart. One writer says, “Some people react to the early days of marriage as if there was a lack of oxygen in the vicinity. Ecstasy, day dreaming, deep physical yearning and apparent fever are all indication of this malady.”
Far too many people enter into marriage with a little idea of the tests and difficulties it produces. Quite recently I asked a young couple about to be married this question. “Why do you want to get married?” They gave me the usual answer: “Because we love each other. “Then as I started to probe as to what kind of love they were referring to, I got very strange and confusing answers. “Love,” one of my former high school classmates told me, “is being locked up in the warm arms of someone who turns you on especially in an exotic atmosphere.”
Many people enter marriage with no more idea of the type of love that is required than the couple I refer to above. But marriage cannot be sustained by ‘romantic love” alone. When a couple stands before the alter expressing their marriage vows, there is not assurance that two years later they will feel the same kind of love they felt as they walked up the aisle. The love that survived the problem of marriage is a love (agape) that has in it a degree of commitment, not just a flush of feelings. And, unfortunately, many people both believers and unbelievers today enter marriage with little or no realization of the essential need for a commitment that will outlast “romantic feelings. “Sometimes a marriage needs hard work, and many people in today’s society are unaccustomed to working through problems.
We face a culture which mocks long term relationship, despises effort, ridicules discipline and prefers to accumulate things rather than develop relationships, and seeks its own self pleasures at the expanse of another’s. As cultural shockwaves is engulfing marriages even in the church, it is fairly obvious that the once supportive elements of society can no longer be relied upon. We must turn, therefore, with renewed faith to the proven and trusted truth to Scripture. It contain God’s superb blueprint on marriage. Even if only one partner obeys and follow the biblical marital precepts, there can be a tremendous improvement, but if both partners respond then marriage can become, as Martin Luther described it, “the nearest thing to heaven on earth.”
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