ELEMENTARY INGREDIENTS FOR GODLY MARRIAGES
Marriage is a divine institution and a creation ordinance. It was instituted by God immediately after He created Eve. In fact, Genesis 2:25 teaches us that because God has created Eve, "a man [shall] leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh" (cf. v. 24). In other words, because God has created not just man but woman, it is by God’s design for man and woman to be married. This argument, of course, makes sense only man is created in the image of God and is a moral creature. The fact that animals are created male and female does not imply that they should be married. But in the case of man, it must be so. This is the basis of the 7th Commandment.
What does marriage involve? Amazingly, this simple verse which speaks of the institution of marriage, also provides us the answer. It teaches us that marriage involves three things: (1) a leaving from one’s parental family; (2) a cleaving unto one another; (3) a sealing of two into one.
What does it mean to leave father and mother? It certainly does not mean abandoning or utterly forsaking one’s parents. The Moral Law of God requires that we honour our fathers and mothers, and the Word of God has strong indictment against those who ill-treat or abandon their parents. The Lord charge those who do so of "making the Word of God of none effect" (Mk 7:13); and Paul regard anyone who would not provide for the needs of his parents as having "denied the faith and is worst than an infidel." Neither does it mean that we must shift far away from our parents when we are married. Yes, it does entail setting up a separate covenant home which is practically possible only if you are not living in your parent’s home. But just as it is possible for you to have left your father and mother though they are living just across the street, it is also possible that you have not left father and mother though they live half-way round the world.
What does it mean to leave? It means (1) being no longer highly dependant on your parents for affection, approval, counsel and assistance; and (2) being now more concerned to gain each other’s affection, approval, counsel and assistance. In other words, though you must still be a good son or daughter, you must be even more concerned to be a good husband or wife. Or to put it practically, when it comes to the crux of choosing between pleasing your parents or your spouse, you must choose to please your spouse; unless, of course, pleasing your spouse in the particular instance would mean breaking the Law of God. Otherwise, if you choose to please your parents though you are married, you have sinned against your spouse and against God by breaking his divine ordinance.
Beloved, if you are married or planning to get married, I hope you take this seriously. So many family quarrels have resulted because of this failure to obey this divine commandment of God. Once you are married, you must learn to give priority to one another in all your decisions.
The second imperative of marriage is that husbands and wives must cleave to one another. Although most couples who are married today will make a vow with the clause "till death do us part." Very few take that clause seriously. Rather, while they say "till death do us part," they actually mean "till our problems be too great do us part." Christians who are well taught will unlikely part in divorce, but it is possible to be apart while together, namely, to be apart spiritually and emotionally.
But what the Word of God requires is that husbands and wives are to cleave to one another. This means they are to cling on to one another permanently until death by any one of the parties should separate them. The prophet Malachi tells us that marriage is a covenant and anyone who divorces his spouse is guilty of treachery against God (Mal 2:15). The Lord re-assert this truth in Mark 10:7-9.
Marriage is a permanent commitment in the form of a covenant bond of love. However, I know from experience that even the best of marriages can go into periods of strains because men and women are so differently constituted. There may even occasions when the strain is so great that newly married husbands and wives wonder if they should have married in the first place, or they begin to wonder if they have married the right person. Beloved, are you planning to get married? Do be mentally and prayerfully prepared for the possibility of such trials that you may not be tempted to sin against you spouse and against God when a storm begins to brew in your marriage. Remember that almost every marriage involves iron sharpening iron (Prov 27:17), and sparks will often fly in the process. Know however, that the rough iron will soon be smoothen, and if you are careful to cultivate the fruit of the Holy Spirit in your lives, then due time you will be able to laugh at one another’s flaws and seek to help one another to grow in grace rather than to find fault with one another.
So, may I remind you, husbands to remain faithful and loving to your wife even if you one day feel that she has become naggy and is not as beautiful as she was when you first dated her. Bear in mind that it is God’s command that you are to love your wife as Christ love His Church (Eph 5:25). Never excuse yourself by saying "I don’t feel the love I had for her any more, so I can’t help not loving her." The biblical idea of love is more than a feeling, or it cannot be commanded. Love is a verb! If you do not feel loving, love yet the more! Love in deed and in truth (1 Jn 3:18), and I assure you, that the feeling of love will return by and by.
And may I remind you, wives, to remain faithful and submissive to your husband (Eph 5:22, Tit 2:5) even if you find him swamped by his career and church commitments so that he appears not to care about you as much as he did when he was courting you. Bear in mind that from your perceptive, submission must be gratuitous. It should not be earned or conditioned upon your husband’s demonstration of love for you. Yes, you must learn to submit even if you believe you have a bad husband (Cf. 1 Pet 3:1). "A gracious wife satisfieth a good husband, and silenceth a bad one" (George Swinnock).
But husbands, if you want your wives to submit to you, you must earn it. You earn it by loving her unconditionally. Try it! I have never known it to fail. Never, never demand to be submitted unto; or you will loose the respect of your wife.
Thirdly, what does "and they shall be one flesh" mean? At the most elementary level, this refers to the marriage act of physical union. The author of Hebrews tells us, that "Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge" (Heb 13:4). Physical union is so important in marriage that the apostle Paul tells us in no uncertain terms that a husband and wife must engage in it frequently (1 Cor 7:3-5).
But becoming one flesh involves more than just the marriage act. The marriage act is in a sense a symbol of the unity that the husband and wife is called unto because more than anything it demonstrate the responsibility of the wife to give of her whole self to the husband and the responsibility of the husband to give of his whole self to his wife. "Marriage is a total commitment and a total sharing of the total person with another person until death" (Wayne Mack).
Are you married or planing to get married? Remember that once you are married, you become as it were one person with your beloved spouse. You should share everything: your bodies, your possession, your friends, your ideas, your problems, your joys, your sorrows, your pains; your success; and your failures. You are to be more than just a team or a partnership. You are one. Practically, you should take the same name. Thus, the wife, should no more use her maiden surname. Practically, also, you should share the same bank account; and the phrase "this is my money" or "this is your money" should never be heard in your marriage. Also, the husband is to care for his wife as much, if not more than he cares for himself; and the wife, should care for her husband as much if not more than she care for herself. Husbands, you must be to your wife the most important person in her life, apart from God. Similarly, Wives, you must be the most important person to your wife. You should be more than best friends. You are one.
Being one in marriage, of course, does not mean that you become identical. Being one may involve cultivating the same interest so as to strengthen the marriage bond and to enjoy each other, but it does not mean that you must develop the same temperament or have the same liking for the same kind of food, etc.
No, I am not advocating the worldly wisdom that the wife should accept the husband as he is; and the husband accept the wife as she is and not make any attempt to change each other. I believe that there is room for moulding each other—especially when your spouse do not conform to the Word of God. What I am saying is that there is a room for differences in a marriage, and where these differences are not moral in nature, than you must learn to develop the unity of the marriage bond within the context of these differences. But if you should see each others flaws when compared to the Word of God, then you must lovingly correct one another—knowing that you are both pilgrims journeying towards the celestial city.
Marriage is a divine institution of great importance. The family that is built from marriage is a basic building block of the church, and is the means by which God seeks "a godly seed" (Mal 2:15). Marriage also provides a training school for the officers of the church (1 Tim 3:4, 11, 12). Above all, it also serves as a illustration of the union between Christ and His bride, the Church (Eph 5:32). It is no wonder that the Scripture is replete with instructions and principles on how marriage ought to be regulated and enjoyed. God willing, we will have occasions to say much more, but for now, let us examine and mould our marriages against this most primitive model given by God—of leaving, cleaving and sealing.