Building a Strong Marriage

[Courtesy: RBC Ministries© 1986, 2001 RBC Ministries]
When the honeymoon is over, many husbands and wives find themselves thinking and saying words they never expected to say. For example:
“I’m getting out. This isn’t the person I thought I was marrying. Life is too short for all of this pain. We’re no longer good for one another.”
“We’ve tried everything. Nothing seems to work. He just insists on having everything his own way. It’s hopeless. The only thing to do is bail out.”
“This is the third millennium. Marriage doesn’t mean what it used to. A lot of people aren’t even bothering with a ceremony anymore. You try it; and if it doesn’t work, you leave it. It’s nothing to get moralistic about.”
“Look at how high the divorce rate is. Everybody’s getting a divorce—even prominent church leaders. So why should I suffer through a bad marriage? There’s no need for me to be the exception.”
“Our marriage needs a little excitement. We’re too used to each other. Maybe if I have an affair, it will put the spice back into our marriage.”
“We’ve been going from counselor to counselor. I don’t know how much money we’ve spent. We even went to a preacher. Somebody must have the right formula for us. I guess we’ll just have to keep searching.”
“I know our marriage will eventually work. Once I’ve had a few drinks, I can tolerate just about anything. It will help me make it until things get better.”
“I guess I’m destined to a life of unhappiness. There’s nothing I can do about my marriage. Maybe when the children all leave home I’ll have the courage to get out. Until then, I’ll just have to pretend everything’s okay.”
Divorce, Extramarital affairs, Counselors, Alcohol, Drugs, Resignation - These are just some of the ways people are trying to deal with troubled marriages. But most of the time, efforts to kill the pain make a bad situation worse.

There is another way—a better way. Even if you are ready to call a lawyer. Even if reconciliation seems hopeless. You can go to Someone who understands your heart and your trouble. He made marriage in the first place. He alone can offer you the inner strength you need so that you can take the first step.
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It all began with God

Marriage was made in heaven. It all began in Paradise. God saw that man’s aloneness was not good, so He made him a “helper comparable to him.” And when God brought the woman to him, the first marital relationship began. Adam and Eve shared the wonderful garden paradise God had created for them as husband and wife. Here is how the Bible says it all began:

The Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” . . . And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. Then the rib which the Lord God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man (Gen. 2:18,21-22).

Eve was made to be Adam’s “helper comparable.” She is described with the English word helper, which doesn’t express all that is poured into the Hebrew term. Sometimes it refers to someone who helps another find fulfillment. In one instance, it was used to tell of someone who came to the rescue of another. On another occasion it was used of God Himself. It’s an expression of honor showing that Eve was brought to the man to complete him and to rescue him from his aloneness.

As a comparable helper, Eve was Adam’s qualified, corresponding partner. God made her to be a suitable friend and companion to the man. She was, as Charles Swindoll described it, the “missing piece in the puzzle of his life.”

In that first relationship, our Creator gave us a realistic pattern that set a course for both the challenges and essentials of a healthy marriage.

The Genesis account of the beginning of marriage concludes with a statement that expresses four elements that should be part of every marriage (see Gen. 2:24-25). They are as follows:

A Cutting off - “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother.” The marital partners leave their parents.

A Bonding - “And be joined to his wife.” The picture of the first marriage includes the idea of a gluing, a permanent bonding.

A Unity - “And they shall become one flesh.” The two are to see themselves as one. The old family units are broken; a new one begins.

An Intimacy - “And they were both naked . . . and were not ashamed.” Their absence of self-consciousness enabled them to enjoy one another and to meet each other’s needs without any sense of embarrassment or rejection.
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The Biblical Building Blocks

When God made marriage, He formed a lifelong relationship that was to find its strength and endurance in Him. Over time, He used the wisdom of His Word to teach husbands and wives how to be friends to their mates. In the process, He gave all of us an understanding of the essential building blocks to a strong marriage. They are:
Lifelong Commitment
Shared Identity
Absolute Faithfulness
Well-Defined Roles
Unreserved Love
Mutual Submission
Sexual Fulfillment
Open Communication
Tender Respect
Spiritual Companionship
As we think through these 10 building blocks, remember that they are not man-made. They are given to us by God Himself. Because they are, you can know with certainty that when you and your mate follow them, you will have a marriage that is strong.

But perhaps your marital partner is at a different place than you are spiritually or refuses to accept the authority of the Bible. If your partner is willing to remain with you, this is your opportunity to show your mate the kind of husband or wife God can help you to be (1 Cor. 7:12-16). So don’t put the booklet down. We sincerely believe it will help.

Building Block 1 - Lifelong Commitment

The first biblical building block for a strong marriage is for the man and woman to make a lifelong commitment. The Scriptures make it clear that God’s ideal for marriage is one man and one woman for a lifetime. With this kind of commitment in view, the Lord Jesus said:

Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?” So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate (Mt. 19:4-6).

Then, in response to a question about divorce, Jesus continued:

Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery (vv.8-9).

Except for the serious exception of marital unfaithfulness, the marriage vow is a lifelong commitment—a vow to God and to each other that is not to be broken (see Eccl. 5:4-5). Marriage is for life.

Consider the following true story: A man and woman had been married only a year when she was diagnosed as a victim of multiple sclerosis. After thinking seriously about it, she told her husband she was “setting him free.” But he did not leave her. The tender care and love he showered on her made her remaining years happy and special. Why did he do it? “Because,” he said, “when I vowed before God ‘for better or for worse’ and ‘in sickness and in health,’ I meant it. And God made both of us unbelievably happy as a result.”
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Building Block 2 - Shared Identity

The second building block for a strong marriage is for husband and wife to see themselves as one. No longer is it a man living his life for himself and a woman living hers for herself. There is now a new union, a new family, a new unit. Adam expressed this shared identity when God brought him the woman.

He said:
This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man (Gen. 2:23). The next verse concludes with the words, ”they shall become one flesh” (v.24).
But it’s not always easy to live out that oneness in everyday life. This is because the husband and wife have different habits, different backgrounds, different parents, different education, different personalities, and different emotional scars.

Besides, Eve was not a clone of Adam. She was unique, as every human being is unique. She did not come off some assembly line. She was different, both physically and emotionally. She had different needs—needs Adam alone could satisfy. And she alone could satisfy Adam’s needs.

In marriage, a man and woman are brought into union. They become one, blending into each other’s lives. It’s once-for-all, yet it’s a process. Time, love, patience, and forgiveness are needed to bring the shared identity of marriage into maturity. And it has wonderful results. The man and woman are no longer alone. They are one, even at a time when:
he’s in a motel room a thousand miles away.
she’s in the pains of childbirth.
he has just lost his job.
she has discovered a mysterious lump.
he has received a good promotion.
she has been offered a new job.
The two are one. Although they are distinct persons with vast differences, they have agreed to walk the path of life as one. They have a shared identity
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Building Block 3 - Absolute Faithfulness

Not only is marriage a lifelong commitment of two people who have a shared identity, it also calls for total fidelity on the part of the husband and the wife. They are to be true to each other. The Bible gives no ground on this issue. The man is to be faithful to his wife; she to him.

The writer of Proverbs cautioned:
Can a man take fire to his bosom, and his clothes not be burned? Can one walk on hot coals, and his feet not be seared? So is he who goes in to his neighbor’s wife; whoever touches her shall not be innocent (6:27-29).
The Bible is uncompromising in its demand for sexual faithfulness. Paul told Titus to have the older women instruct the younger women in the church “to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste” (2:4-5). As a woman enters a marriage relationship, she is to be committed to giving herself only to her husband.

For our good and God’s honor, adultery is strictly forbidden in the Bible. The seventh commandment given on Sinai was, “You shall not commit adultery” (Ex. 20:14). Jesus mentioned this commandment in His conversation with the rich young ruler (Mt. 19:18). And Paul named adultery first in his list of the sins of the flesh (Gal. 5:19).

Marital faithfulness is the fulfilment of the vow made before God and man during the wedding ceremony: “And to you I pledge my faithfulness.” One writer said:
This is how we must love one another, with a vowed love that is not dependent on happiness nor any of the external hallmarks of success. Where is such love to begin if it does not begin with the one closest to us, the life’s partner whom we have chosen out of all the other people in the world as the apple of our eye? (Mike Mason, The Mystery Of Marriage, p.106).
Here are some implications of absolute faithfulness—the third biblical building block of marriage:
We will save our hearts for each other.
We will keep our promise of loyalty.
We will not seek comfort from a competitor.
We will let no one come between us.
We will realize we are not our own.
By today’s standards, absolute faithfulness “isn’t natural.” Of course not—not in a fallen world. But for our first parents in Paradise, it was as natural as could be. And today it will be part of every marriage that is strong and successful.
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Building Block 4 - Well-defined Roles

Today’s society has made an all-out assault on marriage. And one of its attacks is on the traditional roles within the family. The wife is being told that since she has the same rights as her husband, she doesn’t have to submit to anybody. Pressure is being put on the husband to take care of himself and not to worry about her. As a result, husbands and wives need direction. They need answers to basic questions about their specific roles.

Those answers are found in the Bible. And when they are expressed in love, they reflect the wisdom of God.

The Husband’s Role

The Bible says that the husband is the head of the wife. Paul wrote:
I want you to know that the head of every . . . woman is man, and the head of Christ is God (1 Cor. 11:3).
The husband is head of the wife (Eph. 5:23).
While this principle is one of the most misquoted and misused principles in Scripture, it doesn’t need to be. Biblical leadership is not dictatorial or blindly self-serving. Before God, this headship is:
to be provided in love (Eph. 5:25; Col. 3:19).
to follow the example of Christ’s love for the church (Eph. 5:25).
to be done with understanding (1 Pet. 3:7).
to be done without bitterness (Col. 3:19).
to equal his love for his own body (Eph. 5:28).
Marital headship does not mean that the husband is superior. The same verse that says the man is head of the woman also says that God is the head of Christ (1 Cor. 11:3). And we know They are equal in nature. Both are fully God.

The husband’s headship is functional. It helps the marriage work. When understood and expressed in the spirit of Christ, it provides a servant role. Headship carries with it great responsibility. The husband is to provide loving, understanding, self-sacrificing, patient, God-honoring leadership.

The Wife’s Role

The woman is instructed in the Bible to submit thoughtfully and wisely to the leadership of her husband:
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord (Eph. 5:22; cp. Col. 3:18).
Likewise you wives, be submissive to your own husbands (1 Pet. 3:1).
Admonish the young women . . . to be . . . obedient to their own husbands (Ti. 2:4-5).
God made man and woman to come together in a fulfilling, satisfying relationship. He made Adam first (1 Tim. 2:13), and He made him to be head (1 Cor. 11:3; Eph. 5:23).
Adam was to use his physical strength and his spiritual responsibilities for the good of Eve; Eve was to be ready to help Adam fulfil his God-given role and responsibilities (Gen. 2:18; 1 Cor. 11:8-9).
A woman who does not find joy in helping a man provide loving, thoughtful leadership in the home is doing so to her own harm. Even though she might find it difficult to accept even good initiatives from her husband, she needs to show that her ultimate confidence and trust is in God Himself.

Marriage has its best opportunity when both husband and wife accept their roles. It’s a functional necessity—a necessity exemplified within the Godhead itself. Consider these words of Christ: “My Father is greater than I” (Jn. 14:28). Yet He also said, “I and My Father are one” (Jn. 10:30).

Jesus came to earth to carry out in exact detail the will and plan of the Father. Although He was equal to the Father, He submitted Himself to the Father’s leading.

This relationship within the Godhead is the pattern that provides a background for understanding heaven’s pattern for marriage.
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Building Block 5 - Unreserved Love

The fifth building block for a strong marriage is love—genuine, heartfelt, through-thick-and-thin, till-death-us-do-part love. A husband and wife are to love each other with the kind of unreserved love that leads them to honor each other, to esteem each other, to consider each other’s welfare above their own, and to stay by each other’s side through the highs and lows and the ups and downs that come in every married life.

The husband was told specifically in the Bible to love his wife. Paul said it succinctly in Colossians 3:19, “Husbands, love your wives” (see also Eph. 5:25).

The wife also is expected to love her husband. You will remember, for example, that the older women of Crete were told to instruct the younger women to “love their husbands” (Ti. 2:4).

The love between a husband and wife that grows through the years of marriage does not happen automatically with the saying of the vows or the giving of a ring. It must be worked at! True, many wonderful and deep feelings are experienced by a couple who court, fall in love, and marry. As time goes on, however, they learn that love has a deeper and more practical dimension than the romantic aspect. They discover that they have to work at loving each other.

The biblical pattern for Christian love is spelled out in 1 Corinthians 13. Although the love defined in these familiar verses is true of all relationships, it may be especially applied to marriage. Think about the practical ways the elements of love seen in verses 4-8 apply to a husband/wife relationship:
love is patient, enduring his absentmindedness over and over again.
love is kind, helping with the housework when she’s had a hard day.
love does not envy his important position at work or the praise she gets for her kindness.
love does not boast about getting the bigger paycheck or making fewer mistakes.
love is not proud but admits that she may be right about what’s wrong with the car.
love is not rude, for it speaks to her respectfully in private as well as in public.
love is not self-seeking, but it looks for an opportunity to be of help to the other.
love is not easily angered and doesn’t even raise its voice when she does.
love keeps no record of wrongs and doesn’t raise issues when it’s time to move on.
love does not delight in evil and does not pressure the partner into wrong behavior.
love rejoices with the truth by facing reality and changing accordingly.
love always protects, without resorting to bitter, sarcastic criticism.
love always trusts, believing that our real security is in the Lord.
love always hopes, holding to the shared dreams when his job is phased out.
love always perseveres, growing even stronger in adversity and stress.
love never fails, though youth, health, and vigor fade away.
“But wait a minute,” you say. “I’m doing my part, but my partner is not doing his. Do you expect me to keep loving him when he doesn’t love me in return?”

Disillusioned husband or wife, this love can change your life. It may not change your mate, but it will give him every reason to realize that you are still there for him. These principles of love aren’t given just to make marriage work. They are given to us by a wise heavenly Father who, above all, wants us to be in right relationship to Him.

Yes, it’s hard to love when all the love seems to be flowing one way. It’s hard when you’re the only one doing the giving, the sacrificing, the holding on. It’s hard when your partner’s ego or pride or selfishness keeps your love from being returned. You’ve tried talking about it but nothing happens. You’re ready to throw in the towel.

If you’re thinking like that, it might help you to think about the Lord Jesus suffering for us. If anyone ever had a reason to stop loving, He did. But He loved us without reservation, even to the point of dying on the cross in our behalf. That is the kind of love we are to have.
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Building Block 7 - Sexual Fulfilment

In the garden paradise where it all began, Adam and Eve shared a wonderful intimacy: “They were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed” (Gen. 2:25). Furthermore, the command to replenish the earth came before the fall. Intimacy and mutual physical fulfillment, therefore, have always been part of the husband-wife relationship.

The husband and wife are to find sexual fulfillment in each other. The Bible gives the following perspectives:
It Is Protective. The husband and wife are to reserve this special intimacy for each other, and they are to give it freely. Paul wrote, “Because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband” (1 Cor. 7:2).
No one needs to tell us that we are living in a sexually promiscuous age. There are few restraints. From billboards to television to magazines, relationships are being sexualized.

A husband and wife who maintain intimacy are helping to protect each other from a sexually obsessed society. They protect their own faithfulness.

It Is Enjoyable. After delivering a stern warning about prostitution, the wise author of Proverbs wrote these words to young husbands:
Drink water from your own cistern, and running water from your own well. Should your fountains be dispersed abroad, streams of water in the streets? Let them be only your own, and not for strangers with you. Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice with the wife of your youth. As a loving deer and a graceful doe, let her breasts satisfy you at all times; and always be enraptured with her love (5:15-19).
The sexual aspect of marriage is not a necessary evil to be endured for the purpose of procreation. It was designed by God to bring continuing pleasure—an intimate, exhilarating, renewing part of the husband-wife relationship.

It Is Expected. When a man and woman come together in marriage, each has a right to expect sexual fulfillment from the other. Paul wrote:
Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 1 Cor. 7:3-4).
Paul went on to say that if one marital partner decides to abstain, it is first to be agreed upon with the other. Furthermore, the time of abstinence is to be brief.
Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. Cor. 7:5).
Mutual sexual enjoyment is an important part of marriage. Marital sexual experience that is motivated by love is not evil. It must not be made more important than it is; nor should it be minimized. It is part of the overall picture—an intimate part of the shared identity of the man and woman who come together as husband and wife.
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1 comment:

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