God created three institutions: 1) The second one was Government, 2) The third one was the church, and 3) the first was the family. Why the family first? It is the foundation for the other two. Arnold Toynbee said, “Of the 11 great civilizations that have come and gone one of the precursors of the fall of each was the decline of the family.”
It is obvious to even the casual observer that the institution of marriage is in trouble in modern America. Divorce is running rampant. Americans are getting over 1,000,000 divorces each year. From 1870 to 1948 US population increased 300%. Marriages increased 400% and divorce increased 2000%. One of every two or three marriages will end in divorce. Teens say, “This will never happen to us.” But, if you are a teenager, the next time you are in a crowd of ten or more teens, look around the room and realize that statistically speaking, probably 40% to 50% of the people in that circle will end up divorced. And you are part of that statistical base. Most alarmingly, the recent statistics show that in most denominations, there is not statistically significant difference between the divorce rates among their members and the unchurched. What can we do about this problem? I have a list of suggestions. We will discuss these in the next few articles.
First, we must learn that marriage is a permanent commitment to each other, before God. Jesus proclaimed, “For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Mat. 19:5-6).
Do you remember your marriage vows? “Tom, do you take this woman to be your wife. Do you solemnly promise before God and these witnesses that you will love her and comfort her and keep her in sickness and in health and that forsaking all others for her alone, will you perform all the duties that a husband owes his wife so long as you both shall live?” The response: “I do.” “Carole, do you take this man to be your husband? Do you solemnly promise before God and these witnesses to love, honor and obey him, to comfort and keep him in sickness and health and that forsaking all others for him alone will you perform all the duties that a wife owes a husband so long as you both shall live?” The response: “I do.”
Friends, in marriage we have made a solemn vow before God and witnesses – a vow we must keep till death do us part. What God hath joined together let not man put asunder!
If we are to have a lasting marriage we must learn to be unselfish. Selfishness is the greatest single curse in the modern marriage. Many can see no one but self in the marriage relationship. Many hold the attitude: “It is MY money, MY night out, MY friends, MY car and MY way to make ME happy.” Friends, if you want your marriage to be miserable, think much about yourself; about what you want, what you like, what respect people ought to pay you, and what people think of you. The Smallest man I ever saw, was a man rapped up wholly in himself. The sad thing about it is the ME is not happy. “For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly…” (Romans 12:3).
We must learn to submit to each other according to God’s model for the home. “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God. Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the savior of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; … So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.…” (Ephesians 5:21-32).
In a lasting marriage, a husband will not treat their wife like a doormat, but will cherish her as his own body, and a wife will hold the greatest respect for her husband. Both will loving submit to one another as Christ does to His Father.
In a lasting marriage, both a husband and wife will learn to be courteous. The apostle Peter declared, “Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous” (1 Peter 3:8). Are you as courteous to your mate as you are to complete strangers? Are you as courteous as you were before you were married? Do you interrupt your mate? Do you actually listen? What tone of voice do you use with your mate? These are all important questions to ask in evaluating your courtesy toward your spouse.
Marriages that are lasting learn to serve. The role of a servant has been lost to our society. Jesus reminds us of this role: “But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28). Most troubled marriages could be quickly repaired if both husband and wife would learn to serve each other.
Learning to resist materialism is another powerful way to strengthen our marriages. We live in a materialistic society. Our society has reached the point that many prefer: 1) Gold to God., 2) Things to Truth, and 3) The newest Gimmick to the old time Gospel. Paul reminds us of how materialism can destroy families, homes, and marriages, “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Timothy 6:6-10). “Things” over a spouse is a sure fire way to cause trouble in a marriage.
Another important component in a lasting marriage is learning to render due benevolence to one’s mate. “Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife. Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency [or, lack of control]” (1 Cor. 7:1-5). Never withhold sex from your spouse as a bargaining chip, or as a ploy to get what you want. This will only lead to trouble in a marriage.
For a marriage to be lasting, a couple must also learn to avoid becoming involved with someone else. Solomon declared, “Drink waters out of thine own cistern, and running waters out of thine own well. Let thy fountains be dispersed abroad, and rivers of waters in the streets. Let them be only thine own, and not strangers’ with thee. Let thy fountain be blessed: and rejoice with the wife of thy youth. Let her be as the loving hind and pleasant roe; let her breasts satisfy thee at all times; and be thou ravished always with her love. And why wilt thou, my son, be ravished with a strange woman, and embrace the bosom of a stranger? For the ways of man are before the eyes of the LORD, and he pondereth all his goings. His own iniquities shall take the wicked himself, and he shall be holden with the cords of his sins. He shall die without instruction; and in the greatness of his folly he shall go astray” (Pro. 5:15-23).
Another vital principle in cultivating a lasting marriage is to manifest the attributes of love set forth in 1 Corinthians 13:1-7. A lasting marriage must also learn to communicate. Nagging wives and dictating husbands are not communicating. Communication is a two way street that involves listening and non hurling speech from both parties. The apostle Paul declared, “Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man” (Col. 4:6).
Most importantly, for a man and a woman to have a lasting marriage they must learn to make Jesus the center of their marriage. There must be unity in Christ. “And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand” (Mat. 12:25). The Psalmist exclaimed, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psa. 133:1). A husband and wife need to study together (2 Tim. 2:15). A lasting marriage involves prayer, “Pray without ceasing” (1 The. 5:17), and worshipping together, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Heb. 10:25).
If our marriages are to succeed, we must enter the institution understanding that it is a lifetime commitment. Lasting marriages will be unselfish, willing to submit, be courteous, willing to serve, resist materialism, render due benevolence, avoid flirting with someone other than your mate, cultivate the attributes of love, learn to communicate, and make the Lord the center of your marriage. Remember, marriage is a two-way street always under construction.