Why did you marry? Can you remember back to that time when
your life was filled with dreams, expectations and hopes for the
future? What part did marriage play in those dreams and hopes?
What did you expect from marriage? Perhaps your answer
includes one or more of the following:
• I wanted to share my life experiences with someone.
• I wanted someone to help make me happy.
• I wanted to spend my life with someone I loved and
with someone who loved me.
• I wanted to fulfill what I lacked in my own home.
• I wanted to be faithful to God and love someone He
wanted me to love.
• I didn't want to end up alone, especially when I was
older. Marriage was that security.
All of these are fringe benefits of marriage, but none is strong
enough to stand as its foundation.
Many people are propelled toward marriage without really
understanding all they are committing themselves to for the rest
of their lives. That's why couples experience surprises and upsets
throughout the duration of their marriage.
Various writers have given definitions of "Christian marriage."
Wayne Oates says: "Marriage is a covenant of responsible love, a
fellowship of repentance and forgiveness."
David Augsburger defines marriage by first asking, "Is marriage
a private action of two persons in love, or a public act
of two pledging a contract?" Then he goes on to say, "Neither.
It is something other. Very much other!"
Basically the Christian view of marriage is not that it is
primarily or even essentially a binding legal and social
contract. The Christian understands marriage as a
covenant made under God and in the presence of fellow
members of the Christian family. Such a pledge
endures, not because the force of law or the fear of its
sanctions, but because an unconditional covenant has
been made. A covenant more solemn, more binding, more permanent than any legal contract.
Some psychologists, marriage counselors and ministers have
suggested that marriage is a contract, and many people are quick
to agree. But is this really true?
In every contract there are certain conditional clauses.
A contract between two parties, whether they are companies or
individuals, involves the responsibility of both parties to carry
out their part of the bargain. These are conditional clauses-if
clauses (if you do this, the other person must do this). There are
no conditional clauses in the marriage relationship and the
marriage ceremony. The marriage ceremony vows do not state,
"If the husband loves his wife, then the wife continues in the
contract." Or, "If the wife is submissive to her husband, then
the husband carries out the contract." Marriage is an unconditional
commitment into which two people enter.
In most contracts there are escape clauses. An escape clause
says that if the party of the first part does not carry out his
responsibilities, then the party of the second part is absolved.
If one person does not live up to his or her part of the bargain,
the second person can get out of the contract. In marriage, there
is no escape clause.
Then if marriage is not a contract, what is it? It is an unconditional
commitment into which a man and woman enter for life.
What Makes Marriage Last
Commitment means many things to different people. For some,
the strength of their commitment varies with how they feel emotionally
or physically. The word "commit" is a verb that means to
do or to perform. It is not based primarily on feelings. It is a
binding pledge or promise. It is a private pledge you also make
publicly. It is a pledge carried out to completion, no matter the
roadblocks. It is a total giving of one's self to another person.
Yes, it is risky, but it makes life fulfilling.
Commitment requires you to give up the childish dream of
being unconditionally accepted by your partner and expecting
that partner to fulfill all your needs and make up for all your
childhood disappointments. It means that you expect to be
disappointed by your partner at times and that you learn to
accept this and not use it as a reason to pull the plug.
Perhaps a better way to describe commitment is to compare
it to bungee jumping. If you've ever taken the plunge, you know
that when you take that step off the
platform, you are committed to follow
through. There's no more time
to think it over or change your
mind. There's no turning back.
A friend of mine shared with me
what has made his marriage last. He
said, "Norm, we each had a commitment
to each other and to the marriage.
When our commitment to
each other was low, it was the commitment
to the marriage that kept
To some people, commitment to
another person until death seems
idealistic. They are committed when
it suits them and they're not inconvenienced.
But when certain problems
occur, commitment is no longer
Commitment is more than maintaining;
it is more than continuing to
stick it out and suffer with a poor
choice of a spouse. Commitment is
investing-working to make the relationship
grow. It's not about just
accepting and tolerating a spouse's
negative and destructive patterns of
relating; it means working toward
change. It means sticking to someone
regardless of circumstances. Listen to
one wife's story.
In 1988, I was diagnosed with Epstein-Barr virus (chronic
fatigue syndrome). It really changed my life, which had
been filled with excitement and vibrancy. My husband, Kelly, has stood with me and become my protector
through these years of adjustment. He has taken care of
our family when my strength would not allow me. He has
held my hand through depression, including ten days
in the hospital. He has insisted I get needed rest, even if it
put more of a burden on him. He has paid the price of any
hopeful cure we have found, no matter the cost. He has
been more than a husband, he has been my best friend-a
friend that has stayed closer than any family member.
He was my knight in shining armor when I met him and
he has proven to be so throughout our 14 1/2 years of marriage.
I sometimes tell him that he has been my salvation, because I don't know that I would still be going on if it
weren't for his strength. I don't know that I would still
walk with the Lord if it were not for his encouragement.
Knowing him has been the greatest experience in my life.
When Life Changes
There will be ups and downs throughout the life of a marriage.
There will be massive changes-some predictable and others
intrusive-that hold the potential for growth as well as risk.
Many marriages die because too many people choose to ignore
the inescapable fact that relationships and people change.
A wife shared the following about dealing with the risk as
well as the potential for growth:
Since we have been married fifty years, you can just
imagine how much change we have gone through: three
wars, eleven presidents, five recessions, going from the
Model-A [automobile] to the moon, from country roads
to the information superhighway. While these changes
around us have been great, the personal changes that
God has enacted within us through each other have been
even greater. Although we often couldn't see how God
was working in our lives at that time, we look back now
and realize that our marriage has been a school of character
development. God has used my husband in my life
and He's used me in his life to make us more like Christ.
So what are the lessons we've learned about how God
uses marriage to change us? There are many. Through
fifty years of marriage we've learned that differences
develop us, that crises cultivate us and that ministry
melts us together.
First, God has used our differences to help us grow.
There have been many, many crises that God has used to
develop us and to grow us. The first one was the big one-the
crisis of being separated as soon as we got married.
Ours was a wartime romance. We met at church, dated two
months and got married after three weeks of engagement; and just after two months of marriage, we didn't see each
other for the next two years when Jimmy was shipped to
the South Pacific during World War II. When he returned, we were total strangers, but we were married to each other!
How would you have handled that situation?
I think the following comments by a wife illustrate the lifelong
expression of love and commitment.
Real life death scenes aren't like the movies. My husband, too tall for a regulation bed, lay with his feet sticking out
of the covers. I stood clinging to his toes as though that
would save his life. I clung so that if I failed to save him
from falling off the cliff of the present, of the here and
now, we'd go together. That's how it was in the netherworld
of the intensive care unit
It seemed that the entire world had turned into
night. Cold and black. No place you'd volunteer to enter.
Doctors tried to be kind. Their eyes said, "This is out of
our hands. There's nothing more we can do."
A nurse with a soft Jamaican lilt [to her voice] placed
a pink blanket over my shoulders. Someone whispered, "It's just a matter of minutes."
Just a matter of minutes to tell each other anything
we had ever forgotten to say. Just a few minutes to take
an accounting of our days together. Had we loved well
God's Perspective of Marriage
What does God's Word say about marriage? Genesis 2:18-25 (RSV)
teaches that marriage was God's idea and that He had several
divine purposes in mind.
Then the Lord God said, "It is not good that the man
should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him."
So out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast
of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them
to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever
the man called every living creature, that was its
name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the
birds of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for
the man there was not found a helper fit for him. So
the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the
man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed
up its place with flesh; and the rib which the Lord God
had taken from the man he made into a woman and
brought her to the man. Then the man said, "This at
last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall
be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man."
Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and
cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh. And the
man and his wife were both naked, and were not
God created marriage for companionship. As John Milton
observed, "Loneliness was the first thing God's eye named not
good." Loneliness and isolation are contradictions to the purpose
in God's creative act. God made man to live with others, and the
first other was woman.
When God said it wasn't good for man to be alone, He meant
that in every way it wasn't good.
It wasn't good physically; there was no partner.
It wasn't good emotionally; there was no one to share with.
It wasn't good spiritually.
God also created marriage for completeness. The woman was to be
"a helper fit for him" (v. 18). The woman assists man in making
his life (and hers) complete. She fills up the empty places. She
shares his life with him and draws him out of himself into a wider
area of contact through the involvement they have with one
another. She is one who can enter into responsible companionship.
The partners in a marriage relationship are actually fulfilling
God's purpose of completeness, or wholeness, in life.
The companionship and completeness God intended for marriage
grow out of communication as two people share each day
the meaning of their lives. As Dwight Small says, "The heart of
marriage is its communication system But no couple begins
marriage with highly developed communication. It is not
something they bring into marriage ready, but something to be
continually cultivated through all the experiences of their
shared life." Satisfying companionship and a sense of completeness
develop as husband and wife learn to communicate
with openness and understanding. Andre M. Aurois is credited
with saying that a happy marriage is a long conversation that
always seems too short. What about it? How do you relate to
When you exchanged your wedding vows, the words "leave"
and "cleave" became part of your life. Did you understand these
words? To leave means to sever one relationship before establishing
another. This does not mean that you disregard your parents.
Rather, it requires that you break your tie to them and
assume responsibility for your spouse.
To cleave means to weld together. When a man cleaves to his
wife, they become one flesh. This term is a beautiful capsule
description of the oneness, completeness and permanence that
God intended in the marriage relationship. It suggests a unique
oneness-a total commitment to intimacy in all of life together,
symbolized by the sexual union.
Years ago I heard a choice description of the coming together
involved in cleaving. If you hold a lump of dark green clay in one
hand and a lump of light green clay in the other hand, you can
clearly identify the two different shades of color. However, when
you mold the two lumps together, at first glance you see just one
lump of green clay. When you inspect the lump closely you see the
distinct and separate lines of dark and light green clay.
This is a picture of your marriage relationship. The two of
you are blended together so that you appear as one, yet each
of you retains your distinct identity and personality. But now
you have a marriage personality that exists in the two of you.
A Christian marriage involves more than the blending of two
people. It also includes a third person-Jesus Christ-who gives
meaning, guidance and direction to the relationship. When He
presides in a marriage, then and only then is it a Christian marriage.
Since your wedding, how have you handled leaving your parents?
How have you become one flesh with your spouse, coming
together and yet retaining who you are as individuals? Why not
talk about it?
What's Your Plan?
Think back to the time before you were married.
1. What did you think marriage would be like? Did it
turn out the way you expected?