Preserving Marriages

By Don Alexander

We live in a time in which the marriage and family relationship is in trouble. Abuse, molestation, adultery, secrecy, deceit, hatred, materialism, and selfishness  these all tell a sad tale about modern times. The church is not immune to the world’s values, but is susceptible to them. The world cites the decline of the “traditional family”  “two parents, kids, house in the suburbs, station wagon, a dog and a cat”  in sarcastic and cynical tones. Then the world offers us “alternative lifestyles” to replace the “traditional family” they snippily decry. It is time for God’s people to lead the way in proclaiming what the marriage relation is in the view of Jesus Christ. Jesus stated that “what God has joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matt. 19:6). This article will address principles of Jesus for those whom “God has joined together.” Those marriages need to be preserved.

I believe that “marriage” is “. . . a personal relation arising out of a civil contract between a man and a woman, to which the consent of the parties capable of making that contract is necessary . . .”(State of California, Family Law Code, Division 3, Part 1, Section 300.) The law further speaks of the issuance of a license and solemnization of the marriage. But the “personal relation” called marriage pre-existed man’s civil code. God joined a man and a woman in the Garden of Eden, and sanctioned their being “one flesh,” joining their commitment, desire, bodies, and goals (Gen. 1:26-28; 2:21-25). They are bound together until death (Rom. 7:4). Their love and will pledge commitment (Eph. 5:25f; Tit. 2:4-5). Their union becomes the foundation of the family relation and the agent for teaching future generations about God (Deut. 4:7-9; 6:4-9). The civil laws of man must be honored regarding marriage (Rom. 13).

Since what we seek to preserve is something God has created, we are wise when we consult him as the expert. Contrary to many workshop tapes, videos, and books which are “not available at any store, but only through this toll-free number,” the Bible is freely available, and in multiple copies, in most homes. Jesus preached the greatest sermon extolling the virtues and principles of God’s people under the New Covenant in what we know as “The Sermon on the Mount.” While setting forth positive truth, he also takes the Pharisees to task for their distortion of God’s views of righteousness (Matt. 5:17-20). But at the core of the sermon are principles which can be applied to every individual, every marriage, and every family member while doing no injustice to the main thrust of his teaching. To preserve and strengthen our marriages before God we must go up to the mountaintop and listen, breathing in deeply the fresh air of his teaching, and returning to our homes to apply it to our lives. Consider some principles we can learn from Jesus from Matthew, chapters 5-7.

1. We must have character in the characters (Matt. 5:1-10). Husbands and wives must realize that we bring ourselves to the marriage. Our character is the driving force of a marriage relation. The marks of Christian character must be seen in Jesus’ disciples. Imagine a marriage and family relation in which spouses are “poor in spirit,” seeking the best interest of each other, that shows mercy in the place of justice when one partner makes a mistake; a husband and wife who “hunger and thirst for righteousness” together and whose motives are “pure in heart”; who become “peacemakers” who “mourn” over their sins, seeking together God’s comfort; whose anger is restrained and channeled constructively instead of abusively because they are “meek.” In truth, what we and our family members are when we walk into the church building for worship ought to be what we are when we sit in the family room or express our marital love in the bedroom.

2. We must be the preserving salt in the home (Matt. 5:13-16). The Christian has influence on a dark and lost world just as salt and light preserve and enlighten that which they touch. Christian character in word and deed influences for good because the character Jesus requires of his disciples permeates their being and spreads to those around them. A husband who seeks a good marriage cannot think that flowers, candy, and gifts will accomplish this while being hypercritical of his wife, selfish in the use of his time and money, and abusive in his words and actions (1 Pet. 3:7). A wife who seeks a good marriage will realize that adopting the “Barbieism” of the world in make-up and dress will not accomplish that which “a meek and quiet spirit” will achieve (1 Pet. 3:4). We must realize that salt is healthy, beneficial, comforting, and powerful. Let us seek to influence with the words of Jesus in our hearts. Let us influence “the world” around us. But let us understand that our “salt” and “light” begins at home.

3. We must seek the righteousness of Jesus which begins in the heart (Matt. 5:17-48). Jesus contrasts the Godheads view of righteousness with that of the Pharisees, pointing out that righteousness is not something that is purely outward and ritualistic. Jesus connects behavior and thought and motive, making the heart the source of behavior (Matt. 15:17-20). For a husband and wife to be righteous, hearts, not just behaviors, should be the focus. Jesus discusses the connection of character and obedient work to the righteousness for which they hunger and for which they are persecuted. Righteousness which develops the desires, will, and commitment of spouses will preserve their marriage. Jesus touched on factors that threaten personal righteousness and family relations:

 Improper anger  Matthew 5:21-26

 Lust in general and infidelity in marriage  Matthew 5:27-32

 Dishonesty in speech and life  Matthew 5:33-37

 Improper treatment of those in opposition and conflict  Matthew 5:38-42

 Making love of others conditioned on being loved first  Matthew 5:43-48

The solution to these is found not just in outward behavior control, but begins in the heart. “It’s O.K. to look, but not touch” is a sham. “She pushes my buttons and I get mad and can’t control my temper” is an empty excuse. “He doesn’t understand me like Jim does at work.” “My husband doesn’t deserve my love” is a dynamite stick whose fuse is 3/4 burned. “I can never forgive my mate for what was said to me” flies in the face of the forgiveness of the God who made us. Righteousness moves us to love our mate even in unloving moments (Matt. 5:43-48).

4. We must apply the “Golden Rule” in our marriages (Matt. 7:12). Before I speak or act toward my spouse, I must ask, “Is this the way I would like her to treat me? Will my words or actions likely move me toward her or drive a wedge between us?” Some husbands and wives treat the paper boy with more graciousness and mercy and respect than they do each other.

What a breath of fresh air fills our hearts as we sit at the feet of the “Great Physician.” Since the word of Christ in fact “holds all things together” (Col. 1:15-17), surely he can hold our marriages and families securely in the hollow of his hand and preserve us together.

Guardian of Truth XL: No. 13, p. 18-19
July 4, 1996