What have we learnt so far in this series? In the Christian home we’ve seen how Christ is the head, love must be at the core, and the Word of God must be the rule. In relationships in the home we’ve seen that it’s all about communication, and that we must speak the truth in love. There must be confession of sin, forgiveness of sin, and a new start.
This month, we look at marriage. One of the major social trends of the last forty years is the decline of marriage and the rise of co-habitation. In 1979, 74% of women were married, 8% co-habited; by 2002, only 49% of women were married with 31% co-habiting; in 2020, 69% of couples aged under thirty were co-habiting. This is a huge change and the number of marriages has fallen to its lowest levels ever.
The stigma attached to co-habiting has decreased. Even the terminology we generally use is revealing – the most common phrase now being ‘partner’ rather than ‘husband’ or ‘wife’.
Does this matter? Are the days of marriage dead? Has it outlived its usefulness?
We can note straightaway that statistics show women to be the ones who suffer most by the decline of marriage.
Studies also indicate that people in happy marriages have stronger immune function than those who are not. In addition, cortisol tends to be released in lower amounts in married people as compared with those who are single. Cortisol levels tend to reflect levels of stress, and high cortisol levels can impair immune function.
Your behaviour can improve with marriage. Compared with single people, married couples on average take fewer risks, eat better, and maintain healthier lifestyles. There is also evidence that married people tend to keep regular doctor’s appointments and follow doctor’s recommendations more often than single people.
Mental health can be better when you’re married. Poor social supports (as might be more likely for those who are single) have been strongly linked with higher rates of depression, loneliness, and a sense of isolation, which have in turn been associated with poorer health outcomes.
This is not to say that single people cannot be happy and healthy (and keep doctors’ appointments!), as many can testify.
There is a much more important reason for us not to consign marriage to the scrapheap. The institution of marriage is not a casual one dreamed up by some ancient civilisation a few thousand years ago. Why? Because it was not man’s idea, but God’s.
God created marriage. God officiated at the first marriage. God outlined the purpose and rules of marriage.
Wherever you find humans in whichever country and in whatever age, you will find marriage, almost without exception. Why? Because it has been there from the start! It is the most fundamental institution of society.
Marriage is a covenant or a solemn promise. A promise of a man and a woman to live together ‘till death do them part’.
Marriage is good! Marriage was instituted before Adam and Eve sinned. Yes, there are bad marriages, but that does not mean that marriage itself is bad.
Sex is good. It was given to bless and make men and women happy and joyful. Sexual relations within marriage are holy, righteous, undefiled, and pure. It is only sexual relations outside a marriage that are unholy, unrighteous, defiled, and impure.
This is not simply my personal opinion. This is what God says. Hebrews 13:4 reads, ‘Marriage is honourable among all, and the bed undefiled.’
Yes, God calls some to live single lives, yet for the rest of us marriage is what we should seek.
I normally don’t go in for advertising, but let me give you this endorsement. I have tried this product now for 43 years and I have not regretted it for one day. In fact, I love and appreciate my wife more now than I did when I got married.
Young people: God created you to get married! This is God’s will for most of you. So, for most of you, be on the lookout for a spouse for life. Of course, you need to do this in accordance with God’s Word. This would need to be the subject of another article.
Happy ever after?
However, it remains a fact that many marriages are not ‘happy ever after’. As the marriage rate has fallen, divorce rates have soared. In 2019, the overall divorce rate in the UK was 33.3%. In the USA, almost half of all marriages end in divorce.
How can we make sure this does not happen to us? How can we live ‘happily ever after’? The short answer is to follow the Maker’s instructions. Let’s look at three of them.
1) Remember the purpose of marriage
Why did God institute marriage? For the procreation of children? No. If there was no marriage, children would still be born (and sadly many are born outside of marriage).
Genesis 2:18 says, ‘And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.”’
The main purpose of marriage is companionship. Marriage is so that we don’t go through life alone.
I granted earlier that the word ‘partner’ has replaced ‘husband’ or ‘wife’ as the most used word, but it is actually a good term: marriage is a partnership.
Who is your best friend? It should be your partner. Who is your most honest critic? It should be your partner. Who is the one to support you in illness? It should be your partner. Who is the one to help you in the big decisions? It should be your partner.
But this works best when the two parties have agreed in a solemn binding contract to live together. Marriage provides the stability and security that people crave, particularly women. Marriage provides the home life that a man needs.
Can you honestly say that your partner is your best friend? If not, you must work at it! Take an interest in their life. Take an interest in their hobbies. Talk to each other. Do things together.
‘What things can we do together?’ you might ask. Why not play a game together or do a crossword? Read a book together out loud. Decorate a room together. Go shopping together. Clean the car together. How about cooking a meal together one night a week – maybe a brand-new recipe?
A beautiful, neat garden does not just happen; it takes hard work and tender, loving care. This is equally applicable to marriage.
2) Remember the great principle of marriage
The great principle of marriage is found in Ephesians 5:22-25, ‘Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and he is the Saviour of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave himself for her.’
We will consider the different roles of husband and wife in a moment. But notice there is a similarity in the two key words: wives – submit; husbands – love.
Both involve sacrifice. This is the great principle of marriage. A giving up of oneself. A giving over of us to the other person. Marriage is not about what we get out of it but what we put in.
Let me illustrate this in the most intimate act that a husband and wife do together. Look at what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 7:3-5: ‘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. 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.’
Now this, of course, is talking about the physical union that takes place in a marriage: sex.
Paul is saying that sexual relations are regulated by the principle that sex is not to be self-orientated, but partner-orientated. Paul says that your rights over your body are given over to the other person when you get married.
The principle is that each party is to provide sexual satisfaction to the other. This is their due. And this involves sacrifice. Of course, the biblical principle of moderation applies. We must show self-control and always consider the other person before making requests for sexual relations; however, the aim is always to think of the other person rather than yourself.
This principle of sacrifice applies in all areas of marriage. It involves showing sacrificial love and kindness in a thousand small ways.
Husbands, it means cleaning the sink of your hairs after you have shaved. It means getting up to make some tea when your wife is thirsty. It means leaving her a thoughtful note when you go out early. It means surprising her by not watching the football but talking to her about the book she is reading instead.
Wives, it means cleaning out the sink of his hairs without complaining when he rushed out because he was late. It means making your husband a cup of tea not because he’s requested one but because you can see he’s hard at work digging up that shrub for you. It means keeping that thoughtful note and saying thank you when he comes home by cooking his favourite meal (which you don’t really like). It means surprising him by watching the football with him rather than reading your book.
Jesus said, ‘It is more blessed to give than receive.’ Have you proved that in your marriage?
3) Wives and husbands – remember your roles
We need to look again at the fundamental text in Ephesians 5:22-33, ‘Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and he is the Saviour of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave himself for her.’
There is no way around this: the way that the wife ensures a happy marriage is by submitting to her husband; the way that the husband ensures a happy marriage is by loving his wife.
One writer put it like this: husbands, do you love your wife enough to die for her? Wives, do you love your husband enough to live for him?
The husband should so love his wife that he should, if needed, be ready to give up his life for her. The wife should so love her husband that she is willing to live for him, willing to pour out her life as his helper.
Let me first address wives. God says you are to love your husband so much that you will willingly subject yourselves to him in the same way that the church is subject to the Lord Jesus.
What does submission mean? It means to obey the husband’s will voluntarily. There is no option to it. You must obey him just as the church must obey Jesus Christ. You may think that is a tall order, but it is God’s way, so it is the best way.
Some think this is restrictive. Yet what if a train said, ‘I don’t like these rails, I want to run off the track’? The train would soon discover a bumpy ride that would end in disaster!
In any case, submission runs through all our lives, whether man or woman. It is not a concept that is new. We are subject to parents, teachers, governments, and church elders.
What does this submission involve for the wife? Does it mean a woman is reduced to chattel with no freedom to make any choices? No! A thousand times no! Look at the beautiful description of the virtuous wife in Proverbs 31. Look at all the things she does. She runs a business buying and selling; she buys and owns land; she works with her hands making clothes. This is no ‘stay at home’ mother.
Now husbands, did you notice that Paul spends only one verse speaking to women but 11 verses speaking to men? Why is this? Because we men so often get our role wrong!
God says that you are the head of the house. You can delegate things to your wife, but not abdicate! You are ultimately responsible for bringing up the children. You are ultimately responsible for major decisions, and if you and your wife cannot agree, you alone must make the final decision.
You are especially responsible for establishing God as the centre of your home, that there are family devotions when the Bible is read and prayers are said, and that the family attend church.
But the key word in your headship is love. You must love your wife as Christ loved the church. And this is an extraordinary calling if we reflect on how Christ loved his church.
Here we were as rebels and enemies of Jesus Christ. We were lost sinners heading for a lost eternity. Along came Jesus Christ. He gave up this throne in heaven and was born into a poor, insignificant family. He trained as a carpenter, living in obscurity for thirty years in a place far away from the cities. He then spent three years sacrificially helping the unlovely, the sick, and the dying. Finally he allowed himself to be arrested on trumped-up charges, found guilty by a kangaroo court, and put to death in the most painful and barbaric way known to man. Why? To save wretched sinners and rebels like us. What love!
Husbands, this is the love you are to emulate in your marriage. Do you love your wives like that? How have you shown sacrificial love this week? In what ways?
Christ loves and cares for his church. He provides for us. Do you love and care and provide for your wife?
Christ nourishes and feeds his church. Husbands, do you nourish and feed your wife physically and spiritually?
Christ gave up his life for his church. Husbands, are you prepared to give up all for the sake of your wife?
Let me close by saying something to all those reading these words, whether husbands, wives, children, singles, widows, or widowers.
The two great principles of how to have a happy marriage (love and submit) actually apply to all of us.
Do you want to live ‘happily ever after’, whether or not you get married? Then first submit to the rule of Jesus Christ over your life. Take him as your Lord and Master. Secondly, love God with all your heart and soul and sacrificially love your neighbour as yourself. Then you will truly live ‘happily ever after’.