Every responsible adult in this country who reads a newspaper, watches a TV news program, or surfs the internet knows that we are experiencing a serious breakdown of the foundation of our culture. That foundation has long been considered the Judeo-Christian values that were so prevalent when our Founding Fathers gathered together to form what is now the United States of America.
In that time, for the most part, there was an accepted moral standard that provided guidance throughout a person’s life. And no, that guidance did not begin at the schoolhouse doors, nor was it completely given through sermons from the local pulpits. It was in the family home, listening to the words, and prayers of a loving father and mother where children received most of this guidance. The Holy Bible was the ‘primer’ used by families to give direction and purpose to their children. This dispensation of guidance was the most basic tenet of family life and it produced some of the most courageous, honest and trustworthy men and women who then guided our nation to become the greatest in world history.
Fast forward to today; what was considered immoral, unethical, illegal, or sinful then is now accepted as the norm in a society that has seemingly lost its moral compass. What could possibly have happened to change our national culture to this extreme in only a few hundred years? It’s easy to simply blame the devil but the truth is much more frightening. We have seen, and are still seeing, a breakdown in the American family that can be blamed on a lack of understanding of, and respect for, marriage.
The divorce statistics in the United States are staggering; in fact, one source indicates that the rate of divorce for first marriages is somewhere between 41% and 50%. Even more disturbing is the divorce rate among couples claiming to be Christian. While slightly lower than the divorce rate for non-Christians, the figures are still very high, and indicate serious problems that should be addressed by the Body of Christ.
The Origin of Marriage
Marriage is much more than a legal means for having a sexual relationship. The sexual part of marriage is very important and is a crucial part of God’s plan, but there is much more to a marriage than the sexual relationship. For Christian couples, there should be a much better understanding of the totality of marriage, how it began and why it exists. What does God have to say about marriage? Since He is the creator of marriage, let’s start with His Word on the subject. In Genesis 1:27 (KJV), we read: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” What clearer explanation for why there are only two genders on this planet: God wanted it that way! But wait, it also says in Genesis 2:18 (KJV): “And the Lord God said, it is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet (or, suitable) for him.” Originally, Adam, the man, was created without the woman. After God created all the animals and brought them to Adam for him to name, God then saw that Adam was still alone, since none of the animals was suitable as a mate. Some people, in error, have stated that if God saw the woman as an afterthought, He must have made a mistake creating Adam alone. But, since God is perfect and cannot make a mistake, they must be wrong who think this way. Before God created Adam, did He know that Adam would be incomplete without a mate? Of course, He did. But He was about to demonstrate His amazing love and awesome wisdom in solving the problem of Adam not having a mate.
For most Cristian couples who were married in a church ceremony by a minister of the gospel, the words “what therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder” should be very familiar. These are very common words used at the end of many, if not most, church weddings. But how many new husbands and wives listen to those words and consider what they mean, and how important they are in a marriage?
Let’s continue the historical account of what happened from Genesis:
“And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him. And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof. And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam 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. Therefore, shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh (Genesis 2:18-24 KJV)”.
In God’s eyes, when Adam and Eve were married, He saw them as one flesh, or one body. This is the beginning of the mystery of marriage-the joining together of a man and a woman which, in the eyes of God, forms one body from the joining of two. This passage of scripture is the first mention of marriage in the Bible, and it was the act of a loving God, joining together a man and a woman for life. God himself originated, ordained and approved marriage.
God’s Plan for Adam – a Perfect Mate
Though the animals God created were magnificent and perfect, they were not created in God’s image, and they were not what Adam needed to make him complete. However, God knew exactly what He was doing; He always does. His plan was to take a part of Adam, from his flesh and from his bone, and skillfully craft an exquisite being who would augment and complete every part of Adam’s existence, spiritually, physically and mentally.
I once heard a Christian woman say to her congregation that God is spontaneous, and she stated that Christians should also be spontaneous, like God. While that may be partly true, especially in our worship of God, I disagree with most of what she said. The very creation we are a part of, the universe and everything in it, proves that a being with supernatural intelligence and wisdom planned the entire creation down to the most minute detail. He left nothing to chance, or evolution.
The act of God’s creativity in removing a piece of Adam’s own body and transforming it into the very element that was originally missing from Adam is, to me, a proof that God plans everything well in advance. It is also possibly the greatest act of Love, other than the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus, ever recorded in the Bible. How much more perfect could Eve have been than to have come directly from the body of her husband? Please understand, in the same way that the animals were created, from the dirt, Adam was also made from the dust of the earth, from actual dirt. God took that dirt and changed it into the marvelous creation known as man, the human body, then he breathed into it His own life.
But, unlike Adam, the first human being created, Eve was made using flesh and bone that had already undergone the miraculous transformation God exhibited in creating Adam when He changed dirt into a flesh and blood body. Eve was made using material from Adam’s physical body that had already been transformed and perfected by God’s touch! But, as perfect and unique as she was, Eve, just like Adam, was incomplete on her own. It was only when God joined them back together that they completed each other. And what is just as wonderful and amazing is this: every living human being after this came from the body of the woman whom God made using the flesh and bone of Adam. Wow! God is the ultimate planner!
In God’s eyes, when Adam and Eve were joined in marriage, the two fleshes that came from one were perfectly joined back into one flesh again; only this time they perfectly complemented and completed each other! God’s plan was for Adam and Eve to remain in a perfect married state, perfectly joined together forever, since they were created not to die, but to live eternally. Had sin not entered the world, every man born of this perfect union should also have sought out and found the perfect woman, the one who would complete his life before God.
The Corruption of Sin
Up to this time, Adam and Eve had neither needed nor worn clothes because they were unaware of their nakedness: “And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed “ (Genesis 2:25 KJV). But we all know that sin did enter and that changed everything. Instantly sin opened their eyes and they saw themselves as God did; for the first time, Adam and Eve saw each other’s naked physical bodies and were ashamed: “And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons” (Genesis 3:7 KJV). Up until that time, only God knew they were naked. The shame of seeing their naked bodies caused them to hide themselves from God, as sin and shame always do.
I have often wondered why Adam and Eve didn’t know they were naked until they sinned. I personally believe that they were both covered, or crowned, with God’s own glory when He created them and they were totally unaware of their physical bodies until their eyes were opened after they sinned, and God’s glory departed from them. When sin entered through the disobedience of Adam and Eve, and their eyes were opened to know good and evil, God’s perfect plan for marriage became corrupted.
Eventually, having seen that women were beautiful to behold and physically desirable, many men began to look more for the physical beauty of a woman for completion. However, this only provided the physical completion, rather than the total completion God had planned as a result of Eve’s creation. Anytime man’s actions contradict God’s perfect plan, man loses some of what God originally intended for him. God desired, and expected, to have Adam and Eve multiply and replenish the earth with beings just like themselves. God wanted the original perfect union between one man and one woman to create a worldwide family that He could fellowship and commune with on a daily basis.
The Deception of Physical Beauty
Because of the corrupting influence of sin, men began to place a higher priority on the physical attributes of women and many eventually chose their mates based on those attributes that were pleasing to the eye. Sin caused men to relate to women more on a physical level based on their appearance, rather than their spiritual and/or intellectual makeup. However, this was a very short-sighted means of choosing a mate since another result of sin was the aging process, which is essentially the death process whereby all human beings begin to gradually lose that which keeps them young and physically attractive. Physical beauty, which soon fades, is a poor means of determining the suitability of a mate, but it now seems to be the highest priority used by both men and women in the ‘mate selection process’.
Physical beauty, without a corresponding spiritual beauty or purity, is a means of deception Satan uses to deceive men and women into making poor choices for marriage. When the aging process, or any other circumstance, such as accident or illness, causes the loss of physical beauty, the basic reason for the marriage based on appearance alone vanishes and divorce is considered a viable alternative to staying with a person who is no longer physically attractive. Based on the divorce rate statistics, this option is used nearly as often by Christian couples as those who are non-Christian. Just because it is considered to be a legitimate way of dissolving a marriage does not make it acceptable in God’s sight.
It didn’t take long for men to realize that the selection of a mate based on a woman’s physical beauty was no guarantee of a successful, or happy, marriage. The first mention of divorce is found in the Book of Leviticus, indicating that divorce had already become an issue in the time of Moses. Much later, during Jesus ministry, the question of divorce was one of the weapons the Pharisees used to try to catch Jesus in His words. In the Gospel of Matthew, we read, “The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? And he answered and said unto them, have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, 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. They say unto him, why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.” (Matthew 19: 3-9 KJV)
Jesus states clearly that Moses granted divorce as an option to the Israelites due to the hardness of their hearts, not because it was acceptable to God. Those men who sought to separate from, or ‘to put away’, their wives had obviously chosen their wives using their eyes, not their hearts, and had easily fallen prey to the deceiver, Satan. As I stated earlier, God’s plan was for a man and woman to fully complement and augment each other, physically, spiritually and mentally.
But, when mate selection was based only on a physical attraction, something was missing in the marriage that hastened a divorce. What? Most people would likely answer this question that one, or both simply stopped loving the other. Only when we examine the type of love that forms the basis of a good marriage can we truly answer this question.
The True Basis for Marriage
Even though there are other words in the Greek language that are defined as ‘love’, two are mainly used in the New Testament, translated into the English word, love. The first is phileo (5368 in Strong’s Concordance), a Greek word meaning to be a friend to, or to have affection for (denoting personal attachment, as a matter of sentiment or feeling). This word usually connotes a brotherly love, or the feeling one might have for a friend. The second word is the Greek agapaó (25 in the Strong’s Concordance), which means to love in a social or moral sense, to prefer, i.e. embracing God’s will. One Word study, defines it as a “discriminating affection which involves choice and selection”.
This word has a much wider and deeper meaning than phileo, since agapaó embraces judgment and the deliberate assent of the will as a matter of duty, principle and propriety. This is the God kind of love, whereby He chooses to love when it would seem to us impossible to do so. This is the love described in John 3:16 and fully explains why God gave His only Begotten Son to be the sacrifice for our sins. God loves because He chooses to love.
Agapaó is the love God used when he took a part of Adam and skillfully crafted a mate that would provide everything, physical, spiritual and mental, that Adam was missing in his aloneness. Adam was neither physically, nor spiritually, complete until Eve was presented to him. God understood then, and understands now, exactly what every person needs to be complete.
Agapaó is the kind of love that God determined to be the basis for a man to leave his mother and father and cleave (or cling, adhere) to his wife. Agapaó love says to another person: “you are valuable and precious to me and I choose to love you and hold on to you”. But agapaó love is much more than that; agapaó is love that goes far beyond the physical and dwells on a much higher level, that of the spiritual. Unless this is the type of love that forms the foundation for a marriage, the chances for divorce are extremely high.
Since men and women are triune beings, made up of spirit, soul and body, there is a third Greek word that is very important for a healthy marriage is the word ‘eros’, from which the word ‘erotic’ is derived and it specifically refers to the physical, intimate love that is connected to the sexual act between a husband and wife. God designed the marriage of a man and woman to be a ‘complete union, one in which the two totally become one with the physical union meant to provide a satisfying physical relationship while also providing the means for the union to produce offspring. God, who is perfect, leaves nothing undone and the sexual part of marriage is no exception.
Requirements for a Successful Marriage
In the Book of Ephesians, the apostle Paul plainly tells the men in the Church at Ephesus what is required for them to be followers of God: “Husbands, love (agapaó) your wives, even as Christ also loved (agapaó) the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. 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. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless, let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband” (Ephesians 5:25-33 KJV).
In this passage, Paul is comparing the relationship between a man and his wife with the relationship Christ has with the Church. The Church is the ‘body of Christ’, and Jesus loves His body. He was willing to lay down His own life for a body of sinful people so that they could form the Church that was, as yet, non-existent. The holy Spirit signified through the writing of Paul that a man should love his own wife in the same way. Even as Christ loves His body, the Church, and was willing to lay down His life for it, a man must love his wife in the same way, and certainly no less than he loves his own flesh; by the same token, the wife is instructed to reverence, or respect, her husband no less than the Church reveres Christ.
Conclusion – The Missing Ingredient in Many Marriages – Real Godly Commitment
It is indeed a great mystery that God used the union of a man and his wife to describe the union between Christ and the Church. Jesus was committed to God’s plan of salvation, knowing in himself that He would have to die for the church, His body of believers, to become pure and clean and worthy of Him. He knew the terrible price He would have to pay for that union to come into existence, but He possessed the critical attribute that allowed Him to face His death and not waiver—commitment. By an act of His will, he chose to follow God’s plan, no matter what the cost to Him. A husband should have the same commitment concerning his wife, and by an act of his will, he should choose to love her, at all costs.
In the same way, once a man determines what is required of him to love his wife with agapao love, he must then decide, by an act of his will, to commit to, and remain committed to, the union with his wife that has been ordained and blessed by God. When this commitment is present, the means to cherish and nourish his wife will come much easier, as will her respect and reverence for her husband
I am reminded of the words of Ruth Graham, wife of evangelist Billy Graham, who, during an interview, was asked about her long marriage to her world-famous husband. When asked if she ever thought about divorce, she answered emphatically, “No, I’ve never thought of divorce in all these 35 years of marriage, but I did think of murder a few times”. She was obviously joking about the murder comment, but her words indicate that even the most godly and strongest believers are, at times, driven to think negative thoughts about their marriages. However, with Godly love and commitment, the divorce option can, and should, be taken off the table when marital problems occur, as they invariably will. Situations will occur in every marriage to cause anger, frustration and hurt, but none of these should ever be considered a reason to dissolve a marriage that was ordained and blessed before God.
Imagine the hurt that Jesus feels when we, His body, mess up and sin against Him. Yet, He is always there, waiting for us to come to Him, repent and ask forgiveness and restore the fellowship that was broken as a result of our sin. In the same way, when problems arise that break the marital fellowship, husbands and wives should first consider what is needed for restoration, and then repent, ask for forgiveness of, and forgive, each other. This act of fellowship restoration will often save the marital relationship.
It is somewhat understandable that non-Christian couples will not comprehend the majesty and mystery of marriage, but all who have a good Christian foundation on which their lives together were built must realize that they will be held accountable for what happens in their marriages. When Jesus said the words: “what God has joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matthew 19:6 KJV), He established and confirmed God’s law on marriage. I know that many will say they made a mistake and should not have married the person they did. But does that make divorce among Christians OK? To answer that properly, we must consider that marriage vows are just that: they are vows or oaths made before Almighty God. In Psalm 15, the psalmist asked these questions of God: “Who shall dwell in thy tabernacle? And who shall dwell in thy holy hill?” He provides a partial answer in verse 4b: “He that sweareth to his own hurt and changeth not”. Christian couples must understand the sacred duty and obligation they accepted when they both spoke the vows that were to bind them together in holy matrimony for life. The basis for their marriage must not be a purely physical attraction and love, but it must be the agapaó love described previously.
This agapaó love, and the ensuing commitment to a marriage, will not keep problems from occurring, but they will provide the Christian couple with the Godly means to work on, and solve, every problem that does arise and will allow them to remain in a committed and loving relationship. The agapaó love and commitment should always find the answer to any problem before divorce is ever considered. If all Christian couples would work more diligently on their level of commitment, embracing love as a choice, rather than a physical attraction, a long and successful marriage is possible. The best result would be that Christian divorce rates would drop dramatically and God will be pleased.
©Bud Hancock. All rights reserved.