By Joseph R Holder
When one mortal rubs shoulders against another, you will see either the best or the worst in them. And since marriage is the most intimate of human relationships, or at least should be so, we often see the best and the worst in that sphere of life. This work is presented from a deep conviction that we all need to rethink the Bible model of married life, to clarify the rules and expectations God established for a contented, happy marriage. Perhaps we could call this subject The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, for an examination of the marriages we see around us will reveal all three. While looking at some of the bad and the ugly, my intent is to re-establish in our minds the beautiful, the good image of marriage as God designed and ordained it, along with the God-given wisdom for building, and repairing, strong, healthy marriage relationships.
What is the responsibility of religious journals and preachers in this area? Is it to teach only on the negative? Which divorce is justified and which is condemned? Or does it also include the teaching of positive, sound foundations upon which healthy fulfilling marriages are built? As I pondered this subject and the teachings of the Bible in this area of life, I became more aware than ever that the Bible has much more to say about building good marriages and healing strained ones, than it quite adequately says about divorce and remarriage. Should we not spend more of our time on prevention by establishing healthy balanced ideas in young minds about marriage, and building, or rebuilding, strong marriage bonds in those who are married?
It is ever so easy for relationships to slip away from the strong contented balance that God has wisely designed in scripture. That imbalance can take the form of a domineering man who heaps verbal and emotional abuse upon his wife, or it can appear as a shrewish woman who is never satisfied with anything that her husband does. However, most often the shift is more subtle and more difficult to define, but it nevertheless contributes to a nagging dissatisfaction with the way things are. Where is that balance of sweet reasonableness in the lifestyles of husbands and wives?
While there is a Divine oneness in the marriage bond, the ground rules of a marriage must also preserve the individuality of both partners. Especially in this area, over-demanding husbands, complicated by the wife’s responsibilities of childrearing, threaten the woman’s identity. Her individuality in the human race is essentially stripped from her, and she is made to think that God ordained it to be so! Such an imbalance is an abuse of the relationship that God sanctified and intended to be the most intimate and loving bond known among earthly creatures. Where in the Bible was Christ ever abusive, severe or disrespectful to his bride? The key verse in the entire Bible on the husband’s responsibility is found in Ephesians 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.” Christ’s love for his church is not demonstrated by demands, denigration, and abusive criticism. The verb, the word of action that tells us how Christ showed his love for the church is gave! Don’t forget that word, men! Your love for your wife is biblical only to the degree you give yourself, your respect, your love, and your tender friendship to your wife!
After completing these writings, I was tempted to change the title to Of Husbands and Wives, Especially Husbands. By design and conviction these writings, while dealing with both husband and wife, will often emphasize the model conduct and responsibility of the husband. I truly believe that the excesses of the women’s movement are more the result of abusive and irresponsible men than of rebellious women! If a man truly loves his wife as Christ loved the church, do you really think she will be unhappy and unfulfilled? No way! She will be the happiest soul on earth!
The foundation for a Bible marriage, a fulfilling, enlarging, growing, loving marriage, is found in the model marriage of all time, the marriage relationship of Christ and his church. Is there ever a perfect marriage? No. Can hurting, troubled marriages improve? Yes, they certainly can in direct proportion to the extent the parties are willing to examine and adjust the priorities of their lives in conformity to the kind, practical teachings of the Bible on this subject. The one necessary ingredient in any hurting relationship is that both parties care enough to make a commitment to try to work out the problems. With that commitment as a foundation and the Bible model as their textbook, they can rebuild and rehabilitate the worst of situations. Is it easy? No. Will it happen overnight? No. But the resources are available in the truth, not those one-sided clichés that both men and women are prone to use.
Perhaps these writings will make you take a second look at the Bible handbook of marriage, at the possibility that every relationship can be improved, enriched. Fundamental Christian living will work; love, forgiveness, respect, that Golden Rule kind of godliness. We take our Lord and his teachings too lightly to think that they only work in the sterile atmosphere of church and the assembly of saints. They really work in the hurting, cruel world where we live for the other six days of the week. When a dear friend, or spouse, hurts us, they work. When the unfairness of life closes in on us, they work. When everything seems impossible, they work. When the foundations of life’s dearest dreams, even marriage, are threatened, they work! While holding the perfect model often before your eyes in this work, I realize that the real world in which we live is not so perfect. Therefore, I have included a liberal portion of observations that are designed to help get us through those rough times, to learn from them, and to forgive our mates and ourselves for less than perfect conduct.
I offer hearty tribute to a mother whose godly example of faithfulness and love in her marriage set a high challenge for me to follow. I thank a wife who loved me and tolerated many years of double standard conduct out of me that now causes me grief and shame. Never have I felt so thankful and contented in my marriage as when I finally discovered that the noble lady God planted firmly beside me was my godly equal and my God-given partner, not my personal slave. Perhaps some who read these words can learn more about God’s ideas of marriage and can build on that foundation without the necessity of repeating the mistakes of the past. “Jonah school” may be a well-attended school, but in God’s class schedule of life, it is not on his list of mandatory attendance. We are graciously invited to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn life’s most important lessons directly from him. May it be so with us in this most significant part of our lives.