To quote the movie The Princess Bride, I’m going to talk about “Mawwiage…”
I officiate a fair number of weddings and like most pastors I do traditional vows that include the part about “for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, etc.” On a couple’s wedding day these words pretty much pass over them harmlessly even when they are repeating them after me AND even though I’ve spoken to them about it during their premarital counseling and during the rehearsal.
The fact is no couple gets married really understanding how hard marriage can be and that sometimes there are seasons – even long seasons – of “for worse.” Unfortunately, when couples hit this place, they are ill equipped to handle the stresses of the worse and end up eventually dissolving their marriage. According to The Citizen, 45 percent of marriages ended in divorce in 2021.
For me there is nothing more heartbreaking than a divorce. This may surprise you, but scripture does not say divorce is a sin; it says God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16) and that Moses allowed it (via God’s instructions) because our hearts were hard (Matthew 19:8). God doesn’t allow sin because our hearts are hard – you don’t get to murder people or have idols because your heart is hard. But God does hate divorce because it wasn’t that way from the beginning (Matthew 19:8) and it hurts his children – there are no winners in divorce.
Jesus tells us plainly in that same Matthew dissertation that divorce only is allowed due to infidelity, which is a breaking of the marriage covenant (two have become one flesh yet one has shared themselves with another). And if you have sex with someone else while your ex-spouse is still alive you are committing adultery which, of course, is a sin! Jesus doesn’t address abuse (physical, emotional, verbal and spiritual); however, I believe that scripture does address how we are to treat each other in marriage quite substantially in 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, 1 Peter and elsewhere. My reading tells me when a spouse abuses the other person they are, indeed, breaking the marriage covenant but my advice to couples facing abuse is first separate and see if the abuser will get counseling and other medical help to address their condition before ever moving to divorce. You first do everything you can so save the marriage!
That said, it’s pretty clear that all divorce originates from sin. Sin is selfishness – we choose to do what we think is best for us instead of doing what God says we should do according to His word. Jesus tells us we should stay married except for infidelity. However, society tells us that we have a right to leave our spouse if we’re unhappy, unfulfilled, or our spouse isn’t meeting our expectations.
This may come as a surprise, but marriage isn’t about making you happy! Your joy in life should come from the Lord not your spouse, your work, money, or anything else. If you’re looking for your spouse to make you happy the seasons you face of for worse will be unbearable.
So, if our spouse isn’t there to make us happy what is their purpose? Let’s go back to the beginning and see what God says.
Genesis 1:26-31 tell us this:
26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.
31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.
In Genesis 2 we get a deeper take:
15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
19 Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.
But for Adam[f] no suitable helper was found. 21 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs[g] and then closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib[h] he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
23 The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.”
24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.
25 Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.
What do we learn here about marriage?
- Man was made in God’s image to have care for creation
- Woman was made from man because he had no suitable helper
- They were to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth
Anyone see anything about being happy, fulfilled or having their expectations met?
Ecclesiastes 12:13 puts it this way: Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.
We are here to glorify God! God gives us in marriage to one another because it’s not good for us to be alone – we are made for relationship! And then scripture tells us repeatedly how we are to treat each other which we do quite poorly.
Marriages are full of ups and downs and round and rounds! And there are times when it is for worse. That is why love must be a choice not an emotion! We choose to love our spouse every day even on days when we don’t like them very much. We choose to stay committed, putting the marriage first and ourselves second. We choose to bear with the other person, turn the other cheek, forgive as we’ve been forgiven, show grace and mercy, tell the truth in love, and humble ourselves to make our marriages work. And we pray – hard – that God’s hand will be on our marriages so that the Holy Spirit can reveal to us the best way to submit ourselves to His will in all circumstances.
Here’s what we don’t do:
- Create an emotional relationship with someone else (the proverbial work spouse for instance) who will provide the emotional support we think we need that we’re not getting at home.
- Demonize our spouse who is underperforming in our eyes.
- Become bitter because we’re not getting what we want.
- Play the tit-for-tat game believing everything has to be fair and equitable
- Seek happiness in anything but the Lord.
- Violate the marriage covenant in any way!
In his book The Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller puts it right when he says there is no such thing as a “soulmate” but instead it’s just two sinful people trying to make it work! Exactly! Two sinful, selfish people who want things their way who fight each other to get as much of what they want as they can! That’s why marriages are ending in divorce. People are so individualistic that they can’t see beyond themselves to understand the true concept of biblical oneness created in the covenant marriage.
The covenant marriage looks like this:
- God focused – you put God first; every decision you make is filtered through the God prism. (Matthew 6:33)
- Sacrifice – you die to yourself and pick up your cross daily for the other person. (Luke 9:23)
- Submission – you humble yourself and consider the other person better than yourself. (Philippians 2:3-5)
- Serve – you are to serve one another as Christ served the church. (John 13:1-17)
- Ensure your marriage glorifies God. (Mark 10:6-9)
- Constantly work on oneness: oneness of mind, oneness of spirit, oneness of emotion. (Matthew 19:4-6)
- You are second, second to God and second to your spouse. (James 4:10)
My friends, marriage is difficult. Temptation is real. But the grass is not greener on the other side of the fence; it has just as much manure in it as your current field! So, if you’re going through a for worse period in your marriage my advice to you is the same as that which Churchill gave: If you’re going through hell keep going! If your marriage is in a rough spot, keep going! Keep fighting. Do whatever you need to do to get it back on track but understand most of what needs to be done is renewing your own mind (Romans 12) instead of trying to change the other person.
Excellent advice, excellent article Tom.