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God's Foundation for Marriage

Bride and Groom

by Dennis Pollock

The bride looks radiant as she walks down the aisle. Her husband-to-be gazes at her in awe, wondering how he could be so lucky to have won the heart of this vision of loveliness. As they meet at the altar their hearts pound rapidly within them, knowing that their moment has come --- the moment they have planned for and dreamed about for months. They exchange vows without ever taking their eyes off each other. With the minister’s final pronouncement, the beaming couple joyfully set out to claim their “happily ever after” life together that the story books promise.

Seven years later they are again looking at each other, this time in a divorce court. The affection that was once seen in their eyes has been replaced by anger and pain. With the finalizing of their divorce they go their separate ways, carrying emotional scars that time will never completely heal.
While the details may vary, this story is being constantly repeated throughout our nation. Marital failure shows no partiality; it affects the wealthiest of the wealthy, the poorest of the poor, and those in between. The late billionaire J. Paul Getty wrote, “I have never been given to envy -- save for the envy I feel toward those people who have the ability to make a marriage work and endure happily. It’s an art I have never been able to master. My record: five marriages, five divorces. In short, five failures.”

We are told that approximately one out of every two marriages ends in divorce. If this is combined with the great number of couples who are unhappily married, it becomes apparent that the vast majority of marriages are dismal failures. Does it have to be that way?

GETTING TO THE FOUNDATION

In understanding the cause of marital failure it is vital to get below the surface problems to the very foundation of the marriage. We can do this by asking the question, “why?” When we discover why people act as they do, we expose their foundation, the motives which rule in their lives, and can then easily see whether or not this foundation is a sufficient basis for a healthy marriage. Let me, then, ask four “why” questions to uncover the foundation of the average marriage:

1) WHY DO MOST COUPLES GET MARRIED? Although many reasons might be given, probably the most common response would be that they are in love. But what do we mean by the term “in love”? What most people mean is that they have entered into a relationship which provides them extreme emotional pleasure. Being with their lover, the touch of their hands, the tender kiss, the lengthy embrace all create an ecstasy of emotional bliss that few of life’s pleasures can match. Because it feels so good to be with each other, they decide to spend their lives together.

hand in handSo why do most couples get married? The truth is, they marry strictly for their own pleasure, or to put it another way, out of selfishness. How many people in this world marry because they are convinced they can be a tremendous help to their husband or wife, and because they know that together they can glorify God in a far greater way than they ever could individually? It would be difficult to find one in a hundred who would confess this motivation for their marriage. Most people would simply say they were “in love,” meaning that the feelings they felt for one another were so enjoyable they decided to marry and perpetuate the relationship which gave them such pleasure. Self gratification, or selfishness, is unquestionably the motivating factor at the heart of their union.

2) WHY DO MOST COUPLES TRY TO GET ALONG? The average husband and wife don’t really want to quarrel and fight, and in fact, many married couples try very diligently to maintain peace and harmony in the home. Again we must ask ourselves the question, “Why?” The answer is fairly obvious. Few individuals actually enjoy fighting. The angry looks, the flood of negative emotions, the charges and counter-charges, and the awkward periods of silence that follow aren’t most people’s idea of a good time. Because peace is generally more pleasant than strife, the average couple will maintain at least some effort to keep peace between each other. Unfortunately their motive is again founded on selfishness. They strive for marital success and harmony not for the glory of God, not even for the good of one another, but simple because they happen to consider peace preferable to quarreling. The so-called “hen-pecked” husband yields to his wife’s every whim not because of his great love for her, but because he has found that fighting is just too much of a hassle. Many a wife whom everyone considers sweet and submissive is actually motivated by selfishness. Her submission does not spring from any love for God or her husband; she simple has been out-argued by her husband so often that she finds submission less distasteful than quarreling.

3) WHY DO COUPLES FIGHT? In the Scriptures, James asks the question, “Where do wars and fights come from among you?” He then answers his own question by saying, “Do they not come from your lusts (desires for pleasure) that war in your members?” Desires are an awesome force at work within every human being, and when two people’s desires are at cross-purposes so that one person achieving his desire will necessarily deny the other’s desire, the potential for conflict is present. When the husband wants to spend every Thursday night bowling with the boys, and his wife strongly desires him to stay with her, a quarrel is in the making. If the couple’s desire for marital peace is stronger than their separate desires, the quarrel may be avoided, but if not, a fight becomes inevitable. At the heart of every fight are two separate, contradictory desires which neither individual will relinquish for the sake of peace. No couple would ever say that they fight with each other that God may be glorified. Similarly no one would attempt to maintain that they fight with their mate out of love for them. So what motive is left? The answer is once again selfishness. The saying goes, “We¬† always hurt the ones we love.” The truth of the matter is that we always hurt the ones we love less than ourselves.

4) WHY DO COUPLES GET DIVORCED? Probably the single most common answer divorced couples would give is that they were no longer in love. How many million of men and women have shocked their mates by suddenly announcing that they no longer loved them. What did they really mean? They meant that the emotional thrill their relationship had once given them was now nonexistent. The pleasure had gone out of marriage and so they were calling it quits. Divorce was the only answer. Never mind that Jesus called divorce sin, never mind that they had made vows before God to stay together until death; marriage wasn’t fun anymore and they wanted out. What could this be but pure selfishness? To put feelings ahead of commitments made before God, to put personal desires ahead of God’s expressed will, to break up a family and permanently scar your children because marriage isn’t as exciting as it once was can be nothing else than the height of selfishness.

SEEDS OF DESTRUCTION

We have seen that the motivation running through many marriages, from beginning to end, is selfishness. It is not that they start out with true love and end up selfish. Even their most romantic and tender moments are steeped in selfishness. Couples marry for their own pleasure, try to maintain peace for their own pleasure, and divorce for their own pleasure. Consider the woman whose husband has just severely beaten her. She is bruised, battered, and bleeding. “Why would he do this to me?” she cries out. Though she wouldn’t understand it, the answer might accurately be given: “For the same reason he used to kiss you so tenderly.” The same selfishness that once prompted him to kiss her and whisper sweet nothings in her ear is now motivating him to savagely beat her. The selfishness has changed forms of expression, but the motivating factor is the same.

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The average marriage has within itself from the beginning the seeds of its own destruction. The same factor that brings couples together eventually drives them apart. There is no greater destroyer of human relationships than selfishness. Every war that was ever fought, every violent act ever committed, indeed all the misery that this world has seen has been the result of mankind putting self ahead of God and other people. This must be the reason that Jesus made the denying of self the first qualification for discipleship, saying, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, take up the cross daily, and follow Me.” Unless this foundation of selfishness is eradicated true marital success is an impossibility.

GOD’S WAY

Because the unregenerate man’s life is based on selfishness, his initial reasons for drawing near to Christ will almost always revolve around himself. Perhaps his life is falling apart and he knows that without God’s help he has no future, or maybe he hears a sermon on the terrors of hell and flees to Christ for refuge. But regardless of the reasons for our initial spiritual inquiries, God will never allow us to serve Him for selfish reasons. No sooner do we get into God’s kingdom than we begin to hear the voice of the Spirit saying, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (I Cor. 10:31) Living for self is no longer our rule of life; living that God may be glorified becomes the standard for all our actions.

The way the Lord makes this a practical reality in our lives is through the Holy Spirit who indwells every born again believer in Jesus Christ. From the Holy Spirit unselfish motives spring forth which begin to move us to put others ahead of ourselves. The Bible says, “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who is given to us.” This love “does not seek its own.” It is not human love; it is God’s love and is therefore pure and unselfish. As long as this love is operative in a marriage, success is inevitable. God’s love cannot fail, nor can any marriage based on God’s love.

One might ask, “Why, then, do Christian marriages fail at nearly the same rate as the general population?” First of all, not everyone who calls himself a Christian has had a genuine experience of salvation. In our country most people who are not Jewish or atheists automatically consider themselves Christians. Jesus, however, made it clear that, “unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Secondly, the Holy Spirit works in our lives only as we abide in Jesus Christ. As long as we give Jesus the foremost place in our lives, looking to Him continually as the source of our righteousness, love, wisdom, and power, the Holy Spirit manifests these and other attributes of Jesus in us continually. But if ever Jesus is ignored or shoved off to some corner of our lives, the Holy Spirit is grieved and no longer actively operates in us. Natural, selfish motives quickly spring up and take predominance once again. Jesus said, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.” “Looking unto Jesus” is not just some trite Bible phrase, it is the key that will determine our success or failure in marriage and in life.

DUCKS ON A POND

From what has been said, we can see that marital failure is the most natural thing in this world. Satan destroys marriages like shooting ducks on a pond. It’s so easy for him, it’s a wonder he doesn’t get bored with it. The marriage based on selfishness stands on such incredibly shaky ground that the slightest wind of adversity will topple it altogether.

To those who read this pamphlet I ask: Upon what foundation does your marriage rest? If being in love is your only answer you are in a dangerous place. The Scriptures tell us, “For no other foundation can any man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” In the storms of life, in the midst of the pressures and temptations assaulting every marriage in this present evil age, only Jesus is a sure foundation.

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