041. WORKING IN THE LABORATORIES OF GOD. Part 3: Relationships within Marriage.
Practice makes perfect as we mature into the likeness of God through the marriage relationship.
Relationship between the church and Christ. Relationship between members of the body of Christ. The third laboratory is that of marriage, in which the relationship of husband and wife models that of Christ and the church.
We recognize the “sayings” about marriage, some true and some a little sarcastic. Marriage is about sharing of honor and respect, not 50/50, but each partner giving 90/10. But that doesn’t add up. It adds up using “marriage math.” The most important words in a marriage are “I love you,” “I’m sorry,” and “Yes, Ma’am.” Phrases to avoid are “Aren’t you ready, yet,” “Can’t you see I’m watching the ball game,” and “How much did that cost?” Zero to few of these statements would qualify for the 90/10 award. (Taken from the Annals of “You Said What?” written by important relationship gurus.)
Anyone who has been married (or is married) knows that a continued relationship that is loving, meaningful, and helpful to both parties involves a process of learning new meanings of tolerance, compromise, “in honor preferring one another,” forgiveness, communication, giving, serving, upbuilding, teaching, and many more things – all of which are attributes of Christ. Some relationships provide more opportunities to learn how to be Christ-like than others, but for a relationship to be most successful, both husband and wife must learn together, although each in their own way. In so doing, the husband and wife grow together as one unit, supplementing and complementing one another and supplying what the other may lack, so that they both can grow to be more like Christ in their behavior.
Love, peace, and unity are action words in a marriage relationship the same as they are in relationships within the church. Love is an action; it is doing, serving, supplying. Peace is both husband and wife being within the singular will of God. The husband, as the head, is responsible for seeing that the family is lined up within and following the will of God. The wife submits, not to the husband acting like a military general, but to the husband who is standing within the will of God, just like Jesus did. In this way, the wife submits to God as the husband submits to God. The children are raised up in this type of environment, so they are trained by first-hand example "in the way they should go.” The husband has authority as the head of the wife and the family by the extent that he submits himself to the will of God and presents a model based on the love of Jesus for the church. Therefore, the family, in unity, submits to the husband (father) as he is, in love, submitting to Christ.
This describes a high ideal, but it is God’s plan for marriage. Who could measure up? No one, when they operate out of the flesh; everyone, when they operate out of the Spirit. Since we all operate out of the flesh sometimes (many times?), there are many opportunities to forgive and to resolve differences and conflicts in a marriage and in a family. Some problems are more difficult to resolve in a God-glorifying way than others, and a family may have to seek the counsel and encouragement of other Christians. Then, the church has an opportunity to show love, peace, and unity to the family as the members “bear one another’s burdens,” “work as unto the Lord,” and be peacemakers.
Paul draws on the correspondence between Christ and the church and the husband and wife relationship in Ephesians 6, when he seems to bounce back and forth, referring to one, then the other. He does call it “a profound mystery.”
Another correlation between marriage and Christ and the church is the referral of the church as being the bride of Christ. (Rev. 19:7; 21:2)
Therefore, the union between husband and wife in the marriage covenant parallels that of Christ and His church under the New Covenant. Love, peace, and unity are to operate in the marriage relationship as well as in the church. Because the oneness of God is symbolized both in marriage and in the church, all of the “one another” passages and applications that were given in the previous post about relationships in the body of Christ should also apply to marriage.
The church testifies to the world of the love of God when the marriages between members of the body of Christ proclaim the love, peace, and unity of God. From a perspective of the universal church, the effectiveness of that testimony has been marginal at best. How can the church be a positive witness if the divorce rate within the church is similar to that of the world? The church’s historical method of handling divorce was so buried in the “preach against it” philosophy, when divorces began to occur between members, the church didn’t know how to handle it in love. It was recognized that the approach taken wasn’t one “in love,” but people didn’t know what else to do, so they just quit talking about it. No sermons; no classes; no discussion. “Somebody might be offended.” As a result, the church left its children to repeat the same problems in their generation. This was mostly because marriage was approached in a legalistic fashion and not presented as the model for Christ and His church.
The church’s role should be to preach and teach FOR marriage, so that the problem with divorce is reduced, rather than to preach punitively against divorce and against remarriage. That is about like an institution that penalizes people who tear down their house because it is so faulty that it is untenable, when the institution hasn’t trained them how to build a well-constructed house in the first place and how to maintain it. So, now, the church has a witness to the world that is a casualty of not having recognized and taught the next generation about the appropriate building codes that are based on “the book of standards.”
Divorce in marriage is akin to division in the body of Christ. God is opposed to both because both have thrown love, peace, and unity under the bus of “works of the flesh.” A person who joins to another in a marriage covenant should be trained by the church to take this relationship as seriously as when they accepted Christ. Marriage is a serious decision; there is no “Well, if this doesn’t work out, I can always get a divorce” in any plan given by Jesus. Flipping the coin to apply to the church, there is also no provision for “This isn’t working out; we’re going to fight this if it means splitting this church,” or “We’ll withhold our contribution and threaten to leave.”
We traditionally quote in a marriage ceremony, “What God has joined together, let not man put asunder” (or, separate, NIV, Matt 19:6). The same thing can be said about Christ and His church. When members of body of Christ fight, invite chaos, and divide, they are separating holy relationships that God has joined together. Some people will condemn divorce in marriages, and then the same people may, themselves, try to control their way in the church to the point of chaos and division in the bride of Christ. Neither divorce in marriage nor in the church is within God’s plan from the beginning. Which would carry the greater consequence and therefore the greater burden of responsibility -- a marital divorce or church division? Talk about a log and a toothpick! Judge not, so that you will not be judged. Sometimes divorce in marriage and division in the church go together with the same set of people, because one or more of the people try to be so controlling that they can’t get along with anybody.
A lack of understanding of the role of marriage in our becoming like God hurts not only the marriage partners, but also the church. A lack of understanding of the role of unity in the church as well as in marriage also hurts both. Divorce is contrary to the plan of God. But, much of the time the sin of separation between marriage partners has already occurred before an official divorce is finalized. They are separated from one another even though married, and this affects their common and individual relationships with God. Couples could be living together in a legal marriage, and not divorced, but also not in a covenant relationship with one another that reflects the love, peace, and unity of God. This doesn’t fulfill the plan of God, either.
If we understood the purpose of marriage, that this relationship completes both husband and wife so that they help one another become more like God, decisions about marriage and who one marries might be taken more seriously. Also, and perhaps more importantly, the way a husband and wife should act toward one another might be taken more seriously. Growth in love, peace, and unity comes as a result of dealing with problems, irritations, disagreements, conflicts, and disappointments.
The same thing applies to relationships within Christ’s church. Division in the body of Christ is divorce. When a believer clothes himself with Christ, he is also clothing himself within the fellowship of Christ’s church. How could one separate himself from the body of Christ without also divorcing himself from Christ? Those who divide the body of Christ are performing a divorce that has greater repercussion and does more harm to the cause of Christ than a couple dissolving a marriage, although the divorce of even one couple is more than what God intends.
The church’s doctrinal approach to marriage needs to be “front-end loaded” by teaching about God’s plan and not “back-end condemned” if the marriage ends in divorce.
We need to teach about the goals, purposes, and intentions of God for marriage. Counsel and teach people who are married and who have families what the goals, expectations, and behaviors should be in order to receive God’s richest blessings. Have those with healthy marriages serve as models for others. Provide counsel and help with peacemaking, prayer, and love for those couples who are having difficulty with their marriage relationship for any reason, so that they can get back on the track of growing to be like God. Grieve, love, and support those who suffer when a marriage relationship ends in divorce. No condemnation allowed, only love and forgiveness and help. Rejoice when people who have been divorced can establish a new marriage relationship and pray with them that this new union will fulfill God’s plan, with both partners helping the other to grow into the likeness of God. The church must keep the emphasis on what marriage is supposed to be about, what the marriage partners and the family are to become, and help people to get there. Members of the body should not punish those who have made a mistake or have gone on a wrong path, thereby making it even harder for them to come back. How many people who have suffered a divorce feel a spirit of condemnation and suspicion from the fellowship they used to attend when married, and as a result feel they have to leave that fellowship for another one where they will receive more encouragement to recover and get back to growing spiritually? We say the church is a place for broken people; so, how about broken relationships; how about broken marriages?
Satan entered the world in the Garden of Eden and sowed the seeds of disruption of the validations of God – Adam and Eve ate of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil – perhaps meaning they ate the seeds of Satan, producing-- lust of the eye, lust of the flesh, and the pride of life – all waging war against the knowledge and wisdom of God. Man then had the capacity and knowledge of how to put himself in the place of God.
How has Satan been allowed to use these seeds to disrupt God-given relationships?
What about recognizing God as creator of the universe? Man has substituted his version of the big bang, random evolution, naturalism, humanism, “I don’t care-ism,” and has created a god in man’s own image. What about the relationships among believers in the body of Christ? Man has substituted denominations, competitive groups condemning one another, doctrines to defend, building indebtedness, political parties, and the religion of Sunday football. What about the marriage relationship? Man has substituted chauvinism, feminism, post-modernism, Hollywood, divorce, broken homes, Oprah, and Dr. Phil.
God has given us three laboratories to experience (1) in relationship with His creation and with one another (2) in the church and (3) in marriage so that we can grow into His likeness. The enemy is actively disrupting all three. The enemy must be defeated. The church must storm the gates of hell, because they will not prevail against the power of God.
Love, peace, and unity – the fundamental cycle of the power from God.
For instance .... added 07/26/2023
 There was a very sweet lady, in her 50's, who was divorced and single, having been through earlier decades of a difficult, abusive marriage. Her health wasn't good, and she didn't have enough money to keep up with her significant medical expenses. She had a good friend, who was also divorced and single, who presented her with an offer she couldn't refuse - that if they married, she could be on his health insurance. So they did just that - now that was a marriage with benefits! They immediately began to have a blast, taking trips abroad, attending church activities, and making new friends. They were both so happy because they were so good for one another. Her health improved, at least for a while, before her physical condition began to catch up. I visited in the hospital, standing with her husband in the hallway outside her room where she would pass on in a few hours. I mentioned to her husband about the time they had been together being an investment. He commented, "Oh, yes, I understand about investments." I said, "No, let me say it this way. Marlene will enjoy a closer relationship with Jesus Christ for eternity because of the ten years she spent with you." That one choked him up.
But, isn't that how marriage is supposed to work? Isn't that submitting to one another in marriage as we submit to Christ, who ran the path before us into the will of God (Heb. 12:1-2)?
 The youth group was having a period of cross-generational discussions, and I was helping increase the ranks of geezers within a table full of predominantly 9th graders. The questions being considered brought up discussion of relationships between people, including male-female, and including marriage and family. I got on a rant about what is traditionally said in marriage ceremonies (and fabricated only a little) - "I promise to stick with you through good or bad, health or wealth, thick or thin, glory or sin, until death do us part." "Who is obliged to do that? Nobody pays any attention to those words, anymore. People do what they want to do - sue, divorce, abuse, whatever." What needs to be said as a promissory covenant in marriage is something like this (each person says to the other) ... "I promise before God that I will dedicate myself to help, encourage, and build you up into the Lord Jesus Christ so that at the end of our physical earthly time together you will have grown to be more like God because of our marriage life than you could have ever done otherwise, and that we will grow together as we, together, grow into Christ." You promised it, now do it.
The table was quiet as kids looked at me like I had just got transported out of Area 51 or something. But that was over 10 years ago, and a lot of those kids have married since. I hope at least some remembered a little of the message.
But, isn't that how marriage is supposed to work? Isn't that the foreordained plan of God, made in the beginning? It's more than "What God has joined together, let not man put asunder." It is "God has joined us together so that together we might join in Him."