This week’s devotionals on Matthew 5.31–32 addressed divorce—how it is contrary to God’s will, why it is always a tragedy but sometimes a sin, and when it is morally acceptable. Today, I want to address marriage.
What can we do to promote successful marriages?
This topic is on my mind for several reasons. First, it is easy to condemn divorce. The Bible says it is wrong, and divorced people themselves experience it as a personal failure—even when their divorces are justified. What we need is guidance about how to avoid failure and make our marriages successful. Second, I am getting married in a month, and I want to build my marriage on a rock solid foundation.
What, then, should we do?
First, we—individually and as couples—should practice our Christianity. “The family that prays together stays together” is not a cliché; it is a statistical reality. As political scientist (and self-proclaimed agnostic) Guenter Lewy writes, “Numerous studies have shown a significant relationship between religiousness and marital adjustment and have indicated that religion operates as a powerful deterrent to divorce.”
Second, we should practice fidelity. Jesus allows divorce for adultery or “marital unfaithfulness” (Matt. 5.32, 19.9). If adultery causes marital failure, then fidelity promotes marital success. It is written, “Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well…. May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth…. Why be captivated, my son, by an adulteress? Why embrace the bosom of another man’s wife?” (Prov. 5.15, 18, 20). Fidelity is more than not committing adultery. It is a matter of promoting intimacy with your own spouse, of “drink[ing] water from your own cistern” and “rejoic[ing] in the wife of your youth.” Fidelity is delightful intimacy between a husband and a wife.
Third, we should practice presence. Paul allows divorce for abandonment (1 Cor. 7.15). If abandonment causes marital failure, then presence promotes marital success. Not just any kind of presence, however! A man may be at home with his wife, for example, but if he’s constantly watching football on the TV and ignoring her, he’s not present to her. The kind of presence I’m talking about is “fruit of the Spirit” presence (Gal. 5.22–23). Are we loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled when we are with our spouses?
Fourth, we should practice respect. As I explained yesterday, it is my personal opinion that persistent, extreme, impenitent abuse is legitimate grounds for divorce. If abuse causes marital failure, respect promotes marital success. Paul writes, “husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one very hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does for the church.” (Eph. 5.28–29). We should love our spouses as ourselves; we are, after all, “one flesh” (Eph. 5.31, Gen. 2.24).
Faith, fidelity, presence, and respect: the foundation of a successful marriage!