A Scriptural Guide To Understanding How To Make It Work And Why, So Often, It Doesn’t

Marriage is an institution established by God and outlined in the word of God, which is the Bible.  Today, there is much talk about what constitutes a marriage or a civil union.  If one consults the Bible as a foundational book on which to base one’s life, the answer is obvious; namely, a man and a woman joining together physically, emotionally and spiritually for the rest of their life.  How to succeed in a marriage is also clearly defined in the word of God (That is the purpose of this article and will be explained later).

On the other hand, if one rejects the authority of the word of God as a standard on which to build one’s marriage, then this writing will serve of little value.  It is not designed to answer all the problems couples face if they are not willing to consider the Bible as the source for the answers.  To them I say, “ Good luck! You certainly will need it!”  Nevertheless, I do trust there are enough troubled marriages, within the body of Christ, for this to greatly benefit a vast multitude.

My purpose regarding this subject is due to the overwhelming difficulties faced by Christian couples coping with today’s pressures, as well as the expectations marriages generate.  Many times when a newlywed couple realizes the enormous responsibilities placed upon them, they already find themselves looking for a way out!  As a rule, before one acts upon a thought, especially as serious as breaking a marital bond, he or she has mused about it for a great length of time.  Divorce is not a knee-jerk reaction to a bad situation; it’s more like a premeditated crime … and the rate is skyrocketing!

There’s a myriad of factors which contribute to either the demise of a union or the establishment thereof.  I will concentrate on the factors necessary to constitute a successful union, rather than exposing the common errors, which lead to destruction.  The nature of this topic will, invariably, lead to a discourse on several pitfalls and universal problems that plague marriages.  My primary focus will remain corrective.

There are certain pertinent attributes and experiences which qualify me as a credible commentator on this subject.  I am Pastor of a Bible-believing Baptist church and have celebrated more than 25 years of marriage to my wife, Bernadette.  Although I am in no way the final authority on the subject of marriages, my years in the ministry have offered ample opportunities to counsel couples, many of whom are facing the same issue; “…my marriage isn’t working, what can be done to salvage it?”  For starters, let’s look at what the Bible has to say concerning marital relationships.

Ironically, the apostle Paul was never married and yet writes the most instructive of verses, dealing with this subject, in his letter to the Ephesians.  Simply put, it is a revelation given him by God for the purpose of outlining various character traits conducive for solid, Godly unions.  Ephesians 5:21 says, “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.”  According to the text, there are three basic premises.  First, there needs to be a willing submission, “Submitting yourselves …”  It is a joint responsibility!  Second, we see a mutual desire, “ … one to another…”  As the expression goes, “It takes two to tango!”  Finally, the ultimate criterion, “ …in the fear of God.”  If this factor doesn’t exist in both man and woman, you will be fighting an uphill battle and not know why!  I believe this is the key to any successful marriage.  Both partners must understand their respective roles, but without having a fear of God, they always keep their relationship on a horizontal plane.  In other words, it prevents the couple from looking to their Savior for the right perspective!  It keeps them bound up in their own feelings, never considering Christ or God’s word – both of which they are supposed to love!

How simple counseling would be if men and women could comprehend this profound truth.  How many divorces could have been avoided?  How many needless, wasted hours spared if the fear of God existed instead of the fear of man!  How about being self-surrendered and serving Jesus versus being self-absorbed and stuck on self?  How many unnecessary battles must be endured?  Isn’t it a lot easier to fear God and do it his way?  Yes, it is, but why is that so seldom the case?

While the answer appears to be a “no-brainer,” much to my amazement, the majority of professing Christendom today chooses to do it his or her way instead!  A great Bible example of this practice and consequent result of not fearing God is found in King Zedekiah’s decision.  He is the last king of Judah (southern kingdom) before the Babylonian captivity.  He is more afraid of what the other captives from his country will say about him if he submits to Jeremiah’s charge of going peacefully to Babylon.  He is afraid they will laugh at him … what a thing!  He has two options: (a) go and live or (b) rebel and die. For those not familiar with the story, take a guess at his choice?  If you said (a), you were wrong, although that was what he was supposed to do!  Again, the right thing to do does not necessarily ensure that it will be done.  If there is no fear of God, you can bank on the right thing not being done when it crosses man’s desires!

The next area of much needed help for couples today is for a wife to be submitted to her husband. Ephesians 5:22 says,“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.”  “Wow, does the Bible really say that?”  Well, any Christian worth his or her “salt” knows this to be so.  End of discussion, right?  Wrong!  Remember, just because something is right to do, it is rarely a forgone conclusion!  The major counseling problem I have run into is when a wife, faced with this verse, tries to tell me about how bad her situation is, and that she can’t submit to her husband until he changes!  Now, I must admit at this point, I am glad I am not a woman!  There are some women who are married to professed Christians that only act as Christians when they are in church!  Yes, it will be hard to submit and quite a challenge, but if the women in that situation follow God’s word and keep doing their part, I believe God will honor their effort.  First Peter 3:1 says that men, “ … may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives…”  Technically, the verse is aimed at a saved wife dealing with a lost husband, but the principle still applies.  Wife, you are not going to change him – work on changing yourself!  Pray for God to help your husband change into the image of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29) while praying for yourself also!

Again, let me remind the reader that the purpose of this writing is to help Christians in their marital relationships.  Others can also benefit if they too are willing to adhere to Biblical teachings on this subject.  I understand these principles are considered passé to critics of the Bible, be that as it may, to those of us who believe the word of God, His principles are immutable!

One last point for the woman to consider is that submission to her husband is “… as unto the Lord.”  Now, that is deep!  The best way for someone to do that is to “… consider him who endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, …” (Heb.12: 3)   Nothing can replace a walk with the Lord to pull you through a difficult situation.  Sometimes, no advice or counsel will “cut the mustard” like an old-fashioned prayer ethic.

The prophet Malachi tells us that “… the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away:” (Mal. 2:16)  Now, I am not Pharisaical about this because the reality of life is that plenty of couples are divorced, and a plethora of broken homes already exist; they need healing.  Many times, folks have come to my church in need of counseling only after they have already suffered the scars of a broken marriage.  They are not looked down upon or made to feel unnecessarily guilty for the past.  Hopefully, they will have learned from the failed relationship, accept their portion of culpability, find Jesus as the answer, and live for him with the Bible as their guideline for proper conduct.  God restores and rewards.

For those Christians, however, who think it easy to abrogate their marital vows as soon as they hit some rough spots, or those who think that divorce is the answer, think again!  As the old saying goes, “ The grass always looks greener …” but it isn’t always so!  We are an impatient generation bombarded with immediate gratification stimuli.  Folks marry quickly in Las Vegas, divorce instantly in Reno, and abide by the philosophy that the mistakes of living fast can be corrected by simply “leaving the set.”  We, as a society, have been successfully brainwashed into believing this pseudo-reality mindset!

It has been said that life is a “veil of tears” which is probably a more accurate description than the proverbial “bowl of cherries.”  Neither is completely true, but to err on the side of caution, the former statement prepares one for the acceptance of disappointments rather than the fantasy of the fairy tale ending! Marriage, like life, needs to be entered into with this same understanding.  Trials are a part of forming and molding any marriage into a stronger union; don’t quit.  My former pastor’s parents celebrated their 67th anniversary in June 2013.  It can be done!

Back to our text in Ephesians, Paul reiterates this truth about submission (as we just finished looking at in verse 22) by stating in verse 24: “ … so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.”  Wow, did he say everything?  I don’t think that would be too popular today given the politically correct spirit that governs much of what is said and much of what is considered right.  Be it so, I never said it was easy to do for the wife, but again, God’s ways are right, and if she adjusts herself according to the word of God, she has His blessing.  Sometimes the biggest obstacle to submission is fear of what others may say or think.  The fear of ridicule can blind some into rebellion!  Hey, nobody can live the Christian life for you, and certainly nobody can be the mate you are called to be.  Take God’s side, and enjoy the blessings of a Godly union!  The Devil is a deceiver.  Be careful to not listen to his voice over that of the Holy Spirit’s!  The Devil enjoys inflicting pain and heartache.  Destruction is his goal; everything is “fair game” in his warfare against the child of God.

Finally, we will look at the husband’s responsibility.  To those who think I have been one-sided, I suggest you keep reading.  In my opinion, the husbands in many Christian marriages are more responsible because of the extra authority God gives them.  Doesn’t the Bible say, “…for unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: …”?   It also says in Ephesians 5:25 and 28: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church, and gave himself for it…”  “So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.”

Wow, talk about something hard to do!  It is so awesome and seemingly unattainable for a man, but just like in the case of the wife, doing it God’s way ensures peace and blessings that otherwise go unseen.  With God all things are possible, right men?  The text clearly states that the man needs to love his wife sacrificially, not superficially!!  Sacrifice is a word that doesn’t appeal to most; it implies a forfeiture of something for the betterment of something else. That’s exactly what’s missing in many marriages from the men.  The more they realize they must give up certain lusts and idols in order to demonstrate their love to the “weaker vessel,” the more bitterness can set in, unless it is recognized and corrected immediately!  The Bible does warn men to, “ … be not bitter against your wives.”  Women are moved by emotion; men by responsibility.  When the two meet… Bam!  You have the making of a great union! Secondarily, verse 28 tells us “So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.”  The wife is the husband, and the husband is the wife; they are one!  Hey, isn’t that what God told Adam all the way back in Genesis 2:24, “ … and they shall be one flesh.”?  Why, of course it is.  By the way, every good Bible student knows what God called Adam’s wife, right?  If you said Eve, you were WRONG!  God called her Adam!  Genesis 5:2 says, “…male and female created he them; …and called their name Adam…”  Why does this truth seem to evade many men in Christian relationships?

Why does a man find it so hard to love and treat his wife like an extension of his own body?  How often do you see a man inflict pain and hurt upon himself, literally, because he is upset about something?  Not too often, if ever.  However, that’s exactly what happens many times when he has had a bad day or something is upsetting him, and he takes it out on his wife!  Instead of giving the problem to the Lord, as he is supposed to do, he vents on her because he can.  After all, he is the boss, right?  I mean she has to obey him in everything, right?  With this kind of attitude, there is no wonder why a great many marriages never survive and certainly don’t thrive! I f the man would simply remember his role and do his part, he may be pleasantly surprised to see the blessings he has been missing because of his own rebellion to God’s word!

People like to blame others for their sins and their mistakes, which is as old as Adam blaming Eve, and Eve blaming the Serpent.  It is a never-ending cycle of blame.  We see it all the time whenever there is a political bombshell dropped exposing something or somebody.  Immediately, there is damage control done by the media to mitigate the shock wave and shift the blame elsewhere. That’s politics; that’s business; that’s life; and unfortunately, that’s many marriages!

A great example of shifting blame and damage control was the Watergate debacle during the Nixon Administration.  Very few people had knowledge of how information was being leaked to the Washington Post Journalist, Bob Woodward.  More than 30 years later, the world discovered the true culprit, by his own admission.  This fact was so downplayed by the media that few know his identity to this day.  It seemed that Woodward had an inside track right to the President’s office!  His information was right on target, and it caused quite a stir with the then present administration.  The fear of the secret “slush fund” being exposed with ties very close to President Nixon, eventually led to the hearings, which led to the President’s impeachment.  Mark Felt, the number two man at the FBI (under its legendary leader, J. Edgar Hoover), successfully hid his alias until he was ready to confess his role as “Deep Throat.”  That’s it, until he was ready!  He was fingered many times, but always unequivocally denied involvement.  What he said had no bearing on what transpired.  The truth stands alone, and in the end, it will either be your friend or your enemy.  He shifted the blame by disassociating himself rather than implicating someone else.  The point being, until a man or woman is ready to confess, tell the truth about their failures in the relationship, and give it a go God’s way, all the counseling in the world will only amount to a waste of time, or at best, delay the inevitable.  The latter held true in this example.

My experience has shown me it is easier for many people to tell their side of a story to a counselor alone, versus having the other partner present to dispute their so-called “facts.”  Why?  People like to paint certain scenarios which depict their story in a supportive way.  The manipulation of man is unbelievable!  If they can get you on their side without the need to change, well there it is, the credible support they need … the esteemed counselor, or in my case, the Pastor, to defend their position… how convenient!  Mankind hates change; they are creatures of habit!

If the truth were told, there are no perfect relationships just as there are no perfect people.  Does this fact cause us to stop living?  No!  So too, it should not cause couples to give up but to work harder at their respective roles in their marriages.  A good friend and church member of mine once said,  My wife’s not perfect, but she’s perfect for me.”  My, how that statement sums up the right attitude that needs to be present if a marriage is to succeed!  In every marriage there needs to be an honest evaluation by both parties, recognizing that even the best relationships need adjustments.  Nobody is ever completely right or wrong.  There is individual accountability and mutual involvement.  If a couple plans on marriage without considering that they both must change by allowing themselves to be molded together into a “new person,” then remaining single is a better option.  If they insist on marriage but dismiss this analysis as mere rhetoric, then I suggest they put their seat belts on.  Their ride will be quite turbulent, and only by the grace of God will they make it to their destination … “ happily ever after-land” … or so they think!

One more very obvious, but often ignored, remedy is honest communication between the parties.  This is not a political joust or a corporate sales pitch but a one-on-one communication.  Many men I know fail miserably at this stage.  They say, “What do you want to talk about?,” already sensing that a confrontation is brewing, and they don’t want to deal with it!  The Bible says, “Evil communication corrupts good manners.” (1 Cor. 15:33)  In many instances, no communication is evil communication!  If you don’t give your wife a chance to “get things off her chest,” you may live to regret it.

Back to our initial thought for the man… sacrifice some time and use wisdom.  Rooting out a potential problem is a lot easier than trying to erase the past years of failed communication where “Sorry, too late” is what you will probable hear.  It is like the old commercial for a national transmission company where the mechanic says, “Pay me now, (regular transmission check up) or pay me later (a new transmission!).  It serves as a great example of negligence.  The difference between the car analogy and the marriage is that the worse case scenario for the car is a new transmission; while it is expensive, it can be repaired.  On the other hand, the marriage, unlike the “tranny,” may be irreparable if the communication/maintenance is not there.  Give your marriage plenty of attention.  Make the right choice!

May our Lord Jesus Christ receive all the honor and glory, and may this exposition help all who read it to better their marriage and strengthen those who have fallen into despair.  With the Lord all things are possible; just remember to do it God’s way, as pointed out in the Bible, and leave the results with him!!

Written by Dr. Joseph Costa, Pastor