Aun Quek Chin—Singapore
Editor’s note: The first of this three-part series, published in issue 87, focused on understanding God’s will and His purpose in instituting marriage. This second part looks at God’s principles for marriage and extends these principles to our relationship with Him.
Disagreements and difficulties arise in every marriage. The world offers solutions such as marriage counseling and therapy to help couples get through their rough patches. Christians have the additional privilege of having an Almighty God who is always ready to see them through these storms. Yet, we hear of Christians who ultimately divorce; we see couples in cold, loveless relationships—they remain together but can barely tolerate each other. If we look at God’s original plan for marriage, we will see that such situations are not what God intended. To prevent our marriage from declining to such a state, we must clearly understand and firmly uphold God’s established principles for the marriage covenant.
There are three key principles of marriage that God’s children must believe and practice:
ONE HUSBAND, ONE WIFE
And this is the second thing you do:
You cover the altar of the LORD with tears,
With weeping and crying;
So He does not regard the offering anymore,
Nor receive it with goodwill from your hands.
Yet you say, “For what reason?”
Because the LORD has been witness
Between you and the wife of your youth,
With whom you have dealt treacherously;
Yet she is your companion
And your wife by covenant.
But did He not make them one,
Having a remnant of the Spirit?
And why one?
He seeks godly offspring.
Therefore take heed to your spirit,
And let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth.
“For the LORD God of Israel says
That He hates divorce,
For it covers one’s garment with violence,”
Says the LORD of hosts.
“Therefore take heed to your spirit,
That you do not deal treacherously.” (Mal 2:13–16)
Monogamy is God’s intended marital arrangement for man. We can infer this from various parts of the Scriptures. First, God created only one wife–Eve—for Adam. He could have created multiple spouses to meet Adam’s need for companionship and help. But it was His will to create just one woman for the first man. From the beginning, the Creator has already indicated that He does not tolerate a third party within a marriage. We thus have a responsibility to be faithful to our spouse.
Second, the prophet Malachi reiterates God’s expectation of monogamy (Mal 2:15), declaring that adultery incurs God’s rejection. Malachi rebuked God’s people for having extramarital relationships. He warned them that God was fully sympathetic with the wronged wives. Helpless to prevent their husbands’ infidelity, the former prayed and wept at the altar of God (Mal 2:13). Consequently, God rejected the offerings of their philandering husbands.
Dealing treacherously with one’s spouse and divorce are abominations to God. Even as we obey God to worship Him in spirit and in truth, we must also speak and act with sincerity toward others. We would be hypocrites if we harbor hatred towards our spouse, have romantic feelings for a third party, or indulge in an extramarital affair. Our heavenly Father watches from heaven. Even though it seems we have deceived others and there is nothing our spouses can do, God will mete out judgment.
For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. (2 Cor 11:2–3)
God’s expectation of our marital fidelity is rooted in His expectations of our relationship with Him. Paul says we are betrothed to Christ, who will come for us one day. We must be faithful whilst waiting, meaning we must be single-minded towards Jesus. Our hearts should not stray, and we should remain chaste. Our declarations of love for our spouse are hollow if we are also harboring affections for another person. Proponents of polyamory like to claim that they have sufficient love to share, and that their love for their multiple partners is genuine. Such love may be real, but it is certainly not pure.
God’s love for man is pure love, and this is the type of love He expects in return. Jesus reminds us that a person cannot serve two masters. We may proclaim the Lord with our lips, but if our heart is distant from Him, our love is deceitful and impure (Isa 29:13). In the same way, God expects us to have a pure love towards our spouse. Our marriage bed should never be defiled by a third party, as the physical relationship between husband and wife is sanctified. We must ask God to help us maintain a pure love towards our spouse.
TILL DEATH DO US PART
Or do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man. (Rom 7:1–3)
To God, marriage is for life. It is the most serious and longest lasting covenant that a person can make. Since it is a promise made before God and man, it must be upheld, as the traditional vows state, “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.” Unfortunately, financial difficulties, long-term illness, incompatible personalities and myriad other factors may drive a wedge between the couple. Intense and sustained conflict in these situations may tempt us to give up on our marriage. In such moments, we must remind ourselves that while we enjoy the benefits and pleasures of marriage, we must also be prepared to share and bear its burdens and responsibilities. Demanding the good times and fleeing the difficult is indicative of our immaturity and irresponsibility. Worse, it shows we were lying when we said our vows.
What is the significance of making our vows before God?
God is faithful and unchanging. He is our ultimate standard, a worthy witness to the covenant we make with our spouse. Hence, the marriage vow is sacred. In a wedding ceremony, the most solemn part is the making of the vows. The congregation is generally very attentive and excited to see the bride enter and walk down the aisle. However, everyone should be even more attentive when the couple say their vows, because their words form the basis of a covenant made before God. The words are also very useful as a reminder to those in the congregation, who are already married, of whether they are truly continuing to love their spouses in all circumstances. Uttering these words insincerely or unthinkingly is tantamount to trivializing the wedding ceremony, or worse, committing perjury.
Set me as a seal upon your heart,
As a seal upon your arm;
For love is as strong as death,
Jealousy as cruel as the grave;
Its flames are flames of fire,
A most vehement flame.
Many waters cannot quench love,
Nor can the floods drown it.
If a man would give for love
All the wealth of his house,
It would be utterly despised. (Song 8:6–7)
According to Solomon, love is as strong as death and its flames are unquenchable. These verses underline the fact that the flames of love transcend lustful desire or simple emotion. The flames of love are holy and are from God, which is why they cannot be quenched.
Love sparked by our carnal desires for sex, money or fame often end quickly. Carnal desires will not last forever; the heat from these sputter out once they are gratified. Flames of emotion are good, but they are weak and unstable. Couples in a good mood tell each other “I love you” but when they are in a bad mood, they spit “I hate you!” at each other. The flames of true love from God are unchanging because this love is based on God’s love.
ONE MAN, ONE WOMAN
The third principle underlying marriage is that God instituted this covenant for a man and a woman. Today, some liberal countries have legalized same-sex marriage, and some Christian denominations conduct same-sex wedding ceremonies. Many people justify such developments on the basis that gay and lesbian individuals do not choose their sexuality; they are born that way. But this is not what the Bible says.
For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due. (Rom 1:26–27)
Our Omniscient God and Almighty Creator would clearly have been aware if homosexuality were part of His intended design. But what we repeatedly see in the Scriptures is a rejection of this inclination. Those who indulge in these “vile passions” will receive “the penalty of their error.” However, in His love, God is not willing for any to perish. For those people inclined towards homosexuality, the Holy Spirit can help them exercise self-control if they choose to heed God’s words, and submit to Him. In contrast, for those who choose to follow their passions and fleshly desires, God will give them up and let them do what they want. Both women and men who do so will receive God’s judgment.
Our Almighty God instituted marriage at His creation, as part of His foundational plan for human lives. God’s plan is perfect, as long as we abide by His principles for this holy union. When we start to go beyond His boundaries for marriage, problems arise. And as humans imagine more and more possibilities for how to define marriage, complications multiply in tandem. We can safeguard our marriages by upholding God’s principles, remembering that the quality of our relationships ultimately impact our relationship with God.
Of course, even when we adhere to God’s boundaries for marriage, dissatisfaction can still arise with time. In the concluding article, we will look at how to grow together with our spouse, and how to deal with conflicts within our marriage.