Originally published in Pulpit Helps, January 2009.
Genesis 2:24 is arguably the most important verse of Scripture in the Bible about marriage. "For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh."
This verse is quoted in Matthew 19, Mark 10, 1 Corinthians 6, and Ephesians 5. It shows us that God ordained marriage as a creation gift. When two Christians marry, they bring their redemption into that special relationship, making marriage both a creative gift and a spiritual discipline.
Most people marry to be happy, but God designed marriage to make us holy. All relationships begin with infatuation. Unless a relationship grows into a more mature love, however, the marriage will be in trouble. Happiness can certainly be experienced in a marriage. It is a wonderful byproduct. Still, it cannot be our goal. It should only be the result of our goal to honor and glorify God in our marriage.
Love is the power that releases healthy relating and positive exchanges in a marriage. When the love of God is operating in a husband and wife, they can truly value each other in a way that will bring blessing to the union.
Marriage in our culture today is on shaky ground. According to Gary Foster, over half of American couples who married in the late 1970s divorced before their 25th anniversary. This is the first time since World War II that over 50% of marriages did not make it 25 years.
There is a grave warning in Hebrews 13:4, "Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge." In our postmodern age, sexual restraint has been cast off. Adultery is too often lightly regarded. Homosexuality continues to be promoted as a civil right instead of the sin that it is. Couples who commit immorality before they are married are more likely to have trouble after they are married. The rate of divorce for those who cohabit prior to marriage is 39% compared to 21% for those who do not cohabit. Another interesting fact is that those who cohabit but never marry have 78% less wealth than the continuously married. Those who cohabit and have been divorced or widowed once have 68% less wealth.
Marriage is designed to last a lifetime. When a first marriage ends in divorce, however, the average length of time for that marriage is eight years. It used to be emphasized that the first year of marriage was the most critical. We have come to learn that marriage is a journey in growth and development. A marriage has a developmental life and the experience of marriage should endure until one spouse dies.
There are many things that lead to failure in marriage. If one thing could be cited as a foundational reason for marital failure it would be a lack of pleasing exchanges between husband and wife. When both husband and wife choose to know what pleases their mate and then does it, compatibility goes up. When compatibility goes up, so does the health and happiness in the marriage. In 1 Corinthians 7:32-34, Paul writes that by very nature of being married, we should seek to please our mate.
Far too many marriages are failing because husband and wife are not working together to please each other. Larry Crabb once suggested that two characteristics can be observed in most marriages. Before we are married (during our courting days), we do all we can to please the other person and try to avoid anything that would displease them. Then, after we are married, we focus on pleasing ourselves. Two Christians must certainly set pleasing God as their first priority. Yet, too many Christian couples who say they live to please God do not seek to please their mates even though we know this also pleases God!
As you counsel with married couples, make an effort to get them involved in a systematic, thoughtful, and deliberate act of pleasing each other. If necessary, have the couple keep a log of these acts. When they get into the habit of thinking about pleasing their mates, they will be better able to move into a lifestyle of pleasing their mates. This one thing can improve the state of marriage-especially those marriages in which two people claim to know Christ as Savior.
Christians must set the example as pictures of God's design for marriage if the culture as a whole is ever to be changed.
James Rudy Gray is certified as a professional counselor by the National Board for Certified Counselors, and is a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors. He serves as the editor of The Baptist Courier, the official newspaper of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.
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