The teaching of Jesus about marriage in Matthew 19:4–12 is noteworthy for at least three reasons. First, it contains the declaration which is included in the marriage service: for, referring to a man’s union with his wife, Jesus said, “Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (v. 6). Secondly, the passage goes on to mention the only legitimate cause, other than death, by which a marriage may be ended (v. 9). Thirdly, there is the recognition by Jesus that there are those who have, for the sake of the kingdom, renounced marriage for themselves (v. 12).

That is the point where I should like to begin: for whereas most articles have equal application to every brother and sister, this one is primarily directed to those who are married or who intend to get married. Of course, that does happen to be most of us, but it should be said that there is no compulsion to get married: indeed, the apostle Paul wrote to the ecclesia in Corinth that whereas marriage is a good thing, remaining single could be in certain circumstances even better:

“He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: but he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.” (1 Cor. 7:32–33)

This does not mean that Paul was saying that it is wrong to marry—indeed, he said that marriage was good and condemned those who were “forbidding to marry” (1 Tim. 4:3); but it is true that for those who have the the necessary enthusiasm, energy and courage, there are wider opportunities for the single person than for the married person with responsibilities at home. I have a feeling that many of those in our community who do not marry until after the age of, say thirty, have been influenced by this teaching of Paul. They should not be decried, especially if they are putting their opportunities to good use.

On the other hand, society is structured (still) on the basis of a majority of the adult population being married, and the opportunities for service are not all one way: for example, the married couple is far better able to offer hospitality than is the single person; and marriage provides the guarantee of homes in which to nurture the next generation.

We are well aware that there is a special relationship between a believer and his Lord. The main point I want to make now is that marriage between two believers is a special relationship within a special relationship. So all the principles by which we are guided in our relationships with one another are repeated within marriage. There are no different rules, only a sharpening of those we already have. The mutual love between husband and wife is not a different virtue from the love which should flow between brethren and sisters generally, but it has a heightened application. Consequently, the things which militate against a successful marriage are the same things which militate against a happy ecclesia—in a phrase, “the works of the flesh” (see Gal. 5:19–21). And the things which make for a successful marriage are the same things which make for a happy ecclesia—in a phrase “the fruit of the spirit”, which Paul expounds as love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance (vv. 22–23).

“With One Mind Striving Together”

I therefore submit that, in exhorting ourselves to good marriages, we do not need to restrict our search to those passages which have a specific application, but as we read the Scriptures we shall find verses of general application which are nevertheless helpful in the context of marriage. For example, Philippians 1:26:

“Only let your conversation (way of life) be as it becometh the gospel of Christ … that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.”
Thus did Paul exhort all the members of the ecclesia at Philippi, but surely if husbands and wives are of one spirit and one mind for the things which really matter, the petty irritations which inevitably arise will be seen in their proper perspective and quickly disappear.

As a community it has always been our claim to believe the doctrines and try to practise the precepts just as the earliest Christian disciples believed and practised them. Nowadays we live and practise our religion against the background of a world in which there seems to be a continual erosion of moral standards, let alone traditional Christadelphian standards, and we are bound to be influenced by modern trends, even if only to a slight degree. The restraints imposed by knowledge of Biblical teaching have been cast aside, but we ignore it at our peril. In the beginning we read that the Lord God provided Adam with a suitable companion for all his needs and Adam gratefully availed himself of the woman whom God provided (Gen. 2:18, 21–24). This is the way it was at Creation and this is the way it has been, or should have been, ever since. Thus, even before man’s fall, marriage was instituted and is one of the laws forming the basis upon which life itself was founded by God, so that to destroy marriage would be to strike at the very roots of creation. Indeed, the opinion that society could not continue in its present form if marriage were to be abandoned is well founded.

A Divinely Arranged Relationship

An elder brother once said to me that he believed “marriages are made in heaven”. I do not know whether the remark is true in the sense in which he meant it of the angels arranging that one particular man and one particular woman shall meet, fall in love and marry each other. But it is certain that when a man and woman marry, they enter into a very special relationship with each other, one which was divinely arranged and constitutes a peculiar status, for “they twain shall be one flesh”.

God intended marriage to be for life, with both partners faithful to each other until death parts them or until Christ comes. Since Christian marriage may be expected to last for a long time, it should not be entered into lightly and the choice of a partner becomes very important. Prospective partners will be advised to take account of their relative ages and backgrounds, their manner of life and personalities, their temperaments and health, their tendencies and weaknesses, their families and occupations. But when all is said and done, there is no such thing as total compatibility, and the only sound and enduring basis for marriage is a partner in the faith—and love. “Love suffers long, and is kind; love does not envy, does not vaunt itself, is not puffed up, does not behave itself unseemly, seeks not her own, is not easily provoked, thinks no evil; rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:4–7). Those words, which have general application, apply especially in marriage. Would that we could always put them into practice!

In Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle’s dominant theme is unity—how the Lord Jesus Christ reconciled Jew and Gentile in one body by the cross; how members of the ecclesia should endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace; how there is one faith and one baptism; how we should all come in the unity of the faith unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.

Christ and the Church

The section on wives and husbands and their union (5:22–33) fits into the overall theme of unity in the church—between believers as members of the body, and between the body and the head which is Christ. Paul reasons that even as Christ is the head of the church, the husband is the head of the wife. Paul’s teaching about the wife’s submission (v. 22) does not conflict with his earlier exhortation to mutual submission (v. 21) or with his teaching about oneness of the sexes in Christ (Gal. 3:28). On the other hand, within each household ultimate responsibility should rest upon the husband and when he plays his part in a spirit of love, the truly Christian wife will readily accept the Apostle’s instruction. Indeed, verse 25 is surely one of the most profound and searching for brethren:

“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.”
So husbands are not to demand submission from their wives, lording it over them, but they are to love and cherish them, even as their own bodies. In practice, therefore, the love is mutual, though expressing itself differently—the one a masculine love and the other a feminine love.

The question may arise in some minds: “Should a wife submit to her husband when she knows he is wrong?” We could call that the “64,000 dollar question”, and the classic case of Ananias and Sapphira comes to mind. If only Sapphira had not submitted to her husband, she would have saved herself and, possibly, her husband as well. Obviously (in my opinion), the wife is not debarred from trying to persuade her husband to see the error of his ways—and if he is a truly Christian husband he will undoubtedly change course. It is amazing what problems can be solved with patience, kindness and a determination to succeed. And, married brethren: always remember what a responsibility we have standing in some measure as it were representative of Christ to our wives!

In Ephesians 5:30 Paul takes what Adam said of Eve—“This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh”—and lifts it to an even higher plane, showing that brethren and sisters in Christ are united under his headship, which is a great mystery, revealed only to sincere disciples of God’s word. “What therefore God hath joined together, let no man—or woman—put asunder”: not even husband or wife—especially husband or wife—for in figure such a separation would be like the rupture between Christ and the Ecclesia. Can it really be possible that two believers could part in strife from matrimony and stand before Christ in unity?

Finally, there may not be a great deal that some of us can do to witness for Christ in the way of standing on a soap-box at the street corner, but our marriages in the Lord, if they are harmonious, can be witnesses just as powerful, if less eloquent, to those about us. The teaching of Christ and the apostles makes clear the potential for good or evil of every disciple’s example. It follows that the influence of the example of two disciples, acting as one, will be even more powerful. When a brother and sister marry and set up home, a new centre of influence begins, a further sanctuary for other disciples, another outpost for the Truth. We may think particularly of Aquila and Priscilla (see Romans 16:3–4) and some modern counter-parts of our acquaintance, for whom we have cause to give thanks for all their labours in the service of Christ and his Gospel.

Brian Lander
Source: The Christadelphian : Volume 119.  pp. 285-287

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