Choosing a Spouse
Choosing a wife, or a husband, is not an easy choice nowadays;
even when standards were higher, there was no guarantee of marriages working
out successfully and happily. The Bible has got quite a lot to say
about marriage, and wives and husbands - some of it not acceptable to many
people in these modern days! In some societies, marriages are arranged,
so there is little exercise of choice on the part of the partners. And
yet the very first marriage of all was an arranged one. After God had
created Adam, He acknowledged that he was alone, all the other animals having
been provided with partners:
And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.
And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. (Genesis 2:18,21-24)
We can take several lessons from this:
- Man needed a mate.
- God provided "a suitable helper" - someone who was compatible with himself.
- Because of the manner of her creation, she was to be sympathetic to him, a part of himself, "one flesh".
- She was to be a counterpart of himself.
- They were to create a separate unit or household together.
As an arranged marriage, how did it work out? Not very well, it has to be said! The ideal was correct, but the working out in practice failed, because:
- Eve became the instrument of their joint downfall.
- Adam did not oppose his wife's suggestions, as he should have done.
- Their failure was because they left God out of account in their marriage.
"Incompatibility" is often the reason given as to why marriages break down today. The prophet Amos acknowledged this:
"Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" (Amos 3:3)
How carefully do we think of the relative backgrounds of our intended spouse and ourself? The patriarch Abraham was very mindful of this when his son Isaac was to be married. He sent his servant, not back to idolatrous Ur from whence he had come to Canaan so many years ago, but to Syria where God-fearing members of his family lived. Abraham instructed his servant:
And Abraham was old, and well stricken in age: and the LORD had blessed Abraham in all things. And Abraham said unto his eldest servant of his house, that ruled over all that he had, Put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh: And I will make thee swear by the LORD, the God of heaven, and the God of the earth, that thou shalt not take a wife unto my son of the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell: But thou shalt go unto my country, and to my kindred, and take a wife unto my son Isaac. And the servant said unto him, Peradventure the woman will not be willing to follow me unto this land: must I needs bring thy son again unto the land from whence thou camest? And Abraham said unto him, Beware thou that thou bring not my son thither again. The LORD God of heaven, which took me from my father's house, and from the land of my kindred, and which spake unto me, and that sware unto me, saying, Unto thy seed will I give this land; he shall send his angel before thee, and thou shalt take a wife unto my son from thence. And if the woman will not be willing to follow thee, then thou shalt be clear from this my oath: only bring not my son thither again. (Genesis 24:1-8)
When Isaac's own children grew up, Isaac was concerned about the kind of wives they might marry:
And Esau was forty years old when he took to wife Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Bashemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite: Which were a grief of mind unto Isaac and to Rebekah.(Genesis 26:34-35)
(The Hittites were heathen idolators who were living in the land of Canaan.)
And Rebekah said to Isaac, I am weary of my life because of the daughters of Heth: if Jacob take a wife of the daughters of Heth, such as these which are of the daughters of the land, what good shall my life do me? (Genesis 27:46)
And so Isaac instructs his son Jacob:
And Isaac called Jacob, and blessed him, and charged him, and said unto him, Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan. Arise, go to Padanaram, to the house of Bethuel thy mother's father; and take thee a wife from thence of the daughters of Laban thy mother's brother. (Genesis 28:1-2)
-because they came from the same God-fearing family.
When Jacob did go to his mother's family, he fell in love with the beautiful charms of Rachel, and wanted to marry her. By trickery, but perhaps also by God's manipulation, her father Laban passed off his older daughter Leah instead of Rachel in the darkness of the tent on the marriage night - it is clear by the description given that perhaps she was not quite so good-looking as her younger sister Rachel. The subsequent story shows that Rachel could be deceptive, and perhaps still retained something of the idol-worshipper of her ancestors. When eventually the time comes for Jacob to die, he perhaps recognises that Leah was the real true wife, the more spiritual one that God intended, for, Rachel having died on the way to the Promised Land and been buried near Bethlehem, Jacob instructs his family:
And he charged them, and said unto them, I am to be gathered unto my people: bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite,In the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which is before Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field of Ephron the Hittite for a possession of a buryingplace. There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife; there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife; and there I buried Leah. (Genesis 49:29-31)
If we have the same attitude of these worthies of old, and seek in a wife or a husband the same qualities they looked for, we will acknowledge that:
"Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the LORD." (Proverbs 18.22)
When we come to the New Testament, the best chapter to explain the ideals, qualities and symbolism of marriage is probably Ephesians chapter 5. Some of the ideas presented may be regarded as old fashioned in today's world, but nevertheless they are God's ideals, and give a pattern for higher aims. Note the phrase throughout this passage: "as unto the Lord".
"Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord."
This does not mean a slavish submission, as some have interpreted it in the past, but a spirit of co-operation, which was the original intention with the creation of Eve - "a help meet" or " a helper suitable" for Adam - she was to complement his qualities by contributing a woman's female qualities of care and compassion to the partnership.
Verse 23 gives a spiritual hierarchy - God, Christ, man, woman :
"For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church; and he is the saviour of the body."(Ephesians 5:23)
Responsibility cascades downward:
"Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing."(Ephesians 5:23)
But this gives no sanction for a husband to act with a domineering, bullying, selfish attitude to his wife - if he acts in everything as the Lord does to his church, which is his body, he cannot and will not go wrong!
But this is a two-way process:
"Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God."(Ephesians 5:21)
Marriage should be a loving, complementary partnership, with the husband, as the representative of Christ in the family, providing the lead and example in the home and in spiritual things.
Husbands have duties and responsibilities too:
"Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish."(Ephesians 5:25-27)
This passage shows that the Christian's aim in marriage is to act out a parable of Christ and his church - we are enacting in marriage what our relationship with Christ should be like. If we come to marriage with that highest of ideals we will establish a loving and lasting relationship and one that will be blessed by God.
"So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself"(Ephesians 5:28)
This verse points to the fact that a marriage forms an indivisible unit - there is no room for selfishness, husband and wife are "one flesh". We are beginning to see that "one flesh" does not just consist of sexual union, but a blending of mind and spirit.
"For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church"(Ephesians 5:28)
We may have thought this chapter is about Christian marriage, and so it is, but Paul is leading us on a higher plane:
"For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery; but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband."(Ephesians 5:30-33)
It ought to be a great privilege for both husband and wife to know that in their marriage they are working out, in living symbol, what the relationship between Christ and his church should be like. Can we reach up to that high ideal?
By way of interest, the following chapter (Ephesians Ch. 6) continues with valuable instruction for relationships between other members of the family which, if followed under the same principle in chapter 5 ("Even as unto Christ"), would go a long way to solving the problems of family relationships that we see blighting the lives of so many families around us today.
In the light of the above, if you are looking for a life-mate, you have to consider whether you have the same priorities in life; as a Christian, you have promised to dedicate your life to the highest possible service to God; can you share that high ideal with someone who has no interest at all in spiritual values?
Have you considered whether you can pray together, to help each other to attain to the Kingdom of God, which should be the highest aim for our partner in marriage? Will you be able to agree, when the dilemmas and problems of life arrive, as they surely will, that they will be solved by reference to God's word and His will, that you will both submit to the law of Christ? Will you be able to agree on how you will spend your time together, in serving God, or in the use of your means and assets in His service? What will be your main aims and ambitions together for any family you may be blessed with?
Please do not go into marriage with the prevailing attitude of "Well, it's OK - if it doesn't work out, we can always get divorced". There is no way that Christ will give up on his church, there is no way Christ will divorce us; God intended marriage to be for life; we have to work through our problems, just as He works through our problems and helps us.
If we make wise, informed choices based on the principles laid out in Scripture, we will have a happy and satisfying marriage, which will, in God's grace, lead us to that great day of rejoicing envisaged in the Revelation:
"Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife [i.e. the church] hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints... Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb..."(Revelation 19:7-9)
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