Marriage is an exciting part of life, as it takes two journeys and two souls and makes them one under vows to God. It also serves as a living symbol for Christ’s love for His church. Two people take the time to get to know one another, understand each other, pray for wisdom and guidance, and make the decision to pursue this life-long commitment.
So why is something that special, and often well-thought out, so difficult? Ultimately, the greatest problem with marriage is the same that works its way into any situation – sin. It is not a union of two saints – even if the people in question are saved – but of two sinners who may be saved by grace, but still need God’s Spirit and mercy day by day.
The best way to strengthen a marriage from the beginning, and to repair it when it has been damaged, is not to let it get tossed onto the destructive rocky shore of life, but to build it on the solid Rock of Jesus Christ.
What Is the Biblical Definition of Marriage?
Most cultures and religions have a way for people to bind themselves into a new family unit. Marriage looks different across these cultures and religions, with different expectations, requirements, and significance. In the Bible, God outlines His prescriptions for a healthy marriage in several spots. He ordains the institution in Genesis, demonstrates its ups and downs in the Song of Solomon, and provides some general principles for husbands and wives in the New Testament.
The first marriage was in the Garden of Eden, between Adam and the first woman. God makes it clear why He created Eve, the purpose for bringing them together, and the joy it was meant to bring.
“Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’ … But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’ Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:18, 20b-25).
What Are the Husband and Wife’s Roles in Marriage?
God created men and women to be different, yet to complement each other. Once two people are in agreement to form a family, they leave the home of their parents to build their own home and to follow God together as one flesh, one unit, partnered for God’s glory. Part of how they are brought together is through a wedding, shared goals, and through physical intimacy which can lead to procreation. It is the enactment of becoming one flesh.
It is also meant to be a positive experience for the man and the woman, but only in the context of a marriage. The Song of Solomon addresses the sexual element of marriage. The bride declares, “My beloved is mine, and I am his; he grazes among the lilies. Until the day breathes and the shadows flee, turn, my beloved, be like a gazelle or a young stag on cleft mountains” (Song of Solomon 2:16-17). The groom also rejoices, “Behold, you are beautiful, my love, behold, you are beautiful! Your eyes are doves behind your veil. Your hair is like a flock of goats leaping down the slopes of Gilead” (Song of Solomon 4:1). Throughout the book, they spend time in the Garden of Love, constantly returning to one another. This book demonstrates the importance of pursuing a healthy physical relationship in marriage, as well as the importance of relying on one another and returning to each other after separation – whether physical or emotional.
The Apostle Paul created some post-Resurrection guidelines to how men and women should conduct themselves in marriage, but it relates directly to following the model of Christ. To the wives he wrote, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands” (Ephesians 5:22-24).
Wives should submit to their husbands out of respect, not just as the church submitted to Christ, but as Christ submitted to the will of the Father when He went to the cross. However, Christ did not submit to sin or anything inappropriate, since God would not have asked Jesus to do anything wrong, and Christ loves the church and would not hurt the church. Husbands are called to love their wives as much as Christ loves the church, “…and gave himself up for her…In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies” (Ephesians 5:5b, 28a). Husbands should treat their wives like God treats His people, with love and compassion.
What Are Signs a Marriage Might Be in Trouble?
Despite being redeemed by the love of Christ, when Christians get married, they are still living in the flesh, and are prone to sin. People hurt each other, and often they hurt the people closest to them. Sometimes the devil tries to harm a marriage, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
Weakening two people by creating problems in their marriage can do damage to their testimony, their joy, and their relationship with God, as well as others in their sphere. Sometimes marriages collapsed spectacularly, with one giant explosion. More often, it is subtle, and erodes over time.
Signs that a Christian marriage may be in trouble:
– The couple is no longer pursuing God together, which includes not going to church, not praying together, not serving together, or only one is pursuing the Lord while the other is not. This is only in cases where both people entered the marriage as Christians, rather than one being saved upon the marriage, or one getting saved during the marriage. That relationship dynamic will be different.
– The couple is fighting all the time about big and small problems.
– The couple is no longer speaking with one another about anything other than family business.
– One or both spouses are starting to notice and take interest in someone romantically or sexually.
– One or both partners are losing interest in doing things for their spouse.
– Rather than leaning on one another during a trial, one or both spouses begin looking to others for support.
– One or both partners is not interested in supporting the other in their careers, hobbies, family pursuits, etc.
– One or both partners have difficulty apologizing and forgiving.
– A level of unhealthy codependency has emerged.
None of these signs means that a marriage is destined for failure, but that the couple needs to re-evaluate where they are at, and begin pursuing God and a healthy relationship with more intentionality.
Note: none of these are meant to diagnose an abusive marriage. In the case of physical, emotional, or mental abuse, it is best to first remove oneself from the situation, and then pursue next steps in prayer and with a strong support network.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/fizkes
What Are Signs a Marriage Is Built on the Rock?
It is always important, even if things seem to be going well, to touch base as a couple and make sure things are going well. Some signs that a marriage is healthy can include, but are not limited to:
– Both spouses put Christ first as individuals.
– They pursue Christ together.
– They create time to spend with each other to continue getting to know one another.
– They are both happy with their sex life.
– They find joy spending time together, and serving God together.
– They have trust.
– They apologize to one another, and forgive one another, when they inevitably sin.
– They know they can rely on one another during a trial or crisis.
Bible Verses to Pursue a Marriage Built on Jesus
God cares deeply about His children having healthy marriages, so He filled His Word with wisdom for husbands and wives to pursue healthy relationships.
Psalm 127:1 – “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.”
Ecclesiastes 9:9a – “Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun.”
Song of Solomon 2:16a – “My beloved is mine, and I am his.”
Mark 10:6-9 – “But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
1 Corinthians 13:4-8a – “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
Ephesians 4:2-3 – “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
1 Peter 4:8 – “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins”
A Prayer for My Marriage
Thank you for the special relationship forged between me and my spouse. Thank you for bringing us together to serve you and build a life and a family. Thank you for the institution of marriage itself! Lord, I lift up my spouse to You, and ask that You will bless them with Your Spirit’s guidance, strength, and a growing relationship with You. I pray that You do the same for me. Help us to hear one another, and to submit to Your authority in our marriage, rather than our own wisdom. Help us to forgive one another when we hurt one another. Be working in us, and through us. Lord, I lift up my marriage to You and ask that it be used for Your Kingdom and Your glory. Take control of the direction of our lives, and use us. Keep our marriage healthy, grow us closer together, and use us, o Lord.
In Jesus’ name I pray,
Every person is unique, and every marriage is unique. Couples who strive to build their life on the Rock will be better set to weather the storms of life. There is no perfect prescription for a perfect marriage, because this is a fallen world and things will happen. Strive to be the best husband or wife, rely on God, and He will direct Your path.
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock” (Matthew 7:24-25).
Chapman, Gary. Toward a Growing Marriage Building the Love Relationship of Your Dreams. Chicago: Moody Press, 1995.
Evans, Tony. Marriage Matters. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2013.
Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. New York: Harper Collins, 1980.
Bethany Verrett is a freelance writer and editor. She maintains a faith and lifestyle blog graceandgrowing.com, where she muses about the Lord, life, culture, and ministry.