Sue had just gotten back from her honeymoon, yet here she was, pouring out her tragic tale. Marriage just wasn’t what she had expected. The glow of those courtship days was already waning. Bob’s attentive devotion was turning to unreasonable demands and caustic criticism, and she could feel the bitterness rising inside her. I wasn’t surprised to hear that another marriage was in trouble, but … so soon?
While the timing of Bob and Sue’s problem may have been exceptional, the reality of it is all too typical. Let’s face it—the institution of marriage has come upon hard times. Psychiatrists, psychologists, and sociologists are telling us that the foundations for stable homes have already been eroded, and that the whole institution is in danger of collapse. Statistics seem to support their claim. In 1900 about one in twelve marriages ended in divorce. By 1922 the number had risen to one in eight. Right now about one in three marriages ends in divorce! Since most divorces produce emotional scars that adversely affect the marriages of the following generations, the prospect is even more bleak for the future.
There’s more. Census reports indicate that a frightening number of husbands and wives live separated from each other. Add to this the millions of couples who live under the same roof but are separated in spirit, and the outlook is even dimmer. Sometimes these homes are openly acknowledged battlegrounds, and sometimes there is a mutually tolerated truce—he goes his way and she goes hers, and never the twain shall meet! They may remain married for the sake of the children or for their reputations, but instead of enjoying heavenly bliss they endure a virtual hell on earth.
After interviewing two thousand married couples, one prominent marriage counselor reported that 70 percent of the women and 60 percent of the men would not marry the same partner if they had it to do over! Many reported that they wouldn’t marry at all! As a pastor in whom people confide, I can attest that Christian homes are not exempt from this kind of marital unhappiness. We hear of marital unfaithfulness among Christians, of resentment and bitterness between Christian marriage partners, of loud outbursts of temper, of long periods of silence, of cutting criticism and declining affection. All of these are symptoms of sick and unhappy homes. Such people are a poor advertisement of the peace, purpose, and power which Jesus Christ offers. For Christ’s sake, as well as for our own well-being, we need to give serious attention to making our marriages work.
What is causing the breakdown of our homes? Sociologists have suggested several reasons for it:
(1) Mobility. One out of three families in which the husband is under thirty-five moves each year. This tends to breed insecurity and instability.
(2) The depersonalization of human beings in our computerized society. The resultant loneliness, aimlessness, frustration, despair, and self-pity are certainly not conducive to successful marriages.
(3) The sexual revolution. Premarital and extramarital affairs are among the most deadly and destructive forces attacking marriage today.
(4) Affluence. Our materialistic culture practically eliminates the meaningful interpersonal relationships necessary for a happy home.
(5) Growing permissiveness in training children. We are producing an undisciplined generation of young people who are poorly equipped to establish successful homes.
(6) Radio and TV. Their shallow portrayals of love and their addictive tyranny of time make an effective home life most difficult.
This multi-faceted assault on the home is really not surprising. The Bible teaches that marriage and the family are divine institutions. In fact, they were the first institutions established by God. He views them as essential elements in accomplishing His purposes for the human race. For this reason we can expect Satan to attack them. However, his attacks need not be successful. The God who ordained marriage in the first place can certainly make it work today!
Yours can be a happy Christian home if you will learn and practice the basic biblical principles of marriage. I believe that any normally intelligent husband and wife can enjoy a happy marriage and a successful home life if they learn what the Bible teaches and obey it. Everything necessary to establish such a relationship is found in the Scriptures. These biblical principles will be of greatest value only if both husband and wife study them and claim God’s power to obey them. Even if only one partner obeys, however, there will still be a tremendous improvement in the marriage, and the obedience will have been well worth the effort! If both partners respond, their home can become a little taste of heaven.
On Christmas day, six months before I married, my fiance gave me a new Bible in which she inscribed a little note and an obscure reference from the Old Testament: “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?”1 This was originally spoken by God to the nation Israel, but it also contains a practical message for every couple who would like to enjoy a successful marriage today. Each must agree to do his or her part before the Lord. You might be walking together a long time before the return of Jesus Christ! Join hands with your partner and say, “With Christ’s help I want to make this marriage and this home the kind that will bring glory to God.”
My heart goes out to Christians married to unbelievers. They can never be fully agreed, since one partner has Christ living within and the other does not. Sometimes Christians arrive at this mixed situation because they trusted Christ after they married. If they will faithfully obey God’s marriage instructions, they may well be able to lead their mates to the Savior.
But a word of warning is in order for Christians contemplating marriage. It is utterly foolish for a believer to knowingly and willfully marry an unbeliever. The Word of God clearly forbids it, and the disobedient Christian cannot expect God’s blessing on his or her marriage. The Apostle Paul assures widows that they may remarry, but “only in the Lord.”2 Paul also gives this specific command, which certainly includes the marriage relationship: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?”3 Paul is drawing upon the Old Testament law which prohibited Jews from yoking together two different kinds of animals such as an ox and a donkey.4 Because the animals were incompatible, the mixed yoke was unfair to both of them. For this same reason we are to avoid intimate unions with unbelievers.
Did you notice the words employed in this passage to describe the incompatibility of such a union?
(1) There can be no fellowship. Fellowship means sharing or participation. A forgiven person and an unforgiven person have little in common; they cannot share their lives in happy interrelationships.
(2) There can be no communion. This word refers to mutual association, close relationship, or intimate interaction. It is usually translated “fellowship,” like the first word, but it is more personal, involving the sharing of ourselves personally. What intimate association can light have with darkness? They cannot exist in the same place at the same time; they are incompatible. And so are a believer and an unbeliever, no matter what their feelings may have been before marriage! The believer is “full of light” while the unbeliever is “full of darkness.”5 They simply cannot harmonize!
(3) There can be no concord. From this word, meaning literally, “to blend voices together,” we get our English word “symphony.” A partner who belongs to Christ and one who does not cannot make sweet music together. They may think they will be able to, but God says they will produce dissonance and discord!
(4) There can be no part. This refers to a share or portion which contracting parties hold in agreement. The potential for full agreement and complete harmony simply does not exist between believers and unbelievers, and it is therefore unfair to each party to yoke them together.
If you are contemplating marriage to an unbeliever, pause and think with me. You are really being unfair to the person you intend to marry. Your intended partner thinks your heart belongs exclusively to him (or her), but it does not. You share your love with Christ! In a Christian marriage, this sharing draws the husband and wife closer to each other, but not in a mixed marriage! Your love for Christ and your love for your unsaved mate will often conflict, resulting in turmoil and strife. You shouldn’t even consider subjecting the one you claim to love to that kind of unpleasantness. Marital adjustments are difficult enough without amplifying them by an obstacle of this magnitude.
Neither are you being fair to yourself. Mixed marriages are forbidden all the way through the Bible, in the Old Testament as well as in the New Testament.6 God says that the unbeliever may turn the believer’s heart away from the Lord. If that happens, God will have to bring you back to the happiness and satisfaction of fellowship with himself. You may undergo one trial after another until you yield yourself totally to the Lord and then your unsaved mate will probably be unhappy about it!
Finally, you are being unfair to God. He sent his Son to Calvary’s cross to die for your sins so that He could have you for Himself.7 To give yourself instead to someone who does not belong to Christ is not fair to the God who saved you. God established Christian marriage as a beautiful picture of the relationship that exists between Christ and His church. The better your marriage pictures that divine union, the better will be your Christian witness to a lost world. Since marriage with an unbeliever caricatures this divine picture, you will mar your testimony by entering this kind of mixed relationship. This is grossly unfair to God.
Maybe you’re saying, “But I’ll win my mate to Christ after the wedding.” God never intended marriage to be a mission field! Occasionally an unsaved partner is won to Christ, but the overwhelming odds are against you. The tension produced by your willful disobedience to God’s command will not be conducive to effective evangelism. Why not do it God’s way? Ask Him to lead you to the life partner of His choice. You’ll never be sorry!
If these words of advice are too late, and you have already made the mistake of marrying an unbeliever, do not despair. God is a forgiving Father. Acknowledge your disobedience to him, then read on. He will show you how you can improve your marital relationship, and you may even become one of that small number who have led their spouses to the Savior.
One thing should have become abundantly clear as you read through this chapter. The Lord Jesus Christ is the key to a successful marriage. The chances of making your marriage work apart from him are nil. If you are not certain about your spiritual condition, you may be the partner who is responsible for the tension and turmoil of an unequal alliance. Now is the time to remedy that situation.
At issue is more than simply an intellectual knowledge of Christianity. At issue is a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Here is how we enter that relationship. We first acknowledge our sinfulness and our total inability to earn the favor of an infinitely holy God.8 We acknowledge that Christ died in our place, thereby paying the penalty for our sins.9 We place our total personal trust in Christ as our sacrifice for sin, thereby receiving Him as our Savior. He thereupon bestows on us His gracious gift of eternal salvation.10 If you have never made this decision, why not do it now? Give your marriage a chance to succeed! Receive Christ as your personal Savior from sin!
1 Amos 3:3, King James Version.
5 Ephesians 5:8, The Living Bible. All quotations from TLB are by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.
6 E.g. Deuteronomy 7:3, 4.
7 Titus 2:14.