Sanctity of Human Marriage…

Yesterday, we recognized Sanctity of Human Life Sunday.  Today is my shot at Sanctity of Human Marriage day.  I say “human” because I’m not sure some of the people that write, talk, and act about marriage are all that “human” in their approach.  You have your academics, prognosticators, and this near animal-rights-type of approach to the institution of marriage.

Albert Mohler has posted an article today on Elizabeth Gilbert’s work (popular writer…Oprah book club kind of stuff).

The article got me thinking about something.  Now, I’ve not read anything Gilbert’s written, but one of Mohler’s quotes of Gilbert seems pretty telling to me.  In dealing with her own divorce she states, “”my efforts to make peace with the complicated institution of marriage,” (from Committed).  I know it’s a simple line, but it brings up a perspective I have from my own viewpoint of truth and how we deal with it.

The institution of marriage is not complicated.  It’s really, really hard work designed to image the relationship of Christ with His people.  From a common grace standpoint, it’s the bedrock of society for order and safety, particularly for children.  What’s complicated about marriage is our explanations and reasons on why it doesn’t work in defense of ourselves.  See, we are self-righteous to no end.  Jeremiah says the heart is utterly deceptive.  Simple truths become complicated because we must find a way to explain our failures without taking personal responsibility.  If we can sound academic enough, “honest” enough, then the world will give us a pass.  Put us on Oprah and we will have audiences of middle-aged women applauding our efforts to make ourselves happy because, somehow, we have become victim to this complicated institution.

Sanctity means “the state or quality of being holy, sacred, or saintly,” (New Oxford Dictionary).  If we are to view marriage this way, then we are going to have to approach it with the understanding that (while imperfect) marriage is to be holy.  Being holy means more about being blameless (staying ‘fessed up) and set apart for a particular purpose.  These purposes are God’s purposes.  Marriage is a pretty terrible place to try and make yourself happy unless God is the supreme object of your happiness.  It is in the simple selflessness of marriage that we derive the greatest joy because we know that according to Eph.5:22-33 redemption is put on display, and this pleases God.

So, practically speaking, OWN UP!  If your marriage stinks, take responsibility first for your sin and the the sin in your household (particularly to the men here).  If you feel like you just don’t feel like your needs are getting met, check your walk with Christ.  Have your replaced Christ with your husband?  Not a good idea.  While wives are to submit “as unto the Lord” it’s not “as if he IS the Lord!”  Even if you have a great husband, he is a cheap substitute for Christ Himself.  Ideally, go hard after God TOGETHER!

Look, I know this is all overly-simplistic, but that’s my point.  It feels complicated because we don’t want to face basic truths, take responsibility and then move forward.  It’s in the moving forward, for me, that’s key.  I think I see the simplicity of my marriage with Jan pretty clearly, but I often allow my flesh / Satan to so steal my joy (while feeling like dirt in my simplistic view) that I almost feel like I can’t move forward.

Here is what I know.  Marriage is like my walk with Christ because it is like my walk with Christ (not a typo — that’s what Eph.5:22-33 says).  So, I must have a view of marriage that says I’m going after God (with Jan), not just trying to hang on until He returns.  Just “hanging on” or “enduring” a hardship is one thing, but to translate that to marriage (and your walk with God) is awful.  This is the kind of thinking that leads to 25 year marriages ending in divorce once all the kids are gone (in our case, it would be at least 35 years;-).  God has designed the marriage to grow and bear fruit.  I believe this would apply if you’re the only Christian in the marriage — the fruit bore is your own as you live honorably with an unbeliever.

So, shore up your marriage by clearing out the overly complicated, garbage kind of thinking portrayed in books like Gilbert’s (apparently, again I’ve not read it) and is so consistent with our own fleshly, self-righteous way of thinking.  Be simple.  Take responsibility for your actions and attitudes.  Confess your sin(s) to God and one another.  Forgive one another as commanded by God.  Pursue Him together (where this is possible).  I encourage you to read through Colossians 3.  This is the core chapter for those I counsel in marriage / pre-marriage and there’s good reason for that… I find myself throughout that chapter.

NOTE:  I must make clear that I don’t write this as someone who has a “successful” marriage.  We argue at times, and I have to help Jan understand how often I’m right (laugh track starts here)!  However, one thing that I do have in my marriage with Jan is something of a simplicity.  We both realize we are sinners who regularly try to defend our own rights.  When we seek to make things right we try hard to start with ourselves.  That doesn’t mean we are the “poster couple” for a sweet, happy marriage.  It does mean, however, that it’s not complicated.  Our biggest battle is probably going hard after God together.  We do family devotion more than we have in the past, but there’s still a super-passion for Christ that we strive for that will overwhelm earthly pursuits, responsibilities, and joys.  Doing this TOGETHER is a great joy, and all-too-often elusive.

6 thoughts on “Sanctity of Human Marriage…

  1. I also read Mohler’s commentary of Committed. Mohler makes some points, but leaves one big hairy question in the balance. Many churches will happily tolerate married couples who have a poor commitment to their marriage, but many churches are less likely to tolerate co-habitating unmarried couples who are very committed to their relationship…often pointing to 1 Cor 5:11-13 regarding these couples. Even fewer churches will tolerate gay and lesbian couples who are committed on the same basis.

    So is the whole thing about “sexual morality” about genuine commitment or is it about meeting the minimal legal paperwork to be “married”? If it’s just about commitment, then co-habitating unmarried couples should be just as welcome as those who have met the paperwork requirement of marriage. On the other hand, if it’s about just getting “married” then even Albert Mohler should be thankful Elizabeth Gilbert has met those requirements and seems happy in her relationship.

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    • I appreciate you commenting. However, the burden of proof is on your point much more than Mohler’s. There is no doubt that commitment is an issue in Christian marriages. However, commitment is completely absent in those unmarried couples living in sexual relationship with one another. Without a covenant before God and His people, the union of individuals can only appear to be commitment, veiled by happiness. Certainly it’s a fallen world we live and marry in. However, if the standards of biblical marriage are compromised for the sake of individual happiness, then the church has forfeited perhaps the strongest (definitely oldest) image of Christ’s relationship with His people (Eph.5:22-33). You seem to be responding to this more from a felt position of reason than one of biblical veracity and proof. Scripture is clear that marriage is between a man and a woman. That God’s ideal is sexual purity both before (abstinence) and after (purity in thought and deed) marriage. Many of us have failed at one or the other. The joy of committed marriage is that it can display the remedy for such failure: In that while we were still sinners, Christ died for the ungodly / unrighteous (Rom.5:8). Christ made His people His very own even while they were running after other lovers, but that does not mean He ransomed us to free us to continue that pursuit! No. Marriage is a commitment that does not rise or fall on an individuals’ happiness. Rather it will rise when the husband and wife (together and separately) find their greatest happiness in magnifying God in their home.

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  2. It’s not clear to me what I’m supposed to “prove” here. I’m asking a food-for-thought question about what most churches will actually tolerate among it’s couples.

    Would you tolerate a married couple with a poor commitment in their relationship?

    Would you tolerate an unmarried co-habitating couple with a good commitment in their relationship?

    From your answer, you consider the circumstances of the 2nd question to be an impossibility. I disagree, but at least others know where you stand and can make their own decisions. Thanks for the clarification.

    -Scott

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    • Sorry. My point was to say that the burden of proof of what commitment is lies more outside of marriage than within marriage. Meaning, commitment (by any definition) would be inclusive in a covenantal relationship, with marriage is, where co-habitating is something else altogether. To try and elevate co-habiting (whether or not that includes pre-marital sex) to a level of near equality with a struggling marriage is dangerous and, in my view, only leads to more unbiblical thinking. No one again is saying that marriage by itself, with no real practice of commitment, is magically okay. But our culture (and some church cultures) do not seem as interested in aiding the commitment of traditional marriage, instead culture seems bent on redefining marriage by mixing it with “commitment” language that is outside the confines of biblical standards.

      Would I “tolerate” a married couple with a poor commitment in their relationship? Depends on what you mean by “tolerate.” I don’t divorce my wife of 16 years or leave the pastorate because I struggle in my marriage at times. I fight through it and treasure Christ more, leading to loving my bride better.

      Would I tolerate an unmarried co-habitating couple with a “good commitment”? If “tolerate” means can they come to church and hear preaching and be loved on, yes. If you mean endorse their choices and allow their membership to remain in good standing, no. Marriage is the image of the gospel (Eph.5, Col.3), not “commitment.” Marriage is the image used throughout the Scriptures. Even “bad commitment” marriages like Hosea and Gomer’s image the gospel through redemptive acts. Co-habitating proves nothing and shows nothing. I respect your disagreement, but must as well challenge you to support your disagreement biblically.

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  3. If you would allow a co-habitating couple to attend your church then you might be the one with a ‘scriptural’ problem. The traditional understanding of 1 Cor 5:11-13 indicates that co-habitation must not be tolerated. ‘Fornicators’ are not to be eaten with, they are wicked people to be expelled from the church.

    Perhaps you believe as others, that pre-marital sexual intercourse falls under adultery or chambering (Rom 13:13) instead of fornication. Some dismiss 1 Cor 5:11-13 as a cultural thing about ceremonial cleanliness at early church dinners. In my experience many Pastors and Ministry Leaders “blow-off” 1 Cor 5:11-13 because they are scared of a lawsuit. I don’t know or presume to know what you believe about that. I bring it up because I’ve noticed most conservative Christians, including Albert Mohler have their share of double-talk about that issue.

    I’m not saying you’re like that, I’ve just noticed many others are. In any case I’m glad to read your further clarification and that you would welcome a co-habitating couple to your church regardless of 1 Cor 5:11-13.

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    • Well, the context for 1 Corinthians 5 has to do with one in their midst, as in their fellowship. This is not a casual attender with no involvement. The church, in fact, was boasting in their having such tolerance, and Paul called that sinful on their part. I would stand by what I said earlier. If a member of our fellowship was living in such an arrangement (of adultery and / or fornicating lifestyle), it was known, they were approached and unrepentant, then with biblical order of Matt.18 and 1 Cor. 5 they would be removed from fellowship so that they would, by God’s grace, realize that a lack of repentance for sin is a sign that one is (possibly) unsaved. The purpose of such discipline is not punishment, but hopeful restoration to the Lord and the fellowship of the saints. I have been part of this type of discipline, and while incredibly painful, it helps the body understand better the seriousness of sin and God’s grace through Jesus Christ.

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