Lust and Christian Marriage
You have heard that it was said, "Do not commit adultery." But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. Matthew 5:27-30

The positive side of the Lord Jesus Christ's second great example of Christian conduct in the Sermon on the Mount is marriage — Christian marriage — and the perversion that is opposed to it is lust. Jesus said, "You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:27-28). According to Jesus, lust is the equivalent of murder. And the standard for His followers is to be, quite simply, chastity before marriage and fidelity afterwards. In this Jesus reinforces the whole of the biblical teaching.

A Playboy World

It is evident, of course, that this standard is opposed to the widely accepted standards of our day. For never in the history of the western world since the death of Greek and Roman paganism has fidelity in marriage been so threatened either from within or without, or an unbridled indulgence of free sexual passions been so encouraged or so praised. In the first place, it is threatened by the mass media which use the lure of sex to push materialism and to glamorize the pursuit of mere pleasure. And this is acute simply because the media have a scope and immediacy in this age that they have possessed in no other.

'Television fills our living rooms with sex-filled advertisements for toothpaste ("gives your mouth sex appeal"), shaving cream ("Take it off; take it all off"), and detergent ("the stripper"). And the newspapers not only carry reports of sexual crimes that would have been omitted years ago, but also sell movies through advertisements that are both more explicit and more perverted than television. One writer has noted correctly, "Sex, as anyone who sits through an evening of television or thumbs through a magazine knows, is the cornerstone of mass persuasion and the symbol par excellence of the life of leisure and consumption." 1

Unfortunately, this sex is generally not sex as God intended it within the bounds of marriage. The Christian ethic of faithful and monogamous marriage is also threatened in our day, perhaps even more seriously than by the mass media, by a new hedonism symbolized by the so-called playboy philosophy. Hedonism is the philosophy that makes pleasure the chief goal in life. And it is as evident in the pursuit of the second home, the third car, and the right and proper friends, as it is in adultery and premarital sex experimentation. In fact, in the playboy philosophy the two go hand in hand. And thus, the pages of the magazine seem to imply that choosing the right wine or the right stereo is almost as important as finding the kind of playmate, the kind of girl whom comedian Mort Sahl identified as folding in two places and wearing a staple in her navel.

If sex itself were the cause of the problem, then Hugh Hefner's multi-million dollar empire could be assessed as a prime factor in the moral decline of our time and judged accordingly. As it is, the playboy world has merely capitalized on a pleasure first philosophy rampant in our time and has contributed greatly to a weakening of the status of married love and the marriage relationship.

The third major source of the present day threat to marriage and the accompanying Christian moral virtues is the so-called "New Morality," popularized by such well-known churchmen as Bishop Robinson of England, Joseph Fletcher, Harvey Cox, James Pike, and others. This approach to morality is based for the most part on two fundamental convictions: first, that the proper action in any given set of circumstances is determined by the situation itself and not by any predetermined norm of ethics (even biblical), and second, that the only absolute demand in the Christian scheme of things is love. Anything is right that does not hurt the other person. And whether it hurts him, or her, or not is a conclusion to be reached in the context of the situation. Hence, it is not necessarily wrong to commit adultery, according to these spokesmen, as long as the person committing it has the best interests of all of the involved parties at heart. It is the same with stealing, lying, lawlessness, dishonesty, and other things formerly thought to be vices.

One thing must be said for the New Morality: it is opposed to legalism, and this is biblical. One whole book of the Bible is written to combat legalism, the book of Galatians. But this does not mean, for the sake of that reason alone, that the new morality is right. The Christian is called to freedom by Christ, but it is a freedom to follow Christ. We are to be like Him as Christians. And it is He who taught, not only that adultery is wrong, but even that the impure thoughts that precede it are wrong. In the same way we are called to love. But the love to which we are called is Christ's love, a love linked to knowledge, discipline, discernment, and discrimination.

There are several reasons why the new morality is inadequate even apart from Christ's teachings. For one thing, it is impossible to define a situation, limited as we are by time and partial knowledge. A couple in the back seat of a car may decide that intercourse outside of marriage will not hurt them and that no one else need know. But they cannot be sure that it will not hurt them. And they cannot foresee the consequences. Many such persons are thereafter haunted by guilt, and thousands of children are without families today simply because some couple could not foresee the total situation as they gave vent to their feelings, even with the purest of motives. Moreover, the new morality presupposes an ability to make a proper decision that sinful men simply do not have. Who is to determine whether adultery or sex before marriage can be beneficial to the parties concerned? Or free of consequences? Certainly not the couple! They are the last ones capable of making the decision. And, of course, the full truth is that no one is capable of such decisions, for the heart of man is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it?

In spite of these criticisms, however, the new morality contributes to the ethical climate of our day and to a far larger degree reflects it. And the cry, "If it feels good, do it" has almost become the watchword of our age. Is this standard right? Is it time for such "freedom"? As Christians, we must say no. But at the same time we must acknowledge honestly, as C. S. Lewis has said, that the Christian standard "is so difficult and so contrary to our instincts" that obviously something is wrong both with us personally and with our society. In other words, we must acknowledge that we are all sinners, even after conversion, and we are not automatically free from, victorious over, or even innocent of, the world's perversion of sex because of it. 1

Is There a Cure?

What are we to do in this situation? We cannot escape. That is monasticism, and it is unbiblical. We cannot retreat into celibacy, for God created sex and gave marriage. And we certainly cannot give vent to promiscuity or even genteel experimentation. The only answer is that we must fight a debased and perverted morality with a pure one. And we must live and teach what Christ taught as the true way to happiness.

I believe this must start with a clear recognition that the sexual instinct as we see it and know it, has gone wrong. Notice, I did not say that sex or the sex instinct is wrong. Christianity is almost the only great world religion that approves of the body and has thoroughly glorified sex in marriage. I only said that the sexual instinct as we see it and know it, has gone wrong.

For one thing, the appetite for sex, stimulated by our culture, is enormously out of proportion to its function. C. S. Lewis, who makes this point far better than anyone else I know, says wisely,

The biological purpose of sex is children, just as the biological purpose of eating is to repair the body. Now if we eat whenever we feel inclined and just as much as we want, it is quite true that most of us will eat too much, but not terrifically too much. One man may eat enough for two, but he does not eat enough for ten. The appetite goes a little beyond its biological purpose, but not enormously. But if a healthy young man indulged his sexual appetite whenever he felt inclined, and if each act produced a baby, then in ten years he might easily populate a small village. This appetite is in ludicrous and preposterous excess of function.

Or take it another way. You can get a large audience together for a strip-tease act — that is, to watch a girl undress on the stage. Now suppose you came to a country where you fill a theatre by simply bringing a covered plate on to the stage and slowly lifting the cover so as to let everyone see, just before the lights went out, that it contained a mutton chop or a bit of bacon, would you not think that in that country something had gone wrong with the appetite for food?

And would not anyone who had grown up in a different world think there was something equally queer about the state of the sex instinct among us? 2

The most popular argument against this view today seems to be in the admission that sex is a mess, but that it has become so only because it has been hushed up. The answer is that today it is not hushed up. In fact, it has not been hushed up since earlier on in the last century. And still it is terrible. And it is getting worse. We have more divorce today, more perversions of sex, more illegitimacy (two to four times as much as in 1940, in spite of the pill), and more down-right misery in marriage and outside of it than ever before. And people are flocking to the marriage counselors and ministers for help to unscramble the ruin they have made of their lives. Actually, as Lewis says, it is probably the other way around. The human race probably hushed up sex originally because it had become such a mess. And if things get bad enough in our day it may well happen again as the present playboy age gives way to a new Victorianism. No, there is a perversion of the sex instinct. And we who are God's children should know it and resist it.

He Who Runs Away

The second thing we must recognize is that in this world, if we are to live as God's children, there are times when we shall simply have to run away from the temptation. I do not believe that this is the whole answer, as you will see in a minute, for the answer to any evil is never entirely a negation but always a more powerful good. And yet it is a partial answer and, at times, the only one. Did you know that this was Paul's advice to his converts? It was. For he wrote to the Corinthians that they were to "flee fornication" (1 Corinthians 6:18). And to Timothy, a young preacher, he wrote, "Flee also youthful lusts, but follow righteousness, faith, love, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart" (2 Timothy 2:22). In other words, Joseph, who fled from Potiphar's wife, and not David, who invited Bathsheba over to the palace, is to be imitated.

A moment's reflection will show why in some instances this must be so. In most of the temptations of this life, although they may well be severe, the Christian has an ally in reason. He may be tempted to cheat on his income tax. But if he is, his reason will tell him that the computers today are very thorough and that the gain (if there is one) is entirely out of proportion to the loss of money, time, and reputation if he should be caught. And so reason unites with his knowledge of the good and the internal witness of the Holy Spirit to save him. It is the same in many other temptations. In love it is not. It is entirely different with love or with the sexual instinct. There is something here that operates apart from reason or even against it. For it will make lovers of a Montague and a Capulet, or of a Duke or Duchess of Windsor. What couple ever sat alone in an apartment reasoning out the relative advantages and disadvantages of premarital sex and then either had sexual intercourse on that basis or on that basis avoided it?

It does not work that way. Consequently, if you are in this situation (or if you find yourself in this situation), you must start running like Joseph. Get out of the apartment, if you are there. Start the ignition, if you are sitting in a car by the roadside. Go to a movie. Visit your friends. Even go to see your pastor. But whatever you do, get moving. For neither you nor anybody else is one hundred percent able at all times to avoid these sexual temptations.

Christian Marriage

In the final analysis, however, even running away is not the solution. For although it will help for the moment, it will not permanently. It is only negative. And for this temptation, only a more powerful and more vigorous philosophy will defeat it.

Is there such a philosophy? Certainly there is — only we should say "theology" for it is tied up, as it must be, with the nature and the purposes of God. It is not sex alone, although sex is part of it. It is not abstinence, and it is not indulgence. It is marriage. Christian marriage. Marriage on the highest possible plane. Marriage as God intended marriage to be. Marriage as an illustration of the union of the Christian with Christ. Oh, I know that much of what passes for Christian marriage is not Christian. And I know that even Christian marriages are often joyless, drab affairs. But this is defeat. It is failure. And the proper antidote is not hedonism or negation, but rather a high and ennobling grasp of what marriage should be and can be, when a man and a woman are united by God and enjoy the privileges of sex within that relationship.

We are going to be looking more deeply at marriage on the pages ahead. But before we go on it is necessary to say one thing to each of two different classes of people. The first class comprises those who are not married, and there are always many of them. Sometimes when one speaks about marriage, those who are not married get the feeling that they are incomplete if they remain single. But this is not true. As we shall see, the sexual relationship is only a part of being married. And the fullness of sex involves being male and female on a much broader scale, much of which is natural and possible even apart from a sexual relationship. What is more, even as wonderful as it can be, marriage is still only an earthly picture of the greater relationship of Jesus Christ to the Church. And there is always the possibility of wholeness and fulfillment of the whole personality with Him. We all need to remember that.

The second word is to those who are going to be saying as we go on talking about marriage, "Yes, that is all right. That is what marriage should be. And one should remain pure before marriage and faithful afterwards. But I have not done that, and it is too late for me now." The answer to this type of person is, "No, it is not too late." The glory of the way in which God deals with sinful men and women, as we all are, is that God is able to pick us up where we are and as we are and set us in His way which is always a way of blessing. God can do that with you no matter how far you've fallen. I would far rather counsel a man or a woman who has become mixed up in a sinful sexual relationship, any day, than attempt to counsel a hypocrite, a gossip, or a person who is overly proud. For it is much easier to help one who has yielded to the sins of the flesh than one who has indulged in the sins of the spirit.

All that is true, and yet the best way is to avoid the sins entirely as God gives us grace. And He will, if we will yield to Him and allow Him to bless us in our sexual relationships.

Christian Marriage

You have heard that it was said, "Do not commit adultery." But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell Matthew 5:27-30

A firm grasp of what marriage should and can be under God is the only reliable antidote to the pleasure-seeking hedonistic philosophy of our age. This truth is most important. And for that reason we need to develop it further. What is it that makes a marriage Christian? What does it involve? What are God's purposes in marriage? These questions may be correctly answered only by saying that God is the author of marriage and that He established it as the most important illustration in all of life of how God joins true believers to the Lord Jesus Christ in faith and how He does so forever.

A Divine Institution

The basis of everything that is to be said about Christian marriage lies in the fact that God has established marriage and that it is therefore a divine institution. I suppose that I perform between half a dozen and a dozen weddings each year; and at each of them I begin by calling attention to the truth that God has instituted marriage, for this truth comes first in the marriage service. The groom and the best man and I come out, the bride and her bridesmaids advance down the aisle, and when the wedding march stops and the people are seated, I begin. I say, "Dearly beloved, we are assembled here in the presence of God to join this man and this woman in holy marriage; which is instituted by God, regulated by His commandments, blessed by our Lord Jesus Christ, and to be held in honor among all men. Let us therefore reverently remember that God has established and sanctified marriage for the welfare and happiness of mankind." In the prayer that follows I give thanks to God for the estate of marriage and ask His blessing on the ensuing service.

"God has established marriage." That is the point. And it follows from this that marriage must be governed and directed by His rules, especially if it is to result in the happiness and joy that all men acknowledge should belong to it. Who is it that originally made the race male and female? The answer is: God (Genesis 1:27). Who is it that commanded, "Be fruitful and multiply" (Genesis 1:28)? God. Who is it who said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a helper fit for him" (Genesis 2:18)? God. It was God who brought the first bride to the first husband and thus established the first human family (Genesis 2:22). God's Word declares, "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). And in the New Testament Jesus Himself reinforced the teaching that marriage is a divine institution (Matthew 19:4-9). It is for this reason that the Church speaks of "holy matrimony." For while we do not believe, as some do, that marriage is a sacrament of the Church, we do believe that God has established it, that His laws should regulate it, and that it is far from being a merely civil or social arrangement.

A very practical consequence follows upon this. For if it is true that God has established the state of marriage, then we must never make fun of it or of anything connected with the marriage relationship. Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse used to say. "Bite your tongue before you will ever say, 'Well, I want you to meet the old ball and chain' or 'Here's the jailer.' " Dr. Walter D. Maier, who produced the most valuable book on marriage that I have ever read, has written,

To speak disdainfully of married life, to invoke upon it sophisticated sarcasm, is to exalt the puny errors of pigmy minds over the eternal truth of heaven — to blaspheme God 3

Both of them are right. Consequently, neither you nor I should ever joke about our marriages or the marriage relationship.

Body, Soul, and Spirit

Moreover, the fact that God has established marriage means that you and I are to get our ideas about it, not from the books we may read or from the movies, but from God Himself and from the Bible. I suppose that over the years I have read perhaps ten to twenty books about marriage and sexual problems, and the general impression I have had from the non-Christian books (and sometimes the Christian ones) is that marriage is primarily a matter of sexual compatibility and adjustment. This is part of the truth, of course. But at best it is one-sided, and by itself it is only slightly less misleading than the marriages in movies, where marriage is either a farce or else the institutionalization of romantic love. Neither of these is right. And what the Bible teaches about marriage is quite different.

For instance, as far back as the early pages of Genesis we read that a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and "they shall be one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). What does this mean? Well, we must not make the mistake of thinking that this refers only to a sexual union, for the Bible uses the word flesh in a far broader sense than the meanings we give to it. The word means the person as a whole. Thus, the union in a certain sense makes one person of those who were two persons before. C. S. Lewis has argued that marriage results in something a bit like a two-part mechanism — like a lock and key or a violin and its bow. I would much rather call it a single organism in which the relationship of a wife to a husband or husband to wife is like that of the hand to the head of a person, or the heart to the mind.

Another way of saying the same thing is to point out that man is a trinity as God is a trinity. Man has a body, soul, and spirit. And the union of one man with one woman in marriage must be a union on each of those three levels if marriage is to be what God intended it to be, and the union is to be lasting.

It must be a union of body with body, first of all, which is to say there must be a valid sexual relationship. This is important. For this reason all of the branches of the Christian Church have acknowledged that a marriage has not actually taken place until the sexual union is consummated. If it does not take place or cannot take place, then the marriage can be annulled as invalid. I always tell couples that this is a vital aspect of the marriage relationship. According to the Bible, neither the man nor the woman is to defraud the other of the sexual experience. And the quickest way for the marriage to end up in trouble is for the wife to have headaches every night and go to sleep early to avoid the sex act or for the husband to lose interest in his wife romantically and to spend his nights elsewhere or with the boys. Sex must be a regular expression of the relationship.

On the other hand, if the relationship is based upon nothing but sex — in other words, if it is a marriage of body with body alone — not of soul with soul and spirit with spirit — then the marriage is weak and inadequate and it is headed for the divorce courts. And many are. When the glamour wears off, as it always does if there is nothing more to sustain it, the relationship is finished. And there is either total indifference, a divorce, or adultery. This is the result of a marriage that is based purely on physical attraction.

A better marriage than this is a marriage that is also a union of soul with soul, in addition to being a union of body with body. The word "soul" refers to the intellectual and emotional side of a person's nature, involving all of the characteristics that we associate with the functioning of the mind. Hence, a marriage that involves a union of souls is a marriage in which a couple shares an interest in the same things — the same books, the same shows, the same friends — and seeks to establish a meeting of the minds both intellectually and emotionally. Such marriages will always last longer.

I believe that at this point a special word must be said to Christians who are married. For whenever a minister speaks like this to Christians, many are already racing ahead of him to point three and are concluding that because their marriages are ones of spirit with spirit, therefore they do not need to worry very much about a union of their minds or souls. This is not right. Not only do we need to worry about it at times, we also need to work toward it. For an emotional and intellectual union does not in itself come naturally.

What does a girl have in her mind when she marries a young man? What is her vision of this new husband? Well, it has something to do with her father and whether she liked him or rebelled against him. It has a little bit of Cary Grant mixed up in it and perhaps a little of James Bond or Johnny Carson or her minister. And what is the vision of the husband? Keith Miller, who wrote the best-selling book The Taste of New Wine, said that his vision was probably a combination of St. Theresa, Elizabeth Taylor, and Betty Crocker. And, men, you know that we each put our own set of names into those categories.

Now what happens when a girl with a vision of Gary Grant and a man with vision of Elizabeth Taylor get married and begin to find out that the other person is not much like their vision? One of two things! Either they center their minds on the difference between the ideal and what they are increasingly finding the other person to be like, and they try, either openly or subversively to push the other spouse into that image. Or, by the grace of God, they increasingly come to accept the other person as he or she is, including his or her standards of how they themselves should be, and then under God seek to conform to the best and most uplifting of those standards.

It must be one or the other of those ways. Keith Miller has written, "The soul of a marriage can be a trusting place where two people can come together quietly from the struggles of the world and feel safe, accepted, and loved...or it can be a battle ground where two egos are locked in a lifelong struggle for supremacy, a battle which is for the most part invisible to the rest of the world" 4 If you and I are to have the former in our marriages, then we must work toward it. And we must do it by cultivating the interests and the aspirations of the other party.

A true marriage, then, must be a marriage of body with body and of soul with soul. But it must also be a marriage of spirit with spirit. And it is for this reason that the only marriages that can approximate the kind of marriage that God intended to exist in this world are Christian marriages. What does this mean — a marriage of spirit with spirit? Primarily it means that both the husband and the wife must be Christians, for the unsaved person possesses a spirit only in the sense that he supports a vacuum at the center of his life that can only be filled by God. He has a spirit, but the spirit has died — just as Adam's spirit died when he disobeyed God and ran from Him. The only persons who possess a live spirit are those who have been touched by the Holy Spirit and have entered into God's family by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Hence, only these can be married in the full sense of the word, which means body with body, soul with soul, and spirit with spirit.

If you are a Christian, you must marry another Christian or else you must not marry at all. If you do marry a non-Christian, then you are willfully choosing much unhappiness. For you will be unable to share that which is most real and most precious to you.

What will happen to you can be illustrated from the case of Solomon. Solomon had been the recipient of many blessings from God, first because of God's promises to his father David and then because of the fact that Solomon had himself determined to walk in the Lord's way. However, after the temple was finished and Solomon was at ease in Jerusalem, he began to get ideas, one of which was to marry the daughter of the pharaoh of Egypt. This was not God's will for him, for the princess of Egypt did not worship Jehovah. Nevertheless, he did it, and he did it even though he knew it was wrong. And it was one step in his downfall. Someone will say, "How do you know it was wrong?" The answer is that one verse in the story tells us so and indicates that even Solomon knew it. In 2 Chronicles 8:11 we read, "Solomon brought Pharaoh's daughter up from the city of David, to the palace he had built for her; for he said, 'My wife must not live in the palace of David king of Israel, because the places the ark of the Lord has entered are holy.'" In other words, Solomon was saying, "I recognize that this woman does not fit in with the things that I know to be true about God; and whenever I bring her around the palace of David or the temple I feel guilty and my conscience bothers me. The only solution is to build her another house and hereafter to live my life in as nearly separate but equal compartments as is possible.”

If you marry a non-Christian, that is what will happen with you. Do not think that you will lift the non-Christian up, and that he or she will become a Christian. That may happen eventually because of God's great grace, but even if it does there will still be years of heartbreak and sorrow. If you are obeying God, make sure it happens before the wedding, or do not get married. For if the other person is not a Christian or does not become one some time before the engagement, I tell you on the authority of God's Word that he or she is not the husband or the wife for you. The Bible says, "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?" (2 Corinthians 6:14). You will have a marriage of body with body and sometimes even of soul with soul. But you will never have a marriage of spirit with spirit. And that is what God wants your marriage to be.

Christ and the Church

The final and conclusive proof of all that I have been saying is in the truth that when God created us male and female and established the state of marriage, He did so for a definite purpose. What was it? It was to provide the best illustration in life of how God joins a man or woman to Jesus Christ and how He joins them to him forever. But someone says, "Didn't God create marriage in order for there to be children? Isn't it for reproduction?" No, it is not. Oh, I know that that is one side-line of marriage. But it is secondary. If it were not, a marriage without children would be incomplete, a failure. And that is not true.

"Well, then, why did he establish it?" He established it as an illustration of the relationship between Christ and the Church. Paul says in Ephesians 5 that a wife is to submit to her husband to the Lord.” He says that a husband is to love his wife "even as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it." And he concludes by saying of marriage, "This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the Church" (verse 32). In other words, God established marriage so that a Christian husband and a Christian wife could act out in their own relationship the relationship that Christ has to you and me and thereby point men to Him as the supreme lover, bridegroom, husband, protector, and provider of His Church.

To marry as God intends men and women to marry is to illustrate this most sublime of relationships — the relationship of the Lord Jesus Christ to those who believe on Him, and the relationship of the Church to Jesus, to the One Who loved us and Who gave Himself for us. If you see this truth, then you are well on the way to a blessed and happy marriage. For you will have the spiritual motivation and overall orientation to make it possible.

Marriage and the Home

You have heard that it was said, "Do not commit adultery." But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. Matthew 5:27-30

One of the most important things that can be said about a marriage is that within the relationship God has established an organic union between two persons — an organic union, not an organization. But when that is said, it must also be said that marriage does have organizational aspects. And hence, we must give attention to these also. How is a marriage to function after the wedding vows are taken? Is it to be a democracy? Is it to be a dictatorial system? A monarchy? Or is it a republican form of government? And what are the duties of the husband, wife, and children to each other and to the Lord?

Many of the answers to these questions are found in Ephesians 5:22-30. In this chapter marriage is set forth as an illustration of the relationship of Jesus Christ to the Church, and the duties of the husband and wife to each other are set forth in terms of that relationship. The wife is to submit herself to her husband "as to the Lord." The husband is to love his wife "even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave himself for it." Later, in chapter six, children are told to obey their parents "in the Lord, for this is right." And they are to "honor" their father and mother. The parents on their part are to raise their children "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." We now want to look at the rules governing each of those relationships.

God's Word to Wives

The first word God has is to the wives. And it is an unpopular word, especially today, for God says that the wife is to submit herself to her husband. When my wife and I were married in June of 1962, Dr. Robert Lament of the First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh performed the ceremony and spoke for a few minutes from this passage. After the ceremony a woman came up to us and said that she had never heard those things before. We asked, "What things?" She said, "About a wife submitting to her husband." And she added that she was going to go home and tear that page out of her Bible.

What she did not know was that even tearing out the fifth chapter of Ephesians would not have solved her problem. For the same teachings are found throughout the Bible. It is true that Ephesians contains the most extensive passage. It says, "Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, His body, of which He is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything" (Ephesians 5:22-24). But it is also true that the same thing is said as far back as in the third chapter of Genesis. "And to the woman He said, ‘I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing: with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you" (Genesis 3:16). Colossians 3:18 adds, "Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord." And in 1 Peter we read "Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands..." (1 Peter 3:1a). Again the reference is to the standards set for all of us by Christ.

I think that the biggest difficulty with these verses today is that most wives do not realize what they actually mean. And I suspect that most husbands do not understand them either. I once counseled a couple who were soon to be married, and I asked if they understood what God meant when he said that the wife was to be in subjection to her husband and that the husband was to love his wife as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for it. The wife-to-be was wise enough to remain silent. But the man blurted out, "That means that we are to love each other; but whenever we disagree I am to give her a hug and a kiss, and after that we're to do things my way."

Well, if the husband thought that, it was no wonder that the wife disliked the teaching.

What does it mean that the wife is to submit herself to her husband as to the Lord? Well, it certainly does not mean that she is submitting to a form of slavery or tyranny, for we are not called to a form of slavery or tyranny by Christ. It does not mean a type of blind obedience either, for a wife is not a chattel. Neither does it mean that the submission itself is always entirely one-sided, for the verse immediately before this says that we are to submit ourselves "one to another" in the fear of the Lord (see Ephesians 5:21). Actually, the verse (see Ephesians 5:22) means that the wife was created primarily as a helper for the man. And thus, in a very real way she is to subordinate her interests to his.

The underlying meanings of the Greek and Latin words translated "be subject" bear this out, for they are constructed of a verb meaning "to set, determine, or place" and a preposition meaning "under." Thus, the words refer to a type of obedience that is supporting — like a foundation supporting a house or a member of the White House cabinet supporting the President of the United States. The wife is to be this to her husband. And if any wife is thinking to herself that this is a demeaning position, she is to remember that the same chapter of 1 Corinthians that says that the "head of the woman is the man" also says that Christ is the head of the man and that God is the head of Christ. And no woman should be ashamed to be part of that relationship.

I do not think the position that God sets forth here for the woman necessarily means that the woman cannot have a degree of independence. For instance, there is no reason why she cannot pursue a career. There are conditions in which a woman can do this and still support her husband within the marriage relationship. It does not mean that the woman cannot pursue her own interests. In fact, it is a dull marriage if the wife does not have any. However, if the two come into conflict that is — if the wife's career hurts the career of the husband or if her interests lessen her concern for his work and the goals he is pursuing — then the wife is to yield to him in exactly the same way she should yield if her interest came into conflict with the way marked out for her by Jesus Christ.

And if someone says, "But isn't that unfair?" the answer is that it is not unfair, for that is the way God made things. Moreover, no wife will be truly happy in her marriage until she is willing to let God trim her interests wherever necessary in order to balance those of the man.

Let me say one more thing to you wives before I go on. If you are to be all that God intends you to be as a wife, you must show an interest in what your husband is doing and for that you must be informed. I know of a marriage in which the wife has never shown any interest in her husband's work and instead has always insisted that he leave the problems of his work at the office. The result has been a sense of unfulfilled need for the husband and an increasingly limited and introverted existence for the wife. How much better it would have been if they could have grown in the man’s work and responsibilities together!

Moreover, if you are to be a proper helper to your husband, you must be able to enter into life outside of the home. Do not forget that your husband spends the better part of his day with people who are interested in his work and who are therefore at least partially stimulating. And the persons he works with are making at least some efforts to be attractive, particularly the ladies. How then is he to be excited about loving you as Christ loves the Church if he comes home to find you so taken up with the household affairs that the most interesting part of your conversation has to do with enzyme detergents or baby food. I know you are busy. Being a housewife is often far from fun. But you must build some time into your schedule in which you can read and keep up your appearance. Read books. Read a good news magazine. Read something about your husband's work and his hobbies. I sometimes think that time spent in this way is almost as important as time spent reading the Bible. Anyway, it is certainly more important than time spent watching television.

God's Word to Husbands

Now, of course, all of this is only one side of the relationship, as you will see. For if God sets a high standard before woman, He sets an even higher standard before the man. The wife is to love her husband and submit to him as she loves Christ and submits to Christ. But the husband is to love the wife as Christ loved us and gave Himself for us.

Husbands, do you love your wives like that? If you do, you will find that they have little difficulty in submitting themselves to you in the way that Jesus Christ intended. There is an incident in one of the Greek histories that illustrates this point exactly. The wife of one of the generals of Cyrus, the ruler of Persia, was charged with treachery against the king. And after a trial she was condemned to die. At first her husband did not realize what had taken place, but he was told about it and at once went bursting into the throne room. He threw himself on the floor before the king and said. "Oh, Lord, take my life instead of hers. Let me die in her place." Cyrus, who by all historical accounts was a noble and extremely sensitive man, was touched by this offer. He said, "Love like that must not be spoiled by death." Then he gave the husband and wife back to each other and let the wife go free. As they walked away happily the husband said to his wife, "Did you notice how kindly the king looked upon us when he gave you the free pardon?" The wife replied, "I had no eyes for the king. I saw only the man who was willing to die in my place."

That is the picture that the Holy Spirit paints for us in the fifth chapter of Ephesians. The husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the Church. And no wife will have much difficulty in obeying a man who is willing to be crucified for her.

Another aspect of this relationship is that the husband is not to criticize his wife publicly. In fact he is to be her shield and intercessor. The Bible says that Christ gave Himself for the Church, not that He might criticize it, but "to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the Word, and to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way husbands ought to love their wives..." (Ephesians 5:26-28). To listen to some husbands talk you would think that these verses were never in the Bible. Yet they are. And they mean that if you are a husband. God holds you responsible for the defense of your wife and, to some degree, also for her spiritual growth and understanding.

An equally important verse for husbands is 1 Peter 3:7, which says, "Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers." Simply put this means that God will not even hear the prayers of a man who is too ignorant to know how to treat his wife or too foolish to value her as the greatest gift God has for him on this earth.

What does it mean to dwell with a wife according to knowledge? Well, for one thing, it means to do those little things for her that do not mean much to you but that are everything to a woman. Keith Miller said that for him, dwelling with his wife according to knowledge meant learning to empty the trash basket for her. And it was not easy, for he had always thought of trash baskets as "women's work" mentally. Billy Graham writes that dwelling with a wife according to knowledge also means being courteous. He writes, "You remember when you were sweethearts how courteous you were? You used to go around the car and open the door and say, 'Darling, won't you step out?' Now you don't. You remember before you were married how you used to take off your coat and put it down in the mud puddle and tell her walk over it! Now when she comes to a mud puddle you say, 'Jump, lady, I think you can make it.' "

How true to life that is! And how much we men need to change. I suppose that it would mean the most astounding transformation of our homes and our society if only men could learn to treat their wives properly.

Parents and Children

Now the most important thing that the husband is commanded in the Bible is to be the spiritual head of his home. But since that involves the children as well as the wife, I propose to treat it more broadly in that context. What does the Bible say to children? The Bible says, "Honor your father and your mother" (Exodus 20:12). But if they are to do that, you and I must be the kind of fathers and mothers that our children can honor. The Bible says, "My son, keep your father's commands and do not forsake your mother's teaching. Bind them upon your heart forever; fasten them around your neck" (Proverbs 6:20-21). But if God tells a son to give such meticulous attention to the instruction received from his parents, it is implied that the parents must give sound counsel. Clearly God holds the parents responsible, and particularly the fathers, for the spiritual life of their home.

The Bible teaches that children are to obey their parents. And if they do not, the parent is responsible before God for establishing discipline and meting out punishment. Someone might ask, "Do you mean to say that the Bible tells me to spank my children?" Yes, it does. The Bible says, "Discipline your son, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to his death" (Proverbs 19:18). The Bible says, "Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die" (Proverbs 23:13). The Bible says, "Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him" (Proverbs 22:15). That is the Bible, my friends; and that is God speaking.

A woman once came to Billy Graham and said. "Mr. Graham. don't you think that all my little boy needs is a pat on the back?" Dr. Graham answered, "Lady, if it is low enough and hard enough, it will be all right." And thus, Billy Graham again took a strong stand upon Scripture.

Now let me add that I know quite well that children are all different and that each one requires different handling. Some children do not need to be spanked in order to be disciplined. For some a sharp word is sufficient. But the principle is that discipline must be established and maintained. And when the parent is disobeyed there must be chastisement. And what is more, there must be chastisement within the general spiritual life and worshipful atmosphere of the home. For that there must be family prayer and Bible reading. And the father is the one responsible.

Life Out of Death

Now we have touched on many things in this study of the home, but it will be of little benefit unless each of us will put it into effect practically.

Some of what I have said will apply to those who are not married but who are thinking about it. If you are in this category, you must hold these great standards of marriage up before you and evaluate the one you are thinking of marrying in the light of them. Girls, you must look at that fellow and ask, "Can he be as Jesus Christ to me? Can he be for me a man that I can obey and to whom I can submit, subordinating many of my interests to his?" If you cannot, look elsewhere. And you fellows must say, "Am I willing to give of myself for her? Do I love her enough and respect her enough to die for her? Am I willing to be patient with her and even to cover up her faults as God instructs me to do?" If you cannot say those things, then it is not right for you to marry her.

Some of you will be beyond the stage of courtship and the early years of marriage and will be facing problems with the raising of your children. This is difficult today. But you must not let the difficulties deter you from the true course of action. Your children may be stubborn. But the Bible did not promise that they would be docile. That is why you may have to spank them. It is possible that they do not even respond to the spanking. Well, you must not give up on that account. Keep at it. Isaiah wrote that God's methods with us are "precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, here a little, and there a little" (Isaiah 28:10). And His methods must be ours. Moreover, you must pray for them and ask God to create in you the kind of character that will be winsome and that your children can respect.

Finally, there will be some for whom these words seem too late. In your case love has died, and there seems to be nothing that will rescue your marriage from the void. If it were not for what your friends would think of you, you would proceed with a divorce. What should you do? You must yield to the Lord Jesus Christ and let Him rekindle a love that has grown cold or a living love that has died. A woman once told me that at one point in her marriage her love had died entirely, and she had come to hate her husband so much she could have stabbed him with a knife. But as she yielded to Christ and grew in Him, that love was rekindled and she learned that Jesus is indeed able to bring life out of death, love out of hate, and a true Christian marriage out of sham and violent hostility.

If you will yield to Christ and His standards, He will begin by making of you a new creation and then end by making all things new.

Divorce and Remarriage

You have heard that it was said, "Do not commit adultery." But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. Matthew 5:27-30

It should be evident from everything that has been said thus far about marriage that according to the teaching of God's Word marriage is for life. In Christian marriage a man and a woman are joined to each other as a Christian is joined to the Lord Jesus Christ, and the relationship in each case is permanent — the one for this life, the other for this life and for eternity.

We know, of course, that not all marriages attain this permanence. And as a result we are faced again and again, both within society at large and within the Church, with the problems of estrangement, separation, divorce, and remarriage. What is to be the Christian position in these difficult and tragic situations? Is divorce a permissible option for the Christian? Is it entirely forbidden, or are there conditions under which it is possible? If there are such conditions, is it possible for the Christian then to remarry? Moreover, what is to be the position of the Church toward those who have done whatever of these things that are wrong? All of these questions are raised for us, not only by the fact that they arise quite naturally out of our previous look at marriage, but also by the fact that the Sermon on the Mount goes on from the verses we have been studying to raise these problems directly.

In Matthew 5:31-32 Jesus says, "It has been said, 'Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.' But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery."

These words should be taken together with a closely related passage in Matthew 19, in which almost the identical words are repeated. The Pharisees had come to Christ testing Him with an interpretation of the major Old Testament passage regarding the ground for divorce. The passage was Deuteronomy 24:1-4, and they asked on that basis, "Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?" Jesus answered, "Haven't you read that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female, and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'? So they are no longer two but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate" (Matthew 19:4-6). At that point the Pharisees asked Him, "Why then did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?" And Jesus answered, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery" (Matthew 19:7-9).

Because each of these passages contains the phrase that gives the one permissible ground for divorce — marital unfaithfulness — both of them have always been at the heart of any discussion of these questions.

Permanency of Marriage

The place to begin in the discussion of these texts is not with the exception itself, however — we shall come back to it later — but with the general direction of the passage. And this, quite clearly, is to assert in the strongest possible language the permanency of marriage. Marriage is of God; and hence, men are not to annul it. In this assertion, Jesus was clearly at one with the entire scope of the biblical teaching.

We find this in Genesis: "The Lord God said, 'It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.'... So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, He took one of the man's ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib He had taken out of the man, and He brought her to the man. The man said, 'This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called woman, for she was taken out of man' " (Genesis 2:18, 21-24). These words indicate that marriage was instituted by God for man's welfare. And they imply that the union that makes a man and a woman one flesh is to be permanent throughout both of their lives.

We turn from the first book of the Old Testament to the last book of the Old Testament, and we find that same teaching, only in a more direct form. This is important in itself, for some teach that the standards given to Adam and Eve in Eden before the fall have become impossible after it and that God has come to tolerate divorce as a result. Well, has He? Not according to Malachi! In fact, it was because of the multiple divorces in Israel that at that time, according to Malachi, God was no longer hearing their prayers.

Here is the way the prophet says it: "You ask, 'Why' [will the Lord not accept your offerings]? It is because the Lord is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. Has not the Lord made them one? In flesh and spirit they are His. And why one? Because He was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth. 'I hate divorce,' says the Lord God of Israel..." (Malachi 2:14-16). According to this passage, not only does God hate divorce, but He still considers the couple married, regardless of what the parties to the marriage may have done.

When the Lord Jesus Christ argued against the common divorce practices of Judaism in His day, therefore, it was to texts like these that He drew His hearers' attention. And the mainline of His teaching was that God does not want divorce. In fact, He hates divorce. The standard, as I said earlier in these studies, is clearly chastity before marriage and fidelity afterwards. And this is to be true regardless of the conduct of the other person.

What Is Fornication?

There are several of you who may agree with all this in general terms. Certainly that is ideal. But, you may be wondering, what about adultery? Doesn't adultery dissolve the marriage contract? And isn't that what Jesus Christ was talking about when He made the exception, "except for marital unfaithfulness," in Matthew? No. I do not believe that this is what Jesus was talking about either in Matthew 19 or in the Sermon on the Mount. In fact, I believe that Jesus was teaching that the only justifiable grounds for divorce was impurity in the woman discovered on the first night of the marriage (in which case there would be deceit involved in the contract) and that even in that case, although the man had the right to an immediate divorce under the standards of the Mosaic law, God's perfect will would always be for a continuation of the marriage.

There are several reasons why I believe this must be so. First, it is the natural implication of the words. For fornication is not the same thing as adultery, and fornication (not adultery) is the word that Jesus uses here. What is adultery? Adultery is unfaithfulness after marriage. That is the only possible meaning of the Greek word (moicheia), and it is suggested most vividly by the Latin phrase from which we have derived our word in English. The phrase is ad alterius torum, which means "to another's bed." Thus, is it a violation of the marriage contract.

Fornication is a much broader term. In Greek it is a variant of the verb mpernemi ("to sell"), and it refers to prostitution. This would include the prostitution of a harlot, anything involving basic sexual perversions, and by extension, any sex act performed outside of marriage. The Latin term includes this idea also, for it is based on the Greek noun fornix, meaning the arch of a temple where the temple courtesans collected. Thus, it refers in a general way to any sexual impurity.

Unless there are strong reasons for thinking differently, the natural implication of Matthew 5:32 is that although a man may divorce a woman immediately after marriage if he finds her not to be a virgin (in which case he was allowed by the law to remarry and was not to be called an adulterer — Deuteronomy 24:1-4), he may not divorce her for any other cause. If he does, he forces her into a position in which she may be forced to remarry and thereby forces her to become an adulteress by doing so.

Deuteronomy 22-24
The second reason why this must be the meaning of the passage in Matthew (5:32 and 19:9) is that each is in essence an explanation of Deuteronomy 24:1-4, which teaches precisely what we have already been saying.

This passage in Deuteronomy is the only statute of divorce to be found in the Old Testament, and it was the one upon which the Pharisees based their far more liberal standards. It says that if a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, he may write her a certificate of divorce, give it to her, and send her from his house (Deuteronomy 24:1-2). In characteristic fashion the people of Christ's day had become most punctilious about the "certificate of divorce" but had become entirely liberal in their interpretation of the crucial word "uncleanness." Thus, there were scribes who taught that the reference could be so trivial a thing as spoiling the dinner, being troublesome or quarrelsome, or speaking disrespectfully of the man's parents (for example Jewish scholar Hillel). This Christ rejected.

Actually, this is not the meaning of the passage at all. The meaning is clear from the immediate context. In the first place, the word uncleanness is actually the word for nakedness or nudity, and a host of passages show that nakedness was always associated with sex or, in this case, with its impurity. Moreover, it is evident that there is no reference here to adultery, for adultery was punishable by death if it was proved. In that case there would quite obviously be no need for a divorce. What is uncleanness then? Well, if it is a sexual sin in the woman and if it is not adultery (which would be a sexual sin after marriage), clearly it must be a sexual sin before marriage. In other words: fornication. Thus, Jesus was obviously reinforcing this Old Testament teaching.

Now someone who knows the Bible well may object, "But isn't it true that fornicators were also punished by death in Israel? And the answer is that although this was the punishment for some types of fornication, it was not the punishment for all. And consequently, there would be some girls in Israel (perhaps many) who were not virgins at the time of their marriage. If there had been uncleanness during the engagement, the penalty was death just as it would have been for the married woman, for the engagement was considered nearly as binding as the marriage. However, if the girl had been attacked or had been unchaste before there had been an engagement, then she was not executed and, although there were penalties, she was free to marry.

It is worth noting that Joseph took advantage of the legal distinction when he determined to put Mary away privately after he discovered she was pregnant, rather than have her stoned as an adulteress.

Against this background it is evident that Deuteronomy 24:1-4 only refers to a case in which a bride or her family has deceived the husband. And it grants divorce in this case and in this case only. In all other cases (and in this one also, according to Jesus, if the man acts as God would want him to act), the standard of marriage is total fidelity and this regardless of the actions of the other partner. In other words, the standard for God's people is to be the love of God for Israel, which is a love in spite of infidelity, or the love of Christ for His Church, which is the love of one who loves us in spite of our unfaithfulness or our running away.

God's Standards

Now that is a high and difficult standard. And it is acutely difficult for many people who are involved in situations of estrangement, divorce, and remarriage. I therefore want to close by saying a few things to these people particularly.

In the first place, we can say that these are standards for Christians, not for the world. And this means that believers must not seek to impose them upon all men generally. We believe, of course, that to follow Christian standards would tend on the whole to make men happier than they would be apart from them, and we can point with justifiable alarm to any weakening of the family structure within our society. But the majority of men are not Christians, and it would be both wrong and irrational to expect them to lead Christian lives. Because of this I believe that C. S. Lewis was quite right in suggesting that "there ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the Church with rules enforced by her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not" 5

Second, because there are many persons who become Christians after they have been married and divorced, sometimes more than once, we must never forget that their previous conduct along with all of their past is wiped clean by their conversion to Jesus Christ and that they, therefore, have the right to marry for the first time as Christians. The church at Corinth must have been composed largely of persons in this category, for Paul writes that many of them were fornicators, adulterers, idolaters, and so on (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). And yet he terms them "new creatures" in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). Clearly, when a new creature in Christ meets another new creature in Christ and God leads them together, they have a right to marry and to establish a Christian home regardless of their previous history.

Third, there are cases in which one of the spouses is a Christian and the other is not. What is the Christian to do in these circumstances? Well, this is a situation that Paul also faced not only in Corinth but throughout the Greek cities. And his advice was this: first, that the Christian should always stay with the unbelieving spouse if at all possible. For, says Paul, how do you know that you will be the means by which God will save your husband or your wife (1 Corinthians 7:16)? However, it is also possible that the unsaved spouse will not stay with the Christian. And in that case, Paul's second point of advice is to let the non-Christian go. But the Christian is therefore to remain unmarried.

My fourth point is based on the fact that we live in an imperfect world. And this means that there will always be circumstances in which a Christian will have to choose the lesser of two evils. In some circumstances, this could be divorce. For instance, we may imagine a woman married to a brute of a husband, a man who spends her money on drink and then deserts her while she must raise and educate the children. Now under the laws of the United States if there is no divorce, it is entirely possible for the man to return at some date just when the children are ready to go to college on the little the wife has earned and claim the money and waste it. In this situation I believe it would be better for the wife to initiate the divorce, even if she is a Christian. For her responsibility is also to the children and to their future.

Finally, it is also true that Christians who marry out of God’s will and get divorced, remarry (often to Christians), and that God seems often in His great grace to sanctify and bless the remarriage. Does this mean that in this case God has changed His standards? Not at all. But it does mean that even divorce and remarriage, serious though they are, are not unforgivable and that God is always able to start with His children precisely where they are and bring blessing. The Church should never be closed to such people, and we above all men should show mercy. For perhaps even if such persons marry in rebellion against God's will He may bring repentance. And He may yet greatly bless the new home.

There is hardly a matter in the Christian Church today that is treated with more laxity than divorce and remarriage. And as a result, it is always easy to get our standards from what other people do or say or from what we should like the Bible to say. But we must not do that. We must be people of the Book. And we must not lower its standards.

Perhaps you are saying, "But how can I do that? For me the standards are too high." If you are, the answer is that God will help you to keep them. The Bible says that God "is able to keep you from falling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy" (Jude 24). And if you are still saying, "But I have questions about the matter," well, the answer is in John's Gospel where Jesus says that if any man really desires to know God's will, whatever it may be, "If anyone chooses to do God's will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own" (John 7:17). If you will desire that, God will lead you in the way that yon should go. And He will bring blessing in your life and marriage and through your life to others.

For Time and for Eternity

You have heard that it was said, "Do not commit adultery." But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. Matthew 5:27-30

At several points in our earlier studies of the nature of Christian marriage I pointed out that according to the Bible God has established marriage, not primarily to promote happiness among mankind or even for reproduction. He has established it primarily as an illustration of the relationship between the Lord Jesus Christ and His bride, the Church. Marriage is to show that when God joins a man or a woman to Jesus Christ in salvation He does so in love and in a bond that will endure forever. For this reason the possibility of a divorce between Christians — and we must remember that nothing that has been said here applies to a non-Christian marriage — should be unthinkable. Marriage among all true believers should be permanent.

Hosea and Gomer

What the Christian attitude should be is illustrated in the greatest and strangest love story in the Bible. It is the story of the prophet Hosea and of his marriage to unfaithful Gomer. It is so poignant and so revealing of God's unfathomable love for us, that I propose to conclude our study of Christian marriage by telling it. I have found in my own study of Hosea and of books about Hosea, however, that no one has told the story with greater insight or more human interest than Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse, the founder of The Bible Study Hour. And since I cannot improve upon his study I wish to pass the story on to you in his words. What follows is therefore a composite of the story as it was told in several of his published writings.

There came a time when the Lord appeared to one of His servants, who became one of His prophets, and told him that he was to enact in his life the relationship of God with Israel. The prophet was told that he was to marry a woman who would become a harlot, and that he was to be faithful to her in spite of her unfaithfulness.

When the Lord began to speak through Hosea, the Lord said to him. "Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the Lord" (Hosea 1:2). In other words, Hosea was to live a dramatic pageant before the nations of Judah and Israel, whom God counted as one nation. Hosea was to play the part of the loving and faithful God. The erring wife would be cast in the role of the perverse nation. She would play the harlot with many lovers even as Israel had left the true God to go after a multitude of strange gods. The heart of the pageant would be in the fact that Hosea would be faithful to her even in the midst of her greatest unfaithfulness. He would even provide the means for her to continue in her run-away life. And when the lowest point in her folly should be reached she would find her husband there at the nadir of her misery and he would redeem her and bring her back into the joys of truth and righteousness. "So he married Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son" (Hosea 1:3).

Hosea and Gomer had three children, and God dictated the name for each, in order to illustrate the tragedy that their willfulness would bring. Of the first child God said, "Call him Jezreel," which means scattered; and God has scattered the children of Israel all over the world. Gomer next bore a daughter, and God said. "Call her Lo-Ruhamah (not pitied), for I will no longer show love to the house of Israel, that I should at all forgive them." Hosea was instructed to name the third child, a son, Lo-ammi (not my people), "for you are not my people, and I am not your God" (Hosea 1:4,6,9).

The names of the three children are now changed by God Himself. The first child will still be called Jezreel, but with the meaning "God sows" instead of "God scatters," for seed was sowed by throwing it to the ground with the same motion that is used for throwing something away. Lo-Ruhamah becomes Ruhamah (pitied), "For I will show my love to the one I called 'Not my loved one.' I will say to those called 'Not my people,' 'You are my people;' and they will say. 'You are my God' " (Hosea 2:23). The new meanings illustrate how God's unchanging love covered the multitude of Israel's sins, even as Hosea's love covered Gomer's sins, and therefore how a Christian's love must cover an erring partner's sins.

Gomer and Her Lovers

Now Gomer left Hosea and lived with other men; and each lover was poorer than the man before him. One day Hosea said to a certain man, 'Are you the man who is currently living with Gomer the daughter of Diblaim?' 'Well, what of it?' replied the man. 'I am Hosea, her husband.’ As the man recoiled, Hosea said, 'But I love her, and I know that you don't have enough money to take care of her. Take this money and see that she does not lack for anything.' So the man took Hosea's money and bought clothing, oil, and wine for Gomer, who gave her lover credit for providing these things; but Hosea said, 'She doesn't know that I paid the bills.'

Here is the story as told by God in the words of Scripture: 'Their mother has been unfaithful and has conceived them in disgrace. She said, 'I will go after my lovers, who give me my food and my water, my wool and my linen, my oil and my drink.' Therefore I will block her path with thorn bushes; I will wall her in so that she cannot find her way. She has not acknowledged that I was the one who gave her the grain, the new wine and oil, who lavished on her the silver and gold — which they used for Baal' (Hosea 2:5,6,8).

No doubt the man who took Hosea's money was thinking. 'There is no fool like this old fool.' But who can explain true love? Love is of God. and it is infinite. Love is sovereign. Love is apart from reason; love exists for its own reasons. Love does not operate according to logic but according to love. And we can see Hosea lurking in the shadows to catch a glimpse of her who filled his heart, weeping as he sees her embrace her lover and thank him for the gifts which true love has provided, which villainy offers and folly accepts.

That is how God treats us. We run away from Him and He pays our bills. The story of Hosea is a picture of God's faithfulness. He is the faithful husband, and we are the adulterous wife. We turn to other gods; we run away; yet still He loves us. Man runs away from God and says, 'I've gotten away from him!' And God touches him on the arm and says, 'My child, I took a shortcut, and here I am, to tell you that I love you and am providing for you.' The man pulls away from God and runs; but God says, 'My child, I took another shortcut. I want you for myself.'

Does this mean that God loves us even when we run away from Him? Of course He does! Have you never run away from God? And does He not give you the strength to run? When we see this love at work through the heart of Hosea we may wonder if God is really like that. But everything in the Word and in experience shows us that He is. He will give man the trees of the forest and the iron in the ground. Then He will give to man the brains to make an axe from the iron to cut down a tree and fashion it into a cross. He will give man the ability to make a hammer and nails, and when man has the cross and the hammer and nails, the Lord will allow man to take hold of Him and bring Him to that cross; He will stretch out His hands upon it and allow man to nail Him to that cross, and in so doing will take the sin of the man upon Himself and make it possible for those who have despised and rejected Him to come to Him and know the joy of sins removed and forgiven, to know the assurance of pardon and eternal life, and to enter into the prospect of the hope of glory with Him forever. That is how much God loves you. He pursues you because He loves you and wants you to commit yourself to Him.

Thus Hosea kept on loving Gomer, who gradually sank to the depths of degradation. She sank so low that she became a slave, and in accordance with ancient custom in the city of Jerusalem she was put up on the slave block, naked. God told Hosea to buy her.

We know a great deal about the slave market in ancient times. Almost half the population was in slavery to the other half, and there was scarcely a day and scarcely a city in which human beings were not sold openly in the market. The ancient writers have left us terrible pictures of this sale of human souls. A writer of comedy laughs at the sight of a very fat man being sold in the market place, while the bystanders reflect that he would eat them out of house and home, and one, justifying the bid, says that he has a millwheel that is squeaking and that this slave, cut into pieces, would be cheaper than buying grease. Then a female slave is put up for auction, her clothes removed, and the bystanders laugh among themselves as they bid for the body of the slave.

It was to a scene like that that Hosea was called to go. The Lord told him that he was to go and purchase the wife he had loved so long but who was now being sold in the market. Suddenly, before the eyes of Hosea, appeared the woman he loved with all his heart. Her veil was taken from her face, her body was exposed to the gaze of the crowd, and the bidding began. Three pieces of silver...five...eight...ten pieces of silver...eleven...twelve...and Hosea then bids fifteen pieces of silver. The market is tense, the low bidders have dropped out. Another voice calls, 'Fifteen pieces of silver and a bushel of barley.' Hosea replies, 'Fifteen pieces of silver and a bushel and a half of barley.' The auctioneer looks around, is unable to get a higher bid, and announces that this woman is sold to Hosea. The curious onlookers gaze at the scene. The husband goes to the wife and helps her with her clothing, puts her veil upon her face, and leads her into the anonymity of the crowd.

Does God love us like that? Listen to the story as it is recorded in the third chapter of Hosea: 'The Lord said to me, Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods' (Hosea 3:1). Love her? Even as the Lord loves the people of Israel. But, Lord, she is a harlot, sold on the auction block as an adulterous slave! 'Go love her,' says God, 'love her, even as the Lord loves you.'

Now under ancient law a man could do as he pleased with a slave whom he had purchased. If Hosea had taken this woman and had told her that she was to be punished for all her infidelities, and if he had tortured her to death, he would have gone free with but the slightest fine. Men would have thought him indeed vengeful to have wasted fifteen pieces of silver and a bushel and a half of grain in order to wreak his spite upon her. They would have thought that life would have dealt hardly enough with her and she would have suffered more as a slave to some other man, or even worse as the slave to some woman, and that her menial way would bring her a living death when she remembered the life from which she was fallen. But that is all that would have happened.

Hosea did not act in this way because he reflected the love of God, and God never acts thus with those whom He has redeemed by His blood. Hosea took Gomer and led her toward their home, and as they went he said to her, 'You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will live with you' (Hosea 3:3).

If we examine the words, their poignancy takes hold of the heart strings. Here is the climax of the expression of love. What Hosea could not have secured from the free will of a wife he now has the right to ask of the one who has been redeemed out of slavery. She was to remain with him in faithfulness. She knew that this was her place as a purchased slave. She was no more to play the harlot and be passed from man to man with the loss of gifts and the daily increasing degradation. But the extraordinary word is the one that follows, "...and I will live with you." In this moment of homecoming, the love of Hosea shines through at its brightest. If he is demanding of her a faithfulness that shall be complete, she must understand that he is not offering her any less from himself. He will be wholly for her. His faithfulness to her shall continue. This is the faithfulness of the love of God.

In the light of this story we see the inner meaning of marriage as set forth in the Word of God. Marriage is the union of Christ and the Church.

In our salvation we were married to Him. He it was who took the vows first of all: 'I, Jesus, take you, sinner, to be my wedded bride. And I do promise and covenant before God and these witnesses, to be your loving and faithful Savior and Bridegroom in sickness and in health, in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, in faithfulness and in waywardness, for time and for eternity.' And then we looked up to Him and said, 'I, sinner, take you, Jesus, to be my Savior and Lord. And I do promise and covenant before God and these witnesses to be thy loving and faithful Bride in sickness and in health, in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, for time and for eternity.'

Thus we took His name. We were Miss Worldling; we were married to Him and now bear His name, for Christian means Christ-one. When we realize the true meaning of this, we understand how important it is to keep His name spotless before the world.

Christ is the faithful one. We are the ones who slip into flirtation and then into adultery with the world. We are loved by Christ Jesus, but we are drawn aside by our desires and seduced from our love of Christ. Such a seduction is the worst of all transgression since it is the sin against the love of Christ. He is faithful to the end, loving us when we were unlovely, and taking us through all the steps of our wandering to the place of redemption and final attachment to himself forever.

Perhaps some believer who reads this may say, 'Lord Jesus, I took you as my Savior, but I have been living a worldly life. Just because I gave you sixty minutes and a few dollars on Sunday morning, I thought I was serving you. But I now confess that I have been faithless to you. From now on, Lord Jesus, I will be faithful to you.' To such God replies, 'I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned from them. Men will dwell again in his shade. He will flourish like the grain. He will blossom like a vine, and his fame will be like the wine from Lebanon’ (Hosea 14:4,7).

Perhaps your life partner has been unfaithful and you are asking yourself, "Have I the love that Hosea had for Gomer? Has my partner seen that I love him that much? Can I really afford such love?" Your old nature will immediately protest, "No, you cannot!" But the Holy Spirit will force you to say, "Yes, I can!"

Were the whole realm of nature mine.
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Though you do not posses the whole realm of nature, or the world, to give to Christ, you can give to Him in total surrender. Because you love the Lord you can love your erring partner and be faithful. 6

As I have re-read this study of the life of Hosea by Dr. Barnhouse, my own heart has been warmed at the thought of God's great and unshakeable love. I trust that yours has also. May God use this and the preceding chapters to help establish us in His love and grace and to lift us to the highest possible standards of love in our home and Christian marriage.

1 Banowsky, William S. It's A Playboy World. 1973 Family Library, page 24.
2 C.S. Lewis. Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1958), page 75
3 Walter A. Maier. For Better, Nor for Worse. (St. Louis: Concordia, 1935), page 18.
4 Keith Miller. The Taste of New Wine. (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1968), page 46
5 C.S. Lewis. Mere Christianity. (New York: Macmillan, 1958). Page 87.
6 Donald Grey Barnhouse, from God's Freedom, pp. 187-192; This Man and this Woman, pp. 21-26; and from parts of 37 and 38 of the published radio studies in the Epistle to the Romans.

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