Marriage and the Family - 6 - First Things First

Chapter Six

First Things First

It is a remarkable and delightful thing to see what can be learned of God in small details, in obscure verses. Consider what a revelation there is of the care and concern of our Father in heaven when the Lord Jesus revealed that not one sparrow falls to the ground without the Father’s knowledge. Someone has said that God attends the funeral of every sparrow.

In a similar manner, we can learn much about God’s idea of marriage from just one verse. You will recall that David used one stone of five to slay the giant; the Lord used one book from the Pentateuch to silence Satan. In like manner we need only one verse from one book to silence and slay many strange ideas about marriage.

Notice Deuteronomy 24:5, “When a man has taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war, neither shall he be charged with any business; but he shall be free at home one year, and shall cheer up his wife which he hath taken.” While this furnishes a lovely and touching foreview of the Lord seeing to the joy and happiness of His heavenly bride before He goes forth to make war and finish the Father’s business which He came to do (Luke 2:49), our main attention is drawn to the principles of marriage which are contained herein.

The first and most obvious lesson which lies upon the surface waiting for our consideration is

The Priority of Marriage

When all the humor which we find attached to this verse is gone, we are left with some sobering conclusions as to God’s thoughts about marriage.

Israel was, and still is, a nation which depends upon its military for its well being. Any nation that spends over 50% of its total budget on defense is obviously placing national defense as a top priority. But in the mind of God, there is something of far more importance than national security. More important, of higher priority than defending Israel’s borders, was strengthening and stabilizing the marriage bond.

What is the lesson God is teaching? Why is the marriage bond of such priority that the new husband had a year off from military duty? Perhaps God is teaching through this that the future of the nation was really more dependent on good marriages than on a good military machine. But there is more. Not only was he relieved of all military responsibility, but he was also not to be charged in any business. The idea of being charged with any business is somewhat different. It is not the idea of buying and selling, simple occupational matters; it usually referred, in our Old Testament, to “official business” for king or nation. Recall how David used this term in 1 Samuel 21:2. The business of a wife took priority over the business of a king of nation. It is not national security as much now as personal honor that is in view. Not only was the new husband to view his wife ahead of the nation, but also ahead of himself.

In this modern day of role reversals and two working spouses, it may well be necessary to emphasize that neither wife nor husband should put a career ahead of the good of the marriage. Sacrificing a spouse for the purpose of getting ahead, or even for the apparent noble purpose of being a good provider for the family, is not scriptural order.

Some might object that spiritual relationships are to have the priority over all others.  This is obvious and clear; yet yielding to the spiritual priority teaches me that a spiritual man will look well to the state of his marriage. The same chapter of Colossians that stresses “Christ is all and in all” (3:11), instructs me that the practical expression of giving Christ priority in my life is to give my wife priority and to love her with a selfless, self-sacrificial love (v 19).

Responsibility in Marriage

God is a realist. Poets may write of marriage made in heaven, but heaven is wise enough to know that marriages require a lot of work on earth. To the husband is given the responsibility to “cheer up” his wife. As if to stress the magnitude of the task, he is given an entire year to accomplish this. Some might add that for some wives, the time allotted to do the task is all too short.

What is meant by cheering up a wife? Why does she need it? Isn’t marriage an end all? what every woman is searching for to fulfill her childhood fantasies of playing wife and mother? We are impressed again with the fact that God is a realist.

Perhaps some insight may be gained by looking at the word used in Deuteronomy 24:5, “the wife which he hath taken.” The word for “taken” is one that is also translated elsewhere in our Old Testament as marry, seize, lay hold of, snatch away. While we all would like to fit “marry” into the context, there is still a sense in which she has been seized, laid hold of, snatched away from all that she once know. Her security, sense of belonging, at times, even friendships have been disrupted. She may search in vain initially for some of the kinds of love that she knew and needed in her pre-marital state. “Kinds of love” brings us to much of the husband’s responsibility.

Sadly the English language uses one word for love, obscuring many of the nuances which the Greek language preserves. There are at least four kinds of love which we as humans can experience. Now before we begin dissecting and dividing, it is essential that we recognize that one type of love is not inferior to another. We are so prone to distinguish, for the purpose of applying a moral value, one over against the other. This is not the case here. Each love has its place and each literally enhances the other in the marriage bond.

Eros – The Flame of Marriage

 Some may immediately object that this is the lowest form of love, that which is merely instinctive, catering to “baser” desires. But is this really so? We must distinguish between infatuation and romance. The former is based upon fantasy and continually demands reinforcement of one type or another. It feeds upon novelty and daring. Romance cherishes the object. This level is where many couples begin a relationship.  But the relationship that remains here without progressing in marriage is doomed to failure.

Granted that eros is not used in our New Testament, is it, however, totally absent from our Bibles? We read the Song of Songs with an eye to its spiritual application. This is right and proper. Yet in its setting, it is an account of pure and passionate love between a bride and her bridegroom. We have too long allowed the debasing of romance by the modern world to influence our views. Passion can indeed be pure and free of sin. In the marriage bond it is what has been called the “thrill” factor, that which adds excitement to a marriage. Look at Proverbs 5:15-20 to see how Solomon counsels a young man to enjoy romantic love with the wife of his youth.

It is important to realize that while romantic love has a place to play in marriage, it is not the entire concept of love. Romantic love requires something more to sustain it. A marriage which tries to sustain itself upon romance will soon come up short. Couples who feel that this is what marriage is all about, soon find themselves drifting apart, convinced that they never were really “in love” because the feeling has gone, the thrill is over.

Storge – Fondness for One Another

In Romans 12:10, another form of love is mentioned. It is translated in our Bibles as “being kindly affectioned one toward another.” It is used in Romans 1:31 and in 2 Timothy 3:3, where it is translated, “without natural affection.” This then is the love of family, the sense of belonging. It contains in it the idea of being devoted to one another.  It has a sense of unconditional acceptance. It does not depend upon attainment or performance. It exists because of a relationship which already exists.

In marriage, it might be thought of as the practical expression of the agape love idealized in marriage. It is a love which expresses oneness in outlook and goals. It abolishes competition between spouses. It creates not only a unity but an unconditional loyalty. Each upholds the other before the world (and more importantly before in-laws).  The kind of trust and confidence that a husband has in his wife is expressed beautifully by Proverbs 31:11, “The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her.”  Also verse 28, “He praiseth her.”

The idea of “home” was impressed on me years ago in college, when reading Robert Frost’s poem, “The Death of the Hired Man.” “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” It is belonging. That is the essence of storge love.  This does not come with saying, “I do” at the wedding ceremony. The Lord knew that each would crave it desperately in the relationship; He knew as well that it would take time to develop.

Yet even this love is not the goal or the totality of love in marriage. There are two more familiar words our New Testament employs.

Phileo – Friendship in Marriage

Friendship differs again from both eros and storge. In eros, two are occupied with each other. In phileo they are each occupied with some third thing. In storge, each accepts the other because of a relationship, a belonging to one another. In phileo each accepts the other because of the discovery or development of a mutual interest. Sharing is the key to this type of love. Phileo is the cherishing love enjoined upon the husband. Lest any think that somehow this is a deficient love or a love of less value than agape, bear in mind that the Father loves the Son with this same type of love (John 5:20). It is also used in 1 Corinthians 15:22 as the test of all true believers.

The husband and wife must work at this kind of love. Many of the mutual interests during courtship were indeed things which one did to please the other. With marriage, the focus sadly changes and most begin thinking about what they are receiving from the marriage. Doing something because a spouse enjoys it is now past. Yet this love must be cultivated. For the Christian, there is certainly an excellent starting point as both should have the same spiritual interests. Other interests are certainly appropriate and necessary. The key here is on sharing them together and communicating.

Someone else has summarized this type of love as possessing three essential elements: comradeship, companionship, and communication. All must be cultivated carefully to produce the friendship so rewarding in married life.

Agape – The Fabric of Marriage

Space has been devoted to agape love in a previous article. It is important, however, to realize its relationship to the other loves already mentioned. Agape is, more than all the other loves, an attitude rather than an emotion. Being such, it is not necessarily superior or more important than the others; it does, however, control and develop the others. It is the love which decides that I am going to love unconditionally, to share fully, to be permanently committed to my spouse. It is what controls eros, so that, in the words of another, “it does not become a god and destroy itself.” It is what enables friendship to endure despite the failings of my spouse. It is the choosing not to see the shortcomings; it is 1 Corinthians 13 brought into a marriage.

If I might be allowed to quote at length one of the foremost Christian writers of the twentieth century: “To say this (the need for agape love) is not to belittle the natural loves, but to indicate where their true glory lies. It is no disparagement to a garden to say that it will not fence and weed itself, nor prune its own fruit trees, nor roll and cut its own lawns. It will remain a garden, as distinct from a wilderness, only if someone does all these things to it.” This is the role which agape love plays in the marriage and its relationships to the other loves.

It is the husband’s responsibility to nurture and cultivate this love; he is to cheer up his wife. The idea is to delight and please. It is not a catering to whims or an indulging of materialistic desires. The word carries with it the idea of emotional satisfaction. The new husband must become a student of his wife and meet all her emotional needs. Unrealistic demands and demands that rival spiritual responsibilities are not in view.

The Intimacy of Marriage

One cannot read Deuteronomy 20:7; 24:5 without realizing God’s intention for physical intimacy and enjoyment in marriage.

This is not a divine concession to human weakness. God did not “allow” physical enjoyment to pander to some lower, baser need in man. To use the words again of Deuteronomy 24:5, “he is to be free at home.” These words carry with them the meaning of a clear conscience, the absence of guilt. Society has so debased sexual morality outside of marriage, that we at times have lost sight of its inherent purity within marriage.

This is part of that same first year responsibility. Intimacy includes the physical aspect, but is certainly much more. It involves emotional intimacy as well. Each sustains and reinforces the other. As the emotional intimacy grows in marriage, the physical joy increases as well. Young couples should not gauge their “love” by how exciting their romance is. In His infinite wisdom, God foresaw the need for a period of time and adjustment, of mutual education. This is still needed today.

It is obvious that the three principles, elaborated above, all build upon each other. Only as priority is given to marriage will a new husband be able to fulfill the responsibilities which the Word of God places upon him. Only in cultivating love in its four-fold aspect, will he in turn be able to experience the true intimacy of marriage.

There are many things which potentially can disrupt the first year and thus the following years of marriage. These suggestions may sound out of step with modern thinking, but should be considered by newly married couples.

Learn to resolve differences without harboring resentment. “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath” (Ephesians 4:26), is valid in marriage. There should be no areas which the two of you avoid speaking about because they are too emotional. Learn to resolve them patiently, together, and in the presence of God. Keep your problems between yourselves. Long after you have resolved them and forgotten them, those in whom you confided will remember.

Avoid debt at all costs. Over 75% of divorces in America have financial problems as a major contributing factor. Learn contentment with what God has given. Do not feel a need to have what other couples have. Hospitality is a matter of the size of the heart, not the size of the home.

Never think of marriage as a 50-50 proposition. I frequently have to speak with young couples as part of a state requirement for marriage. I am surprised at the responses when I ask what each is doing now to avoid divorce after marriage. One young man recently said that they both realized that it was a 50-50 proposition. He was stunned when I said that it was more like 90-10. He would have to give 90% and only expect back 10%. It might be more scriptural for a husband to view it as 100%. Never go into marriage looking for what you can get back. It is a giving love which the husband is commanded to have.

   It scarcely needs to be said, but it bears emphasis that no Christian couple should ever entertain the thought of separation or divorce. Any allowance of this as a legitimate option will completely undermine the application of scriptural principles to the problems which do arise in marriages. There must be an unconditional commitment of each partner to each other. Only then can problems be resolved using divine principles.

This is really a plea to young married couples to give priority to their relationship. You must recognize that a wedding does not make a marriage. It simply gives you the chance to have a marriage. You must work at it diligently. The first year is only the beginning. It requires commitment to the divine principles of marriage to experience all that God intended.