PURSUING THE ETERNAL WORD
The Bible teaching ministry of John Lifflander

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THE SPIRITUAL REFLECTION OF MARRIAGE

When Jesus taught He used things that exist on earth to describe spiritual truths. Farming and agrarian principles were a large part of most of the people’s lives, so they understood when He used these concepts to explain how the kingdom of God functions. For example, sowing seed and threshing grain were a part of everyday life, and with godly wisdom Jesus used these as metaphors for spiritual principles. We see basic truths emerge from these teachings as we consider how a seed takes root and grows. It is a gradual process that requires time, light, water, minerals, etc., just as in our spiritual lives we are in a growth process that requires certain ingredients, such as prayer, Bible study, teaching, preaching, fellowship, trials, etc.

Today we have fewer farmers, but the basis of our relationship with Christ is predicated upon a principle that is even more common than agriculture, and that is marriage. This thread of truth runs throughout the Bible, but we see several explicit references in the following Scriptures.

"‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church." Ephesians 5:31-32 (NKJV)

"Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, ‘Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb's wife.’" Revelation 21:9 (NKJV)

Marriage Under Attack

As the Western world drifts away from Christianity, we also see everything regarding marriage coming under attack. The institution itself is ridiculed, faithfulness to one’s spouse is considered a trivial matter, and women who stay at home to care for their children are looked upon condescendingly. And, whether we like it or not, it is obvious that much of this attitude has seeped into the church, evidenced by the large number of divorces occurring among Christians. Some of these divorces might be traced to a lack of understanding of the true biblical mandates for marriage and how they represent the spiritual relationship we have with Christ. The Scriptures regarding this are tremendously unpopular with the world’s culture, and require earnest Christians to extricate themselves from contemporary thinking. Let us consider what the Holy Spirit says: "Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God." James 4:4,

"But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." 1Corinthians 2:14 (NKJV)

In contemplating the directions the Bible gives regarding marriage, we should beware of a tendency to consider them as some distant ideal. Instead we must embrace them fully if our marriages are to succeed in this day of paganism and infidelity. A good marriage requires attention in the physical realm as well as the spiritual, and it is also true that the physical mirrors the spiritual.

Your Body Is Not Your Own

"The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife. Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency." 1Corinthians 7:4-5 (KJS)

No one but God knows how many marriages have broken up because this Scripture has been disobeyed. Generally one spouse withholds his or her body from the other to "punish" the partner, or simply because interest has waned. But what is actually happening in such cases is that fraud is being perpetrated, as we read in verse 5, above.

The word "defraud" is translated as "deprive" in many modern versions of the Bible, but let us look at what the Greek word actually means. It is apostero, and the definition means "to defraud, to keep back by fraud, or to despoil." The fact that God uses such a strong word here is significant, and shows us that it is a serious offense to withhold one’s body from a spouse. Once married, a Christian’s body is no longer his or her exclusive property – it becomes communal property. This is also confirmed in Ephesians 5:31, where we read, "…and the two shall become one flesh," and in 5:28 where we read, "So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself."

To reiterate, when Christians marry they give up the rights to their body. This is a fundamental part of the agreement, and holding back is the same as cheating or defrauding someone out of something that is rightfully theirs. Moreover, when a partner is "cut off," it is often the beginning of the end for a marriage. A partner who rejects the other may not realize what deep-rooted resentment or anger he or she is causing. Nothing can justify infidelity, but many who have been defrauded in this way have used it as an excuse. Christian, do not aggrieve your partner regarding this, and ruin your marriage over it. Even a bad attitude will cause untold troubles in the future. Remember, life is full of inconveniences, and in this matter you do not have a choice if you are to obey God. Pray rather that your spouse would not be selfish if the demands are too frequent. One is also not obligated to be part of activities that one feels are perverse – in these cases obeying God supersedes the desires of man (or woman).

Your Spirit Is Not Your Own

The spiritual equivalent to rejecting the earthly spouse is rejecting the heavenly. Perhaps we believe that we have never done such a thing, and that we would never reject intimacy with Jesus. However, when we wake in the middle of the night, and feel Him bidding us, "Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away." Song of Songs 2:10 (NKJV), but pull the covers up and think, "Not tonight, I’m too tired," are we not rejecting Him? And if we continue to do so, will He not eventually stop asking, since He already knows what the answer will be? When we plan our day around a myriad of activities, but exclude time with Him, either in prayer or in allowing Him to cleanse and speak to us through His Word, are we not rejecting Him?

If Jesus were to manifest Himself physically to us, would we be like Martha and protest that we are too busy to listen to Him? It is through intimacy with Him that we come to know His character, so that we might emulate it on earth. He also alerts us to the seriousness of our sinful habits, and warns us of troubles that loom ahead. By ignoring Him who is our ultimate husband, we also lose the great benefits He wishes to bestow.

The Little Foxes Spoil the Vines

In taverns around the world, people get into fights over trivial matters that sometimes end in death. In Texas, one such fight started because a man mistakenly picked up a beer that belonged to someone else. Marriages also often begin to disintegrate over small things. Obviously those small things are a manifestation of deeper problems in a person’s life. Nevertheless, an awareness that small criticisms may lead to major problems should alert a spouse to keep quiet when he or she is tempted to berate the other because of some deficiency.

A good policy is not to argue over non-essentials, for many times it is the accumulation of these arguments that become the "straw that broke the camel’s back." And in the spiritual application, if we are constantly complaining about something that our spouse has done, this will also be reflected in our relationship with God. But we say how can that be? God is not doing that irritating thing that my wife does. Well, perhaps not directly, but He is trying you with it, and the depth of your frustration, although it appears aimed at a human being, is subliminally and latently aimed at God. For when we become dissatisfied with our worldly situation, it will inexorably be reflected in our heavenly relationship. This is why the Scripture admonishes us,

"If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?" 1John 4:20 (NKJV)

Madness in the Hearts of Men (and Women)

"Yet each man kills the thing he loves,
By each let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!"

In this excerpt from a poem written in the nineteenth century by Oscar Wilde, a brilliant writer who became a Christian after being a homosexual, we see one view of how man’s inherent sinfulness seeks to ruin his relationships. Sad to say, the ones we love most normally take the worst from us. And in the Scriptures we read:

"Truly the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil; madness is in their hearts while they live…" Ecclesiastes 9:3 (NKJV)

"The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish one pulls it down with her hands." Proverbs 14:1 (NKJV)

A large part of dealing with any problem we have in our lives is recognizing it. Since the Bible shows us that we have a great capacity to ruin what God provides for us, perhaps in considering this we can make an effort not to act foolishly. Many times troubles begin when one spouse yearns for the other to be different in some way. Satan loves to inject such thoughts, because he knows that the breeding of dissatisfaction will result in an unhappy marriage.

Husband or wife, accept your spouse as he or she is. You also have many faults, some of which you are not aware of. Wishing for a change will not bring one, nor will harping on the flaw. The only one you need to be concerned with changing is yourself. Your spouse already knows what areas of his or her life displease you, and you will only cause rejection if you keep nagging. Concentrate on the good traits of your spouse – the cup is not half empty but half full. You will never, ever have joy in your life until you jettison the critical thoughts you are harboring about your spouse. Those thoughts can only make you and your spouse miserable, so they must be rebuked.

Moreover, if you harbor ill thoughts against your spouse, you are also harboring them against someone else. And who could that be? Yes, you guessed it, against God. Granted, it is exceedingly difficult for some, because they have husbands or wives who do not believe, which brings great trials upon them. Some might even think that this is a reason for divorce, but the truth is quite the opposite. Would Christians in such marriages receive a call to go to a foreign land and become a missionary if God so desired? Would they put up with the inconveniences of life in a primitive place to reach the lost for Him? If their answer is "yes" then they should realize that they are called to be a missionary in their own home. So let us consider what a missionary does and does not do.

First, a missionary must not make the heathen feel as if they are inferior. Missionaries do not go to jungles and then tell a person there that they wish he or she were like some Christian who goes to their church. That would be ridiculous, and the heathen would probably clam up immediately. Why, then, do spouses talk that way to their unbelieving mates? Christians, do not make your spouses feel deficient because they do not believe, or you will further alienate them.

In fact, instead of doing such a thing, a missionary rather attempts to befriend the heathen. And there is only one way to do that – mingle with them and show them respect. Quit talking about the gospel to your spouse – unless he or she invites a conversation on the subject. Prayer and your attitude is what will win an unbelieving mate. Be persistent, and do not lose heart. Remember that your wife or husband is not just being stubborn – there is a great battle going on for his or her soul. The enemy is playing for keeps, and he is vicious and relentless – but you have been ordained to bring this person to Christ!

Wives Submit to Your Husbands

"Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be bitter toward them." Colossians 3:18-19 (NKJV)

This Scripture is out of favor in many churches because the rebellion of the world has crept into the church. Many women do not understand that this is basic to a peaceful marriage. Many also believe it is voided if the husband has a passive personality and does not insist that his wife obey him, or is a relentless tyrant. However, the Bible suggests no exemption for either extreme. In fact, God has something to say to those who discredit His instruction: "There is no wisdom or understanding or counsel against the Lord." Proverbs 21:30 (NKJV)

Obviously, submitting to anyone can be very difficult, but it can be especially hard if a woman has an unreasonable husband. One lady in a church said that she would submit if her husband were like Jesus, because it would be a pleasure to submit to such a man. Unfortunately, no woman has a husband like Jesus. Someone else’s spouse might appear to be easier to live with than one’s own, but the way a person behaves in a social setting can be quite different from the way that person behaves at home. Moreover, this misses the whole point – the foundational truth is that when a woman submits to her husband, she is submitting to Jesus.

Not a Chauvinistic Command

Is this then a matter of the "good ol’ boys" trying to keep the women from getting uppity and using Scripture to do so? No, the Scripture stands on its own. And we can see from other Scriptures that submission has to do with a chain of command that God had put in the church and in the Christian’s secular life to bring order to it. Men have to submit just as women do, and if a man works for a woman, he is supposed to submit to that woman in his secular life, for we also read:

"Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work…" Titus 3:1 (NKJV)

Let us remember that as great a man as David was, he had to submit to Saul and he did so even though his life was threatened by him. However, it was not the man whom David recognized as "God’s anointed," it was the position. God instructs us to submit to the position, because He has vested authority in that manner, and if we do so He will bless our lives and His desire will be done on earth. That is why the command is valid regardless of who happens to be in the position. The only exception to this, of course, is that we must never obey an ungodly request from anyone.

The Spiritual Application

The spiritual counterpart of this is submission to God. Jesus said, in John 14:15, "If you love Me, keep My commandments." If the husband is submitting to God, it is much easier for the wife to submit to the husband. But even if the husband is rebellious, the wife, in honoring this command in John 14:15, should submit to her husband. She may be a stronger Christian than he, or he may not even believe. But the spiritual intent of this submission is to open the eyes of the husband, through the meekness of the wife. This is why we read in 1Peter 3:1-2 "Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear."

God specifically prescribes this as the primary way that a woman may win her husband to Christ, and it may also prompt him toward spiritual leadership if he is a weak Christian. Certainly prayer for him is of utmost importance, but will avail much less if not coordinated with this submission. Making him feel like a spiritual loser will only push him further away. The fact is that men need to be honored by their wives regardless of their disposition. When that respect is granted, then the man wants to live up to it. But when it is withheld, the typical reaction is to turn against the wife. In cases where the husband is unreasonable, it is clear that the wife has to be the bigger "man" by submitting rather than rebelling, even though worldly logic would dictate otherwise. Perhaps Sarah felt that way when Abraham allowed her to become part of a harem. Nevertheless we read in 1Peter 3:6 that, "Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror."

The different needs of men and women are revealed in the words used for submission and love. Hupotasso is the Greek word for submit, and it literally means, "to subject one’s self, obey, to yield to one’s admonition or advice, to submit to one’s control." It also means, "a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden". In doing this, a woman is essentially showing respect for her husband – and this is what men seem to need a great deal of to be satisfied in a marriage. On the other hand, agapao is the Greek word used for love, which the man is commanded to do. The definition of agapao is "love, beloved, to love dearly, to be well pleased, to be contented with something." This connotes the idea of a person showing great affection for and contentment with another – something most women tend to desire in a relationship.

But the deeper understanding here is that these two commands do not work well independent of each other. The woman’s submission and the loving care of the husband are essentially symbiotic. And, in the heavenly reflection of this concept, we find that only as we submit to Christ do we also realize the deep love and affection that He has for us. His love does not diminish if we are rebellious, but our apprehension of it, and thus the joy we derive from it does. Obedience and love are the key ingredients to any happy marriage, including our heavenly one.

 


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