THE BIBLICAL FOUNDATIONS OF MARRIAGE

STUDY THIRTEEN: BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVES AND PRIORITIES

Copyright © Rosemary Bardsley 2004

A. THE PERSPECTIVE OF SERVING GOD – 1 Corinthians 7:1,8,26-28, 32-35

Life without marriage is part of that 'not-yet' world of which all believers are already members, but in which we do not yet live [Matthew 22:23-33; Luke 20:34-35]. The perfection of the Creation Factor affirmed 'It is not good for man to be alone' [Genesis 2:18], and married life is still the norm, with singleness occurring either by human choice, by divorce or separation, or by widowhood.

When the disciples reacted to Jesus' teaching on the wrongness of divorce with the comment: 'If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry' [Matthew 19:1-12], Jesus stated about singleness:

  • Some are eunuchs because they were born that way [congenital defect].
  • Others were made that way by men [castrated].
  • Others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven [voluntarily celibate in order to serve the kingdom of God].
  • Some are gifted and enabled by God to be single.

In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul, concerned above all for the glory of God and the extension of his kingdom, has these last two reasons for singleness clearly in his mind. He encouraged those who are single to stay single for the sake of God and his kingdom.

Read these passages. Discuss this perspective that wholehearted commitment to God's service has greater potential in singleness than in marriage.

1 Corinthians 7:1

 

 

 

1 Corinthians 7:8

1 Corinthians 7:26,27

1 Corinthians 7:28, 32-35

Paul sets this priority : you can serve God more whole-heartedly single [including divorced, separated or widowed], because you don't have to give time and consideration to a marriage partner. This perspective, however, is not meant to infer that marriage is not good or should be forbidden. Nor does it infer that it is impossible for a married person to serve God faithfully.

Read these verses. Discuss how they prevent an unbalanced interpretation of the value of singleness.

1 Timothy 3:2, 12

 

 

1 Timothy 4:1-4

 

 

B. THE PERSPECTIVE OF GLORIFYING GOD – 1 Corinthians 7:2-9

Yet Paul is a realist. He knows that we are not yet in heaven, that we live here on this earth as sinners who sin, and who face temptations to sin at every hand. He knew that the moral climate in the Roman Empire, and especially in Corinth, was extremely corrupt, with male and female prostitution, homosexual acts, paedophilia – including open peddling of catamites – all practised openly and without shame or disapproval. So he clearly sets a second priority. Although it is his preference for people to stay single and serve the Lord whole-heartedly without the distraction of a marriage partner, he also wants us to glorify God by our sexual purity. It is more important to honour God in the way we live than to dedicate ourselves to singleness and give in to lust, or be bothered by lust. It is also more important, within a marriage, to maintain normal sexual relations, rather than refrain from sex for religious purposes, yet find oneself an out of control victim of Satan's temptations. [ See Additional Note #19]

Study these verses. Discuss the priority that sexual purity glorifies God more than singleness without purity.

1 Corinthians 7:2

 

 

 

1 Corinthians 7:3-5

 

 

 

1 Corinthians 7:9

 

 

 

 C. THE PERSPECTIVE OF THE GOODNESS, SANCTITY AND PERMANENCE OF MARRIAGE

Nor does Paul intend that his preference for singleness should make us conclude that we should terminate our marriages. Paul affirms the sanctity of marriage, and makes it clear that the marriage, bond once in place, takes priority over any advantage of the single state. [1 Corinthians 7:10-16]

[The background of 1 Corinthians 7:12-16 was a prevailing perception that Christians should not be married to unbelievers; this perception resulted in newly converted people leaving and/or divorcing their non-Christian partners, which brought the accusation that Christianity broke up families.]

Read these verses. Discuss the priority that commitment to the marriage is more glorifying to God than a state of singleness that has broken the marriage bond. [Note especially the implications of this for the marriage where one partner has converted to Christ.]

1 Corinthians 7:10-11

 

 

 

1 Corinthians 7:12-16

 

 

 

 

D. THE PERSPECTIVE OF GOD'S CALLING

D.1 - 1 Corinthians 7:15b-24 : Paul states [ 7:15] 'God has called us to peace'.

In 17-24 he teaches that Christians are responsible to God to remain in the social situation they were in when God called them. He does this because of the many accusations that were being levelled against Christians. He does not mean that they were to refuse an offered change in their status [ 7:21], but that they were not to be the ones who disturbed the marital or social order by pushing for or illegally grasping for change. Such disturbance is not the way of those who know the Lord. The New Testament commands and commends the proactive pursuit of peace, so it is probable that the phrase 'God has called us to peace' should attach not to Paul's previous allowance for the unbeliever to depart, but to his following statement of the possibility of the believing partner bringing the unbelieving partner to salvation. [There were no verse numbers or punctuation in the Greek.] Thus, the calling to peace and to be peacemakers takes priority over escaping the potential difficulties of living as a Christian with a non-Christian partner. [See Study 12, point E.1]

Read these verses. Discuss the priority of God's calling us to live at peace and to be peacemakers, as it impacts a marriage where one person has become a believer.

Matthew 5:9

 

 

Romans 14:19

 

 

Hebrews 12:14

 

 

James 3:18

 

 

1 Peter 3:11

 

 

D.2 – 1 Corinthians 7:39; 2 Corinthians 6:14-17 : A different priority resulting from our calling is that it is wrong for a person who is already a believer to marry a person who is not a believer:

Write out and memorize the significant phrases from these verses. Discuss the contrasts listed below, and the inevitable tensions that would result in such a marriage. [ See Additional Note #20]

2 Corinthians 6:14-17

 

 

1 Corinthians 7:39

 

 

God has called us: Out of wickedness into righteousness

Out of darkness into light

Away from Satan to Christ

Away from unbelief to faith

Away from our own gods to himself.

 

And he now calls us:

His dwelling place

His people

His children.

Thus the state of singleness takes unquestioned priority for a believer over even the thought of entering so incongruous a relationship as a marriage to an unbeliever. [A 'yoke' implies submission to the authority of another, and/or a state of bondage. For a believer to choose to enter marriage with an unbeliever is to choose such a state, and totally inappropriate, as the list of contrasts above reveals.]

E. THE PERSPECTIVE OF TRANSIENCE – 1 Corinthians 7:25-31 [ See Additional Note #21]

In 1 Corinthians 7:25-31 Paul makes three references to life's changing and temporary nature:

  • 'because of the present crisis' [v26]
  • 'the time is short' [v29]
  • 'this world in its present form is passing away' [v31].

In all of these he is reminding us that 'the things of the world' are temporary – whether it be marriage, or sadness, or happiness, or possessions – whatever belongs to this world cannot be forever, and we should not let any of this world's things consume us or dictate our perspectives and priorities. Nor should we allow our lives to be influenced by the changing value systems of this world. Only the Lord's affairs carry through to eternity. Only this Lord's value system carries through into eternity.

Read and discuss these verses about the transience of the world, including human life.

  • Psalm 39:6
  • Isaiah 40:6-8
  • 2 Cor 4:16-5:10
  • James 4:14
  • 1 John 2:15-17

Read these passages. Discuss the radical difference they define between believers and unbelievers, particularly in regard to the mindset or paradigm in which both operate.

  • John 15:19
  • John 17:14b,16
  • Romans 12:2
  • 1 Corinthians 1:20
  • 1 Corinthians 3:19a
  • Ephesians 2:1-3
  • Ephesians 4:17-24
  • Colossians 2:8

In the light of our transience, and our real present identity as citizens of God's eternal kingdom, where a different mindset and value system is in place, what is wrong with:

  1. valuing a marriage on the basis of whether or not it is sexually exciting or sexually fulfilling.
  2. expecting the marriage relationship to meet all one's expectations, and stressing out when it doesn't.
  3. trying to get one's significance, one's fulfilment, one's identity from one's marriage.
  4. thinking that because a marriage is no longer vibrant or enjoyable it has to be terminated.

 F. THE PERSPECTIVE OF COMPASSION – 1 Corinthians 7:36 [ See Additional Note #22]

The state of singleness with its increased liberty to serve the Lord is also subjected to the perspective of compassion. Paul refers to an engaged couple who have agreed not to marry, or have deferred marriage, for the sake of Christ's kingdom. But the woman is getting past the socially accepted age for marriage, or perhaps getting close to menopause. Paul states that it's fine – it's not sin – to change that commitment not to marry, and to get married out of compassion for the girl. [Note that the perspective of compassion was also the initiating factor in the Biblical divorce laws; in order to protect women's reputation in the case of divorce for reasons other than adultery, the man was required by God to write her out a 'bill of divorce' so that it would be known she was not immoral. See Matthew 19:8; Deuteronomy 24:1,2.]

G. THE PERSPECTIVE OF GOD'S JUSTICE

In this section we come to the emotive question: does God require an abused spouse to stay in an abusive marriage? As Jesus pointed out on several occasions, the physical well-being of a human being takes priority over keeping the strict letter of the law [Mark 2:23-27; 3:1-6; Luke 13:10-17].

So far we have learned:

  • We have seen that embedded in the Creation Factor is the priority of the marriage relationship over and above the parent-child relationship: that a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves only to his wife. This is an order of creation.
  • God forbids murder and related actions and attitudes [go back to Study 5 point A]. This means that God forbids all forms of domestic violence – verbal, emotional and physical.
  • God commands husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church, saying 'After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church' [Ephesians 5:30]. Abuse is totally contrary to [1] this example of the body and [2] this role model, Jesus Christ.
  • God leaves room for a woman to separate from her husband, and remain unmarried [1 Cor 7:10-11].

Keeping all of this in mind let us turn to Exodus 21:12-35. Here we see God's justice system in place for violence and abuse. [Read the whole passage to get a feel of God's justice.]

Read:
Describe the abuse.
Write out the penalty.

21:15

 

 

 

21:17

 

 

 

These two verses cover the whole range of abuse:

  • The word translated 'attacks' in verse 15 means anything from strike, to wound, to murder.
  • The word translated 'curses' has the meaning 'belittle' or bring into contempt.

In these two verses are included all physical and verbal abuse that causes physical, emotional, mental and psychological suffering.

The person who abused his parents in either of these ways incurred the death penalty; [whether or not this justice was ever meted out is beside the point]. According to the order of creation, a man's wife takes priority over his parents, so although there is no Scripture dealing specifically with domestic abuse, we can reasonably conclude that in the case of abuse God's justice takes priority over the marriage law, freeing an abused partner to leave the marriage. [A caution is needed here – 'abuse' can be seen as different things by different people, and also occurs in varying degrees. The counsel of a mature and compassionate Christian leader or counsellor should be sought before the drastic step of separation. 'Abuse' should never be used as an easy excuse for opting out of a marriage that is shaky for some other reason.]

H. THE PERSPECTIVE OF RESPONSIBILITY AND ACCOUNTABILITY

The intent of this study series on marriage is to bring our perceptions of marriage back to the Biblical foundations in the written Word. Why? For three reasons:

  1. As Christians we are supposed to glorify God in every aspect of our lives.
  2. God is our creator, therefore he knows how best we should live.
  3. We are all accountable to him, and he will require us to give account of the way we have related to our marriage partner and to his instructions about sex and marriage.

Thus our priority should always be that we are each responsible to our marriage partner to treat him/her as God commands, and we are accountable to God for any disobedience of his commands.

Discuss how this accountability to God should put a boundary around the way we view marriage and the way we treat our marriage partner.

I. THE PERSPECTIVE OF THE TRANSCENDENT GRACE OF GOD [ See Additional Note #23]

In this in-between 'not-yet-in-heaven' era in which we live, sadness and suffering is inevitable. Perfection in anything, including marriage, is impossible, because we ourselves are not yet perfect. It is part of this 'not-yet' factor that we each sin, and that we each by our sin cause others to sin and to suffer. God knows this. He doesn't excuse or validate it, but he does know it. And he knows with understanding: in Jesus Christ he experienced our suffering and our temptations to the max [Hebrews 2:14-18; 4:14-16]. When we fail, and when we find ourselves in relationship difficulties where every option has some element of sin, we who trust in Christ can, without excusing or denying our sin, have absolute confidence that God's grace transcends our sin, and that our fragility and vulnerability in the presence of sin and suffering does not exile us from his kingdom or from his presence.

Read these passages. Think deeply about the phrases describing God's grace. Allow his transcendent grace to wash over you setting you free from the guilt, shame and fear that threatens your peace with him.

Romans 5:2

'this grace in which we now stand'

Romans 5:17

'how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace ... '

Romans 5:20

'where sin increased, grace increased all the more' [This means that there is no sin bigger than grace, no are there ever too many sins for grace to cover.]

Romans 5:21

'so that grace might reign' [Grace is in charge in Christ's kingdom, not law or condemnation.]

Romans 6:14

'you are not under law, but under grace'

Ephesians 1:7-8

'we have ... the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.'

Ephesians 2:7

'the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus'

1 Timothy 1:14

'The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly'

HOMEWORK TASK: Believe and rejoice in this text.

'I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense, Jesus Christ, the righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins ... ' 1 John 2:1-2.