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Mike Cope says we live in a word of disposable marriages. For some people, when things start to smell foul, the marriage is just tossed away like a soiled disposable diaper. Then there are some wonderful, sensitive, Christian people who have been through a divorce. They know first hand that divorce is not in God's plans. The trials and upheavals they experience cannot be what God intended.

When you accept the Bible as God's final word to man there is not a lot of ways to interpret God's feelings on the matter. GOD HATES DIVORCE (Malachi 2:16). Always has, always will. I don't have enough wisdom to deal with all the "what ifs" that occur in many marriages gone bad, so I don't feel I should be discussing such matters. Valentine's Day is coming up, so instead, let's look at some ways of improving the husband/wife relationship--some PREVENTIVE MEDICINE--so that that dreaded "D" word never has to come up.

I'm relying heavily on the Brecheen-Faulkner "Marriage Enrichment Seminar" notebook. I can't cram a weekend worth of ideas into a few minutes, though.

A Christian marriage is a total commitment of two people to the person of Jesus Christ and to each other. It is a commitment in which there is no holding back of anything. Marriage is a pledge of mutual fidelity and subordination. A Christian marriage frees up the man and woman to be themselves and become all that God intends for them to become. Marital growth never just happens. It is a series of choices coupled with hard, hard work.

God's original plan for marriage is given in Genesis 2:20-22. From those verses we learn that God developed this husband/wife relationship for COMPANIONSHIP, FELLOWSHIP, SHARING, and TOGETHERNESS. From verse 24 we learn that we are to sever the dependent relationship with our parents and bond, as in a chemical bonding, to our spouse - a permanent commitment. The "One Flesh" tells us that the sexual union is a very important part of the foundation of the growing relationship. Jesus follows this lesson in Matthew 19 with, "What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder."

We learn from Ephesians 5 that there is to be a mutual submission to one another. Neither is inferior to the other - differing roles that are understood from the beginning. Note that this is a voluntary submission - neither is told to MAKE the other submit. It is up to each individual to comply with their role.

Love and marriage is a cycle:
The more a couple does for each other, the more they love -
The more they love, the more they do for each other.
Whether or not a couple can do for each other and love each other, quite often has to do with each one's self-esteem and esteem for each other. How I feel about myself effects how I respond to and feel about my spouse/children. When I feel good about myself and set a high value on my spouse and appreciate his worth, then the dimensions of BELONGING, WORTH and COMPETENCE set in and feed on each other and make the relationship of great value and worth, worthy of the work necessary to keep it together.

The chief barriers to a happy marriage are: SELFISHNESS, PRIDE and LOW SELF-ESTEEM. What are the keys to a happy marriage? Drs. Brecheen and Faulkner devote a whole section of their seminar to COMMUNICATION, in which they say: "Dialogue is to love what blood is to the body. When the flow of blood stops, the body dies. When the dialogue stops, love dies and resentment and hate are born." When a couple ceases to communicate, mutual trust no longer exists and resentment builds. But, they quickly point out that restoring good dialogue can restore the relationship.

Another whole section is devoted to ONENESS. Sex should never be the sole foundation of a husband/wife relationship, but it is the only part of the relationship that is unique to the marriage relationship. "When other personality needs are met, sexual intercourse becomes the means of deepening, vitalizing and enriching every aspect of the relationship. It was designed by God for this purpose. It allows ONE relationship in life to be unique, unlike any other."

The most important key to a happy marriage is LOVE. A family love, a sexual love, a friendship love which we develop naturally for each other. But also, AGAPE love which has to be learned...a love "in spite of" the other person. Loving in spite of their faults. It is a love which does not seek value, but it creates value. It seeks the highest good for the other. It does not desire to get, but to give. It is not attracted by some lovable quality, but is poured out even in those worthless and degrading moments. There are no prerequisites, no conditions, no requirements on this love. Brecheen and Faulkner include a quote from an unknown author:

"Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together: Certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep that which is worth keeping, and then with a breath of kindness, blow the rest away." [--attributed to George Eliot or Dinah Maria Mulock Craik]
Isn't that the picture we get when we think of our relationship with Christ? That He'll see and hear the good in us and will be able to disregard the rest. That's why the most beautiful example of a marriage relationship given in Ephesians 5 is the picture of a husband loving his wife even as Christ loves the church. From Ephesians 5 and Revelation 20 we see a picture of Christ as the groom and the church as the bride. Christ loved the church so much that He spent His entire life on earth preparing Himself for this marriage and the last 3½ years of His life in intense concentration on courting His future bride and getting her ready to accept this idea of marriage to Him. Jesus being such an eager bridegroom-to-be is such a beautiful picture. In trying to picture this idea of Jesus as the groom and the church as the bride, I found the images I kept coming up with were based on my own wedding day. Let me share them with you.
I had no doubts about this marriage I was embarking on. My husband had separated and singled me out of a myriad of other girls and had disregarded the others in favor of me. I had no doubts - until I heard the Wedding Processional begin and the bridesmaids started down the aisle. Doubts started caving in on me - not about the groom I had chosen, but about me. Was I ready for this commitment? Wise enough, mature enough? Maybe we should just stay engaged another year or so...

All too soon it was time for me to go down the aisle. The layers of skirts on my white wedding dress, that seemed to ensnare me coming up the stairs, were straightened and the train draped just right. Shakingly, I took my Daddy's arm and lined up to go to the door to head down what seemed to be the LONGEST church aisle in the brotherhood.

At the door I looked up and, for the first time that day, saw MY GROOM waiting at the end of that long aisle. He broke into the biggest, warmest, most loving smile I've ever seen on anyone's face. His eyes twinkled and radiated warmth. I could feel his love all the way down that long aisle. I no longer concentrated on the weight of dress and how it was hanging on me. I can't remember my feet even touching the carpet. I was aware only of his love and that the singers were singing FAITHFUL AND TRUE much too slowly. I wanted to say to my Dad, "Come on, let's march in double time." I wanted to be by his side as soon as possible. I wanted his mark of love and ownership (ring) on me. I wanted to belong to him and to live with him for the rest of my life.

From that experience, this is the picture that Paul plants in my mind when I read Ephesians 5, about husbands ought to love their wives as Christ loves his bride, the Church. I'm not real up on exactly what is to take place at the end of time, so I may be mixing a few details up. Matthew 25 talks about Judgement Day as well as does the end of Revelation 20. Revelation 21 tells about this wedding scene. Although this wedding will probably be done collectively as the church, I can't help but picture this as individuals since that is the experience in my past.

I have no doubts that I want to be a part of the bride to Christ. The crowd has been separated and I have been put on the Right side, but many have been thrown into the lake of fire. Once the March begins, I won't be surprised if I'm not more than just a little shaken wondering if I am ready. Have I matured enough as a Christian? Doubts about Me are setting in. I'm still aware of a multitude of sins I've committed. I feel unworthy.

I see it like this:
All the doubts fade when I see Jesus. The radiating warmth and love in His smile tell me that He has made me worthy and He will claim me as His own and that I do belong to Him. He takes my arm in His and He leads me down the aisle to the GREAT THRONE to present me to His Father. We seem to just glide along as I realize that all the sins of my life that I never could quite forget about have been removed and I have been cleansed by the washing of water with the word. Those sins no longer ensnare my memory and my garment is as white as snow without spot, wrinkle or blemish. When we reach the Father, Jesus addresses Him and says, "See, Father, she has My mark [or seal] upon her." (Revelation 7:3 and 9:4 tell us that all who belong to Jesus will have His mark upon them.) "She is one of OUR own. Her name is found in the Book of Life. She is to dwell for eternity with Us in the New Jerusalem." Tears are wiped away and all are given the water of life.

When we understand that God is looking forward to this final scene when Christ takes the church as His bride, it's easier to understand why God hates divorce. Not only does divorce harm the hearts and lives of all those involved, it also distorts this beautiful picture that God has given us. It's this beautiful picture we should be teaching our children, our YOUNG children - Christ lovingly and willingly gave all for His bride. His example should be the pattern for our marriages.

Jeannie Cole

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Ladies Bible Class, Spring 1991

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