And Jesus said to them…“from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mark 10:6-9).
The Great Architect of Marriage
If you’re willing to turn to God for marital advice, you’ll soon see that His Word says a lot about your marriage. After all, He invented it and joined you and your spouse together in the first place (Mark 10:9). God doesn’t just care about your prayers, going to church and reading your Bible. His command to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ tells us that every human interaction, including every interaction with our spouse, is a spiritual matter. After all, isn’t my spouse my nearest neighbour? (Mark 12:30-31; Deut 6:4-5).
So then, how I treat my spouse and take care of my marriage, reveals how seriously I take God’s character and his commands. Marriage cannot be separated from the command to love God. It isn’t just some pesky problem that can be zipped up in a sleeping bag and put in the cupboard, while we get on with our lives. In fact, the way we love each other is a window into our relationship with God (1 John 4:7-12).
The good news is that the God himself gave us foundations to build a lasting marriage at the very beginning of the Bible:
18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him….” 20 The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said,
“This at last is bone of my bonesand flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.”
24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”
Just as the earth is subject to the laws of physics, this amazing text lays out God’s Laws which govern Marriage. He is, after all, the Architect. Here are two of them:
Law of priority
‘Leave and cleave’.
On the sixth day of creation, a comfortable rhythm is disturbed. “It was good” is replaced by “it is not good”. Why this sudden break from the pattern?
God is deliberately stressing something important about marriage here: Apart from Eve, nothing in all of creation can fill the unique role of a marriage partner. None of the animals were fit to be Adam’s true companion or helper. Only the woman was suitable. When Adam finally meets the one, he bursts forth with a love poem! “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, for she was taken out of man’ (Gen 2:23). He is enamoured with her! She is utterly different, and yet made from the same stuff as him. It is the first glimpse we get of the beautiful unity in diversity of God’s creation.
But verse 24 is the punchline of the story. Did you notice the little word, “therefore”? Some versions translate it as ‘this is the reason’ or ‘for this cause’. This verse explains what marriage is all about. Marriage solves the problem of aloneness. And the moment we choose to marry, our spouse should become the most important human in all the world to us. We leave everything else and cleave to each other, emotionally, physically and geographically. That is God’s design.
God is intolerant of rivals (Ex 34:14), and so is our spouse! This is not the sick form of jealousy that seeks to control and manipulate, but passionate, protective, healthy jealousy of our spouse’s heart. When something or someone else takes first place in your wife or husband’s affections, it is appropriate to be jealous and to fight for that affection. That’s why marriage often slides downhill when children appear on the scene. If children become all-important to mothers, men often turn to work, affairs or other interests. And if their husbands take them for granted, women often turn to children, friends or other interests.
The traditional marriage vows are beautiful in expressing what it means to leave and cleave: ‘To have and to hold,’ ‘to love and to cherish’, ‘forsaking all others, to be faithful to him/her as long as you both shall live’. This is God’s law of priority.
Could this be what’s gone wrong in so many marriages? Marriage only works if our spouse is our top priority. Above our hobbies and friendships. Above our work and leisure. Above our community projects, ministry and children. Above our personal dreams and desires. Above our duty to our parents and extended family. Our spouse deserves more than our leftovers. When this priority becomes disordered, the foundations of our marriage will start to wobble. After many years of distorted priorities, our marriage will eventually implode.
So, the first law of marriage is the Law of Priority. The second is the Law of Intimacy.
Law of Intimacy
“They shall become one flesh” forms the foundation of the Bible’s understanding of marriage and family. Jesus and Paul assume this basic law of marriage (Matt 19:5; Eph 5:31; Mark 10:9).
Remember how Adam and Eve were naked and not ashamed? But after they rebelled against God, they clothed themselves in fig leaves to cover the most intimate parts of their bodies. Sin alienated them from each other. “If I really want to impress this person, I have to fix myself up”. None of this feeling was there with Adam and Eve when they were naked…and not ashamed.
As husband and wife, we naturally drift towards this alienation, unless we take steps to cultivate intimacy. You can be living in the same house as your spouse, but this doesn’t guarantee intimacy. You can be married to the man or woman of your dreams, but this doesn’t guarantee intimacy either.
You have to nourish intimacy through love, honour and respect. It’s like caring for a delicate plant which can easily shrivel up. You have to be willing to help your spouse grow. You have to be willing to learn from him or her. These are the ingredients to nurture intimacy. But sarcasm, criticism, ridicule, refusing to say sorry, resentment and manipulation—these are just some of the poisons that some spouses pour daily over the little sapling of intimacy. And then they wonder why they have no affection, no sex life and ultimately no marriage.
Here are two letters to remind us how to practice the Laws of priority and intimacy in our own marriages. (Since men are from Mars, I asked Pete to write the letter to wives!)
Husband, if you want to nourish intimacy in your marriage, it’s not good enough just to say “I love you,” or to bring home your salary or the odd bunch of roses. Please show your wife how much you delight in her! Every woman needs to know she’s desirable and valuable, because we often don’t feel those things about ourselves, especially our bodies. Maybe you’re not a poet like Adam, but please continue to pursue your wife with all your energy. Cleave to her, (even if she’s got three children cleaving from her and baby food cleaving to her shirt!) Even when she’s saggy and grey, don’t stop pursuing her and touching her cheek gently with your hand. She is bone of your bone, flesh of your flesh! Look into her eyes and tell her that she is God’s gift to you. Protect her and build her up. Together, you are better than alone and can face anything.
Invent ways to show her that she’s beautiful to you, and be especially careful not to wound or ridicule her with your words. Help her with ordinary everyday things. Show her that you value her by sharing your emotions– even fear, hurt and shame. She won’t think less of you, just more. Be willing to listen and share in her emotions too, even if they’re through-the-roof crazy! Pray and read the Bible together often. Your hearts will bind together as one, when you turn to the One who bound you together.
Husband, don’t allow your extended family to encroach upon your marriage! Your wife is not you, nor is she your mother, and never will be! Don’t let your children mistreat their mother or take her for granted. Instead, thank her for being the heart of your home, even if this can’t be quantified in money. Let them see how much you love her. They will take great security from this.
Husband, don’t ever treat your wife like an object whose sole purpose is to give you what you want. Encourage her to use her gifts and make close friendships. Allow her to point out your blindspots. Take the lead in resolving conflicts biblically, before they become too big to talk about. Trust her to help you with decisions and problems. Don’t hide anything from her and stay faithful to her in mind and body. Say “I love you” often!
Our society teaches men to put up a veneer of being bullet proof and impenetrable. As a result, we sometimes give the impression that we don’t have feelings and the last thing we do easily is share our hopes and fears. That’s why we stand around the braai and talk passionately about impersonal “out there” things like sports teams and politics, while wives will be talking about relationships and family: things that really matter.
Wives, don’t think that that is really us and that we are shallow and superficial. We aren’t, BUT we usually open up to the closest of our friends only. People who trust, respect and appreciate us. A wife is a man’s closest friend, but looking back, this takes time, patience and care on your part. We don’t know ourselves very well. I’ve realised that the more I put into loving you, the return I get back from you is exponential. That’s a business deal worth investing in! We want to be thanked, appreciated and loved: we certainly don’t get that in society at large, and certainly not at work! We are often thought of as the bad guys.
There are many other men who are faster, stronger, brighter, wealthier, better looking, more athletic (the list is endless) than your husband. However, your husband (well this one anyway!)
loves you more than anyone else and can truly say “you are bone of my bones, the one absolutely right for me in every way (sounds like Goldilocks!)”. I love you.