Christian Marriage

These notes are a combination of Biblical principles and practical advice for Christian marriage. I hope they will be helpful for those intending to marry and also for those already married!

I would be very pleased for feedback - please use the comment button at the end of the article.

John Robertshaw  


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Contents:

1) Background
2) The First Marriage
3) Definition of Marriage
4) Meeting and Engagement
5) Preparing for Marriage
6) The Wedding
7) The Covenant
8) Maintaining a good Marriage
# Walk with God
# Love
# Communication
# Apology and Forgiveness
# Resolve Conflicts
# Intimacy and Tenderness
# Headship
# Faithfulness
9) Effects of the Fall
10) Polygamy


1) Background

Marriage is established in the first two chapters of the Bible and is embedded as a principle throughout the rest of the Bible. Marriage is invented by God for the benefit of human beings, for his purposes and as an illustration of the relationship that God has with his people.

Gen 1:26-28 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it...

  • Human beings are a special creation of God and are made in his image. They have responsibility to look after the earth and other living creatures.
  • The creation of human beings in his image as two sexes, male and female, is fundamental to the Bible narrative.
  • It is assumed that they will marry, become man and wife with different and defined roles, and will reproduce. (Ps 127:3-5) 

2) The First Marriage

The second chapter of the Bible has a detailed and beautiful description of the marriage of Adam to Eve.

Gen 2:7-8 then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. 8 And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.

Gen 2:15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.

Gen 2:18-23 Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” 19 Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 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 bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”

  • God made the first man Adam in his own image and gave him the job of tending the garden of Eden. Part of this job was naming the living beings.
  • God observed that Adam was lonely and made a companion for him. Companionship and friendship are fundamental to marriage.
  • God also realised that Adam needed a helper for his work in the garden - this word 'helper' does not necessarily mean a lesser assistant - it is mainly used in the Old Testament for God being our helper! (Ps 121:1-2) I don’t think we can describe God as a lesser assistant!
  • Then we have the first surgery in the Bible complete with anaesthetic, repair, and organ donation - in this case a rib!
  • And so God designed Adam’s wife - a woman who was also made in the image of God - and who was different and complementary and who would make the perfect companion and helper.
  • And Adam saw her and liked her!
  • As Adam and Eve worked together in the garden of Eden, so we as married couples can work together for God here on earth as we serve him together for his kingdom. 

3) Definition of Marriage

Following the creation of woman, there is a definition of marriage. This definition is picked up by Jesus and the apostle Paul.

Gen 2:24-25 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.

  • Marriage involves leaving parents and forming a new family with man and wife. It may require breaking away from the emotional control of well meaning parents. This is less easy in some cultures.
  • The man should hold fast to his wife - the word for 'hold fast' here and in the New Testament means cling , adhere, stick, be glued, be joined! Permanence is suggested.
  • Adam and Eve were naked and not ashamed. At this stage, the relationship between them was perfect and transparent. They also had a perfect relationship with God who visited them and walked and talked with them in the cool of the day (Gen 3:8). These open relationships with each other and God are good things to aim for in a marriage.
  • Unfortunately things went wrong in the next chapter - see later in Effects of the Fall.

Matt 19:4-6 He (Jesus) answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Jesus expands on the definition given in Genesis

  • The two shall become one flesh - this is a fusion of lives as well as a physical union of bodies.
  • God’s mathematics of marriage - two become one:  1+1=1
  • It is no longer I - but we, no longer me - but us! This can be a difficult adjustment!
  • As a married couple you are now a new unit and a new powerful force in this world for God and his Kingdom
  • God invented marriage, he made man and woman for each other, and Jesus says here that God has joined you together.
  • Marriage is not just something you do here on earth – marriages are made in heaven by God!
  • The word join here is the same as used for two oxen yoked together. God has yoked you together to work together in his garden - in his kingdom.
  • God's intention is that marriage is a permanent union for life - let not man separate
  • Marriage is designed and instituted by God but he did not intend or want separation or divorce. These are here because of the weakness of sinful human beings and our hardness of heart. (Matt 19:8, 1 Cor 7:10, 11).

Eph 5:28-31 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

Apostle Paul adds a spiritual dimension to the idea of one flesh.

  • The relationship between a husband and his wife is an illustration of the relationship between Christ and the church.
  • The fact that we are members of the body of Christ is compared to this idea of man and wife being one flesh.
  • Husbands are challenged to sacrificially love, care, nurture and encourage their wives as Christ does the church.
  • Wives are challenged to submit to their husbands and to respect them.
  • This is developed more in the section on Headship.

In another place, the Apostle Paul links the concept of 'one flesh' with sexual union in the context of immorality. (1 Cor 6:16) Some people find it helpful to pray and break 'one flesh' connections with previous sexual partners. 


4) Meeting and Engagement

This section clarifies marital status and compares arranged marriage with love marriage.

Married Status in the Bible
  • Pre-marriage singles - Young adults living in their parents’ home. They do not have sexual relations and are expected to be virgins (Ex 22:16-17, Deut 22:13-21, 28-29, Heb 13:4). Note that a man was obliged to marry a woman because he had sex with her and destroyed her virginity - not because she was pregnant! God’s perfect way is for men and women to refrain from sexual relationships until they are married. This is not changed by the permissive society we may live in. (1 Cor 7:8-9)
  • Betrothed, engaged or pledged to be married - Single adults living with parents but their marriage partner has been chosen. They do not have sexual relations with their betrothed. The betrothal contract was almost as strong as marriage and was rarely reversed (Matt 1:18-25).
  • Married - Men and women in a covenant relationship who have sexual relations. 
  • Post-married singles - Adults who are widowed or divorced. Widows often went back to their parental families (Ruth 1:8-9).
  • Remarried - Often widows married brothers or other close relatives of their husbands (Ruth 3:1-4, 1 Tim 5:14).
Married Status in Modern Secular Society
  • Single - Usually means that the person is not romantically attached to anyone at the moment.
  • Dating, going out, or in a relationship - Usually means that the person is romantically attached to another person. In the world, a sexual relationship may be expected. A sexual relationship is not appropriate for Christians - see above.
  • Living together or cohabiting - An unmarried couple are living like a man and wife in the same accommodation. A sexual relationship is assumed. This arrangement is inappropriate for Christians who should only have sex with their partner when they are in the covenant of marriage. Even if you live together and don't have sex, others will assume that you do and so it is a bad witness.
  • Engaged - The couple have made a decision to get married in the future. Often the man gives a ring to the woman. They may both be called the fiancée of the other. 
  • Married - The couple make a legal contract which gives them rights and obligations. The laws governing married couples varies by country. It is expected that married couples live together and have sex together. Christian marriage has another dimension since the couple makes Christian based vows before God and a congregation - this constitutes their marriage covenant.
  • Separated - The couple stop living together. They are still legally married.
  • Divorced - The couple legally revoke the marriage contract. They are no longer legally married. There may still be rights and obligations depending on the terms of the divorce settlement.
  • Remarried - A divorced or widowed person gets married again.

There are two main systems in the world for finding a suitable husband or wife. Both of these are found in the Bible.

Arranged Marriage
  • Your spouse is found by your parents. They may be found from family, friends, advertisement, recommendation or the internet.
  • You may meet the person briefly before you get married but you probably do not know them.
  • Advantages - You will not be left unmarried. Good parents will be very careful in choosing a suitable spouse and will usually go ahead only with your agreement. Your parents will be very committed to and supportive of your marriage since they have arranged it. You may make more effort to develop love for your spouse.
  • Disadvantages - You do not know the person you are getting married to and you may not like them. There is no way of testing the relationship.
  • This is not necessarily the same as forced marriage. In forced marriage, the spouse is found by your parents and you are given no choice - you are compelled to marry this person.
Love Marriage
  • You meet someone or find them on the internet etc.
  • You spend time with them and decide you love them and wish to marry them. You consult or inform your parents.
  • Advantages - You are able to test the friendship to see if you get on well together. You know the person you are getting married to.
  • Disadvantages - You may never meet anyone suitable and so remain single. There is a danger that infatuation and sexual attraction are mistaken for love and that these weaken in marriage. Your parents may not be supportive of the marriage.

It is not clear that love marriages are more successful than arranged marriages.

Equally Yoked

2 Cor 6:14-16  Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people..."

  • In the Old Testament the Israelite followers of the true God were instructed not to marry followers of other gods. (Deut 7:3-4)
  • In the New Testament Christian believers are instructed not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. This word yoked is similar to the word that Jesus used for a married couple being joined together by God. (Matt 19:6) A yoke was a wooden structure used to join two animals together as they pulled a cart or plough. This was difficult if the animals were not well matched.
  • For a Christian whose main aim in life is to follow Jesus, it makes no sense to marry someone who does not share this main aim.
  • Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit - you need to share it with another temple of the Holy Spirit!
  • There are also many types of Christians. You will do well to marry someone with compatible beliefs and who enjoys similar expressions of faith, worship etc.
Finding a Partner

Is there only one person in the world that you should get married to?

  • Some believe this but others believe that there are many people in the world with whom you could have a happy, successful and fulfilled marriage?

What are you looking for in a partner?

  • It's a good idea to have a clear idea of the qualities you are looking for - these will reflect your own life priorities. Some people find it helpful to write these down.
  • Bear in mind that you are unlikely to find your ideal person and you will need to compromise on some of these qualities. However, you need to accept people as they are and not see it as your life mission to change them! Remember too that you promise to be committed to them 'for better or for worse'!

What's the best way to find a suitable spouse?

  • The obvious answer is to pray that God will send the right person your way!
  • A good choice could be someone you have known most of your life as a friend - there may be fewer surprises!
  • It's helpful for groups of Christian singles to spend time socially together doing lots of interesting things. You learn more about someone as you see them relate to lots of different people - not just yourself. This can happen at college, university, church, singles holidays etc. There is less pressure being part of a friendship group than being locked into a relationship.
  • Internet dating is becoming increasingly popular and results in both successful and disastrous marriages! Speaking to people on phones and screens is a poor substitute for face-to-face friendship encounters. You never know what baggage is behind the smiling face! You also don't see the person in more normal environments.
Gender Imbalance
  • A major problem in many parts of the world is that there are many more single women than single men in the churches.
  • This means that Christian women may remain unmarried or may resort to marrying non-Christian men. 

5) Preparing for Marriage

Many marriage problems can be intercepted by careful preparation for marriage. Parents and church leaders can be of great help.

General Church Teaching
  • Aspects of marriage should be included somehow in the general teaching of the church so that everyone is familiar with the nature and responsibilities of Christian marriage.
  • It is important to emphasise the fact that a Christians should marry a Christian (2 Cor 6:14-16).
  • Young people should be encouraged to maintain pure and holy lives remaining virgins until marriage.
  • For Christians, the only setting for sexual relations is within heterosexual marriage.
  • Young people should be advised how to behave in friendships and relationships.
  • There should be frequent warnings of the dangers of pornography, media, internet chat rooms etc!
  • Immorality in the church should be dealt with firmly and sensitively.
Marriage Courses, Counselling and Advice
  • Churches should have some system for helping and advising couples intending to get married.
  • There are many marriage courses and books available for this purpose.
  • Topics covered could be:
    • What is marriage?
    • Vows, promises and covenant
    • Communication
    • Intimacy
    • Finance
    • Homemaking
    • Planning the wedding
    • etc! etc!
  • Sometimes these courses raise important questions or difficulties which can be approached with advice and counselling.
  • Very occasionally it may be necessary to advise on the suitability of the marriage.
  • It is always good for those contemplating marriage to get advice from parents, relatives, friends and church leaders.
  • Couples may find it helpful to study the Bible or Christian books together in preparation for marriage.
  • If a couple have serious doubts about their marriage, it may be best to call it off however inconvenient or embarrassing. It's easier to cancel a wedding than go through a divorce! 

6) The Wedding

There are no complete ceremonies described in detail in the Bible but there are certain customs which can be traced throughout the Bible:

  • A definite ceremony confirming the marriage
  • Special bridal clothing, jewelry, and a veil (Ps 45:13-14, Is 49:18, Gen 24:65)
  • Special clothes for the groom (Is 61:10)
  • Bridesmaids and friends of the groom (Ps 45:14, Judg 14:11, 20, Matt 25:1-10, John 3:29)
  • Procession (Matt 25:1-13, Ps 45:14-15)
  • Marriage Feast (Matt 22:1-14, Gen 29:22, Judg 14:10, Matt 22:1-14, John 2:1-11)
  • Blessing by parents and friends (Gen 24:60, Ruth 4:11-12)
  • Covenant (Prov 2:17, Ezek 16:8, Mal 2:14)
  • Festivities(one or two weeks!) with singing and dancing (Gen 29:27, Ps 45:1-17)
  • Wedding night (Gen 29:22-24, Joel 2:16)
  • Gifts/dowry (Gen 34:12, Ex 22:16, 1 Sam 18:25, 1 Kings 9:16)

There are different ways to get married (UK).

Civil Ceremony
  • Legal statements are said in the presence of a registrar in a registered place. A register of marriages is signed.
  • Legal Declaration example: "I declare that I know of no legal reason why I (your name) may not be joined in marriage to (your partner's name)".
  • Contracting Words example: "I (your full name), take you (your partner's full name) to be my wedded wife/husband".
  • Signing of the Register: A certificate of marriage is signed by the couple and some witnesses. You are then legally married.
  • You may enhance the occasion by adding rings, promises, music, readings etc. In a civil wedding at a register office(UK), you are not allowed to have any religious element, mention of God, prayers, hymns etc.
Christian Ceremony

This needs to include the above legal elements and adds Christian wedding vows, prayers, hymns, Bible readings, talks etc. There are various ways of achieving this:

  • Where the Christian minister is registered and the building is registered, the minister may act as registrar. The legal and Christian aspects can all be included in one event in one place.
  • If the building is registered but the minister is not, another registrar may be in attendence to hear the legal statements and supervise the signing of the register and so again it may all happen in one place.
  • If neither the building or the minister is registered, you may need to do the wedding in two parts - a short civil ceremony at a register office to cover the legal side and then the Christian ceremony later at any location.
Minimum Essential Wedding Elements:

You can get married in an inexpensive way!

  • Legal statements and registration - your contract in law
  • Christian vows -  your covenant before God, family and friends
  • Prayers
  • Giving ring(s)
Other Common Elements:

Or you can spend a great deal of money!

  • Wedding dress etc. for the bride
  • Bride's maids
  • Special groom's clothes
  • Best man and other groom's attendants, ushers etc.
  • Procession(s)
  • Music, hymns, songs, readings, talk, programme, prayer/blessings by friends and family etc.
  • Wedding meal, reception
  • Speeches by bride's father and best man etc.
  • Wedding gifts, dowry
  • Dancing
  • Honeymoon
  • etc! etc!
Other Ceremonies
  • Some cultures also have traditional/tribal marriage ceremonies - these may involve significant participation by the two families, dowries etc. 

7) The Covenant

Central to Christian marriage are the vows which are made at the wedding. These vows are made before God, your spouse and a congregation of friends and family. They are serious life long promises which are your marriage covenant. Some churches have a fixed set of vows, other churches may allow you to write your own vows as long as they include essential themes.

Sample Traditional Marriage Vows

1st Part
N, will you take N to be your wife(husband)? Will you love her(him), comfort her(him) and protect her(him), and, forsaking all others, be faithful to her(him) as long as you both shall live? I will
2nd Part
I, N, take you, N , to be my wife(husband), to have and hold from this day forward; for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish(and obey), till death us do part, according to God’s holy law; and this is my solemn vow.
3rd Part
I give you(recieve) this ring as a sign of our marriage. With my body I honour you, all that I am I give to you, and all that I have I share with you, within the love of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

 

There are four main themes in these vows:

Love - caring, protecting, honouring, respecting

  • It is responsibility for another adult. You promise to love and care for another person whatever might happen — you take on a new dependant. (Eph 5:25-26, Titus 2:4) You are there to help each other. (Gen 2:18, 20)

Faithfulness - to have no affairs or any sexual activity outside marriage

  • High standards are expected for Christians (Ex 20:14, Heb 13:4, Rom 7:2-3, Prov 5:15-23, Mal 2:14, Matt 5:27-28, 1 Cor 6:16)

Sharing - of lives, bodies and possessions

  • It is sharing your life, your time, your ambitions, your service of the Lord (Acts 18:26, Rom 16:3), your resources and your bodies with each other. (1 Cor 7:4-5) 
  • It is restricting as you are accountable to someone else and as you have less freedom to live an independent life. (1 Cor 7:32-35)
  • It can be a challenge to share finances and possessions. Everything is now ours and not mine!
  • Whoever earns the money, it belongs to you both and you should try to manage it wisely together.
  • For Christians anyway, everything belongs to God - you are only stewards! (Ps 24:1-2, Deut 8:17-18, 10:14, Mar 10:21)
  • You can plan your giving together and be cheerful givers! (Acts 20:35, 2 Cor 9:7)

Permanence - until death of one of the partners

  • Marriage is binding until death. Death frees you from your covenant. (Rom 7:2-3, 1 Cor 7:39) and you are free to marry another. Marriage is not eternal and there is no marriage in heaven (Matt 22:29-30)

Usually the covenant is sealed with a sign such as the giving and receiving of rings.

Renewing Vows
  • Some people who have been married for some time may like to publicly renew their wedding vows. This could follow marriage problems which have been resolved.
  • Some couples who had a secular wedding and have since become believers may wish to make Christian vows before God to enhance their marriage. 

8) Maintaining a good Marriage:

The next few sections suggest ways to maintain a good marriage. The assumption is that this is a Christian Marriage where husband and wife are both Bible believing, born again Christians. Some of the advice may still be helpful where one partner is not a Christian.

# Walk with God

It is generally true that if husband and wife are Christians and walking with God then the marriage is more likely to be successful.

What does it mean to be a Christian?

A Christian is a disciple or follower of Jesus Christ. Essential to becoming a Christian are:

  • Repenting from your sin (Mark 1:14-15)
  • Believing that Jesus died on a cross to save you from sin and give you eternal life (John 3:16)
  • Deciding to be a follower of Jesus Christ (Matt 16:24)
  • The action to declare that you are a Christian is to be baptised in water. (Acts 2:38)
  • As a Christian, you can be filled with the Holy Spirit who will give you power to live for God and to serve him. (Mark 1:8, Acts 19:6)
What does it Mean to Walk with God?

The Christian life is primarily about lifestyle - it is an everyday way of life:

  • We are called to love God and love our neighbour as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31)
  • We need to worship and serve God in our words and actions (Luke 4:8)
  • Our lives will be authentic as we obey his commandments (John 14:15, 1 John 5:2-3)
  • Our walk with God will be enhanced as we spend time reading the Bible and in prayer (Psalm 119:105, Matt 6:6)
  • The message of the kingdom of God should be deep in our hearts. (Matt 4:19, Acts 1:8, Matt 28:19-20)
  • We will be effective as we find the gifts and call that God has for us. (Rom 12:4-8, 1 Cor 12:4-7, 1 Peter 4:10-11, Acts 13:2, Rom 8:28, Eph 4:1-2)
  • As we belong to a local church, our whole lives will benefit from the fellowship, teaching, encouragement, pastoral care, oversight etc. (Acts 2:42-47, Rom 12:5, Heb 10:24-25) This can also protect your marriage.
God in the Relationship

For a married couple, it is important to maintain your individual walk with God and also to develop a walk with God together.

Ecc 4:9-12 Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! 11 Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? 12 And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

  • This passage is not specifically about marriage but it is often applied to marriage.
  • A couple can protect, help, support and comfort each other.
  • They can face issues of life together and prevail.
  • The threefold cord (or a cord of three strands) is not explained. Ropes can be made of three strands and braided like a hair plait - this makes them strong and durable. In the same way, a marriage will be stronger when God is also present in the relationship.
Serving God Together

A good example of an effective married Christian couple is Aquila and Priscilla (or Prisca).

  • Paul came across them in Corinth and stayed with them and worked with them making tents. (Acts 18:1-4)
  • Later they sailed with Paul to Ephesus where they stayed to spread the gospel while Paul moved on. (Acts 18:18-21)
  • Priscilla and Aquila had a clear grasp of the gospel and were able to explain it clearly to Apollos. (Acts 18:26)
  • They had a church in their home in Ephesus and Paul was involved in it. (1 Cor 16:19)
  • Eventually they moved to Rome and again had a church in their home. (Rom 16:3-5)
  • It is often easier for a married couple to be hospitable and open their home up for meals, fellowship, prayer, worship, teaching, breaking of bread and sharing the gospel. (Acts 2:42-47)
  • There are of course many other ways that married couples can serve God together as well as individually. 

# Love

There are various kinds of love:

Best of Friends
  • God made Eve to be the perfect companion for Adam.
  • Our partner should be our best friend who we share our life with.
  • We need to enjoy each other's company, like doing things together, and take an interest in each other.
  • As close friends, we will want keep in touch and find out what each other has been doing.
Falling in Love
  • It's a fantastic feeling to fall in love! There is infatuation, personality attraction, physical/sexual attraction and a deep emotion of love towards the other person. It is romantic love.
  • You keep thinking about the other person, long to be with them and can't help looking at them and being aware of them if you're in the same room.
  • You think about them first thing in the morning and last thing at night and may contact them several times a day.
  • You like to be close, to kiss and to say "I love you!".
  • Falling in and out of love is, of course, the main subject or a sub-plot of many stories, books and movies.
  • Many people see this kind of love as essential for a couple intending to get married. However, it probably will not be there when the couple have an arranged marriage - they hope to fall in love after they marry!
  • It is, of course, wonderful if you can stay fallen in love for a long marriage.
  • The problem with this kind of love is that it is feeling which is not always under your control. You can fall in love and fall out of love quite quickly. You can be married and fall in love with someone else. The strength of this love is often strongly linked with your level of intimacy which might change.
  • In fact this kind of love is vulnerable and, if it is relied upon alone, can lead to unhappiness adultery, separation and divorce etc. Sadly, the new line becomes "I don't love you any more!"
Godly Love

1 John 4:7-12  Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

1 Cor 13:4-7  Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

  • This deep kind of Christian love is often associated with the Greek word for love, agape.
  • This is the kind of love that God has for us. He is the source of love and he is love!
  • The Bible commands us to love - to love God, to love one another, to love our enemies, to love our husband, to love our wife etc. (Mark 12:30-31, Luke 6:27-28, Eph 5:25, John 13:34, Titus 2:4)
  • It is a love based on decision, obedience and the will as well as feeling.
  • It is the love that follows through on the wedding promises - "for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part".
  • There is also also emotion with this love - it has feelings of care, concern, compassion, empathy sympathy, kindness, mercy, tenderness, affection etc. (Matt 9:36, 14:14, Luke 10:33, 15:20, Phil 2:1-3)
  • This supernatural love comes from God to us and then extends out to other people by the Holy Spirit in us. (Gal 5:22-23)
  • This love is sacrificial as exemplified by Jesus loving us and giving himself for us. In the same way, we can be sacrificial in our love for our spouse. (Rom 5:8, Eph 5:25)
  • This godly love endures when everything else is not going well. This love will preserve a shaky marriage! 

# Commmunication

Marriage is the ultimate partnership and communication is so important.

Ways of Communicating

There are many different ways of communicating:

  • Say it with words
  • Say it with actions
  • Say it with eye contact a smile and body language
  • Say it with intimacy
  • Say it with gifts
  • Say it by listening
  • Say it by helping
  • Say it by caring
  • Say it by being kind
  • Say it by respect
  • Say it by humour - have fun
  • Say it by being supportive
  • Say it by being encouraging
  • Say it by giving quality time
  • Say it by meeting material needs
  • Say it by meeting emotional needs
  • Say it by being on the same side

People are different - Each person places different value on these ways of communicating and responds to some more than others. As loving partners, we need to find the communication 'language' which our partner responds to and express our love in this way. Misunderstanding can arise because we do not communicate in the appropriate 'language'. Different situations need different kinds of communication - learn to anticipate.

Levels of Communication

We communicate with people we meet at different levels usually depending on how well we know them. With most people there is a gradual increase in our level of communication.

Level 1 - Superficial level of casual conversation including greetings and jokes.
Level 2 - Reporting facts. Talking about work, events, interests, sport, media, music, etc. Avoiding controversy.
Level 3 - Stating your opinions. Airing your views and judgements on personal issues, news, politics, religion. This may be controversial with the possibility of disagreement and confrontation.
Level 4 - Sharing your feelings, hopes, fears, joys and emotions. At this level you become most vulnerable.


A married couple should aim to communicate at a high level of sharing of feelings. Trust is required as we make ourselves vulnerable. We need confidence that our partner will still accept us and not judge us.

  • Be a good listener (James 1:19). Demonstrate worth of your partner by giving sincere attention to what they are saying.
  • Make an effort to understand what is being said.
  • Be careful how you react and respond
  • Don’t force your partner to communicate at a level beyond which they are comfortable.
  • Be open about your feelings. Don’t expect your partner to know how you feel.
  • Allow your partner to to see your faults
  • Express warmth by your actions and attitudes
  • Some people have past experiences, insecurities and difficulties which may come to light when they are in an intimate relationship. Be prepared to support as necessary.
Communicating your Love
  • Communicate that you love and care for your partner.
  • Let them know that you respect them and honour them.
  • Respect their opinions and decisions. Show confidence in them.
  • Always speak well of your partner to others.
  • Don't undermine your partner in the presence of others.
  • Ensure that they know that you support them and are on their side.
  • Notice if you your partner tries to please you.
  • Try to let them know that they are first in your life.
  • Remember that your partner will see through your words and actions and will know what you really think of them! 

# Apology and Forgiveness

Unfortunately as human beings we are not perfect. We can easily become selfish, moody, grumpy, angry, unkind and rebellious - especially when we are close to people and spend a lot of time with them. We can cause offence and be offended. We can say things in anger that we never really intended. We may end up not communicating with each other for some time. Apology and forgiveness are God's ways to restore relationships damaged in this way. Often there is wrong on both sides - so both need to apologise and forgive.

Apology
  • Apology is closely linked with repentance. We have have not just offended the other person but we have also sinned against God. (Luke 15:21, 2 Sam 12:9, 13, 1 Cor 8:12)
  • The person who has done wrong and caused hurt must apologise and repent before God.
  • Don’t wait for the other to make the first move. Deal with wrong as soon as possible.
  • Select an appropriate time and place.
  • Go to the person you have wronged.
  • Identify the offence.
  • Assume full responsibility for your words and actions - make no excuses!
  • Apologise and say you are sorry.
  • Ask them to forgive you.
  • Reassure them of your love for them.
Forgiveness
  • Forgiveness of other people is an essential part of being a Christian. We must forgive and keep forgiving because we have been forgiven so much by God. (Luke 17:3-4, Matt 18:21-35, Eph 4:32, Col 3:12-14, Mar 11:25)
  • The person who has been wronged and hurt must forgive.
  • Separate the offense from the offender - you didn't like what they did but you still love them!
  • You have no right to be bitter and to wallow in self pity because you have been hurt.
  • You need to look to the interests of your partner and realise that they will be unhappy too.
  • Be prepared to make the first move
  • Don't accuse your partner - or the disagreement will be repeated!
  • Express your love and desire to forgive.
  • In your heart before God, consider the hurts and any bitterness which you may have. Consider the forgiveness of God and by an act of will extend your forgiveness to your partner. (Luke 6:36)
  • Repent of any bad attitudes and learn what you can from the situation. 

# Resolve Conflicts

You are bound to have disagreements over various issues to do with both of your lives. These could be to do with money, jobs, accommodation, sex, use of time, decor, clothes, children, family etc. You need to have good strategies for dealing with these issues which can be the start of difficult arguments.

Be peacemakers! (Matt 5:9, James 3:17-18, John 14:27)

Both can win
  • Chose a suitable time for discussion.
  • Both say what you would like the outcome to be.
  • Keep "us versus the problem" attitude. Things get out of control when you are both wanting to win the argument.
  • Examine the facts, areas of agreement and disagreement.
  • List possible solutions and and decide on a course of action.
  • Always attack the issue and not each other.
  • Postpone discussion if it gets too emotional.
  • If no agreement can be reached and you have exhausted all the possibilites, then husband must take responsibility for the decision and wife should graciously go along with it.
Good and bad Strategies
  • Must win - Tries to win arguments at all costs. This is selfish and competitive.
  • Avoid and Yield - You are willing to set aside your own opinions for sake of your partner - avoiding conflict and confrontation. You take no responsibility for decisions, you leave it to your partner. The problem is that this can be a doormat mentality without responsibility. It is always best if both of you can be involved fully in decision making.
  • Bargaining - Reach decision by trading interests. "You can have this if I have that!" Bargaining is dangerous because you are both scoring points and you take turns in getting your way. This is not real agreement and can squeeze out love. It is particularly bad if you are trading sex!
  • Compromise - This can sometimes be a good solution if it is possible.
  • Resolve - This is the best strategy. Both want "what is best for us" rather than "what I want".
Reacting to Criticism
  • None of us like to be criticised or rebuked.
  • The criticism may be about our behaviour or what we have said etc.
  • Our first reaction to criticism is usually to be defensive and try to excuse or give a reason for what was done.
  • Another bad reaction is to retaliate with another criticism back to our partner in an attempt to deflect the first criticism!
  • The important thing to realise is that your spouse knows you best and is your best critic. Often what they observe about you is true! Remember that God has given you your spouse to help you. (Prov 25:12, 27:6, Eccl 7:5)
  • A good response to criticism can help you grow as a Christian.
Unfair Tactics

These tactics are sometimes used in an attempt to force your partner to let you get your way.

  • Personalise - Instead of focussing on the issue, you move the conversation to what you think about your partner or what they think about you.
  • Attack - Show anger, shout, bombard with words, retaliate, blame, criticise, belittle, insult or ridicule.
  • Manipulate - Claim helplessness, be moody, withdrawn, be sorry for yourself, adopt a 'poor me' attitude, complain of being hurt.
  • Punish - Withhold communication, love, friendship, sex, money etc. to teach your partner a lesson!
  • Hoard Grievances - Bring up contentious issues from the past that have supposed to have been forgiven, forgotton or resolved!
  • Threats and violence - Unfortunately these unfair tactics can become physical, psychological, sexual or economic abuse. 

# Intimacy and Tenderness

1 Cor 7:2-5 But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. 3 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

  • Intimacy and tenderness is not only about sex. It is also about eye contact, smiles, gentle words, being close together, embracing, kissing, touching, caressing, holding hands etc. (Eph 5:25)
  • Lifelong intimacy is encouraged. (Prov 5:18-19, Eccl 9:9)
  • Remember that your bodies belong to each other and you need to look after each other carefully as temples of the Holy Spirit. (Eph 5:28-29)
  • There should always be consent. Sex should never be demanded, forced, bargained for or used in bribery - otherwise it is effectively rape or prostitution. (Col 3:19)
  • Lust insists on fulfilling its own needs and desires. Love considers the needs and desires of the other person. (1 Cor 13:4-5)
  • There may be times when sex is not possible. One of the partners may be tired, sick, stressed, depressed etc. or the couple may be apart. This is not a reason or excuse to have sex with someone else or to engage in other immorality or pornography. It is a time for love, patience, faithfulness, gentleness and self control! (Gal 5:22-24, 1 Thess 4:3-5)
  • Frequency of sex for married couples varies considerably. Some surveys suggest that once or twice a week is typical but there are variations from many times a week to once or twice a year! It's not that important as long as you are both content with your degree of intimacy. Frequency of sex can change and may be affected by age, health, tiredness, anxiety, having children and other factors.
  • Sometimes one partner prefers sex more often than the other. It is important to be considerate and understanding with each other and not to allow this to become a big problem causing frustration and resentment. Good communication will help.
  • It is often said that men are more influenced by what they see and women are more influenced by the words they hear. Also, of course, it's important to wash and deal with body odours, bad breath etc!
  • Sexual expectations may be exaggerated because of the emphasis on sex in society, movies and the media. Don't worry if it doesn't reach expectations - it is not a performance sport! Just enjoy being with each other - and keep your sense of humour!
Song of Songs

This is a beautiful love song describing the tender relationship between man and woman. The story is difficult to follow but there are a number of scenes expressing the passions of love. There are vivid descriptions of the human body (SS 4:1-7, 5:10-16, 6:4-10, 7:1-9), intense expressions of love and desire (SS 2:1-17, 4:8-5:1, 6:1-3, 7:10-8:7) and the longing for a loved one far away (SS 3:1-3, 5:2-8). There is a refrain echoing the power of love and a warning not to arouse it until the appropriate time (SS 2:7, 3:5, 8:4). This may be good to read on your honeymoon! 


# Headship

This is an unpopular subject in our modern society which seeks to remove differences between the roles of the sexes. The Bible, however, does consistently distinguish between men and woman and extends this to differing roles within marriage.

God did not make woman from the head of the man so she could dominate him
or from his feet to be trodden on by him
- but from his side to be equal to him, 
from under his arm to be protected by him,
and from near his heart to be loved by him.

(Matthew Henry)


Eph 5:22-32 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Col 3:18-19 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.

  • The husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. Christ gave a wonderful example of godly leadership to his disciples as he washed their feet. (John 13:13-15). He promoted the concept of servant leadership and demonstrated it as he gave his life for us. (Matt 20:25-28). A husband should be a servant leader in his marriage.
  • Christ loved the church and purified her to make her pure and holy. And so a husband can aim to bring the very best out of his wife as a woman of God who is pure and holy and effective in the Kingdom of God.
  • You are one flesh together. As you encourage each other, you enrich your own lives, your marriage and your family life.
  • If you hurt each other, you will be hurting yourself.
  • The husband is the head of his wife but together as a team they lead in their home and family.
  • Nowhere does it say that the husband should compel his wife to submit to him by his words or actions. His job is simply to love his wife! It is her job to love and respect her husband and to submit to him! After all, God simply loves us and we gladly submit to him! (1 John 4:10, 19)

1 Peter 3:1-7 Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, 2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 3 Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— 4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious. 5 For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, 6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.
7 Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.

Titus 2:4-5 and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.

1 Cor 11:23 But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.

  • Holy and righteous wives can encourage their husbands in their faith and enable them to be powerful men of God.
  • The behaviour of a godly wife can be an effective witness for the truth of the gospel.
  • Wives should be attractive to their husbands but not dress in a provocative way to attract other men.
  • The different roles of husband and wife does not imply a difference in importance or significance. They are both heirs of life and both sons of God in Christ Jesus - there will be no gender differences eternally. (Gal 3:26-29, 1 Cor 11:11-12, Matt 22:30)
  • The excellent wife who fears the Lord in Prov 31:10-31 is an amazing hard working woman who has stength and dignity and brings honour to her husband and family.
  • Nowhere does it say that a wife should insist that her husband loves her. Her job is to love and honour her husband and submit to him! It is his job to love and honour his wife!

Headship in marriage is God's way of bringing order and peace to the relationship. 


# Faithfulness

Faithfulness includes trustworthiness, fidelity, honesty, keeping promises, loyalty, constancy, reliability and integrity.

  • Faithfulness is an important quality of God. (Ex 34:6, Deut 7:9, Ps 71:22, 89:14, 108:4)
  • We are also called to reflect this faithfulness in our dealings with God and with others.
  • In marriage, this particularly applies to keeping our marriage vows. Whenever we break one of our promises, we are being unfaithful to our partner.
  • Not loving, caring, comforting,  protecting, honouring, sharing, cherishing etc. are all ways of being unfaithful.
  • Having other relationships which are closer and more important than that with your spouse is a form of unfaithfulness.
Sexual Unfaithfulness
  • Cheating on your spouse is the usual meaning of unfaithfulness.
  • This usually begins as a close friendship with someone met at work, socially or on the internet.
  • It begins to be dangerous when you confide in them about how your relationship with your spouse is going.
  • You may develop a sexual relationship. You may or may not consider yourself to be 'in love' with this person.
  • This is adultery. Adultery is when you are married and have sex with someone else. The 'someone else' also commits adultery by having sex with a married person. Adultery was a serious sin in the Bible. (Ex 20:14, Lev 20:10, Prov 6:32, John 8:3-5)
  • For a married person to go with a prostitute is also adultery.
  • Jesus expands the definition to include a man simply looking at a woman lustfully. (Matt 5:27-28)
  • This includes our thoughts about other people and our fantasies. Pornography, of course, is basically looking at other people lustfully.
  • Jesus also had high standards regarding divorce and remarriage. The only ground he permits for divorce is sexual immorality (Greek: porneia) which is is wider than adultery and includes many of the sexual sins mentioned in the Old and New Testaments including: incest, homosexual behaviour, sex with animals, prostitution, rape, orgies, filthy talk, sensuality, lust etc. (Matt 5:32, 19:9, Mar 7:21-23, Ex 20:14, Lev 18:6, 20, 22, 23, 19:29, Deut 22:5, 23-24, 25, 23:17-18, Rom 1:26-27, 13:13, Gal 5:21, 1 Peter 4:3, Eph 5:3-4, 1 Thess 4:4-5)
  • The Christian way is for sexual activity to be only between a man and his wife.
Keep Your Promises
  • Taking your wedding vows seriously will provide powerful protection for your marriage. 

9) Effects of the Fall

The first sin of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden is often called 'the fall'. It was catastrophic for Adam and Eve and for the whole human race.

Gen 2:16-17  And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Gen 3:1-7  Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

  • God's original command to Adam was that he should not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam presumably taught Eve this one command.
  • The serpent approached Eve and questioned this command. He then contradicted God's command and tempted Eve with a promise of knowledge and being like God.
  • Eve was deceived by the serpent and was further tempted by the fact that the tree had attractive fruit.
  • Eve ate the fruit of the tree and gave to Adam who was with her.
  • Eve led her husband into sin.
  • In fact this incident was a severe attack by the serpent on the first marriage. Eve took the lead and usurped her husband's headship. Adam abdicated his responsibility as her head, he did not protect his wife, he did not correct her when she sinned and he followed her example in disobeying God.
  • This is why apostle Paul also says that Adam was the first sinner - as head of his wife, he was responsible for this first sin and for sin spreading to the whole of mankind! (Rom 5:12, 1 Cor 15:22)
  • Before this sin, Adam and Eve were perfect with no evil thoughts or actions. Now they had become sinners and immorality became a possibility and this may explain the awareness of nakedness and the fig leaves.
  • Before this sin, Adam and Eve would also have had a perfect relationship with each other. The fig leaves are also symbolic that this relationship had been damaged - they were hiding from each other.

Gen 3:8-19  And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”...

16 To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.”

17 And to Adam he said,“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it, ’cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

  • Adam and Eve were not only hiding from each other, they also hid from God. Their sin had broken the perfect relationship with God.
  • When God challenged Adam, he blamed Eve for giving him the fruit - and he appears to blame God for giving him Eve!
  • Eve blamed the serpent.
  • Unfortunately there was no repentance by Adam or Eve at this stage.
  • God accuses Adam of two offences: He listened to the voice of his wife. He ate of the tree.
  • "Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you." (Other versions: "Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.") The meaning of this statement is not obvious but many believe that this is a reference to the conflict between the sexes, male dominance and women's desire for liberation:
  • Man subconsciously blames woman for his fallen state and is afraid of being usurped by her. Men respond by dominating and exploiting women sexually, socially and economically. This is a gross distortion of the the intended headship of husbands. 
  • Woman subconsciously mistrusts man who did not take the lead and did not protect her in her time of need. Women attempt to break free from the dominance of men and reject the headship of husbands.
  • See the ideal for the redeemed relationship between husband and wife in the section Headship

10) Polygamy

It is clear that monogamy (one wife only) was God’s original purpose. (Matt 19:4-6). The whole sense of the two becoming one flesh is lost when there are several wives! God only gave Adam one wife. Polygamy was introduced with Lamech (Gen 4:19) and several significant people in the Bible had more than one wife e.g. Jacob, David, Solomon. There are no Old Testament laws condemning polygamy but there are regulations and there are lessons to be learned from the problems generated by having many wives. (Deut 17:17, 21:15-17, 1 Sam 1:6, 1 Kings 11:4) Jesus and the New Testament writers presume monogamy and this is a requirement for church leadership (1 Tim 3:2) along with various other requirements which are general to Christians. 

Written 2019 - includes some earlier material 

Last Edited: 2019-03-15   

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