Pretty much, every couple that marries expects their new relationship status to remain “married” forever. Reality sneaks into the relationship with a plethora of diversions, temptations, disagreements, etc., most of which certainly were unexpected. Sadly, far too often, the shine wears off the luster of that new “thing” in their lives. That creates problems that create more problems. For many, those problems either can’t or don’t get resolved.
The rest is history.
It didn’t take long for men to realize that selecting a mate based on a woman’s physical beauty was no guarantee of a successful or happy marriage. The first mention of divorce is found in the Book of Leviticus, indicating that divorce had already become an issue in the time of Moses. Much later, during Jesus’ ministry, the question of divorce was one of the weapons the Pharisees used to try to catch Jesus in His words. In the Gospel of Matthew, we read, “The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?” And he answered and said unto them, “Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,” and said, “For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” They say unto him, “Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement and to put her away? “He saith unto them, “Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning, it was not so. And I say unto you, whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.” (Matthew 19: 3-9 KJV)
Jesus states clearly that Moses granted divorce as an option to the Israelites due to the hardness of their hearts, not because it was acceptable to God. Those men who sought to separate from, or “to put away,” their wives had chosen their wives using their eyes, not their hearts, and quickly fell prey to Satan’s deceiver. As I stated earlier, God’s plan was for a man and woman to complement and augment each other physically, spiritually, and mentally.
But, when mate selection was based only on physical attraction, something was missing in the marriage that hastened a divorce. What? Most people would likely answer this question that one or both stopped loving the other. Only when we examine the type of love that forms the basis of a good marriage can we honestly answer this question.
The True Basis for Marriage
Even though other words in the Greek language are defined as “love,” two are mainly used in the New Testament, translated into the English word, love. The first is phileo (5368 in Strong’s Concordance), a Greek word meaning to be a friend to or to have affection for (denoting personal attachment, as a matter of sentiment or feeling). This word usually connotes a brotherly love or the feeling one might have for a friend. The second word is the Greek agapaó (25 in the Strong’s Concordance), which means to love in a social or moral sense, to prefer, i.e., embracing God’s will. One Word study defines it as a “discriminating affection which involves choice and selection.”
This word has a much broader and more profound meaning than phileo since agapaó embraces judgment and the deliberate consent of the will as a matter of duty, principle, and decency. This is the God kind of love, whereby He chooses to love when it would seem to us impossible to do so. This is the love described in John 3:16 and thoroughly explains why God gave His only Begotten Son to be the sacrifice for our sins. God loves because He chooses to love.
Agapaó is the love God used when he took a part of Adam and skillfully crafted a mate that would provide everything, physical, spiritual, and mental, that Adam was missing in his aloneness. Adam was neither physically nor spiritually complete until Eve was presented to him. God understood then and now precisely what every person needs to complete.
Agapaó is the kind of love God determined to be the basis for a man to leave his mother and father and cleave (or cling, adhere) to his wife. Agapaó love says to another person: “you are valuable and precious to me, and I choose to love you and hold on to you.” But agapaó love is much more than that; agapaó is love that goes far beyond the physical and dwells on a much higher level, that of the spiritual. Unless this type of love forms the foundation for a marriage, the chances of divorce are incredibly high.
Since men and women are triune beings, made up of spirit, soul, and body, a third Greek word that is very important for a healthy marriage is ‘eros,’ from which the word “erotic” is derived. It specifically refers to the physical, intimate love connected to the sexual act between a husband and wife. God designed the marriage of a man and woman to be a “complete union,” in which the two become one, with the physical union meant to provide a satisfying physical relationship while also providing the means for the union to produce offspring. God, who is perfect, leaves nothing undone, and the sexual part of marriage is no exception.
Requirements for a Successful Marriage
In the Book of Ephesians, the apostle Paul tells the men in the Church at Ephesus what is required for them to be followers of God: “Husbands, love (agapaó) your wives, even as Christ also loved (agapaó) the Church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. No man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the Church: For we are members of his body, flesh, and bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the Church. Nevertheless, let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband” (Ephesians 5:25-33 KJV).
In this passage, Paul is comparing the relationship between a man and his wife and Christ’s relationship with the Church. The Church is the “body of Christ,'” and Jesus loves His body. He was willing to lay down His own life for a body of sinful people so they could form the Church that was, as yet, non-existent. The Holy Spirit signified through the writing of Paul that a man should love his wife in the same way. Even as Christ loves His body, the Church, and was willing to lay down His life for it, a man must love his wife in the same way and certainly no less than he loves his flesh; by the same token, the wife is instructed to reverence, or respect, her husband no less than the Church reveres Christ.
Conclusion – The Missing Ingredient in Many Marriages – Real Godly Commitment
It is a great mystery that God used the union of a man and his wife to describe the union between Christ and the Church. Jesus was committed to God’s plan of salvation, knowing in himself that He would have to die for the Church, His body of believers, to become pure and clean and worthy of Him. He knew the terrible price He would have to pay for that union to come into existence, but He possessed the critical attribute that allowed Him to face His death and not waiver—commitment. By an act of His will, he chose to follow God’s plan, regardless of the cost to Him. A husband should have the same commitment concerning his wife, and by an act of his will, he should choose to love her at all costs.
In the same way, once a man determines what is required of him to love his wife with agape love, he must then decide, by an act of his will, to commit to, and remain committed to, the union with his wife that has been ordained and blessed by God. When this commitment is present, the means to cherish and nourish his wife will come much easier, as will her respect and reverence for her husband.
I am reminded of the words of Ruth Graham, wife of evangelist Billy Graham, who, during an interview, was asked about her long marriage to her world-famous husband. When asked if she ever thought about divorce, she answered emphatically, “No, I’ve never thought of divorce in all these 35 years of marriage, but I did think of murder a few times”. She was joking about the murder comment. Still, her words indicate that even the godliest and strongest believers are sometimes driven to think negatively about their marriages. However, with Godly love and commitment, the divorce option can, and should, be taken off the table when marital problems occur, as they invariably will. Situations will appear in every marriage to cause anger, frustration, and hurt. Still, none of these should ever be considered a reason to dissolve a marriage that was ordained and blessed before God.
Imagine the hurt that Jesus feels when we, His body, mess up and sin against Him. Yet, He is always there, waiting for us to come to Him, repent, ask forgiveness, and restore the fellowship that was broken due to our sin. In the same way, when problems arise that break the marital fellowship, husbands and wives should first consider what is needed for restoration and then repent, ask for forgiveness, and forgive each other. This act of fellowship restoration will often save the marital relationship.
It is somewhat understandable that non-Christian couples will not comprehend the majesty and mystery of marriage. Still, all who have an excellent Christian foundation on which their lives together were built must realize that they will be held accountable for what happens in their marriages. When Jesus said, “what God has joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matthew 19:6 KJV), He established and confirmed God’s law on marriage. Many will say they made a mistake and should not have married the person they did. But does that make divorce among Christians OK? To answer that correctly, we must consider that marriage vows are just that: they are vows or oaths made before Almighty God. In Psalm 15, the psalmist asked these questions of God: “Who shall dwell in thy tabernacle? And who shall dwell in thy holy hill?” He provides a partial answer in verse 4b: “He that sweareth to his hurt and changeth not.” Christian couples must understand the sacred duty and obligation they accepted when they both spoke the vows that bind them together in holy matrimony for life. The basis for their marriage must not be purely physical attraction and love, but it must be the agapaó love described previously.
This agapaó love, and the ensuing commitment to a marriage, will not keep problems from occurring. Still, they will provide the Christian couple with the Godly means to work on and solve every problem that arises and allow them to remain in a committed and loving relationship. The agapaó love and commitment should always find the answer to any issue before divorce is considered. If all Christian couples would work more diligently on their level of commitment, embracing love as a choice rather than a physical attraction, a long and successful marriage would be possible. The best result would be that Christian divorce rates would drop dramatically, and God would be pleased.