Reflections On The Bible

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Judah is the unfaithful wife who has broken relationship with her Lord.

But you will be called Hephzibah [delight] and your land Beulah [married]. As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will God rejoice over you. So we find, at the end of the Old Testament, God warning the faithless priests that he will no longer accept their offerings because of the state of their marriages. From here it is only a short step to the New Testament, where we see Jesus affirming the sanctity of marriage over and against the prevailing rabbinic opinion that divorce was a distinct option and, according to some authorities, an easy one.

Divorce is not a privilege given to Israel as some rabbis argued. The apostolic letters draw out the full theological implications of the parallel between the covenant of Yahweh with his people, and that of husband and wife in marriage. But the mystery of how marriage becomes a representation in time of the mystical union between Christ and his church is a deeper mystery still. The most detailed New Testament passage about marriage occurs in the letter to the church at Ephesus, a city whose culture centred on the immense statue and temple of the great goddess Artemis, whose feminine presence ruled supreme.

In that context, as in ours, the apostolic teaching about marriage is profoundly countercultural. You would expect that to be evidenced in all the major areas of human experience, of which marriage is a prime example. But if the goal of the gospel is to begin to reverse the effects of that rupture, we should not be surprised to find passages in the New Testament which show the priorities and balances of the opening chapters of Genesis being potentially restored in Christ.

The key passages for personal study are not only Ephesians —33, but also Colossians —21, Titus —5 and 1 Peter —7. The following verses disclose the specifics of what that will entail, but the motivation to live that way is the foundational, personal submission of both husband and wife individually to Jesus Christ as Lord.

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That explains why a marriage between a Christian and a non-Christian will be difficult to sustain, since each will have a different centre of gravity, a different fundamental loyalty at the control centre of their being. Readiness to live by the divine pattern demonstrated the life-changing power of Christ and the gospel to the pagan city of Ephesus, as it still does today. He is the leader of the partnership before God. It is in this context that wives are exhorted to submit to their husbands, as they do to Christ. How does he lead his people? It is always in love, continually working for the greatest benefit of each of us, as his disciples, because that is his nature and his work.

This love is revealed supremely in the cross. Ultimately the Lord Jesus loved his people so much that he sacrificed his very life for us: that is the pattern. All around us, clamouring voices encourage us to claim our rights in every area of life, not least in marriage or cohabitation. What am I getting out of this? Am I being appreciated, valued, affirmed, fulfilled? If not, why should I bother to stay? But marriage is not a matter of rights so much as an opportunity for loving service of one another.

To accomplish this, Christ nourishes and cares for his people v. When a husband loves his wife so wholeheartedly and is so good a husband to her, she will not usually find submission a problem and neither will he. The effect of the human rebellion, as it skews the divinely-given pattern, is to encourage the wife to seek to dominate and the husband either to let her, or to resist in a harsh and violent way. Of course, every marriage is different in the detailed outworking of these God-given roles.

The principle is revolutionary. It is about per cent commitment from both members of the partnership, produced by the principle of self-giving love.

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You never gain by grasping, only by giving. The greatest threat to marriage unity, harmony and longevity is self-love. Many potential problems could be nipped in the bud if only we would learn to examine our own selfishness before criticising or condemning our spouse.

The biblical marriage thread comes to its fullest development in the vision given to the apostle John in the book of Revelation, concerning the marriage supper of the Lamb. For the wedding of the Lamb has come and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean was given her to wear. In his vision, John sees the Holy City, the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

The significance of this is proclaimed in a loud voice. They will be his people and God himself will be with them and be their God. We include here a series of applications — mostly for couples, but also for church leaders and congregations. It is a basic biblical principle that relationships matter more than things. However, not all relationships are equally important. Only after the establishment of these priorities should relationships in the wider family, the church family and the world around find their place.

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The Christian believer, however, faces many pressures — external and internal — which can lead to neglect of relationships or a skewing of relational priorities. In much of contemporary Western culture, material comfort, career success and never-ending busyness are all status symbols.

Our self-esteem gets bound up with a relentless pounding of the treadmill and we may see and so fear change as a kind of failure. Busyness can mean that unresolved issues get stacked up on the shelf, until the shelf breaks and the cascading fall-out proves overwhelming. Where a husband and often it is the husband is over-committed to work, or to serving in the local church, this may lead to friction or distance in the marriage relationship.

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Ordering our relational priorities, and nurturing a marriage, calls for more than better time management: fundamentally, the question is whether our heart is in the right place. Prepare yourself: she holds nothing back. Dysfunction does not have to be your destiny or your identity.

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