Keeping Faith Alive in Marriage
Debbie and Maurice are in their seventh year of marriage. Debbie is a stay-at-home mom for their 4-year-old son, a 2-year-old daughter, and a soon-arriving third child. Debbie runs a home sales business, and Maurice is employed at the local mill in town. Recently, Maurice has been promoted into management, requiring increased work hours each week. They’ve enjoyed good times, and both spouses are committed to their marriage and family.
They have had their share of challenges and disagreements over the years, and once even went to counseling following the birth of their second child. At that time they were experiencing increased stress and loneliness as they struggled to find time for one another in their marriage. Now, with the increasing responsibility of a third child, and Maurice’s increased work schedule, conflict between Debbie and Maurice has returned, bringing with it feelings of discontentment, worry, and stress, which is beginning to dominate larger portions of their day.
This is a made-up scenario, but one which may be similar in many households. Changes and challenges are inevitable in life, and can be taxing on a marriage. If not addressed, such strains can damage even the strongest marriage. Divorce statistics and marriage counseling substantiate this. What’s a couple to do?
It is normal for individuals to meet, fall in love, marry, and begin a family. This God-ordained institution of marriage and family is designed to be productive and effective for holy matrimony. A holy matrimony is God’s desire for us. Belonging, love, peace, joy, fulfilment and contentment are all part of God’s hope and desire for us in our relationship with Him, others, and especially our spouses — and praise God for His provision and guidance! An institution alone, however, does not automatically make a home and holy matrimony.
God initiates His provision, and we are responsible to respond in accordance with His provision and will. A newly purchased vehicle may have everything we need for transportation, safety, and comfort; but regular maintenance is required or that vehicle will not carry out its desired function for long. Things such as adding fuel to the car (try not doing that regularly and see how far you get!), oil changes, new tires, tune-ups, fluid flushes, etc., are regularly needed for us to maintain value, pride, appreciation, and purpose in that vehicle. Likewise, it is important to keep faith alive in our marriages to maintain value, pride, appreciation, and purpose!
A couple’s shared faith in God, through His Son, Jesus Christ, gives them a common bond. There is no human resource, capacity, event, or standard that even compares to Jesus and His unparalleled resources. Hebrews 11:1 reads (KJV), “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
Faith can hold us steady when all else seems lost. Faith gives us hope when all hope seems gone. For an abundance of witnesses on the importance of faith, read chapter 11 of Hebrews! And, so, if keeping faith alive in marriage is important, just what does that involve? What does that look like?
The single strongest indicator of an enduring marriage is commitment. The biblical word for commitment is covenant. A biblically-based covenant leads to grace, which leads to empowerment, which leads to intimacy, which cycles back around to a stronger commitment/covenant. If a couple is not committed, or has not made a covenant with one another, it is easier for one or both of them to find a reason and/or excuse to treat their spouse less lovingly, and/or to bow out of the marriage.
Jack & Judith Balswick, in their book The Family: A Christian Perspective on the Contemporary Home, concisely wrote:
"The logical beginning point of any family is a covenant commitment, which has
unconditional love at its core. Out of the security provided by this covenant love
develops grace. In this atmosphere of grace, family members have the freedom to
empower each other. Empowering leads to the possibility of intimacy between
family members. Intimacy then leads back to a different [higher/stronger] level of
commitment.” (p. 20)
Balswick & Balswick begin their theology of family with both Old and New Testament descriptions — God and his covenantal relationship with Israel (cf. Genesis 15:18, and Genesis 17:1–7) and Jesus's covenantal and empowering relationship with his followers, that, "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly (John 10:10, NASB).”
To clarify these authors’ theological perspective, covenant refers to loving and being loved, unconditionally—by both spouses. Grace references forgiving and being forgiven. Empowering deals with serving and being served, or as the authors put it, “the intentional process of enabling another person to acquire power.” (p. 28)
Intimacy is to know and to be known. When spouses covenant/commit to one another, there is increased opportunity, desire, and need to extend and receive forgiveness. Once we have realized, given, received, and accepted forgiveness, the greater the possibility to feel closer to the one offering forgiveness, which increases intimacy between the couple. Such closeness and intimacy further secures, strengthens, and increases the covenant relationship between spouses—which increases the chance for a mutually satisfying and fulfilling marriage.
From this biblically-based perspective, marriage has the capacity to be so much more than simply that which makes us happy. This biblically-based approach truly leads us towards holy matrimony. Happiness is situational, externally driven, and fleeting. Holiness is consistently God-like, internal/from the heart, and eternal.
So then, faith in a loving, caring, giving God, who sent his Son, Jesus Christ to die for our sins and to show us how to live is our greatest hope to an eternal life, a fulfilling life here on this side of heaven, and to a satisfying marriage. Likewise, Jesus’s example of how to be a servant provides us the strongest road map of how to make our marriages resilient and strong, holy, and yes, even happy. But we must seek first His Kingdom, and His righteousness (in faith), and then all these things will be added unto us (cf. Matthew 6, particularly as the entire chapter leads to verse 33).
Following the “great cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews 11, Hebrews 12:1–3 continues, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart (emphasis added).” Galatians 6:9 (NASB) further focuses us with, “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.”
This article was originally published by The Alabama Baptist newspaper as part of their Faith and Family series.