Reclaiming the Sanctity of Marriage

( [email protected] ) Jun 08, 2004 09:00 PM EDT

What increases the likelihood of a child living in poverty, dropping out of school, and becoming a juvenile delinquent? What increases the probability of a child abusing alcohol, taking drugs, becoming sexually promiscuous, and committing suicide? What cripples hundreds of thousands of young people when they marry and creates fear, insecurity, and a higher likelihood that their marriages will not last a lifetime? It's divorce, divorce, divorce. And divorce is killing both America and the church. Broken promises...mistrust...instability... shattered people. Divorce has created a national disaster. An enemy. Marriage is not just a private experiment, littered with prenuptial agreements and an attitude of "Try me! If it doesn't work, you can always bail out!"

Marriage is not some kind of social contract-something you just "do" for as long as you both shall "love."

Marriage is a sacred covenant between one man and one woman and their God for a lifetime. It is a public vow of how you will relate to your spouse as you form a new family unit.

Any covenant-including the marriage covenant-is a binding, weighty obligation. In Proverbs 20:25, we read, "It is a trap for a man to dedicate something rashly and only later to consider his vows"(NIV).

God says, "I hate divorce" (Malachi 2:16). The Lord didn't stutter when He spoke these words. It is time for each of us to embrace and proclaim God's sacred view of marriage, as well as His corresponding hatred for divorce.

Reclaiming the sanctity of marriage begins with several commitments:

Commitment #1: Do Not Get Married Unless You Plan to Keep Your Vows.

Both churches and individuals have a holy trust and responsibility to take radical measures to restore meaning to the covenant of marriage. Churches, for example, could refuse to marry couples who will not take a church-prescribed marriage preparation course; marry only couples who agree to sign and be held accountable to such a public document, and assign a mentoring couple to all newlyweds before they get married.

Before they are married, individuals could agree to faithfully fulfill all the church's requirements for marriage preparation, including the signing of a marriage covenant. They could refuse to sign any type of prenuptial agreement. And they could pledge to each other, to their new extended family, and to the community to never divorce and to solemnly fulfill the marriage vows.

By no means is this a comprehensive list of all that needs to be enacted, nor will it eliminate failure, but it does give us a helpful proactive starting point.

Commitment #2: Fulfill Your Vows by Staying Married.

If you are married, you have a sacred covenant obligation. Fulfill it.

Too many marriages begin to unravel when one of the spouses mentally entertains the possibility of divorce. The notion that divorce is a solution must be rejected. We must fight tenaciously to restore the ideal of marriage for a lifetime. Marital commitment demands perseverance.

The church needs to restore the model of one man and one woman bound together before God for a lifetime. We need more couples like J.L. and Hilda Simpson, godly Christians who wrote me a profound note:

September 9, 1995, made us 46 years together. I was 15 and J.L. was 17 when we married. We are now 61 and 63. We could have divorced dozens of times but because we love each other deeply, and because God hates divorce, we didn't want to bring the curse of divorce into our family, so we didn't.

Barbara and I have been married since 1972, and we have had our share of illness, tragedy, and disagreements. But the word, "divorce" has never passed through our lips. May I challenge you to do the same?

You need to keep your covenant. You must keep your covenant. Your children's marriages, your legacy, and the strength of the church depend upon it.

Commitment #3: Fulfill Your Vows by Maintaining Emotional and Moral Fidelity.

For too many people, adultery is the first step out of a marriage. An emotional or sexual attachment to someone other than your spouse creates intense passions that sabotage trust and steal marital intimacy.

To maintain emotional and moral fidelity to your mate, you need to, first, maintain a healthy sexual relationship. Lovingly study your mate to learn what will keep him or her interested and satisfied. Cultivate the fine-and often forgotten-art of romance.

Second, you need to guard your heart in relation to the opposite sex. Restrict your gaze and refuse the temptation to look longingly at members of the opposite sex. Don't fantasize about someone else. Build boundaries around your heart by making yourself accountable to a friend for your secret thoughts.

Commitment #4: Fulfill Your Vows by Praying Faithfully With Your Spouse.

Why do so few Christian couples pray together? What could seem more natural than husband and wife talking intimately together with the One who provides the glue to hold a relationship together? Yet prayer is one of the most challenging disciplines for any married couple to practice.

I think I know why. The enemy of our souls, Satan, also knows how effective prayer is. He'll do anything to prevent it in a marriage. And our flesh gets in the way, too, because prayer demands humility before God. It's hard to be in the midst of some selfish behavior and then pray with your spouse-I know, I've tried and failed!

Daily prayer prevents divorce and makes marriages stronger. A national survey commissioned by FamilyLife in 1995 discovered that couples who pray together frequently (at least three times per week) have higher levels of marital satisfaction than those who don't.

What would happen to the divorce rate in the church if husbands and wives would consistently pray together? I believe that the number of divorces could be cut in half within months, and that within a decade, divorce would be uncommon in the Christian community.

If there's one practical action step you can take to divorce-proof your marriage, this is it: Begin praying daily with your spouse.