Faith in Focus

Christian Marriages on the Rocks

It is most disturbing that marriage break-up is by no means confined to non-Christians. Increasingly, it seems, Christians also are struggling to hold their marriages together. All too often one hears of Christian men and women having affairs and abandoning their marriages; Christian couples separating because of deep-rooted tensions in their marriage; even pastors and elders walking out or giving up on their marriages.

Why is this happening? Shouldn't Christian marriages be the strongest and most successful? What's going wrong? No doubt the reasons vary from situation to situation, but we would do well to reflect on some of the causes of marriage breakdown amongst Christians.

1. The failure to build an open relationship together spiritually. Many Christian couples admit that they find it hard to pray together and talk openly about the things of the Lord. They may be committed to the church, they may have family devotions, they may have true personal faith. But they have not built a spiritual relationship together. They make major decisions and set directions as a family without really sitting down and praying together. They try to carry each other's burdens and lean on each other in tough times, but they do not lead each other to the Scriptures and to the throne of grace. They may enjoy fellowship with other Christians, but they cannot share together where they are at spiritually.

We must reckon with the fact that the marriage of two Christians does not make a Christian marriage. Just as one can be a Christian and a doctor, but not really a Christian doctor, or a Christian and a teacher but not a Christian teacher, so one can be a Christian and married, without having a genuinely Christian marriage. When that is the case it stands to reason that the marriage is no stronger than that of non-Christians. This is the point, then, at which we should first examine our marriages. Do we as husband and wife have a spiritual relationship together? If not, is ours really any different from a non-Christian marriage?

2. The failure to face up to problems honestly. It is never easy to accept that things are not good in one's marriage. It is even harder to ask for help. Many Christian couples would rather just struggle on than face the facts. They perhaps have a reputation in the church that they do not want to undermine. They are perhaps too proud to admit that they are struggling. They have perhaps ignored problems for many years and it seems too difficult to start addressing them now.

But in time, lack of communication, bitterness and resentment, envy, dishonesty, lack of love and affection, and other common marital problems, catch up even with the Christian couple. Something eventually snaps, and the hurts and failures of the years all tumble out. How much better it would have been to deal with them day by day. How much better to have asked for help while the marriage was still repairable. How much more biblical not to let the sun go down on one's anger (or envy, or disappointment, or bitterness....).

One can only enjoy intimacy in marriage insofar as there is honesty. If a marriage consists of many cover-ups, both in public and private, sooner or later the volcano may blow.

3. The failure to spend adequate time with each other. It takes considerable time and effort to build a relationship of substance. That is true of all relationships and particularly true of marriage. But often it is time for one's own family that Christians find hardest to set aside. In a strange way, a strong church involvement can be a strong marriage's greatest enemy. Church life can begin to run a family. Different family members are out every night of the week. Husband and wife pass like ships in the night as they busily serve on committees, rush out to meetings, take their place on rosters, help other people, spend time in fellowship groups. If their reason for putting in an apology was that they needed to spend time together, they might be looked at sideways. Pastors and elders can be the worst offenders. They have time for everyone else's problems but not their own, and not their wives'.

The result may be a failure to develop intimacy in one's marriage. If you are seldom alone as a couple, seldom have relaxed time together, and do not put your marriage ahead of other relationships, you lose the ability to communicate and lose the desire to just enjoy each other.

At that point, your marriage is in trouble, even if to everyone else you look like the most committed, active, together couple in the church.

4. The failure to take Satan's attacks on Christian marriage seriously. There is no doubt that ruining a Christian marriage is one of the evil one's special delights. A church leader's marriage is even better sport. In one blow he can cause great dishonour to Christ and undermine many people's faith.

But as Christians we may not take this seriously enough. We may not be praying for the protection of our marriage as we ought. We may not have our eyes open to the many temptations that the world sets before us. We may not be practical and down-to-earth in dealing with his attacks. The Apostle Paul (a single man at that) was very practical when it came to Satan's attacks in the area of sexual relations (2 Cor 7:3-5). Even the strongest of Christians can succumb to the devil's schemes. "If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you do not fall" (1 Cor 10:12).

We perhaps also fail to reckon with the extent to which worldly standards corrupt our Christian principles. Many Christians have no hesitation in watching soaps and movies saturated with adultery, wife-swapping and semi-pornographic material. They don't hesitate to read magazines dense with the latest scandals and salacious titbits from around the world. They allow their minds to be filled with values and images that in theory they reject. All the while, they ignore the fact that such mental food does shape us. It subtly weakens our own commitments. Our standards are set not by God's Word but by the world (so long as we are more conservative than society we must be godly! But the standard of godliness then changes almost as fast as the world does). Our sense of holy indignation when confronted by sin is dulled and we are, to a degree, morally anaesthetised.

If we care for our marriages we will have our eyes open to ways in which Satan may undermine us and what we stand for. We will protect our minds, hearts and homes from this onslaught of the evil one.

5. The failure to hold to the essence of marriage as commitment. It is not so long ago that a Christian couple would not dare have thought of separating. If they had problems in their marriage that was the one option that was not open to them. But thinking has changed. Now Christian couples do entertain the possibility of separation. And they desperately seek ways to justify this biblically. "Perhaps it wasn't God's will for us to be married in the first place. Surely God wants us to be happy, and we just aren't in this relationship. Besides what good is it for the children to live in a home where Mum and Dad don't get on. Isn't marriage chiefly about love? We don't feel that love for each other any more..."

You could drive a train through the holes in such theology. But people don't think theologically. They think emotionally and secularly. What is missing is the concept of love as commitment, and marriage as a covenant - a covenant that holds in sickness and health, plenty and want, joy and sorrow. If we really believe that, we won't even think about the possibility of separation. The idea of our marriage not working shouldn't enter our minds.

These are at least some of the reasons Christian marriages (or the marriages of Christians) may fail. Before you or I become another marital statistic, let's stop and think about where our marriage is at. Are some warning bells already ringing in our ears? Do we need to set some new patterns and make some changes? Do we need to get some help? Are we working seriously at creating a strong, open, spiritual relationship that will last till death us do part?

Rev. M. Capill (Bucklands Beach)

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Faith in Focus /NZ Reformed Church / / revised November 97 / Copyright 1997