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
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
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)
Back to the Article Index
Faith in Focus /NZ Reformed Church / firstname.lastname@example.org / revised November 97 / Copyright 1997