THE MARRIAGE BED
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Heb. 13:4 (Holman) “Marriage must be respected by all, and the marriage bed kept undefiled, because God will judge immoral people and adulterers.”
Historically, the sin arousing most concern among believers has been sexual impurity. The Jerusalem Council (AC 15:20) listed abstinence from fornication as one of three Christian essentials. Paul included promiscuity in five of his lists of evils. In all five, sexual immorality is first on the list (I C 5:11; 6:9; GL 5:19; EP 5:3; CL 3:5).
God’s people have ever been at war with immorality. We met this foe when entering Canaan, where immoral acts were used in religious rituals to satisfy gods of fertility. The insidious evils of the Canaanites, a people eaten up with venereal disease, shattered Israel’s strict mores. Old Testament prophets spent centuries combating Canaanite perversions which kept surfacing among God’s people.
We met the immorality enemy in the sexual practices of the Greco-Roman world. The New Testament echoed the Old Testament message, unconditionally repudiating all intimacy outside marriage.
Greeks and Romans viewed promiscuity as natural and necessary as eating and drinking, but due to the unremitting toil of heroic preachers and godly lay people, the high ideals of Christian marriage won the day in Western culture.
Outside marriage, celibacy is the only acceptable option for Christians. The intimate union of a man and a woman is God’s way of letting humanity share in His act of creation. Procreation, being a divine act, is hedged and safeguarded by God. A baby should be conceived only within the sanctity of a God-ordained situation, wed-lock, where the child has a father and mother totally committed to each other.
If abstinence cannot be maintained in a relationship between two single adults, the Bible solution is marriage. Cohabitation is not allowed.
“Because of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman should have her own husband” (I Corinthians 7:2). (If they do not have self-control, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with desire” (I Corinthians 7:9).
If we want to marry, but can’t, we must intentionally develop a strategy for purity. Quickly determine what draws us to lust. Movies, novels, music?
What are our weak points? Talk to a trusted fellow believer. Have an accountability partner. Belong to a small group. Take control of your passions.
Avoid the self-pity trap. When frustrated at the inability to marry, self can become a vortex sucking all of life into itself. Beware self-absorption. Participate in ministries where we invest our lives in others and develop relationships.
Within marriage intimacy is so important that God commanded husbands and wives not to deny each other this precious gift. “A husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise a wife to her husband. A wife does not have authority over her own body, but her husband does. Equally, a husband does not have authority over his own body, but his wife does. Do not deprive one another ( except when you agree, for a time, to devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again; otherwise, Satan may tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (I Corinthians 7:3-5).
Reading these verses, a man struggling with pornography might protest my earlier remarks about it being wrong for him to expect his wife to act out horrible images. A closer look at the text, though, reveals she has an equal right to command his actions. The purpose of the text is to state the importance of marital intimacy being mutually pleasing in the loving bonds of marriage.
The marriage bed is a vital component of marriage. Two-thirds of marriages which endure the tragedy of an affair survive, but the pain inflicted is excruciating. Some suggestions may help save us this agony.
First, marry only a believer (2 Corinthians 6:14). Since dating is the prelude to marriage, we should also date only a believer.
Second, beware the most stressful time for any couple: parenthood. The strain of a newborn can sink a marital ship. One study shows 92% of new parents report more conflict and less satisfaction. Only 19% of new parents say their marriages improved after the birth of a child.
Those findings are interesting and rather surprising. Couples normally look forward to the birth of a baby, expecting it to be a means of causing greater closeness and stronger bonding, but usually the opposite happens.
New parents tend to grow more polarized and self-centered in response to the exhaustion and strain. Forewarned is forearmed. Be ready.
There are other difficult, stressful times: raising teens, sending children to college, facing the empty nest, caring for an elderly parent, etc. At every stage, have family devotions, continue to schedule a date night, and find baby sitters.
Third, beware emotional bonding. Never share marital problems with someone of the opposite sex, other than your spouse, except for a professional counselor. Otherwise, a bonding of the mind may take place which can lead to an adultery in the heart and of the hand.
Over 20 years ago, Ruth and I tried to help a couple with their marriage. The wife was upset because her husband had grown emotionally attached to a woman at work. Being a typical man, I said to Ruth, “He hasn’t slept with her.” Ruth’s response still resonates in me. “John, I’d rather another woman be in your bed than in your heart.”
John C. Howell, Professor of Christian Ethics at Midwestern Seminary, offers four signals that indicate bonding has gone too far. A. Thoughts of the other person begin to dominate our thinking. While away from the person, and when performing tasks, he or she keeps coming to mind.
When dressing, and grooming for the day, we wonder what the other person will think about our appearance. Their opinion of us begins to be more important to us than our spouse’s.
B. Fantasies begin. Fleeting thoughts begin to linger. Forbidden fruit is pondered.
C. Planning ways to be alone with the other person. This is a huge red flag. Seeking opportunity to be alone together probably means mental and emotional bonding is already taking place.
D. Comparing the other person to our spouse in more favorable ways. An affair does not begin with baggage. It is free of children, household chores, dirty dishes, garbage, and family conflicts. This leaves our spouse at a huge disadvantage.
Fourth, avoid compromising situations. Guard your social life. If married, try never to be alone in a social setting with someone of the opposite sex, other than your own spouse. I try not to ride alone in a car or eat a meal alone with a woman other than Ruth. When I need to meet with another woman, I ask her to come to my office. While we meet, I keep the door ajar. All our church staff is expected to abide by this “open door” rule.
Fifth, appoint husband or wife to be the guardian of the relationship. Determine which of the two is most sensitive and best suited to protecting the marriage. Ruth performs this role in our marriage.
Ruth has warned me of other women, helped me get my schedule more under control, taught me to be a gentler dad. When John and Rebekah were little, Ruth one day told me, “You are so irritable that the children don’t want you to come home at night.” The words almost killed me, but made me a better dad.
One partner must have authority to speak freely, and if necessary, bluntly. The other spouse must be willing to receive straightforward talk.
One spouse must be free to say husband and/or wife is working too many hours, spending too much time in recreation away from home, setting aside too little time for bonding, becoming too friendly with someone of the opposite sex, doing too few activities with the children, etc.
Marriage is too precious to be haphazard about. We must protect it intentionally and intensely. Keep the marriage bed undefiled.