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Particulars of Christianity:
312 The Church Ethic


The Importance of Family Part 1: Marriage

The Importance of Family Part 1: Marriage
The Importance of Family Part 2: The Family
Divorce and Remarriage: Introduction and Basics
Separation and Divorce in the Law of Moses
Marital Separation in the Gospels
Marital Separation after the Gospels and Conclusions
Marital Separation: Objections 1-3
Marital Separation: Objections 4-6 and the Early Church
Remarriage Addendum: Exception Clause Comparison
New Testament Protocols Regarding Men and Women (Part 1)
New Testament Protocols Regarding Men and Women (Part 2)
Comparative Peer Dynamics Chart



Introduction

The modern church places a great deal of importance on the role of marriage and the family in the life of the individual Christian as well as the Church itself. The purpose of this article will be to take a look at the New Testament's discussion of the importance of these two subjects in order to provide some much needed balance. What we will demonstrate is that the modern Church has been misrepresenting the Biblical importance of the family and neglecting to give us the full picture. But this is as we've come to expect from the Church Ethic.

What this article will not be challenging is the proper organization and godly responsibilities of a family. By this we mean that it is apparent that the New Testament upheld the Old Testament principles for a godly family and what God expected from a family, from parents, from children, etc. For this reason we will not be examining the Old Testament principles for a godly family. It is not our intention to question what God expects of a godly household. Specifically, we will be comparing and contrasting the responsibility of the individual believer to God with their responsibility to their family.

There are 85 passages in the New Testament that mention or refer to some aspect of the family. We surveyed these passages thoroughly by looking up the occurrences of any and all words that are related to this subject. The results of this survey will be presented in this article and form the basis for the conclusions that we will make.

(Words that were surveyed: family, home, house, houses, marriage, married, marries, marry, father, fathers, mother, mothers, sister, sisters, brother*, husband, husbands, wife, wives, children, child, and parents. Only relevant occurrences of "brethren," the plural form of "brother," were included in this study since the term can be used in a non-family sense to indicate fellow Christians who are not related by blood.)

Of the 85 passages in the New Testament that comment on some aspect of marriage or the family, 42 do not provide any indication, whatsoever, of the priority of these subjects to the believer, to the Church, or to God. We will site two examples of verses that fall into this category.

One example of these 42 passages would be Matthew 13:55-56.

Matthew 13:55 Is not this the carpenter's son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? 56 And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this [man] all these things?

In this passage from Matthew we see that the words "son," "mother," "brethren," and "sisters" all appear. But although this passage is talking about family, it is not instructive regarding the family. These two verses only indicate that Jesus was a carpenter's son, that his mother's name was Mary, that he had four brothers and some sisters.

Another example would be Matthew 15:4.

Matthew 15:4 For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death.

The reason passages like Matthew 15 are not being looked at in this study is as we said earlier that we do not question in any way that the New Testament upheld the Old Testament principles and expectations for a godly household. It is important to restate the purpose of this article is not to challenge God's commands and principles regarding marriage or family life, but to challenge the predominant view of the modern church regarding the importance of marriage and family for the individual believer. In this respect it will be important to reflect on verses like Matthew 15:4 to see how the behavior and comments of New Testament figures like Jesus and Paul inform us on how such Old Testament commands were applied and not applied by the Church.

The remaining 43 passages (which constitute over half of all the New Testament passages on the family) are often not covered in modern Church teachings on the family. And so it is to the examination of these 43 passages that we will devote the rest of this article first with regard to marriage and then with regard to the family.


Marriage

The modern church places a great deal of priority on marriage in the life of the believer. This emphasis comes in two forms. First, marriage is viewed as a product of God's will and calling for (most or many) Christians. Second, marriage is viewed as advancing the spiritual development of the individual believer.

While these two statements may not always be overtly conveyed from the pulpit, anyone who has spent any time in an organized church will find it hard to deny that our observations are accurate. This stress on marriage and the family may be more evident to single persons, who at times may feel out of place in a church of married couples and families. This isolation often can become more apparent as the single adult remains single while passing the usual ages when people in the Church get married and have children.

Additional evidence can be seen in pre-marital counseling. Most believers that get married are required to attend pre-marital counseling sessions in order to prepare them for marriage and to make sure they are ready to engage in this serious commitment to God and each other. However, though this counseling inherently involves making sure the believers are making the right decision, seldom if ever are potential married couples discouraged from getting married under their present circumstances. This is because it is assumed that marriage is always God's will.

Now that we have sited our observations of modern church views on marriage we must now ask some questions. Is the Church's emphasis of these two views Biblically based? Is it God's will and calling for (most or many) Christians? Does marriage advance the spiritual development of the individual believer? We will deal with the first question and then the second.

Is marriage God's will and calling for (most or many) Christians?

Actually, it isn't. Both Jesus and Paul both state that God's preferred will for His people isn't to get married, but to remain single. Consequently, instead of identifying marriage with God's will or choice, both Jesus and Paul portray marriage by as being a product of man's will and choosing.

Matthew 19:7 They said to Him, "Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?" 8 He said to them, "Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery." 10 His disciples said to Him, "If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry." 11 But He said to them, "All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given: 12 For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother's womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it."

In Matthew 19:7-12 Jesus tells the disciples that a man who divorces his wife causes her to commit fornication (unless he divorces her because she has fornicated). From this the disciples conclude that "if that is the case, then it is better not to marry," Jesus does not object to this conclusion, but instead confirms its accuracy by saying that "all cannot accept this saying." In saying this Jesus is telling us that indeed "it is better not to marry."

Some however, might argue that in verse 11 Jesus is indicating that it is a matter of God's will as to whether someone is to get married or remain single since Jesus says "all cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given." The phrase "to whom it has been given" may be taken by some to indicate that God's will is the decisive factor. But this cannot be what Jesus intended to convey since twice in verse 12 he indicates that it is up to the individual to accept this or not. This is evidenced by Jesus' statements that "there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake" and "He who is able to accept it, let him accept it." Both of these comments which Jesus makes in explaining his statement in verse 11 wherein he confirmed that "it is better not to marry" place the decision upon the will of the individual and not upon God.

Fortunately for us scripture interprets scripture and so we can affirm what Jesus meant by looking at Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 7. 1 Corinthians 7 is a lengthy passage dealing with various protocols for marriage for the believer. We recommend reading the entire passage since we will spend some time on it in this article and the context is important. However, in order to avoid quoting the entire chapter we will only quote the relevant verses for each issue under discussion.

1 Corinthians 7:7 For I wish that all men were even as I myself. But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that. 8 But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am; 9 but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

Here in verses 7-9 Paul states twice that he would have all believers remain as he was, which is unmarried. In verse 8 he clearly says that it is good for unmarried (and widowed) believers to remain unmarried just as he was. In verse 9 Paul identifies the choice to marry, not with God's will or compulsion, but instead with a lack of self-control. It is important to state that lack of self-control is a Biblically acceptable reason to get married. However, it must also be noted how Paul both upholds that remaining unmarried is better and that the choice to get married is identified as a product of man's choice. But this is not all Paul has to say on these matters.

1 Corinthians 7:20 Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called.

1 Corinthians 7:24 Brethren, let each one remain with God in that state in which he was called.

In verses 20 and 24 Paul states that believers should remain in the state that we are in when we get saved. He does not forbid us from changing or improving our status (v.21) but rather warns us not to be concerned or seek after these things. In saying this Paul removes ambition for the things of this life as an appropriate decision making factor in directing our lives and our pursuits as Christians. That Paul applies this principle to marriage is confirmed by verses 26-27.

1 Corinthians 7:26 I suppose therefore that this is good because of the present distress--that it is good for a man to remain as he is: 27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be loosed. Are you loosed from a wife? Do not seek a wife.

Clearly verses 20-27 indicate that Paul upheld the principle given by Jesus in Matthew 19 that "it is better not to marry." But we are not yet done with 1 Corinthians 7.

1 Corinthians 7:37 Nevertheless he who stands steadfast in his heart, having no necessity, but has power over his own will, and has so determined in his heart that he will keep his virgin, does well. 38 So then he who gives her in marriage does well, but he who does not give her in marriage does better. 39 A wife is bound by law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. 40 But she is happier if she remains as she is, according to my judgment--and I think I also have the Spirit of God.

In verse 37-40 Paul again stresses two important facts. First, the choice to get married or not is not attributed to God's will or compulsion, but to whether a believer can restrain their desires in this area. Second, Paul states that although marriage is good, not marrying is in God's eyes a better choice.

So, we have dealt with the first question regarding if marriage is God's will and calling for Christians? The Biblical answer is no. According to the scripture Christians are allowed to marry and marriage is wholly acceptable and Biblical. But marriage is not God's will or choice, but God's acceptance of a believers will and choice. God's will is that we remain unmarried, but He permits us to marry and will even bless this choice if we exercise wisdom in doing so.

But what about our second question, does marriage advance the spiritual development of the individual believer?

Again the answer is no. And again we will turn1 Corinthians 7 to support this claim.

We have already shown that 1 Corinthians 7 indicates that marriage is not God's preferred will for believers. We might say that marriage is God's allowable or permissible will, but not His preferred will. But beyond just asserting this claim Paul actually gives us some reasons why marriage is not God's preferred will for believers.

1 Corinthians 7:28 But even if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Nevertheless such will have trouble in the flesh, but I would spare you. 29 But this I say, brethren, the time is short, so that from now on even those who have wives should be as though they had none, 30 those who weep as though they did not weep, those who rejoice as though they did not rejoice, those who buy as though they did not possess, 31 and those who use this world as not misusing it. For the form of this world is passing away. 32 But I want you to be without care. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord--how he may please the Lord. 33 But he who is married cares about the things of the world--how he may please his wife. 34 There is a difference between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman cares about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she who is married cares about the things of the world--how she may please her husband. 35 And this I say for your own profit, not that I may put a leash on you, but for what is proper, and that you may serve the Lord without distraction.

According to verses 28-35, the reason "it is better not to marry" in that marriage is a trouble in the flesh that Paul would spare us of. It is a distraction to our serving the Lord.

This is because those who are married are not free to serve the Lord alone, to live only to please God, but they must also be concerned about the things of this world, their spouse, and how to please them. So far from marriage advancing the spiritual development of the believer it seems that from a Biblical perspective marriage is actually a distraction to our devotion to the Lord and spiritual growth in him. And this is why God prefers that we remain single.

At the beginning of this section on marriage we stated that the modern church views marriage as God's will and calling for (most or many) Christians and that marriage advances the spiritual development of the individual believer. Now we have demonstrated that in contrast to the modern church's view of marriage, the Bible views marriage not as God's preferred will for man, but a product of man's will and choosing. God's will is that believers remain single, though He does permit us to marry if we choose to do so. Additionally, we have shown that according the scriptures marriage does not advance our spiritual development, but is in fact a distraction from it and a hindrance to it.

There are some important ramifications of this study. One trend that we have noticed among Christians who are getting married and who are married is that they tend to place the responsibility for the success of their marriage upon God. They expect God to make their marriage work. They have faith that God will help their marriage last and be spiritually beneficial to them and their spouse. They believe that this is a promise God made to them as a part of the marital contract. All of this tends to result from the belief that their marriage was God's choice for their life and not their own.

But as we have shown this is not the case. Instead of God promising married believers to make their marriage a success and a spiritual benefit, it is married believers who have promised God to make their marriage a success and not to let it be a spiritual distraction. Instead of God being responsible for these things to married believers, it is married believers who are responsible to God to see to these things.

Also since it can no longer be assumed that marriage is always God will, those who provide pre-marital counseling have a duty to examine the decisions of those seeking to get married and to help them do so as well. And if need be, if the decision seems unwise due to circumstances, marriage should be discouraged. This is especially true if both involved believers do not seem spiritually mature enough to handle the distraction of marriage without damaging their highest priority, their relationship to the Lord.

This Biblical perspective on marriage will be consistent with what we will find as we now delve into our Biblical examination on the priority of the family in the life of the believer.