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Chapter 1: Who do you believe?


Chapter 2: Persons and personal relationships


Chapter 3: The overall scheme of things


Chapter 4: Up close and personal


Chapter 5: A change of heart


Chapter 6: Encouraging good marriages


Chapter 7: Jesus resolves a dilemma


Chapter 8: Who’s the boss?


Chapter 9: The logic of love


Chapter 10: The character of love


Chapter 11: Sexual expression


Chapter 12: Getting it all together


Appendix A: The fruit of the Spirit


Appendix B: Gay and lesbian relationships


Bibliography of cited works


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married Christine, a delightful Christian woman, when I was 23 years old. I had come from a strong Christian fellowship and she, from a family of Christians with a deep commitment to Christian ministry. And yet neither of us was prepared for marriage. We were brought up in an age when sex was not talked about and marriage preparation was not on the calendar. People of our parents’ generation with a British background had a very strong sense of privacy. Probably a hangover from the Victorian era, this notion of privacy saw the home as a private realm. Our parents did not talk about any difficulties they encountered in marriage, or the nature of their sex lives; these things occurred within the home and so were private. Children were expected to learn about sex in the same way that their parents had—through trial and error in marriage. Marriage difficulties were tolerated, covered by the promise to take the other ‘for better or for worse’. Underpinned by the attitudes inherited from our parents, the early period of our marriage was a very steep and painful learning curve. With some pre-marriage preparation much of this pain could have been avoided.


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Christine and I were enchanted by each other and we thought that this would be enough. The early years of marriage brought both joy and pain. Living with someone who was committed to you and wanted only your good was a source of real joy. At the same time the sharp edges of our personalities rubbed against each other, causing pain and irritation. While the friction wore off some of the sharp edges, it left us sore and tender at points and was a negative factor in our marriage. Christine had grown up with the teaching that the man was the head of the house, but her education had been permeated with some of the teachings of the early phase of feminism. For my part I adopted an uncritical view of headship and expected her to submit to any decisions that I made. This allowed me to be totally inconsiderate of her feelings and needs. Whereas Christine had been conditioned to accept a chauvinistic notion of headship, she questioned its validity in her heart. Rather than explicitly opposing my decisions she would go off by herself until her feelings of resentment had passed. I knew there were tensions in the marriage at this point, but they remained largely unresolved. In the process I learned to soften my demand for submission and Christine learned to speak up when she thought my demands were unfair. While our marriage was far from perfect, there was a warmth and strength to it that made it more than just worthwhile. Our understanding of each other deepened as we moved through life together, and we grew closer. What saved our marriage from deteriorating was looking to the Bible for guidance. We scrounged insights and truths from the Scriptures that empowered us to begin to live for each other. We both knew God’s immense love for us in Christ, revealed by the cross. We loved God because he loved us. The love of God for us proved to be a transforming power. As we moved through the process of understanding and valuing his love, God was teaching us how to love one another. Slowly, very slowly, I began to understand and implement the teaching of Jesus in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. In this parable Jesus clearly taught that love involved a commitment to 8

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do good for the other. Christine, on the other hand, already had a developed tendency towards doing good to others that she had honed in her teenage years. Alongside the moments of joy of a mutually loving relationship, there were times of pain and sorrow. My insecurity kept me trying to control every aspect of life, and this included controlling my wife. The Christian culture of the day seemed to endorse my hunger for control with a distorted doctrine of male headship. Nevertheless the idea of love became a powerful counteraction. After 26 years of marriage my wife died suddenly one night, in bed next to me. Although I had known that she had a serious heart condition that required a heart transplant if she was to have a long-term future, I was not prepared for her abrupt death. For a short time, my psyche protected me from being overwhelmed by anguish and grief by detaching me from the situation; I felt as though I was not a participant in the drama, but just an observer looking on. This dissociation is apparently common among victims of grief. After five or six days, my loss was devastatingly apparent. The warmth, affection and love that I had known for over a quarter of a century, and had come to take for granted, were gone and I was bereft. Christine had not only become part of my life, she had become part of me, and I was lost without her. For the next six or so months, my life was filled with reminiscing and tears as I reflected on what it was that I was missing. I began to regret many of the decisions I had made in relation to Christine—decisions based on principles I now questioned. At no time did I regret marrying Christine. She was an astonishing woman with a great capacity to forgive and an amazing ability to continue to pour out affection even after she had been offended and hurt. I began to understand the reasons why I had loved her so much. I started to comprehend that mutual love is the substance of all good personal relationships, and that this was especially so in marriage. Early in our marriage I had spent four years studying the Bible at a theological college. I had learnt how the Bible was the inspired preface9

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word of God and that, although there were many books that made up the Scriptures and many writers, there was only one author. This fact meant that there was a unity to Scripture that I had previously failed to recognise; the Bible was the account of the one true God’s activity in history to secure his purposes. In this history God progressively revealed his plans and purposes until they found their final and complete revelation in Jesus Christ. Not only was the final and complete revelation found in Christ, he was the one who implemented these plans and brought them to completion. In the period after Christine’s death I began to take a new interest in what the Bible taught about marriage and its place in God’s plan and purposes. Now that I have retired from full-time paid work, I have been able to further my interest and take the time to write. Approaching the Bible in this holistic way has brought new insights and enabled me to integrate most of the biblical material related to marriage in a way that I have not seen in any other book on this subject. I hope this holistic interpretation of the Scriptures and its integrated insights justifies another book on the topic. Most of the books on marriage that I have read have been very helpful and informative. However, some books have distorted the meaning of some passages in Scripture by not taking account of their place in the flow of biblical revelation. Other books have focused on one or two main passages in the Bible and have not integrated other relevant sections of Scripture into their considerations. Therefore they have not contained all the information and insights that they might have. Still others, in my view, have failed to exegete central passages properly. My aim in writing this book is not to conclude the discussion on the topic of marriage, but to add to it. Doubtlessly people will disagree with my arguments and exegesis, and this is the way it ought to be. I should mention that in the year between learning of Christine’s heart condition and her death, we discussed the topic of remarriage on numerous occasions. Prior to her illness we 10

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had agreed that marriage, with all its faults and weaknesses, was a great blessing and that, if anything happened to either of us, the other ought to marry again. During the year of her illness Christine was increasingly concerned about my welfare and my future. She even went so far as to suggest that if she died, I might marry a particular woman who worked at the college where I was employed. Unlike some wives that I had heard about, she did not demand that I wait a decent amount of time before remarrying. This suggestion was an amazing expression of her other-personcentredness and her loving care for me. She clearly placed my interests and good above her own. After Christine’s death, I took on board her suggestion and got to know Wendy, the woman she had recommended. We have now been married nearly 20 wonderful years. Wendy is a delightful Christian woman who has the great virtues of patience and kindness, as well as a great sense of humour. Both of us have consciously tried to live according to our understanding of the Scriptures. As a consequence living with her is a great delight. I have been blessed twice in marriage. Finally I would like to thank the four people who have helped to improve the text of this book. These people are my friend, Royle Hawkes, and the editors Julie Firmstone, Belinda Pollard and Marshall Ballantine-Jones. I owe them a great debt.


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C ha p t e r 1

Who do you believe?


eople have many different opinions on marriage. For example, some people think that marriage is just a social agreement. That is, a man and a woman publicly agree to live together and have an exclusive sexual relationship. Marriage, therefore, is no stronger than the agreement the couple have made. Others think that having sex, or just living together, is enough to join two people together in marriage. Some people think that marriage is for life while others believe that couples can dissolve their marriage whenever either party wants to. The key question is: what do you think about marriage? This is an important question because it will shape what you do in one significant area of life. The decision you make in this area will greatly influence how your life pans out and may mean the difference between a taste of happiness and joy, or years of frustration and sadness. W HO D O Y O U B ELIE V E ? 

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What you believe about marriage is shaped in part by those you listen to. No doubt your own parents provided you with some insights into marriage either by example or by word. Perhaps you have read books on the subject or sought an understanding of marriage from a marriage counsellor. Some people are guided by the stars while others are prepared just to learn as they go in the hope that everything will turn out OK. My way has been to follow the Maker’s instructions. In doing so I have found marriage to be both a joy and delight; one could even say it was a little taste of heaven. I cannot deny that sustaining a marriage requires a great deal of effort. Nor can I deny the failure, strife and pain I have experienced at various times. But I can testify to a deep underlying sense of joy that has sustained and promoted my marriage while I have followed the Maker’s way. My question would be: why go past the Maker’s instructions? If the Creator designed and made you to operate in a certain way, why bother to seek other opinions? If the Creator made you to find your joy and fulfilment in a certain kind of relationship, why go looking anywhere else? Surely if anyone knows the answers to your questions it will be the Creator God! And the great thing about our Creator God is that he has sent us a message telling us about his plans and purposes. Moreover he has recorded this message in the Bible so people can have access to it and read it.

Understanding the message At this point you might say that many writers call on the authority of the Bible to support their understanding of marriage, and yet these writers present very different views. How can this be? The most likely explanation has to do with the fact that the Bible is not primarily about marriage. The Bible addresses a far bigger and broader topic. The sections in the Bible that refer to marriage are entwined in this larger story. Interestingly, the larger story is about our relationship with God and our association with 14

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other people we meet day by day. Since the bits and pieces about marriage are scattered throughout the Bible, it takes a certain amount of effort and attention to bring them together in a meaningful way. I can see the question brewing in your mind: can we know that we have put the pieces together in the right way? Fortunately the answer is yes. The bits and pieces of Scripture are like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. They each have their own shape and colour as it were. The logic and content of the passages dictate how they will fit with each other. Unfortunately the task is not easy. The size and shape of each part has to be carefully determined; the meaning and content of each passage has to be established. There are a number of factors that help us to determine the meaning of the passages in the Scriptures. Two factors seem to be critical. Both of these factors involve isolating words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs or even whole passages from what surrounds them. I will call these factors ‘context’ and ‘stage’. Let’s examine each of these factors briefly.

Keeping things in context God’s plans and purposes for marriage are entangled in the larger story of the Bible, and so we must be careful to interpret these passages in the correct way. We should not isolate the sections on marriage and develop an independent understanding of them— something scholars would say is taking the passages out of context. By this they mean that we should not isolate words, phrases and sentences from the passages in which they occur. Nor should we isolate sections from larger passages in which they occur. This would be like interpreting a news story by reading the headline and perhaps one or two paragraphs within the body copy. We can see the negative effect of isolation when we take a sentence from its passage. For example, the first half of Genesis 2:18 says, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone’. Some people W HO D O Y O U B ELIE V E ? 

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have latched on to this verse and declared that marriage is all about companionship. This looks like a reasonable suggestion when the verse is isolated but when we look more closely at the passage we see that it cannot refer to companionship in its particular context. When we look at the detailed account of creation that runs from Genesis 2:4–25, we find that it assumes the more general account found in Genesis 1 as its background. In this earlier account God has revealed that he has made humans in his image in order that they might ‘rule over’ the earth and ‘subdue it’. That is, humans would be in charge of the earth with the purpose of maintaining the good order embedded in the reality that God established at creation. When Adam is relocated to the Garden of Eden his task again is to work and care for it. It is in the context of this task that God declares that Adam should not be alone. The meaning of the statement is abundantly clear when God goes on to say, ‘I will make a helper suitable for him’. It is the huge task of keeping the creation in order that provides the situation in which God comments on Adam being alone. Adam is in need of help so God plans to provide a helper—someone who will unite with Adam in having many other little helpers. You can see that if we isolate the sentence ‘It is not good for man to be alone’ we can make it refer to things that are not found in the context of the ongoing story. In this way we can change the meaning of the sentence. Commentators like Ash (2007, Chapter 2) have rightly objected to treating the text of Scripture in this way. The whole thrust of the passage can be redirected towards humans and their needs instead of focusing on God and his purposes. In such cases the concern or purpose of the passage is taken to centre on human need and not on the fact that God has created humans, sex and marriage to serve him and his purposes. We need to be very cautious about the way we treat the Scriptures as we study the nature and purpose of marriage. A distorted or warped view of marriage will not help us to find the joy and delight that God has prepared for us. The example 16

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above also reminds us that, as creatures, we must be careful not to lose sight of the Creator and his purposes. We distort reality if we place ourselves at the centre of creation. We commit idolatry if we value ourselves as creatures above the Creator. We are his servants and all we do must serve him, even in our marriages.

The progressive stages of the biblical story Having explained the notion of context let me move on to explain the notion of stages. Have you noticed that a new house is built in stages and that each stage depends upon the one before? The foundations are the first stage. These have to be finished before the walls can be erected. The walls have to be erected before the roof can be raised and so on. Imagine the disaster that would result from a builder’s decision to erect the walls before the foundations were laid, or the difficulties generated by the workmen assembling the roof first! In such situations the sequence of events is extremely important. Doing things out of sequence can cause disasters, and this is the case with the flow of the biblical account of God’s activity in history. The Bible commences with an account of creation. Chapter 1 of the account presents a general overview of creation before the focus zooms in on the creation of humankind in the following chapter. As such the creation account provides the framework for the subsequent report of God’s activity in the world. The creation is like the foundation on which everything else is built. Conversely, if we were simply to take the picture of marriage given at creation it would be like buying a house off the plans. You would be able to see the general shape of things but you would see none of the detailed design or the difficulties and compromises suffered in the building process. To highlight the creation account and ignore the subsequent history would be less than adequate. The second stage of biblical history has to do with human­ kind’s rebellion against God and his plans. Creation implies that W HO D O Y O U B ELIE V E ? 

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the Bible is a book entirely about personal relationships. The God who creates is personal and relational. (Later it is revealed that he is three persons and one God. God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Moreover, each of these persons loves and serves the other. In John 17, for example, Jesus told us that the Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father. In both Testaments we see the Holy Spirit doing the work of the Father out of love. Theologians have concluded that there is mutual love between each person of the Trinity.) He creates personal and relational beings in his image so that they might share in relationships of love and trust. Human beings go on to distrust the Creator, to ignore his instructions and, in the process, disorder creation. This disorder is contagious and invades the realm of personal relationships. In fact, we all still continue to suffer the disorder that rebellion and disobedience have brought into the world. We must not imagine that marriage was immune from this turmoil. We cannot isolate the sections on marriage from the larger story. The impact of sin and rebellion is clearly evident in the following sections. In the light of human rebellion it would be foolish in the extreme to imagine that humans could meet the shape and dimensions of God’s plan for marriage. If history were to stop at this second stage in the story of God’s activity in the world, marriage would be a relatively bleak affair for everyone. Fortunately for us God did not leave things at the point of sin and disorder; he initiated a program to redeem and restore his world. God found Abraham—a person who trusted and believed in him—and used him to build a nation of his own people. God revealed his specific purposes to these people, the Israelites, and set them up as a light to all the nations. This nation was meant to demonstrate the joy and peace found in living God’s way. Its people would be an example to the rest of the world. Unfortunately they too suffered from the same disease of distrust and disobedience as their forebears and they did not, and could not, maintain the example. This disregard for God and his ways extended to marriage, so that God had to furnish laws and provide 18

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some barriers to protect marriage. On the other hand, God also provided insights that would inspire people to seek the joy and happiness that could be found in a godly marriage. These insights will be discussed in later chapters. The external constraint of God’s law was not enough. God’s people continued to ignore God and violate his ways. So God sent prophets to tell his people of the impending consequences of their actions. The people would suffer the pain, hurt and dislocation that they had created through their wrong actions. They would be punished for their wrongdoing. But in the midst of the announcement of doom there was a strong beam of hope. The prophets announced that God was going to act decisively to change the situation. He would send a new ruler who would be different to all other rulers. He would bring justice and peace as well as love and good order. Moreover, through the activities of this Promised One, God would give his people new hearts. This would have a profound effect on marriage and the relationships married people would share and enjoy. Of course, the Promised One was none other than Jesus, the one anointed to be ruler over all. He came and, in the sacrificial service of his people, he provided for the forgiveness of sin and the restoration of loving personal relationships. The coming of Jesus would have an overwhelming effect on marriage. Both he and his Apostles would explain aspects of marriage that would add to the dimensions of our understanding and reshape our comprehension of the nature and purpose of marriage. Perhaps the most significant insight that was imparted by Jesus was that there would be no marriage in the age to come. Paul adds a complementary insight when he tells us that marriage is a shadow of the relationship between Christ and his bride, the Church. When we consider the implications of these two insights we will come to an understanding of God’s ultimate purpose for marriage, and this will again reshape our comprehension of the character of wedlock. The flow of the historical stages of biblical revelation is obvious once they are outlined. It will be helpful if we label these stages W HO D O Y O U B ELIE V E ? 

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so that we can refer more easily to them: Creation, the Fall, Israel and the Law, the Prophets, Jesus, and the Age to come. With the help of our awareness of the flow of Scripture, we will not just read the nature of marriage ‘off the plan’, but build a structure that will be adequate for the various dimensions of our lives.

A point of focus A book on marriage could have a number of different focal points. For example, it could focus on the role of sex, communication or personal commitment within the marriage relationship. Although many aspects of marriage will be touched upon in this book, we will concentrate on the role of the heart in marriage. I will concentrate on the heart for a number of reasons. The first reason is that the Bible is a book about personal relationships. If you read through the Bible from cover to cover the truth of this statement will overwhelm you. Nevertheless you can see the truth of this statement at a number of key points in the Scriptures. For example, when Jesus was questioned about the content of the Law (Matthew 22:34–40), he replied that the Law is all about loving God and loving your neighbour. That is, the focus of the Law is on right personal relationships. When Paul outlined the gospel he did so in terms of ‘living by faith’ (Romans 1:17). The good news of Christ is about living in a relationship of trust in God. While the imagery and language may vary, the thrust of the Scriptures is about God’s loving reign over a loving community and, by extension, the notion of right personal relationships. Moreover, we shall see in the next chapter that the notion of the heart is at the centre of what it is to be a person. It then follows that the heart will have a primary role in personal relationships. Since marriage is a personal relationship, albeit a special one, the heart will have a key role in marriage. In Mark 10:1–12, Jesus confirmed the logic of this claim when he affirmed that it is God’s 20

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will for man and woman to be one. He identified the reason for the breakdown of marriage as having to do with the heart. When we discover what the biblical writers meant by the word ‘heart’, the plausibility of Jesus’ claim will impose itself upon us.

Among the many diverse views on marriage promoted in the world today, the one we ought to listen to is the view of the Creator: the One who made us for marriage. While God the Creator has revealed his plans and purposes to us in the Scriptures, this message can be distorted if we do not treat it appropriately as the word of God. Two factors in particular can misshape the message. These are the factors that I have called ‘context’ and ‘stage’. Now that we are aware of these factors, hopefully we will not distort what we read, but instead get a clear message from our Maker. With the necessary preliminaries out of the way, let’s now turn our attention to the central theme of this book. Since marriage is a personal relationship and the heart is central to what it is to be a person, we should focus on the role of the heart in marriage relationships. In the next chapter we will turn our minds to the questions of what it is to be a person and how we conduct personal relationships, and we’ll discover that the heart is central to both.


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