Dating & Marriage
DATING & MARRIAGE
by Dr. D. W. Ekstrand
(A letter to my two nieces)
1. The man leaves his parents and, in a public act, promises himself in covenant love to his wife.
2. The man and woman are joined together by taking responsibility for each other’s welfare, and by loving their mate above all others.
3. The two become one flesh in the intimacy and commitment of sexual union that is reserved for marriage.
Marriage is intended by God to be a relationship of “growing openness.” Before Adam and Eve sinned, they were fully transparent and unashamed in their innocence. But after they sinned, shame and awkwardness followed them, creating barriers between themselves and God. We all experience these same barriers in marriage. Ideally a husband and wife have no barriers, but like Adam and Eve (Gen 3:7), we put on fig leaves (barriers) because we have areas in our lives we don’t want exposed – so we hide from one another, just as Adam & Eve hid from God. In marriage, lack of spiritual, emotional, and intellectual intimacy usually precedes a breakdown of physical intimacy. In the same way, when we fail to expose our secret thoughts to God, we break our lines of communication with Him.
Marriage requires “submission” by both partners (cf. Eph 5:21-33). For the wife, this means willingly following her husband’s leadership in Christ; for the husband, it means putting aside his own interests in order to care for his wife. Submission is rarely a problem in homes where both partners have a “strong relationship with Christ,” and where each is concerned for the happiness of the other. Thus marriage is a relationship in which both partners are “servants.” This kind of mutual submission preserves order and harmony in the family while it increases love and respect among family members. The union of husband and wife merges two persons in such a way that little can affect one without also affecting the other. Oneness in marriage does not mean losing your personality in the personality of the other; instead, it means caring for your spouse as you care for yourself, learning to anticipate his or her needs, and helping the other person become all God wants them to be.
Paul’s injunction to the Church at Corinth is that they not be “unequally yoked” with unbelievers (cf. 2 Cor 6:14-7:1). This entire section deals with the need for believers to “separate themselves” from all forms of sin and unrighteousness. The mention of “unequal yoke” points to that passage in the Mosaic Law that says – “You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together” (cf. Deut 22:10). The ox was a clean animal and the donkey unclean. . . the donkey is much faster than the ox. . . the ox is much stronger than the donkey. . . the ox is more sure footed than the donkey. . . the ox and the donkey eat entirely different diets. . . and the ox pulls stronger and harder. Therefore, accomplishing any task with these two animals “joined together” is very difficult, because they are two entirely different species. By way of contrast, when believers are yoked with the Lord Jesus, they find that “His yoke is easy and His burden is light” (cf. Mt 11:29-30). Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians (6:14ff) is one of the key passages in all Scripture on the subject of “separation.” It is clear instruction that the believer should separate himself from unbelievers, iniquity, darkness, the devil and idols (2 Cor 6:14-7:1). Marriage is meant to be a “spiritual” as well as an emotional and physical union. When couples do not share the same spiritual essence, their marriage cannot have unity in the most important issue in life – commitment to the lordship of Christ. Therefore, believers are enjoined to not let emotion or passion blind them to the ultimate importance of marrying someone with whom they can be united spiritually.
Though the immediate context of the 2 Corinth 6:14ff is that of a “business or fraternal relationship,” the concept of “unequally yoked” clearly has direct application to marriage as well. Remember, we are all either children of God or children of the devil (cf. Jn 1:12; 8:44; Eph 2:3; I Jn 3:10) – the children of God walk in the light; the children of the evil one walk in darkness – that is, they don’t follow Christ; instead they follow the dictates of their flesh, and are the masters of their own lives (Rom 8:5-9; 1 Jn 2:16). It is self-evident that light and darkness are mutually exclusive; thus, this contrast is a common biblical metaphor (cf. Is 5:20; Jn 1:5; 3:19; 8:12; 12:35, 46; Acts 26:18; Rom 13:12; Eph 5:8, 11; Col 1:12-14; 1 Th 5:5; 1 Pet 2:9; 1 Jn 1:5; 2:8-9). Intellectually, light refers to truth and darkness to error. . . morally, light refers to holiness and darkness to evil. Those who are declared righteous in Christ walk in the light – light is the sphere or realm in which they live; all believers are continually sensitive to doing that which is pleasing in God’s sight – though they are by no means perfect, nevertheless, they are children of light (cf. Jn 8:12; 12:35; Eph 5:8; 1 Jn 1:7). Those who are unrighteous are part of Satan’s kingdom of darkness; everything they do is not necessarily overtly evil, though it is sin (Rom 14:23), but they are children of darkness, and live according to their own sinful nature (cf. Lk 22:53; Eph 6:12; Col 1:13). Paul asks, “What fellowship has light with darkness”? (2 Cor 6:14). When two people are “unequally yoked” in marriage they have two different footings, two different spiritual appetites, two different mind sets, and two completely different natures. Therefore Christians need to be very selective about with whom they choose to share their earthly life.
Paul enjoins believers not to enter into “partnerships” with those who do not know the Lord. The issue is this: How can one who is faithful to Christ, above everything else, consistently go on in an association where the name of the Lord Jesus is ignored, rejected or not welcome? (cf. 1 Cor 10:31). Christians are to maintain contact with the unsaved for the expressed purpose of winning them to Christ, but they are not to engage in their sinful pleasures or in any of their activities in such a way as to lead them to think Christians are no different than they are. As Christians we are called to be “salt” and “light” in the world – those are the spiritual realities we are to live out in life – the way we live should create thirst in others, preserve the spread of corruption (one of the primary functions of salt), and reflect Christ in the world (much like the moon reflects the glory of the sun). As Christians, we are the “body of Christ” in the world – that is, we are the eyes, the hands, the feet, the voice and the ears of Christ in this world – that is our sole reason for existence. Our “distinctiveness” is not simply a minor subset in the greater scheme of things.
Marriage is the “most important decision” anyone ever makes in life, outside of accepting Christ as one’s Lord and Savior. The preeminent decision of accepting Christ into one’s life is like a “Y” in the road – when we accept Christ as our Savior we choose to follow the “narrow way” – “the road less traveled,” if your will. And once we’re on that road, we are on it for life. It should be noted, God not only guarantees to complete the work He begins in us, but promises to be with us all the way to the end (cf. Rom 11:29; Phil 1:6; 2 Th 2:13; Heb 13:5). The big thing for believers is “making sure” they are on that road (cf. 2 Pt 1:10; 1 Th 4:7; Jude 1:24) – one of the results of deliberate disobedience is “doubting” one’s standing with God. By the way, while we are on that road (to heaven), we continue to encounter various “junctions” along the way, and sometimes we make a “wrong turn” and take a “painful detour” on our way to our final destination (heaven). Yes, God does get us there in spite of ourselves, but we can make the journey far more painful and far less joyful than need be (Ps 32:1-5; Heb 12:5-13). Now that you two are on the road to heaven (I am naturally assuming that you are both believers), you are facing the “single biggest decision” of your lives – the choosing of a life’s partner. This choice will determine the “road” you are going to travel from here on out. Though the “Y” in the road at this juncture doesn’t seem to be that significant – you will discover 10-20 years down the road, that the decisions you are making today will have had tremendous implications on the way in which you lived your lives. Should either of you choose to marry an unbeliever, you will discover that the life your children will experience, will be unlike the one you enjoyed and were blessed to have experienced. Surveys and common sense tell us that the chances of children accepting Christ in “divided families” (one with believing and unbelieving parents), compared to those in undivided families (where both parents are believers), are significantly lower; so the decision to marry and have children with an unbelieving partner is a very serious one – because there is a strongly possibility it may impact their eternal destiny. Hence, Barb’s and my concern for Brooke & Makenzie – instead of getting a “single unified message” from their parents, they are naturally getting “mixed messages” (because they are not both believers). Due to the fact so many Christians struggle with “selecting a believing mate,” here are some thoughts to consider –
1. Why do you want to get married? Obviously, there are many possible answers – being madly in love, wanting a home of your own, wanting a family of your own, your body clock is ticking, wanting to get away from overly intrusive parents, and loneliness. Anything wrong with those answers? No, not at all. Marriage was God’s idea in the first place! God said, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). That has been God’s plan all along.
2. What kind of a man do you want? Your own wish list may include factors such as tall, good-looking, owns his own home and car, has a secure job, similar cultural background, non-drinker/ smoker/gambler, kind, friendly, affectionate, considerate and has a great personality. Someone like that would be a pretty good catch – right? Wrong. . . unless he is also born again. Perhaps you’re ready to fire all your “buts” at me – go ahead, I’ve already been down that road:
“But I love him” – whom do you love more; him or Christ? Obviously that’s a sobering question.
“But he is a very moral man” – so were the Pharisees; the most respected people of Jesus’ day.
“But I need him” – you need Christ a lot more. That’s another sober reality, but it is true.
“But he needs me” – does he understand the full implications of having to share you with Christ?
“But we’re finding it hard to contain our sexual urges” – we all do, and we all reap accordingly.
“But he’s close to becoming a Christian; he’ll convert before long” – Studies show that most likely the unbeliever is also thinking that he will change you or that your religious zeal will mellow once you are married. Statistics show that the unbeliever almost always wins this battle of influence, and the believer’s zeal seriously wanes after they marry an unbeliever. Moreover, prior to marriage a man is far more motivated to please than he is ever likely to be after he is married. Studies reveal that many men during courtship fool their brides to be into thinking they are Christians (brides naturally want to think the “best” of their future mate so they believe him), or that spirituality is really important to them. The fact is, if he doesn’t change prior to marriage, he’s highly unlikely to change later. Those are the facts.
Here are some statistics to consider: Five out of every ten marriages are so bad that they end in divorce. What about the other five? Two of the five are so bad the husband and wife don’t sleep in the same bed any longer; divorce is frequently a “consideration.” What about the other three? One of the three stay together for the sake of family and the children. What about the other two? One of the two have a somewhat strained relationship, yet they give it their best and tolerate their differences. What about the “last one” – they are the ones who have a “reasonably good marriage.” Those are not very encouraging statistics. Think about those numbers before you launch out into the deep. At best, only two out of ten marriages have much going for them. By the way, all ten thought “their love” was the “love of loves!” That their love was sufficient enough to handle anything the world could throw at them! So they proceeded to tie the proverbial knot… only to discover later how easily their little knot unraveled. I don’t mean to deflate your balloon or question your love – these are simply the realities of marriage. Remember, we all think we’re the “exception” rather than the rule.
In addition to the “spiritual dimension” of marriage, there are also parent-relationships, bearing and rearing children, financial, relational, psychological, sexual, volitional (which is your will), emotional, physical, recreational, and vocational aspects of the marriage relationship as well. Obviously, there is a lot more to marriage than just the religious aspect, but that “philosophical foundation” (the spiritual perspective) is highly significant in the overall development of the marriage relationship – the blending of darkness and light in the formation of a marriage and a family naturally produces constant challenges and compromise. Picture a cute little kitten and a cute little puppy – they can look so precious together, but they were never intended to be “mates” – nature will not allow feline-canine cross-breeding. Why? That’s not the way God designed them. They just don’t “mix.” Likewise, men were never intended to mate with other men, nor women with other women. It is “against nature” (Rom 1:26) – man’s “suitable companion” by divine design is woman. Conversely, the “mixing” of unbelievers with believers is not a part of God’s design.
Common sense shows the absurdity of two people pretending to walk together in a way when they are “not in agreement.” God said this to the prophet Amos, “How can two walk together unless they be in agreement?” (Amos 3:3). A very wise man has given his judgment on this point: “A man who is truly pious, marrying an unconverted woman, will either draw back to perdition, or have a cross during life” (Adam Clarke, Clarke’s Commentary, vol 6, p. 343). Throughout the Old Testament, the children of Israel were continually “intermarrying unbelievers,” despite God’s warnings not to the contrary, and they reaped accordingly. The Christian life is hard enough (ask any devout believer) without adding an element to it that runs counter to the will of God. As believers, we are “profoundly weak” – the reality is, none of us have a lot of spiritual strength; our faith is miniscule, and our flesh is a tyrant – thus, to proceed in a direction that poses increased significant challenges to our faith, is strongly ill-advised. As believers, we desperately need spiritual support and spiritual companionship in life – that’s the essence of fellowship (koinonia literally means “sharing in common”); that’s one of the dynamics of the body of Christ. Even when two “work together,” man in his weakness often becomes discouraged; that’s where the importance of the “other individual” comes in – the second person is able to lift up his companion (cf. Ecc 4:9-12). It is significantly worse, however, when the nearest and dearest one to you pulls from Christ and duty. None of us can successfully navigate this life without the strong presence of other believers. None of us.
Then there is the consideration of rearing children – it is the duty (responsibility) of Christian parents to raise their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. How can one do this when one’s mate sets the example of unbelief and disobedience to God? By the way, “secular morality” is not a direct equivalent of “spiritual morality” – they are light years apart. What role will the “church” play in their upbringing? It is highly unlikely that it will be consistent or that it will be the “life impacting organism” God designed it to be – believers desperately need each other (cf. Heb 10:23-25). That means the vast majority of their “friends” will probably be non-believers – and “their input” will be considerable.
Therefore, when dating and deciding upon a “mate” for yourselves, consider the following:
1. Ask yourself: Is this particular person a positive or negative influence on me spiritually?
(Those we are closest to in life “influence” us the most – and “our mates” are by far the closest persons to us)
2. In a romantic relationship with an unbeliever, Christians generally end up compromising their beliefs.
(1 Cor 15:33 says, “Bad company corrupts good morals” – the implication? those we associate with “influence” us)
3. Falling in love is easy (even with unbelievers) and that frequently makes right choices very difficult.
(Being madly in love with someone frequently “clouds our thinking” – our passions tend to overrule our hearts)
4. When you find yourself desiring forbidden fruit, follow the ‘ole maxim, “Get out of Dodge!”
(At some point you may find yourself attracted to a married person – when sparks fly… run! Remember King David!)
5. Once your “romantic fuzz button” is all wound up, the decision to exit is now greatly compounded!
(Once you have cultivated strong romantic feelings for someone… we naturally become blind to other realities!)
6. All of us become “weaker” when we subject ourselves to temptations or strongly consider them!
(Eve saw that the fruit was “desirable”! The more she looked at it the more desirable it became… and she ate it!”)
7. By nature (that’s our “sin disposition”) we are “tempted/desire” to do that which we are not to do!
(The more one considers a particular temptation, the stronger it becomes – and the more difficult it is to resist!)
8. Sin is very attractive or we wouldn’t choose to sin – the truth is, we sin because we “want” to!
(The dynamic of the flesh is “feeling;” and the dynamic of the Spirit is “faith” – frequently they are contrary!)
9. Are you willing to sacrifice the “long term benefits of obedience” for short term gratification?
(If you are convinced that God really wants what’s “best” for your life, you will trust Him – if you’re not, you won’t!)
10. If you don’t want to end up marrying a non-Christian – don’t date one!
(We date people because we “like” them – the problem is “like” can turn into “irresistible affection” very quickly!)
11. Conversely, if you don’t want to commit adultery, run in the opposite direction if you feel attraction!
(None of us can resist full-blown temptation – so don’t fan the flame, and then claim later, “I couldn’t help it!”)
12. Pray the Lord’s Prayer – “Thy will be done!” (cf. Mt 6:10).
(Take your situation to the Lord in all its “fullness,” and express the same words Jesus uttered to God in Matt 26:39)
13. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may prove what the will of God is! (Rom 12:2).
(“Faith” is the “mother of all battles” for believers! – it isn’t for wimps! – unbelievers know nothing of this warfare!)
14. Proverbs 12:15 – “A wise man seeks much counsel” / seek the counsel of those who “love” you!
(Those who really love you have “your” best interests at heart; those who don’t, have “their” best interests at heart!)
(The truth of the matter is, many married people do not really love their spouses; their best interests are “their own!)
Some final thoughts. There are times in life when we all make “wrong choices” – that’s just what it means to be human, though that is obviously not God’s desire for us. One could categorize sin in two ways – there are sins that we commit in the heat of the moment (I call those “reactionary” sins), and there are sins that we commit only after having reflected upon the temptation for some period of time (I call those “deliberate” sins) – all believers frequently “react” wrongly, but they don’t frequently choose to “deliberately” disobey God. Though all sin is “sin,” some sins are far more grievous, and have far greater consequences. King David deliberately chose to have an “affair” with Bathsheba and “murder” her husband, and the consequences were extremely painful (read 2 Sam 11ff). David sinned numerous other times throughout his life, but those sins were not nearly as grave as those he committed with Bathsheba; hence the consequences were not nearly as painful or significant. Sadly, many of us in the Ekstrand Clan have violated God’s standard for selecting “godly mates” – me included – and each of us has reaped accordingly. I could write a volume on the pain of a bad choice. . . and Kelly could write another volume on how she has suffered as a result; since I am partially responsible for it, you have no idea how deeply that pains me. Think about that. For some reason, some Christians seem to think that God “corrects the wrongs” we make in life, and that He protects us from the consequences of our ill-conceived choices when we make confession. Sounds good, but that’s not what Scripture teaches. When you put your hand in the “fire,” you get burned. . . and the skin doesn’t grow back perfectly just because you’re a believer. . . and neither do the scars completely disappear in this life. All of us have scars that we have to live with. . . and some have more than others. All of us who have traveled the road of life long enough, have been sufficiently scared, and don’t want those we love to needlessly experience the same scars. Does God ultimately bring “healing”? Absolutely. . . but the “healing process” is not without a lot of pain. Those who tell you differently, haven’t lived long enough.
Life is not easy -- there are challenges on every front. . . and the older you get, the more intense they become. I used to think the “senior years” would be the easy years – not so, they are the most challenging of all. That’s a given. The most important lesson we learn as believers through all of the ups and downs of life is that “God really does love us” — in spite of us! We seem to learn that truth best by experiencing His continual forgiveness and acceptance after fumbling, stumbling & bumbling over and over again. I have shared my heart with you in this letter only because “I really love you two,” and I so don’t want to see you go through something that you really don’t want to go through. If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t say a thing. . . I would just let you go on your merry way and enjoy the moment – but that would not be the right thing to do. You need to know that I will always care for you. . . and should you choose to make a wrong choice, I will probably care for you even more – because you will need it more.
You also need to know that you have been blessed with “great parents.” They have loved you like few parents love their kids. They have always been there for you. . . they raised you in the fear and admonition of the Lord. . . they raised you in the best of schools and in one of the best churches. . . your entire lives have been in the company and fellowship of other believers. You don’t know what it is like to be raised in an unloving environment, by parents who really don’t care, and then suffer the lifelong emotional and psychological baggage of selfish, godless parenting. Your parents set boundaries for you, and struggled (it is a struggle) to raise you in a way that honored God the best they knew how. . . and their greatest concern for both of you, ultimately, was “your spiritual well-being.” In short, you were both very fortunate to be raised in a home where God was present. As such, both of you responded to the work of God’s Spirit in your hearts, by embracing Him as your Lord and Savior. Obviously, that had to be a thrilling moment for your parents. And then the day came when they “released you” out into deep water, to live your lives on your own, outside their control. No longer would they be there beside you to help you with every decision… though they desperately wanted to at times. . . but they prayed – like all godly parents do – that their input in your lives was sufficient enough to keep you on the straight and narrow, and help guide you through the storms of life. To this day, they couldn’t be prouder of you – two very beautiful, smart, accomplished young girls who love the Lord. I am envious – some day you may understand that. My prayer is that God will one day give each of you girls “just like you!” You will be blessed. Let me close with this: “Remember the rock from which you were hewn” (cf. Is 51:1ff), and you let God’s Word be your “guiding light” (cf. Psalm 32:8-11; 119:105, 130, 133, 170).
I know I’ve written a lot here, but it is a monumental subject. . . so take the time to prayerfully consider all of the various aspects I tried to cover. . . and ask God to give you His mind and heart in these things. . . if you do, He will make very clear His will for your lives. That’s a promise. Never forget – God loves you! He never lies! He’s never late! He has endless resources! He always has your best interests at heart!
Much love to you both, Uncle Don