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Can This Marriage Be Saved?

Joe R. Price

The Bible reveals that God Almighty established marriage to meet and fulfill man's need for companionship, to provide mankind with moral cohabitation and thus furnish the appropriate environment for rearing subsequent generations (see Gen. 2:18-25; 1:26-28; 18:19; 1 Cor. 7:1-2; Deut. 6:7-9; Psa. 127; Eph. 6:1-4). Marriage is an honorable and lifelong arrangement (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:4-6; Heb. 13:4). Those who choose to dishonor it by putting it asunder will answer to the God who ordained it (Heb. 13:4). Every person who enters marriage is obligated by God to (1) abide by God's regulation of marriage (Matt. 19:9; 5:32; Rom. 7:3; Mk. 6:17-18); and to (2) accept the roles and responsibilities marriage obliges them to as husband or wife (Rom. 7:2; 1 Cor. 7:39; Eph. 5:22-33).

Today, the American view of marriage is very, very different. In the year 2000 there were 5.5 million Americas living together outside of marriage, an elevenfold increase since 1960 (The Broken Hearth, Wm. J. Bennett, 13). More than half of all marriages in our country are now preceded by a period of living together (Ibid.).

After people get married the picture is just as bleak. The United States has the highest divorce rate in the world (The Index of Leading Cultural Indicators, Wm. J. Bennett, 59). Historian Lawrence Stone has assessed divorce to be "as much a part of our culture and our lives as death and taxes" (The Broken Hearth, 13). Currently, one out of two children will witness the breakup of their parents' marriage (Ibid., 12).

The breakdown of marriage and family life (which some defend in the name of personal expression, fulfillment, liberation and happiness) is one of the very reasons for so much doubt, uncertainty, sadness, emotional imprisonment and faithlessness in our society. The promised joy of liberation from the oppression of marriage did not happen.

More than once people have presented me with their marriage problems and asked, "Can this marriage be saved?" When both parties are fully committed to restoring their marriage to what God wants it to be, their marriage can be saved. Often, the sad truth is that only one person in the marriage wants to work toward its success. Since two cannot walk together unless they are in agreement, such disparity makes it extremely difficult to achieve success (Amos. 3:3; cf. Prov. 19:13; 21:9, 19).

Here are a few things it takes to help make and keep our marriages strong, healthy and honorable in the sight of God and man.

When there is a problem, make things right with God and with your mate. Neither the husband nor the wife can say they have never sinned (Rom. 3:23; 1 Jno. 1:8). When sin against a spouse occurs, the sinner needs to confess it and repent of it - not defend it, excuse it and justify it (Matt. 18:15; 5:23-24; 1 Jno. 1:9). If you sin against your mate, ask God to forgive you - and ask your spouse to forgive you. Repent (change your mind) of your sin and act differently (Lk. 3:8; Acts 26:20). Being right with God helps establish the common ground needed to solve the problems which arise in marriage.

When both partners share a common faith and want to be right with God, their faith will help them bear the fruit needed to strengthen and sustain their marriage (Gal. 5:22-23). The husband and wife are "heirs together of the grace of life" (1 Pet. 3:7). That is, you share in life's blessings. Therefore, husbands and wives need to focus on sharing life with each other instead of destroying each other with bitter words and evil deeds (1 Pet. 3:7; Col. 3:18-19).

Remember to be merciful and to forgive every sin. Without a doubt, the sins committed against us by those closest to us hurt the worst (cf. Lk. 22:61-62). Indeed, the defilement of the marriage bed by one's mate is such that the Lord allows it as the only just cause for putting asunder one's marriage (Matt. 19:6, 9).

Yet, even when fornication causes putting away, the Lord expects the one sinned against to keep a heart of forgiveness (Col. 3:12-13). Just as the Lord earnestly prayed for the forgiveness of His murderers, even so every spouse ought to yearn for their mate's salvation (Lk. 23:34).

Often, when one sins against another in a marriage, the sin is not forgiven (I'm talking about the whole range of sins, not just fornication). Unforgiven sin becomes a root of bitterness and bears the fruit of resentment, retaliation and revenge, eventually destroying the marriage (cf. Gal. 5:15). If one fails to show mercy by forgiving when his mate asks to be forgiven, he will not be forgiven (Matt. 18:33-35; 5:7; 6:14-15). Furthermore, he will be contributing to the erosion of his marriage rather than its fortification. This apostolic admonition well applies: "Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you." (Eph. 4:31-32)

Practice genuine love. A thorough understanding and application of 1 Corinthians 13 is in order for every marriage to survive and thrive.

     Selfishness is at the heart of many broken marriages. The husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church (devoutly, sacrificially, completely), and the wife is to lovingly submit to her husband as the church yields to Christ (Eph. 5:22-27). This is where love is applied.

     A lack of self-control dooms many marriages. By indulging every desire rather than resisting every temptation, sin reigns and ruins the home (Jas. 1:12-16; 1 Pet. 3:3-7).

     The demand to be served by one's mate rather than humbly serving each other drives many marriages into the rocks of destruction (1 Pet. 5:5; Eph. 5:30-33).

Can this marriage be saved? Yes, if both are willing to put God first, forgive every sin and practice real love by putting others ahead of oneself.