Chapter 10: Trouble in Marriage
Trouble in Marriage
All who marry today enter the married state in a fallen world. Though Christ has triumphed over sin and Satan on the cross of Calvary and has even poured out His Holy Spirit for His people’s benefit, those who marry in the Lord continue to live in a broken world – and they will experience it bitterly. The Form for the Solemnization of Marriage describes this reality in the following words:
Although it is true, as the apostle says, that those who marry will face trouble in this state and because of sin will experience many difficulties and afflictions, yet they may also believe the promise of God that they, as heirs of the grace of life, will always receive His aid and protection, even when they least expect it (pg 636).
This Present Crisis
The quote from the apostle as mentioned in this paragraph comes from 1 Corinthians 7. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Paul writes these striking words: “Because of the present crisis, I think it is good for you to remain as you are. Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife.” He adds this reason to justify his judgment: “those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this” (1 Corinthians 7:26-28).
What prompts the apostle to write this? Paul had received a letter from the Corinthian congregation, in which the saints of that city defended the position that “it is good for a man not to touch a woman” (1 Corinthians 7:1).1 In his reply Paul addressed the brothers and sisters of Corinth concerning the married (vss 2-7), the unmarried and widows (vss 8,9), those married to an unbeliever (vss 10-16) and finally the fathers of girls of marriageable age (vss 25-38). (In vss 17-24 Paul encourages the Corinthians to maintain the marital circumstance God in His providence had placed them in when they came to faith.)
1 This translation comes from the NKJV. The NIV is inaccurate when it renders the verse as “it is good for a man not to marry.” The Corinthians’ beef wasn’t with marriage but with sexual relations.
Fathers in Corinth (as today) were responsible for their daughters, and had to give their approval to a prospective marriage. As these fathers consider marriage for their daughters, Paul reminds them that “those who marry will face many troubles in this life” (1 Corinthians 7:28).
To be upfront: Paul is not advising fathers to forbid a daughter’s desire for marriage. He says so in so many words: “if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned” (vs 28). Instead, Paul’s point is that fathers (and mothers) do well not to hold up marriage as the ideal that raises one above all trouble. The apostle knows that we live in a fallen world, and even marriage does not restore one to a paradise. In fact, marriage can distinctly form a distraction from the service of the Lord. Vs 34: “An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world – how she can please her husband.” There’s nothing wrong with seeking to please her husband (or his wife), but it may not be at the cost of service to the Lord God. Paul sums up his concern like this: “I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord” (vs 35).
Undivided devotion! Yet that’s so difficult because of “the present crisis” (1 Corinthians 7:26). Paul explains what he means: “What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away” (vss 29-31). Paul’s inspired reference to “this present crisis” is not limited to a specific emergency in Corinth, but describes the entirety of the New Testament dispensation. Because of Christ’s triumph over sin and Satan on Calvary and His subsequent enthronement in heaven, Satan is in a terrible rage and has gone off “to make war against” the people of God (Revelation 12; see also John 15:18-16:4; Acts 4:24-29; Ephesians 6:12; 2 Timothy 3:12). Paul would have those who marry to be under no illusion that marriage provides a safe haven away from this rage of the devil. In fact, the devil will use even the gift of marriage to try to drive a child of God away from God.
How might Satan do that? Jesus tells the parable of the great banquet to which “a certain man … invited many guests.” But “at the time of the banquet … they all alike began to make excuses…. Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come” (Luke 14:16-20). One can get so caught up in the pleasures or responsibilities of marriage that one’s eye is no longer fixed with undivided devotion on God alone; the spouse requires and/or demands attention. It’s as Paul described it: “a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world –how he can please his wife– …. A married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world – how she can please her husband” (1 Corinthians 7:33,34). In this broken world this desire to fix an eye on each other instead of standing shoulder to shoulder with eyes fixed on the Lord alone is an opportunity for the devil to attack the Christian’s service to God. Tension between the couple will suffice to suit the devil’s purpose, as will over infatuation with each other – as long as there isn’t that “undivided devotion” to the Lord.
This, then, is Paul’s intent in the passage. When a father considers giving his daughter in marriage, both he and his daughter (and the prospective bridegroom as well) should be under no illusion as to what Satan will attempt to do. Beautiful as marriage is, and much as one may long for it, the holy married state is not Paradise restored. The devil most certainly will use the sparks that invariably arise from two sinners living together in his effort to drive a wedge between one sinner (or both) and God. “Those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this” (1 Corinthians 7:28).
This is the passage the Form for the Solemnization of Marriage quotes in the context of trouble in marriage. With the quote, neither Paul nor the Form wants to give the signal that one ought actually not to marry. Instead, Paul –and the Form too– would have those who marry recognize the reality of Satan’s hatred, and be forewarned that he shall certainly attack the couple in their married state.
God’s Aid and Protection
Yet that reality should not discourage the couple. After all, Satan does not and cannot have the last word. Christ the Lord has been triumphant over the devil, so that today Christ is sovereign over all the world – including the holy state of marriage and those who are married. The God who has ordained marriage, and who in His providence leads a couple to marry, continues to sustain and protect those whom He in wisdom unites to become one flesh. His promise is sure; “they, as heirs of the grace of life, will always receive His aid and protection, even when they least expect it.”
Indeed, given who God is, it cannot be otherwise. If this God “did not spare His own Son” to redeem sinners, “but gave Him up for us all – how shall He not also … graciously give us all things?” Satan keeps on attacking God’s own, but “who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?” With Paul we can stand tall on the promises of our God: “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height or depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:31-39).
Hence the bold reassurance given in the Form to the marrying couple: “Believe God’s sure promise, ‘Blessed is every one who fears the LORD, who walks in His ways! You shall be happy, and it shall be well with you” (page 637). This quote comes from Ps 128, a Song of Ascents …. Context….