The airwaves are flooded with entertainment and advertisements that stress the importance of being happy and fulfilled. We are led to believe that happinesstakes place best when one becomes a self-authenticating person. The psychotherapist describes such a person as “open, self-asserting, expanding, and erotic.” If one lacks such descriptive appellations, the therapist will soon convince him to believe that he ought to be dissatisfied with his humdrum existence. She needs something new and exciting. Marriages and “significant other” relationships ought to enhance one’s life; serving as a catalyst for personal growth. Consequently, one is often encouraged to ask the question, “Is my marriage giving me all I need for growth and enrichment?” Marriage, it seems, ought to be a romantic and deeply personal self-actualizing experience. In my own counseling practice, I have often heard the complaint, “she doesn’t make me happy,” or “he doesn't meet my needs and I feel neglected and unfulfilled.”
The average Christian has been warped by a secular view of marriage. David Wells, the author of No Place for Truth, commented in a periodical a few years ago, “In society, as well as in the evangelical world, we are witnessing the triumph of the therapeutic. The self becomes both the object of our concern and source of our values; truth is replaced by feelings and relationships; the goal is not so much to be righteous as to be whole and happy.” This is the age of self-esteem and ego-strength psychologists (self-image, self-acceptance, self-worth, self-trust, self-love). There is, however, no evidence that high self esteem causes anything.People with low self-esteem are often high achievers: Gloria Steinem for example, describes herself in this way. On the other hand, your illiterate neighborhood drug dealer may have very high self-esteem. The problem is that we have accepted the myth that personal happiness is an obligation and it has become the great American pursuit. Neither the entertainment industry nor the media at large has much to say about goodness or duty as a source of personal contentment. Rather, you are told that to be happy you must love yourself. Mental health gurus tell us that happiness is realized though self-fulfillment. Does it not seem odd to you that more than one third of the world’s psychiatrists and more than half of the world’s clinical psychologists practice their trade in America, which has only 6% of the world’s population. In 1968 the USA had 12,000 clinical psychologists while no other nation had more than 400. Today we have more than 40,000. This pursuit of self-fulfillment and personal happiness has often been at the expense of marriage and family.
The biblical pattern for marriage requires that a man and a woman be covenant keepers. That is, they are to be loyal, trustworthy, committed, dependable, perhaps even heroic in the fulfillment of their marriage vows. The primary purpose of marital fidelity is to develop a oneness with your spouse - not just a physical union, but an intellectual, emotional and spiritual unity. The secondary effect of a steadfast marital relationship is its strengthening affect upon the community and, ultimately, the nation. When men or women violate their commitments to one another they may be guilty of adultery regardless of whether they have been sexually promiscuous. The Biblical prohibition against adultery is not to be understood as merely physical. It encompasses everything that might violate the marital promise to be devoted to one woman or one man. While it is difficult for some to accept, God is not so much concerned about your happinessin marriage as He is about your obediencein marriage. God’s law calls us to be vow-keepers in defiance of our culture.Our culture urges us not to define our life in terms of past commitments but in terms of present needs and future possibilities. However, the Christian makes decisions that affect his uncertain future based on a promise made in his unalterable past (i.e., marriage vow).
A marital covenant is a binding commitment made between a man and woman (e.g., Malachi 2.14). However, the marriage vows are not merely contractual agreements, they are unilateral commitments to fidelity and devotion. The sanctity of the union between a man and a woman is markedly evident in Scripture’s symbolical representation of marriage as a covenant relationship between God and man (Hosea), and Christ and the church (Ephesians 5.21-33). Marriage is a means though which men and women may enjoy both a physical and spiritual union. It is a union and communion that is symbolic of Christ and His church. It is not surprising, then, that Scripture emphasizes the importance of marital purity.
The Bible places an importance on sexual purity. It is essential for maintaining the sanctity of the family; it is also often an indicator of a believer’s singular devotion to God. Consequently, it is not surprising that Jesus identified sexual purity as a mark of a righteousness (Matthew 5.27-32; 19.1-9). Adultery in the Old Testament is largely viewed as the violation of another man’s covenant union with his wife.The sin was not understood as a violation against his own wife as much as it was a betrayal of the innocent man. The New Testament seems to place men and women on parity with regard to marriage (cp. 1 Corinthians 7.4). Question 109 in the Heidelberg Catechism reads: “Does God in this commandment forbid nothing more than adultery and such like gross sins?” It is answered with, “He forbids all unchaste actions, gestures, words, thoughts, desires, and whatever may entice one thereto.” If such a response is the true meaning of the commandment, then one might ask: What does such unchaste behavior entail? Does it exclude lipstick, dancing, short skirts, Frank Sinatra songs? What is unchaste behavior? (cp. Philippians 1.9-11; Hebrews 5.14; James 4.17)
The Heidelberg Catechism’s exposition of this question leads the reader to understand that this commandment requires the believer to be chaste, modest and temperate. This is applicable for the unmarried as well as the married. The single person, who also represents the church, keeps himself pure for Christ (cp. 2 Corinthians 11.2), and the married person maintains the sacredness of her marriage covenant because in this she submits herself without blemish to Christ. Conjugal fidelity “prohibits and condemns all wandering and wanton lusts, whether they be found in married or unmarried persons, and prohibits all other sins and vices contrary to chastity, together with their causes, occasions, effects antecedents, consequents etc” (Zacharias Ursinus, Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, p. 590).
All of this is of paramount importance because of the true nature of the marriage union: “Marriage is a lawful and indissoluble union between one man and one woman, instituted by God for the propagation of the human race, that we may know him to be chaste, and to hate all lust, and that he will gather to himself out of the whole human race, thus lawfully propagated, an everlasting church, which shall rightly know and worship him; and that it may be a society of labors, toils care and prayers, between persons living in a state of matrimony” (Ursinus, p. 592; cp. Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 24, section 1).
Many have come to me over the years to ask me to officiate at a marriage ceremony for them. Naturally, I ask them why they want to marry. Frequently they answer, “I love him / her.” What most people mean by love, of course, has little to do with a biblical understanding of love(e.g., 1 Corinthians 13.4-8). Frankly, the notion of marrying for the sake of love alone, as it is popularly defined, has imbedded in it all sorts of pitfalls that result in disillusionment and broken marriages. The fact is, that everyone who marries, marries the wrong person in one way or another.I am not sure where I read the following commentary on marriage but it seems to be right on target. “I have no way of knowing whether or not you married the wrong person, but I do know that many people have a lot of wrong ideas about marriage and what it takes to make that marriage happy and successful. I'll be the first to admit that it's possible that you did marry the wrong person. However, if you treat the wrong person like the right person, you could well end up having married the right person after all. On the other hand, if you marry the right person, and treat that person wrong, you certainly will have ended up marrying the wrong person. I also know that it is far more important to be the right kind of person than it is to marry the right person. In short, whetheryou married the right or wrong person is primarily upto you.”
The godly man does not remain married and faithful to his wife because she turned out to be the girl of his dreams (although this does happen, especially if you always treat her like the girl of your dreams), but because he is committed to her in a covenant relationship that requires fidelity and biblical love. The godly woman remains married to her husband for the same reason, namely, becauseshe has a commitment that is greater than her disappointments.Each one recognizes that the redemptive love of Christ is at work within each of them to build into their marriage something more than either one can attain by themselves.To violate their marriage vows is to deny the redemptive work of Christ and to deny the power of God to transform his or her life: Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral(Hebrews 13.4). The seventh commandment requires believers to be vow-keepers. Sometimes this requires adopting a lifestyle that is culturally marginalized. But then, the Christian claims a heavenly citizenship not an earthly one. Our culture mistakenly separates sex from oneness. The mistake is a fatal one. It is like separating worship from holiness.
When Jesus spoke of adultery, He included every form of sexually immoral behavior: polygamy, divorce, infidelity of the heart, and sexual perversity of every sort. The physical union between a man and a woman is only properly suited within the covenant context of marriage. Any other physical union will, in some fundamental fashion, distort God’s intended purpose in marriage. Keep in mind that adultery is a sin, not because sex is bad in and of itself, but because marriage is so important to our life and relationship to God.