Marriage in Honor - Dr. W.G. de Vries
|Dr. W.G. de Vries (1926-2006) wasa minister in the Reformed churches in the Netherlands.He received his doctorate from the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Churches in Kampen.He was also editor of Petahja, a monthly publication for the Reformed Men's Societies in the Netherlands.|
It has already been pointed out that marriage is more than love. Indeed, it must be fed by love, but in essence it is a communion of life. What true love seeks is realized in marriage. Love becomes "serious" because it concerns the whole of human life. Marriage consists of a life of work and worry, joy and sorrow, sickness and health; it involves being young and becoming old, dealing with small and big problems, coping with internal and external troubles, and facing individual and social questions, all in loving communication with each other.
A great many days, weeks, months, and years are shared. During this long period - should the Lord grant it - the couple lives together in intimacy, which reveals all. It soon becomes apparent that big things can matter very little while small things can become dreadfully big. Often over an insignificant matter a great quarrel springs up. Marriage can show how any person can be terribly small.
Love has to accept the other person with all his or her peculiarities, weaknesses, and pettiness. Love prepares a home for the other. Marriage and the family provide a resting place, a natural haven from the hectic pace of modem life. No strained or artificial manners are necessary at home; one can be oneself there.
There is another side to the coin. The freedom and intimacy of the home will always reveal what kind of persons live there. In it one can not camouflage oneself. Therefore, family relationships must be handled with care. A marriage must have the inner strength to bear everything.
Either the marriage will become more and more frightful because a couple lacks the love to help and sustain each other as they struggle to make a safe haven of their marriage, or the marriage will be nurtured through the love to become a source of happiness and peace.
It has already been mentioned that any ideal is strict and cruel, and leads to strained behavior. True love knows that the other person is not without human frailties. It does not compare the other with an ideal lest one disillusionment after the other come. Love alone endures all things. Faults and imperfections will be seen in love. One's partner is accepted as given by God for life.
It has been pointed out that being married is just as difficult as not being married. Marriage does not solve all problems. Since the fall there is not a single state in life which is by nature "easy." Man has been incapable of true communion ever since he let go of the communion with the Lord God. That is especially true of the allembracing communion of marriage. But since Christ has come, marriage can be solemnized "in the Lord;" He has restored communion with God and thereby with one another.
No man or woman is an isolated individual. Husbands and wives have an especially strong influence upon each other. Marriage means that they grow toward each other more and more. It means being faithful to the new dimension of life as husband and wife.
Among other things, newness is two people living in the same space. The couple's home is a center of safety on which they can fall back. The wife makes the home habitable and pleasant, a haven for the husband to come to after a full days work. The husband brings in what happened to him "outside." His successes, failures, joys and anxieties all come with him. The wife listens and discusses things with him. Something is wrong if the wife has no interest in her husband's work. Likewise the husband must listen to his wife when she speaks of the household, the children, problems of upbringing, and household finances, in short, of everything connected with the family.
All this happens within the confines of the home. Good housing conditions are eminently important for the health of the family. In a place where the family cannot be itself because of lack of soundproofing, where they cannot be at peace due to disturbances from neighbors, many things can go wrong. Apartment neurosis is a notorious example of this.
Many marriage difficulties arise because houses are too small, because large families cannot afford help, and because mothers are so over-tired that their only hope is to sleep in. Such circumstances force wives to become "drudges" who neglect themselves, dress shoddily and can no longer keep up with their husbands socially. This can cause irritability in the husband, and as a result, husband and wife drift apart. A man wants to be able to be seen with his wife, for she is his glory. When after strenuous and exhaustive work, a husband comes home to a wife who complains about her own work and is moody because she cannot manage, who overwhelms him with her complaints, griev. ances and troubles, the seed of estrangement is planted.
In such a situation the husband might easily look at other women who give a more pleasing impression. He may wonder whether he made the right choice. When he begins to make comparisons, the husband will feel cheated and bitter. When faithfulness to the "wife of his youth" is sorely tried, then it must become apparent that a husband's love is founded on faithfulness. Then he must continue to accept his wife in all her troubles.
Together they began. Together they asked the Lord for a blessing on their marriage and for the blessing of children. When the difficulties of rearing a family threaten to become too much for the wife, the husband must show himself to be her head and take the initiative in looking for ways and means to change the situation.
This is no small task today. Domestic help is hard to find. Young girls can earn more money elsewhere. However, they need to be reminded that one day they may marry and have a family. They too may face the same problems that many sorely tried mothers face. Perhaps single women and young girls might ask themselves whether or not they could serve here. The husband might also look for technical methods for lightening the task of the housewife, but even with this, all kinds of difficulties are not solved. It is the spiritual attitude of the husband and wife which is decisive.
Some mothers of large and busy families understand the art of making a house pleasant, of receiving their husbands with warm interest instead of complaints; some women know the secret of dressing tastefully and appearing well groomed and fresh; some wives are well informed about their husband's work and life. Such women are more precious than jewels.
Respect for each other must be mutual. With the passing of the years, the husband may not lose his courtesy and attention for his wife. He must hold her in honor and not regard her as domestic help. His attention shows in things as small as bringing his wife flowers occasionally. A little attention can work wonders.
The way in which a husband treats his wife speaks volumes about the climate of their marriage. Husbands who make their wives the target of so-called funny (in reality, sarcastic) stories in company, violate the marriage. Men who are chivalrous and very courteous to other women but not to their own wives are not only rude but unchristian.
Marriage in honor means that a husband holds his wife in honor - the wife who works her fingers to the bone for him and their children; the wife who in pain and difficulty brought children into the world; the wife who was the love of his youth, and whom he should not, upon becoming older, neglect or push aside. The Lord will punish the husband who no longer holds his wife in honor.
When a wife feels that her husband holds her in high esteem, surrounding her with care and attention, she win blossom. In this way mutual affection will be maintained and strengthened. The flame of love cannot be quenched by the waters of a busy household with its large and small irritations.
In contrast, when complaints arise about one's spouse and when reproaches are thrown back and forth, the marriage will threaten to run aground. The husband, rather than blame his wife, should ask himself: "Why does my wife neglect herself, no longer make things pleasant, and complain and feel sorry for herself?" The husband will have to begin bringing about change by lightening his wife's task and by showing her that he does not underestimate her difficulties and is trying to help her.
The wife should ask herself. "Why is my husband less considerate than before; why is he hardly home anymore; why does he treat me shabbily?" She will have to start by bringing about changes in herself, receiving her husband pleasantly, and honestly laying her difficulties before him so that the situation can be improved.
Both must begin with self-examination, not reproof, to correct the situation. In marriage too the words of Scripture are true: "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger" (Pray. 15: 1).
Two people who live closely together can hurt each other terribly through words and deeds. Only self-denying love chooses another, better road. These are the rudiments of marriage. Nothing less will do. In this context a few words must be said about women who become so involved with their children that their husbands are like outsiders. Men are accepted for their breadwinning and that is about all. Such women are the counterpart of men who view their wives only as housekeepers and domestic help. Both are wrong and in conflict with God's Word.
A woman may not occupy herself exclusively with her children. She and her husband have been made "one flesh" and she has been created by God Himself to be a help to her husband. Certainly people's characters differ; there are motherly types and more wifely types. Yet women who are so absorbed in their children to the neglect of the husbands become obstacles to their children without realizing it.
Nothing molds a child more than seeing how father and mother love each other, how thoughtful father is and how solicitous and cordial mother is to father. Marriage failures of the children are often caused by the failure of their parents' marriage. These children do not experience a true love that does not demand but gives, that does not make oneself central.
Only he who gives shall receive! True love does not seek itself. "Not the love I receive from the other, but the love I show to the other makes my life happy, rich, and free." If husband and wife each live this way-"I for you" and not just "you for me"-then their marriage will be a blessing for each other, their children, and their surroundings. The secret of a Christian marriage will be found in Christ who gave Himself for the church so that through His power husband and wife can give themselves to each other.
The deep meaning of the marriage bond is revealed in and through the work of Christ. In the Old Testament some of this already became clear. Often the Lord depicts the relationship between Himself and His people as the relationship between husband and wife: "Thy Maker is thy husband. I have wed you, saith the Lord. " In Christ this became completely clear. He bought the congregation with His blood. He is her Bridegroom and she is His bride. That is why the great ending, the feast of the future, is symbolized as a wedding feast.
We are not dealing here with a moral lesson about the perfect marriage nor with a few rules to answer the question.. "How do I become happily married?" No, we are dealing here with the Gospel that throws light on the bond between husband and wife. The Gospel must mark the marriage relationship. Only where husband and wife demonstrate the image of Christ will they learn to deny themselves. Like Christ they will learn to serve each other.
Christlike love is the only weapon against the egoism that can break up a marriage. When after the fall Adam reproached Eve and placed the blame on her, that was the first time adultery was committed. All of this began with a heart that did not fully seek to serve another but itself.
It is seldom realized that marriage is an office. Scripture says beautiful things of it, of the relationship between husband and wife and children, tool Think of Colossians 3:18-21:
Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.
When these words are taken to heart, marriage will become beautiful. Then something of the new life will blossom on this cursed earth. Then the powers of the coming age will emerge, and the smile of God's pleasure will shine over the generations of His children.
Marriage is not just a private happening, no matter how personal the relationship may be. One is accountable to God for the past, present, and future of one's marriage. The welfare of the coming generations is also involved. The more the husband is husband and the wife is wife, the more affectionate, strong, and warm the bond of marriage becomes and remains. The husband must give guidance, bear the responsibility, take the initiative, and with gentleness and courage aid his wife.
The wife must be a real help, pay good attention to her household, and create a 'home." As Proverbs 31:11-12, 25-28 (NASB) states:
"The heart of her husband trusts in her and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good and not evil all the days of her life. Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she smiles at the future. She opens her mouth in wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness. Thus she makes a home where husband and children like to be. "Her children rise up and bless her; her husband also, and he praises her."
Marriage has, according to experts such as J. H. van den Berg and H. C. R|mke, two stages that are most afflicted with difficulties. These stages are the first five years and the period when the married couple is approximately forty years old.
The difficulties of the first stage are due mainly to problems of adjustment. These years are decisive to the future of the marriage. They determine whether a couple wishes to grow closer together, accepting each other completely, partialities, peculiarities, and shortcomings included. Are they both open to the changing influence each may have upon the other? Or do they stand against each other as individuals? Do both want to grow together or become introverted? During this period both have to find their place as husband and wife. This does not always happen without clashes. If, as has already been explained, husband and wife have indeed found each other in love and continue to do so, they will go on to find everincreasing unity.
The second stage of difficulty is of a different nature. It is sometimes called the virility phase. This is the time in a man's life when he progresses no further. He has found his life's destination and, hopefully, has accepted it. He is in the prime of his life; his capacity for achievement has reached its peak. He looks back on the major part of his life that is already past.
During this stage of life - sometimes called dangerous -radical changes may occur. Many become converted to faith in God while others break with the religious tradition of their youth. According to R|mke, ministers of religion are known to change their vocation during this period. Often traditional values are doubted. It seems as if many people during this stage in life wish to make a new start. "Life begins at forty," is a common saying.
It is during this time that many marriages experience a crisis as well. For the individual partners, many ailments and defects become noticeable for the first time: diabetes, rheumatism, greyness, baldness, etc. Physical achievements decrease. Memory and psychical powers weaken; fatigue occurs sooner. He who is not led by a strong faith in God's calling arrives at a disappointed conclusion about life: "Is this all?"
He sees his life breaking down but refuses to accept it. He throws himself with a new, seemingly youthful spirit into the attractive life. He flees into the new, trying to forget the old.
Still, according to an expert, many at around forty begin to live in a rut largely determined by the sensuous enjoyment of life: habitual drinking, an exaggerated fondness for gourmet food, and an attempt to become drugged in selfindulgence. A man may commit follies or have "adventures. " His aging marriage partner he regards with a critical eye. During this period many divorces occur and older men remarry younger women.
Of course, this does not always happen. The forties can also be a time of intensifying the inner life. Inner conflicts and knowledge that, physically speaking, the best time of life is past can bring about deepening spiritual awareness. One can emerge from this stage a more balanced person, more aware of one's place in life and one's peculiar responsibilities. In many men, paternal feelings grow more intense. Many begin to live more for their families and their wives.
It should be added here that R|mke, who has made a study of the various stages in life, also states that some people develop without major symptoms of crisis. These people are found, he claims, especially among the "deeply religious. "
We ought not to underrate the difficulties of the virility phase. At the same time it can be said: "Whoever has begun his marriage 'in the Lord'; whoever, with husband or wife, has placed the way of life and the calling in marriage under the light of God's redeeming acts in Christ. need not succumb to such a crisis."
On the contrary, the partners in such a marriage will, as they grow older, not despair or regard each other critically, but rather will grow closer together in their joint assurance that married life in the Lord is not in vain. As outward appearances deteriorate, they will expect and receive the renewal of the inner person.
During this stage the marriage can become much stronger, the communion closer, and the mutual physical and spiritual support greater. With an increase in years, the meaning of being given by God as a help to each other becomes ever more richly revealed.
What has been attained through struggle will receive special splendor and value. That applies to the first stage in which the partners had to find each other. It also applies to the second stage in which they re-find each other and confirm their love with their maturity.
The transition years are the most difficult in a woman's life. These are the years just before and after menstruation ceases, also known as the climacteric. The cessation of menstruation is called the menopause, after which conception is no longer possible.
At about age fifty, menstruation ceases. During this time women often experience physical and psychological difficulties. They often complain of headaches, dizziness, sleeplessness, "hot flashes," and other nervous difficulties and ailments.
A husband must make allowances for his wife during such a difficult stage in her life by supporting her, lovingly helping her and sparing her. Then, as in so many difficult situations, the husband's and wife's willingness to live in love for each other according to their vows must become apparent.
Incidentally, that is true for the entire period of aging together. The strength of a couple's love will become evident when husband or wife becomes afflicted with physical ailments. Love can be wonderfully demonstrated in the care which each gives the other. What a glorious crown can be placed on a marriage when husband and wife are able to help each other through several decades. Together they become old and gray but they continue to bear fruits for each other as they bear fruit for God.
Sick and needy people have been placed by God on the paths of healthy people so that charity may be shown them: that proverb applies to difficult stages in marriage as well. Through adversity God allows husband and wife to prove the strength of true love. True love does not seek itself.
Difficult periods in the marriage of God's children can lead to blessing. This blessing will fall on the husband and the wife and all that surrounds them.
The necessity of a satisfying sexual relationship in marriage is being emphasized more now than ever; it is considered the very basis for a successful marriage. Many books give frank information on the technique of performing the sex act. They dwell at length on the various ways of achieving sexual union which may lead to greater satisfaction.
No one would deny the importance of satisfying sexual relations. They certainly influence the total relationship between husband and wife. The wife who resigned herself to intercourse begins the day differently from the one who, upon awakening, recalls physical happiness. The husband who, upon awakening, recalls resistance at night, gets up differently from the one who can tease his wife about her complaisance (J. H. van den Berg).
The Dutch Society for Sexual Reform (Nederlandse Vereniging voor Sexuele Hervorming) strongly emphasizes the importance of a healthy, satisfying sexual relationship. However, the suggestion that the "perfect marriage" is based on mutual sexual satisfaction is incorrect.
Certainly much has changed for the better in the sexual affairs of marriage. Whereas in the past "conjugal rights" were thought to belong to the husband, today mutual rights and duties are stressed. Formerly many husbands thought it undesirable or even improper for their wives to enjoy sexual pleasure as they did. It was a wife's task simply to be subservient to her husband. Today marriage is regarded as a bond of companionship in which the wife enjoys the same rights as her husband.
As a companion to her husband, the wife asserts her rights to a satisfying sexual relationship. In the past, women knew little about sex before they married, but today most young women are well informed before marriage.
But no marriage will be successful simply because the sexual relationship no longer poses any problems. It is a total misconception that the perfect sexual technique guarantees a perfect marriage. In a revolutionary way, the woman has become a partner to her husband, but at the same time the sex act has been separated from the complete physical and spiritual communion that a good marriage must be. Marriage is more than the consumption of sex; physical intercourse alone does not make a marriage.
Two young people planning to get married will have to acquaint themselves with the functions of the sex organs and with the different psychical structures of men and women. Complete ignorance of these matters can lead to much trouble, tension, and sorrow.
For how many has the wedding night turned out to be a great disappointment because not enough consideration had been given to the difference in disposition between men and women? Psychiatrists and doctors can tell many stories about this.
The husband's lack of control and of sensitivity, and his sheer clumsiness may frighten an unprepared wife so badly that the honeymoon ends in disappointment. Sometimes there is no foreplay or caressing, and no consideration for the wife's feelings. Because of a husband's impatience and impetuosity a wife may well miss the tenderness and security which are necessary for her to respond sexually. A husband's sexual egoism can cause him to be very rough during the first cohabitation and this roughness can lead to vaginismus on the wife's part.
Unlike her husband's, the wife's sexual life is not marked by quickly roused passion or the physical satisfying of sexual desires, but is related more to feelings of unity that bind her to her husband. The intimacy, the giving and receiving of love, is of first importance to her. Intimacy and the giving of love cannot be a technique learned from books; it is exclusively a private matter that belongs to the unique spiritual-physical communion that each marriage must be. Sometimes years pass before sexual harmony is completely achieved.
Human sexual life in its most intimate forms, in its caresses, positions, and sexual acitivities, cannot be described in detail and passed on to others in a book. A warning is in order here: beware of books on achieving sexual pleasure in marriage that are forwarded in plain brown envelopes.
A husband must realize that lovemaking is much more than taking his wife hurriedly. The Christian ethic insists that a wife is more than an object for satisfying sexual desires. The husband who spends all his thoughts on variety in his sex life, who is always looking for new and more ingenious methods, distorts marriage by robbing it of all but its sexual aspect.
In marriage, both partners must live in holiness with each other. Real happiness in marriage is in danger when sexual pleasure is obtained too greedily and insatiably. Striving to obtain the utmost in sexual pleasure, may lure one partner into using the other to satisfy his own sexual needs. Then the uniting of husband and wife threatens to degenerate into an act of selfsatisfaction. Selfishly satisfying one's sexual desires within marriage is a common, insidious fault.
When warning young people against sexual ignorance, one must keep in mind that a couple may be tempted to perfect their lovemaking techniques from information gathered from books, and may eventually become both greedy and jaded about sexual experience. Whoever rightly denounces greediness because it is in conflict with God's Word, should remember that greediness may also sour sexual relations. Sexual relations belong to marriage, but they are not its only foundation. Whoever sees sexuality as being the ultimate and decisive value of marriage, idolizes it, and idolatry is sin.
The dangers of boredom, habitualness, and superficiality also stalk sexual life. The more highly something is valued, the more chance it has of perishing because of the monotony of daily routine. Someone has pointed out that a beautiful prayer prayed a hundred times becomes meaningless. A beautiful recording played a hundred times can become boring (Trimbos).
Sexual intercourse also suffers from habit and routine. Having intercourse too often can make the true meaning of this total expression of love disappear as it becomes indistinguishable from other daily habits.
Together a couple has to struggle to keep beautiful that which is beautiful. Beauty is not preserved by well-prepared, refined techniques. On the contrary, it only survives in a total love that encompasses body and spirit and seeks the other as a human being created by God and received from Him. Love, including sexual love, is a love that gives. To forget this is to misunderstand the essence of sexual relations. A couple may perhaps develop a satisfying sexual technique while experiencing no true communion since the spiritual basis which sustains true love is missing from their relationship.
Therefore, the quick sexual encounter in which the husband thinks of self-satisfaction with no regard to his wife's spiritual and physical experience is more animalistic than human. Since the wife as a rule needs more time than the husband to come to full psychical and physical satisfaction, it is cruel and unchristian for the husband to think only of himself. The wife needs foreplay and looks for warmth and tenderness in order to give herself wholly.
The question then arises: "Does the wife always obtain full satisfaction? Must she always come to orgasm as her husband does? Today orgasm is declared to be a woman's right. According to J. H. van den Berg, in the previous century well-educated women knew little or nothing about sexual satisfaction during intercourse and husbands did not expect them to.
Today, however, complete sexual satisfaction is regarded as the normal right of the married woman. Aware of this "right," many a married woman may wonder whether she is normal when she achieves this satisfaction partly or not at all. Then she begins to fear that she may be frigid and may reproach herself unnecessarily.
Indeed, in many marriages, sexual insensitivity and frigidity lead to anxiety, apparently more so today than formerly. Modem thought which demands equal rights for women drives many wives to concern when they do not reach orgasm. They think they have some defect and wonder whether their marriage is shaky or worse.
We must distinguish between three forms of sexual impotence that may occur in the wife. The most serious and exceptional form is vaginismus. Vaginismus is a strong form of repulsion at every attempt at sexual intercourse. It manifests itself in muscular spasms, pain, cramps, and a general feeling of nausea.
There are also wives who are sexually absolutely indifferent but agree to intercourse for the husband's sake. This is called frigidity. Both vaginismus and frigidity require treatment by specialists and will not be discussed further.
The third form of female sexual impotence is often unjustly called frigidity. It characterizes wives who, although they desire intercourse, seldom if ever reach climax. This kind of incapability for total sexual satisfaction is more rightly called inorgasm. It may reflect the initial clumsiness of the husband or it may be the result of emotional restraint due to feelings of shame.
In the last few years it has been discovered that many wives never reach sexual climax. Although organic defects may cause inorgasm, most of these women are normally healthy in every respect and are not inhibited by sexual intercourse. A common misconception is that every wife who does not obtain the same satisfaction as her husband in sexual intercourse is disturbed and unhappy in her marriage. On the contrary, such wives often feel completely happy and are normal and healthy in every respect (Wijngaarden).
It is good to point this out because in our sexualized society, overemphasis on satisfaction might force many women to feel they are abnormal when they are completely normal even though they experience sexual love differently than some other women do.
Inorgasm need not cast a shadow on marriage. On the contrary, to the wife who loves, a merely physical satisfaction is secondary. The most important thing is that she receives her husband in love, feels secure with him, and shows him her love with her whole life. This is not to say that physical satisfaction is denied such a woman. But she experiences it in a different, more indirect way.
It is very important for a husband and wife at the beginning of their marriage to discuss openly their experiences and feelings. This can be a profound relief and can lead to deeper mutual understanding and a closer relationship in physical-spiritual love.
If sexual intercourse is not controlled by love, if it is not embedded in the total loving communion between husband and wife, it can lead to sexual anarchy. If a couple's daily life shows no love, if they bicker more than they seem to accept each other, the basis for healthy sexual intercourse is destroyed. In such a relationship intercourse has little to do with love. If the wife is not very complaisant in such situations, the husband should not complain, for their relationship has already been fundamentally disturbed. To force sexual intercourse under such circumstances is to violate its meaning. Intercourse is only possible in the complete surrender of love.
No, we are not dreaming about perfect marriages without spot or blemish. Periods of estrangement can occur in the best marriages, but they will have immediate sexual repercussions. The interactions between all areas of a couple's life remains. Everything already mentioned about the communion of marriage, about the struggle to keep and to deepen it, is of direct importance for sexual relations. They cannot be separated from the spiritual climate in which the entire marriage exists.
Paul points this out in I Corinthians 7:3 when he says: "The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband." He means explicitly the sexual relationship for he continues: "For the wife does not rule over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not rule over his own body, but the wife does. "
So there is a mutual Christian obligation to grant each other sexual intercourse. Each needs the other. Bringing forth children is not mentioned as a goal here. The point here is that each has to be available to the other because of love.
It is remarkable that husband and wife are equal in this respect. It is said of the one as well as of the other. Each should be available to the other, he to her, she to him. They must not withhold their bodies from each other. The rule in marriage is: "Do not refuse one another. . . lest satan tempt you through lack of self-control" (I Cor. 7:5).
Only with mutual consent may a couple abstain from sexual intercourse for a time in order that they may devote themselves to prayer. The longing for communion with God may be sought in prayer. It may not be threatened or repressed by the physical expressions of love between a husband and wife. The "earthly" affairs of marriage (I Cor. 7:33) may not be so important that communion with God becomes endangered.
Paul puts husband and wife in their place: Love God above all in marriage, and each other as yourself. Paul also warns against enslavement to sex. It may not become allimportant. Abstinence is permissible and of great spiritual benefit if it has the consent of both partners and is for a short duration.
Similarly we read in I Peter 3:7: "Likewise you husbands, live considerately with your wives, bestowing honor on the woman as the weaker sex, since you are joint heirs of the grace of life, in order that your prayers may not be hindered."
One's relationship with God may not be repressed by one's relationship with one's spouse. I Peter 3 reiterates I Corinthians 7.
We also read in I Peter 3 that a couple's relationship with God must not be impeded by a husband's unwise, harsh, and loveless behavior towards his wife. This, of course, counts for all of married life. However, when the wife is called the weaker vessel, the sexual relationship between the couple is meant particularly.
The Jews call the wife the vessel of which the husband availed himself. Against fornication, I Thessalonians 4:4, 5 states: " . . . each one of you (should) know how to take a wife in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like heathen who do not honor God." just as one may not immorally acquire a bride, so a Christian and loving relationship must prevail in marriage as a whole and particularly in sexual relations.
Thus the Gospel regulates relations between husband and wife. A husband may not regard his wife as his possession. He must treat her with insight and due respect, that is, with love. The wife is weaker physically; she needs help and protection. Besides, a husband must not forget that his wife is a co-heir of life in Christ. Therefore, she is much more than a mere sexual being.
If husbands do not accept and relate to their wives lovingly, their prayers will be hindered. If husband and wife fail to relate to each other properly, their communion with God is in danger. Prayer may not be pushed out of the way because of the couple's absorption with their sexual relations. What Paul says of all God's gifts applies here as well. We may enjoy His gifts with thanksgiving but they may not enslave us. (Compare this with I Corinthians 6:12.)
Thus, in a nutshell, the Bible gives us a deep insight into the sexual relationship within a marriage. A couple must associate wisely and lovingly with each other. One may not withhold himself from the other unless temporarily and with mutual consent; moreover, they must then direct all their energiesto communion with God in prayer.
One's inclination is to ask "Who is capable of such an allencompassing, self-denying union?" Who is capable of a marriage in which not the self but the other is sought? Only in communion with God and through power granted by Himis such love possible. Only a Christian marriage can be a successful one in the full sense of the word, and this holds true for the sexual relationship too.
We may call the birth of children a direct blessing of the Lord. Already at the beginning of Holy Scripture we read:
... male and female he created him. And God blessed them, and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply'" (Gen. 1: 27, 28). As we noted earlier, the words to bless mean to broaden, to widen, to spread out. To bless is to bring something to its full development. God's blessing means that He makes life reach full bloom and grants it its fullest development. That applies to all of human life, including married life.
Children are a blessing of God. Psalm 127 calls them "a heritage from the Lord." This means they are a free gift of God and they ensure the continuance of the generations. In Israel especially, people realized the great significance of receiving children. They saw the Lord's hand in this, opening the wombs of women (Gen. 29:31).
A struggle flared in Jacob's tent between his two wives, a struggle about children fought with every conceivable human weapon. "Give me children, or I shall die," exclaimed Rachel in her bitterness. In his answer Jacob related the receiving of children directly to God: "Am 1 in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?" (Gen. 30:1, 2).
About Hannah we read: "And Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the Lord remembered her; and in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son" (I Sam. 1: 19, 20).
The longing for children was great in Israel. People looked to the Lord who can open and close the womb, hoping to see the birth of the future Messiah. This wish, foremost in the minds of pious Israelites was unlike the motives of Rachel and Leah who wanted to bind their husband to themselves through children. Pious Israelites lived on through their children. Through offspring, every Israelite wanted to witness the great day of the Messiah.
For this reason they sang about children being an inheritance of the Lord. Psalm 127 strongly emphasizes the direct action and work of the Lord as He personally involves Himself in people's lives. If His hand of blessing does not open itself, all human toiling and vigilance is in vain. "It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep" (vs. 2). Man lives because of the Lord's intervention and protection. He who desires children should know that he lives in the presence of the Lord.
The one who receives many children has no reason to boast, for as Psalm 127 states, they are free gifts of the Lord. Parents of a large family may not think themselves better than those with few children. Free gifts do not entitle them to certificates of faithfulness and courage.
Children are an inheritance. One does not work for an inheritance, and hunting for it is futile. Psalm 127 wants to teach us this, which has been fulfilled in the Words of Christ... apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).
Psalm 139 (NASB) confesses: "Thou, LORD, didst weave me in my mother's womb." Each new life is a miracle from God's hands. "I will give thanks to thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made."
Before someone's birthday, even before he has been conceived, all the days of his life stand before the presence of God. just as a person can write down the events of each day in a diary, so God has written the life of each human being in advance! "When as yet there was not one of them," God had already determined the facts of everyone's life, had regulated their happenings, and had fixed their order. Even before man exists. God's eye watches over him and the Spirit of God determines his whole life. Indeed, he is the product of
God's own hands, the wonderful handiwork of His fingers. In this context children must be received into a marriage and thankfully accepted as free gifts of God.
Much has been written discussing the primary goal of marriage. Is that goal the communion of love between husband and wife or is it the receiving of children? 1 suggest that this poses a false dilemma. The communion of love between husband and wife seeks a child. That is not to say that a marriage without children is not complete or has missed its goal; definitely not.
It has been justly remarked, however, that if marriage is a matter of the mutual molding of husband and wife, they will wish to receive children. The couple who decide not to have children for reasons not valid before the Lord are not married despite their physical union as husband and wife. As they refuse children, their marriage will fall prey to sterile stagnation because love and the desire for parenthood are inseparable.
Certainly the urge for complete sexual union cannot be regarded as simply a biological urge to reproduce. When mutual love between husband and wife seeks its deepest and most intensive expression in complete surrender to each other, the conscious wish for children does not always predominate. No, each is seeking the other according to God's ordinance that "it is not good that man should be alone."
The couple places their whole lives at one another's disposal. This is how Paul speaks of marriage in I Corinthians 7. Yet, although the child is not the exclusive aim of the love between a husband and wife, it surely is the result of it and the blessing on it.
In- all of this the feelings of husband and wife differ somewhat. The wife may have a strong, instinctive longing for a child; however, it must not become all-important for her. If the desire for motherhood pushes her love for her husband into the background, their love will be marred.
Should a wife want a child in order to bind her husband to herself, as Rachel and Leah did, her egotistical motives have little to do with love or motherhood. Her actions sink to the level of power-play. This applies, too, to women who think they are entitled to have a child even though they are not married.
The husband's longing for a child is much less instinctive by nature; rather, it is determined by spiritual or culturalsocial factors. Think of the son and heir! But again, that thought must not be predominant. A husband must desire intercourse with his wife because he loves her. Only then can their child be received rightly, as a blessing of God bestowed on the two-oneness of marriage. All other motives fall short of the essence of sexual intercourse as God intended it.
We may not, for reasons outside the marriage itself, encourage or restrict procreation. What I refer to now are motives which involve creating power through numbers-for example, wanting to increase church size or calculating that our national defence should be so large in so many years. We may not make ourselves physically strong through our children for if we try to do so, we will no longer see that children are an inheritance, a free gift of the Lord.
Yet the following questions could be asked: "Does not the Lord work through the generations? Doesn't the form for the solemnization of marriage say that through marriage the human race is propagated? Doesn't that mean church and nation? Church-going mothers bear their children for the Jerusalem above, don't they? Isn't it true that in a multitude of subjects lies the King's glory?"
We agree. In His grace, God works through the generations, but only in His grace. As soon as God's people glory in blood and race and country, He replies: "I am even able to turn stones into Abraham's children." God is not bound to the line of our blood. As a rule He uses that line and blood ties sovereignly and mercifully. We and our children would perish in our haughtiness if we were to take this for granted or if we were to say in self-conceit: "We cooperate in the building of God's new mankind."
However, I see the same haughtiness at work in the young couple who think they control the begetting of children. Often newlywed young people wish to wait several years before having children so they can enjoy each other alone for a while. But their waiting injures the very essence of marriage.
Experts point out that many couples who start this way lessen their fertility and are later unable to have children when it suits them. Such people think that they can take their lives into their own hands. Haughtily, they no longer acknowledge that children are a free gift from the God of all flesh.
Young people who call themselves happy in their marriage will heartily desire God's blessing on their happiness. A child is the crown of their married life. Oh, the joy of parenthood, the wonderful experience of being a mother or father for the first time! Indeed, in the words of Psalm 127, it is a reward!
Who would dare make derogatory remarks or laugh about a couple who have their children close together? Doesn't childbearing belong to the time of full bloom in life? Is the couple not encouraged by Paul's words regarding young widows, which can be applied to all young women: "So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, rule their households" (1 Tim. 5:14). Timothy goes on to say: "Yet a woman will be saved through bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty" (1 Tim. 2:15).
When young as well as older couples receive their children from God's hand in this way and wish to bring them up for Him, a busy, teeming family life bears wonderful witness to God's presence. Such a marriage is entirely different from a marriage that becomes stagnant in consciously chosen sterility, a marriage in which husband and wife succumb to egoism.
A marriage with many children is in harmony with the Bible. In harmony with God's will, both partners will live together in harmony, and they will be a blessing to the church. Furthermore, it would be abnormal for healthy young people in the prime of life to have little or no sexual intercourse and thus receive no children.
In this day and age there is every reason to make a strong case for large families. The many arguments against this cannot stand against God's promise to couples of richness through their children. This has nothing to do with foolishly idealizing the richness of having children. Having children has its own problems, like everything else in this imperfect dispensation. Blessing, however, predominates because God's promise is overpowering.
Someone who wrote a book about the problems of marriage and love says this about families with many children: "Small families are at the top in divorce statistics, not the large ones which are usually characterized by a harmonious and communicative family life. The breakdown of family life occurs much less frequently in large families than in small ones. The problems of upbringing are fewer, for the children bring up each other; since the mother cannot possibly supervise everything, much is left to the older children, who thereby learn their responsibilities early, and who, spiritually, very often remain strong and sound. (More famous men come from large families than from small ones.) The housewife has too much to do to be able to devote her attention to dustfree floors and immaculate halls. This greatly benefits marriage relations, since in many small families trivial concerns and irritations are the weak spots where tempers explode. Thus the large family is more humane, has a broader outlook, and greater generosity regarding the neighbor's needs. It has less luxury perhaps, but all the more love" (H. van Oyen).
These remarks should be made before the special difficulties and problems that occur in the forming of a family are discussed. We must consider problems in this book because they are created by this modem age and solutions are offered from all sides. The normal must not be forgotten, however, nor the special cases appear to be the rule. Every reader should keep the healthy norm in mind while considering contemporary problems and difficulties.