Marriage: The Core Of Family Life
“Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, ‘Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best for now.’” John 2:10
“And no one after drinking the old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old wine is better.’” Luke 5:39
A Taste For Old Wine
Before getting into the main subject of this article, I want to issue a warning, differentiate my readers into two groups, and give each group some bad news and good news.
First the warning! If you are expecting something creative or innovative relative to the biblical view of marriage, you will be disappointed. In that regard, I take great comfort in one of my favorite C.S. Lewis quotations:
“Christ did not come to preach any new brand of morality. The golden rule of the New Testament (do as you would be done by) is a summing up of what everyone, at bottom, had always known to be right. Really great moral teachers never do introduce new moralities; it is the quacks and cranks who do that. As Dr. Samuel Johnson said: ‘People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.’ The real job of every moral teacher is to keep bringing us back, time after time, to the old, simple principles we are all so anxious not to see.”
This sentiment will prevail as we look at the biblical view of marriage.
Second, I need to differentiate my readers into those who are married and those who are not, using Jesus’ metaphor of wineskins in Luke 5:37-39. Those of you who are not married are “new wineskins.” The bad news for you is that you are destined to drink the “new wine.” The good news is that the new wine will get better with age.
For those who are married, the bad news is that you are all “old wineskins.” The good news is the “old wine is best.” My intention therefore is not to burst anyone’s wineskins. That would be a wasted effort because all the wine would run out and no one would benefit. With these thoughts in mind let’s look at the biblical basis for a functional marriage.
Christ-Centered Marriage: The Best Wine Keeps On Flowing
It is no coincidence that Christ performed his first miracle at a wedding. In John 2:1-10 we read that Jesus turned water into wine that was not only choice wine but the best wine. So it is with couples who invite Jesus Christ into their marriage and center their relationship on and in Him. The couple from Cana started out right. They invited Jesus to their wedding and His presence from the very beginning brought them the best basis for joy – “the wine that gladdens” (Ps.104:15 NIV).
I have worked with many couples whose marriages had run out of wine or whose wine had turned sour. All marriages have times when partners wonder where the joy has gone, and question whether they are right for each other. However, with Christ in the marriage, the best wine keeps flowing regardless of the circumstances, emotions and problems.
But what makes a marriage responsive to the wine that Christ supplies? That answer is found in the biblical basis for marriage that was set forth from the very beginning and will never change this side of eternity. You will find that whatever stage of married life you are in – anticipating marriage, new marriage, child-rearing marriage, middle-age marriage or aging marriage – consulting this original blueprint will give you encouragement, support and direction.
The Biblical Blueprint For Marriage
So often in the throes of marital turmoil, we forget that marriage is one of God’s greatest gifts to human beings. He understood our need for intimate connection long before any of us came to be. In His original consideration of man’s nature and needs He determined that it was not good for the man to be alone (Gen. 2:18). In response, He created a helper to resolve the issues of intimacy, loneliness and separation. When this gift of God’s concern was presented, the man’s words have defined the essence of marriage ever since: “The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman’ for she was taken out of man. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Gen. 2:23-24).
It is important to note that Christ affirmed this definition of marriage when He was questioned by the Pharisees in Mark 10:1-9. Although He changed the basis for many important things in our lives (e.g. Law was subsumed by grace), our Lord did not change marriage. Rather He reiterated the original blueprint and then added His seal of approval with the mandate, “Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate” (v. 9). The elements of that original marriage declaration provide the chemistry for a functional and fulfilling marriage and serve as the channels through which Christ can perform His role in the relationship. Let’s look at the ingredients individually.
Leaving And Cleaving
The relational power of this dual dynamic is best captured in the King James Version of our blueprint: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and cleave unto his wife” (Gen. 2:24). Two processes are critical here: one is separation from one’s family of origin, and the other is forming a new relational unit that takes precedence emotionally and practically over the former relationship (not to eliminate the former but to create a new relational unit of responsibility and accountability before God).
Young people have often asked me, “When do I no longer have to listen to my parents or be under their authority?” One clear biblical marker is marriage, because in marriage the responsibility for decisions transfers to the new relational couple as the center of family life.
This aspect of marriage represents hope. The first stage of marriage, the establishment stage, is the time for innovation and creativity. Regardless of past experiences the couple has an opportunity to form a relationship that is unique and special to them. In fact, the first task of newlyweds is to learn how to become a couple. Couples who do not pay attention to this task often run into problems later, because after the first stage of married life everything else becomes a process of renovation. As life circumstances change – children are born and grow up and partners age – the marriage relationship has to continually be modified to accommodate these changes. So leaving and cleaving is critical to forming the foundation for the marriage relationship.
Notice the joint nature of this relational process. Both leaving and cleaving are critical. Problems arise for many couples because of the failure to invoke both processes simultaneously. One or both have problems leaving their family-of-origin relationships, and this leads to the common maladies of in-law interference and failure to transfer emotional attachments from the family of origin to the new family created by the marriage. Or one or both have difficulty with the cleaving or committing aspect of the relationship. This leads to problems of self-centeredness which mitigates against the relational necessity of putting one’s partner before oneself as a bottom line resource in the marriage.
Completing – Not Competing
God’s intention for marriage is to provide a relationship that is complementary, in which partners experience a sense of completeness in their connection with one another. So often we turn our partner into an opponent thus abrogating the completing dynamics of the marriage. Spouses develop adversarial patterns of relating, substituting conflict for cooperation, effectively removing the “L” from completing and transforming it into competing. The best intervention in this case is to introduce the “L” (now standing for Lord) back into the relationship where both spouses turn to Christ Jesus as Lord of their life thus restoring the completing dimension of the relationship.
Becoming One: A Life-Long Process
A common misconception about marriage is that once you vow to become one you are one. Typically, this old adage tends to be more realistic: “In marriage a couple vows to become one on their wedding day and then spend the rest of their lives fighting over which one they will become.” Becoming one is a lifelong process that requires attention to and effort in every stage of married life. It has been said that marriage is the experience of being married to many different partners, not because you change partners but because your partner changes.
Paying attention to this “becoming one” process is perhaps the most difficult task of marriage over time. So many distractions, including children, emerge and interfere with the process. Typically, when couples have problems there is an inevitable element of lack of time and attention devoted to one another and their marriage relationship. That is why the resource of being one in Christ (Gal. 3:28) is so critical. There are so many things to pull couples apart, that only the presence of Christ as the covenant partner in the relationship can help them persevere in the process of becoming one.
The Best Wine
Marriage is the core of family life. And practically speaking, as goes the marriage so goes the family. A Christ-centered relationship provides the means by which the biblical blueprint for a functional and fulfilling marriage can be constructed and operationalized.
The biblical marriage has a solid foundation built by way of the dynamic duality of leaving and cleaving. It has a character of completeness where spouses complement and cooperate with one another. And it has a resilience that comes from the ongoing process of becoming one throughout the ages and stages of life’s developments.
This growth perspective will provide not only the resources for coping with life but the basis for fulfillment. By seeking Christ’s presence and guidance in implementing the biblical blueprint you will be able to look your partner in the eye at each and every stage of married life and lovingly exclaim, “You have saved the best for now!”
By James P. Trotzer
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA.