The Responsibilities of Marriage

The large majority of young brothers and sisters enter into the married state at some point in their lives. Accompanying this change in circumstances are new responsibilities. With the Scriptures as a guide, it is the object of this article to consider these obligations. The author has worked with young people for many years and has performed many Christadelphian marriages. His wise counsel should prove helpful both to those who are married and to those who are planning to take this step.

Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it.

Responsibility is an obligation that everyone increasingly accepts as he or she develops maturity. As social beings it is soon evident that we are obligated to act and react towards others in a constructive manner for the well-being of everyone, primarily ourselves.

We are, of course, considering this subject within our spiritual framework and all phases of the subject will relate to our acceptance of the fact that we must please God in all things. Having recognized this we can now identify responsibilities of the married couple in several areas. These are: responsibility to God, responsibility to each other, responsibility to the children of the marriage, responsibility to the ecclesial community particularly, and the temporal community generally.

Responsibility to God

Our responsibility to God is neither increased nor diminished when we marry. We were already responsible to Him as a single person. It is well to recognize, however, that our circumstances do change to a very major extent. Paul comments on our dedication to God and how marriage affects that dedication. His comment in I Corinthians 7 has caused resentment with some, and some have ridiculed and pictured him as antagonistic to women, quite unfairly in the opinion of this student. Paul's chief point is that an unmarried person's concentration on the things of God is less subject to interruption and distraction, for, says, he, the husband must consider his wife, and the wife her husband, as well as devoting time and effort in God's service. This is true. Husbands and wives do need consideration from each other, even in the case of the most spiritually minded. Realistically we should not hesitate to admit that we are still human and have human needs of many kinds as we work out our probation. This is the first of many reasons why we should choose for our partner one who has the same convictions, the same dedication to God, the same hope of attaining unto the glory of God through Jesus Christ, and the same desire to walk the narrow way that leads to life everlasting. If we have chosen such a partner the distractions will be minimal. The husband will not make unreasonable demands on his wife and the wife will not be so self-centred that she demands constant reassurance from the husband to prove that he still loves her. Conversely, they can and should be mutually supporting in joint Bible readings, in assisting in the preparation of exhortations, articles, etc.

Responsibility to Each Other

It would be a mistake to ignore the fact that we all have peaks and valleys in our temperaments. Realistically a good mate is a tower of strength in helping us through our "down days", in moderating our extremes of opinion, or reminding us that we are getting dangerously close to gossip or envy or other negative human tendencies. Then there are times when we need another person's perspective on a problem, the opinion of someone we know we can trust. Whose advice is more dependable than that of a tried and proven mate?

In his beautiful depiction of a good marriage in Ephesians 5, Paul refers in verse 32 to marriage within the brotherhood as a type of the joining together of Christ and the church. Elsewhere Jesus is depicted as the Bridegroom and the true believers as the bride who awaits his coming. The marriage of the believers is, therefore, sanctified by its use as a type of that great and glorious event for which we work and pray. Let no one, therefore, deprecate or diminish the importance of the state of matrimony in the life of the believer. Let the believer, on the other hand, be careful to maintain his marriage in good order for this too is a matter in which we must be careful to please God. Marriage is for life, and the marriage vow must be taken solemnly. This vow is firm and unqualified in the marriage ceremony, and is knowingly accepted, realizing that the future may hold better or worse, sickness or health, and other advantages or disadvantages. Read Malachi 2:14-16 and Ephesians 5 to understand the Divine attitude towards marriage.

As we consider the many requirements for a good marriage we find that they are so interlocking that we cannot neatly compartmentalize the different areas of responsibility. Important prerequisites are the sufficiently mature age of both parties, and sufficient earning capacity on the part of the young man. The old saying, Empty mangers make biting horses, is still true-many marriages have run into difficulties because the financial situation was too stringent.

Initially in marriage there is a need to become acquainted. This will seem foolish to the young couple, so in love that they long for marriage, and convinced that life is meaningful only when they are together, but it is still true. We are individually different, with certain strengths, weaknesses, life and dislikes, drives and inhibitions. Many of these become apparent only after marriage, and both husband wife should remember that the first months must be devoted to becoming acquainted with "his silly fads about food", and "her feminine foolishness about clothes", etc. etc. No doubt some attitudes and habits will need to be modified, but neither partner should set out to make over his or her mate. Tolerance and patience are prime requisites for that period when then pink clouds are being gradually dispersed by the intense sunlight of reality. It is important to remember that you loved her the way she was before you were married. A strong relationship between husband and wife, for the rest of life, will be very much influenced by the wisdom displayed by both individuals during this period of learning and adjustment. It is very important to choose a partner who has as many interests in common with you as possible, for it is on these common interests that love and respect and enjoyment of each other will continue to grow throughout life.

On the subject of sexual relations the Scriptures are an excellent guide. God created "an help meet" for Adam. The word meet means a counterpart or mate and it appears that Adam was the only creature of the higher life forms in the beginning that did not have a mate. In any case the Creator did create humans with attraction of the sexes as part of our original constitution. There was a purpose which is indicated in Genesis 1:28 where we see the blessing of God combined with his commands to be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth. They were to cleave to each other and become one flesh.

Paul is helpful in this area and recognizes that some instruction is necessary. He declares that marriage is honourable and undefiled (Hebrews 13:14). He also recognizes a need in this area and recommends marriage to satisfy the need. The relationship between husband and wife is to be benevolent-that is, with good will-and with the utmost consideration and gentleness extended toward the other. Read I Corinthians 7 thoughtfully and with careful consideration.

It is in this relationship that the ultimate joy is found in mortal life. The subject must be handled delicately, but we should recognize that this too is part of the wise Creator's doing. We should be thankful for this joyful provision, and we should not bear any sense of guilt concerning it. The Puritan and Victorian concepts were not based on Scripture and they caused much unhappiness and hypocrisy.

We cannot emphasize too strongly that sexual relations are to be restricted to a soundly based marriage relationship. In this there is no sin. Sin enters when such acts are committed contrary to God's instructions.

You will have noticed in I Corinthians 7:5 that Paul provides for devotion to "fasting and prayer". When considering the needs of each other we should always remember that our mate though "joined together" is in actual fact still an individual. With some the need is greater than others but we all need, and must not neglect, some private, quiet moments for prayer and contemplation. When your husband is striving to communicate with God in prayer, do not be belabouring the cost of this week's grocery list from the next room-and vice versa.

This is a confusing age in which we now live. It makes the discharge of all responsibilities more difficult. We often think how much simpler and more satisfying life would be if governments, writers and leaders of movements would just follow the directions that God has given us, but it is not so, and hardly anyone in public life refers to God's ways any more. Sometimes we become disoriented, at least temporarily, by the avalanche of advice, propaganda, and promotion which floods the airwaves and the printed page. These things point up the need for us to maintain our own independent thinking. As you know, such things as homosexual unions are all anti-scriptural and whereas they, hopefully, will not affect our marriages, there is a very vigorous feminist movement that will undermine our marriages if its extremes are not considered seriously. Granted that women have been placed and kept in a position of unfair disadvantage by society, we should at the same time recognize that the laws given by God to Moses gave the women of Israel rights and privileges which were unique in their day, and are a sound guide even in this age. When we look to the Scriptures for guidance, we find that the father still is to be the head of the family, hence the marriage ceremony requirement, "Let the wife reverence her husband".

Responsibilities Toward Children

A few moments of objective thought is sufficient to make it clear that men and women have, inherently, different roles of responsibility in marriage. Since the woman was obviously created by God to be the child bearer, and following the birth, the parent with the capability to nurse the infant, doth not nature itself indicate that the role of the mother is in the protected environment of the home, where she is to care for the children? If this be so, is it not obvious that the role of the father is to go out into the world to provide the essentials of living for the family? It is unfortunate that some foolish women, apparently frustrated, denigrate the role of the wife and mother in the home. What more important work is there in life than the nurturing of one's own children? To give them wise guidance, care for them in health and sickness, nourish them both physically and spiritually, and bring them to maturity, sound in mind and body, is a calling to which there is no higher.

These are also matters to be considered by mothers of young children who go out to work. Sometimes economic necessity dictates this, but serious thought should be given by the mother to such a decision. Is it a question of necessity or is it for the acquisition of additional material goods-and how does this activity really relate to the family welfare?

Certainly the wife and mother has emotional and social needs and the husband should remember to arrange opportunities for a change of both scene and type of activity. There is a double benefit in this when father takes care of the household in mother's absence. He will gain an intimate knowledge of the children's needs, the kinds of problems that can arise, the nerve-wracking frustrations that his wife is called upon to endure, and as a result he will be better able to understand and sympathize with his wife's needs. In addition there is a bonus. Father and children draw closer together and a bond should develop which will be very important in years to come.

This leads into responsibility for the spiritual development of the children. Paul instructs us to bring up our children "in the nurture and admonition of the LORD". Example in the home is by far the best way to do this. The demonstration of love and consideration between husband and wife; the acceptance and discharge of responsibilities by parents, the display of wise decisions, family scripture reading, the attitude of the parents towards God, and their regular reference to duty, faith, hope, love, patience and longsuffering as related to God's ways and our responsibility to Him, all provide a sense of security and a spiritual atmosphere within which the children may grow to maturity. Certainly, in these days, they will find it nowhere else, except it be in Sunday School for an hour each week, and this is not adequate.

Responsibilities to the Ecclesia

After all this, do we have any time, strength or energy left for the assumption of ecclesial duties or responsibilities in the community? From earlier generations we have a saying; the back is fitted to the burden. You will find that, with experience, your capacity will increase. Remember that we need an ecclesial environment. If no workers, then there will be no ecclesia. Wives, please remember that father is doing two jobs when he takes on ecclesial responsibilities in addition to his daily work. This is where your understanding is needed. Husbands, keep your activities in reasonable balance and remember that your family is your first responsibility.

It really is not overwhelming. It is great fun and satisfaction, given the right attitude, trust in God and God's help, for which we daily pray.

Kenneth G. McPhee

(This article was originally published in Compass Magazine in August 1976. A reference to contemporary legal reform in process then has been changed to reflect a more current situation).