Take a Positive View of a Strained Marriage
“To the married people I give instructions, yet not I but the Lord.”—1 COR. 7:10.
CAN YOU EXPLAIN?
In what sense does God yoke marriage mates together?
How can elders help Christians who have marital problems?
How should we view marriage?
1. How do Christians view marriage, and why?
WHEN Christians get married, they make a vow before God—a responsibility not to be taken lightly. (Eccl. 5:4-6) In the sense that he is the Originator of the marital arrangement, Jehovah has “yoked together” those united in wedlock. (Mark 10:9) This yoke exists in God’s sight regardless of the laws that sanctioned the wedding. Servants of Jehovah should view marriage as a binding arrangement whether they were his worshippers at the time of their wedding or not.
2. What questions will be considered in this article?
2 A successful marriage can result in great happiness. But what can be done if the marital bond is strained? Can a weakened marriage be strengthened? What help is there for those whose marital peace is threatened?
WILL IT BE A JOY OR A HEARTACHE?
3, 4. What may happen if a person makes an unwise decision when choosing a marriage mate?
3 When a Christian’s marriage succeeds, it is a joy and brings honor to Jehovah. If it fails, it is a heartache at best. An unmarried Christian who is contemplating wedlock is in a position to get marriage off to a fine start by following God’s guidance. On the other hand, a person who makes an unwise decision when choosing a husband or a wife may experience dissatisfaction and grief. For instance, some youths begin dating when they are not ready for the responsibilities associated with married life. Certain individuals find a prospective mate on the Internet and rush into what proves to be a very unhappy marriage. Others commit a serious sin during courtship and marry anyway, but they may begin their married life with little respect for each other.
4 Some Christians do not marry “only in the Lord” and suffer the often painful consequences of a religiously divided household. (1 Cor. 7:39) If that is your experience, pray for God’s forgiveness and help. He does not remove the effects of a person’s past errors, but he does assist repentant ones to cope with trials. (Ps. 130:1-4) Put your heart into pleasing him now and forever, and ‘the joy of Jehovah will be your stronghold.’—Neh. 8:10.
WHEN MARITAL BONDS ARE THREATENED
5. Regarding an unhappy marriage, what kind of thinking should be avoided?
5 Those who experience heartache in the marital relationship may wonder: ‘Is my unhappy marriage really worth saving? If only I could turn back the clock and begin again with another marriage mate!’ They may dream of breaking the bond—‘Oh, to be free again! Why not get a divorce? Even if I cannot get a Scriptural divorce, why not separate and enjoy life again?’ Instead of thinking in those terms or fantasizing about what might have been, Christians should make the best of their current state by seeking God’s guidance and following it.
6. Explain what Jesus said, as recorded at Matthew 19:9.
6 If a Christian were to get a divorce, he or she may or may not be Scripturally free to get married again. Jesus said: “Whoever divorces his wife, except on the ground of fornication, and marries another commits adultery.” (Matt. 19:9) Here, “fornication” includes adultery and other serious sexual sins. It is vital to weigh prayerfully any thought of divorce when neither mate has been guilty of sexual immorality.
7. What may observers think if a Christian marriage fails?
7 A failed marriage may cast doubt on one’s spiritual state. The apostle Paul raised this serious question: “If indeed any man does not know how to preside over his own household, how will he take care of God’s congregation?” (1 Tim. 3:5) In fact, when both mates profess to be Christians and yet their marriage fails, observers may think that such individuals do not really practice what they preach.—Rom. 2:21-24.
8. What must be wrong if Christian mates decide to part?
8 When baptized marriage mates are planning to separate or to divorce each other on unscriptural grounds, something surely is spiritually wrong in their life. Scriptural principles are apparently not being applied by one partner or perhaps by both partners. If they were truly ‘trusting in Jehovah with all their heart,’ there would be little reason for believing that they could not avoid a failed marriage.—Read Proverbs 3:5, 6.
9. How have some Christians been rewarded for their patient efforts in connection with marriage?
9 Many marriages that seemed to be headed for failure have in time turned out to be very successful. Christians who refuse to give up quickly on a difficult marriage often enjoy a fine reward. Consider what can happen in a religiously divided household. The apostle Peter wrote: “You wives, be in subjection to your own husbands, in order that, if any are not obedient to the word, they may be won without a word through the conduct of their wives, because of having been eyewitnesses of your chaste conduct together with deep respect.” (1 Pet. 3:1, 2) Yes, because of his mate’s fine conduct, an unbeliever may embrace the true faith! Such a saved marriage honors God and can be a great blessing for the husband, the wife, and any children they may have.
10, 11. What unexpected problems may arise in a marriage, but of what may a Christian be certain?
10 With a desire to please Jehovah, most single Christians choose dedicated fellow believers as marriage mates. Even then, however, circumstances may take an unexpected turn. On rare occasions, for example, a mate may develop serious emotional problems. Or some time after the wedding, a spouse may become an inactive publisher. To illustrate: Linda,a a zealous Christian and a devoted mother, watched helplessly as her baptized husband unrepentantly embarked on an unscriptural path and was disfellowshipped. What should a Christian do if his or her marriage bond seems hopelessly frayed for such a reason?
11 ‘Must I keep on trying to save my marriage no matter what happens?’ you might ask. Nobody can or should make such a decision for you. Yet, there are sound reasons for not giving up on a marital bond that is weakening. The godly man or woman who endures the trials of a difficult marriage for the sake of conscience is precious to God. (Read 1 Peter 2:19, 20.) By means of his Word and spirit, Jehovah will help a Christian who makes earnest efforts to strengthen a strained marriage.
THEY ARE READY TO ASSIST
12. How will the elders view us if we seek their help?
12 If you face marital problems, do not hesitate to seek the spiritual assistance of mature Christians. The elders serve as shepherds of the flock and will gladly direct attention to the inspired counsel found in the Scriptures. (Acts 20:28; Jas. 5:14, 15) Do not conclude that you and your mate will lose the respect of the elders if you seek spiritual assistance and discuss a serious marital problem with them. Their loving regard for you will increase as they see that you earnestly desire to please God.
13. What counsel is found at 1 Corinthians 7:10-16?
13 When asked for help by Christians living in religiously divided households, elders refer to such counsel as that of Paul, who wrote: “To the married people I give instructions, yet not I but the Lord, that a wife should not depart from her husband; but if she should actually depart, let her remain unmarried or else make up again with her husband; and a husband should not leave his wife. . . . For, wife, how do you know but that you will save your husband? Or, husband, how do you know but that you will save your wife?” (1 Cor. 7:10-16) What a blessing it is when an unbelieving mate is won over to true worship!
14, 15. When might a Christian spouse consider actually departing, but why is prayerful and honest consideration important?
14 Under what circumstances might a Christian wife “actually depart”? Some have chosen to separate because of a mate’s willful nonsupport. Others have done so because of extreme physical abuse or the absolute endangerment of a Christian’s spirituality.
15 Whether to depart or not is a personal decision. However, the baptized mate ought to give this matter prayerful and honest consideration. For example, has the unbeliever been totally responsible for the endangerment of spirituality, or has the Christian been negligent about Bible study, inconsistent in meeting attendance, and irregular in the ministry?
16. What should restrain Christians from making hasty decisions regarding divorce?
16 The fact that we treasure our relationship with God and are grateful for his gift of marriage ought to restrain us from making hasty decisions regarding divorce. As servants of Jehovah, we are concerned about the sanctification of his holy name. Surely, then, we would never scheme to get out of one marriage while our heart is planning on another marriage.—Jer. 17:9; Mal. 2:13-16.
17. Under what circumstances could it be said that God has called married Christians to peace?
17 A Christian who is married to an unbeliever should earnestly endeavor to keep the marriage bond intact. Yet, a Christian need not feel guilty if, despite the Christian’s sincere effort to preserve the union, an unbelieving mate refuses to remain with the believer. “If the unbelieving one proceeds to depart, let him depart,” wrote Paul. “A brother or a sister is not in servitude under such circumstances, but God has called you to peace.”—1 Cor. 7:15.b
HOPE IN JEHOVAH
18. Even if it is not possible to save a marriage, what good may result from efforts to do so?
18 When dealing with any marital problem, look to Jehovah for courage and always hope in him. (Read Psalm 27:14.) Consider Linda, who was mentioned earlier. Her marriage eventually ended in divorce, although she had put many years of effort into trying to save it. Does she feel that she wasted her time? “Not at all,” she says. “My efforts gave a good witness to onlookers. I have a clear conscience. Best of all, those years helped our daughter to stay solidly in the truth. She grew up to be a zealous, dedicated Witness of Jehovah.”
19. What may happen if efforts are made to save a marriage?
19 A Christian woman named Marilyn is glad that she trusted in God and put forth extra effort to save her marriage. “I was tempted to separate from my husband because of financial nonsupport and spiritual endangerment,” she says. “Yet, my husband served as an elder before he got involved in some unwise business arrangements. He began missing meetings, and we simply stopped communicating. A terrorist attack in our city frightened me so much that I withdrew into a shell. Then I realized that I too was at fault. We started communicating again, resumed our family study, and became regular at meetings. The elders were kind and very helpful. Our marriage blossomed anew. In time, my husband again qualified for congregation privileges. It was a hard lesson with a happy outcome.”
20, 21. With respect to marriage, what should we be resolved to do?
20 Whether we are single or married, let us always act courageously and hope in Jehovah. If we are encountering marital difficulties, we should earnestly seek to resolve them, remembering that those united in wedlock are “no longer two, but one flesh.” (Matt. 19:6) And let us bear in mind that if we persevere in a divided household despite hardships, we may experience the joy of winning a mate over to true worship.
21 Regardless of our circumstances, may we be resolved to walk circumspectly in order to have a fine testimony from observers outside the congregation. If our marriage is threatened, let us pray intensely, scrutinize our motives honestly, consider the Scriptures carefully, and seek the spiritual assistance of the elders. Above all, may we be determined to please Jehovah God in all things and show real appreciation for his wonderful gift of marriage.
a Names have been changed.
b See “Keep Yourselves in God’s Love,” pages 219-221; The Watchtower of November 1, 1988, pages 26-27; September 15, 1975, page 575.
[Blurb on page 10]
Christians who do not give up quickly on a strained marriage often enjoy a fine reward
[Blurb on page 12]
Always hope in Jehovah and look to him for courage
[Picture on page 9]
Jehovah blesses Christian mates who make efforts to strengthen a strained marriage
[Picture on page 11]
The Christian congregation can be a source of comfort and spiritual assistance