Chapter 1.
The Foundation

What Does the Bible Say About Us?

The big moment came for us on a small island off the coast of Maine. Bob asked Alice if she would share the rest of her life with him. The sky could not have been bluer or the sun brighter as she lovingly and eagerly accepted. The conversation that day, while we sat on the rocks of the Atlantic coastline, was exciting and rich. We envisioned with joy the dynamic, loving marriage we were about to create.

Our relationship was, of course, completely unique. Every relationship is. But surely every engaged couple shares these moments of thrilling anticipation of love that will last forever. But how do you begin to nurture that love? How will you grow together? How will you build your marriage? As Christians we do not need to flounder around looking for principles to guide us. This is one of the great joys of living in Christ. Scripture gives us guidelines which apply to every marriage, but in such a way that no two Christian marriages are alike.

Each marriage, when founded on solid, scriptural principles, is a reflection of some aspect of Christ's union with the church (Eph 5:24-25). It is a picture which the world and fellow believers can look at to see how our Lord wants to relate to us. What a privilege to be part of that picture!

If this picture or reflection is to be as undistorted as possible, we must continually evaluate our marriages in light of scriptural teaching. To help you clarify your vision of your own marriage, consider the following Scripture passages and discussion questions.

1. The Bible opens by describing how God made us:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.... The Lord God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him." Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field. But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. 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." (Gen 1:27; 2:18-23)

According to Genesis 1:27, male and female together reflect the image of God. In what unique ways do men often reflect the image of God?

In what unique ways do women often reflect the image of God?

For what two purposes was woman created?

Think a little more about God's choice to create men and women, two distinct sexes. John Milton observed in Paradise Lost that "loneliness is the first thing which God's eyes nam'd not good." To meet Adam's loneliness, God created Eve. When do you tend to feel lonely? How can your fiancé(e) help you when you feel that way? What will you do when you feel lonely and cannot seem to find comfort from each other?

According to author Kari Torjesen Malcolm in Women at the Crossroads, the word helper in this passage is the same word used to describe God in other parts of Scripture (Ps 20:2; 33:20; 70:5; 115:9-11; 121:1-2; 124:8). Look up these verses, and then think of a marriage you know where one partner helps the other partner in some of the same ways in which God helps us. What does that marriage look like?

What unique characteristics do you have to offer one another to complete the image of God together?

2. The apostle Paul gives us this teaching:

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body. "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. (Eph 5:21-33)

Verse 21 says, "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." Paraphrase this in your own words.

How does this apply to husbands? to wives? to your relationship with your fiancé(e)?

According to this passage, husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church. Think about Jesus' ministry as described in the Gospels. How did Jesus show people that he loved them? In what similar ways can a husband love his wife?

How do you expect these directions to be applied to your own marriage?

3. What directions does Ephesians 5 give to wives?

What does it mean to "submit to"? Why do you think Paul repeats this instruction here? Is it different from verse 21 or just an extension of the same principle?

What does it mean to "respect"?

How do you expect these teachings to be applied to your own marriage?

How can a wife submit to her husband and disagree with him at the same time?

Why do you think Ephesians 5 commands husbands to love their wives and wives to respect their husbands (v. 33)? In your own relationship, is it harder for you to love or to respect your fiancé(e)?

4. Consider Walter Trobisch's comments on love:

Let me try to tell you what it really should mean if a fellow says to a girl, "I love you." It means: "You, you, you. You alone. You shall reign in my heart. You are the one whom I longed for; without you I am incomplete. I will give everything for you and I will give up everything for you, myself as well as all that I possess. I will live for you alone, and I will work for you alone, and I will wait for you—it doesn't matter how long. I will always be patient with you. I will never force you, not even by words. I want to guard you, protect you and keep you from all evil. I want to share with you my thoughts, my heart and my body—all that I possess. I want to listen to what you have to say. There is nothing I want to undertake without your blessing. I want to remain always at your side."

What do you mean when you say "I love you"?

5. Is there anything that you fear about taking on the role of husband or wife in marriage? How can your partner help you overcome that fear?

6. In light of Ephesians 5:21-33, write a definition of marriage.

7. What does this passage imply about marriage between believers and nonbelievers?

Optional Exercises

1. Pretend that you are writing an application to enter the state of matrimony. What would you put down for your own "job description"?

How would you describe your partner's "job description"?

2. You may have heard of the "Mother of the Year" award. If you were nominating your fiancé(e) for the "Partner of the Year" award, what five qualities in her or him would you emphasize?

Suggested Reading

On the nature of Christian marriage:

Conway, Jim and Sally. Traits of a Lasting Marriage. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1991.

Hybels, Bill and Lynne. Fit to Be Tied. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1991.

Wangerin, Walter. As for Me and My House. Nashville, Tenn.: Nelson, 1990.

On the differences men and women bring into a marriage:

Crabb, Larry. Men and Women. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1991.

Harley, Willard F., Jr. His Needs, Her Needs. Old Tappan, N.J.: Revell, 1986.