Eroding Marriages In Our Culture

January/February, 2006
Volume 41, Number 1

There is a war being waged against the family today. The value systems of people all around us are dramatically changing. Television is the leading moral influence in the typical American home, and more and more people in our churches are choosing to place themselves under its influence. Values are changing regarding household leadership styles, child raising practices, sexual attitudes, and marital arrangements. Some of the forces which lie behind the war on the family include:The potential for evil on the internet The immoral impact of television The advent of no-fault divorce laws The cult of playboy The feminist movement The homosexual revolution The advent of genetic engineering

No matter where one turns to find statistics, the picture of marriage nationwide is not pretty. Roughly half of all marriages in the United States end in divorce. Cohabitation has increased by more than 500% in the last 20 years. Children in the 1990s (and on into the 2000s) have at least a 50-50 chance of growing up in single parent households.

The philosophy which is advocated by multitudes today is that fathers are bad; many moms work outside the home, and if they are home they are unhappy; marriage is boring; teenagers are smarter than their parents; clergy are bumbling hypocrites; sex outside of marriage is not wrong unless it is forced; profanity is okay; etc. Surely these attitudes indicate a marked change from the beliefs held by earlier generations in our society.

One issue that needs to be settled is the question, “What is a family?” The American Home Economics Association defines a family as “two or more people who reside under the same roof and have a commitment to the future.” A careful biblical definition, by way of contrast, emphatically implies that a family “is a unit comprised of persons who are related by blood, by marriage, or by adoption—with a male father and a female mother who have made a binding covenant for life.”

The biblical definition rules out apartment marriages (a fellow and a girl temporarily live together until one partner tires of the other, or until they decide to marry). It eliminates bigamous liaisons (an arrangement whereby two women are living with one man). It rules out communal living (a kind of group set-up in which there are no husband-wife covenants but each is free to cohabit with the other). It excludes homosexual partnerships (two homosexual persons who live together and perhaps even make a covenant and/or adopt children).

What influences are affecting the family? Only a small percentage of our nation’s households consist of “the ideal family”—a working father, a stay-at-home mother, and one or more legitimate children. Many of our nation’s households are merely persons of the opposite sex sharing living quarters, having decided to simply live together without making the commitment of marriage. The influences that have led to these conditions are at least four in number.

1) Industrialization—the move from the farm to cities and towns. Families now tend to be more fragmented, with the various members of the family going their own ways.

2) Secularism—the system of belief which rejects the need for true religious devotion. God is left out of the individual life and one’s daily activities.

3) Humanism—the belief that humans can solve their own problems if given enough time and education. Moral right and wrong is based on what seems like the best thing for the immediate present.

4) Materialism—the view which implies that material things can satisfy the deepest needs of the human heart. The materialist believes that being wealthy and having a nice house will bring happiness.

Nearly all of Western civilization has drifted far from the standards for home and family that are given in the Bible. Yet in spite of the adultery and premarital sex and single-parent households and child abuse—many people still hope to establish stable home environments which will lead to the survival of the family. And parents can have happy families if they really want them. God’s principles for a strong and happy home are easy to understand, but they are often difficult to obey. We must diligently teach biblical values to those who are younger. God’s standards include concepts like the following: seeing marriage as a lifetime commitment, making honest apologies to one’s spouse when there are failures, and choosing a modest living standard in order to make ends meet. Readers will benefit by carefully meditating on the article which follows.

—Harold S. Martin

Eroding Marriages In Our Culture

By Mervin C. Groff

The word “erode” means to eat into; to wear away; to disintegrate as acid erodes metal. It means to wear away gradually as a stream erodes a gully. To “erode” means to cause to deteriorate, decay, or to vanish.Eroding marriages in our culture are more and more commonplace. Matthew 7:24-27 says,

“Therefore whoever hears these sayings of mine, and does them, I will liken him unto a wise man, who built his house on a rock; and the rains descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded upon a rock. And everyone who hears these sayings of mine, and does not do them, shall be likened to a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand; and the rains descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on that house; and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

This parable may not appear to apply directly to marriage. But we want to note especially verse 25—the rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house—yet it did not fall.

Two homes are built—one is built on rock and one is built on sand. There are two builders—one is wise and one is foolish. They face the same circumstances—violent storms, but there are different results. One stands firm and one collapses. Why does that happen in marriages? Why is it that two marriages can go through the same circumstances and yet experience differing results? Why? What are some pitfalls couples need to avoid?

1. Living Together Before Marriage

The number of unmarried couples living together has increased dramatically over the past few decades, and that number will likely continue to increase. The rationale is simple: They say, “By living together before marriage, we will know how compatible we are.” Presumably, if a couple can get along by living in the same apartment before marriage, they will be able to get along with each other after marriage.

It is a tempting argument. After all, a typical date during the courtship period tends to be artificial. Each person is “up” for the occasion, and both make an effort to have a good time together. In marriage, couples are also together when they’re “down.” Would it not make sense for a couple to live together for a while, just to see how they react to each other’s “down” times?

The problem with those arguments is that marriage changes everything. If couples who live together think that after marriage everything will be the same—they don’t understand what marriage does to a couple, both positively and negatively.

In my experience (and in reports that I have read), the chances of a divorce after having lived together are huge, much higher than for couples who have not lived together prior to marriage. If living together were a test of marital compatibility, the statistics should show opposite results. Couples that live together before marriage should have stronger marriages, but they don’t. They have weaker marriages.

To understand why this is the case, we must look at why couples who live together decide not to marry. Ask the question: “Why did you choose to live with your boyfriend instead of marrying him?” The most common answer given is that you were not ready to make that commitment to him yet. First, you wanted to see if you still loved him after you cooked meals together, cleaned the apartment together, and slept together. In other words, you wanted to see what married life would be like without the commitment of marriage.’

But you will never know what married life is like unless you are married. What, exactly, is the commitment of marriage? It is an agreement that you will take care of each other for a lifetime, regardless of life’s ups and downs. You will stick it out together through thick and thin. But the commitment of living together is not like that at all. Living together is simply a month-to- month rental agreement. The one says to the other, “As long as you behave yourself and keep me happy, I’ll stick around.”

Habits are hard to break, and couples that live together before marriage get into the habit of following their month-to-month rental agreement. Living together may prove compatibility for a moment in time, but it provides no evidence for your happiness together over a lifetime. The only way you can have that happiness and compatibility is if you agree to take each other’s feelings into account every time you make a decision. And that is what people who marry (without having lived together) are highly motivated to do. So, in order to build a strong marriage, one of the pitfalls to avoid, is living together before marriage.

2. Quick Courtships

Another pitfall to avoid is a quick period of courtship. Take time to have a courtship that honors and glorifies God by learning to know each other well. Daily we face distorted concepts of love. The songs, literature, and advertisements of our day, even many so-called Christian songs and writings, describe love primarily on a mere sensual level. There certainly is an emotional side to the man-woman relationship. But feeling is so emphasized that love has been turned into a feeling-seeking self-centeredness. What the most clingy young couples love, is not one another, but themselves. When all of their nerve endings are inflated to ninety pounds of this wonderful feeling, it is impossible to convince them that they may not be in love!

Christian young men and women will need to surrender their courting plans to the will of God. Couples need to honestly consider God’s will for their lives in relation to courtship and marriage. Consider this question: Can anyone make practical and specific decisions about courtship until he has sought God’s direction for life? Unfortunately, many courting young people have never seriously asked the following questions: “Is there some preparation that I need to make in light of a possible marriage in the future? What work do I sense God leading me to do? How will my life best contribute to advancing the kingdom of God?” The answers to these questions will affect not only whom I court, but when I should court, and (in some cases) even whether I should court at all.

As long as God’s will is not given a place of priority, marriage (and life itself) will not deliver the fulfillment we are expecting. This point can hardly be overstressed. It speaks to many of the hollow marriages of. our day, even within the church. We are talking about courtships that are quick and frequently take place without much thought and prayer. Pleasing God must always be our highest motivation for courting a potential marriage partner.

It is quite obvious that many courting young people allow lesser things than God’s will to motivate their relationship. Some are after security. Some want companionship. Some are merely following biological urges. Some have other reasons. God’s Word speaks to the issue:

“And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him…Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:18, 24).”He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from the Lord…A prudent wife is from the Lord” (Proverbs 18:22; 19:14).

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own ves’sel in sanctification and honor; not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God” (I Thessalonians 4:3-5).

Marriage is the only proper motivation for courtship. This is not to say that from the first date, a couple must be convinced that they are for each other. It is important to warn, however, against dating for motivations less than the purpose of eventual marriage.It is only the part of wisdom to court someone whom you, through careful and prayerful discernment, would consider eligible for marriage. Begin courting only when you are ready to allow the discernment process of courtship to move in wisdom toward marriage—without either rush or undue delay.

3. Marriage without the Thought of Children

Another pitfall to avoid is marriage without any plans for children. The Bible says,

“Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain…Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord; the fruit of the womb is His reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them” (Psalms 127:1-5).

In the next Psalm (128), we read, “Blessed is everyone who hears the Lord; who walks in His ways. When you eat the labor of your hands, you shall be happy, and it shall be well with you. Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the very heart of your house; your children like olive plants all around your table. Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord.” (Psalms 128:1-4). The Scripture teaches that children are a great blessing, a heritage from the Lord—and families with children are especially blessed of God. The command to Adam and Eve was to “be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). That truth is handed down to us. The command to Noah and his sons and their wives after the flood was to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 9:7). Marriage is expected to result in children. It is always sad when a couple marries and the marriage is not fruitful with children. Happy is the man and woman who want children.

The woman who wants all that marriage gives, wants the man’s support and his name, yet does not want to bear him children is not fulfilling God’s normal plan. Such persons are dodging the privilege God has given to women who have made the noble commitment of marriage.

Somebody said, “I don’t think we ought to fill the world with children who are living for the devil.” I agree, but surely it is not wise to leave the bearing of children and the populating of the earth to the illiterate and criminals and the ignorant. Why should not the people of God (people who care and people with Christian principles) raise the men and women who will rise up and serve and bless the God of heaven? Rejoice, then, in the children whom God gives. They are a blessing from God.

To be married and never desire to have children is not normal, not natural, not God’s will for the human family. God’s plan is to replenish the earth through honorably married couples bearing children.

Married couples who do not have children are denied some of the greatest lessons in life. They do not have the opportunity to fully round out their character. They are shut out from some of life’s most necessary experiences. And so there are many lessons in life which they never learn. Some couples are physically unable to have children; they should consider adopting children. Other couples willfully prevent children; this is a tragedy. Adults can never reach the maturity they should have without the presence of children in the home. May God bless each home with children.

4. Having a Wrong Focus on Material Goods

The Scripture’s warning that “the love of money is a root of all evil” is really never more wisely observed than in family finances. It is the misuse of finances that leads to much dissension and unhappiness in many homes. This pitfall may easily be avoided by simply following the principles given in Scripture for our guidance as Christians.

First of all, do not try to totally separate money from spirituality. There is nothing wrong with money. It is the use of money that needs to be carefully watched. It is the love of money— inordinate, consuming love for money that is condemned in the Bible. It is when money becomes a god, and acquiring money becomes the passion of life—that it is terribly wrong.

There should always be a family policy in regard to money matters. This should be worked out prayerfully by both husband and wife. First, the Lord’s work should be supported through proper giving; then there should be a budget for fixed expenses, and the balance will be available for savings and for careful use. At times there will be special financial emergencies to meet, and these need to be agreed upon by both married partners.

Today’s business world almost daily sends an overwhelming attack upon the family budget. By every means available the advertising barrage reaches each of us, endeavoring to force us to buy more and more goods and services. In order to meet and repulse this attack, the Christian family will need to watch its defenses closely, lest the budget becomes hopelessly buried under an avalanche of luxury items and installment buying. So be very careful.

Money may be a source of untold blessing for us. The money you have earned is part of us, part of our days—part of our lives. And, very graciously, God allows us to distribute the money we earn. We may purchase things for ourselves and for others. We may give to needy causes near at hand and we may support needs beyond the sea. We may find great satisfaction in knowing that God observes and records our gifts. So we must allow money to bless us, and others in need, and God will be honored.

All of us must be prepared to face the culture in which we live. Just as heavy rains soak everything in sight, so the culture tends to permeate our home, our society, our families, and our marriages. There are some forces in society that work against the family. There are groups committed to the destruction of marriage and the family, and so we must be alert to such destructive forces. Just as continuous rain has an eroding effect on the stability of a house, so our culture has an eroding effect on the stability of our marriages. It is most likely harder to stay married today than at any other time in history. May God help us to keep our marriages free from dangerous erosion.

Merv Groff is a sales representative for Dutch Valley Food Distributors,
and is one of the ministers serving the White Oak Church of the Brethren
in Lancaster County, PA.