A Dozen Foundational Elements
 for a Good Marriage

It doesn't take a scientist to see today that families aren't what they used to be.  Here are some statistics that came from some research done about 15 years ago: 45% of Americans believe that most marriages will end in divorce; 45% believe there's really no good reason to get married; 35% of spouses believed their mates were having affairs, and 30% of Americans confessed they were; 60% of Americans think there's nothing morally wrong with affairs; 20% of teens lose their virginity by age 13, and that jumps to 60% by age 16; many girls by age 13 are spending $250 a year on adult cosmetics; 14% of Americans have been sexually abused and 20% say they were date raped (Patterson and Kim).  A Christian psychologist gave these negative factors in our culture that have had a great impact upon the family: the media encourages us to think about ourselves and has redefined love as being almost totally physical; popular psychology stresses that everybody has a right to be happy, and all can do whatever it takes to maintain that happiness; a valueless society teaches that everything should come easily and quickly, and nothing is wrong or sinful; mobility has caused families to separate and no longer to stay together; there is very little, if any, positive education for marriage in homes, in schools, or in churches (Mitchell).  Certainly, Christian families are not immune to what's happening in our culture.   

The Italians have an expression: “Non mettere il dito fra moglie e marito” which means basically “Don't stick your nose in the business of a married couple.”  It would be easier to just leave families alone and mind our own business, but with such shocking statistics and moral decadence touching us all, we must try to look at God's Word to restore some sanity to America's sad situation.  So let's “blow the dust off God's original blueprint for marriage and the home.  Our greatest need is to hear what He has to say to His people about His design.  After all, marriage was His invention.  It is obvious that He understands it best since He holds the patent on it.  As the Master Architect, God is the most qualified authority, so let's seek His counsel first and foremost.  Let's hear what He has to say about His invention” (Swindoll).  This morning we want to look at two passages that reveal a dozen foundational elements for a good marriage.      

The first passage is Genesis 2:18-25: “And the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper compatible to him.’  Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them.  And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name.  So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field.  But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him.  And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place.  Then the rib which the Lord God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to Adam.  And Adam said: ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’  Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.  And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.”  

The first element is support.  Our text tells us that God saw much in His creation was good, but verse 18 introduces us to something that was flawed: “And then the Lord God said, 'It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.”  Man alone was not good; he needed a companion, a partner, or someone who could offer him support.  Ecclesiastes 4:9ff following affirms that two are better than one and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.  When there are two, each can help the other when they fall, when they need warmth, and when they must resist attack.  When we bring Christ into our marriages, then they can be stronger because now there is that threefold cord.  If we strive to be Christ’s servants, then we recognize the importance of serving Him through serving our families.  We all need support to endure the struggles of life.  Praise the Lord that He provides such support through marriage!  Support is a foundational element for a good marriage.  

The second element is gratitude.  Are we thankful and appreciative of our mates?  Our text points out that God paraded all the animals in pairs before Adam for him to name.  Adam not only got some sex education but also he discovered that nothing in the animal world was satisfactory for his needs: “there was not found a helper comparable to him.”  So God creates woman from man, and He brings her to him.  Then we see Adam rubbing his eyes and pinching himself.  Is there really this dazzling creature standing before him?  And then there's the world's first poem in praise and thanks of what has God done!  Now Adam is filled with joy and in essence proclaims: “Alright, Lord, finally; this is more like it!  Here is someone fit for me!  Thank you, God, for giving Eve!”  Adam knew that he needed a female partner who was like himself, and God provided it!  Are we thankful and appreciative of the mate that God has provided us?  We all desire to be recognized and appreciated.  One of our church leaders explained that he makes it practice to sit down twice a year and write a lengthy letter to his wife thanking her for all the specific small things that she does daily to help their family function smoothly!  May his tribe increase!  Let’s thank God for the provision of our mates, and let’s tell them often that we appreciate them!  Gratitude is a foundational element for a good marriage.  

The third element is severance: “A man shall leave his father and mother.”  Leaving one's family is not so much a matter of physical separation as an emotional separation of turning from parental dependency and accountability to independence and couple-reliance.  We don't lose our identity in our original family, but our status must change.  A new family is being created, and the couple must be free to make all of the decisions and accept all the responsibilities involved.  Parents must be willing to release their children and allow the new family to make their own decisions with regards to financial, physical, sexual, and spiritual needs.  A couple cannot develop a healthy and serious relationship with their mate if they are still holding on to their parents' apron strings.  A Christian family therapist says that he has seen many problems when either the parents or the children or both try to continue to be dependent upon each other and prohibit the severance that should take place, a severance that our text says was really the Master Architect's intention from the beginning for marriage.  Severance is a foundational element for a good marriage.  

The fourth element is permanence: “and be joined to his wife.”  “Leave and cleave.  Sever and bond.  Loosen and secure.  The Hebrew term translated ‘cleave’ in the King James Version means ‘to glue or to cling’. . . . Today’s problem is largely explained by the fact that couples enter the marriage relationship believing it is terminable.  ‘Till death do us part’ has been reinterpreted to mean ‘Till disagreement or other interests do us part.’ . . .  Winston Churchill had a six word philosophy about winning wars: ‘Wars are not won by evacuations’” (Swindoll)!  The same idea is true for a good marriage.  A lifetime commitment is what God wanted in the original match.  How else do we know that permanence was His ideal?  Our Lord, who has all authority, put it this way: “Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:6).  Permanence is a foundational element for a good marriage.  

The fifth element is unity: “They shall become one flesh.”  When we hear this expression, what tends immediately to come to mind is the sexual union.  The idea of becoming one flesh, however, goes far beyond that.  “Shall become” implies a process that takes time, a lifelong project that requires wisdom, understanding, and knowledge.  Unity should not be confused with uniformity.  God did not make Eve to be Adam's clone.  No, she was expected to see and to do things differently because she was created differently.  “Becoming one flesh” includes these ideas: mutual acceptance, listening, giving, belonging, forgiving, and sharing.  The apostle Peter said it this way in 1 Peter 3:1 and 7: “Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won by conduct of their wives without a word . . . Husbands, likewise, dwell with them [or your wives] with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.”  We see two adults willingly blending into each other's lives.  It's like two rivers which merge together; it not only flows into a single direction but also increases its strength.  The picture is one of total unselfishness.  How rare in our culture today!  Have you ever thought that when we see a husband, a wife, and their spirit of oneness, we are seeing a miniature portrait of the oneness found in the Godhead or Trinity?  Unity is a foundational element for a good marriage.  

The sixth element is transparency: “And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.”  “That last expression means they were not ashamed before or with each other” (Swindoll).  Remember, they did not have any clue as to what was right and what was wrong at this point in their lives.  So, there was a complete absence of self-consciousness.  They had no hidden areas, no hang-ups, no fears, no embarrassments (Ibid).  Because of the other foundational elements we have seen—support, gratitude, severance, permanence, and unity, they were perfectly as ease with one another and had nothing to prove to each other.  There was an unrestrained openness and an unhindered disclosure of themselves with one another.  Mistrust and the fear of being so vulnerable never crossed their minds.  And this was exactly as God meant it to be!  

How different and difficult we see it is in our culture today!  People wrestle desperately to relate freely and openly (Ibid).  A California bachelor in the banking business had a beach apartment, had beauty queens at his place each night, had sex every day, had it made by the world's standards!  Or did he?  Listen to what he confessed one day to a co-worker: “Something is really bothering me and I can't figure it out.  Every morning as I get dressed for work, I look into the mirror and think: 'What was last night's sexy little game all about?  Sure, the gal was good looking.  She was good in bed, and she left this morning without bugging me, but is that all there is in life?  If this lifestyle is what every guy thinks he wants, why am I so depressed?  Why do I feel a cold nothingness all the time?'  I know the guys here think it would be fantastic to have this kind of liberated freedom but honestly, Dick, I hate this life.  You know what'd I really like?  I'd like to go home tonight, smell dinner cooking, hug my wife hello, and spend the evening telling her and showing her how much I love her.  I'd like to go to bed with her and not have to prove my virility, not have to sexually perform above the call of duty, but just give her love, and go to sleep knowing she'd be there in the morning” (Ibid).  It sounds like here was a fellow who was missing transparency in his relationships.  Transparency is a foundational element for a good marriage.  

Now turn over to Hosea 2:19-20 where we'll discover six more elements.  These elements are amazing because Hollywood and most modern psychologists would not ever associate them with a good marriage.  The context for this passage is that God is going “to court” unfaithful Israel and woo her back to Himself.  During their engagement, He states these elements.  Now let's read verse 19: “I will betroth you to Me forever (Remember permanence?).  Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice.”  In the Jewish culture, a betrothal involved giving gifts for the bride.  So God is saying: “Here are the gifts with which I'll purchase Israel again.”  Now these gifts may sound unusual to us, but they really make good sense when we think about them.   

The seventh element is righteousness.  How have we experienced God's righteousness?  Hasn't He accepted us and forgiven our shortcomings time and time again?  Well, think about this for a marriage.  Don't husbands and wives have to accept and forgive each other time and time again?  God's righteousness also means doing that which is holy, doing that which is morally right.  The apostle Paul said it this way in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8: “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 vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust. like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified.  For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness.  Therefore, he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit.” Righteousness is a foundational element for a good marriage.  

The eighth element is justice.  When we think of God's justice, we think of upholding law, being impartial, stressing fairness, and treating others with respect.  How do these ideas work in a marriage?  A couple will probably formulate a few rules, and they had better formulate a few more when their children come along.  Will we uphold such rules?  Can we try to treat each child with impartiality?  Ever try to resolve a sibling argument with total fairness?  Do children see their parents respecting one another and do they feel respected themselves?  The greatest model of justice is Jesus, and the greatest book about justice is the Bible.  Looking at Jesus and reading the Bible can help us grow in our sense of justice.  Isaiah 61:8: affirms: “For I, the Lord, love justice” and Proverbs 28:5 notes: “Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand all.”  Justice is a foundational element for a good marriage.  

The ninth element is found in Hosea 2:19: “In lovingkindness.”  This word has relationship written all over it.  There is an open recognition of an existing bond that exists between all the people that it embraces.  Loyalty, devotion, and constancy are concepts easily linked to this word.  The Old Testament uses this word numerous times to show God's devoted, loyal, and steadfast affection and favor towards Israel.  There are four words for love in Greek: eros refers to sexual love, phileo refers to love among friends, storge refers to love among kinfolk and family members, agape is the selfless devotion and affection that puts another person's best interest above your own.  The Old Testament's lovingkindness is most similar to the New Testament's agape.  The lovingkindness that God so richly bestows on us, He wants us to bestow on others (Hosea 6:6).  The apostle Paul said it this way in Colossians 3:17-18: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.  Husbands, love your wives, and do not be bitter toward them.”  Lovingkindness will stick by you and see you through the storms.  Lovingkindness is a foundational element for a good marriage.  

The tenth element is in the same verse: “in mercy”.  These are God's tender yearnings over us, to the point that He has compassion on our weaknesses.  It is the compassion that Jesus illustrated in some of His parables and in His personal reactions to some people.  It is giving others some slack and having a long fuse.  None of us are perfect; especially in our families, that reality sticks out like a sore thumb!  Dads need mercy, moms need mercy, children need mercy.  Are our tender yearnings so strong for others that they will arouse compassion in dealing with weaknesses and forbearance when dealing with habits and conflicts?  The elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son showed no mercy to his brother while the father in the parable was abundant in mercy.  Perhaps Ephesians 4:32 should be practiced in our families as well as in the local congregation: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ has forgave you.”  Isn't it interesting how in all these elements from Hosea we are imitating God, Christ, and the Spirit?  And can't we see how all these elements are greatly diminished or missing when we marry someone who is not a Christian?  Mercy is a foundational element for a good marriage.  

The eleventh element is seen in verse 20: “I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness.”   One commentator made this observation: “Of all qualities, this is the one most clearly lacking in a partner who has quit.  Other faults may put a marriage under strain, but this one is decisive” (Kidner).  We see that God is bringing His faithfulness to His new relationship, but will Israel or will she continue to treat the Lord in an unfaithful manner as she goes about having affairs with foreign gods?  The same thing was happening in Hosea's own personal marriage.  He was still faithful to his wife, but would she be faithful to him?  Listen to this interesting quotation: “A couple wrote a book entitled Open Marriage, in which they counseled couples to be honest, straight, out-front, give space, let the other partner do their own thing, communicate, and confess your sexual encounters with others openly to your mate.  There were couples I know that followed their advice to the tee, and initially it was very exhilarating, but eventually all these couples split up.  There was something wrong.  Invariably, someone couldn't take it any more.  It had nothing to do with the head; everyone understood what was going on.  But it was the heart; you should pardon the expression, but it was broken.  It all made you think.  It made you think that maybe there are things we still don't know about men and women, and maybe before we spit in the eye of tradition, we ought to know what we're doing.  I have some theories and one of them is that one of the ways you measure love is not with words, but with actions—with commitment, with what you are willing to give up, with what you are willing to share with no one else” (Swindoll).  It’s what God calls “faithfulness” and remaining true to your vows.  Hebrews 13:4 boldly affirms: “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled, but fornicators and adulterers, God will judge.”  Faithfulness is a foundational element for a good marriage.  

The last element is also seen in v. 20: “And you shall know the Lord.”  This last element is intimacy.  The word “know” is not just an intellectual acknowledgement; it goes much deeper than that.  It is to understand someone through experiences with them.  You know their nature, their character, their warmth, their embrace, their feelings.  It is not a superficial relationship or casual friendship, but an intimate closeness which is comparable to the closeness that a husband and wife share in the sexual union.  God is telling the Jews.  In our new marriage, “I will let you come to know me in a deep, profound, and intimate way.”  Are we ready to bring that same attitude to our mate?  Are we willing to share ourselves so intimately?  Are we willing to let someone else get that close to us?  Sometimes that can be pretty scary, but sometimes it can be refreshingly unique—the most unique relationship that can be found on earth!  One special person with whom you have no secrets and lay bare your soul.  Intimacy is a foundational element for a good marriage.  

Marriage was designed by the Master Architect.  The original blueprint has shown us a dozen elements for a good marriage: support, gratitude, severance, permanence, unity, transparency, righteousness, justice, lovingkindness, mercy, faithfulness, and intimacy.  “Perhaps some things are becoming more clear to you through this sermon.  Perhaps God is helping you to see that your marriage is shaky because a poor foundation was poured.  Perhaps some repairs are in order” (Swindoll).  If we can assist you in any way or pray specifically that your marriage will be a stronger one, let us do that right now!