Introduction: A Disturbing Trend
Why did the Hebrew kingdom of Israel split? Why were the northern tribes carried away into Assyrian captivity in 721 BC? Why was the southern kingdom of Judah brought to an end by the Babylonians in 586 BC? Certainly there were many factors that contributed to each one of these tragic events. However, each one of these calamities may have been avoided if the Jews had respected God's laws on marriage.
Isn't it true that God ripped the kingdom of Israel in two because Solomon allowed foreign wives to turn his heart away from the Lord (I Kings 11:1-13)? In the days of Moses and Joshua did God not warn the children of Israel not to inter-marry with the pagan peoples of the land of Palestine (Deuteronomy 7:1-4)? Isn't it also true that the northern tribes and the southern tribes were carried away into captivity because they chose to ignore God's laws on marriage and follow the example of Solomon by marrying strange wives (Ezra 9:7-15)? The failure to adhere to the Lord's regulations on marriage was the root cause of their desire to worship strange gods, which is often given as the cause of their demise. This unfortunate trend to ignore what God intended for marriage did not stop when Israel returned from captivity. Ezra and Nehemiah repeatedly had to reprimand the Jews for engaging in unscriptural unions (Ezra 9; Nehemiah 8, 9, 13). Sadly, this lack of adherence to God's stipulations for marriage continued up to the time of Christ.
When Christianity was introduced to the world, marriage was not defined by commitment and love, but by lust. The joining of two people in matrimony was often considered an unnecessary remnant of old ideals and traditions. To many Romans, marriage was a fancy that they would enjoy for a moment and then cast aside if it no longer suited them. The first century Roman writer, Seneca (5 BC - AD 65) observed that men of his day determined their age by the number of wives they had put away. This lackadaisical attitude toward this God given institution not only led to a breakdown in the home but must also be considered a contributing factor in the eventual collapse of the empire. The family is the basic building block of society. When it is disrupted then society is disrupted. Undoubtedly, the destruction of the Roman home greatly contributed to the demise of that society.
Sadly, this perverted view of the purpose of matrimony was not uncommon among the Jews. Of all people, the Hebrews should have understood the importance of the marriage bond. Unfortunately, many Jews were persuaded by the liberal traditions of the infamous school of Hillel. Hillel (60 BC- AD 20) believed that God permitted divorce for almost any grievance. The fact that the evil doctrines of this school of thought had taken a hold on many of Christ's day is evident from His teachings on the matter. In Matthew chapter five, and again in Matthew chapter nineteen, Jesus had to refute Hillel's perverted interpretation of God's laws on marriage. Six hundred years after they were carried away into captivity for making poor decisions in marriage the Jews were still undermining the Lord's regulations on matrimony.
The speaker would like to be able to declare that the majority of marriages in the twenty-first century are going to be everything that God would expect them to be. However, the speaker cannot do that. Sadly, the prevalent trend of the first century to ignore the Lord's code of marital conduct is also common place in the twenty-first. For example, in the United States alone fifty four percent of all marriages now end in divorce. In 1980 there were 9.9 million people in America who were divorcees. By 1996 that shocking number jumped to an incredible 18.2 million. In sixteen years the divorce rate nearly doubled. Is it not truly disturbing to note that the total number of divorcees in the United States is equivalent to the entire population of Australia? The rapid increase in the number of disrupted homes is not a problem confined to the United States. The entire western world is being devastated by this disturbing trend.
In addition to the increasing number of decimated marriages in Western society the desire to commit to the marital bond has decreased. In 1985 twenty-two percent of all registered births in the United States were to unwed mothers. By 1994 that number jumped to a unsettling thirty two percent. Again, though these statistics reflect what is going on in America, however, this trend is commonplace in the entire Western world. Simply put, more and more young people would prefer to be sexually active without the commitment of marriage.
If these trends are allowed to continue then God's pattern for the home and marriage may be nearly non-existent within the next few generations. The institution of marriage in the twenty-first century maybe viewed as it was in the first century among the Romans. It may only be looked upon as a useless remnant of old ideals and traditions.
If one thinks that this increasing lack of commitment to marriage will have no effect on society in the twenty-first century then the speaker intends to change your mind. In this lesson we will explore the devastating effects of this trend. We will look at the root causes of this problem. The speaker will also propose some solutions that will assist us in preserving what God intended for marriage in the twenty-first century and beyond.
What Will be the Effect of this Tragic Trend?
If the mass destruction of Western marriages is allowed to continue it will have a two pronged effect. In the first place, the breakdown in the stability of our society will increase. In the second place, we need to keep in mind that current trends in society will also affect the church. If this lack of respect for God's regulations on marriage is allowed to prevail it is, and will continue, to devastate the body of Christ.
How is the fibre of our society being ripped apart by an increasing neglect of what God intended for marriage? According to sociologist Barbara Dafoe Whitehead:
...a growing body of social-scientific evidence, [indicates that] children in families disrupted by divorce and out-of-wedlock birth do worse than children in intact families on several measures of well-being. Children in single-parent families are six times as likely to be poor. They are also likely to stay poor longer. Twenty-two percent of children of one parent families will experience poverty during childhood for seven years or more, as compared with only two percent of children in two-parent families. A 1988 survey the National Center for Health Statistics found that children in single parent families are two to three times as likely as children in two-parent families to have emotional and behavioural problems. They are also more likely to drop out of high school, to get pregnant as teenagers, to abuse drugs, and to be in trouble with the law. Compared with children in intact families, children from disrupted families are at a much higher risk for physical or sexual abuse.
Miss Whitehead went on to state that "contrary to popular belief, many children do not 'bounce back' after divorce or remarriage. Difficulties that are associated with family breakup often persist into adulthood." As the speaker was exploring the internet for information for this lesson he came across a number of web sites intended to help children cope with the break up of their parents marriage. Among these sites was one designed to help adults deal with the emotional strain caused by the demise their parent's relationship. Whitehead also wrote that "children of a broken home are less successful as adults, particularly in the two domains of life-love and work." In other words, breaking of the marriage bond will have a harmful impact on many successive generations.
History and observable social evidence teaches us that if the trend to ignore the Scriptural principles governing marriage continues the stability of society will crumble! It happened in the days of the kings of Israel. It happened in the age of the Roman emperors, and it is occurring once again in Western society of the twenty-first century. If Miss Whitehead is correct, and the increase in divorce relates to an increase in poverty, and the inability of people to function properly in love and work, then our society is in trouble! Instead of the divorce rate decreasing it is increasing which means the number of people who are unable to care for themselves, or emotionally handle the problems of day to day living, will increase!
How does all of this affect the church? Are societal trends affecting the way Christians view marriage? Unfortunately, the answer to the latter question is 'yes'. In Madison we had two divorcees, and four unwed mothers in a congregation of fifty members. There was also a young lady in the process of separating from her husband. That was one seventh of our congregation living in a situation that was not Scripturally ideal. The speaker understands that there are circumstances in which a separation maybe necessary for the protection of one of the spouses. The speaker also understands that it is possible for one to Scripturally pursue a divorce on the grounds that their spouse fornicated (Matthew 19:9). It is also understood that an unwed mother may repent of her sinful conduct, but still have to live with the consequences of that sin. The same can be said of an individual who divorces for reasons other than his spouse's sexual immorality. If he cannot reconcile with his original spouse then he must remain single. However, these aforementioned circumstances are not ideal. Separation, divorce and single parenthood are certainly not what God desires. As the speaker's father is fond of saying, "God intended that marriage should be one man, one wife for life" (Genesis 1:27; Matthew 19:4-6).
Because divorce, separation, and single parenthood are so common in society, and in the church, it is easy for us simply to overlook these problems in order to avoid conflict. One of the most discouraging moments for a preacher is to be conducting a Bible study with a young couple only to discover that this was not the couple's first marriage, and that their previous marriages ended on unscriptural grounds. When the explanation is given that true repentance demands that they end their current marriages it is often the end of their desire to study the Bible. Does that make the Bible imperfect? No! God's standards are without fault. However, when imperfect, sinful man is compared to that standard there is often conflict. The Bible does not need to be transformed to suit the individual. The individual needs to be transformed to suit the Bible (Romans 12:2).
It is even more difficult to teach Christians who do not respect God's marital regulations. In these situations many preachers find it easier to simply ignore the problem, or pervert the Scriptures to suit the sinful circumstances of their members. For example, some reason that if one became involved in an unscriptural marriage before he was baptized then he doesn't have to remove himself from that situation after baptism because that sin was committed before he became a "Christian". Obviously, those who hold to this doctrine do not understand the nature of true repentance. This issue is dealt with in greater detail in other lectures.
If God's laws on marriage continue to be ignored then Christians can expect to find evangelism increasingly more difficult. In the coming years they can also expect a great deal more conflict over this issue within the body of Christ. If we are going to work toward a solution to this problem we need to first understand the causes for this destructive trend.
What are the Causes for this Disturbing Trend, and Will it Continue to Plague Society and the Church?
The reason that marriages are increasingly unsuccessful is primarily due to selfishness. The current generation is the 'me generation'. The bonds of marriage are often broken because one spouse puts his desires above the interests of his mate. For example, many people place the satisfaction of fulfilling career ambitions above satisfying their spouse's needs. The desire for the freedom to do what I want to do without having to consult with my spouse has given so many couples the false impression that they will be so much happier if only they were single again. However, according to one recent survey, those who have never married, or those who have been divorced are more susceptible to depression. It has also been proven that married people live longer and happier lives. People have forgotten that their marriage is what they make of it. If they are unhappy in marriage it is because they have made it that way.
This self-serving realignment of our priorities results from other anti-Biblical trends in society. Perhaps the movement that has done the greatest amount of damage to marital bliss is feminism and the anti-father message. Renowned feminist and man hater Gloria Steinem once remarked "a woman needs a man about as much as a fish needs a bicycle". Unfortunately, Steinem's views on the necessity of a husband and father are taken seriously by millions of foolish women.
Contrary to popular belief husbands are not only needed by their wives, but their wives desperately need the leadership of their husbands. This statement does not stem from the personal viewpoints of the speaker, but it originates from the wisdom of God (Ephesians 5:22,23). Once again, the root of the destructive movement to remove father from the home is selfishness. Women who buy into the Steinem philosophy don't take time to consider the consequences of their choice on their children. The feminists try to convince young women that they, and their family, will be better off without a commitment to a husband. Is that really true? Surveys taken among young criminals found that more than seventy percent of these boys came from homes without a father. Social worker Melissa Manning observed "that kids without fathers are forced to find their own way of doing things. So they come up with their own ideas from friends and from gangs. Nobody is showing them what to do but to be drunk, deal drugs or go to jail". Until men conform to God's instruction, husbands and wives will continue to experience immense unnecessary suffering. Feminism is continuing to rip apart marriages and destroy children. When are we going to learn that God's laws are given out of a motivation to protect us?
Another perversion stemming from selfish desires that will continue to berate and belittle the institution of marriage is the wide acceptance of homosexuality. Recently I was told of a woman who was abandoned by her husband because one day he decided to pursue men. Examples of this kind of base activity are an all too common occurrence in our age. While the speaker was living in Madison, Wisconsin, that city council passed an edict of tolerance designed to encourage people to rethink their views on homosexuality and traditional marriage. The Wisconsin state legislature has also recently been debating a measure that will define same sex relationships on an equal legal standing with traditional marriages.
Obviously the Bible clearly condemns the homosexual act in such passages as Romans 1:26-28. Here Paul presents it as vile, unnatural behaviour. From the beginning God designed the institution of marriage for "male and female" (Genesis 2:24). The speaker was shocked several months ago when he heard a lesbian Methodist preacher interviewed on one of the local Madison radio talk shows. She declared that all who take the Bible's very clear condemnation of homosexuality literally are simply too narrow minded. That may have been the only statement she made that the speaker wholeheartedly agreed with. The speaker does take the Bible's condemnation of homosexuality literally, and is proud to be narrow minded because God expects him to be. God demands we narrow our point of view to match His. Jesus Christ stated that those who pursue the narrow path of God's principles will obtain life everlasting. It is those who pursue the broader view of the world who find themselves destined for destruction (Matthew 7:13,14).
The spiritual consequences of this vile sin should be enough to curb one's appetite for this repulsive behaviour. However, the widespread acceptance of homosexuality as a reasonable 'alternative lifestyle' is also taking a tremendous physical toll on marriage in the twenty-first century society.
What can be Done to Curb this Trend?
The speaker has painted a fairly bleak picture of what marriage will continue to be like in the twenty-first century unless something can be done to stop the destructive trends in Western society. Fortunately, something can be done. For a moment we need to consider a few things that we can do to fight against society's ever increasingly warped view of the purpose of the institution of marriage.
In the first place, we need to understand that God's regulations for marriage do not change with societal whims! We should never be motivated to be politically correct if it means that we cannot be Biblically correct! No matter what society defines as proper or improper marital conduct we need to always remember the words of Peter recorded in Acts 5:29: "...We ought to obey God rather than men".
In the second place, we need to remember that there are four parties affected by how we handle our marriages: the husband, the wife, the children, and God. If we view marriage from this much broader perspective it should motivate us to work harder in preserving that blessed union. It is a sobering reality to understand that our marriages, if Scriptural, are a work of God. Jesus Christ reminds us in Matthew 19:6 that it is God that joined us together in marriage. This fact alone should drive us to keep that union pure and undefiled. It is also an awesome responsibility to maintain an institution that not only has an immediate impact on the husband and wife, but will also have an impact on successive generations. We have already shown that sociological studies have proven that our marriages will affect how well our children function in life. If we have reared them up as we should it will also affect their spirituality in a positive way.
In the third place, those planning to wed some day need to make better choices in marriage! Too many young people have been influenced by the perverted view of love presented on television. In choosing a mate one should not only use the heart but the head! Though a potential mate should intoxicate one's senses, one must remember not to eliminate reason as an aid in selecting a marriage partner. The most important question one can ask in searching for Mr. or Miss. Right is "Will this person help me get to heaven?" If one cannot answer that question with an emphatic "yes" then one needs to look elsewhere. Remember the inspired words of Solomon in Proverbs 31:30,31: "Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands. And let her own works praise her in the gates".
When one turns his heart away from the will of God the result is always sorrow and pain. Solomon, Israel, Judah and Rome discovered the truth of that statement. God has given us boundaries to protect us, and to free us from our own evil desires and selfish ambitions. His will is truly a law of liberty (James 1:25; 2:12). It is a shame that many have to graduate from the school of hard knocks before they come to that realisation. How many more in society will have to learn that lesson the hard way because they neglected God's regulations for marriage? How many more children will suffer irreparable damage because their parents failed in their commitment to one another and in their commitment to God? How many more societies will have to crumble because marriage, the cornerstone of civilisation, is not firmly grounded upon that which God intended for marriage? How many more local congregations will have to be torn apart because men have perverted God's regulations on marriage, divorce and remarriage? If you desire contentment in marriage and stability in society adhere to God's standards. As Solomon wrote, "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, For this is man's all" (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
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