Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal Monthly
Themes: Discipleship, Family, Psalm 90
Volume 9 No. 509 January, 2019

IV. Featured: Family

Your Family System - Open or Closed?

By Dr. Joanne Stern

"The only rock I know that stays steady, the only institution I know that works, is the family." - Lee Iacocca

Sitting in the living room with Jessie and her family, I felt almost enclosed in a box.

This was a troubled family. The air was stifling, and no one smiled. Jessie and her brother barely spoke to their parents. Secretly, they both used drugs and alcohol. Jessie was rebellious; her brother was depressed.

As we talked, Jessie looked angry and sullen. She was uncooperative and spoke only when her parents asked her a question. Prior to my visit to her home, she had been very open with me, sharing her interests and her hopes, as well as her thoughts about her family.

Jessie thought her parents were critical, closed-minded, and demanding.

After spending a couple of hours with them, I agreed. There was no joy, friendship, or mutual respect in this family. No sense of delight in being with one another - only the expectation that both Jessie and her brother fall in line with the family schedule and march to the tune of their parents' daily routine.

It appeared that both parents were scared to death of their growing and maturing children and didn't know how to deal with the changes. So they simply closed themselves off to reality and tried to keep things the same.

I soon realized that Jessie's family was a dramatic example of a closed family system. It required conformity. It tried to keep the outside world out. It didn't allow for growth and development, and it didn't welcome outside influences.

No Dreams, Only Rules

The basic difference between a closed system and an open one is how it reacts to change. A closed system tries to remain static. It's rigid and follows the same rules even though they are no longer appropriate. There is no flow of information, so people don't share thoughts, interests, or dreams. Thus, no new ideas come into the system to keep it fresh and vibrant.

It's like living in a house with all the windows and doors boarded up. It's stifling inside. People can't flourish - they can only exist because the family culture doesn't support the natural changes that occur as kids grow older and mature into the people they are intended to be.

In the end, a closed system fails because change is inevitable. A family that doesn't accept it will eventually collapse.

Because Jessie's family couldn't adjust to the normal changes that happen in families, both children felt trapped.

The result was that Jessie got pregnant, the only way she could think of to escape from the suffocation of her family.

Her depressed brother tried to commit suicide a few months later, his only solution for getting out.

Looking for Opportunities

In contrast, an open family system looks for opportunities to meet each new reality that comes along and to make changes to accommodate them.

Healthy families dream together about what they want to create in the future. They talk about plans for individual family members and for the family as a whole. They strategize about how they will meet their goals and they look to the future with open arms.

But not all change is positive and not everything that happens in a family is for the best.

Let's say that your teenager announces she doesn't want to go to college even though you have expected her to study medicine. Or that your twentysomething decides to quit his job and become an artist. What if your 30-year-old announces she is getting divorced because she has fallen in love with another man? Or your oldest son has become an alcoholic?

These are changes in your family that you may not have expected or wanted. Yet an open and healthy family is one that has developed the skills to face challenges head on rather than one that looks away and hopes the problems will disappear.

It's a family that is ready for the unexpected. You engage in the tough conversations - no matter what they are - relying on the trust you've built with one another and the communication skills you've developed together.

As an open family, there are no barriers between you because you work through conflicts as they come up. You see each other with caring and forgiving eyes instead of judgmental and critical eyes. There are no secrets between you because you maintain a constant flow of information among your family members.

Most importantly, open families do not view differences as a threat.

Here are five characteristics of an open family:

1. People Are Celebrated

A few years ago, Sherri confided in me that her daughter had just told her she was a lesbian. It was difficult for her and her husband at first. They hadn't been expecting that news.

But they took a deep breath and said, “Okay, this is our new reality. We're going to embrace it.” A couple of years later, their daughter and her partner married. At the wedding, Sherri lifted her glass of champagne, toasted her brand-new daughter, and welcomed her into the family. They celebrated the two young women for who they really were.

In contrast, the other set of parents wouldn't talk to their daughter and only begrudgingly attended the wedding.

They never invited the newly married couple to their home and didn't visit when they had a child. They allowed their prejudices and their inability to accept their daughter to separate them from her and her new family.

2. Relationships Are Nurtured

In a healthy family system, relationships are strong. Open families welcome spouses into the nuclear family and make them feel valued and important. They know it is essential to incorporate new members into their culture and to give them time to assimilate their ways.

In my own family, my older brother was the first to marry. My parents had a difficult time opening up our exclusive little family of six to his new wife. Sadly, they always considered her an outsider. It was painful for her and uncomfortable for the rest of us. And it robbed us of the closeness we could have had with her.

I doubt that my sister-in-law could tell you what my parents ever said or did that made her feel like an outsider - perhaps slightly inferior to the rest of us. But I'll bet that she remembers how it felt. Those feelings of being demeaned, belittled, excluded, or judged linger on long after the events that caused them have faded.

There is no such thing as a family that doesn't change over time. When new members are treated with equality and dignity, the entire family benefits. Nurturing these new relationships in a positive and loving way is a hallmark of an open family.

3. Communication Flows

Last year, I was consulting with a family in which the pattern was to collude - to create triangles among members of the family. Their habit was to gossip about one another or to put down one family member in front of another. These triangles would set two people against a third.

Triangles are destructive because no one ever speaks directly to the person with whom they have the problem. They only whine, complain, and criticize to a third person.

Nothing gets solved this way. Instead, it erodes trust and creates a secretive and distrustful environment. We worked very hard in this family to dissolve those triangles and allow the communication to be direct, clear, and honest. They made a commitment to stop the gossip.

They promised one another they would not talk behind each other's backs. And we practiced communication skills because they had not learned how to talk about their problems in a constructive way.

The result? This family learned to express their feelings honestly but in a nonjudgmental way. They learned to listen to one another without being defensive, to discuss issues rationally, and to find resolutions. Today they are a happier, more harmonious family.

4. Rules Can Be Changed

In a family I'm consulting with now, there are unwritten rules about holidays. Even though the siblings are married with in-law families, they're expected to be at the home of their parents at every major holiday - with spouses and grandchildren in tow. The rituals are set in stone. The food is elaborate. The decorations are perfect.

The adult children don't have time or energy for this anymore. The times have changed, but the rules have not.

The result is that holidays have become drudgery for the siblings and their families. Most family rules are not written down, but everyone knows what they are. And they know they are not subject to discussion. When a system is static and fixed, it prevents families from evolving, and it becomes destructive to personal growth.

In an open system, there is freedom to discuss rules, keeping the ones that are appropriate to the family's needs and changing the ones that are not. Families that are flexible are much more likely to succeed over time.

5. Change Is Embraced

In Jessie's family, the idea of change was frightening. Both Jessie and her older brother were becoming adults, but their parents were unable to go with the flow of natural maturation. They were frozen in place, not wanting to acknowledge how things were.

Jessie's pregnancy threw them into chaos. They kicked her out of the house, not even willing to talk with her about her options. Fortunately, she found a foster home until she was old enough to be on her own.

Sandy experienced a similar situation when her teenage daughter announced she had gotten pregnant by a guy she had met on a European trip that summer. Unlike Jessie's parents, Sandy opened her arms to her daughter, talked with her about her options, and supported her fully in the decision she made.

Both families had to cope with an unexpected change. Only one family faced the change in a healthy way. By embracing the concept of change and understanding that changes will come into your family - whether you want them to or not - you will be better prepared to deal with them in a way that brings your family together instead of tearing it apart.

Become a Family That Flourishes

Closed families circle their wagons and try to maintain the status quo. They consider life risky and dangerous.

Healthy, open families are growth-oriented, creative, and hopeful for the future. They view life as an adventure. They realize that each new person they add will shift the dynamic of their family. They look forward to the new perspectives of incoming spouses and the enrichment of a growing family.

They embrace new relationships, new ways of thinking, and new challenges in the future.

Here are some tips for developing a more open family system.

1. Adopt an attitude of acceptance.

Teach everyone in your family that differences are not a threat, but an opportunity for increased tolerance, understanding, and wisdom.

2. Take time to get to know every member of your family more intimately - including spouses and grandchildren.

Learn about their interests, talents, ideas, and dreams. Let them know that you value them just the way they are, even though they may be different from you.

3. Spend time building relationships among family members.

Plan activities that put different generations together and make extended family members feel as important as nuclear family members.

4. Don't gossip about other family members.

Encourage each person to speak directly to the person with whom they have an unresolved issue, and don't allow two people to take sides against a third.

5. Be flexible in changing old traditions, rituals, and rules that have become outdated.

Listen to the input of younger generations and create new rules that fit more appropriately with the needs and desires of your family.

6. Embrace change.

It's inevitable. Learn to go with the flow and enjoy the ride! Fear permeates the environment of a closed system. But an open system operates on a foundation of closeness, growth, and the ability to choose. These are gifts that will allow you and every member of your family to prosper, both individually and collectively.

About the author:

Dr. Joanne Stern is the author of the acclaimed book, “Parenting Is a Contact Sport: 8 Ways to Stay Connected to Your Kids for Life,” and is a highly sought after international speaker who has appeared on many popular TV and radio shows. Dr. Stern is also a Family Relationships Strategic Partner with Bonner & Partners Family Office.

Source: Early To Rise (ETR) 2015 - © Early to Rise Publishing - All Rights Reserved

The World's Most Opposite Couple

by Dr. James Dobson

"We must obey God rather than men!" Acts 5:29

Authors and counselors Chuck and Barb Snyder describe themselves as the "World's Most Opposite Couple"—and it may be true. Chuck says the only things they have in common are the same wedding anniversary and the same children. He's driven; she's laid-back. She enjoys soft classical music; he prefers country western at maximum volume. She's left-handed; he's right-handed. And so it goes. Perhaps in part because of their differences, the Snyders have experienced nearly every imaginable conflict in marriage— over scheduling, communication, home life, finances, discipline of the children, and more. In over forty years of marriage, however, the Snyders have learned to appreciate their differences. They have faced, and weathered, more than their share of storms. The key, Chuck says, is nothing fancy—simply obedience to the Lord. If there's hope for the World's Most Opposite Couple, there's hope for the rest of us, too.

Just between us…

Were you attracted by my "opposite" traits when we were dating?
Have we survived despite our differences, or because of them?
Do we accept the uniqueness of each other as God designed us, or do we struggle to "redesign" each other in our own images?
Which of my traits that are different from yours do you appreciate most?

Heavenly Lord, thank You for the differences that You weave together to make our marriage strong. Help us to respect, appreciate, and affirm these unique qualities more each day. Amen.

From Night Light For Couples, by Dr. James & Shirley Dobson
Copyright © 2000 by James Dobson, Inc. All rights reserved.

13 Steps to Keep Hobbies from Overtaking Your Life

by Whitney Hopler

Hobbies - from golfing or hiking, to researching stocks or rebuilding old cars - can bring lots of enjoyment into your life. But if you devote more attention to your hobbies than God intends, the rest of your life will suffer. Spending too much time and energy on your hobbies could lead to your estrangement from family and friends, and even from God.

It's possible to enjoy your hobbies without losing sight of what matters most in life. Here's how you can stop your hobbies from overtaking your life, and start enjoying the life God wants for you:

Examine your life.

Reflect on your life honestly, and ask God to show you how you may be devoting too much attention to your hobbies at the expense of what's more important (such as your marriage, parenting, or job).

Recognize where the problem lies - not with your passion, but with your priorities.

It's healthy for you to be a passionate person; God made you that way. So it's okay to feel passionate about your hobbies. What's problematic is getting your priorities out of order from God intends them to be. It's unhealthy to run after your hobbies with such intensity that you neglect the other things you should be pursuing. Ask God to show you which of the relationships and activities in your life truly deserve to be high priorities for you. Decide right now to make your relationship with God your highest priority by placing it at the center of your life and revolving everything else around it.

Identify what's motivating you to devote so much attention to your hobbies.

Consider if you're hoping to get closer to any of these from pursuing your hobbies: respect, fun, self-validation, challenge, rewards at unpredictable times, a sense of belonging, happiness from fulfilling dreams. Then consider if you're using your hobbies to try to get away from any of these: shame, loneliness, chaos, boredom, or disappointing others. Then ask yourself two key questions: “Does my energy for a certain passion spring out of a healthy, ordered heart?” and “Does my passion signal that there is a problem inside?”

Notice if your passions are causing pain.

Even though most hobbies are good, they can be toxic in your life if your passion for them is causing you to bring pain to others who care about you. For instance, even though it may be good for you to hike in the mountains sometimes, doing so too much can lead you to neglect your wife, causing her pain. If you don't work to fix the problem, you may find yourself divorced.

Confess your brokenness to God.

Pray about each of the sins you've committed because of devoting yourself too much to your hobbies, accept God's forgiveness, and ask Him to help you learn how to recognize what decisions are best for your life and empower you to make those decisions going forward.

Shift your focus from performance to grace.

If you're using your hobbies to help you feel valuable as a person and worthy of love, recognize that your true value comes only from the fact that you're one of God's children, and that God's love for you is complete and unconditional. Embrace the grace that God offers you to live each new day, knowing that God delights in you no matter how good you are at any particular hobby.

Live to please God alone.

Rather than basing your decisions on what happens to feel good to you at a certain time or on expectations and pressures from other people, choose to make decisions according to what you believe God wants you to do. When you focus on being faithful to God in everything you do, you'll be able to figure out how to best incorporate your hobbies into your life.

Honor your wife.

Your wife needs to know that you love her more than you love your hobbies in order to feel secure in your marriage. If you devote more attention to your hobbies than to your wife, you're inviting conflict in your relationship. But if you invest lots of time and energy into your marriage, your wife will feel loved and will likely then generously support you pursuing your hobbies in balance with the rest of your life.

Honor your children.

Your children need to know that you're really committed to them, and the only way they'll know that is if you spend lots of time with them on a regular basis. Make sure that you're spending much more time with each of your children than you're spending on your hobbies. Even though it may be more fun to pursue hobbies than to actively engage with the demands of parenting, fathers who neglect their children because of hobbies often damage their relationships with their children in the process. Keep in mind that parents are the most important influences in children's lives, and the years when your children will live at home with you go by quickly. Make choices now that you won't regret later.

Honor your friends.

Make spending time with your friends a higher priority than pursuing your hobbies alone, and invite your friends to join you on hobby-related activities when possible. Ask your most trusted friends to join encourage you and hold you accountable as you try to change how you pursue your hobbies so your life is in the right balance.

Commit to active participation in a local church.

Don't neglect church because of your hobbies. You'll find adventure and become your best self at church when you make a commitment to relationships with imperfect people there (through both good and bad), and you'll grow closer to God in powerful ways that wouldn't be possible without participating in a church community.

Be fully here now.

Develop a habit of giving the people in your life your full attention when you're with them - free of distractions related to your hobbies - so you can build the kind of relationships with them that God wants you all to enjoy.

Choose to serve others whenever possible.

As you move forward with your life in a better balance, remind yourself often to model your lifestyle on the one that Jesus lived - one of service to other people. That's the kind of life that will lead to the fewest regrets, because loving well means living well.

Adapted from Man on the Run: Helping Hyper-Hobbied Men Recognize the Best Things in Life, copyright 2012 by Zeke Pipher. Published by Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., Brentwood, Tn.

Zeke Pipher is the senior pastor of Heartland Evangelical Free Church in central Nebraska. His sermons are broadcast each week throughout central Nebraska, northern Kansas, southern South Dakota, and western Iowa. His articles and photos appear regularly in several national sports magazines, including Field & Stream, Deer and Deer Hunting, Bow & Arrow Hunting, and Petersen's Bowhunting. He holds a Master of Divinity degree from Talbot School of Theology and a Doctor of Ministry degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He speaks regularly to men on issues such as marriage, friendship, parenting, and the life of the sportsman. Visit his website at:

Whitney Hopler is a freelance writer and editor who serves as both a contributing writer and the editor of's site on angels and miracles, at: Contact Whitney at: send in a true story of an angelic encounter or a miraculous experience like an answered prayer.

Source: Daily Update

We Are All The Duggars

by Chad Bird, Daniel Emery Price

Leo Tolstoy famously wrote, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” The problem is that I’ve yet to meet a family that fits into Tolstoy’s tidy categories of “happy” and “unhappy.” The reality is far messier. Put tears and laughter, love and betrayal, fights and hugs into a blender and out will come a family. Even in homes where the walls are decorated with portraits of grinning moms and dads and kids, there’s usually a closet door that’s kept shut. Last week we were reminded of that, when the media flung open that door in the Duggar family home. And the skeletons came spilling out.

Josh Duggar, now twenty seven, the oldest son in TLC’s hit show, “19 Kids and Counting,” sexually abused five underage girls—four of them his sisters—when he was in his early teens. On the family’s Facebook page, Josh, his wife, and his parents have acknowledged this, as well as described how they addressed the abuse a dozen years ago when it occurred. Josh, who had been a lobbyist in Washington D.C. for the Family Research Council, has since resigned his position. And TLC will not be airing any episodes of “19 Kids and Counting” for the foreseeable future.

What happened within this family is many things—tragic and abusive, shameful and selfish, destructive and deceptive. It is all manner of evil, no matter how you look it. But there is one thing that it is surely not: it is not surprising. Not in the least. The only ones stunned by this revelation of abuse are most likely those who assume that the Duggar family image on their reality show does, in fact, accurately reflect reality. But there is no reason why this family’s secret should be shocking, especially to the Christian. The Duggars are not the pristine, ideal family that their television show portrays them as being. They never have been, nor will they ever be. Nor is any family. They are parents, sons, and daughters who have a civil war raging within each of them. It just so happens that Josh’s particular battles, and the pain he inflicted upon others as a result, have taken center stage.

Consider these words: “I don’t understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” These are the words of Paul, the one we’ve dubbed Saint Paul. He frankly admits that he’s anything but a model of moral perfection. “I do the very thing I hate,” he admits. He’s got a civil war raging inside him, too. He’s fully sinful in himself and fully righteous in Jesus Christ, all at the same time. He is what the Reformers called simul justus et peccator (simultaneously saint and sinner). What Paul’s particular struggles were, what those things he hated were, he doesn’t say. He doesn’t have to. He’s simply upfront about his condition—the fallen, curved-in-on-itself human condition.

As it was with Paul, so it is with the Duggars, and so it is with every Christian: each of us lugs around an old corrupt nature that we won’t shed this side of the grave. Of course, that nature rears its ugly head in different ways with each person, sometimes in ways that must be addressed with spiritual as well as psychological help. With Josh, sadly, it was through sexual abuse; with others it’s through addictions and greed and hate and selfishness of every kind. But one thing is certain: not just Josh but all of us harbor our demons. And the sinful nature within us is daily clawing its way out to manifest itself in ways great and small, public and private. Only liars and fools pretend otherwise. The sooner we as individual Christians, as Christian families, and as churches present ourselves to the world that way, the better. Believers face more than petty allurements, make more than “mistakes.” We fail and fall in mega ways.

  • Dear world, do you struggle with alcohol or drug abuse? So do we believers.
  • Dear world, has your family been wounded by infidelities? So have ours.
  • Dear world, have your children hurt each other through sexual abuse? Yes, ours too.
  • Dear world, do your families members commit crimes and end up in prison? Ours too.
  • Dear world, do you have a closet full of skeletons? So do we Christians.

The greatest witness that Christians can present to the world is not their own morality, their ideal family, or their dream marriage, but their weaknesses and sins and failures, all of which have been atoned for by the crucified and resurrected Jesus. Our witness is never, “Look at how well we’re doing at being good,” but always, “Look at the good Savior who died for our evils.”

Here’s what happens inside the closed doors of Christian families: sinners live together in very close proximity. And you know what that means. Husbands who are righteous in Christ, but sinful in themselves, do and say mean and hurtful things to their wives. Wives who are righteous in Christ, but sinful in themselves, do and say mean and hurtful things to their husbands. Christian children mess up big time, rebel, and yes, sometimes sexually abuse others. We do terrible things. Tempers flare, eyes lust, tongues yell. In other words, sinners act the way sinners are. We are no better than the world is. Nor should we claim to be. We are far from perfect. We are by nature sinful and unclean. And because of that, we return, again and again, to the blood Christ shed that atones for our sins—the same blood, dear world, that has atoned for yours as well.

Christians families do not live on the mountaintop of morality but at the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ. In his shadow is shelter from the burning sun of iniquity. Whatever repercussions Josh may experience from what he’s done, he will find at the foot of the cross a God who does not punish him, but says, “I love you. I have forgiven you. My blood has made you whiter than snow.” If this seems scandalous, then you’re beginning to understand the grace of Christ. Christ’s love is a scandalous gift. He didn’t die for the not-so-sinful portion of humanity. He was crucified for all. He died for sexual abusers, murderers, gossips, hatemongers, adulterers, pornographers, and you—whoever you are, whatever skeletons may be piled in your family closet.

But there’s still more that Jesus did. Christ took upon himself the shame that others inflict upon innocent victims. He lived and died and rose again for the girls that Josh abused. The battered wife, the rape victim, the child whose bedtime lullaby was the screams of a drunk father—these who have been physically, emotionally, and psychologically harmed by the evils of others, they too find peace and wholeness in the battle-torn, broken body of the Son of God. He didn’t just die to forgive us for the wrongs we do, but to provide us with healing from the wrongs others do to us. For in Christ, the Spirit puts us into communion with a restoring God. He gives us the peace that passes understanding. Not the evil that others have done to us, but the good Christ has done for us, is what defines who we are. We are God’s sons and daughters. We are adopted into the family of a Father whose greatest joy is loving and embracing us as the dearest things in all creation to him.

Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar have said, “We pray that as people watch our lives they see that we are not a perfect family.” We would echo that prayer, and add to it. I would pray that as people watch their lives—and as they watch the life of my family as well—they would see families that boast only of their weaknesses, that do not deny their flaws, and that find peace and healing only in Jesus Christ.

We are all the Duggars. We are all dysfunctional sinners living in flawed families upheld by grace. There is only one who is perfect, the one who became our sin, that in him we might become the righteousness of God. And in his wounds, bleeding with love, all of us find healing.

Source: Liberate

Comment by NorthstarMom

I’m afraid you may be right. It goes along with the “all sins are equal” idea that is prevalent in Christianity today. All sins do separate us from God, none are righteous. We all need Christ to redeem us and cleanse our sin. But it is silly to say all sins are equal in the eyes of God. If that were true then why did He write Leviticus and Dueteronomy? Why have different punishments depending on the sin? Yes all sin damns us to hell, but they are not all equal

Saying we are all Duggars is the same thing. Christ’s power of redemption is real and anyone can be cleansed from their sin, but it’s not necessarily true that all who claim to be saved have submitted fully to Christ. Neither is it true that all experience a sudden and complete healing from their sinful desires. Sometimes a person’s belief in Christ’s ability to redeem and change a heart is becomes a belief in the person claiming their heart is changed. I saw it in our pastor with a rather dangerous sex offender he was working with and who was attending our church. In his mind, people not trusting that man became people who didn’t believe in the power of Christ. It turned out that our pastor had fallen for this guy’s lies hook, line and sinker. He was not a changed man, just a deceptive one.

The Sacredness of Marriage

by James Beaubelle

How many more years do we have before the return of Christ? Let none of us deceive ourselves: The time of God's wrath upon this world is drawing closer with each passing day. Even with our limited view of the world, we can see America's social fabric—the traditional lifestyle that takes God into consideration—being turned upside down.

A clear example of this is marriage and its sacredness. The old values are swiftly being replaced by the new, and the new does not look very good.

Psalm 94:20 asks, concerning God's involvement with worldly governments who decree laws that shape our social fabric: "Shall the throne of iniquity, which devises evil by law, have fellowship with You?" Of course, we know the answer. God cannot abide iniquity.

In many states of the USA, the institution of marriage is no longer considered a sacred covenant between a man and a woman and God, but merely a contract between any two persons wanting legal rights. These states sanction homosexuality, throwing a legal covering over it and calling it a "marriage" to hide its wickedness.

In no way has God been caught off-guard on this, yet we can be sure that He is disgusted with it. Not only does He condemn homosexuality in His Word, but He also created and blessed the institution of marriage to be a sacred bond between a man and a woman. To see it unravel is a sure sign of the decay of our culture.

God Institutes Marriage

In an old World Tomorrow telecast, Herbert Armstrong commented that he did not need newspapers to show him where things are headed. The Bible, he declared, is just as current as today's headlines, foretelling future events as if they were written today. A portion of Paul's letter to the Romans is just such an example. The apostle's words in Romans 1:18-32 are playing out openly in our daily news as marriage loses its traditional value in this society.

In this passage, Paul describes the current generation—how men have rejected God's will and supplanted it with gross idolatry and how they have become lovers of themselves, exalting the creation and their desires above the Creator. With this foundation and with God allowing mankind to pursue its own course for the present, human nature desires to remake all of God's institutions in its own image, and the marriage covenant is in its cross-hairs:

Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them. (Romans 1:24-32)

Marriage and family are the foundations of any healthy society, and these two bedrocks of civilization are slowly being dismantled before our eyes. When these foundations, which God formed in righteousness, are weakened further, it will prepare for a different foundation—one formed in unrighteousness to support the coming of the lawless one, the son of perdition, as II Thessalonians 2:3-10 foretells.

Marriage and family were undefiled when God gave them as a gift to mankind before sin entered the world. In Genesis 2:18, God enacted the first social foundation for mankind: "And the Lord God said, 'It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.'" Then, in verse 24, God sanctifies Adam's relationship with Eve by declaring that the two would be joined together as one flesh, that a man and his wife should leave mother and father, cling to each other, and become their own family unit. In other words, marriage was dignified and defined by God as a joining of one man and one woman.

Why did God do it this way? He could have just kept on creating one man after another to populate the earth. It was unlikely that He would run out of the dust of the earth. However, He made them male and female for a reason.

God Wants Children!

Malachi reveals a major reason why God created man and woman to become one flesh. The answer is part of God's castigation of Judah for tolerating easy divorce laws. In Malachi 2:11, He says that by doing so, the Jews had profaned the holy institution of marriage that God so dearly loves.

Yet you say, "For what reason [are you angry]?" Because the Lord has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have dealt treacherously; yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant. But did He not make them one, having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks godly offspring. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth. "For the Lord God of Israel says that He hates divorce, for it covers one's garment with violence," says the Lord of hosts. (verses 14-16)

Because He wants godly children, God made humans male and female. Within the structure of a proper, married family life, strong in unity and free from worries of separation, it would produce the best results.

From this comes a second reason why God made them male and female. With the blessing of children, God has bestowed on mankind the gift of allowing parents to become His partners in His creative works by rearing children who are prepared to answer His calling. This spiritual reproductive process will one day bring many sons and daughters into God's Family. This realization places families and marriage far above what most in the world consider them to be. It elevates them to a moral level unrecognizable in this world of sin.

The wisdom and depths of love that God has for mankind are beyond our abilities to know fully, but it is clear that marriage and family are prominent in God's plan. Any changes to the divine structure are an affront to God and His plan. Marriage is of divine origin, and changes to it are nothing less than man's rebellion against his Creator.

Christ's instruction in His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:27-32 is exactly what He gave to His servant Moses for Israel. Both teach us that marriage is permanent, its ties so binding that they can be broken only by death—or something worse: physical infidelity, moral abandonment, or sustained abuse by either spouse, all of which Jesus encapsulates in the term porneia, translated as "sexual immorality."

The Pharisees tested our Lord on this point, but His response leaves no doubt on how binding the institution of marriage should be, a standard set from creation:

And He answered and said to them, "Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate." (Matthew 19:4-6)

Because marriage is a creation of God, it possesses a sacredness that no man-devised institution can ever have. This world is trying to exchange the sanctity of marriage for its complete opposite, the profane, but this secular approach will never produce a healthy society.

Spiritual Implications

For God's people, marriage carries an even greater significance. God has elevated marriage beyond its original human purpose by using it as a symbol for the relationship between Christ and His church, which He signified in His relationship with the nation of Israel. In both the Old and New Testaments, Christ is represented as the Husband or Bridegroom, and the church, or Israel as its type, as either His wife or bride. The importance of marriage to God's spiritual purposes cannot be understated.

In the Old Testament, Ezekiel 16:8-14, Jeremiah 31:1-4, and Isaiah 54:5 show God as Husband to ancient Israel. In the New Testament, Paul writes in II Corinthians 11:2, "For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ." All of us look forward to the day when Christ comes to collect His bride, so we should be using our time wisely in preparation for it.

When my daughter was preparing for her wedding, she worked so hard on many different things. She spent many hours in sending invitations, planning meals, hiring a photographer, and choosing clothing, silverware and dishes, cake, music—the list seemed endless. Her work in making these arrangements involved the whole family.

Can those who are preparing to be Christ's bride be any less busy? If this marriage is important to Him, it must be of great significance to each of us.

Consider this: Our baptism into the body of Christ means much more than being a part of His physical church. It is just as much a betrothal of marriage—and holds for us just as much intimacy in the relationship—as any betrothal between a man and a woman.

In Ephesians 5:22-33, Paul draws a word picture showing the parallel between a married couple and Christ and His church, setting out the proper order for success, not only for physical marriage, but for our spiritual one too. Both the physical and the spiritual are rooted in the love God has for the marriage covenant. Just as a man and a woman are joined as one flesh, so too are Christ and His church joined in one Spirit.

Those in the world who ridicule the institution of marriage and declare it old-fashioned and unnecessary for modern society, who work to pass lax divorce laws and consider the binding claims of marriage to be trivial things that can be put aside, are workers of iniquity. Proper marriage and family values are the bedrock of all successful societies, and when these are torn down or even entered into lightly, a nation's self-destruction cannot be far away.

Rome fell, not because great armies came against her, but because her marriage and family values were undermined as divorce and deviant sexual practices became common. Her sure foundation was broken. America is swiftly following in her footsteps with so many marriages today ending in divorce, tearing families apart. As long as people refuse to comply with God's laws concerning marriage, the trend toward national ruin will continue.

The Commandments and Marriage

No less than three of the Ten Commandments—the fifth, seventh, and tenth—directly involve strengthening marriages and families and preserving their unity and sacredness. Of course, all of God's commands, if followed, will work to strengthen man's relationship with God and fellow man, but these three are aimed directly at securing these sacred bonds. When considering any of God's commands, we find that they are broad in scope and ordained, not just to regulate our physical relationships, but also our spiritual one with Christ.

The fifth commandment speaks directly to parents and children, laying the foundation of responsibility that each has to the other. When children submit to their parents, and parents provide a loving environment to nurture their children in lawful living, the children and society directly benefit from this command. Home government is the cornerstone of national government, and when the home is right, the social structure follows. When marriage and family unity are held in high esteem and a fear of violating God's standards is instilled, sin can be held in check. Hebrews 12:11 declares, "Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it."

The seventh commandment—forbidding adultery, unfaithfulness by either spouse—stands against anyone who would defile the sanctity of the marriage covenant through sexual sins. Adultery is probably the most dishonest act against the binding contract of the marriage relationship; it is a betrayal of a most sacred trust. Not only is it a sin against one's companion, but as Paul teaches in I Corinthians 6:18, it is a sin against one's own flesh. It has destroyed many marriages and families. A marriage can stand against many adversities from without, but this sin destroys it from within, and few, if any, marriages can truly recover from such infidelity.

Jesus says in Matthew 5:28 that adultery begins in the heart. It is more than an outward action, but a lust that comes from within. Christ teaches us how broad the law is, and sexual acts outside of the marriage covenant—even just the desire for them—breaks this command. In other words, if the desire is there, yet only lack of opportunity has kept a person from this sin, the law has still been broken.

The tenth commandment—"You shall not covet your neighbor's wife" (Deuteronomy 5:21)—is likely a precursor for warnings against many other sins. It defends against anyone who would come between a man and his wife, and like the seventh, its breaking also begins in the heart. Unlike the seventh commandment, which looks to protect the marriage from within, in the tenth commandment God protects it from without.

Strong marriages can stand up to outside pressures of this sort, but weak marriages that are battling other issues may not. How many marriages have been defiled or destroyed by the coveting of another cannot be known, but since God included it in the Ten Commandments, its potential harm against the sacred bond of marriage must be high.

When he coveted Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, King David assaulted the marriage covenant, and disaster soon followed. Breaking this commandment led to adultery and then to murder. In our society today, similar lusts are leaving destroyed families in their wake.

God's Word contains a great deal about marriage and the esteem He holds for it. From Adam's marriage to Eve in Genesis 2 to Christ's marriage to the church in Revelation 19, its importance in God's creative purpose and plan rings clear. Hebrews 13:4 teaches that marriage is to be honored by all and kept undefiled. Since we have been called out of this world, we can be certain that, to some degree, we have not kept God's standards as well as we should have. As this world degrades its care for the institution of marriage—and the times more closely resemble the days of Noah—each of us needs to hold tightly to the sacred values of marriage.

Source: Forerunner, September-October 2008
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