Category archives: Marriage

God’s Good Design for Marriage (Part 3): Bone of My Bones

by Joshua Arnold

March 17, 2022

This is the third part of a multi-part series on God’s good design for marriage. Read part one and part two.

It’s no secret that popular culture frowns upon Christian beliefs about marriage and sexuality. The Bible’s view of marriage as a covenant union of one man and one woman for life has become so incomprehensible in America and throughout Western culture that it is seen as downright offensive.

Many Christians are influenced by our culture’s negative view of marriage—and not for the better.

But we don’t have to listen to the culture’s lies; we have God’s Word, which is truth. The Bible says a lot about marriage, portraying it in such glorious splendor that the world’s flashy counterfeits look dim by comparison. Every Christian can afford to spend more time tuning out the world and tuning in to God’s Word. This series aims to examine God’s good design for marriage by taking the Word of God itself as our guide.

Moses wrote Genesis for the people of Israel before they entered the Promised Land. Genesis describes God’s promise to their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the beginnings of God’s relationship with mankind.

In Genesis 2, Moses retells in greater detail the creation of man and woman, which he previously summarized in the first chapter. In verse 4, the words “these are the generations” signal a new section, as they do throughout the book (see Gen. 6:4, 10:1, 11:10, 11:27, 25:12, 25:19, 36:1, 36:9, 37:2). Verses 5-17 tell how God created man and placed him in the garden of Eden “to work it and keep it.” In verses 18-25, God creates the woman and brings her to the man. They are united in the covenant of marriage, established in Genesis 2:24: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” That verse is key to examining the rest of Genesis 2:18-25, where Moses continues to unfold God’s glorious design for marriage.

1. A Helper Fit for Him

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. (Gen. 2:18-20)

The Lord God’s statement in verse 18 is “striking,” writes Tim Keller in The Meaning of Marriage. “It is striking not just by contrast” (God has repeatedly called “good” all he had made), “but it raises a question: how could Adam be in a ‘not good’ condition when he was in a perfect world and had, evidently, a perfect relationship with God?” Keller explains that mankind images the triune God partly through “our intense relational capacity, created and given to us by God,” which is designed to be fulfilled in relationships with other human beings. “Even in paradise, loneliness was a terrible thing,” Keller concludes. God has ordained two institutions to prevent loneliness: the family and the church. Our culture’s “loneliness epidemic” and related disorders are at least partly due to the lack or erosion of both.

But Keller’s interpretation of verse 18 is not the only compelling one. For example, Dr. Alastair Roberts writes, “The problem of man’s aloneness is not a psychological problem of loneliness, but the fact that, without assistance, humanity’s purpose cannot be achieved.” He finds this purpose in Genesis 1, “the task of filling the earth through child-bearing.” One person, particularly one man, cannot fill the earth alone.

Whatever God meant, after diagnosing the problem, God himself prescribes the solution. He provides the man “a helper fit for him.” This translation is not intended to imply that women are inherently inferior to men (“helper” could also be translated as “companion,” and “fit for” could also be translated as “corresponding to”).

Instead, “the word ‘helper’ corresponding to Adam designates a social role for Eve within her marriage to Adam—a role that is inextricably linked to her biological sex,” writes Denny Burk, president of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Likewise, Burk continues, “Adam’s creation before Eve designates a social role within his marriage to Eve—a role that is inextricably linked to his biological sex. He is to be the leader, protector, and provider within this marriage covenant. And these social roles within the covenant of marriage are not only creational realities, they are also commanded in Scripture.” These distinct, biologically linked, social roles shine most brilliantly when a husband and wife use their roles to “complement” one another, achieving more together than they could alone.

Verses 19-20 prove by negation the importance of human companionship. Before God creates Eve, he parades all the animals before Adam. Adam names the animals, thus exercising dominion over them (see Gen. 1:28), but he does not find what God says he needs, “a helper fit for him.” Only other humans can provide the companionship, love, and affection necessary for biblical marriage. This is the basis of Scripture’s condemnation of bestiality (e.g., Ex. 22:19).

2. The Lord God Caused

So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. (Gen. 2:21-22)

In verses 21-22, God puts Adam to sleep and makes Eve out of his rib. If we allow the Bible to interpret itself (which we should), this creation order (Adam from dust, then Eve from Adam) has a purpose and remains relevant in the church. Paul appeals to this order, “Adam was formed first, then Eve” (1 Tim. 2:13), and “man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man” (1 Cor. 11:8-9), as reasons for the authority, or headship, or a husband over his wife. While these Scriptures are difficult to interpret and apply, and Christians can disagree, they are also “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16).

However, male headship does not mean female inferiority. Paul continues, “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God” (1 Cor. 11:11-12). Nor could Adam take credit for Eve’s creation, since he slept through it, as Matthew Henry notes in his Commentary on the Whole Bible. He adds that if man was “made last of the creatures, as the best and most excellent of all, Eve’s being made after Adam, and out of him, puts an honour upon that sex, as the glory of the man, 1 Co. 11:7. If man is the head, she is the crown.”

Henry also finds meaning in God making Eve out of Adam’s rib. She was “not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.”

Having unilaterally prepared and provided for everything in this marriage, God then gives away the first bride; “he brought her to the man.” God procured, endorsed, and effected Adam’s marriage to Eve. Having created man and woman, he bids them be happy together in their innocence.

3. Bone of My Bones

Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” (Gen. 2:23)

Happy, indeed, are the first newlyweds. “When the man sees the woman, he responds in poetry,” writes Keller. “At last!” is his first response. This is what he has waited for! Such rejoicing and delight God has designed for all who enter into the covenant of marriage. A husband’s joy over his wife is not only natural but normative; God commands husbands to enjoy their wives (Prov. 5:15-19, Eccl. 9:9). If men paid more attention to this command, they would escape so many temptations to lust and adultery (Prov. 5:20-23), and they would spare their wives from much heartache and sorrow. In addition to the prudential benefits, a husband’s joy over his wife also serves to image God’s joy over his people. Isaiah prophesies about Zion’s coming salvation, “as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you” (Isa. 62:5).

Adam continues his poem by noting that he has finally met another like himself. Not only does she, like him, have flesh and bones (so far has he advanced in anatomy in his few hours of life), but her flesh and bones came from his. This is the “helper fit for him” God promised to make. While they are alike, Adam is also the head; he names her “Woman,” much as he had previously named the animals, exercising his dominion over them. Thus, Moses finishes recounting the story of the first marriage and inserts the principle of marriage, which we examined previously, in verse 24.

4. Naked and Not Ashamed

And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. (Gen. 2:25)

Verse 25 concludes this chapter by noting that the man and his wife were naked and not ashamed. That such a condition is worthy of remark implies that there is a shameful sort of nakedness. In fact, chapter 3 will explain how Adam and Eve become ashamed of their nakedness once they become conscious of their sin. It was the first time they had something worthy to conceal from critical eyes. Ever since the Fall, it has been proper for human beings to cover ourselves with clothing because of our sinful condition.

Marriage, a covenant where two persons become one flesh, is the only remaining haven in which such intimacy is still proper. Keller makes this point by contrasting marriage with illicit sexual relationships, where he says both parties feel a need to continually prove themselves. Then he says, “The legal bond of marriage, however, creates a space of security where we can open up and reveal our true selves. We can be vulnerable, no longer having to keep up facades. We don’t have to keep selling ourselves. We can lay the last layer of our defenses down and be completely naked, both physically and in every other way.” Thus, marriage provides mutual security, intimacy, and nourishment within, while presenting a united, delighted exterior—or at least so God has designed it.

God’s Good Design for Marriage (Part 2): They Shall Become One Flesh

by Joshua Arnold

February 21, 2022

This is the second part of a multi-part series on God’s good design for marriage. Read part one.

It’s no secret that popular culture frowns upon Christian beliefs about marriage and sexuality. In American entertainment, business, media, politics, and courts of law, the prevailing view is that marriage is an optional “extra” for romantic partners, one that quickly proves inconvenient and restrictive when it outlasts emotion. In the minds of many, marriage is an outdated artifact of obsolete social conditions and inhibits the self-expression, tolerance, and liberation expected in the 21st century. The Bible’s view of marriage as a covenant union of one man and one woman for life has become so incomprehensible in America and throughout Western culture that it is seen as downright offensive.

Many Christians are influenced by our culture’s negative view of marriage—and not for the better. But we don’t have to listen to the culture’s lies; we have God’s Word, which is truth. The Bible says a lot about marriage, portraying it in such glorious splendor that the world’s flashy counterfeits look dim by comparison. Every Christian can afford to spend more time tuning out the world and tuning in to God’s Word. This series aims to examine God’s good design for marriage by taking the Word of God itself as our guide.

This series began by looking at Genesis 1:26-31, where God created “male and female.” This second installment will examine Genesis 2:24.

Moses wrote Genesis for the people of Israel before they entered the Promised Land. Genesis describes God’s promise to their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the beginnings of God’s relationship with mankind.

In Genesis 2, Moses retells in greater detail the creation of man and woman on the sixth day of creation (which he had summarized in the first chapter). Moses has theological purposes for holding a microscope to God creating mankind with this second account, some of which pertain to marriage.

In Genesis 2:24, Moses summarizes the first marriage in history, explaining, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” The importance of this statement for understanding God’s design for marriage is underscored in the New Testament by Jesus (Matthew 19:5, Mark 10:8) and Paul (1 Corinthians 6:16, Ephesians 5:31). Both quote this verse to support marriage.

Thus, we learn that this verse is not a cloudy line in a quaint fable, nor an archaic notion that has passed away with the old covenant. Rather, Genesis 2:24 contains a transcendent, timeless principle of God’s created order that still applies to us today. As such, this verse is worth studying carefully.

Observations

First, notice the prescriptive language in the verbs: “shall leave… and hold fast” and “shall become.” In contrast to the narrative portions of Genesis, which describe actions and events, this verse ordains the covenant of marriage. Every human being is morally accountable to this formula.

Second, the man takes the initiative in leaving his parents and holding fast to his wife. The Holy Spirit could have inspired Moses to write, “a woman shall leave her father and her mother and hold fast to her husband.” He didn’t. In the context of Genesis 2 (which we will explore in the next part of this series), this is intentional, and it contains the seeds of both “distinctions in masculine and feminine roles” and “Adam’s headship in marriage,” as the Danvers Statement affirms. These biblical principles, which our culture hates, reflect the beauty and wisdom of God’s good design for marriage. We shouldn’t be ashamed of them.

Third, the man must leave his parents. This doesn’t mean he should desert them, for that would dishonor them (Exodus 20:12), but his relationship with his parents should change. He and his wife constitute a new and distinct family unit. A man’s wife replaces his parents as his chief relational priority. Of the many ways to apply this, perhaps the most apt for our cultural context is that men should move out of their parents’ house before they marry. A man who can’t function independently from his parents or run a household on his own isn’t fit to be married yet. To single men who are seeking a wife, get a job, get an apartment, pay some bills, and dress yourself. Show that you are responsible enough for a woman to feel safe under your leadership.

Fourth, the man must hold fast to his wife. Older translations used the word “cleave” (thus the phrase “leaving and cleaving”). Tim Keller explains in The Meaning of Marriage, “it is a Hebrew word that literally means to be glued to something.” Marriage binds together a man and woman tighter than any other natural bond. As centuries of wedding vows have acknowledged (“as long as we both shall live”), marriage is for life (see Romans 7:2). This close, intimate, exclusive relationship provides an opportunity for mutual support, encouragement, friendship, accountability, advice, and sanctification like no other human relationship. Marriage images Jesus, our “friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24).

Fifth, the man and his wife shall become one flesh. This phrase isn’t easy to explain. How, exactly, can two people become one flesh? If that seems impossible for man to achieve, it is. But Jesus helps us understand this is not God’s doing. After quoting Genesis 2:24, Jesus applies it in “a comment that explodes like thunder with the glory of marriage,” says John Piper in This Momentary Marriage. “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mark 10:9). Piper continues, “when a couple speaks their vows, it is not a man or a woman or a pastor or parent who is the main actor—the main doer. God is. God joins a husband and a wife into a one-flesh union.” Every marriage is a covenant, an exchange of vows before God, effected and enforced by God. Because God makes a marriage, “it is not in man’s power to destroy,” says Piper.

Conclusion

Violations of the marriage bond receive frequent and severe condemnation throughout the Bible. Jesus himself quotes Genesis 2:24, in conjunction with Genesis 1:27, to condemn divorce. Adultery is forbidden by the seventh commandment (Exodus 20:14, Deuteronomy 5:18). Jesus added, “everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). The writer of the book of Hebrews exhorted his readers, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous” (Hebrews 13:4). Hundreds of other Scriptures could be added to this list. The point is clear: because God has ordained marriage as part of his good design, he takes it seriously, and he has commanded us to honor it. So, we must obey his commands and honor marriage out of both “love and fear” (Deuteronomy 13:3-4).

More can be said about marriage from the Bible’s teaching in Genesis 2:24, and future parts of this series will explore it further.

But what should be crystal clear—and what all the Bible’s teachings are founded on—is that marriage is a covenantal relationship uniting a husband and wife, which is designed and achieved by God himself. Marriage is not a social construct to be cast aside on a whim but a lifelong, moral duty watched over by its holy creator, God.

Read part three.

God’s Good Design for Marriage (Part 1): Male and Female He Created Them

by Joshua Arnold

February 10, 2022

This is the first part of a multi-part series on God’s good design for marriage.

It’s no secret that today’s popular culture opposes Christian beliefs about marriage and sexuality. The Christian view of marriage has become so incomprehensible in America and throughout Western culture that it is seen as downright offensive. Recent examples include American tech giant YouTube removing a John MacArthur sermon clip on transgenderism as “hate speech,” the Canadian parliament approving a new law which could criminalize preaching and teaching against homosexuality or transgenderism, and Finland’s top prosecutor prosecuting a bishop on criminal charges for publishing a booklet titled, “Male and Female He Created Them.” All that was just last month.

Many Christians are influenced by our culture’s negative view of marriage—and not for the better. But we don’t have to listen to the culture’s lies; we have God’s Word, which is truth. The Bible says a lot about marriage, portraying it in such glorious splendor that the world’s flashy counterfeits look dim by comparison. Every Christian can afford to spend more time tuning out the world and tuning in to God’s Word. That is the goal of this series: to examine God’s good design for marriage, taking as our guide the Word of God itself.

This series will begin, appropriately, in the beginning, by looking at Genesis 1:26-31. Moses wrote Genesis for the people of Israel before they entered the Promised Land. Genesis describes God’s promise to their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the beginnings of God’s relationship with man. In these verses, God’s creation of the world reaches its crescendo in the creation of man (that is, the race of mankind—men and women). Many Christian doctrines are grounded in these verses, but for the present, let’s consider three specific points.

1. God Created Man

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27)

Four times in two verses, Moses repeats that God created man. With any human creator, we readily understand that the creator has total power and authority over his creation. He made it, so he decides how it works and what purpose it serves. That is God’s relationship with man, as the frequent analogy of the potter and the clay depicts (Isaiah 29:15-16, Jeremiah 18:1-12, Romans 9:20-21). God has the sole, unquestionable authority and power to determine how mankind works and what purpose we serve. Men may not naturally like that very much, but reality does not conform itself to our desires. We are not gods.

Besides, complaining about God’s authority is foolishness because God’s purposes for mankind are far better than any we could invent for ourselves. We are created “in his own image.” An image, such as we find in a photograph or mirror, is not the thing itself, but it is “like” that thing. It bears a resemblance to it such that an observer can recognize the original in its image. In Genesis 5:3, we find similar language, “When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.” Just as a child looks like his parents, so God created man to look like God himself.

These are two ironclad reasons for the dignity of mankind and the sanctity of human life. We are created by God, so anyone who harms or criticizes another human being is harming or criticizing God’s handiwork, God’s prized possession. We bear God’s image, so anyone who harms a person is defacing an image of God’s character.

It’s fair to ask, in what way do humans bear the image of God? After all, “God is spirit” (John 4:24), so he doesn’t have a body like we do. And God is invisible (Colossians 1:15), so to say we literally look like him is nonsensical. The first answer is that, like God and unlike other creatures, we also are spirits. The second answer is that God uses metaphors of the body to describe himself in ways we can understand. In various places, the Bible speaks of God’s eyes (Genesis 6:8), ears (Psalm 18:6), mouth (Numbers 12:8), lips (Job 23:12), face (Matthew 18:10), nostrils (Isaiah 65:5), arm (Acts 13:7), hands (Hebrews 10:31), fingers (Psalm 8:3), back (Exodus 33:23), and feet (Exodus 24:10). Christians don’t understand these passages to mean that God literally possesses all these body parts. Rather, these metaphors describe God’s power in ways we can comprehend. God’s ears refer to what God hears. God’s mouth refers to what God says. Christian meditations on this question could fill libraries (here’s a summary), but, for our purposes, it’s sufficient to establish that God created mankind as an image of himself.

We also read, “male and female he created them.” This phrase helps us to interpret the rest of these verses; when it says God created “man” in his image, we can understand that the text is referring to the creation of both men and women—the entire human race. Another way to say the same thing is that the image of God in mankind is incomplete without considering both male and female. Thus, God’s relationship to his children is explained both as a father (Psalm 103:13) and as a mother (Isaiah 66:13). (This is not to say that God is feminine; God may nurture his children like a mother, but he is their Father (Isaiah 64:8). Scripture exclusively refers to God with masculine pronouns.)

Genesis teaches that men and women are both made in the image of God, and both participate in the inherent dignity of that image. Thus, Christianity has historically taught (usually in opposition to prevailing cultural norms) that men and women possess equal dignity and worth. Moreover, Christians have historically fought to protect the dignity and value of women. This is also why the transgender movement sweeping the Western world cannot be reconciled with Christian teaching. Transgender ideology teaches that gender is a social construct that can be altered and that bodies should be altered to conform to a person’s chosen identity. Christianity teaches that a person’s sex is an innate, immutable characteristic created by God to reflect his character. Thus, cosmetically altering a person’s body is defacing God’s image, lying about his character, and usurping his lordship.

Marriage is implied in this creation of male and female. John Piper writes in This Momentary Marriage, “Marriage is God’s doing because it was his design in the creation of man as male and female.” Jesus himself cites Genesis 1:26 as a prooftext for marriage (Mark 10:6, Matthew 19:4). We’ll explore this more in part two of this series on Genesis 2, where Moses explains that a man and his wife “shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).

Mankind exists to portray God’s image as male and female, according to God’s created order. God has the authority to order our lives because he is our maker. But he uses that authority for our good, as we will see in our next point.

2. God Blessed Them

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28)

It’s challenging to interpret what Scripture means by the phrase “God blessed them.” Perhaps a rough approximation would be “God made them happy.” The verses that follow explain how, beginning with a succession of imperative verbs: “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion….” If it was unclear from “be fruitful” (the Hebrew word for “offspring” is “seed,” see Genesis 3:15), the use of the word “multiply” makes it clear that God wanted the first human couple to reproduce. Genesis 1 teaches that human reproduction was part of God’s blessing on mankind from the very beginning. And they weren’t told to merely procreate at a replacement rate; they were told to “fill the earth.” Here are two blessings for mankind from God: sex within marriage and, as a result, plenty of children (see Psalm 127:3-5). The culture may mock these truths to its own detriment, but the Bible is very clear on them.

Another part of this blessing is mankind’s role as middle magistrates. God proceeds to tell Adam and Eve to “subdue [the earth]” and “have dominion… over every living thing.” Because of the image of God they bear, they are exalted to a position of authority over the rest of creation (see Psalm 8:5-8). Notice these verbs are all imperatives. While blessings from God, these are also commands from God. Mankind has authority over all creation but is itself under God’s authority. The centurion understood this (Matthew 8:5-13), but Adam and Eve rebelled (Genesis 3:1-7). Learning to live under authority and wielding authority well are crucial aspects of a healthy marriage, as we’ll see later in this series.

3. It Was Very Good

And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. (Genesis 1:31)

The last point to consider from Genesis 1 is that everything God made, in his infallible judgment, was “very good.” That includes God’s creation of mankind as male and female in his image, the institution of marriage, and the command to be fruitful and multiply. God designed marriage, and he declared that it was very good.

Perhaps this strikes you as incredible. After all, our world is filled with sad, painful stories of people suffering from spousal abuse, parental abuse, difficult marriages, gender dysphoria, and rebellious children. How could marriage and family relationships, with all the disorder and hurt we see in them, be designed by God and declared “very good”?

First, what we witness today isn’t God’s original design. The Bible explains that our familial relationships are cursed with pain and strife (Genesis 3:16) as the result of our first parents’ rebellion against God (Genesis 3:6). Through their disobedience, sin entered the world, bringing death and suffering along with it (Romans 5:12). As a result of sin, many things God designed for pleasure (like childbearing and marriage) are now full of pain.

But as we struggle against the effects of the curse, we can still affirm that God’s design is good. As we strive to live according to God’s Word, we will come to experience the goodness of his plan. It’s a duty that is filled with pleasure and joy.

Second, God designed marriage for other reasons, which weren’t revealed in Genesis 1. Just because God’s good design for marriage has been sadly marred and warped doesn’t mean that marriage can’t still fulfill some of its good purposes. But that’s for future parts in this series to explore.

Read part two.

The Crises that Led to Christmas (Part 5): Mary Endured the Crisis of Ostracization

by Joy Zavalick

December 24, 2021

This is the final part of a five-part series. Read our previous entries on Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba.

***

The fifth and final woman acknowledged in the genealogy recorded in Matthew’s gospel is Jesus’ mother, Mary. Scripture tells us that Mary was a young woman from Nazareth who was highly favored in God’s sight (Luke 1:26-28). The angel Gabriel visited her to explain that she would serve the Lord in an unprecedented way; the power of the Holy Spirit would allow for Mary to conceive even though she was a virgin, and the child would be the Son of God.

Mary would have understood the social consequences of her conceiving prior to her impending marriage to Joseph. She would have faced possible ostracization from her community, since at this time in history, women could even be executed for an out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Nevertheless, Mary readily accepted the Lord’s charge for her, telling Gabriel, “I am the Lord’s servant […] May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38).

What Mary’s community would have viewed as a “crisis” was all part of God’s plan. In reality, the crisis Mary faced was not her pregnancy but the pain of facing a world that would not celebrate the creation of this new life with joy. We learn from Scripture that Mary did receive support from at least a few people in her life. These included her fiancé, Joseph, and her cousin, Elizabeth.

After the angel of the Lord affirmed to Joseph in a dream that Mary had not been unfaithful to him, and that the child in her womb was the Son of God, Joseph responded in faith and accepted his charge as the adoptive father of Jesus. Joseph cared for Jesus as his own son throughout the entirety of his earthly life. In so doing, Joseph set a strong example of a man of God rising up to fill the role of an earthly father for a child who was not biologically his own. Prayerfully consider if God might be calling you—like Joseph—to adopt, foster, or mentor children who are not biologically your own.

The response of Mary’s cousin Elizabeth paints a beautiful image of how all Christians ought to respond to the news of a pregnancy, even if the surrounding circumstances are not easy. Elizabeth was also pregnant at the time of Mary’s visit, and Scripture tells us that the baby in Elizabeth’s womb, who would later become known as John the Baptist, “leaped in her womb” as he recognized the nearness of the Messiah. Elizabeth and her own unborn child shared in Mary’s joy at the news of her pregnancy and treated it like the miracle that it was.

Just as Elizabeth shared in Mary’s joy, Christians ought to rejoice at the news of pregnancy, encouraging the mother and reminding her of the miracle of life in which she is participating. Each child is a unique individual handcrafted by the Lord and worthy of celebration. Although Mary had the unique honor of carrying the Savior in her womb, every mother has carried a human made in the image of God.

Every new life is a gift of God, but not all pregnancies are surrounded by joyful or peaceful circumstances. Some pregnancies are unexpected. Some pregnancies might be unwanted by one or both parents. Some pregnancies result from rape. Some pregnancies are accompanied by a prenatal diagnosis of a disease or disability. However, the faithfulness of the Lord ensures that a response of trust in His plan can contribute to redeeming a broken situation. Even amid dark circumstances, the light of miraculously creating a new image-bearer can shine through.

Though not in bodily presence, as he was with Mary, Christ is present with each of us as we face challenges. The world may see an insurmountable trial, but as Christians, we are called to believe that each “crisis” no matter how big or how small is all part of God’s plan.

Let us pray that this Christmas, no matter what circumstances we happen to be facing, we would recognize that God will use every moment of our life for good. May we join Mary in singing, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior… The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is His name” (Luke 1:46-49).

The Crises that Led to Christmas (Part 4): Bathsheba Endured the Crisis of Sexual Sin

by Joy Zavalick

December 23, 2021

This is the fourth part of a five-part series. Read our previous entries on Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth.

***

The fourth woman identified by Matthew’s gospel as being part of the lineage of Christ is Bathsheba, or “Uriah’s wife” as Matthew refers to her. If we take a closer look at Bathsheba’s story, it becomes clear that Matthew’s description of her as Uriah’s wife is intentional.

According to 2 Samuel 11, King David remained at home while his army was away at war. One night, while walking on the roof of his palace, he noticed Bathsheba bathing. Instead of respecting the woman’s privacy, a lustful David sent one of his servants to find out the woman’s identity. Despite learning that she was married to someone serving in his army, David continued to pursue Bathsheba.

David commanded his officials to bring Bathsheba to him, and he slept with her, causing her to conceive. Scripture does not tell us what Bathsheba’s role in this affair was; she could’ve been a co-conspirator in David’s act of sexual immorality or a victim of sexual assault. However, Scripture does show us that David misused his position of authority to initiate a crisis of sexual immorality.

When David learned that Bathsheba was pregnant, he attempted to hide his sin by tricking her husband into sleeping with her so that Uriah would believe the child was his. After this strategy failed, David resorted to placing Uriah at the front lines of battle so that he would be killed. Thus, David not only sinned against Bathsheba sexually but also by murdering her husband and leaving her a widow.

Bathsheba married David after Uriah’s death. She might have had little choice, given David’s position as king and her own desperation to survive after being widowed. Although David believed his sin to be in the past, the prophet Nathan reminded him of the Lord’s wrath against David’s acts of sexual immorality and murder. David was convicted and cried out to the Lord in repentance. His prayer for forgiveness, Psalm 51, is one of the most well-known penitent psalms in Scripture. Although he repented, David still had to live with the consequences of his sin. Tragically, the first child that Bathsheba had conceived with him died (2 Samuel 12:19).

Bathsheba eventually bore David a son named Solomon, who later succeeded his father as king and became known for his immense wisdom. However, the trauma and anguish that David caused Bathsheba may never have fully healed in her life. Even if the intercourse between David and Bathsheba was consensual (which is unknown based on the biblical evidence), it was nevertheless a sinful act that God mercifully commuted. The Messiah’s lineage passing through Solomon, David, and Bathsheba’s son, demonstrates God’s willingness to graciously use for good situations that man intended for evil (Genesis 50:20).

Tragically, there are many women who must live with the consequences of evil acts committed against them, such as sexual assault or abuse. Just as David attempted to escape the consequences when Bathsheba became pregnant, many men today try to conceal evil actions or simply escape the responsibility of fatherhood by abandoning women or coercing them to undergo abortions. It is important to note that although men must be held accountable for sexual abuse, children conceived through an act of sexual sin are never to blame for their fathers’ sins and must be treated with the same inherent dignity as every other child made in the image of God.

Chemical abortion pills have provided yet another way for men to avoid the responsibilities of fatherhood. But what makes this abortion method even more appealing to abusers is that it limits the woman’s contact with an in-person physician, making it harder for the abuse to come to light. Women who have suffered a coerced abortion ought to know that there are resources available to help them. Additionally, women who have taken the chemical abortion pill should know that this form of abortion is reversible if only the first pill has been ingested and action is taken quickly to reverse it.

Many women have been sexually manipulated or assaulted and may be struggling to recover from this pain. The church must rise up to protect and care for these women, ensuring that they have access to resources and ministries designed to help them heal.

The story of Bathsheba reminds us that Jesus Christ came to free mankind from captivity to sin and demonstrates the loving character of God in bringing beauty even from the depravity of human actions.

The Crises that Led to Christmas (Part 3): Ruth Endured the Crisis of Being Widowed

by Joy Zavalick

December 22, 2021

This is the third part of a five-part series. Read our previous entries on Tamar and Rahab.

***

The third woman identified in Matthew’s gospel as being part of the lineage of Jesus is Ruth, a Moabite woman who married into the nation of Israel. In addition to being an ancestor of Christ, Ruth has the distinction of being one of only two women with a book of the Bible named after her (Esther being the other).

The book of Ruth opens with an introduction to three widows: Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth. Naomi had relocated to Moab with her husband and two sons in order to avoid an ongoing famine in Israel. While they were living in Moab, Naomi’s sons married two local women, Orpah and Ruth. Tragically, all three husbands passed away, leaving Naomi alone in a foreign land and Orpah and Ruth childless.

When Naomi decided to return to her homeland of Israel, Orpah returned to her parents’ household, but Ruth refused to abandon Naomi, knowing that her mother-in-law had no one left to care for her. Ruth demonstrated her loyalty to Naomi by saying, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God” (Ruth 1:6).

Ruth and Naomi returned to Naomi’s hometown of Bethlehem. Upon arriving, Ruth provided for them by gleaning in the fields of a man named Boaz, the son/descendent of Rahab and a relative of Naomi’s late husband. Boaz took notice of Ruth, impressed by her loving sacrifice to leave her home in order to stay by Naomi’s side. Boaz treated Ruth with kindness and ensured that she could work safely in his fields without being harmed by men who might prey on her.

Naomi informed Ruth that Boaz was one of their family’s kinsmen-redeemers. According to Hebrew law, Boaz was eligible to purchase their family property and marry Ruth, thus allowing her to carry on her late husband’s family line (Ruth 2:20). When Ruth approached Boaz and explained her family’s situation to him, he went through the proper cultural channels to redeem Naomi’s husband’s inheritance and marry Ruth (Ruth 3:9-13). Ruth’s first son with Boaz was named Obed. In God’s wonderful providence, Obed had a son named Jesse, whose youngest son, David, would one day become king of Israel.

The intricate story that God wove from the tragedy of Ruth’s widowhood shows His ability to bring beauty even from crisis situations. After the death of her first husband, Ruth likely was unsure of her future. When Ruth selflessly refused to abandon Naomi, she took a leap of faith and trusted that God would care for her—and He did, grafting the Moabite woman into Israel’s family tree.

It is worth noting that Ruth likely did not see the ultimate plan that God was working through her suffering during her lifetime. This is true for us as well. In this life, we will likely never fully understand why God allows us to experience a tragedy. Whether it is the experience of heartbreak, miscarriage, death of a spouse or loved one, or loneliness, it is important to know that the Lord is still present even when He seems silent and that hope for the future remains even when today’s circumstances are filled with pain. Just as Ruth mourned her loss and placed her faith in God, so should we today whenever tragedy strikes.

There are ministries and resources equipped to support widows as they raise a child while simultaneously coping with grief. The book of Ruth may also be read as a call to action for the men of the church to meet the needs of women facing crisis circumstances. Marriage aside, there are countless other ways for Christian men to emulate Boaz and serve the widows or single mothers in their community through acts of kindness.

Ruth’s example may provide inspiration to women and men who have experienced a tragic loss or who unexpectedly find themselves in the position of being a caretaker. Ruth displayed her noble character by acting based on her love for her family and trust in God, rather than allowing the pain of loss to overshadow her hope for the future. Her story reminds us to turn to the Lord in every sorrow and trust that He is working all things together for our good (Rom. 8:28).

Homemaking Is a Sacred Calling, Despite What Society Says

by Amelia Arthur

October 27, 2021

Over the last several decades and especially the last few weeks, a woman’s “freedom of choice” has been a common phrase heard on Capitol Hill. However, what is usually implied by this phrase is the freedom to end the life of an innocent unborn child. Recently, two hearings took place in the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee and the House Oversight and Reform Committee to review the legality and the morality of the Texas Heartbeat Act (S.B. 8). These hearings also provided another platform for Democrats to push their radical abortion policies.

Pro-abortion Democrats in both chambers argued that the only way for a woman to truly be free and equal in this country is to have the ability to abort her child if she so chooses. In fact, implicit in what many of the Democratic witnesses and the Democrat members of Congress have suggested is that women who choose homemaking and childrearing over a career are somehow unequal in this country. What happened to that “empowering” phrase, “freedom of choice”? Why are women who are called to be stay-at-home mothers being demeaned for making this choice?

As an engaged woman preparing for marriage, I was deeply frustrated with the comments suggesting that what I feel called to do will make me unequal to other women. My calling is always first and foremost to serve God. When I get married, it will also be my calling to serve my husband. Should the Lord bless me with children, it will also be my calling to serve them. But according to the Democrats, choosing to prioritize those things before my career will make me unequal because I will allegedly be less able to contribute to the economy, to society, and to politics.

However, Proverbs 31:10-31 shows that the contemporary disdain directed toward homemakers is vastly different from the vision presented in Scripture.

Verses 13, 14, 16, 18, and 24 describe how the “woman who fears the LORD” can be involved in the economy. For example, “she considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard” and “she perceives that her merchandise is profitable,” so “she makes linen garments and sells them.” Verses 20 and 26 describe her roles in society as she helps the needy and teaches with kindness. In this passage, the “woman who fears the LORD” does her husband good, and he trusts her. The support she provides her husband enables him to focus on his duties while also having an honorable character so he can “sit among the elders of the land.” The “woman who fears the LORD is to be praised” because she bears good fruit and points the people in her sphere of influence to fear the Lord. This bearing of good fruit can happen wherever God has placed her, with whatever marital status, children, or occupation she does or does not have.

Ultimately, ministering and pouring into others is what matters in life. Our achievements and career aspirations will fade away, but the relationships we build with fellow image-bearers (Gen. 1:27) have eternal significance. C. S. Lewis describes this reality in The Weight of Glory:

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.

Motherhood and homemaking should never be seen as a demeaning calling. I have women in my family who have been called to be stay-at-home mothers and others who have been called to motherhood while continuing to work outside the home. These women face different challenges, but they all selflessly care for their children with the goal of honoring God and fulfilling whatever calling God has placed on their lives.

A families’ spiritual condition is ultimately more important than any vocational position we may acquire. We are instructed to “look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18). In short, women, whether you are called to work in the workplace or raise your children in the home or balance a combination of both, you are called to be faithful. And despite what our society says to women called to serve exclusively in the home, your work of raising and discipling the next generation has eternal implications. This is a sacred calling; don’t believe lies that tell a different story by demeaning your work.

Amelia Arthur is a Policy and Government Affairs intern at Family Research Council.

How to Prevent Divorce Before It Happens

by Dan Hart

August 25, 2021

There are close to 800,000 divorces every year in America, which is roughly one every 36 seconds. About 74 percent of divorced or separated adults are Christian.

It’s worth pausing for a moment to think about this. Despite the clear teaching of Christ against divorce (except in the most serious of circumstances) in Mark 10:2-12 and Matthew 19:3-9, divorce is astonishingly common among believers.

It’s safe to say that when it comes to divorce, Christians have let American secular culture take root in their own homes. After no-fault divorce laws became the norm nationwide beginning in the 1960’s, the divorce rate more than doubled over a 20-year span from 1960 to 1980. While the rate has fallen in the decades since then, America still has one of the highest rates of any country in the developed world.  

As social science has found, divorce negatively impacts almost everything that matters, including family relationships, religious practice, education, the marketplace, government, and overall health and well-being.

What is most tragic is how divorce has affected our nation’s children. By the 1970s, about half of all children born to married parents witnessed their divorce. While this figure has improved somewhat since then, there are still over 5.8 million children currently living with single divorced parents in America, with millions more adult children of divorce currently going about their lives with a hidden and deeply embedded wound within their souls. In the book Primal Loss: The Now-Adult Children of Divorce Speak, one adult child of divorce said this:

For a long, long time, I felt like a tree that was uprooted with its roots dangling above ground. I can even remember saying it aloud to people. I had deep-seated feelings of low self-worth and fell more deeply into sin … Words that are, for me, synonymous with divorce [are]: major upheaval, trauma, destabilization, departure, heartbreak, and bad example.

As this quote illustrates, a child of divorce often feels rootless and torn “between two worlds.” Since the child is the literal incarnation of the union of their mother and father, when the union is severed, the child feels interiorly split. The effect that divorce has on children is profound, and the wounds can last a lifetime. Thankfully, there are both evangelical and Catholic ministries focused on healing for adult children of divorce.

But what if there was a way to preempt divorce before it happens?

The Crucial Importance of Marriage Preparation

In the church, a certain “hands-off” approach has seeped its way into the ministry of preparing couples for “the single most important human relationship,” as Dr. Pat Fagan has written. This unfortunate pattern, which is a byproduct of secularization, gives dating and engaged couples the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the couples’ actual readiness to vow themselves to each other for the rest of their lives before God, their families, and their friends. In our current culture of dwindling marriages, many churches are thrilled just to have a couple—any couple—come to them asking to get married in their church. In their eagerness, it’s understandable that pastors and church leaders are hesitant to require these couples to complete a rigorous marriage preparation program that may scare them off.

Nevertheless, when we consider what is at stake with marriage and the tragic consequences and prevalence of divorce, it is clear that churches must prioritize the essential ministry of marriage preparation.

Why is marriage preparation so important for engaged couples? A primary reason is that, if done effectively, it can help uncover deep-seated tendencies and familial wounds that may not be fully known to one or both partners. If the couple is not, at a minimum, aware of these tendencies and wounds in each other before tying the knot, they can easily negatively manifest themselves in the first few years or even many years into the marriage and blindside the couple, potentially causing serious conflict that can increase the likelihood of divorce.

Additionally, as Alan Hawkins and Tiffany Clyde have written, it is particularly important for the current generation of young adults to receive effective marriage preparation. This is because millennials and Generation Z have grown up in a culture of rampant individualism, commitment ambivalence and devaluation, premarital sex, and pornography to a degree that was not experienced by prior generations. These negative tendencies lead to marital dissatisfaction and increase the risk of divorce, making it all the more imperative for currently engaged couples to unlearn cultural influences before matrimony.

The Advantages of Couple-to-Couple Mentorship

While there are many evangelical and Catholic marriage preparation programs out there that churches can follow, one of the best and most proven methods is for the engaged couple to be actively mentored by a veteran married couple, ideally from their own church congregation. There are several distinct advantages of couple-to-couple mentorship:

  • When an engaged couple is able to spend quality time with a veteran married couple (ideally a couple that they already know and admire from their church congregation, as pioneered by the Witness to Love program), they can develop a comfortable rapport and build trust with each other, which will lead to more fruitful, deeper, and more practical conversations about the challenges, joys, and expectations of marriage.
  • An additional benefit of couple-to-couple mentorship is the possibility of the veteran couple hosting the engaged couple in their home for their marriage prep sessions, which gives the engaged couple an inside look at married life and is a great way to demystify it and build realistic expectations.
  • This kind of couple-to-couple mentorship is also ideal for ongoing discipleship after the wedding day. In the words of one pastor, mentorship “connects [newlyweds] not only to the [church], but also to a support system that basically fosters ongoing activity in the [church] long after we do marriage preparation.”
  • Mentor couples can also become “first-responders” if the couples they mentor are struggling in their marriages. As believers, we all have this same duty to support marriages that may be in crisis in our circles of influence.

Let’s Renew Our Focus on Marriage Ministry

Effective divorce prevention is rooted in top-notch marriage preparation, but it doesn’t end there. Crisis marriages that are at their breaking point don’t have to result in divorce, contrary to what the culture might say. There are a host of programs, retreats, and resources offered by  Live the Life, Focus on the Family, Retrouvaille, and many more which can be implemented at or facilitated by your church that can help couples on the brink of divorce save their marriages.

The bottom line is that the church can and does help lessen the scourge of divorce in America, but it can always do better. As believers, we can be the catalysts for a marriage ministry revival in our churches. If you are happily married, talk to your spouse and prayerfully consider becoming a mentor couple for engaged couples at your church. If your church doesn’t have a formal marriage preparation program or resources for marriages in crisis, talk to your pastor about providing them.

As Christians, let’s renew our focus on ministering to marriage—the single most important human relationship.

More Than Romance: The True Meaning of Valentine’s Day

by Molly Carman

February 14, 2021

For some, Valentine’s Day is a fun excuse to dote on a spouse or loved one with roses, chocolates, and heart-shaped cards. But for others, Valentine’s Day can be a lonely reminder of their lack of a romantic relationship. A cynical few believe Valentine’s Day is just a marketing ploy—a made-up holiday that guilts you into spending money on someone. However, the historical origin of Valentine’s Day had nothing to do with any of these things.

February 14 marks the anniversary of St. Valentine of Rome’s martyrdom in A.D. 269. He was executed by the emperor for his Christian faith and for marrying couples when marriage was temporarily illegal. St. Valentine’s life and death demonstrate the high price that can sometimes accompany standing up for Christian values despite pushback from authority or the culture.

St. Valentine lived in Rome during the reign of Claudius II, also known as Claudius the Cruel. The Roman government was notorious for persecuting Christians ever since the church’s founding, in part because Christian ethics dissented from the practices of polygamy, homosexuality, pedophilia, and prostitution that were prevalent in the Empire. Rome was at war while Claudius II was in power, and he believed unmarried men made the best soldiers (because they did not have families at home to worry about and could not use their marriage as an excuse to get out of military service). Claudius’ desire to strengthen his army, combined with his prejudice towards Christians, led to his decision to make marriage illegal in Rome for a time.

The emperor’s edict did not stop Valentine from marrying couples in secret. He did not marry them because he was a hopeless romantic or because he wanted to defy the emperor, but because he believed that marriage was a core value of the Christian faith. Claudius soon discovered Valentine’s actions and had him arrested.

While in jail, legend has it, Valentine befriended Judge Asterius and his adopted daughter, who was blind. According to some accounts, Valentine placed his hands on Asterius’s daughter’s eyes, and she was healed. Because of this miracle, the judge and his whole family became Christians and were baptized. He even released Valentine from confinement. However, the emperor arrested Valentine again, had him beaten, and later beheaded him for his “crimes.” Before his execution, Valentine wrote to the judge’s daughter and signed it, “Your Valentine.” This gesture inspired the more modern tradition of writing letters to loved ones on the Feast of St. Valentine, or “Valentine’s Day.”

Christianity’s doctrine of marriage has been attacked countless times since the church’s early days and continues to be under attack in our modern culture. Our government’s expansion of the definition of marriage, the spread of “no-fault” divorce laws, the proliferation of easily accessible pornography, and the current push to legalize prostitution are just a few of the recent cultural shifts that degrade human sexuality and ignore God’s good intent for sex and marriage. Nearly every industry—including entertainment, Big Tech, and social media—promotes rather than discourages these trends. But a Christian understanding of marriage is worth protecting and fighting for—both for the societal good it does and how it depicts the relationship between Christ and His bride, the church.

Christians know that humanity did not invent marriage. Rather, it was ordained by God to be a picture of the gospel, illustrating the enduring and sacrificial love that He has for the world. As the apostle Paul says in Ephesians 5:25-27, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (ESV).

The world has plenty of examples of one-night stands, adultery, divorce, unfaithfulness, and selfishness. What it needs are more examples of healthy, committed, selfless, God-centered marriages. Christians can provide these examples by committing and being accountable in their marriages, discipling the next generation on how to prepare for a godly marriage, and teaching others how marriage displays God’s character.

Marriage is about much more than romance or sexual desire—it is about sacrifice and an image of God’s love for us. Whether you are married, engaged, dating, or single, Valentine’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate God’s holy parable of marriage. St. Valentine sought to protect this image, and we can do the same today. May we all learn to sacrifice for one another and love just as Christ first loved us (1 John 4:19).

Kindness: The Glue that Holds Marriages Together

by Dan Hart

February 11, 2021

In America, most marriages fail, either ending in divorce/separation or degenerating into turmoil and resentment. However, three out of 10 people who are married remain happily married for the rest of their lives. A natural question arises here: Is there something that is missing from failed marriages that is common to successful ones?  

In 1986, psychologist John Gottman began an illuminating study of married couples, which was summed up by Emily Esfahani Smith in an excellent Atlantic article a few years ago. In the study, Gottman observed how newlywed couples interacted with each other while asking them questions about their relationship, like how they met, good memories, and how they handle conflict. While asking these questions, he measured their vital signs in order to gauge their physiological reactions as they talked about their relationships. After gathering this data, Gottman sent the couples home and followed up with them six years later to see if they were still married.

The data revealed that there were two distinct types of couples. One group, nicknamed the “masters,” were the couples that were happily married six years later. They felt calm in each other’s presence and were almost always warm and affectionate in their interactions. These couples made it a habit of finding positive ways to compliment their spouse in their day to day lives, even down to seemingly “mundane” things like acknowledging and responding positively when their spouse tries to connect in a small way (e.g., “Honey, aren’t the stars especially clear tonight?”).

In contrast, the other group, nicknamed the “disasters,” often found ways to nitpick each other with criticisms. During Gottman’s study phase, their physiologies showed signs of being in “fight-or-flight mode,” as if they were always prepared to verbally attack or be verbally attacked by their spouse. Not surprisingly, these couples had either divorced or had highly dysfunctional marriages when Gottman followed up with them six years later.

The main takeaway from Gottman’s studies and other research on married couples is clear—it all boils down to kindness:

Much of it comes down to the spirit couples bring to the relationship. Do they bring kindness and generosity; or contempt, criticism, and hostility?

Kindness … glues couples together. Research independent from theirs has shown that kindness (along with emotional stability) is the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a marriage. Kindness makes each partner feel cared for, understood, and validated—feel loved.

For believers especially, the results of these kinds of studies about marriage should come as no surprise, but they do validate what we Christians know from the truths of Scripture. In Ephesians 5:28-30, Paul wrote:

Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.

Paul gives an intimate and evocative description of the type of love that should be shared between spouses—to “nourish” and “cherish” one another as one would their own body. Interestingly, this image of nurturing love as one would nourish their own body matches up well with how Emily Esfahani Smith sees the nature of kindness—as a muscle that needs to be exercised:

There are two ways to think about kindness. You can think about it as a fixed trait: Either you have it or you don’t. Or you could think of kindness as a muscle. In some people, that muscle is naturally stronger than in others, but it can grow stronger in everyone with exercise. Masters [those in healthy marriages] tend to think about kindness as a muscle. They know that they have to exercise it to keep it in shape. They know, in other words, that a good relationship requires sustained hard work.

During this National Marriage Week, the theme of kindness is an especially fitting one to ponder for all those who are discerning marriage and who are married, particularly those who may find themselves stuck in a rut of marital dysfunction. As Emily Smith has observed:

There are many reasons why relationships fail, but if you look at what drives the deterioration of many relationships, it’s often a breakdown of kindness. As the normal stresses of a life together pile up—with children, careers, friends, in-laws, and other distractions crowding out the time for romance and intimacy—couples may put less effort into their relationship and let the petty grievances they hold against each other tear them apart.

However, there is always hope, and a chance to begin again. For believers, the centrality of kindness in the Christian life is encapsulated in the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31). It’s a tall order, and we often fail at it. But if spouses keep working toward incorporating kindness into their daily lives together, they will keep the “muscle in shape” and make it the animating quality in a harmonious marriage, year after year.

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