Introduction and background
This is the fourth in a series of First Man Standing bible studies. The series as a whole explores, from the Bible, themes of masculinity, relationships; including those with friends, our partner and children, and how we can change our society to challenge violence against women.
Today’s bible study is on the Christian man and his life partner. It is primarily aimed at men within marriage but I will also raise issues of what it means to be single within a marriage-obsessed church and a sex-obsessed world.
Purpose of the study
To explore what the bible says about love, sex and marriage. To discuss differing views of Christian marriage. To reflect on commitment, faithfulness and the reality of divorce. We will look at issues of conflict and domestic abuse in the next study.
Icebreaker for groups: What makes for a successful marriage?
Divide into pairs
What three factors would you say make for a successful marriage?
Which marriages in the public gaze are ones that you would like to copy and why?
What do you think are the main reasons for divorce?
Present back to the group.
|Divorce in the UK Grant Thornton, in a 2011 report for the UK, concluded:“Extramarital affairs are no longer the leading reason why couples decide to split up. Instead, "growing apart" is now the most popular motivation to file for divorce. Lawyers interviewed by the firm said in 27% of cases “falling out of love” had led to a marriage breakdown.Extramarital affairs, which had been the prime reason since the survey began in 2003, fell to second place, with 25% citing this. Unreasonable behaviour was given as the reason for 17% of marriage breakdowns and 10% of couples cited a mid-life crisis.|
Key bible passages, reflection and questions for discussion
We will explore in this study:
what the Bible says about husbands’ responsibilities towards their wives
biblical guidelines for great sex; and
what makes Christian relationships distinctive
1. Husbands love your wives
There are three passages in the New Testament specifically addressed towards husbands. Two of them command husbands to love their wives. The most famous is from Ephesians 5:
“Husbands love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her... In this same way husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies” (Ephesians 5:25, 28)
This sets the highest bar for our love. It includes service and self-sacrifice.Jesus gave up his power and the splendour of heaven to live and die for us. To love your wife is to give her time, to communicate effectively and to share tasks within the home.It means to seek her fulfilment and best interest and to sacrifice yourself for her wellbeing.
It is also interesting to look at the two other passages which talk about how husbands should relate to their wives:
“Husbands love your wives and do not be harsh with them” (Colossians 3:19)
Husbands in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life so that nothing will hinder your prayers. (1 Peter 3:7)
Both these passages imply the possibility of abuse by a male towards his physically weaker female partner. They command instead love and respect. We will be looking specifically at the issue of domestic abuse in a future study.
2. Sex is fantastic if it is loving, consensual and mutual
Sex is a fantastic gift of God to be enjoyed in marriage:
“...may you rejoice in the wife of your youth…may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love.” (Proverbs 5:18-19)
One of the most powerful and neglected passages in the New Testament that speaks about mutuality between men and women is 1 Corinthians 7. This speaks of self-giving and reciprocity. Sex is a gift that can only be given and not taken.
The wife’s body does not belong to her alone, but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife” (1 Corinthians 7:4)
A key issue that sex in marriage raises for men is that of selfishness. Is my wife there to satisfy my desires, or for me to serve her needs? It is never right to force your wife to have sex.
What are the issues for men seeking to live a celibate life? Paul counted himself in this group and saw it as a superior calling.
It is good …to stay unmarried (1 Corinthians 7:8)
Nonetheless, this is a tough calling, especially in a world that is sex-obsessed and a church that is marriage-obsessed. The large numbers of unmarried women in churches can create pressure for single men to enter relationships.
3. What makes a Christian marriage different?
Marriage as a lifelong commitment is a marathon and not a sprint. It requires love that persists through ups and downs. Above all it requires faithfulness to our marriage vows. Affairs, divorce and polygamy are all routes which Christian men are called to reject. A Christian man is faithful to his wife both in terms of sexual monogamy and in terms of long-term commitment.
“…do not break faith with the wife of your youth. “I hate divorce” says the Lord God of Israel “and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence..” Malachi 2:16
What does this mean when the going gets tough, as it does in every marriage? We are called on to do the hard work required to make our marriages work. But we also that there are times when marriages are broken beyond repair. And for those who have been through the pain of divorce, how does that affect their view of marriage?
Alongside faithfulness is the challenge to invest positively in your marriage through both routine acts of kindness and specific initiative to deepen your relationship. Why not set up an intentional plan to bless your wife in unexpected ways?
“He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, people have never hated their own bodies, but they feed and care for them just as Christ does the church.” (Ephesians 5:28-29)
What makes a marriage a Christian marriage?
Defining marriage, and especially Christian marriage, is difficult. Marriage is universal and transcends the faith and social norms of our specific community. It does not require a church service to bring it into being, but it is more than having sexual relations or living together.
I suggest that marriage is a commitment by two people to live together in a social context recognised by a public demonstration of their commitment to a covenant relationship. For a Christian marriage this is in the context of vows made in the presence of God and a commitment to live by Biblical principles for marriage.
There are strong and divergent views within the church about the appropriate roles of men and women in marriage. These fall broadly into two camps. Egalitarians see men and women as equal in marriage and that roles and responsibilities need to be worked out between them. Complementarians believe that God has ordained a hierarchy in marriage, with the man as the head of the household and the ultimate source of authority and decision-making.
Links to popular culture
| What are Hollywood views of marriage and faithfulness in relationships? The norm is for personal fulfilment to be put above faithfulness. But there are also a surprising number of excellent films that honestly explore the pressures and challenges of intimate relationships and marriage. |
Consider using clips from DVDs to lead a discussion about marriage and relationships. Some possible examples include:
Scenes from a marriage
Kramer vs Kramer
Going deeper: Investing in your marriage
There are a host of ways you can invest in your marriage from thoughtful gifts, through time away together to a more structured approach to improving communications in your marriage or relationship. There are a range of marriage enrichment courses and weekends on offer. The most popular, and highly recommended, are the seven session Marriage Course for existing couples and the five session Marriage Preparation Course for those preparing to be married. See http://www.themarriagecourses.org/
We also recommend exploring the “Five Love Languages” to understand more about how you both receive and give love. To find out more, take a look at http://www.5lovelanguages.com/ and all the associated resources. The core message is that you need to find out how your partner experiences being loved (whether by time together, presents, encouraging words etc) and then to do it, rather than assuming we know what our partner’s priorities are…
Some more key verses
Let marriage be held in honour among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.
Drink water from your own cistern, flowing water from your own well. Should your springs be scattered abroad, streams of water in the streets? Let them be for yourself alone, and not for strangers with you. Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love.
Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.
How beautiful and pleasant you are, O loved one, with all your delights! Your stature is like a palm tree, and your breasts are like its clusters. I say I will climb the palm tree and lay hold of its fruit. Oh may your breasts be like clusters of the vine, and the scent of your breath like apples, and your mouth like the best wine. It goes down smoothly for my beloved, gliding over lips and teeth. I am my beloved's, and his desire is for me. ...
Going deeper: Possible follow-up studies and action
UCLA has a marriage enrichment project based on watching movies together and then discussing the relationships issues that they raise in a non-threatening context. It provides 11 questions, a long list of movies, and a recommendation that you watch one a week with a 45 minute discussion afterwards.
21st Century marriage Rob Parsons
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