Life of Peter, by N.E. Rhodes Jr. — No. 33
MARRIAGE: THE 100% PROPOSITION
The Apostle Paul has often been quoted on the subject of marriage. While I accept the opinion that he was, on most subjects, a better teacher than Peter, I must insist that Peter is far better on this subject. We know Peter had marital experience. There is good reason to doubt that Paul did. Paul seems to have had a prejudice on the subject that caused him to go beyond what the Holy Spirit inspired him to say on the matter. We are grateful to the honesty that forced him to admit this when he said, “this say I of permission and not of command.” But we must still give ear to a man who felt no need to go beyond the Holy Spirit’s commands on the question. We are entitled to believe that the wisdom Peter gained from his marital experience so coincided with the Spirit’s message that he felt no need to improve upon it. There is no better advice to wives and husbands anywhere in the Bible than in 1 Peter 3:1-7. It presents the idea of the total self-giving necessary to any really successful marriage.
Fallacy of the Fifty-Fifty Proposition
The great trouble with so many marriages today is the popular idea that marriage is a fifty-fifty proposition. It is not and by its very nature never can be. When two people marry and each intends to go only half way, the marriage is doomed from the start. The reason for this is the fact that none of us ever do quite as well if we intend to do. If we intend to go half way we are almost sure to go less than that and leave a gap of misunderstanding between us. Marriage will not work as a fifty-fifty proposition. The only way it will work is when both partners think of it in terms of going all the way. If we intend one hundred percent self-giving then even though we fall short of our intentions, there is still a safe area of understanding and compatibility. The woman who marries can never be concerned about her rights and privileges anymore. She has given them all to her husband. Her rights and privileges are his concern now, not hers. The same thing is true of his rights. He has none. He has given them all to his wife. They are her concern now, not his. The failure of either partner to come up to this ideal does not release the other from his or her vows. It might if the vows were made only to one another. But this is not the case. Marriage vows are promises made to God. We have no right to break them until God breaks his promises to us and this will never happen. It is true that adultery is a sin against the very sacredness of marriage itself and must be considered apart from mere lack of consideration. I am not therefore trying to lay down here hard and fast rules concerning divorce and remarriage. I am simply restating Peter’s teaching concerning what the will of God is for husbands and wives.
Subordinated Role of Wives
As we read 1 Peter 3 most people are inclined to chuckle about the old fashioned subordination of the wife. It seems funny to this day and age. But as a working principle for a happy marriage it has still to be disproven. It may be old fashioned but since when did truth need a birth certificate proving its youth before it could be accepted. The idea that two and two make four is old fashioned too but it continues to be true whether you are counting the years of Sarah’s happiness or the number of divorces granted in 1968. It may seem unfair to modern women to accept a subordinate role but if they have never tried it they shouldn’t knock it. The happiest women I have known have been those who happily accepted such a status. They also had the happiest husbands I have known. I am aware that the failure of many wives can be traced directly to the fact that their husbands refused to accept the responsibility that Peter lays upon them. They did not dwell with their wives according to knowledge. They lacked the wisdom and spirituality to give her the honor that was properly her due. As a result the spiritual life in the home sagged and all life sagged with it. Peter said it would be so. Take note of his solemn warning “that your prayers be not hindered.”
Families that Pray Together
I used to read a slogan that I liked which said, “Families that pray together, stay together.” This is true but it must also be remembered that in order for families to pray together effectively the husband and wife must make every effort to fulfill their God given duties to one another. The institution of marriage can and should be one of the most powerful and happiest disciplines of the Christian life. It presents the opportunity for the closest approach to heaven possible on earth. It also presents the danger of the closest approach possible to hell on earth. It will be one or the other and which it is depends in large measure on the attitude of the man and woman who enter it.
There are many trying situations that can arise in even the best marriages. Certainly that home has problems where one of the partners is a Christian and the other is not. But even in a situation like this Peter points out that the best hope lies in the faithful adherence of the Christian partner to the vows made at the altar of marriage. Look for example at, “…if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives.” The chaste conversation coupled with fear of the Christian wife will go further toward the conversion of a husband disobedient to the word than any amount of nagging, condemning, or preaching would ever hope to do.
By far the best place to demonstrate the reality of Christian faith is in your own home. If you fail there you are not too likely to succeed anywhere else. The building of a really happy home is the most difficult and the most rewarding of all the tasks God has given us to do. The New Testament is very clear in its instructions on how to do this. Our failure lies in the fact that we just don’t want to accept what the Bible says about it. Many people wind up going to a marriage counselor who may finally advise divorce when all the counsel they needed was waiting for them in the word of God. They just didn’t want to accept it. The alarming failure of the American home in so many divorce courts over the country is living proof of the failure of modern ideas on marriage. It is time we went back to the solid basis for Christian marriage given in the New Testament. We may not like it but it worked. It will still work today for those willing to accept it.