Contentment in Marriage
Tim Temple


There may be someone here who may feel like the subject of marriage just really doesn't apply to them because they aren't married for various reasons. Let me just encourage you to think carefully about these principles because if you are not married, and perhaps you think you are beyond that point in life age-wise, you can pray for those who are. No doubt you have children or grandchildren or nieces or nephews who are married, and you can pray for their marriage, and you might even be able to give a word of counsel here and there, so it is important for you to be familiar with these passages. If you are too young to be married, you will be old enough sooner than you think you will, much sooner than your parents think you will, and you need to know these passages so that you can be approaching marriage from the Biblical standpoint. Regardless of where you stand in marital status, these are very important principles for all of us to be aware of.

Today we come to the second part of chapter 7, which has to do with the subject of being married and of being contented in marriage. Recently I heard someone in this church say, “Sometimes I wake up grouchy in the mornings, but other days I just let her sleep.” That is the way we talk about marriage sometimes. We make jokes about it; we get a laugh about it. That is all right, but in spite of that, we always need to remember that God holds a very high view of marriage. While we do like to laugh and joke about it some, we need to be careful that we don't let that detract from God's view of marriage. God gives us very careful instructions about this most important responsibility and relationship.

One of the places where we find such instruction is here in I Corinthians, chapter 7. That is significant because the subject of the book of I Corinthians is the lordship of Christ in our lives, in our local church. That tells us that the way we look at marriage is actually a part of whether or not Christ is Lord of our lives. It is that important. It is that integral to our lives.

In the first part of our study, we saw that there were some definite complications in Corinth for marriage. Some of the things that Paul says in this chapter have to do specifically with those complications in Corinth to the point that there were some senses in which Paul said that it is better not to be married. We talked in some detail about the fact that God has given the gift of celibacy to those who, for whatever reason, He has allowed to be in a single state. But for those who are already married or who decide to get married in spite of those difficulties, we have some of the same difficulties that they had in Corinth. Obviously people get married in spite of those difficulties, and the Scripture says that is perfectly legitimate.

The Practical Purpose of Marriage

For people who are married, the subject moves to the contentment of partners in marriage in verses 2-7. In verse 2, to set the stage for this, Paul reminds us of the practical purpose of marriage:

I Corinthians 7

2Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.

At first reading, we might think that this is a very low view of marriage. Rather than that being the case, as is so often the case with Scripture, God is actually showing us the practicality of His order of things. God has said in a number of places not to commit adultery, not to get involved in fornication, that those kinds of sins are things that we need to be very careful to stay away from. Yet at the same time, God has provided sex as a very beautiful part of the human life. The sex drive is a very legitimate part of our human makeup. So He has also provided the marriage relationship as the legitimate outlet for those particular drives.

By way of application, what we could say from verse 2 is that the sexual relationship in marriage should be cultivated by Christian couples rather than being something kind of hidden and smutty that we don't talk much about. It should be something that we pay a great deal of attention to and that we are very careful to handle in the right way and very careful to put in the proper place in our lives. The last part of verse 5 bears that out where he is talking about a temporary separation in marriage. It says after you have been separated like that:

I Corinthians 7

5…come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.

The focus I want to make at this point in that verse is that Satan can actually take advantage of us if the sexual relationship within our marriage is not what it ought to be. We can be much more easily tempted with sexual sin if our sexual relationship within our marriage is not what it ought to be.

Instructions to Husbands and Wives

This is such an important principle. In several other places in the Scripture, it speaks about how both partners should actively pursue the relationship. It speaks not only to the sexual relationship, but it certainly includes that. I want us to take a few moments to look at those verses. Turn to I Peter, chapter 3, verse 7:

I Peter 3

7Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.

Notice particularly the phrase, “dwell with them according to knowledge.” That word “knowledge” is a word that means “a studied knowledge”, a knowledge that comes about because of study. What that verse tells us is that we as husbands ought to actually make a study of our wives and know what her needs are and do whatever we have to do to meet those needs.

I Thessalonians, chapter 4, verse 4, says:

I Thessalonians 4

4That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour;

If we were reading that verse in the context in which it occurs, we would see that “vessel” there is a reference to his wife. So what the Scripture tells us is that husbands are to know our wives, know what their needs are, know what their desires are, know what their weaknesses are, and we are to know how to possess our wives in sanctification and honor. That is typical of the kind of information God gives to husbands about the marriage relationship.

For the wife, there are many significant statements. Turn back to I Corinthians, chapter 11, just as a sort of summary of the kinds of things the chapter says to wives:

I Corinthians 11

7For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.

Woman is the glory of man. Wives, you should put such an emphasis in your marriage and approach your marriage with such an attitude that you realize that you are the glory of the man. You are what your husband takes pride in; you are what your husband takes glory in. That means that you should pay attention to the way you look, the way you present yourself to others, the way you present yourself to him–not just the way you look, but all kinds of things that he can take pride in, take glory in. The Scripture says that woman is the glory of the man.

Go back to I Corinthians, chapter 7, verse 2, which is telling us that husbands and wives need to pay attention to the sexual relationship as well as all the other relationships within marriage because that is the very fabric of this relationship that pictures Jesus Christ and His Church. Our marriage should be a testimony to others and should be a training ground for us about Christ's love for the Church.

Just recently I read an article about marriage which presented it from a standpoint that I had really never thought about quite this way. The Scripture, in Genesis, chapter 2, tells us that a man should leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife, and they two should be one flesh. It tells us that God commanded Adam and Eve to be married and to subdue the earth. That meant to move through life facing the various situations that they would face living on the earth. The article pointed out that God had designed marriage to teach us about life and things about Himself.

In a marriage relationship we learn, more so than in any other relationship, the way that other people think and the way that other people react, the way that other people respond. As we deal with that relationship within our marriage, we then learn how to deal with other people outside our marriage and all for the glory of God. We learn how to handle problems, we learn how to handle disappointments, we learn how to handle excitement, we learn how to handle expectation in a marriage relationship in ways that we would never be able to learn in any other kind of relationship. So every marriage is extremely important, and our attention to our marriage is extremely important.

Responsibility of the Husband

In verses 3-5, the subject broadens out a little bit. Verse 2 is specifically speaking to the sexual relationship within marriage, and that is a basic underlying part of every marriage; but in verses 3-5, Paul describes for us the pursuit of proper duties that ought to be taking place in marriage. Notice in verse 3:

I Corinthians 7

3Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband.

The first thing that I want us to think about as we try to analyze this is what is the definition of duties? What are the duties of marriage? When it says “let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence,” what is that duty that the husband has to the wife or the wife to the husband? The New King James version says, “Let the husband render to his wife the affection due to her,” which is closer to the original Greek in which Paul wrote. “Affection” is a word with which we are familiar. So what is the husband's responsibility? To love his wife. What is the wife's duty? By application we would say let the wife likewise also unto her husband. The wife's duty is to love her husband.

Even the world recognizes the wisdom of that statement. Recently I heard quoted again, and I have heard it many other times before, and I have never heard it attributed to its original source; but in the past week I heard Zig Ziglar, who is a motivational speaker, and he said, “The best thing that you can do for your children—he was speaking to a group of fathers—is to love their mother.” He didn't quote any Scripture for that, but that is Scriptural principle. Husbands, love your wives; wives, love your husbands.

Love as a Mental Attitude

There is so much talk these days about love, and no doubt there is someone who is listening right now who is thinking, “Well, that is all right for you to say. I have been married longer than you have, and after a while the romance seems to sort of fade. There is so much talk about love. What do we really mean by that term?” Most of the time when we talk about love within marriage, we have a kind of sentimental idea in mind. Sometimes our married love doesn't measure up to that romantic, sentimental kind of love that Hollywood and Madison Avenue have pushed on us. In the day to day grind of life and responsibility, sometimes that romantic love just doesn't seem to be there.

Fortunately God gives us a very clear description of the duties of husbands and wives in several places in the Scripture. As I say, we have gotten a mistaken idea, I think, in most cases of what God's idea of love is. The word “benevolence” in verse 3 is a translation of the Greek word, eunoia , really is a word that refers to a mental attitude. It is not necessarily that romantic, sweet kind of thought pattern or activity that we get where some enchanted evening you may see a stranger across a crowded room, and your life is forever changed, and you never stop loving that person that you happened to fall in love with instantly like that. That is not what the Bible says about love; that is not what the Bible says about married love. Basically marital love is a matter of attitude. The Scriptures that teach us about love within marriage deal specifically with our attitude. For example, in Ephesians, chapter 5, verses 22-33, the Scripture gives us basic instructions about marriage. Notice with me verse 25:

Ephesians 5

25Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;

You have probably heard me say before that the general understanding of that verse is that a husband ought to be willing to die for his wife because after all, isn't that what Christ did for the Church? He died for us, all believers, regardless of whether they go to this church or some other church. Let me ask you: When was the last time you heard about someone, particularly in this society and in this generation, actually having to die for their wife? I guess it happens occasionally, but if that is all it means, then it is a fairly empty instruction. I think most men would be willing to die for their wives if it came down to that, but what does that really mean?

Turn to Philippians, chapter 2. How did Christ love the Church? Here he is talking about mental attitudes. In verse 5:

Philippians 2

5Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
6Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
7But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
8And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

That last phrase in verse 8 describes His death on the Cross. That is what Christ did for us. That is how much He loved us. I started with verse 5 because I want you to notice that we are talking about mental attitudes here, our approach to our marriage and to our love; but verse 6 says that Jesus Christ was in Heaven as God. The word “form” in verse 6 means “the essence of God”. He was everything that was true of God. Verse 6 also says it was not robbery to be equal with God. A paraphrase of verse 6 would be, “He was in Heaven; He was God; He had every right to be there.” He was in Heaven as God, and He had not stolen that opportunity to be there.

But in verse 7, “He made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men,” and in verse 8, “and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death”. Do you see what those verses are saying? Jesus Christ came and died for our sins, but He did not have to do it. In fact, Jesus Christ gave up His rights to love us the way He did. He was in Heaven; He had every right to be there. We had no reason to expect or demand that He come and die for us. Jesus could have said, “I am not going to go down there and pay for their sins. They got themselves in that mess. Let them get themselves out. They have no right to expect me to die for their sins. Why should I pay for their sins?”

Husbands, have you ever thought that way about your wives needs, or Heaven forbid, have you ever said that? “ She has no right to expect me to do that. That's is unreasonable to expect me to do that.” Listen, the Scripture says to love your wife as Christ loved the Church. That means, husbands, that love of our wives means being willing to do whatever it takes even to the point of sacrificing our rights, even doing those things that she has no right to expect us to do, if we are going to love our wives like Christ loved the Church.

Responsibility of the Wife

What is the wife's duty? Turn to I Peter, chapter 3, again. Notice in verse 3. The wife's duty is described the best in summary fashion in verses 3 and 4:

I Peter 3

3Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel;
4But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.

You thought that we were going to read, “Submit to your husband,” didn't you? Well, it is in there, but I believe verses 3 and 4 describe that mental attitude that brings submission. The key word in verse 3 is the word “adorning”. Do not let your beauty be that outward adorning of arranging the hair, etc. The word “adorning” there is a translation of the Greek word kosmos , which literally means “an orderly arrangement”. It is used to refer to the stars and planets and constellations around us. Even now we talk about “cosmology” as the study of the atmosphere around us. By extension, we could take that word to mean “priorities” or “emphasis”. So what he is saying here in verse 3 is do not let the beauty of your person be based on an emphasis on arranging the hair or wearing of gold or putting on of fine apparel. Don't let that be your priority. That is not where your real beauty lies, wives.

I always have to mention when we read this verse that there is a whole segment of Christianity who takes that verse to mean that women should not wear any jewelry or have their hair done or anything like that. I always like to point out that if it means that, it also means they shouldn't wear any clothes because that is right there in the list because the emphasis is not on the clothes and jewelry; the emphasis is simply saying that is not where its at. We read a few minutes earlier that the woman is the glory of the man. Ladies, it is important to your husband how you look. This verse is not saying to never get your hair done and don't ever wear jewelry and don't every worry about what your clothes look like. What it is saying is that is not the most important thing in a marriage. It is important. Your husband takes pride in you; your husband takes glory in you. That is important, but that is not the most important thing.

Importance of a Quiet Spirit

What is the most important thing? Verse 4:

I Peter 3

4But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.

The word “meek” does not mean “weak”. The word “meek” implies that this means that a wife should just be gentle and quiet and if the husband wants to run over her like a steamroller, just to step aside and let him have his way. The word “meek” means “controlled strength”. Most women are stronger than men. What God is saying is to control that strength that you have and channel that strength in the right direction. Let your emphasis be on the hidden person of the heart. Listen, ladies, do you know what your husband wants from you? He wants someone who will listen to him and who will be sympathetic to his needs and who, when he comes home from a hard day at the office or from a long, difficult business trip, will take an interest in what he has been doing and what his plans are and what his needs are.

We hear on a regular basis about men who have left a very attractive wife for a much less attractive woman, and we tend to say, “How could that happen? Look at that beautiful wife he had, and look at that girl he took off with.” It is not always that way, but many times it is. Why is that? Chances are that less attractive woman that he took off with had the worldly equivalent, at least, of a gentle and quiet spirit. She was willing to pay attention to his needs. She was interested in what he thought about things, what he wanted to do, and where he wanted to go, and what his aims were. God says, “Listen, wives, loving your husbands is a matter of a mental attitude.” What is that attitude? The attitude of a gentle and quiet spirit, and attitude of channeling your strength in the direction of meeting his needs.

That is what love is. That is what it means when it says back in I Corinthians, chapter 7, verse 3:

I Corinthians 7

3Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband.

What is the affection due your wife, men? It is the attitude of being willing to do whatever it takes to meet her needs. I Peter, chapter 3, verse 7, says, “Dwell with them according to knowledge.” As we said, that means to make a study of her. That's how you know what her needs are. That's how you also know that there are some weaknesses that you need to help her get through. It doesn't mean that the husband just becomes a doormat. It means that the focus of our love for our wives is knowing what their needs are and doing whatever it takes to meet those needs. It means knowing the difference between her needs and her wishes, and we ought to do what we can to meet her wishes, but we are told to do whatever it takes to meet her needs. This whole subject is difficult to just summarize, but that is what a husband's duty to his wife is.

What is the wife's duty to the husband? To focus her attention on him, certainly paying attention to appearance, etc.; but the real priority is in focusing your attention on him, your heart on him.

These things are true to the extent that in verse 4 we are told that husbands and wives belong to each other. Look at verse 4:

I Corinthians 7

4The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife.

This makes marriage seem like a full-time job, doesn't it? It is. For those of us who are married, it is a full-time responsibility. It is the priority of our lives, or it ought to be. Is there no exception to that? After all, does that mean that we just spend the rest of our lives with our attention focused only on that? Verse 5 brings out the situation in which there can be a departure from those duties.

I Corinthians 7

5Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.

That verse tells us that the duties of marriage are so important that they can only be waived under certain, specific conditions. Those are spelled out carefully in verse 5. There are three of them. First of all, it must be by mutual consent. Do you see that in verse 5? And, it is obviously a temporary thing. Come back together again. And third, only for spiritual purposes.

I don't have time today to explain all of the background of why I say this, but I believe that when he says, “…for fasting and prayer…”, that is a reference to spiritual things in general. That is a term that is used in other places to refer to a general context of spiritual activity. Very often a person, or even a nation that repents, that repentance is summarized as fasting and prayer. It certainly includes actual fasting and prayer, but I believe it can be broader than that.

There are some things–spiritual kinds of things–that make it legitimate for you to take a break from those marriage responsibilities, but it is only temporary. Again, because of the limitations of time, I will just ask you to make your own applications of that. God says for spiritual purposes, with mutual consent, if you both understand what the reasons are for this and what the purpose of it is, and that it is only temporary, then it can be done.

Permissible Exception to Marriage

Finally, in verses 6 and 7, Paul comes back to his original subject, and he brings out a permissible exception to marriage. Notice in verse 6:

I Corinthians 7

6But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment.

Let me stop there for just a minute. It may seem like a digression, but it is important in our understanding of Scripture as a whole. Some people have tried to say that verse 6 is a parenthesis in inspiration and that Paul is saying, “Now this is my opinion; it is not inspired.” Actually what he is saying, if you could read this in the Greek or even in a good English translation, is, “I am not commanding what I am about to say, but I do permit it.” It has nothing to do with inspiration. All of this is inspired. Paul is not implying that this verse is not inspired. He is just saying, “I have been talking about commandments; now I am going to talk about permission.” So then in verse 7, he says:

I Corinthians 7

7For I would [wish] that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.

Actually what we have here in verse 7 is a return to the point that he was making in verse 2–singleness is perfectly acceptable. There is nothing second class about being single even though we have been talking all this time about the wonderful privileges of marriage and the extreme responsibilities of marriage. Listen, if you are single, don't be embarrassed about that. Don't feel like there is something wrong with that. Don't feel like you are less of a person than you should be. The Scripture, in this passage particularly, places a high value on singleness. In fact, Paul says, “I would prefer that everyone be single.” Don't feel embarrassed, and don't feel slighted, and don't feel that God has not allowed you to be married yet. Or if you have been married, and your spouse has died; or if you have been married that that marriage has been terminated by divorce or something, don't feel second class in God's sight. It is a perfectly permissible exception to marriage.

He says a decision to be single is based, in verse 7, on your gift. He says that each one has his own gift from God. This may be a reference to the gift of celibacy. We have already discussed Matthew, chapter 19, verses 10-12, last week. In those verses, we saw that God has available to you, if you will accept it, the gift of being single. He will enable you to be single for the rest of your life if that is His will. In a general way, he may be referring to that; but I think more specifically the reference in verse 7 is to spiritual gifts in general. If that is what he is referring to, and I think it is, what he is saying about marriage is this: How will marriage best fit with what God has called and gifted you to do in life? There are some callings and some spiritual gifts which are much better administered as a single person. There are some temporary situations in life that are better gone through single than married.

Honoring Christ In the Present State

There is a sense in which this is the major issue of the whole lesson. It brings us to that focus with which I want to conclude today, and that is what is God's calling and operation in your life? What is God trying to do in your life? Maybe you already know that, or maybe you are still seeking to find that out; but that is the central question. If you are single, are you in a position to be married? There are some single people who are not in any position to be married yet. You are too young or you are involved in obligations that marriage would make much more difficult. Just because you are single doesn't mean that you are ready to be married.

Perhaps, as is often the case, you were married to a husband or wife for many years, and that mate died. People who are in that situation tell me that almost immediately their well-meaning friends begin to try to match them up with someone else. If you were married for a long time to an individual and that individual died, sometimes it is very difficult to even begin to date someone else or begin to think in those terms. Many times people who are married for a long time to one individual feel very awkward about the fact that they prefer to remain single. Single people can have a tremendous ministry to other widows and widowers who come along after them. They many times have a great ministry to their children and grandchildren, and to be married again would hamper that. Those are the kinds of things that we need to think about if we are single.

If you are married, does your marriage fit with God's calling and purpose in your life? As you seek to love your husband or wife, are you seeking to do that so you can best bring honor and glory to Jesus Christ? That is the ultimate purpose of marriage, you see. So the way we approach our marriage has a direct bearing on how we will be able to picture Jesus Christ to other people. If you are married, are you just letting that marriage roll along, getting by the best you can, or are you seeking to honor Jesus Christ and be obedient to Hiw Word and fulfill those duties that we talked about? That is the issue–the Lordship of Jesus Christ in your marriage.

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