Built Upon the Rock
by E.H. ‘Jack’ Sequeira

Chapter 20:  Marriage and Family
Fundamental Belief #23 Marriage was divinely established in Eden and affirmed by Jesus to be a lifelong union between a man and a woman in loving companionship.  For the Christian, a marriage commitment is to God as well as to the spouse, and should be entered into only between partners who share a common faith.  Mutual love, honor, respect, and responsibility are the fabric of this relationship, which is to reflect the love, sanctity, closeness, and permanence of the relationship between Christ and His church.  Regarding divorce, Jesus taught that the person who divorces a spouse, except for fornication, and marries another, commits adultery.  Although some family relationships may fall short of the ideal, marriage partners who fully commit themselves to each other in Christ may achieve loving unity through the guidance of the Spirit and the nurture of the church.  God blesses the family and intends that its members shall assist each other toward complete maturity.  Parents are to bring up their children to love and obey the Lord.  By their example and their words, they are to teach them that Christ is a loving disciplinarian, ever tender and caring, who wants them to become members of His body, the family of God.  Increasing family closeness is one of the earmarks of the final gospel message.
[Genesis 2:18-25; Matthew 19:3-9; John 2:1-11; 2 Corinthians 6:14; Ephesians 5:21-33; Matthew 5:31-32; Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18; 1 Corinthians 7:10-11; Exodus 20:12; Ephesians 6:1-4; Deuteronomy 6:5-9; Proverbs 22:6; Malachi 4:5-6]

Marriage is the first of God’s two original gifts to humanity, the second being the Sabbath.  Both came at Creation.  After forming Adam from the dust of the ground and breathing into him the breath of life:

Genesis 2:18
The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.  I will make a helper suitable for him.”


Genesis 2:21-22
So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh.  Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

Creating the woman from a part of the man’s own body was designed to teach the couple, and their posterity, that marriage between a man and a woman is the bonding of two lives into one.

According to one modern Bible translation, when Adam woke up and saw Eve, his wife-to-be, his first reaction was “This is it!”  When Adam realized that the woman was a part of himself, he proclaimed:

Genesis 2:23
The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”

The Bible goes on to say:

Genesis 2:24
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.

Clearly, God originally intended that the marriage union was to reflect the oneness of the triune God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

But the Fall marred this oneness.  After Eve sinned and gave the forbidden fruit to Adam, he had to choose between his wife and his God.  By yielding to Satan’s temptation, Eve had been taken captive by God’s enemy.  She was now on Satan’s side, and Adam could no longer be loyal to both God and Eve.  He had to make the difficult choice between his Creator and his dear wife, and he chose Eve.

Why did Adam choose Eve over his Creator?  Adam knew that, in eating the fruit, Eve had already rebelled against God, and that, in eating himself, certain death awaited them both:

Genesis 2:16-17
And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

But before we judge Adam too harshly, let us remember that Adam was created in the image of God.  And God is agape-love:

1 John 4:8
Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

According to Paul’s great chapter on love, one of agape-love’s principal characteristics is that “it is not self-seeking”:

1 Corinthians 13:5
It [Love] does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

Adam possessed a natural love for his wife, greater than his love for himself.  So Adam ate the forbidden fruit and chose to die with Eve and, in so doing, he turned his back on a God who had the ability to create another wife for him.

A Change of Nature

When Adam sinned, the Holy Spirit left him and Adam died spiritually that very day:

Genesis 2:17
“...But you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

His natural loving nature then made an about-face, from agape-love, that does not seek its own, to self-centered love.  Ellen G. White describes the effect of Adam’s sin this way:

Steps to Christ, page 17 [Emphasis Added]
“Man was originally endowed with noble powers and a well-balanced mind.  He was perfect in his being, and in harmony with God.  His thoughts were pure, his aims holy.  But through disobedience, his powers were perverted, and selfishness took the place of love.  His nature became so weakened through transgression that it was impossible for him, in his own strength, to resist the power of evil.  He was made captive by Satan, and would have remained so forever had not God specially interposed.”

Satan invented and spread the principle of self:

Isaiah 14:12-14
How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn!  You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations!  You said in your heart, “I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon.  I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.”

At the Fall, he infected human nature with this principle and, through them, passed along this nature to the entire human race.

When God visited Adam and Eve after they had sinned, this new principle of self-interest led Adam to blame Eve for tempting him and God for having created such a defective creature:

Genesis 3:12
The man said, “The woman you put here with me — she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

Ever since, human beings have worked diligently to cast the blame for their shortcomings on others, or on God Himself.

Now, as we focus on marriage and the family, we must begin by asking, “How did the Fall affect Adam and Eve and, through them, the human race?”  God told the couple:

Genesis 3:16-19
To the woman [Eve] he [God] said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children.  Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”
To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.  It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.  By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

The passage summarizes the consequences of sin on humanity and on the marriage relationship.  Before examining the details, however, let us first resolve any misunderstandings about what God means in the passage.  Some believe that God purposely set out to punish mankind with these woes, because of Adam and Eve’s sin.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  God, who is agape-love, is simply informing His created beings of the direct consequences of sin, and that, in His sovereignty, He will allow these natural consequences to prevail.

A Great Controversy Perspective

Because of the great controversy between God and Satan (see Chapter 5), God must allow sin to take its natural course, within certain limits.  The unfallen worlds and human beings on this earth must come to see that Satan is a liar and that the results of sin (self-love) bring only greed, violence, heartaches, and sorrow.

And because God is sovereign (which means that nothing happens without His permission), He assumes overall responsibility for all the terrible things that sin produces.  But the ultimate responsibility for sin and its results will be placed on Satan, the true instigator.  This will take place on the antitypical Day of Atonement, the culmination of the Plan of Salvation.

Leviticus 16:20-22
“When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat.  He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites — all their sins — and put them on the goat’s head.  He shall send the goat away into the wilderness in the care of someone appointed for the task.  The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a remote place; and the man shall release it in the wilderness.”

But, until then, God accepts full responsibility for the consequences of sin.  He says, for example:

Isaiah 45:7
I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things.
Deuteronomy 32:39
“See now that I myself am he!  There is no god besides me.  I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand.”

Exodus states that God “hardened” Pharaoh’s heart so that he would not let the children of Israel leave Egypt:

Exodus 4:21
The Lord said to Moses, “When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do.  But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.”

And, later, “an evil spirit from God came upon Saul”:

1 Samuel 18:10
The next day an evil spirit from God came forcefully on Saul.  He was prophesying in his house, while David was playing the lyre, as he usually did.  Saul had a spear in his hand....

Here and there, throughout the Bible, we find similar statements in which God is portrayed as doing things that seem out of character.  God does not actually set out to do these things; rather, in His sovereignty, He allows them to happen and accepts temporary responsibility as an accommodation to humanity’s limited understanding of the issues at play in the controversy.  We must recognize this distinction, for many today feel that God causes countless atrocities and the misfortunes in their lives.

Some cry out, “Where was God when I was being abused as a child?” or, “Where was God when my loved one was helplessly murdered?”  How interesting that Jesus asked the very same kind of questions as He hung on the cross:

Matthew 27:46
About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

God did not reply from heaven, that day, but Jesus knew by faith that the Father was indeed nearby, for He then cried out:

Luke 23:46
Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”  When he had said this, he breathed his last.

Only eternity will fully reveal why God allowed bad things to happen to good people.

Satan is ultimately to blame for all atrocities, and God, in His great wisdom, allows them for a reason.  Says Paul:

1 Corinthians 13:12
For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then [at the Second Coming of Christ] we shall see face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

For the eternal security of the universe, God must allow sin to wreak its utmost damage, until the universe cries back, “It is enough; there remains no doubt whatsoever that sin causes terrible things!”

So when God tells Eve that her husband will rule over her, and that she will conceive more frequently [KJV] and experience great pain when giving birth [NIV], He is simply informing her of the natural trend of life under sin.  Likewise, when God tells Adam that the earth is cursed and that, henceforth, he will toil exceedingly hard to feed himself and his family, He is sharing with Adam the new facts of life, under sin.  These are natural consequences, with which God will not directly interfere in the great controversy with Satan.

Genesis 3:16 [NKJV]
To the woman He said:  “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in pain you shall bring forth children.  [NIV:  “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children.”]  Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”

What God predicted has indeed come true.  Uncontrolled conception has led to rampant overpopulation in most of the world, and many governments have become so desperate to resolve the problem that they are allowing millions of unborn babies to be sacrificed through abortion.  Furthermore, as a rule, women are being dominated by men and mistreated as second-class citizens.  Surely, sin has abounded, and the world desperately needs to experience the grace of the Lord, Jesus Christ!

Romans 5:19-20
For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.  The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase.  But where sin increased, grace increased all the more....

God’s Original Plan for Marriage and Family

God originally intended marriage and the family as building blocks of society.  But sin has brought a curse on marriages and families everywhere and in every ethnic group.  In the United States alone, more than half of all marriages end in divorce, and the divorce statistics among professed Christians are close to those of the nation as a whole.

The ripples of this high divorce rate are being felt throughout the land as the children of these broken homes suffer.  It is believed that approximately a half-million teenagers attempt suicide every year in the United States!  Many, if not most, do so because they feel unwanted and responsible for their parents’ breakup.

History proves that the disintegration of the family will eventually bring down nations and societies, and I know from my work in prison ministry that a majority of male, long-term inmates come from broken homes.  As children, they experienced neither love nor acceptance and were passed from one foster home to another.  The only family many knew were gangs that led them into crime.  These are the consequences of sin and, as sin abounds, its effects on society proliferate.  Is there no cure for this epidemic of ruined families?  Thank God, He has a solution in the everlasting gospel!

Because marriage and family life are vital to social order, their preservation is considered a fundamental doctrine of the Seventh-day Adventist church.  Yet, many marriages and families in the church today fall far short of representing the power of the gospel.  Only when God’s professed people put self aside and submit to the demands of the cross, will God’s Spirit step in and pour His agape-love into their hearts, and many marriages will be healed in remarkable and miraculous ways. 

Luke 9:23
Then he said to them all:  “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

As the fundamental belief declares, “Increasing family closeness is one of the earmarks of the final gospel message.”

But how is this achieved?  We find the answer in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.  Using Christ and His relationship to the church as a model, Paul presents important guidelines about how marriage and family relationships should be conducted in a sinful world.  These guidelines are intended to restore the marriage relationship to that which God originally intended it to be — that is, a relationship where two people act as one flesh:

Ephesians 5:31
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”

Paul’s key statement to husbands and wives appears in Ephesians 5:21, where he counsels them to:

Ephesians 5:21
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

The rest of Ephesians 5 expounds on this basic counsel.

Many men have relished quoting the next verse:

Ephesians 5:22
Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.

But, interestingly enough, the verb “submit” that appears in most English translations is not present in verse 22, in the Greek.  In the original, the word “submit” appears only in verse 21, where it applies to both husbands and wives.  Paul clearly wants all married Christians to treat one another with Christ-like love.

But Paul also recognizes that believers will not be delivered from their sinful natures until Christ comes, so, even in the best of marriages, there will be disagreements.

Philippians 3:20-21
But our citizenship is in heaven.  And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

This leads Paul, then, to list some specific instructions for both wives and husbands, in context of the redeeming grace of the gospel.  Wives are to submit to their husbands in the same way that husbands submit to Christ.  Paul says:

Ephesians 5:23-24
For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

The word head must not be interpreted to mean “dictator” or “boss,” but one who is entrusted with the well-being of another.  Just as Christ’s great concern is the welfare of His church, the Christian husband will dedicate himself to the well-being of his wife.  Likewise, for the wife to submit to her husband does not mean that she must obey him without question, as a slave.  Submission means that she respects and appreciates her husband’s concern for her.  Jesus expects the Christian’s submission to Him to be motivated not by fear of punishment or desire for reward, but by a heartfelt appreciation for what He has done and is doing; wives are to submit to their husbands in the same way.

But this works only when both husband and wife are controlled by God’s agape-love and walk in the Spirit:

Galatians 5:16
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

Only then will the husband’s treatment of his wife reflect Christ’s treatment of the church; and only then will the wife’s behavior reflect the church’s relationship to Christ.  Paul, therefore, counsels husbands:

Ephesians 5:25
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her....

Wives, in turn, are to submit to their husbands “as to the Lord”:

Ephesians 5:22
Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.

Later, in his letter to the Ephesian believers, Paul gives similar advice on parent-children relationships:

Ephesians 6:1-4 [Emphasis Added]
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.  “Honor your father and mother” — which is the first commandment with a promise — “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”
Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

The Power of the Gospel

This brings us, now, to an important question:  “How can Christians behave this way, when unconditional, selfless agape-love is still beyond their natural ability?”

This is where the power of the gospel comes in.  After the Fall, human nature became naturally selfish, polluting every decision with thoughts of personal benefit.  The prophet Isaiah succinctly puts it:

Isaiah 53:6a
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way....

This “own-wayness” lies at the foundation of all relational problems.

The only way Christians can escape this selfish behavior is to surrender to the demands of the cross of Christ and allow the Holy Spirit to take over their lives:

Luke 9:23
Then he said to them all:  “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

Human love, even at its very best, is conditional, self-centered, and reciprocal — that is, we love and expect love in return.  No matter how hard we try, we cannot change this, for the simple reason that no amount of human effort can alter the basic nature of sin.  As Scripture declares:

Jeremiah 13:23
Can an Ethiopian change his skin or a leopard its spots?  Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil.

The apostle James presents a similar idea:

James 3:11-12
Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?  My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs?  Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

The Holy Spirit’s supreme gift to all believers is God’s agape-love.  This divine love, Paul says:

1 Corinthians 13:4-8a
Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.

What an effect this kind of agape-love has on marriages and families!  And, though Christians may not yet possess agape-driven personalities, they can begin to experience its fruit as they practice faith obedience to the Lord, Jesus Christ Himself.  It begins with surrender to the cross of Christ and the confession:

Galatians 2:20
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

The Importance of Compatibility

If a marriage is to succeed, there must be some compatibility in three areas — spiritual, social, and physical.  Of these three endowments given the human race by its Creator, the most important is the spiritual:

Amos 3:3
Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?

Problems arise, especially if only one partner is a believer.  This is why the Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual prohibits an Adventist pastor from conducting a marriage service for such a couple.  At its very foundation, such a union is spiritually incompatible.

Social and physical differences may be overcome if the spiritual level is sound.  Agape-love can do wonders, despite major areas of incompatibility.  But if divine, self-sacrificing love is missing, the couple may find itself eventually headed for the divorce courts.  Some countries may prohibit divorce, but, in reality, such a couple is psychologically divorced anyway, and the marriage is only one of outward appearances.

Marriage, as intended by God in the beginning, is the bonding of two lives in such a way that, for practical purposes, the two act and behave as one person.  This was God’s ideal for Adam and Eve and their descendants:

Genesis 2:24
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.

But the Fall ruined this ideal, and husbands began insisting on more and more control:

Genesis 3:16
To the woman he said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children.  Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”

This state of affairs continued for centuries, until around the beginning of the Eighteenth Century, with the arrival of the “Age of Enlightenment,” when women began to say, “Enough is enough.”

This shift in thinking expanded the role for women and, in time, led to what became commonly known as the “Women’s Liberation Movement.”  Today, especially in so-called developed countries, women call for equal rights with men and protest mistreatment caused by male domination.  Although the women’s movement has achieved some worthwhile goals, it has not had the effect of strengthening marriage relationships; in fact, during these years, the quality and permanence of marriages has grown statistically worse.  Divorce is now epidemic, as is spousal abuse.  The sin problem remains as strong as ever in marriage.

The grace of the Lord, Jesus Christ, is still the only solution to marriage problems caused by selfish behavior.  Declares the apostle Paul:

Romans 5:20b-21
But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

When the power of the gospel is experienced by God’s people in these last days, then, and then only, will marriage relationships be restored to their original ideal, in which “the two become one flesh”:

Ephesians 5:31
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”

I believe God wants strong families in the Advent movement that He raised out of the rubble of the Great Disappointment of 1844.  Through the pure and complete gospel that God commissioned them to restore, the earth will be illuminated with the glory of the Lord, Jesus Christ, even in their marriage relationships.  But as long as the divorce rate in the church is not far behind the national average, the power of the everlasting gospel will not be seen as it should be.

Certainly God longs for the day when His followers will put self aside and let the Holy Spirit take over.  When this happens, the world will witness the power of the gospel — man’s only hope for solving the sin problem.  May that day come soon.

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