Marriage is the most important relationship you can have with another person. It is an intimate and life-changing social institution. In our cultures, a person who is married is usually considered to be a mature and responsible adult. Most of us desire to marry and raise children. The Tiv people of Nigeria have a proverb: Inyon purugh kperegh mom ga, “A bird does not fly with one wing.” Hence, a person needs a partner with whom to share life.
But when marriage is elusive or when Christians remain single by choice, they can spend much time working for God. Often singles do great works for God (see 1 Corinthians 7:32-35.) Others choose to marry so that they can work for God together, as husband and wife (Psalm 34:3).
Divine Origin of Marriage
Marriage was created by God. The family is the basic unit of society. When God created man and woman, he said, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one” (Genesis 2:24). When a man and woman marry, they become one. The husband’s number-one relative and number one love is his wife. The wife’s number-one relative and number-one love is her husband.
The husband’s number-one relative and number one love is his wife. The wife’s number-one relative and number-one love is her husband.
Marriage is a reflection of the nature of God himself. God (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) created human beings (male and female) in “our image” (Genesis 1:26). Men and women, whether married or not, have a purpose in God’s agenda. But should they decide to marry, they should be united in serving the Lord together in their families and in their ministry.
Marriage can also be compared to the image of Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:21-32). Just as a couple on their wedding day is fully married, believers are fully children of God on the day they become Christians. Just as a couple will grow together and become more like each other over the years, a Christian will become more like Christ over the years. And just as a person should be faithful to his or her spouse, a Christian should be faithful to Christ, our bridegroom (2 Corinthians 11:2-3).
What Is “Marriage”?
The word marriage is used to talk about three different things. They are related, but not quite the same.
Prior to the introduction of Western Christianity, Africans had traditional marriage, which involved the extended family participating in courtship, payment of dowry, and betrothal. Christianity and Western education introduced two additional forms of marriages: court marriage and church marriage.
The court form of marriage is created by the state. The bride and groom and family representatives declare the marriage union before a court registrar and sign a document, authenticating the marriage. The court keeps a copy of the signed document.
Rather have a simple wedding with a Christian blessing and fewer guests than delay the marriage for many years in order to make it as lavish as some of our relatives might want
A church marriage affirms the authority of God over a marriage union. Some Christians view marriage as a sacrament. In a church marriage, a bride and groom agree that God is Lord over their marriage. They publicly declare their marriage vows before God and the church. A church wedding does not have to be an expensive ceremony. It would be better to have a simple wedding with a Christian blessing and fewer guests than to delay the marriage for many years in order to make it as lavish as some of our relatives might want, which could lead to temptation to have premarital sex.
African Traditional Marriage
A traditional marriage is a commitment before the couple’s family and ethnic group. A court marriage is a commitment before the couple’s government. A church marriage is a couple’s commitment before God and the people of God, who should agree to support the couple.
There is no harm for a Christian to participate in a traditional marriage or a court marriage, because the authority of government is recognised by the Bible. But only the Bible can define marriage for a Christian. We read in Genesis 2:24 that because God created man and woman, a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.
There is no harm for a Christian to participate in a traditional marriage or a court marriage, because the authority of government is recognised by the Bible
Some Africans traditionally embraced polygamous marriage relationships, in which one husband marries two or more wives. Much less common is polyandry, in which one wife marries two or more husbands. Neither polygamy nor polyandry is encouraged in the Bible. Paul tells Timothy to teach that an elder should have one wife (1 Timothy 3:2). Polygamy or polyandry cannot be part of holy matrimony, a church marriage. Just because Old Testament men such as Jacob, David, and Solomon were polygamists does not mean God endorses polygamy. David, for instance, was also guilty of murder and adultery and God does not endorse those. Today, Christians who were polygamists before becoming believers should pray and seek God’s guidance on how to treat their wives lovingly so that their marriage life will glorify God.
Some African governments, which regulate court marriages, allow marriage between a man and a man or a woman and a woman. This is contrary to the teaching of the Bible, which says a marriage is to be between a man and a woman (Matthew 19:4-6). And just because some Western or African governments allow homosexual marriages does not make them marriages in God’s eyes.
Getting Ready for Marriage
Because marriage was ordained by God, and because the family is the basic unit of society, a young man and a young woman going into marriage must be prepared. The best preparation is to learn from a good example of godly marriages of parents and others in the community. If love, faithfulness, respect, and helpfulness in marriage are modelled by the older generation, they will be learned by the younger generation. The church can also create courses on marriage that will help young couples to be more prepared to enter into this covenant.
Sex Before Marriage & Co-Habitation
Young people should wait to have sex until they are married. It is a sin to have sex before marriage. God will bless a marriage where the bride and groom have chosen to remain virgins until their wedding day. If you are a Christian and you have engaged in sex without marriage, confess it and stop doing it. God will give you power to overcome that temptation (2 Corinthians 5:17).
And do not live together without marrying. Some girls say, “A wonderful man wants to marry me next year. May I begin staying with him now?” 1 Thessalonians 4:3 gives the answer: “God’s will is for you to be holy, so stay away from all sexual sin.” There are men who stay with one girl for weeks or years but then leave her and stay with another and then another without marrying any of them.
If love, faithfulness, respect, and helpfulness in marriage are modelled by the older generation, they will be learned by the younger generation.
No matter how well prepared a man and woman think they are for marriage, it is wise to receive premarital guidance from a pastor or a counsellor. Such counselling sessions uncover the bride and groom’s assumptions about marriage and life together. Some of the issues that should be discussed before marriage include: Are we both willing to serve Christ together? Do we agree on how to handle money? Will we both spend time training and nurturing our children? What will we do if God does not give us children? Should either of us get more education? Do we agree on money, sex, relatives, and friends?
During such sessions, a couple may learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses. If they discover that they are not compatible, they may terminate the courtship. The pastor or counsellor should help the couple through this difficult time.
Building a Healthy Marriage
Marriage is a complex relationship, and building a healthy marriage involves facing many challenges. This is why the commitment a husband and wife make to each other before their family and ethnic group, before a representative of their government, and before God and the people of God is so important. When a person becomes a Christian, there is no promise that the Christian life will be easy. But Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will be with us. In the same way, the Holy Spirit will be with believers in difficult times in their marriage.
Fidelity to your spouse, true love, and good communication are all key ingredients that will give stability to your marriage
Poverty, illnesses, and wars that have ravaged the continent have compounded the problems marriage partners experience in Africa. Fidelity to your spouse, true love, and good communication are all key ingredients that will give stability to your marriage. Here are a few practical instructions.
Key Ingredients for a Stable Marriage
A husband must realise that his body is normally stronger than his wife’s body. He should help his wife in caring for the children and in doing the work at home. A Christian husband should never beat or mistreat his wife. God promises that the prayers of the man who helps his wife will have power (1 Peter 3:7).
God wants a husband and wife to enjoy sex together (Proverbs 5:18-20) and not to commit adultery (Hebrews 13:4). Never have sex with a child, or with your wife’s sister, or with anyone other than your husband or wife (Leviticus 18:1-18). Avoid pornography. Looking at pornography (pictures of naked people) will damage a marriage (Job 31:1). Find wonderful pleasure in your spouse (Song of Songs 7:1-13). A husband should satisfy the sex needs of his wife, and she should satisfy his sex needs. Sometimes a couple may decide to not have sex for a brief time so that they can pray more (1 Corinthians 7:3-4). But after that, they should continue having sex again. Otherwise, they may fall into adultery.
One way to build a healthy marriage is for Christian spouses to work together for God. Even if they do not have a high position in the church, they can serve Christ by teaching Sunday school. They can also find ways to encourage their pastor. Spouses can gather adults and children in their home for Bible time (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). Both partners can go to pray for sick neighbours and give them vegetables from their garden. Later they may say to neighbours, “Please come to our home on Wednesdays for Bible time.” A husband and wife may work together to repair the house of a widow. And they can also join others in helping orphans and refugees.
Do not say, “I’m too busy with my job; I do not have time to talk with my children.” Instead, turn off the television and tell them stories.
A Healthy Marriage is…
…one where the mother and father both spend time with the children. Do not say, “I’m too busy with my job; I do not have time to talk with my children.” Instead, turn off the television and tell them stories. Do not let a house-help girl do all the work at home. Work with your children in the garden. As you work together, ask them about their problems at school. Encourage them to make friends by being kind. Help your children to be strong Christians who show their friends how to become Christians.
…one with proper boundaries. Often people who ought to strengthen a marriage become a source of stress. For instance, a husband’s mother may try to rival his wife for the affection of the husband. However, the husband’s number-one love should be his wife. Sometimes fathers make unrealistic demands on their children causing tension with their wives. And children seem to instinctively know how to play one parent against the other. Parents should not show more love to one child than to another. Mothers-in-law should help build the marriages of their children and daughters-in-law should learn to respect and trust the mother of their husband as their own mother.
If a man chooses to marry, he must love and be kind to his wife (Ephesians 5:25-33; Colossians 3:19; 1 Peter 3:7). If a lady chooses to marry, she must love and respect her husband (Ephesians 5:22-33; Colossians 3:18). A Christian who chooses to marry must marry a true Christian. Do not say to yourself, “I hope he or she will become a true Christian after we marry” (2 Corinthians 6:14).
Handling Difficult Issues in Marriage
Some of the factors that tend to make marriages difficult include: marrying an unbelieving spouse, childlessness, HIV/AIDS, financial challenges, and other issues. It is important that a Christian marry a believing spouse (2 Corinthians 6:14). But if you are already married to an unbeliever, you should not divorce. The apostle Paul says that the spouse who is a Christian “brings holiness” to the marriage and that the unbelieving spouse “might be saved because of you” (1 Corinthians 7:12-16).
Many children have no living parents and desperately need a Christian home. Bear in mind that God knows better than you do what is good for a couple.
Childlessness is another issue which can threaten a marriage, especially in Africa. Some people in the Bible, such as Abraham and Sarah, Elkanah and Hannah, and Zechariah and Elizabeth, struggled with childlessness. Certainly you should pray, trust, and wait patiently upon God. Also consult a doctor to see if there are medical reasons for your childlessness. Sometimes medical solutions can be found, but not always. Also consider adopting a child. Many children have no living parents and desperately need a Christian home. Bear in mind that God knows better than you do what is good for a couple. Not being able to have children is not biblical grounds for divorce.
HIV/AIDS, alcohol and substance abuse, sexual denials, rigid roles and responsibilities, as well as improper household financial management are some of the additional problems that families in Africa face today. In some of our cultures, the community provides emotional, psychological, financial, and moral support to a couple to build stability in marriage. As a Christian, if you are experiencing any of these difficulties in your marriage, pray and seek God’s guidance from the Bible. Also consult a counsellor and or a pastor for professional advice.
Divorce and Remarriage
Marriage was ordained by God, and the family is the basic unit of society. God’s intention is for marriages to be permanent. These principles are vividly presented in Malachi 2:15-16, which includes these words: “Didn’t the Lord make you one with your wife? In body and spirit you are his. And what does he want? Godly children from your union. So guard your heart; remain loyal to the wife of your youth. ‘For I hate divorce!’ says the Lord, the God of Israel. ‘To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty.’”
But we know divorce happens anyway. Divorce is on the increase in Africa. When divorce happens, the family and children suffer. It sometimes creates special difficulties for the woman because our cultures are often male dominated through patriarchal structures. The male spouse may easily get remarried, but the female divorcée sometimes finds it difficult to do so. Should a particular couple divorce? What if one spouse is guilty of adultery and is not repentant? What if one spouse abandons the family? Can a person who has been divorced remarry?
The Importance of Prayer
Each person considering these issues thinks he or she is a special case and that no one has experienced quite the difficulties they have had. That makes giving advice without knowing the people involved difficult. However, it is best to pray much about a decision to divorce, to be open to and seek God’s healing of your marriage, and to consult with a godly counsellor or pastor who can speak prophetic words from God into your relationship.
It is best to pray much about a decision to divorce, to be open to and seek God’s healing of your marriage, and to consult with a godly counsellor
Protecting the Abused
When a wife or child has been abused, swift action should be taken to report such abuse to the proper authority. The church’s first responsibility is to protect the person being abused, even if the person doing the abusing has a position of responsibility. No woman should be encouraged by the church to go back to a spouse who will continue to abuse her. An abusive spouse or parent must repent and seek help.
Churches should carefully balance the scriptural command to hold individuals accountable to God for their actions (1 Corinthians 5:1-13) with compassionately supporting adults and children who have been hurt by divorce. This involves decisions that are not easy to make. Ask God for wisdom.
A Great Mystery
The way a man and a woman are joined together to become one “is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one” (Ephesians 5:32). Paul then sums up the heart of this relationship: “Each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband” (Ephesians 5:33).
Do that and your marriage will be well on its way towards becoming a healthy and stable marriage for the glory of God in Africa.