“Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”
“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers, for what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?”
2 Corinthians 6:14
I have it on good authority that way back in time the good Lord walked up to Adam in the Garden of Eden and said, “Adam, it’s not good any longer that you should live alone. I’m going to make you a woman!
Adam said, “Great, Lord!…uh, what’s a woman?”
“Oh, Adam,” God said, “You’re going to love her! She’s going to be the loveliest thing you have ever seen, so soft and kind. She’ll cook your meals, keep your bed warm at night, and in time give you little babies.”
Adam said, “Sounds good to me, Lord! But…how much is this going to cost me?”
And God said, “Adam, it’s going to cost you an arm and a leg!”
To which Adam replied, “Uh, Lord…how much can I get for a rib?”
I know. I know! It’s pretty awful, isn’t it? But I told you that to tell you this. A good marriage isn’t something you get for nothing. One gets what he puts into it.
So what is it we have to put into marriage? Genesis 2:7 explains that God formed us from the dust of the ground. That’s our physical body. Then the Lord blew into us the breath of life. That’s the Holy Spirit in us. And the Scripture goes on to say that man became a living soul. That’s our emotion, will and intellect. So what do we each have to invest in a good marriage? Our body, our spirit, and our soul – emotions, will and intellect. These five things we yoke together in matrimony.
The apostle Paul was explaining all this to the young people in Greece when he wrote the text. He seized an agricultural illustration they’d all be familiar with. “Don’t be unequally yoked,” he advised.
One spring while in Israel I saw a Palestinian farmer who had yoked a big ox with a small donkey. And he was trying to plow a few acres with them. The ox was huge. The donkey was small. One moved at one speed. The other at another speed. One wanted to eat grass. The other, leaves. And the furrow zigzagged its way across the field with one frustrated farmer following. This is how a marriage of unequal partners can be, Paul explained.
When one studies marriages, different patterns quickly emerge. Styles of marriage. Or yokes, as it were.
Around 28% of marriages in the United States fit into the active-resistant pattern.
If you read the Dagwood and Blondie comic strip you know what this sort of marriage is like. Blondie is the active one. She is alive in her body, spirit, and soul, constantly stretching herself and challenging her family to grow.
Meanwhile Dagwood is resistant. Oh, to be sure he wants to pamper his body with a sandwich and stretch out on the couch for a snooze. He even enjoys the emotional outlet of a poker game. But he digs his heels in when it comes to spiritual commitment, intellectual and willful growth.
This is the active-resistant marriage. One person leads. The other lags behind.
The second most popular style of marriage is the hysterical yoke. Twenty-four percent of couples fall into this category.
Remember Jackie Gleason’s old TV show, “The Honeymooners”? Ralph and Alice Cramden had a hysterical marriage.
This sort of relationship is full of hot verbal bouts. Emotions are very much alive. Ditto the human will. You always know exactly where you stand. Two people constantly battling for dominance. “You want a trip to the moon, Alice? Just keep it up!” “Sure, Ralph. Hit a woman. That’d be real great!”
The problem with this sort of marriage is that the couple, while constantly demonstrating they have a problem, never do anything to solve it. Rather than throw water on their burning house, they’re content with complaining about the heat and smoke.
This marriage, while alive willfully and emotionally, is dead in the intellect and spirit.
Then there is the rescue marriage. About 12% of marital yokes fall into this category. You know, the beautiful lady married to the falling down drunk.
On television’s “Laverne and Shirley,” Laverne is wondering aloud how one of her lovely girlfriends can be engaged to marry this loser of a man with a drug problem. Shirley explains, “Well, after all, Laverne, love is blind.” “But can’t it hear or smell either?” Laverne retorts.
At first the rescue marriage seems to make no sense. But upon closer inspection you’ll find she needs to be needed and he just plain needs. So both have a large measure of their needs met.
I once had a lovely black woman in my parish. Barbara was a growing Christian married to William, an alcoholic. We prayed and prayed for him, but William eventually drank himself to death.
Not two weeks later Barbara was back in church with another man. And as I shook his hand I could smell he reeked of whiskey.
Taking Barbara aside I asked, “Barbara, what are you doing? You just got out of one abusive relationship and now you’re getting into another?” Barbara lowered her head and mumbled something like, “I know, but he needs me.”
Barbara, I found out, was the eldest of fourteen children. Her father stayed gone mostly, only visiting the occasional night. Her mother worked two or three jobs just to put food on the table. So Barbara had to be the mother of thirteen brothers and sisters. All she knew for eighteen years was responsibility. And when they’d all grown up, Barbara didn’t feel needed anymore. So she went out and found a marriage partner who needed her care, a big baby with a bottle in his mouth.
The trouble with such a relationship is that there is never any hope as long as one partner assumes responsibility for another person’s life.
A fourth type of yoke is the pretense marriage. Some 5% of marriages fit into this category.
This is the yuppie marriage. Two beautiful people meet, fall in love and plan to go off to their castle and live happily ever after. Everything is going to be like prom night. He’s a prince in a white BMW. She’s a princess in a white silk designer dress with flowers in her hair.
They made their money the old way. They inherited it.
You can see this type of marriage in Bonnie Prince Charles and Lady Diana’s storybook romance.
Yet the first pinprick of discomfort, when reality sets in, when sacrifice is called for, when the twosome realizes the other mate wasn’t born to pamper him or her endlessly, they want out. “After all, nothing but me is worth suffering for.”
And what’s the word we always fill in on the line that asks, “Reason for divorce?” “Incompatibility.” His income left and so did her patability.
A fifth yoke is best summed up as a kid’s marriage. Ten percent of yokes land here.
It’s been my experience that most marriages don’t end in a blowout, rather they die by a slow leak.
A marriage first begins to wither emotionally as joy fades and resentment builds up.
Next perishes the physical. Sexual desire wanes. Husband and wife lose interest in one another.
The spirit and intellect become stagnant.
And all you’ve got left is a marriage of the will. “We’re just staying together for the children,” the two confess. So you’ve got a home that is a laundry, a hotel, a filling station and bank. But there’s no love in it. It’s just a convenience for the children.
Twelve percent of romantic yokes in this country are “good old boy marriages.”
This is the man with a pick up truck with a Rebel flag on the bumper and gun rack in the window. You can see him riding down the highway with his dog sitting beside him in the cab and wife in the back with the groceries. He tells jokes like, “My wife just ran off with my best friend. I sure do miss him.” This is the John Wayne cowboy who drawls to his wife, “I don’t really love you, babe. I just keep you around for the cold nights.”
Believe me, it’s not just men who can denigrate a woman like this. A woman can henpeck a man as well. In such a marriage one person is a tyrant and the other person is an absolute bimbo.
Television’s “All in the Family” reflected this style of marriage in the Archie and Edith Bunker home.
A few years ago I met with an engaged couple to plan their wedding ceremony. They showed up late, an icy distance between them. “Is something wrong?” I inquired. “Just ask him!” She wept. So I did. He confessed, “All I did was invite three of my buddies to join us at the beach 4th day of my honeymoon. We’re going deep sea fishing!”
Now I can understand that. Fishing is the state religion of North Carolina. And the little lady had to find out early on that she was going to have to share her husband with the fishies.
Still, I had to ask, “Do you really want to do this? To marry? To give up your do-as-you-please individualism and learn to live mutually, to care about another’s feelings? Their wants? Their hobbies?
In case you haven’t guessed it, none of these marriage patterns so far achieve anything near what the Bible calls an equal yoke.
The marital ideal Paul is telling the Corinthians to strive for is a 100% bonding between two equals, a man and a woman.
These two meet and come to believe their lives can mean more for Christ in marriage than they can in singleness. They both are more eager to meet their spouse’s needs than they are to have their own needs met. Each partner is fully human in Christ. They have resolved their past, are hopeful for the future, and are committed to the here and now. They come into the relationship with their body and spirit and soul and find nourishing ways to bond with their mate and help them grow.
I tell young people tirelessly that real marriage is like taking husband and wife and locking them together in a room. The twosome have great fun for about 6 weeks, then the room catches on fire and fills with heat and smoke. What we naturally do is smash a window or kick open a door and run in opposite directions. But what if the twosome stuck it out, put the fire out, and used their heads to fix it so it wouldn’t burn for that reason again?
My wife and I have been married almost 25 years. We’ve fought every marital fire there is— money, gruffness, major illness, temperamental differences, children, moving. But instead of running, we’ve toughed it out, fixed things, and stayed together.
I tell you, you never know what love is until your anniversaries add up into the big numbers. When I look at my wife today, I don’t just see the kind eyes, brown hair, and tall girl I first fell in love with 26 years ago. I see history. I see a woman who knows me better than any other human being, and still loves me. I see three marvelous children, a woman who lives on a budget without complaining. I see confidence knowing she won’t quit, but will be there no matter what. I see the fruit of the Holy Spirit— love, joy, peace, patience…and I feel loved.
At weddings I always pause and tell the groom. “The way you prove your manhood is by nourishing your wife in her body, spirit, and emotion, will and intellect to the full bloom of her femininity in Christ.” And I tell the bride, “From now on you prove how much a woman you are by how well you can nurture your husband to the full bloom of his masculinity.”
Sadly, less than 10% of marriages in this country ever come near the Biblical standard of a growing, active-active equal yoke. But in Christ, it remains a marriage that is infinitely achievable!
As you can see, a good marriage is not something you get for nothing. It will cost you an arm and a leg! So before you wed you need to ask yourself if you’ve got what it takes and are willing to pay the price. After all, marriage is not so much finding the right person as it is being the right person.
It helps to know that all marriages constantly come in and out of focus. When Kat and I get weary, overcome with the pace of life, I get macho and demanding. She often gets resistant or hysterical. But as soon as we realize our failings, we quietly go to work to remedy the situation. And our love comes back into focus.
Clearly, then, having an equal yoke, an active-active marriage is a goal, a process, a continual maintenance challenge!
I’m convinced that some people have so many personal problems that marrying would only compound their woes. Their time would better be spent maturing intellectually and willfully, healing up physically and emotionally and spiritually.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7 that, “Those who marry will have worldly troubles.” So when you take two damaged and immature persons and put them into a marriage with children and in-laws and other people to think of, it all becomes too much. The people can’t handle it, and the marriage crumbles. Better to stay single than to cause more pain. Better to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling than to take on the added burden of a spouse and children.
Each year in the springtime, I am pelted with the question, “How do I know I’m in love and it’s time to marry?” Our parents told us, “When you’re in love, you’ll just know.” My grandmother told me, “Don’t marry a woman you can live with. Marry a woman you can’t live without!”
Some say love is a feeling that you feel when you feel that you’re feeling a feeling you’ve never felt before. Or love is an itching in your heart you can’t scratch! The Scottish say, “Love is an outward inexpressibility of an inward all-overishness!”
But what does the Bible say about being in love and getting into marriage?
It says you’re one-half of a yoke. You bring to it a body, a spirit, and emotions, will and intellect. Are you alive in these ways? Are you ready to live mutually and in a nurturing way in all you are with another person?
And is your intended spouse an equal yoke to you? It is forever true that one cannot make up for in later training what you should have gotten in selectivity in the first place. (Translation: If you marry a Volkswagen physically, spiritually, and soulfully, don’t expect anything in marriage to suddenly transform them into a Rolls Royce.)
So if you’ve got a body, spirit and soul to commit, and your mate does as well, and if you’re eager to live a lifelong covenant of mutual love, then you’re about as ready as anyone to enter into marriage.
Just remember this: When you wed, you don’t just marry one person but three. You marry the person you think they are. You marry the person they really are. But most of all you marry the person they are going to become because they live with you.
Lord, make me alive. And cause me to so live with others that they live as well. For Jesus’s sake. Amen.
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