New Hope Publishers
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis ). Famous lovers Adam and Eve were made for each other . . . literally. Even though they were distinct individuals with obvious differences, God had a plan in bringing them together. “And the two will become one” (Matthew 19:5). Two unique individuals coming together to form one whole unit—God’s perfect union.
“The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh’ ” (Genesis ). Adam and Eve were blessed with the ideal circumstances. After all, they were surrounded by ideal conditions in the Garden of Eden. God Himself had supplied all their needs. Food was bountiful and delicious. Their work was stimulating and rewarding. They must have experienced pure, unabated joy, unconditional love, and complete companionship.
Adam and Eve had no tension, pressure, or stress. Time was on their side—there were no busy schedules to separate them, no mountain of bills to climb, no pile of emails to delete, no little ones running underfoot. We imagine that, from the moment they gazed into each other’s eyes, each was passionate about the other and how wonderful life would be together.
Yet with every advantage, their union failed to live up to their Creator’s expectations. What happened to wilt the promise? We know what happened in our marriage. Life happened. And God gave us freedom of choice. Unfortunately, we are imperfect human beings and have a propensity for making choices that can alter the most blissful of beginnings.
Great marriages don’t just happen automatically. Those who are married know how challenging relationship building can be! But ordinary men and women have an opportunity to create an extraordinary marriage. Our success depends on our attitudes, behaviors, choices, and decisions.
To experience a great relationship like God intended, we need to construct our marriage from the Creator’s blueprint. “‘And the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one” (Mark 10:7–8). Previously, we thought this meant a couple becomes one physically, but now we see it also means mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Creating oneness between a male and female takes great effort.
A famous muscular actor said in an interview on television, “I work hard at the movie studio. I work hard at the exercise studio. I don’t want to have to go home and work hard at marriage.” He has been divorced several times.
Marriage building takes deliberate effort because God’s plan for a perfect union includes:
• Initiating a personal relationship with God
• Imitating godly behavior
• Inviting God to be the head of your marriage
One of the key ingredients in building a stronger marriage is acknowledging the creator of marriage, God, and developing an intimate personal relationship with Him. We have grown to know Him better each day by:
As we develop a closer personal relationship with the God of love, we also draw closer and more loving to our spouse. As we draw closer to our spouse, the love in our marriage is elevated. To see how this theory works visually, take a look at the Marriage Triangle Chart:
With God at the head of our marital relationship, we impact future generations as Grandpa and Granny Goody did. Let us tell you about them. Farmers Grandpa and Granny Goody worked a small family homestead until their deaths at the ages of 96 and 94. Both publicly declared their acceptance of Christ as their Lord and Savior during their wedding ceremony in 1908. Back on the farm after their weekend honeymoon, Grandpa took seriously his new responsibility as the spiritual leader. He confidently and quietly stated to his new bride, “We will commence each of our married days spending personal time with Jesus.”
Thereafter, at the crack of dawn, Grandpa bundled up, stoked the embers in the fireplace in the living room, and retreated to his quiet place in the barn. Upon rising, Granny headed to her weathered rocking chair in front of the warm fire. Each carried a worn Bible to their favorite place to meet with the Lord.
Prior to every meal, Grandpa read Scripture aloud and led prayers. Each night before climbing into their feather bed, Granny spent time holding Grandpa’s hand and kneeling with him to give thanks to the Lord for all their blessings, even when times were tough. As their marriage developed, their love for God and each other intensified.
example spoke volumes to their children and grandchildren. They were a living
“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness’ ” (Genesis ). To create a perfect union, we need to reflect God’s image. When we reflect, we are called to be a mirror for the God who created us, although our imitation of the Creator will at best only resemble godliness. We decided to personally do a better job of reflecting God’s image by being more patient, forgiving, loving, and encouraging.
Reflecting God’s ways calls for submission to Him. When Doug seeks God’s will and spends time reading Scripture and praying each morning, I (BJ) notice a tremendous difference in his countenance. I think, Wow, I want to be more loving and peaceful like that, too. Reflecting the image of God leaves no room for self-agendas or self-sufficiency. It is a choice to imitate, reflect, submit, and act with a servant’s heart.
Marie was one of many we interviewed when we sought advice from happily married couples. She had been married over 50 years at that time. “You cannot be selfish and be happily married, period!” Marie stated with authority. Selfish human passions blur the desired image of God. We need to seek God’s guidance when we want to improve our marriage.
God is the creator of marriage. He is the head, the one in charge, the Alpha and Omega, the boss, the commander, the CEO. He is the absolute authority. The buck needs to go to and stop at God’s desk.
Adam and Eve were called to obey God. “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 of it you will surely die’ ” (Genesis 2:16–17). God told them the consequences of not being obedient. Only the One in highest authority has the right to command and set the consequences of failure.
We can choose to obey God or we can choose to live on our own terms. There will be rewards or consequences depending on our choices. I (BJ) learned the hard way in my first marriage. We lived life on our own terms and didn’t pursue God. If it was convenient, we put in our time in church on Sunday. That marriage ended in divorce. Now, after marrying Doug, who takes his role as a Christian husband seriously, I’ve experienced marriage both with and without God’s leadership. No comparison.
God is a God of order and purpose. He has a plan but will not force us to follow it. It’s our choice to acknowledge Him as the head of our marriage and personally choose to follow His incredible plan of unconditional love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, and productivity, or not. Personal ambitions are puny in comparison to the richness and fullness of life God wants to give us through our marital relationship. There is peace and joy to be found in letting God run our marriage. It’s our choice to relinquish control to God and follow His leadership. “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes ).
Adam was responsibility to work in the garden and nurture God’s earthly creation (Genesis ). Adam was also given the job of naming everything (Genesis ). God was the one who noticed that Adam needed a partner, saying, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Genesis ). Out of all the animals he had created, a suitable helper for Adam was not found. So God put Adam into a deep sleep, took one of his ribs, and created a woman. Eve was designed to be Adam’s helpmate. She was created to complement, enhance, and complete him. Eve was the completion of the whole unit of marriage. The woman was a gift to the man. It’s so awesome to think of our mate as a gift from God. Adam and Eve’s union was meant to be complete and permanent.
The Scripture then goes on to explain that the man declared that the woman was “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” He meant this literally, because God had created Eve from Adam’s rib! The next verse explains how this relates to all other husbands and wives—they are to be united to each other, to be “one flesh.”
So God created the first marriage and placed the man and woman in the Garden of Eden, where all their needs were met. They lived there in happiness and trust in God; the Scripture says, “The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.”
The secret to creating a better union is . . .
Initiating a personal relationship with God,
Imitating godly behavior, and
Inviting God to be the head of your marriage.
I love what I learned from Eve’s story of temptation. I call her story “the forbidden fruit fling that put Eve in an apple jam!” “Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God really say, “You must not eat from any tree in the garden”?’ ” (Genesis 3:1). When the serpent tempted Eve, he had a plan. Eve was naive and so are we if we think we can resist temptation by ourselves. That’s when we’re jelly in the tempter’s hands.
Temptation is enticement to commit an unwise or immoral act, with a promise of reward. No one escapes being tempted or attracted to something that is not in God’s will. Studying Eve makes me feel so vulnerable but causes me to take action to prevent being spiritually compromised like she was. She didn’t see temptation coming.
The enemy will appeal to our greedy nature, desires for pleasure, and selfishness by whispering how good something will be, causing us to want something that is not in our best interest. “When you eat of it your eyes will be opened” (Genesis 3:5). Once Eve saw the delicious-looking apple, she wanted the forbidden fruit. She succumbed to temptation.
Satan, the master of deception, will disguise himself as our friend and appeal to our selfish nature. Jesus hadn’t eaten for forty days when Satan tempted him to turn the stones to bread and eat. Jesus quoted Scripture to avoid giving in to Satan’s temptations (Matthew 4:1–11).
Being tempted is not a sin. All of us will be tempted. Submitting to temptation is the sin because it separates us from God. But hope is not lost. We have choices. When Satan knocks at my door, I can invite him in, remain and entertain him, or slam the door in his face. Praying or calling on the name of Jesus helps me resist temptation and makes the devil flee (James 4:7).
Eve made at least three mistakes when she was tempted:
1. She relied on herself. Eve responded to temptation before seeking counsel. We all need help. We are too vulnerable and weak to battle the forces of evil alone. Facing a powerful adversary alone is a prescription for failure. Eve could have turned to God or Adam, who was standing right there. She didn’t realize that:
Sin will take you farther than you want to go,
Keep you longer than you want to stay,
And cost you more than you want to pay.
2. She multiplied her sin. “She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” (Genesis 3:6b). Beware! Sinners love company. Eve sinned and tempted Adam to sin. Was it so she wouldn’t feel guilty? “Here, Doug, have a second helping of my delicious chicken lasagna even if you’re full (and then I can, too).” I’m no better than Eve, tempting my husband when I know it’s not in our best interest. “Do not cause anyone to stumble” (1 Corinthians ).
3. She covered up her deceit. Before sinning, Adam and Eve were comfortable in their state of nakedness. I doubt that Eve had any self-esteem issues. Adam did not lust after every other woman in the world. (Okay, so there weren’t any other women—a mere technicality.) When they sinned, they realized they were naked and covered themselves up with fig leaves. There are consequences for disobedience. Because of sin, Eve and Adam went from living unashamed to feeling that they had something to hide or cover up. These two, who had enjoyed a close and trusting relationship with God, were now hiding in the bushes, avoiding God to keep Him from seeing their shame.
When we sin, as Eve did when she sinned (relying on self, misquoting God, wanting more, multiplying sin, or hiding it) there will be adverse consequences. But God gave us assurance that we can turn away from temptation: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians ).
Sometimes we’ve thought the worst thing that could happen is for our sin to be exposed. Actually, the worst thing would be for our sin to remain hidden and to fester, grow, and intensify! Confessing our sin and bringing light into the darkness may be a shameful and painful experience, but it is the only way to seek forgiveness, reconciliation, healing, and growth.
The secret of handling temptation is . . .
Seeking God’s way out.
As a man, I often find myself trying to fix problems, whether they’re in me, my spouse, others, or in things around the house. My dilemma with the story of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit is, “How does Adam fix, or un-eat, the fruit?” I compare eating the forbidden fruit with saying something negative to BJ. How can I take back hurtful words? It’s like putting toothpaste back in the tube.
People love to be recognized for doing something good, honorable, or altruistic. In fact, sometimes I have gone out of my way to be sure others see what a wonderful thing I did, so that I will be recognized for my goodness. It’s like telling everyone how humble I am. However, when I do something wrong, there seems to be no limit to the number of ways I try to hide or avoid responsibility for my actions.
From the very first sin of the world, human beings have looked for ways to avoid responsibility for their bad choices. One day I was watching my preschool granddaughters play. I saw Nicole push Mandy, who landed with a thump on the floor and began crying. She picked herself up and ran to me for comfort. After holding her and drying her tears, I turned to Nicole. “Did you push your sister?” I asked.
“No,” replied Nicole innocently.
“Nicole!” I said sternly.
Nicole justified herself immediately. “Mandy took one of my crayons.”
After explaining to Nicole a more appropriate way of handling crayon rustlers, I reflected on the event. I marveled at how a four-year-old had already learned the fine art of avoiding responsibility by blaming. Nicole’s response was classic.
The original pattern for blame was established by Adam and Eve. Thanks, you guys! We are still seeking to avoid responsibility for poor choices in three main ways. God can’t be impressed with any of these:
When confronted with his sin of eating the forbidden fruit, Adam responded by blaming God and Eve—”the woman You put here with me.” Nice going, Adam. Up to this point, there were only four intelligent beings—God, Adam, Eve, and Satan. Adam blamed two of the four. Why he left out Satan and himself is a mystery to me. Maybe he wanted to leave someone for Eve to blame.
Did Adam believe that God and Eve were actually responsible for his eating the fruit? If Adam thought like I do, the answer is probably yes. When it comes to wrongdoing, I minimize my own part and magnify someone else’s part. It’s the reverse of when something goes right. I magnify my own efforts, while often failing to recognize the important contributions made by others. Forgive me, Lord.
Formerly, I believed it was better to hide my sin than to face the consequences. Before marrying BJ, I had developed a drinking problem. It was ruining my life, but other than that it wasn’t a problem. I promised her that I would not drink after we were married. I was faithful for several months, but then I succumbed to temptation and began drinking again without her knowledge. I concealed this behavior for the first two years of our marriage and could have continued for many more.
However, I couldn’t hide my sin from God. “The Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts” (1 Chronicles 28:9). “Oh Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar” (Psalm 139:1–2). The Holy Spirit, whose job it is to confront us with our sin, was working on my heart.
The conflict between good and evil within me became so great that I could no longer live with the duplicity. I came to the conclusion that I would rather face the consequences than continue lying. I asked for God’s forgiveness and was assured of His pardon. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
I humbled myself and confessed to BJ. It was a very painful time in our relationship. She struggled to forgive because she felt deceived, betrayed, and hurt. With God’s help, she forgave me, and with God’s and BJ’s assistance, I was able to stop drinking. The bumpy road of our marriage was patched and eventually improved in spite of this ugly pothole of deceit.
When we sin, avoiding detection may seem like a victory, but two things will occur:
• The Holy Spirit will convict you of your sin.
• Satan will enlarge your sin and cause concealment to become more difficult and more painful.
God’s Word provides a solution to the dilemma. “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John ). I had to endure the consequences of my sin, which included rejection by BJ until her heart softened. But by telling the truth I no longer had to feel guilty, and I no longer had to live a lie to cover up my sin. I felt as free as a released prisoner of war!
God, in His wisdom, provided a solution to our challenge, but only after I admitted wrongdoing. The model of repentance and plan for restoring a broken relationship was presented in the parable of the lost son (Luke –32). The son demanded from his father his part of the estate, left home, and squandered his money in a foreign land. After he hit bottom, he developed a plan of repentance, found in verses 17–20. There are three parts:
If Adam had responded like the lost son, he may have said: “God, You created me to be perfect, yet I have let You down. Against Your instruction, I stood by while the woman You gave me ate the forbidden fruit, and then I ate some too. I cannot undo my actions, but please, God, tell me what can I do now to regain a right relationship with You.”
I will remember the story of the prodigal son the next time I find myself with forbidden fruit in my mouth and I hear God asking, “What have you done?” Instead of hiding, denying, or blaming, I can choose to humble myself, confess my sin, and seek to restore a right relationship with God and my spouse.
The secret to ending blame is . . .
Admitting when we are wrong and asking forgiveness.
1. Of the three essential ingredients to creating a better marriage (Initiating a personal relationship with God, Imitating Godly behavior, and Inviting God to be the head of your marriage), which area do you need to improve in? What steps will you take?
2. What part of asking forgiveness from your spouse is most difficult for you and why?
3. What temptation do you deal with most frequently? What are you doing about it?