Project Wittenberg

Human Sexuality:
A Theological Perspective

II
Marriage and Its Purposes

A Report of the
Commission on Theology and Church Relations
of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod
as prepared by its Social Concerns Committee
September 1981


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II.

MARRIAGE AND ITS PURPOSES

The earthly estate of marriage is a divine institution. It is therefore subject to certain divine requirements which remain in effect until the close of this age regardless of the social customs, civil laws, or ecclesiastical rites which may come to surround it. That God Himself established marriage and pronounced it good also means that He created it for the good of humanity. He is at work in marriage to accomplish His purposes. In marriage God intends to provide for (1) the relation of man and woman in mutual love (Gen. 2:18); (2) the procreation of children (Gen. 1:28); and (3) the partial remedy for sinful lust (1 Cor. 7:2). Both the fourth and sixth commandments presume and support these purposes of marriage in human life.

    A. Marriage

    Marriage is the lifelong union of one man and one woman entered into by mutual consent. It is ordinarily expected that this consent and commitment will be public, that marriage is not a merely personal decision but one which concerns all those who are now to treat this man and woman as husband and wife. Although marriage derives its validity from the commitment of a man and woman to a permanent sharing of their lives, the institution of marriage will normally be circumscribed by various civil laws imposed by society. Even though the legal restrictions with which our society surrounds marriage do not belong to the essence of marriage, [8] there is good reason to believe that they will ordinarily serve human well-being -- a purpose for which God has established civil authority (Rom. 13:4a). Such restrictions serve the important social function of safeguarding rights of the spouse and children. More important still, they may encourage thoughtful, reflective commitment and thus protect the interest not only of society but also of those who think they are in love. Unjustified disregard for the legal requirements which have been established by the state concerning marriage violates God's command for obedience to the authorities He has placed over us.

    The essence of marriage does not consist in legal requirements nor in ecclesiastical ceremonies. To say otherwise would be to retract the Biblical emphasis on marriage as a worldly or earthly institution. Not the pronouncement of a minister but the consent of the partners belongs to the essence of marriage. Indeed, not until the fourth century A.D. is there even evidence of priestly prayer and blessing in connection with the marriage of Christians. It was felt to be entirely a secular act, though, of course, one carried out -- like all acts -- "in the Lord." [9] To say that marriage is not primarily an ecclesiastical matter is not to say that it is autonomous, however. Marriage remains a divine institution given by God to His creatures to nourish their common life together and to preserve human life toward the final goal of all creation.

    While recognizing that marriage as a divinely ordained earthly estate can be legitimately contracted in the civil realm, Christian couples will ordinarily desire to make their vows in a public worship service. In such a context they are able to hear what the Word of God teaches concerning the sanctity of the marriage bond and to permit fellow Christians to join them and their families in asking God's blessings on their life together. For such couples the ecclesiastical marriage rite is not the church's way of making sacred something otherwise profane. Rather, the church's act of consecration signifies that marriage is holy because it is God-ordained and that it can be received with thanksgiving (1 Tim. 4:5).

    Sexual intercourse engaged in outside of the marriage relationship is forbidden by the Scriptures and must be condemned by the church (Gen. 2:24; 1 Thess. 4:2-5; cf. Gal. 5:19; Eph 5:3; Col. 3:5; 1 Cor. 6:16-20). [10] This, of course, includes all casual sexual relations, which are accepted practice in our society, and arrangements whereby couples live together without being married. Even when the partners feel themselves united by a deep bond of love and intend to be married at some point in the future ("engagement"), the same judgment must be made. [11] Where there is no commitment to a complete, lifelong sharing of life in marriage, sexual relations are contrary to God's will.

    Because marriage is not essentially a legal or ecclesiastical matter, it is possible, however, for a man and woman to give themselves physically to each other, affirming to each other and to the public their consent to share their future lives in a permanent union, recognizing that their union might be fruitful and to do this without a public ceremony. Such a relationship in reality constitutes marriage (common-law marriage) [12] and cannot be called fornication. While not a violation of the Sixth Commandment, such a way of proceeding may involve an element of deceit in that it implies that the individuals involved are living in a single state, a condition which does not in fact exist and which may cause offense to some. Moreover, this relationship sets aside the regular societal safeguards which have been established for the protection of the rights and interests of all the parties involved, and in some states it is a violation of the legal requirements for marriage. [13]

    Christians hold to the principle that the Fourth Commandment ("Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother, that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth") must also be applied to the estate of marriage. Accordingly, the blessing of parents will ordinarily be sought. Christian couples, in keeping with the Fourth Commandment's injunction that parents in all things be honored and held in high esteem by their children, will already have sought the blessing of their parents on their union prior to the marriage ceremony. Such couples will therefore recognize the appropriateness of inviting parents to declare their blessings upon their union. Christians recognize that God's blessings follow when those desiring to enter marriage seek the advice and consent of parents on decisions of importance to a wider circle of persons than themselves alone. God's order of things concerning the family and civil order should not be disparaged or ignored. "Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution ..." (1 Peter 2:13a)

________Notes________
Marriage

[8] While "mutual consent" constitutes the essence of marriage, there are certain conditions set forth in the Scriptures under which proper consent cannot be given -- e.g., married persons cannot give consent. Martin Chemnitz dealt with this question in the following way: "'What God has joined together, let not man put asunder.' But in order that it should be such an indissoluble bond and inseparable union, it is necessary that it be a divine union, that is, that it not be in conflict with the teaching of the Word of God about the essence of marriage.... For instance, if there is an impediment in the degrees either of consanguinity or of affinity which God in His own Word Strictly prohibited; if a person had another lawful wife beforehand; if the consent was not freely and expressly given, if the kind of error with respect to the person entered in which happened to Jacob with Leah; if a person's nature is simply not fit for marriage, etc.... Moreover, they do not separate a marriage that has been divinely joined, but show that it is not a lawful or divine union" (Examination of the Council of Trent, Part II, trans. Fred Kramer [St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1979], pp. 738 f.; italics ours).

[9] For a discussion of the beginning of ecclesiastical participation in marriage cf. E. Schillebeeckx, O. P., Marriage: Human Reality, and Saving Mystery, trans. N. D. Smith (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1965), pp. 244 ff. As a human institution a wedding rite win normally provide(1) a reverent context for announcement of the consent which is of the essence of marriage, (2) for the giving of thanks and praise to God for the institution of marriage, and (3) for the prayers of the congregation that the marriage will be a God-pleasing and fruitful one.

[10] The Greek term porneia is used in the Scriptures (Septuagint and the New Testament) to include the whole range of sexual immorality, i.e. fornication (Matt. 15:19; Acts 15:20, 29; 1 Cor. 5:1; 6:18; Gen. 38:24; Lev. 18). Porneia is sometimes used in the narrower sense of marital infidelity or adultery (Matt. 5:32; 15:19; 19:9; Lev. 20:10-11). The Scriptures categorically condemn every form of fornication as sin against God (Lev. 18; 20:10-11; 1 Cor. 6:9-10, 18; Eph. 5:3; Col. 3:5).

[11] The nature of commitment in the sequence of engagement and marriage is a twofold one: The promises involved in engagement (betrothal) are made with a view to the pledges given as part of the marriage ceremony, where the promise to live together as one flesh is given in public.

[12] The usual requirements for a valid common-law marriage recognized as legally binding in some states are: (1) an agreement presently to be husband and wife; (2) living together as husband and wife; and (3) holding each other out as husband and wife.

[13] At the present time approximately a third of the U.S.A. states legally recognize common-law marriages.

________________

    B. The Purposes of Marriage

      1. Mutual Love: The Relational Purpose of Marriage

      The Bible, despite its quite natural preoccupation with other concerns, is not oblivious to the awesome human significance of the encounter between a man and a woman who give themselves fully to each other in a "one flesh" union of love. [14] The relation between husband and wife has a significance and meaning in and of itself, distinct from any other purposes (such as procreation) which their union may serve.

      This relational aspect of marriage is emphasized in Genesis 2. The beasts of the field, the birds of the air, every living creature has been called forth by the creative Word of God. And then, as the pinnacle of this creation, the man has been formed from the dust of the ground. Obedient to his Creator, he names the animals, placing each in its appropriate role beneath himself. But, we read, "For the man there was not found a helper fit for him" (Gen. 2:20). No answer to the loneliness of the man had yet been given. God himself had not yet announced His good pleasure. Against the background of all the stately cadences in chapter 1 which had pronounced the various aspects of creation "very good," we hear now a different divine utterance. It is "not good" -- not good that the man should be alone.

      God therefore provides the woman as helpmeet. This means not primarily one who will help the man as an assistant in his work. Rather, the woman is "a helping being, in which, as soon as he sees it, he may recognize himself." [15] She is the mirror in which the man will come to know himself as man. The man and woman have been created toward fellowship, and neither can come to know the self rightly apart from the other. The woman is given to the man in order that neither of them may be alone, that together they may know themselves in relation to one who is other than self. [16]

      Having created the woman, God brings her to the man, and he in turn responds with those words which we have read rather too solemnly: "At last!" At last, here is one who is "bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh." This is an expression of "joyous astonishment." [17] It is Romeo's "O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!" -- uttered when he catches sight of Juliet. [18] The predicament of the man's loneliness -- his "aloneness" -- has been discerned and overcome by God's creative Word. A relation has been established in which one may come to know oneself and the other in a fellowship of love.

      The union of husband and wife extends to the most intimate sharing in the act of sexual intercourse. The complete physical sharing of husband and wife is characterized by relaxation, enjoyment, and freedom from guilt. Decisions relative to this physical sharing should be made by husband and wife after prayerful discussion, as they keep in mind always that mutual enjoyment of God's beautiful gift is the goal they both seek (1 Thess. 4:4-5; 1 Cor. 7:5). Couples need to remember that their physical commitments are personal commitments. The act of intercourse is described in the Bible as an act of knowing: "Adam Knew Eve his wife" (Gen. 4:1). This is no mere euphemism; or, if it is, it has an uncanny aptness. In the intimate sharing of the sexual act, a union in which the self is naked before the other, a unique knowing takes place. This is not knowledge about sex. It is knowledge of the self and the other as sexual beings united with one another in this most intimate union of giving and receiving. [19] The man and the woman, two different beings, while retaining (even accenting) their differences, nevertheless become one. The knowledge of that fellowship -- like the knowledge of that fellowship in which God "knows" those who are His -- can never be fully communicated apart from the experience of the union itself. It can only be said that in this union the partners come to know themselves even as they know the other. They know themselves only "in relation" to each other.

      It is, of course, possible to forget that we are here talking of mutual love and to imagine that nothing more than a satisfaction of sexual appetite is involved. Clearly, however, though we might settle for no more than that, to do so would be to fall short of the personal relationship for which God has created us. The satisfaction of appetite alone, apart from any commitment of love, has not yet risen from the animal to the human, personal sphere. [20]

      To view our sexuality in the context of a personal relationship of mutual love and commitment in marriage helps us to evaluate the practice of masturbation. Quite clearly, chronic masturbation falls short of the Creator's intention for our use of the gift of sexuality, namely, that our sexual drives should be oriented toward communion with another person in the mutual love and commitment of marriage. By its very nature masturbation separates sexual satisfaction from the giving and receiving of sexual intercourse in the marital union and is symptomatic of the tendency of human beings to turn in upon themselves for the satisfaction of their desires.

      In childhood, masturbation may often be a form of temporary experimentation. However, children of God are warned against the voluntary indulgence of sexual fantasies as endangering faith and spiritual life. Such inordinate desires are clearly called sin by our Lord (Matt. 5:28). As the child grows and matures, youthful lusts and fantasies (2 Tim. 2:22) are left behind.

      For those who are troubled by guilt and who seek God's help in overcoming problems in this area, pastors and Christian counselors need to stand ready to offer Christ's forgiveness, remind them of the power of the Holy Spirit to help them lead "a chaste and decent life in word and deed," and hold before them the joys of remaining faithful to what God's Word teaches about His intention for the good gift of sexuality.

      The satisfaction of sexual appetite does not necessarily involve a personal relationship at all. At that level the man, for example, need not be concerned with woman as woman, as a personal being who calls him to fellowship, but simply with her physiological functions and capacities. And at that level it is quite understandable that people should regard their partners as essentially interchangeable. C. S. Lewis has described the situation quite well:

        We use a most unfortunate idiom when we say, of a lustful man prowling the streets, that he "wants a woman." Strictly speaking, a woman is just what he does not want. He wants a pleasure for which a woman happens to be the necessary piece of apparatus. [21]

      When the church condemns such a casual approach to sexual encounters as contrary to the will of God, it does more than take recourse in some special "religious" insight. It calls people back to a realization of the human, personal significance of the sexual act. A society in which casual sexual encounters and divorce prevail is on its way to viewing sexual partners as interchangeable. Its tendency is to dehumanize people and treat them solely in terms of their sexual functions, abstracting such functions from any content of personal significance. The relationship of mutual love, one of the purposes for the fulfillment of which the Creator ordains marriage, is something very different. "Eros makes a man really want, not a woman, but one particular woman. In some mysterious but quite indisputable fashion the lover desires the Beloved herself, not the pleasure she can give." [22] And, indeed, lovers -- however fickle they may prove to be at some future moment -- are genuinely captivated by one another. They will quite naturally swear fidelity to each other. They rightly recognize the immense human and personal significance of the encounter with the beloved. It is this mutual love, implanted by the Creator in His creatures, with its original tendency toward permanent commitment, which marriage institutionalizes and seeks to make permanent. [23] Thus does the Creator continue today to deal with the predicament of "aloneness" within the human creation. He continues to give men and women to each other in the one-flesh union of marriage.

________Notes________
Mutual Love

[14] The frankly erotic quality of the Song of Songs is not a frequently mentioned topic within the church. Yet it could and should be. Consider the following comment of Stephen Sapp: "Although God neither appears nor is mentioned in it (which makes it 'secular' for us). For the sages he is not absent from the Song, nor are his love and concern for his creatures unmanifested in it. Rather they are clearly shown in the enjoyment and pleasure (given by God to man in the creation) which the lovers find in each other and in their surroundings" (Sexuality, the Bible, and Science, p. 26).

[15] C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 1 trans. James Martin (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, n d., reprinted by Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1971), p.86.

[16] It is clear that Gen. 2:18-25 has reference not only to marriage but to the broader male-female duality. Here, however, we use it primarily to refer to marriage itself as the center of the male-female relation. That this is justified, v. 24 makes evident.

[17] Keil-Delitzsch. P. 90.

[18] William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, I, v. 45.

[19] Cf. Helmut Thielieke's fine discussion (The Ethics of Sex, trans. John W. Doberstein [New York: Harper and Row, 1964], pp. 66 ff.) of the distinction between sexual knowledge and knowledge about sex.

[20] Thielieke, pp. 20-26.

[21] C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves (New York: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1960), pp.134 f.

[22] Ibid., p. 135.

[23] We have, of course, described marriage as we in our culture ordinarily experience it. It is equally possible that it might not be preceded by mutual love (e.g., marriages might be arranged by parents), but the institution of marriage would still be ordered toward such a relationship of mutual love, and we would expect it to give rise to this love.

________________

      2. Children: The Procreative Purpose of Marriage

      Men and women are called out of their loneliness into the fellowship of marriage. Yet, their union might now turn wholly inward and become a purely self-serving one. This is not to be. The union of the man and woman who in their embrace have excluded all third parties is to be a fruitful union. They are privileged to give life to future generations.

      The Biblical injunction to "be fruitful and multiply" is to be understood as a blessing as well as a command. It is one of God's good gifts to His people, for procreation is an actual sharing in God's ongoing creative activity. We may even speak of the blessing as a kind of natural promise embedded within the creation: a sign and manifestation of the truth that genuine love is lifegiving and fruitful. Hence, in the Christian tradition the child has been regarded as a blessing from God (Ps. 127:3-5; 128:3). A willingness to give birth involves a willingness to align ourselves -- in wonder, humility, and hope -- with that blessing embedded in the order of creation itself.

      The child reveals to the parents "the depth of their carnal unity. He partakes of both. He is both one and the other, and he is this at the same time." [24] In marriage two different and separate individuals are united without having their individuality obliterated. As a result of God's creative power at work through their union the child incarnate makes physical and represents in the flesh -- the mystery of this union. With the birth of a child, husband and wife come to share a common work. The birth of their child is the public manifestation that this union of husband and wife is not one which turns inward, concentrating solely upon itself. Theirs is the task of raising the child up to become a mature and responsible member of the human family. Moreover, Christian parents have reason to look upon the birth of a child from their union as an occasion to have this child brought into the divine family and to nourish it as it grows to spiritual maturity. They have God's promise that He desires to have their child become an heir of eternal life and a member of His household through Holy Baptism. Theirs is the high privilege of joining in the common work of raising a child up in the knowledge of Jesus Christ, whose forgiveness enables us to live together in unselfish love toward each other.

      Couples may, of course, remain childless either voluntarily or involuntarily. From the Christian perspective, involuntary childlessness need stand under no special stigma. While couples who are involuntarily childless can find great comfort knowing that the Child Jesus has come among us and that all Christians are members of the one family He has created, nevertheless it is still true that a childless couple may sorrow greatly at their inability to bear children. This is perfectly understandable, since one of the natural purposes of marriage has failed to come to fruition in their union. We need not gloss over that fact. Indeed, we do well to share their sorrow where we can.

      However, we ought not characterize their union as "incomplete." To do so would be to take back all that was said concerning the relational purposes of marriage. It would be to forget the profound significance of the one-flesh union. That union of husband and wife has a full and sufficient meaning in itself, and the joining of a man and woman in marriage should not be envisaged merely as a means of reproduction. Furthermore, husband and wife, even when childless, can still engage in a common work. Their union need not turn inward solely upon itself. They can permit the absence of children itself to be creative and fruitful in new ways in their shared life. To be sure, it will take greater thought for them to find some other work in which their oneness may incarnate itself, but it is possible for them to do so. And, of course, they may seek to adopt children. It would be hard to find anywhere in our lives a more exact paradigm of agape (self-giving love) than the love which will move people to become parents or to provide foster care for those children who for a variety of reasons are without a family to provide for them. To offer such love is a special blessing and opportunity available to the childless couple.

      In view of the Biblical command and the blessing to "be fruitful and multiply," it is to be expected that marriage will not ordinarily be voluntarily childless. But, in the absence of Scriptural prohibition, there need be no objection to contraception within a marital union which is, as a whole, fruitful. [25] Moreover, once we grant the appropriateness of contraception, we will also recognize that sterilization may under some circumstances be an acceptable form of contraception. Because of its relatively permanent nature, sterilization is perhaps less desirable than less-far-reaching forms of contraception. However, there should be no moral objection to it, especially for couples who already have children and who now seek to devote themselves to the rearing of those children, for those who have been advised by a physician that the birth of another child would be hazardous to the health of the mother, or for those who for reasons of age, physical disability, or illness are not able to care for additional children. Indeed, there may be special circumstances which would persuade a Christian husband and wife that it would be more responsible and helpful to all concerned, under God, not to have children. Whatever the particular circumstances, Christians dare not take lightly decisions in this area of their life together. They should examine their motives thoroughly and honestly and take care lest their decisions be informed by a desire merely to satisfy selfish interests.

      With respect to voluntary childlessness in general, we should say that while there may be special reasons which would persuade a Christian husband and wife to limit the size of their family, they should remember at all times how easy it is for them simply to permit their union to turn inward and refuse to take up the task of sharing in God's creative activity. Certainly Christians will not give as a reason for childlessness the sorry state of the world and the fear of bringing a child into such a world. We are not to forget the natural promise embedded in the fruitfulness of marriage. To bear and rear children can be done, finally, as an act of faith and hope in the God who has promised to supply us with all that we "need to support this body and life."

________Notes________
Children

[24] Robert Mehl, Society and Love: Ethical Problems of Family Life, trans. James H. Farley (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1964), p. 46.

[25] The ease of contraception has been the cause of considerable disagreement within Christendom. The position and the problems of the Roman Catholic Church with respect to this matter have been well publicized, though perhaps not well understood. The teaching of Pope Paul VI in Humanae vitae itself largely a rearticulation of the traditional Catholic position, is that "each and every marriage act must remain open to the transmission of life"(Humanae vitae [New York: Paulist Press. 1968,par. 11]).(We might note that, technically, an encyclical is not held to be infallible teaching. From the Catholic perspective the pope here speaks, of course, with great authority, but he does not utter infallible teaching.) Catholic teaching recognizes both the relational and the procreative purposes of marriage and affirms that both are to be fulfilled within marriage. Its position on birth control derives from its insistence that no single act of sexual intercourse can seek to enhance one of these purposes (the relational) while deliberately frustrating the realization of the other (the procreative). It is not enough, according to this teaching, for the marital union of husband and wife as a whole to be fruitful. Rather, every act of intercourse must place no artificial impediment in the way of fruitfulness. From what the Scriptures say about the threefold purpose of marriage, we could judge that such a viewpoint isolates the sexual act from its human, personal context and focuses too narrowly on the procreative function apart from the personal context. This is, in fact, a judgment shared by many contemporary Roman Catholic moral theologians.

________________

      3. Restraint of Sin: The Healing Purpose of Marriage

      Marriage as we experience it is not an idyllic order set in an unfallen world. There is nothing sinful about our sexuality per se, but our sexuality, like all aspects of our lives, has been disordered as a result of sin. Appetite uncontrolled by mutual love constantly threatens to break out in disruptive ways in our lives. Love itself can become a god to be pursued at all costs, even at the cost of broken promises and unfaithfulness to those to whom we have committed ourselves. Because sin permeates the whole of our lives, it threatens to distort our sexual experience.

      Christian teaching has therefore stressed that the Creator graciously uses marriage as an order by which He preserves human life and disciplines human beings as He works out His plan to make them a part of that redeemed community which He is preparing in His Son. This point has crystallized itself in many people's minds in the words of St. Paul's injunction that "it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion" (1 Cor. 7:9). Or, as Paul writes a few verses earlier in that same chapter, "because of the temptation to immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband" (v. 2).

      Sexual appetites need to be controlled and disciplined. Marriage functions under God's ordinance to domesticate our passion and channel it in ways which, to some extent, bring it back into accord with the Creator's order. Within marriage sexual passion is committed to fidelity even if conditions should change for the worse and fidelity seem less attractive than it once did. Marriage becomes then, under God's goodness, a place of remedy. Our untameable appetites and romantic impulses are here brought down from their lofty pretensions to earth and bound to the good of one other person. Lovers are quick to promise faithfulness, and, as we have said, they are right to do so. To keep those promises is more difficult. Marriage as an institution is used by God to foster and enrich our commitment to the needs of others, to teach us the extent to which love must be committed if it is truly to be love. There may be, it is true, marriages in which such contented commitment never fully develops. Even then, however, a kind of healing can take place when there is steadfast determination to honor the Creator and the partner He has given.

      Precisely because marriage is intended to help us control our sexual desires, there can be no such thing as a trial marriage. Continued commitment to a marital union is not to depend on what our desires and wishes may be at any given time. Instead, the institution of marriage and the commitment to which it binds us should serve to discipline and shape our desires. These desires, permeated by sin, need to be controlled. Marriage is not simply to be evaluated by our wishes. These wishes must also be shaped by marriage.

      It is all too easy to misunderstand the teaching that "it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion." This can come to sound like a recommendation to do with one man or woman what we would really like to do with many -- and to think that in so doing we act correctly. With such a view marriage becomes an essentially self-serving device. But those who can find no more than this in Paul's advice have not yet begun to penetrate to this deeper concern. Marriage is not a restraint of sin merely in the sense that it permits each person to satisfy his instincts in a socially approved context. It is a restraint of sin -- a place of remedy --in that it provides the possibility for husband and wife to serve the needs of each other. In their sinful condition the husband and wife are able to serve each other's passionate needs and to offer their loving support to one another. By so complementing one another, husband and wife join in the task of bringing their lives into accord with the divine intention for human desire. [26]

      Within marriage passion is also ordered toward the procreation and rearing of children. We should not overlook the sense in which not only the marital union itself but also the family is a place designed to help us in our weakness. Gabriel Marcel has written that "a family is not created or maintained as an entity without the exercise of a fundamental generosity. ..." [27] To give birth, jointly to nourish and sustain that life to which they have given birth --all this is the common work of husband and wife. And it is an act of self-spending which can only be compared to a gift. It implies a certain fundamental generosity, a willingness to spend one's time and energy, one's person, in nourishing and-sustaining a new life. Thus the family is not only an institution in which parents raise their children to maturity. It is also a place in which God is at work shaping and molding the parents themselves. The family as an institution will not flourish unless the self-interested impulses of the parents are controlled and, sometimes, broken. In this way, too, marriage is a place of healing, shaping its participants for a life in common and providing them with a place where they can delight in the acts of self-giving which all genuine community requires.

      Real healing takes place in marriage not merely when sin is restrained, but when husband and wife love each other as Christ loved them and "gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God" (Eph. 5:2). That is to say, sin is not only curbed, but it is forgiven in the name of Christ and so is daily removed as the destructive force which separates people from each other. Christian couples need to remember that the controlling principle of the new life in God's redeemed community works genuine healing also in the marital union and in the family circle: " ... and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you" (Eph. 4:32).

________Notes________
Restraint of Sin

[26] We must, in this connection, add the observation that many marital unions offer healing in quite another, almost paradoxical, sense. Serious illness may afflict one of the partners; or professional responsibilities may make it necessary for one of the spouses to be absent from home for longer periods of time. Such situations call for the discipline of continence. That is to say, personal fulfillment is found at a moral and spiritual level quite apart from the opportunity of partners in marriage giving themselves to each other in sexual intercourse. Experiences of this kind fall under the category of bearing one's cross of discipleship. No less than the power of the Holy Spirit is available to married partners under circumstances of this kind. In fact, they have been given the specific promise: "God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it" (l Cor. 10:13).

[27] Gabriel Marcel, Homo Viator: Introduction to a Metaphysic of Hope, trans. Emma Crauford (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1962), p. 87.


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