Key Scripture: "Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds" (Heb. 10:23-24).
This lesson looks at four married couples in the Bible. Each account has been chosen because it points out specific principles that you may apply to your own relationship. Hopefully, you will be able to glean more principles as you read about these famous couples. As you discover God’s principles for your marriage, be assured that you can put them into practice with the help of the resident Counselor, the Holy Spirit.
Abraham and Sarah
Abraham and Sarah are an example of a couple who weathered the storms of life by the grace of the Almighty and stayed together until parted by death (Gen. 23:1-2). They represent the perfect order of headship and submission (1 Peter 3:5-6). Abraham was head of his family, but both he and Sarah were in submission to God (Gen. 12:4-5). The couple had probably known each other since childhood and had married young. Abraham loved Sarah, for he did not abandon her when Sarah proved to be barren (15:2-3), a practice common in that day when procreation was the prime reason for marriage. They enjoyed a loving physical relationship, even in old age (21:2).
At God’s urging, Abraham left his home and set out for Canaan (12:1). At various spots along the way, God reaffirmed his promise and directed him to move on. Sarah had perfect confidence in Abraham because she knew he was a friend of God (Isa. 41:8). She was well aware of the covenant God had made with Abraham, because the promised heir was to come through them together (Gen. 17:19).
However, both of them failed—Abraham with his deception in Egypt (Gen. 12:10-20) and Sarah with her decision about an heir, which (Gen. 16:20) Abraham did not override. After waiting for decades for the promised son, Sarah took the matter into her own hands. Instead of waiting on God, Sarah offered Abraham her handmaiden Hagar for the purpose of producing a child. As a result, Abraham’s extramarital affair with Hagar brought discord into their marriage and resulted in the birth of Ishmael (16:15). To this day his descendants, the Arabs, "live in hostility" with the descendants of Isaac (16:12).
Their story does have a happy ending. At the age of 100, Abraham became the father of Isaac, and childless Sarah had a son at the age of 90. Through all of their mistakes God saw the faithfulness of their hearts. They are listed in the famous roll call of the faithful in Hebrews 11.
"Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him. ‘So shall your offspring be.’ Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about 100 years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised" (Rom. 4:18-21).
Satan hates God’s divine order, for it protects a marriage, not only physically, but spiritually. A man’s role in headship is to protect and value his wife and family. Under the husband’s authority, his wife is free to develop her own spiritual gifts. Unselfish service to one another creates an environment in which freedom may be enjoyed. The two, in turn, are in mutual submission to Christ (Eph. 5:22-28). But the husband has the primary responsibility for the family.
Priscilla and Aquila
Aquila and Priscilla first met Paul in Corinth where they had fled after the Emperor Claudius ordered all Jews to leave Rome. Paul was immediately drawn to the couple because they shared his exuberance for spreading the gospel. He stayed in their home working with Aquila and Priscilla in their tent making business (Acts 18:1-4). Corinth was a wicked city whose citizens worshipped Aphrodite, the goddess of love. Her temple attracted worshipers from all over the ancient world. Temple prostitution flourished, and sexual temptations were ever present. Despite this environment, the marriage of Priscilla and Aquila thrived.
When Paul sailed for Syria, Priscilla and Aquila accompanied him. When they got to Ephesus, however, they parted company for a time. Priscilla and Aquila established a church in their home there and attended the local synagogue as well. A special blessing came to their outreach in Ephesus. The couple heard the great teacher Apollos expounding the Scriptures in the synagogue. However, his understanding of God was limited. Priscilla and Aquila graciously invited him to their home where they shared with him the fullness of their faith (18:24-26).
But life for the Christians was not easy, for Ephesus was also a famous center of idol worship. Paul himself had barely escaped death during a riot of silversmiths who made images of the fertility goddess Artemis (19:23). Paul applauded Priscilla and Aquila for their courage (Rom. 16:3-4). The couple led exemplary lives in the midst of a stressful ministry. For they shared the gospel in a hostile environment while constantly moving from place to place.
Always mentioned together in the Bible, Priscilla and Aquila were unified, completing and complementing each other. The Lord was first in their lives, and they were obedient to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Their love for each other was evident, because it overflowed to others in hospitality, sharing, teaching, and protectiveness. Priscilla and Aquila worked as an efficient ministry team accomplishing so much more together than they ever could have individually. Scholars have noted with interest that Priscilla’s name is always mentioned first (except Acts 18:2). This suggests that Priscilla’s gifts were more pronounced than her husband’s. If this was the case, Aquila’s supportive role toward his wife and her ministry is especially noteworthy.
Priscilla and Aquila had discovered the principle of agreement, which is most effective when practiced by a husband and wife under the leadership of Christ. They withstood the influences of the outside world, clinging to each other and an abiding faith in an unfailing God. One of the most significant attitudes of marriage partners is how they perceive themselves as a couple. Their most important perception is to see themselves as one. Other helpful suggestions for promoting the concept of agreement or unity follow:
• Pray for your unity with Christ.
• Give unselfishly to meet the needs of your mate.
• Share your dreams and goals.
• Spend quality time together.
• Build intimacy into your relationship.
• Be constantly aware of your partner’s needs.
• Value what he or she says.
• Confirm that he or she is God’s choice for you.
• Be an enthusiastic sex partner.
• Let him or her feel your affection.
• Allow trials to bond rather than separate.
• Have no secrets between you.
• Seek to give rather than receive.
• Listen carefully to determine what your spouse is feeling.
• Think often of your mate in romantic ways.
• Be faithful to your mate in your thoughts.
• Discover ways to meet your spouse’s needs.
• Be completely dependable and trustworthy.
• Stand together against outsiders.
• Never think of divorce as an option.
Ruth and Boaz
Although born into a pagan society in Moab, Ruth had married an Israelite and had fallen in love with his family and his God. When her husband, along with his brother and father, died, Ruth was left with her mother-in-law, Naomi. Unwilling to leave her, Ruth chose to return with Naomi to Bethlehem. "Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God" (Ruth 1:16).
It was very difficult for widows during that time, and the two came to Bethlehem penniless. Immediately Ruth went out to glean for leftover grain. She was an extremely hard worker who was grateful for the meager amount of grain she could pick up. Boaz, the owner of the field, was attracted to Ruth because of her loyalty, her willingness to work, and her boldness and faith in spite of a hopeless situation. As a result, Boaz, who was known for his generosity, offered her food when the harvesters ate. He also ordered his workers to leave good grain for her to pick up and told them to protect her.
Later, when Naomi discovered that Boaz was to be on the threshing floor, she felt it was time to remind him of his legal responsibility as a kinsman-redeemer. She advised Ruth to make herself presentable. At the right time and in an appropriate manner, she was to present herself to him. According to the custom, Ruth asked Boaz to cover her as a kinsman-redeemer. He responded favorably, flattered that this honorable woman would make the request of him. Subsequently, they were married, and Ruth conceived soon after.
While the circumstances surrounding their meeting may seem like a coincidence to unbelievers, Ruth was in the field of Boaz because of divine providence. God had already set his plan into motion for the birth of their great-grandson David. Centuries later, Jesus Christ would be born into the lineage of Ruth and Boaz.
A Love Story for All Time
This ancient story is timeless. A young widow (Ruth) and an older single (Boaz) kept themselves morally pure. Neither tried to run ahead of God or make things happen; they simply looked to the Lord for his provision. Happily, they discovered that God’s plans are so much grander than anything they ever could have dreamed. The book of Ruth is a love story in every sense: It shows the love of Ruth for her mother-in-law, a love for God, and finally, the love between a man and a woman.
God desires that your love story be written into a beautiful drama for everyone to enjoy. You and your spouse will be the main characters. God will provide the setting and the supporting actors and extras for the production of your lifetime. Your parts in this exciting extravaganza have already been written. Now your only concerns are to consult your Script daily and listen eagerly to the Director.
If you are married to an unbeliever, you can especially appreciate the story of Esther. Ahasuerus, the pagan king of Persia, dismissed his queen, then decided to hold a beauty contest to replace her. Through providential circumstances, Esther, a Jewess, became a candidate. Brought up under the godly influence of her cousin Mordecai (2:7), Esther submitted to life at the pagan court. To her credit, she asked for no special treatment (Est. 2:15). Her attitude and conduct was such that everyone in the palace favored her. King Ahasuerus was so enamored of Esther that he made her queen of Persia (2:17).
The wicked Haman, a favorite of the king, plotted to kill all the Jews through deception. Esther, upon hearing of the plot, felt helpless at first. Knowing that her very life was in danger, she nevertheless approached the king (5:1-3). God gave her wise words and favor with King Ahasuerus. As a result, Esther, walking by faith in a submissive spirit, was able to save her people. As a direct result, the Jews received special favor with the king and all were spared destruction. Her cousin Mordecai became great in Persia second only to King Ahasuerus. Esther realized that God had worked in her circumstances and had blessed her obedience. She had become fully persuaded that she was in those circumstances "for such a time as this" (4:14). Her faith in God had never wavered, though she was married to an unbeliever.
A believer’s attitude toward an unbelieving or nominally Christian spouse can make or break the relationship. The apostle Peter encouraged women to win their husbands over by their behavior. No man, Christian or non-Christian, wants to live with a critical wife (Prov. 25:24). Negative attitudes will turn a husband away from the Lord—exactly the opposite of the wife’s desire.
Jesus personified the proper attitude toward both believers and unbelievers. He was selfless (Phil. 2:3, 4); secure (vv. 6-7); and submissive (v. 8). When a wife strives to be like Jesus, she becomes a woman of praise and thanksgiving, remembering to thank God before her miracle. As Jesus’ light is reflected on her face, she may illuminate her husband’s path to the Lord.
Paul wrote the Corinthians about the importance of the Christian’s role in a "mixed" marriage: "And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband" (1 Cor. 7:13-14). The unbeliever is pre-evangelized through his or her relationship with the believing spouse.
1. Abraham and Sarah lived in a time when ________________________ was the prime reason for marriage. [See above]
2. Abraham’s extramarital affair with _______________ provoked extreme discord in his marriage. [See above]
3. True or False. Abraham and Sarah maintained their sexual relationship at least into their nineties. [See above]
4. ____________________ and Aquila provide the model for a couple in Christian ministry. [See above]
5. True or False. Corinth and Ephesus offered no sexual temptations. [See above]
6. (Aquila, Priscilla) is normally mentioned first in the New Testament. [See above]
7. The young widow Ruth married the older single _________ . [See above]
8. The meeting of Ruth and Boaz occurred through (coincidence, providence). [See above]
9. Although married to an unbeliever, Esther _____________ in obedience to God. [See above]
10. True or False. The best way to win over an unbelieving spouse to the faith is to nag him or her. [See above]
Further Study: Read the book of Ruth.
Life Application: The following acrostic may help you make any spiritual "attitude adjustments" necessary for improving your marriage relationship:
A- ssure yourself often of God’s faithfulness (Ps. 73:25).
T- hank him for his blessings (Ps. 75:1).
T- hirst after truth (Ps. 15:2).
I- ncrease your joy through praise (Ps. 30:4).
T- rust God to provide for all your needs (Ps. 13:6).
U- se every opportunity to witness of God’s mercy (Ps. 25:6).
D- scipline your lips to speak edifying things (Ps. 119:172).
E- ncourage others, even when you need encouragement (Ps. 10:17).