Key Scriptures: Genesis 24 and 26, Genesis 2:18-24, Hebrews 13:4, 1 Corinthians 7:1-16, 2 Corinthians 6:14, Ephesians 5:22-33, Matthew 19:2-9, Song of Songs
Guiding Question: What does God want for us in marriage?
Optional Introductory Activity: Give students a blank sheet of paper, pens and art supplies. Tell them you want them to “create” their perfect future spouse using images and/or words. Let them know they will only have five minutes, but should be as thorough with their list as if this would indeed be the description of the person they will marry one day. Have a few students share their “wish” lists.
Lesson: (Questions to students are in bold italics.) There is a part of our past that impacts our adult lives and that is our parents’ marriage. Studies have shown that whether or not our parents stayed married, separated or divorced has a big impact on various aspects of our lives. We can’t control our parents’ marriage, but understanding how it can influence our future can help us compensate if there are any negative issues. It can also help us determine how to have an even better marriage than our parents did.
The first step to understanding marriage is understanding God’s original plan for marriage. Read Genesis 2:18-24. Why did God think Adam needed a spouse? Why do you think God created a spouse for Adam and not just a bunch of friends? What did God say Adam and Eve’s relationship should look like? God’s original plan for marriage was for a man to marry a woman and for them to have a special relationship that was unlike any other. Unfortunately, after the Fall when sin entered the world, people have deviated from God’s perfect plan in multiple ways. When that happens, there are often negative earthly consequences as well as potential eternal ones.
The ironic thing is that secular studies have proven God was right. Study after study has found that when people deviate from God’s model of the family, there are negative consequences for those involved – particularly the children. Sometimes parents can’t help this deviation. For example, if one spouse dies before the children reach adulthood, there is still a negative impact on the kids. Not as much as if the parents separate or divorce, but kids still suffer if one of their parents dies before they are adults.
God knew that separation and particularly divorce cause multiple negative earthly consequences for everyone involved. That’s probably why Jesus had this to say about divorce. Read Matthew 19:3-9. What does Jesus say about God’s plan for marriage? Why does Jesus say Moses allowed divorce at all? What does Jesus say is the one acceptable reason for divorce to God?
The reality is that if your parents are separated or divorced, it is not your fault. It was not your decision to make. As much as you might want your parents to stay together, the truth is your parents will probably make that decision without your input. In the same way, if your parents stay married – whether it is a happy marriage or an unhappy marriage – it’s not because you are the perfect kid or because you weren’t the perfect kid. The strength of a marriage and the so called “happiness” in that marriage started way before your parents met each other….just like the strength of your future marriage is actually starting now, before you have probably even met the person you will eventually marry.
How? Because a great, godly marriage begins with picking the right person to marry. Unfortunately, most people focus on finding the best looking person that shows an interest in dating them or the wealthiest person. You may be a fan of Hallmark movies or want the kind of relationship the husband and wife have in Songs of Songs (You may want to read a few verses to introduce students to the book if they are unfamiliar with it.)
God wants us to think about someone as a potential spouse based on some other criteria. Read 2 Corinthians 6:14. What does Paul say one crucial criteria for a future spouse should be? Paul knows that when a Christian marries a non-Christian marriage can become extremely complicated. The most important thing to a Christian should be pleasing God and living a Christian life. When a Christian is married to someone who has not been willing to commit his or her life to Christ, suddenly a Christian is having to make crucial life choices with someone who is working from a very different worldview. They aren’t making every choice through the lens of what Jesus would do or what God wants them to do. Trying to have a strong marriage with two people who have radically different worldviews is very difficult. Paul knew that very often the Christian’s faith ends up becoming weaker. In other passages, Paul counsels women who became Christians after marriage how to help their husbands become Christians, but even then Paul admits it can be tough.
Even if you narrow down potential spouses to people who call themselves a Christian, it doesn’t always mean they are living their faith. It’s important to closely examine a person’s beliefs and character before marrying them. There’s a great story in the Old Testament that illustrates an interesting way to find a spouse, but within it are lessons for us today.
Read Genesis 24. What did Abraham do to insure Isaac had a wife who would not distract him from serving God? What did Abraham’s servant do to try and find the most godly woman for Isaac’s wife? You may know a little about arranged marriages from books or movies. They still happen in some cultures today, but you may not know anyone in an arranged marriage. The idea behind an arranged marriage is that a person’s parents will not be distracted by good looks and will choose someone with the best character and who is ultimately the best match for their child. Unfortunately, it turns out some parents can be distracted by money and good looks or fooled by a fake character, so arranged marriages aren’t always perfect matches either.
But in Abraham’s day arranged marriages were common. Abraham didn’t want Isaac marrying a local one who would distract him from serving God and encourage him to worship idols. He knew his relatives would have similar morals. It’s important to note that in that time, it was common to marry within a large clan and marrying relatives wasn’t unusual.
It’s easy to imagine the pressure Abraham’s servant must have felt to find the right woman. He was evidently a wise godly man, because he immediately turned to God to ask for His help. Praying to God now about your future spouse who you may not even meet for many years is always a very wise thing to do. Notice the servant not only prayed that he would choose the right woman, he asked God to confirm which woman was the right woman. And, you may not have realized this, but he asked for a sign that showed she had a kind, compassionate, servant heart.
The servant knew that the amount of water he needed for himself and his camels took a tremendous amount of work to pull up from the well. For a woman who had come for water for her own family to offer to do that amount of work to help a stranger would mean that she had a kind, compassionate, servant heart.
While asking God for specific signs is a bit tricky, you can ask God to give you wisdom. You can do like Abraham’s servant and think of the things a potential spouse could say or do that would show his or her true heart to you. For example, there are men who will shower the women they are dating with flowers and gifts. Yet the treat servers in restaurants and their own parents horribly. That is a sign that the flowers and gifts are quite possibly a fake front for the heart that is cruel to service workers and family….not the best choice for a future husband.
But there’s another interesting part to the story of Isaac and Rebekah and it shows how if we aren’t careful we can repeat the mistakes our parents made in their marriage. Read Genesis 26. What huge mistake did Isaac make in this story? Why was his choice potentially a horrible one for Rebekah? Was this choice one a husband who loved his wife as himself would make? How could this choice hurt their marriage in the future? What is it about this choice that reflects choices his father Abraham made in his marriage to Sarah?
Isaac did what his father Abraham had done twice in his own marriage…lied and told someone his wife was his sister to protect his own skin. Isaac wasn’t thinking about what could happen to Rebekah if he got away with his lie. He only seemed to care about saving himself. It’s interesting that God addresses this dynamic in the New Testament. Read Ephesians 5:22-23. In light of these verses, what should Isaac have done? People often get upset about this verse, because of what Paul tells women. What we have failed to realize is that this is a problem mainly because the men are not living up to their part of the verse. Basically this passage is saying that in a marriage, both people need to live out Philippians 2:3-4. If a husband and wife both obeyed this passage in Philippians, how hard would it really be to live out the passage in Ephesians?
The two factors that actually cause many, if not most, marital problems are that people didn’t choose the person to marry God would have chosen for them and that each partner acts selfishly instead of selflessly in how they treat the other person. There is a book you should all read before getting married, called Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas. One of the most impactful things married people will tell you they read in the book is Thomas’ idea that marriage is not meant for your happiness but for your holiness.
God created Eve because Adam was lonely, not so he would be happy – although I am sure he often was – but to support him in obeying and serving God. In the same way, our spouses can make us happy, but that’s not their ultimate purpose. Their ultimate purpose if to help us get to Heaven…to encourage us to be more holy.
(NOTE: This section of the lesson should be used with discretion. While it is biblical, some parents may object.) Some of you because of your backgrounds may feel like marriage sounds like too much work. That you can get the good parts of marriage from others without actually being married to them. It’s important we end this part of the lesson by reading what Paul wrote about sex and marriage. Read 1 Corinthians 7:1-16. What does this passage say about sex and marriage – both before and after?
Let’s be honest marriage is often delayed indefinitely, if not entirely because people equate marriage with sex. If they can get all of the sex they want without having to deal with the harder parts of being married, they are perfectly content. Paul makes it clear that sex outside of marriage is sinful. To follow God’s perfect plan – the one that is always best for us – means having sex only with our spouse.
Skills Activity: Review the main points of the lesson. Have students pull out the description of their perfect spouse they made at the beginning of the lesson. What would they change after the lesson? What are the best ways to find someone with those characteristics?
The second part of this activity needs to be handled with sensitivity. It’s important not to encourage students to openly criticize their parents’ marriage, while at the same time helping them notice things they may need to work on before or during their own marriage. Remind them of the selfish choices Abraham and Isaac made when lying about their wives – claiming they were actually their sisters.
Ask students to discuss from what they have observed on shows, in movies, etc. what are some ways spouses can be selfish and not selfless. You may want to set ground rules that to protect their privacy no one should say whose marriage they are describing – even if it is a fictional source. End the session by having them use the back of the paper with their description of their future “perfect” spouse to write down the ways they are afraid they may be selfish in a marriage either based on what they have seen their parents do and/or on what they know are already areas of life where they tend to be selfish.
Application Challenge: Read the stories about Isaac and Rebekah in Genesis 24 and 26. Then keep reading to see how they took sides in Jacob and Esau’s drama. We don’t know for sure, but one wonders if this strife in their relationship had its roots in Isaac’s selfish behavior in Genesis 26. Look back at your description of the person you would like to marry. Is there anything else you need to change? Pray daily for God to help you find a spouse who will help you get to Heaven Look at the areas on the back of that page, where you a,ready struggle with selfishness. What are some concrete things you can do to be less selfish and more selfless each day? Tackling your selfish behaviors and attitudes now can help make your marriage stronger later.