My wife and I recently celebrated our eighth wedding anniversary. We had courted several years before we were married. In our marriage, we have experienced many beautiful moments and challenges. Three children, a few pets, and plenty of adventure have blessed us in our journey together. I love her more and more each day (I know that is mushy).
It is interesting is that there is a common misconception that marriage for Christians is no different than unbelievers. The caveat to the stats is that those Christians most likely to end their marriage are nominal believers. Meaning, they may identify as Christians but do not actively participate in the faith. Recent research (click here) showed that “Catholic couples were 31 percent less likely to divorce; Protestant couples 35 percent less likely, and Jewish couples 97 percent less likely” (Stetzer, 2014). The pastor’s marriage has also been seen as difficult. However, Barna research showed “Most pastors – 96 percent of whom are married – are satisfied with their relationship with their spouse” (2017)
Periodically, I speak with new and veteran couples about their relationships. When the conversations turn toward my wife and my experience, I share my life verse for marriage. It came from King Solomon when he was teaching his sons how to live well.
“Drink waters out of thine own cistern, and running waters out of thine own well.” -Proverbs 5:15
Chapter five is one of the few chapters were Solomon seems to focus on one subject. Yet, a significant portion of all his teaching centers around purity and faithfulness to your spouse. He geared his instruction toward his sons specifically and his children in general, however, I believe what we see in this passage is helpful to both husbands and wives.
After a simple reading, we quickly note that Solomon is encouraging fidelity. In light of the whole chapter, the challenge is put forward to be faithful in your relationship marriage. You will be tempted to stray, but the end is filled with pain. Remaining faithful in the good and bad has its own reward. To understand that reward we need to dig a little deeper.
We understand the need of water for the body, and this is why Scripture is full of references to spiritual water for our souls that only Jesus can provide. Solomon in another place of Proverbs wrote, “As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country” (25:25). Water refreshes and satisfies. Marriage is provides the same thing. To demonstrate this, Barna Research found that 75% of women say their marriage is their strongest form of social support by helping them be satisfied with life, understand priorities, be the best person they can be, set healthy boundaries, live out purpose, and connect to a community (2017). When we enjoy those intimant moments and conversations we share only with our spouse, we are refreshed and deeply satisfied as our reward. To be unfaithful will corrupt the waters of our marriage.
Still, there is one more thing that stands out to me in this passage about marriage. Solomon is keen to use specific words to separate cistern from well. In the Hebrew, the word he used for cistern (בּוֹר bôwr) can also be translated as pit or well. Also, the word chosen translated for us as well (בְּאֵר bᵉʼêr), can be translated as a pit. I like to think that Solomon is demonstrating to different containers for water. Wells and cisterns both hold water, but, they receive their water in various manners. A well receives its water from an underground source like a stream or lake. Well water springs up from itself. Cisterns, however, must receive theirs from an outside source above the ground. Typically, brought in by a water truck.
What I hear Solomon saying, be faithful and enjoy your marriage by pouring your life into your spouse. The picture is we view self as a well and our spouse a cistern. If we do not pour our love, energy, time, and focus on our partner, they will dry up. We will no longer be satisfied with them, and we will try to wander and find other sources to quench our thirst. Being faithful is also about being intentional. To have a great marriage, you must continue to invest in your spouse, even after you have said your vows.
Barna (2017) The State of Pastors: How Today’s Faith Leaders are Navigating Life and Leadership in an Age of Complexity. Barna Group
Stetzer, Ed (2014) Pastors, that divorce stat you quoted is probably wrong. http://churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/163047-pastors-that-divorce-stat-you-quoted-is-probably-wrong.html