Census reports in the Western World have indicated that over the last 20 or 30 years there has been a decline in the number of people getting married. More and more couples are simply agreeing to live with each other without a formal commitment. As a consequence, many governments have found it necessary to make provision for 'partners' in family, welfare and taxation benefits.

What is the Bible view of marriage? Firstly, the Bible makes it clear that God is the author or instigator of marriage. In Genesis it is recorded that after Eve was created from Adam "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh."  Gen 2:24. Paul quotes this verse in Ephesians when he reinforces the concept of formal marriage when talking about the relationship between man and woman, husband and wife. "However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband." Ephesians 5:33. There is no concept of partners here, Paul is talking of a formal relationship between wife and husband.

The long-term nature of the relationship is regarded as non-negotiable by Jesus. After quoting from Genesis himself, Matthew records Jesus as continuing "So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate." Matt 19:6.

What, then, is the reason for the such a formal relationship? Paul explains it carefully earlier in that chapter from Ephesians. "Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. Ephesians 5:25. In other words, marriage, the formal relationship between a husband and wife, is a magnificent example of the relationship between Christ and his Church where Christ is the husband and his Church the wife. Jesus committed himself to loving his 'wife' to the extent of death. There is no greater commitment is there? This undoubtedly provides good reason for the formal commitment of marriage to be more highly regarded in Western society.

The Kingdom of God

What exactly is the Kingdom of God? It may be a surprise to some people to find that a Kingdom was established by God in Old Testament times. This was the Kingdom of Israel because God set it up for His people. God said to David "And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people shall not oppress them any more, as they did at the beginning and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies. The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you." 2 Samuel 7:10-11. The sequence was: God established a home for His people and He appointed David is king over the people to provide some security for His people.

God also told David, "When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever." 2 Samuel 7:12-13. The fascinating aspect of these verses is that they were quoted by the angels at the birth of Jesus. After soothing an obviously anxious Mary, the angels said of the child that would be born to her  "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; his kingdom will never end." Luke 1:32-33.

There is no doubt that there will be a Kingdom with Jesus as King. Where and when will this take place? There are many passages in the Bible that make it clear that the Kingdom will be on earth. Let's just look at one such passage. The context for these verses is that four 'living creatures' and twenty four elders 'sang a new song' to the Lamb (Jesus): "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth." Revelation 5:9-10. The key feature of these verses is that that the whole of Revelation refers to events that would take place after the vision was given to John late in the first century. As the Kingdom has obviously not been established on earth yet, it must be at some time in the future. Yes, the Kingdom of God on earth with Jesus as King!

Growing Up

It is often said that our world is very much geared towards young people. It is true that in many parts of the world young people 'mature' very rapidly. In those countries where there is immense social and political upheaval, tragically, young people become heavily involved in armed conflict at an age where, in other countries, they are in high school and trying to improve their grades, play sport, or have a good time.

In some western countries, it seems that young people, particularly adolescents, are being exploited commercially through emphasis on activities that prey on their volatile and impressionable natures at that age. They often lack direction and purpose, and have great difficulty seeing value in life. Consequently, many become very anti-social and cause considerable concern either through violence and vandalism, or through abuse of drugs and alcohol.

Regrettably, the problem lies with  the older people who should be providing guidance. Too often, young people are left to their own devices. Solomon gave his typical wise words: "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it." Prov 22:6.  He placed the responsibility for the development of the young squarely on the adults.

Jesus stressed the importance of children. The disciples had a quarrel about which of them was going to be greatest in God's Kingdom. "Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and made him stand beside him.  Then he said to them, 'Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For he who is least among you all-- he is the greatest.' " Luke 9:47-48. In other words, to serve Jesus means recognising the value of children first.

But young people themselves do have a responsibility to God. It was again Solomon who said "Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come ... " Eccl 12:1. This suggests very strongly that a God-centred upbringing will provide a very sound foundation for later life.

Growing Old

For many people, growing old can bring increasing insecurity. Illness, limited finance or financial support, living in homes for the aged - many things affect the way old people feel about their future. For example, there is the family. Many older people feel the great excitement of having their grandchildren and, often, great-grandchildren close to them. They often face the dilemma of wanting to be part of their family but not wanting to be a burden on anyone. Unfortunately, there are people who do not have a family, or their family lives at a distance from them so that family interaction is minimal. For these, life can be very lonely.

For most, increasing age brings increasing illness and suffering. The support of family can be very comforting in these circumstances but more often, an individual person needs the comfort of inner peace to be able to cope.

In both of these circumstances, and in many others relating to growing old, a strong personal faith becomes vital. Ultimately, recognition of the power of God to always help individuals can help overcome the insecurities and the loneliness. Paul gave some excellent advice about feelings of personal security. "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Phil 4:6-7. While Paul wrote these words before he himself had grown particularly old, he, more than most people, was very well aware of the need to seek the guidance of God to help him through most difficult times, including periods of loneliness. In the same letter to Philippians he also said, " ... I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. ... I can do everything through him who gives me strength." Phil 4:11,13.

It is also important for those not so old to try to understand their feelings and provide support for them in very practical ways.

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