One Man, One Woman

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Proverbs 5:15-19

Drink water from your own cistern, flowing water from your own well. Should your springs be scattered abroad, streams of water in the streets? Let them be for yourself alone, and not for strangers with you. Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely hind, a graceful doe. Let her affection fill you at all times with delight, be infatuated always with her love.

Proverbs 5:15-19, RSV

I speak today especially to you who are married or some day will be. My desire is that you may come to look on marriage more and more from God’s point of view and may find genuine joy with your spouse.

Perhaps today you’re single or separated, divorced or widowed. Marriage for you is a memory, perhaps sweet, perhaps bitter, or it is a hope, a future possibility. There are few of us, I suppose, who have never considered marriage or for whom it has never seemed important. Let’s think about it together now, a subject that touches all of us in profound ways. Listen to this word of God from the Old Testament Proverbs, chapter 5, verse 15:

Drink water from your own cistern, flowing water from your own well. Should your springs be scattered abroad, streams of water in the streets? Let them be for yourself alone, and not for strangers with you. Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely hind, a graceful doe. Let her affection fill you at all times with delight, be infatuated always with her love.

This word is addressed, of course, particularly to husbands but it applies to wives as well. It talks about faithfulness to one’s marriage partner, about finding joy in that person, about being content with that relationship.


There can be no doubt that the divinely given pattern for marriage is one man, one woman. That was the word of God at the dawn of history. “Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife and they become one flesh.” When Jesus once was asked a question about divorce, He pointed His questioners back to this primal word as expressing God’s original intent. Divorce is sometimes permitted, Jesus goes on, because of the hardness of our hearts. But God never wanted it to be so. He hates divorce, the Scripture says, because He loves people, because He doesn’t want them hurt, and because He created marriage to be an enduring bond.

Some time ago we dealt with a question on our broadcast from a man who had been planning to marry two wives and then move to a country where that practice would be socially acceptable. He asked me whether monogamy, marriage between one man and one woman, was merely a cultural practice, without divine sanction. He pointed out how patriarchs like Jacob and kings like David and Solomon had taken several wives. Wasn’t that pattern equally acceptable?

I tried to point out in my response that there is no evidence in the Scriptures that God ever encouraged these men to marry additional wives. In fact, in every case their doing so seems to have produced unhappy results. We read of jealousy and conflict between the children of rival mothers and of bitterness between the wives themselves. In Solomon’s case his multiple marriages proved to be a snare that drew his heart away from God. And never in Scripture, friends, does the varying practice of God’s people change the validity of His clear command. It’s that command which is being echoed here in the Book of Proverbs:

Drink water from your own cistern, flowing water from your own well. Should your springs be scattered abroad, streams of water in the streets? Let them be for yourself alone, and not for strangers with you.

Cisterns or wells in those days were often privately owned and had great value. Here it is plainly said to each married person that there is one cistern, as it were, one well, which is uniquely “yours.” The refreshment from it is to be for you alone and not for others. Some things in life, apparently, are not to be shared. They are so personal to us, so impossible to divide, so dependent on a special commitment, that it’s unthinkable to make them common.

The term “open marriage” has been frequently used in contemporary literature. It means different things, I suppose, to different people. But for many, it seems to imply a marriage in which each spouse remains open to intimate relationships with others of the opposite sex. This kind of openness is frankly discouraged throughout the Bible. The question is raised here: should your springs be scattered abroad? Streams of water in the streets? In other words, should the wife whom you have taken to your heart be a kind of public property? Is it all the same to you if she offers her embraces to anyone who comes along?

The argument here seems to run this way: drink water from your own cistern or else what is yours may become freely available to others. The man who cheats on his wife is encouraging her to do the same. The woman who runs around can scarcely expect her husband to be faithful to her. To look beyond one’s marriage for sexual favors is finally to destroy that marriage. The question every married person must realistically face is this: what would a sexual adventure I might have with someone else do to my marriage and to my spouse?

From the standpoint of the Scriptures, unfaithfulness to one’s spouse is a tragic blunder. Adultery is pictured as sheer madness. “Why…?” comes the question. “Why should you be infatuated, my son, with a loose woman and embrace the bosom of an adventuress? For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the LORD, and he watches all his paths. The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him, and he is caught in the toils of his sin. He dies for lack of discipline, and because of his great folly he is lost.” Yes, why, when the possible joys of a good marriage are so great and the sorrows of a broken one are so inevitable? How can we do such a wrong to others and to ourselves?

In the Bible, marriage is essentially a matter of covenant. A man and a woman pledge themselves to each other. “I, John, take you, Mary, to be my wedded wife, and I do promise and covenant before God and these witnesses to be your loving and faithful husband….” And again: “I, Mary, take you, John … and will be your loving and faithful wife.” This is our glory, friends, our dignity as human beings, that we can commit ourselves, that we can bind ourselves to one another with promises that mean something, that we can be true to our pledges, loyal to each other.

The pattern for this lies in the faithfulness of God to His people. He has entered into covenant with them. He has pledged Himself to be their God. They through faith in His promise, through trust in His saving mercy in Christ, become His covenant people. All through their lives, He shows them His loyal love and calls them to respond in gratitude and faithfulness. They keep their vows to each other finally because they belong to this faithful God. In Him they find the inspiration and the power to be covenant-keepers.


But for them this faithfulness is not merely a religious obligation, a cold kind of duty. The call here is to rejoice in your wife or husband, to let her affection or his fill you at all times with delight, to be infatuated always with your spouse’s love.

Does that sound like an impossible ideal? Are you shaking your head cynically and saying, “My marriage is nothing like that”? Are you objecting, “That’s just the problem. There is no joy in my marriage. I don’t get any real affection from my spouse. There’s no love left between us”?

Friends, I don’t pretend to understand your situation. And far be it from me to judge you because of the problems you may be having in your marriage. But if you say that your love is dead or that someone else has destroyed it, you have missed somewhere the significance of real love. It’s not so much a feeling as a choice, a commitment. There was a time when you cared about that spouse of yours. She was the wife of your youth whom you chose or the suitor whose proposal you willingly accepted. Some spark must have been there that can be kindled again.

I don’t know how great your happiness can become with your spouse, but it can surely be richer than it is now. God doesn’t ask the impossible of you. He doesn’t call you to create a perfect marriage, to fashion for yourself unclouded bliss. But He reminds you that you can make a significant choice. You can choose to “drink water from your own cistern, flowing water from your own well.” You can choose to have the deepest ranges of your sexuality satisfied in the situation in which you are, in your present marriage, if you’re married. You can choose to rejoice in the wife or husband you have taken, to make the best of what you have, to be content with your lot.

That may seem meager to you, unexciting, unpromising. But let me say to you in kindness that any other kind of contentment usually turns out to be a will-of-the wisp. A change of circumstances or of marriage partners is not going to make you happy. We find our fullness of joy within the limits of God’s good design or we don’t find it at all.

A letter from a listener came to my attention just as I was preparing this message. It was from a woman in her late thirties, married to a man of sixty. They have lived together as husband and wife for over twenty years. They have a number of children. The wife now complains that her husband can no longer satisfy her sexually. A counsellor has advised her to find some younger man to be her lover. She wonders what we think about that.

What we think about it, of course, doesn’t matter very much, but God’s outlook is all-important. What does He think about that? The word we’ve been considering today gives us light. All of us who are spouses prove to be inadequate in some ways. We don’t live up to the expectations of the one we have married. We fail him or her at times. Does every deficiency in me justify my spouse in looking elsewhere? If I feel unfulfilled in my marriage, do I have a right, therefore, to search for satisfaction with another partner? I’ll leave you to judge about the answer.

I’m not pretending that the choice to be content in your situation is always easy. But I do say that it’s possible – possible for this wife, possible for you and for me.

The apostle Paul was not, at least during his years of ministry, a married man, but he said something once that applies very powerfully to our lives within marriage. He wrote to the Philippians, “I have learned in whatever state I am to be content.” What a great secret to learn! In whatever state, whatever condition, whatever family relationship – to be content. That may sound impossible to you today as you face the situation in which you are living.

But please remember this: Paul wrote those words long ago from a Roman prison, while in daily danger of losing his life. What was the key to his amazing affirmation? How could he choose to be satisfied in circumstances like that? Here’s his answer. Make it yours. Take it as God’s pledge to you about your marriage and about your whole life. Make it your motto, what you live by: “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.”

PRAYER: O God of all grace, bring us face to face with the big questions about what our life means, whether it’s that we should fulfill ourselves in every way possible or that we should be covenant-keepers, whether it’s our whim or Your will that matters most. And if we are married, Lord, help us to heed Your good will for our happiness always. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.