Sunday, June 10, 2007

How Will I Know? (Joyful Relationships, Part 2)

[This message was shared during the worship celebration at Friendship Lutheran Church, Amelia, Ohio, on June 10, 2007. If you live in or are visiting the Cincinnati area, you're always invited to worship with us on Sunday mornings at 10:00.]

Proverbs 31:10-12, 25-31
2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1

My aim in this message is not just to help people who hope one day to marry, but also to help those who care about them, be they friends, parents, aunts and uncles, or cousins, who might want to give them sound advice. Biblical advice.

But I do feel a little hesitation. One reason for that is the fact that my wife and I didn’t follow all of the advice I’m about to share.

We first met when I was in the sixth grade and she was in the seventh. As many of know, she pretty much couldn’t stand me throughout our junior and senior high years. In college, both of us worked at a department store--me on the loading dock, she on the sales floor--and we became friends. We decided to go to a movie together one night...just as friends. Six weeks later, we decided to get married. Five and a half months after that, we were married. Nearly thirty-four years later, we’re still together and I’m grateful to God...and to my wife!

Another reason for my feeling a bit hesitant about giving this message is that as I look at some of what the Bible tells us about marriage, I become very aware that there simply isn’t one way to decide on who to marry or when to marry or even if to marry. But there are principles and I want to talk about four of them today.

The first thing the Bible sees in strong marriages are commonalities between wives and husbands. If couples have core values in common, they’re likelier to make strong marriages. In Biblical times, that usually meant being from similar cultures.

How many of you remember the Old Testament story of Samson? Before Samson met Delilah, he married a woman who was a Philistine, a people hostile to God’s people, the Jews. Delilah was also a Philistine. Both of those relationships ended badly because of diverging belief systems and loyalties. Samson was absolutely committed to God. The women he loved didn’t share that commitment. Each brought grief to Samson. Delilah, ultimately, brought death to Samson.

On the other hand, I love the Old Testament story of Ruth. How many of you know Ruth’s story?

Ruth was a woman from a country called Moab. She married a young Jewish man whose family migrated to Moab after a famine hit his home country. But Ruth’s young husband died. As did her father-in-law and brother-in-law.

With her mother-in-law, Naomi, Ruth went to live in her husband’s homeland of Israel. She had come to believe in the one God of the universe in Whom you and I believe.

In the end, Ruth married yet another man from Israel and became an ancestor of Israel’s greatest king, David. On the surface, Ruth and her two husbands may not have seemed to have too much in common. Moab and Israel were very different in their cultures and beliefs. But in fact, Ruth had two great marriages. If two people have common outlooks, they have a good foundation on which to build their marriage.

So commonalities are important. The second thing couples should have to make their marriages work is a love beyond infatuation, beyond romance, beyond sexual attraction.

I often shake my head when I read about the latest celebrity marriages. A couple of celebs meet, then head off for Vegas or Monaco to tie the knot. Three months later, the two love birds are engaged in a knockdown, drag-out divorce battle, including contention over custody of their as-yet unborn child. They get married after they've fallen in love (or in lust), but before they learn how to love one another, before they became friends as well as lovers. (This, by the way, is why I think my wife's and my decision to marry isn’t nearly as shocking as it may sound at first. We were friends before we fell in love.)

C.S. Lewis once said that falling in love is like turning the ignition key in a car. There’s a gigundous explosion. After that the car starts, you won’t help a car a bit.

To keep a car running properly, you have to do mundane things like filling the gas tank, changing the oil, or rotating the tires.

Similarly, falling in love is a spectacular start to a relationship between a man and a woman. But it may or may not be a good predictor of how long or well the relationship will last.

Real love is composed of a thousand mundane things you do because you care about each other. Real love involves a lifetime of daily decisions to give, forgive, and help one another. It’s hard work.

Nowhere is the hard work required by love seen more clearly than in our Savior Jesus, God in the flesh. When Jesus hung on a cross, the reason He did so was crystal clear in His mind. He did it out of His love for us and His desire to give life to all who will repent for sin and trust in Him. But, as I’ve said many times before, it’s hard to imagine that as Jesus suffered on the cross, that He would look at the crowd demanding His death and say, “You’re so cute when you’re mad.” Jesus loves us, even when He's less than infatuated with us!

In Jesus, we see that love is often measured not in what we feel--not in our infatuation, but sometimes in what we do in spite of how we feel. Love isn’t a feeling. It’s a commitment to what’s best for those we love.

So, how will people know that they’ve met the person they should marry? First: When they have commonalities. Second: When their love moves beyond infatuation. Third: When they put on Christ. The phrase comes from something the first-century preacher and evangelist writes in Romans. He says that we shouldn’t worry all the time about being decked out in the latest fashions. “Instead,” he says, “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”

Marriages have a better chance when husband and wife share a common faith in Jesus Christ. And there are all sorts of boring statistics to back that up, by the way.

But more than statistics as evidence, I can offer you my experience. You all know that when my wife and I were married, I was an atheist. I spent Sunday mornings with my head buried in my pillow and the rest of the week with my head buried in the sand, oblivious to all the ways God was reaching out to me in love, including through my wife. I thank God that He used my wife to call me to faith in Christ!

In a very real sense, today I look forward to being in heaven with Jesus because this unbeliever married a Christian willing to take a chance on me! Having a common faith in Christ has been the most important glue holding us together and making our love stronger through good times and bad. This is why in one of our lessons, Paul strongly advises people contemplating marriage to only marry those who share faith in Christ.

Marriage counselor James Christensen has written: “When couples realize they have a God-given mission here on earth and are ‘coworkers with God’ [as the Bible says of all believers in Christ], it saves marriages from the mundaneness of purely ‘secular’ living. [Couples who share faith in Christ] do not focus primarily on their own selfish...pleasures. They share a thrill of adventure; life becomes a great stewardship of giving of themselves [to each other]...”

This leads to a fourth way people can know if that someone is the right one to marry: If you’re committed to mutual servanthood and mutual respect. One-time president of Canadian Airlines Kevin Jenkins came to faith in Christ years after he’d gotten law and MBA degrees and attained success in business.

But when he came to faith, he writes of a decision he and his wife made: “We decided to to try to put the needs of the other ahead of our own.” This is exactly the lifestyle we need not only to make marriages work, but all relationships work.

It’s what Jesus did. He always put us first. And, Paul reminds us in one of the most famous passages in the Bible, this is exactly what he calls us to do in all of our relationships.

The result of Jesus putting humanity first is that all who believe in Him will live with God forever.

When couples put the needs of each other ahead of their own, they help one another become the people God wants them to be.

I’m blessed to be married to such a spouse...I only hope and pray that I can be as much of a Christian servant to her in our next thirty-four years together as she has been to me in our first thirty-four years!

Love is risky business. Marriage isn't just an act of faith, it's a radical, subversive, countercultural act!

But if we will surrender our lives and our marriages to Christ, we live with His promise that He will be with us always.

If prospective husbands and wives...
  • share common values,
  • have a love that goes beyond childish infatuation,
  • hold a common faith in Jesus Christ, and
  • adhere to a commitment to mutual servanthood and mutual respect,
the chances of their building a strong and joyful marriage are great.

May the marriages made by all the sngle people who are part of Friendship exhibit these four critical traits. And may all the married couples already part of Friendship commit themselves and their marriages to Christ and so see those marriages become all that God intends for them to be!


Victors Not Victims said...

This is some of the most sound information the I've read on line regarding marriage. For me marriage is a ministry. I've been divorced twice, and I can say first hand that if God is not the center of the relationship there is no way for a marriage to survive. I'm very encouraged about God leading me to the right person even though I've experienced the brokeness that I have. Thanks for this wonderful information.

Mark Daniels said...

I'm sorry for the pain you've endured.

Thank you for the affirmation. If what I write is helpful, I guarantee it's got nothing to do with me.

God bless you!

Mark Daniels