I recently read of a wedding which had an unexpected ending.
A young minister was faced with his first wedding ceremony. He sought counsel from an older preacher. The experienced man told the young man everything he needed to do and made one final suggestion: "If you ever forget what you are supposed to say," he advised, "just quote Scripture. It is always appropriate to quote Scripture." The young man did a great job in conducting the marriage ceremony, until he pronounced the young couple husband and wife. At that point, his mind went blank. He did not know what to say. He remembered the advice of the old preacher to quote Scripture; so, he quoted the only verse that came to his mind. It was, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
Unfortunately his mistaken words are, all too often, true. Many couples do enter into marriage not knowing what they do. Many couples have little knowledge of how to have a successful marriage. After all, being married and having a successful marriage are two different things. Today I will be sharing with you, from the Bible, on the subject: Four Keys to a Successful Marriage.
Let us read Luke 16:16-18
There is room for debate as to the meaning of verse 16. Different Bible translations translate this verse quite differently because some of the Greek grammar allows for various interpretations. My understanding of this verse is that Jesus is contrasting peopleís reaction to the Gospel and the Law. Since the days of John the Baptist, the primary focus had been on the Good News of grace and forgiveness instead of on the Old Testament Law.
People had responded positively to this message, as Jesus said, "Everyone is forcing his way into it." In other words, they were responding to the Good News in the same way as a crowd of people might respond to a millionaire offering free money; they were excited and diligently pursuing this great offer of grace and forgiveness. This is a great response; but, Jesus did not want people to think that his teachings on forgiveness and grace meant that the principles and commands of the law did not matter any more. As Jesus said, "It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law." God is serious about his word, all of it!
What has all this to do with marriage? Well, people were either ignoring, disobeying, or compromising on following Godís word in regard to marriage. Divorce and cheating were rampant, in Jesus day, as well as in our own; so, Jesus reminds them of what Godís word said about marriage in verse 18. In essence, he wanted people to know that divorce is still divorce and, in most cases, is still wrong. Adultery was still adultery despite the Good News.
We must take Godís words seriously, including what it says about marriage. What does the Bible say about building a successful marriage? Before I share the first of four keys to successful marriage let me elaborate on what defines a "successful marriage" since that is what these four keys are about. I did not say "Four Keys to a Happy Marriage" because that makes our personal desires or satisfaction the highest goal in marriage. A successful marriage on the other hand, from a Christian viewpoint, means a marriage that pleases God, i.e. one that is lived in accordance with his principles. These marriages are often the happiest, also; but, that is not the goal of the marriage, rather, it is the result of building your marriage on biblical principles. With that note of explanation, letís get to the first key to successful marriage.
I. The first key to a successful marriage is to be committed to a permanent relationship.
Godís plan is for marriages to be lifelong. Jesus speaks to this in Luke 16:18 where he basically rebukes those who have given way to easy divorce. Jesus says in essence "If you get divorced for unbiblical reasons and remarry youíre breaking your vows and are therefore committing adultery. Also if you marry someone who got divorced for unbiblical reasons, you are also committing adultery because in Godís eyes they are still married." I need to point out here that the Bible does make exceptions and allows divorce in cases of unfaithfulness or abandonment. I realize that these are very uncompromising standards; but, they are Godís standards - so it is important that we take them seriously and understand that when you decide to marry someone, you are committing to a permanent relationship.
I realize that our society doesnít think divorce is any big deal but how does God view divorce?
Read Malachi 2:13-16
This is pretty heavy stuff! God seems to take divorce a lot more seriously than we do. Of course, this is an Old Testament scripture; perhaps God had a change of heart about the permanence of marriage in the New Testament? Actually some people were wondering about that very question, so they asked Jesus for an answer. Letís see what he told them about Godís perspective on the permanence of marriage.
Read Mark 10:2-12
Again, I do not think you can miss the intent of Jesusí words. Marriage is a permanent relationship. Divorce is not an option, except in cases of unfaithfulness or abandonment. What happens if you a have already been divorced or remarried for the wrong reasons? What should you do? Well you cannot change the past; so, you should respond to this sin as you would to any other sin: confess, repent, and fix what you did wrong.
But even better, donít get there. Be committed to a permanent relationship.
How does this principle help build a successful marriage? This commitment to a lifelong relationship helps build a successful marriage in two ways.
First, youíre much less likely to get married, without due thought and consideration, if you know that there is no turning back or changing your mind after the marriage. Imagine that the law in America is that you can only buy one car in your entire lifetime and that you can never decide that this was not the car for you. You could never trade it in for a newer or better model and you could never junk it because it cost too much or broke down too often. Donít you think that you might be very careful about making this purchase? Of course you would and the same principle applies to marriage. When you recognize its permanence you will be wiser in making that commitment.
This principle helps build successful marriages in another way also. If divorce is out of the question, then you are a lot more likely to work hard at building a better marriage. This is essential because marriage is not easy. Someone once said, "Marriage is like twirling a baton, turning handsprings, or eating with chopsticks. It looks easy until you try it." The only way a couple will get beyond the struggles and difficulties of marriage is to be committed to a permanent relationship, otherwise they will take the seemingly easy way out of a troubled marriage which is divorce.
A strong marriage is not built on compatibility; it is built on commitment to a lasting relationship. Your marriage partner is going to change physically, emotionally, financially, in their personality, etc... Youíre going to have to deal with sickness, arguments, laziness, financial crises, intrusive in-laws, bad, and even sinful, habits, and more. So you had better be committed to a permanent relationship. In saying all this, I do not want you to think of marriage as a bad thing, because it is not. It is wonderful; but, it is not easy and, therefore, takes real commitment. So I say, the first key to a successful marriage is to be committed to a permanent relationship.
II. The second key to a successful marriage is to be committed to a faithful relationship.
What I mean, by faithful, is that you will not cheat on your spouse. You will have no intimate relationships with anyone else, ever - no exceptions and no excuses. The Bible refers to any intimate relationship of a married person with someone, other than their spouse, as adultery. The Bible has a lot to say about adultery and it certainly is different than how the world portrays adultery. The world, especially the media, portray adultery as nearly harmless or even fun, as long as the other spouse does not find out. Our culture is vastly more upset at the downturn in the economy than in a President engaging in an adulterous behavior. Adultery is just no big deal to the world. Yet despite how the world, in general, feels about adultery, this is not how God feels.
Let me share with you what the Bible says about adultery. The seventh of the 10 Commandments is, "You shall not commit adultery." (Exodus 20:16) In Old Testament times the punishment for committing adultery was the same as for intentional murder, i.e. stoning to death. When King David committed adultery, he repented and was forgiven; yet, he had to pay a terrible price in consequences. First his son died, no matter how much he prayed, and second, one of his other sons took over his kingship, by force, and slept with Davidís wives to publicly humiliate his father.
Adultery is a serious offense in Godís eyes. Of course the New Testament has a lot to say about adultery also. Letís read one of those passages now. Read Hebrews 13:4
Commitment to faithfulness in a marriage is not only successful in that it pleases God, but it is also vital to a lasting and fulfilling marriage.
Illustration: Paul Harvey is always advertising the product: JB Weld. JB Weld consists of two tubes of "stuff." If you squeeze a little of each out and let them sit, nothing happens. But, if you mix them together, they can bond metal and do all sorts of wonderful things. Apart, they do nothing. Together, they become very strong - probably due to some chemical reaction that happens when they mix. Intimate relations in a marriage relationship is somewhat like the chemical reaction that allows that stuff to become one durable substance. It solidifies two people into "one flesh," bonding them emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically. It "sets" the relationship between husband and wifeÖ
Intimacy is more than just a physical act. Intimate physical relations outside of marriage break the bonds that hold a marriage together. Although it is not impossible, very few marriages fully recover from infidelity.
So be committed to a faithful relationship.
III. The third key to a successful marriage is to be committed to a cooperative relationship.
When I say cooperative, I mean being a team player. Each person, husband and wife, must do their part. Cooperation means that each person is willing and committed to fulfilling their God-given role and responsibilities within the marriage. A football team, in which every player tried to be the quarterback, would not be successful; each team member must fulfill the position or role that the coach assigns them in order to be successful. It is the same with marriage. No marriage is going to be fully successful unless both husband and wife cooperate by listening to our leader or coach, Jesus Christ, and fulfilling the role he has given us.
What does the Bible say are the responsibilities of the husband and wife? I do not have time to elaborate extensively on the subject; so let me give you a summary of each spouseís responsibilities, according to the Bible, along with scripture references.
First, husbands you are to "love your wives even as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her." (Ephesians 5:25) This means husbands are to be willing to sacrifice whatever is necessary to meet the needs of the wife.
Second, husbands are to be "considerate, as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect. . ." (1 Peter 3:7) In other words, do not be a self-seeking dictator, making demands of your wife; but, respect her as a gift from God made in his image and co-heir with Christ. Some husbands seem to treat their pet dogs with more affection and attention than they do their wives.
Third, husbands are to be gentle with their wives. (Colossians 3:19) In other words, husbands donít make your wife cry, unless it is with tears of joy.
Wives you have a part to play also in this cooperative relationship.
First, you need to be supportive of your husbands. Genesis 2:20 tells us that God created Eve to be a helper for Adam. She was to be someone there to support him. A husband needs to know that his wife will support him no matter what - not criticizing and undermining his plans.
Second, wives are to be submissive to their husbands. (1 Peter 3:1, Colossians 3:18, Ephesians 5:22) Being submissive means letting your husband take a leadership role in the marriage, without resistance. Remember only one person can be quarterback. The coach decides who that will be and will deal with it if the husband is making bad decisions.
So far, weíve covered three keys to successful marriage
IV. The fourth key to a successful marriage is to be committed to a Christ-centered relationship.
Illustration: A little boy sat through a Sunday School class and learned about the time Jesus went to a wedding and made water into wine. "And what did you learn from that story?," asked his father, afterward. The boy thought for a moment and answered, "If youíre having a wedding, make sure Jesus is there." Thatís pretty good advice. If youíre having a wedding, make sure Jesus is there. Better yet make sure Jesus is there for the whole marriage!
Jesus compared building a life to people building houses. Some build on a foundation of sand, which is without Jesus Christ at the center of their lives; but the house can not stand when the storms come. Others people build their house on a rock, which represents Jesus Christ at the center of their life. When the storms come, this house will stand. It is the same with your marriage. If you build your marriage, with Christ as the focal point of your life and marriage, it will endure the storms of life.
Without a real, sincere, relationship with Christ, your marriage will not be fully successful and may not even last. The reason is because, each of us, without Christ is blind to our own faults, unable to change our behavior, and unwilling to forgive other peopleís faults. How could a marriage endure and prosper in such circumstances? The answer is that it cannot; so, make sure that you stay close to Jesus.
Let me conclude with a positive example of marital commitment.
"Dear Ann Landers: Iím going to tell you about a love story that I witness every time I go to the nursing home to see my husband who has Alzheimerís disease. Unfortunately, I know, firsthand, how this terrible illness affects family members; but, I would like the world to know what love really is. I see a man who, I understand, has spent the last eight years caring for his wife who has Alzheimerís. They have been married more than 50 years. He cooks and feeds her every bite of food she eats. He has bathed her and dressed her every day, all these years. They have no other family. She lost a baby, at birth, and they never had any more children. "I cannot describe the tenderness and love that man shows for his wife. She is unable to recognize anyone, including him. The only things she shows any interest in are two baby dolls. They are never out of her hands. "I observed him when I parked my car beside his the other day. He sat in his old pickup truck for a few minutes, then he patted down what little hair he had, straightened the threadbare collar of his shirt and looked in the mirror for a final check before going in to see his wife. It was as if he were courting her. They have been partners all these years and have seen each other under all kinds of circumstances; yet he carefully groomed himself before he called on his wife, who wouldnít even know him. This is an example of the love and commitment the world needs today."