Dear radio friends,
Last week we began a message on the truth of the blessings of Christian marriage. At that time we emphasized that there are three principles or truths that a Christian marriage must be built upon and which must be embraced by a true and living faith. Those three principles are that marriage is a lifelong bond, that God intends His blessings and happiness to be experienced in marriage, and that in marriage our commitment and goal must be to be godly.
Continuing today: if we are going to experience the blessings of God in our marriage, then it is important that we see that we must practice certain things. There are certain spiritual virtues or graces that we must have before us as our lifelong goal, to know them and to do them. These are things that we see in the Scriptures. But they must not only be seen in the Scriptures. These are things that the Holy Spirit calls us to practice in our day-by-day living.
The first of these is obedience. That is a principle of the entire Word of God. Obedience is the way God is pleased to show His favor to us. Understand that statement. Our obedience is not the condition or the merit by which we obtain God’s favor. But our obedience as children of God is the response of thanks that we give to God. What can be the response to God in His eternal, sovereign, free love to us in Jesus Christ? It can only be: obedience. And in that way of obedience, God is pleased that we experience His blessings. That is a very important truth.
That means that happiness in our marriage does not come by seeking or aiming at it, that is, at happiness. But happiness, true happiness, in our lives is always a by-product. It is a by-product of obedience. Now we have to get that straight. That is very hard for us to get straight because we want to make the fruit (happiness) the goal. We think we are going to get happy by aiming at being happy. We make happiness the goal — I must be happy. Out of that type of thinking, you also begin to think, “Well, perhaps I should divorce, because I have the right to be happy, and this man (woman) is standing in the way of my happiness.” Then happiness becomes the proverbial carrot-on-the-stick. You cannot ever get it. You never get there. It is always an inch away. You are never happy. Those who pursue happiness as the goal and inalienable right of their life are never happy because happiness is a fruit of obedience. God says, “Obey Me, follow Me, trust Me, and you will be happy. Seek your own happiness,” says God, “live your life as if your feelings and your emotions are the god, the object, the great thing, and,” God says, “you will not be happy, for no idolater can be blest.”
We must obey God unconditionally. That means that we must not look at the other person in our marriage and talk this way: “Well, I will, if you will.” Or, “How can I be understanding and how can I not fly into a rage when he does that or she is that way?” You see, what we are doing then is making our obedience to God in our marriage conditional upon the other person’s actions. “I could be more loving, dear, if you …. I could submit and be more pleasant if you….” No, God says: Obey! The commands of God’s Word to husbands and wives are simple and clear. They are not complicated. They are straight forward.
“Husbands,” Ephesians 5, “love your wife.” What are you to do? Love! How? As Christ loved the church. To what extent? He gave Himself for it sacrificially. Love your wife with the love of Christ sacrificially. That is what you have to do every day.
Wives, what is your calling? Submit to your own husband. What? Submit, that is, place your life in service of his. How? As the church does to Christ. The extent? In everything that is lawful, according to the Word of God.
Now follow those clear words of God. God says, “Do this, not just when you feel like it, not just when it’s easy.” What a blessing it is when you have an understanding, spiritual, wise, compassionate husband; when you have a thoughtful, considerate, supportive wife. What a blessing! But that is not the condition of your obeying God. Obey God because God is worthy to be obeyed; because He is God; because He has redeemed us in the blood of His Son. Trust Him and obey Him — there is no other way!
So let us practice obedience.
Secondly, let us practice contentment. If we are going to be happy in marriage, we have to be content. That is another great principle of the Word of God. Let me read to you what we find in Hebrews 13:5 and 6, “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.”
Contentment is the grace of being satisfied in the Lord’s provision and having our heart set upon His kingdom and its peace. We have so much! And the more we have, the less content we are. What is the cure? The cure is not that we should enter into a monastery. But this is the cure: We must understand that discontentment and covetousness lock out of our marriage the experience of God’s joy and blessing. The covetous person cannot see God’s blessing because in front of his eyes is himself and what he wants and the way he wants things. He has no eyes to see what God has given and the beautiful way that God is leading. He cannot see that.
Covetous men and women are angry men and women. They cannot have what they want and they begin to blame each other — that the other person is the reason they cannot have it — or their kids — all those children, that is why! Then materialism becomes the great goal of life and of marriage.
The Word of God says that the blessings of a marriage are to be found in the spiritual grace of contentment — contentment with the earthly provisions that God has given to us. And He has given so much! We do not need any more.
He has given us each other. We must be content with each other. We must be content with the husband, or the wife, and receive such in meekness before God. We must understand that the wife, or the husband, has been brought to our doorstep, has been brought to us by the hand of God. Very often husbands and wives become bored with each other. They begin to look over the fence. They have a critical attitude. Or they become unbending and resentful over the other’s personality and especially over those things that irk them. God says that this is sin — pride — stinking pride! Be content. Be humble. Thank God for what He has given and whom he has given you.
And then, the third thing we must practice is commitment. In the Word of God, we read in Malachi 2:14, “The LORD hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant.” There the wife is called “your companion,” which means literally, “fellow traveler.” You have entered into a covenant. In that covenant, you are fellow travelers, walking to the heavenly Zion, committed to help each other so long as God gives you breath.
The Lord, here in Malachi 2, is speaking of treachery. The treachery that He refers to is that a person would play the part of a friend or come close to another and say, “I’m your friend,” and then desert her in her difficulty or desert her when the pilgrim’s path is too difficult, when it is uphill, when it is too hard. When the path goes through bramble bushes and thorns, he says, “I don’t want to walk with her anymore.” The Lord is speaking here of the treachery of a person who deserts his friend, or the treachery of a person who comes pretending to be a friend but is intending rather to work destruction and ruin.
God says that we must, as fellow travelers to heaven, be committed to our marriages and to each other. We must be faithful traveling companions. We have made a vow before God. When we make that vow, on our wedding day, that vow is not to be spoken or taken lightly. We sign a marriage contract. We sign a license because we realize that we are standing before God and we are committing ourselves, before the face of God, to lifelong faithfulness to each other — an exclusive bond. No third party may enter into this bond. Marriage is a room in which there is no exit except the door marked “death.” “For better or for worse; for richer or for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish till death us do part.” God severs in death. But we may not.
We bind ourselves before God in the unconditional covenant of His grace. God witnesses our wedding day. God looks at that. And, looking to God on our wedding day, we look into the future. With the Word of God open before us, and rings of commitment now upon our fingers, we vow that no matter what comes we will be faithful to love one another in the love of God. Where do we find this faithfulness? We do not find it in ourselves, but we find it in God — in God who is the faithful One — and in His mercies, which are new every morning. Therefore, by way of aside, I must again, as so often in the past, exhort you and me: “We must be members of a sound, biblical church that preaches to us the truth of the infallible Scriptures.” If you are married, you have to be in such a church because it is only through such preaching and through such a church and through such teaching of the Word of God that you will receive that great gift of God — faithfulness to your commitments.
Going back, then, to our subject. We must be committed. When we go through difficulties in our married life, our flesh and the devil try to use those difficulties to create separation, and we use those difficulties as an excuse to draw back from each other emotionally. That’s something we can do, even without leaving each other and separating in divorce. We can continue to live together, but be separate emotionally. God, however, intends the very struggles, the very difficulties that you are having, the difficulties that you have with each other, to be the material whereby He will create greater love and greater intimacy in our marriage. I said last week that God forges marriage. He welds husband and wife together. And He uses trials to accomplish that.
We must be committed, looking to God. We must be committed to our marriage. Then we will indeed experience blessing. The blessing will be that we will grow together in the love of God, so that our marriage does not become an end in itself. But we understand that marriage has been given of God first of all for this purpose: that we might taste and see that the Lord is gracious, in the words of Psalm 34, or that we might see that we are indeed His Hephzibah, as we read in Isaiah 62: My delight. In Ephesians 5:32, you will remember, after Paul has been talking about marriage and husbands and wives and what they are to do, he says, “You know, I’m really not talking about marriage at all. I really haven’t been discussing with you marriage. I really haven’t. What I have been talking to you about is Christ and the church. That’s what I have been talking about. Yes, I’ve been talking about husbands and wives. But the reality that I’ve been conveying to you is not really earthly marriage. I’ve been conveying to you an abiding blessing in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross — a blessing that is not going to end at the grave. I’ve been talking to you about the abiding marriage of Christ and the church, and your house of marriage must be pointed toward that reality. When your house of marriage is pointed to that reality of the eternal marriage of Christ and the church, then your marriage will be blest.”
Marriage, then, is a private school, so to speak, in which you are being taught the love of God and how to grow in that love for each other. In that school, every day, God puts you in your desk and He begins to teach you. God says, “Now I am going to teach you about the love of God, the unconditional love of God.” What God teaches you is that you must love each other even when your husband, or your wife, is frustrating to you, even though you come up to God with a sigh and you say, “I’m tired of this.” God says, “I’m going to teach you what it means truly to love each other — not a love that flickers like a candle, not a love that seeks only what you can get, not a false love, but a true love of God.” Then you emerge from that school better equipped to express the love of God to the saints outside of your classroom. You study your partner in your classroom. You begin to ask questions, “What are her great needs? How do I address those needs? What are his moods? What affects his mood? How are we, before God, to bring a conflict to a mutual resolution? How do I satisfy my wife? How do I please my husband?” Both of you, then, are committed to pleasing God. Then you have the ingredients for blessing, for God says, “I will show you how to please Me. And I will show you how to be blest.”
Then also we will experience the blessings of the gift of children. And we will experience blessings of children gathered around our table. Sometimes God does not work that way. Sometimes, according to His own purpose and will, He does not give the fruit of children to marriages. Then we must understand that the essential blessing of marriage is not, first of all, children. If we do not have children, it does not mean that our marriages are unfulfilled. That is not biblical. That is not true. God does not leave us unfulfilled.
But God does bless our marriages with children — the blessings of a family life. That is part of the blessings that we desire and covet. But He also blesses us with the hope of eternal glory in Christ. That, too, belongs to the blessings of marriage, so that more and more we begin to hope for that marriage of the Lamb and of His bride when we shall be one. More and more we live together as companions with that goal before us. We say to each other: “Honey, our hope is not here. Our satisfaction is not found in a home, farm, possessions, business, pleasures. Our fullness will be when we are gathered at His right hand in heavenly perfection. We shall sit down with Him at the Tree of Life. And we shall rejoice, world without end! Our hope is that world, which knows no end.” That is our hope. Now, when all the sorrows of this present life come to us in our marriage (perhaps the death of a child, financial woe, sins and troubles, old man Adam in our flesh bothering us), then we say to each other (we bring each other to the Word of God as husbands and wives), “Honey, up. This world is not our home. We cannot stay here. Flee to the mountains, for the Lord will destroy this place. But we have a building made of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens!” A godly marriage makes us eager for home, our eternal home in the marriage of Christ and the church.
These are the blessings. The blessings of God are not counted in terms of money, standard of living, style of house or car. But they are lasting blessings, eternal blessings, deep and broad and quiet and restful in the soul.
Then your marriage, which began on your wedding day, will end at the graveside. In between those two points there will be laughter and tears, anger and joy, heartbreak and heartleap. But through it all, God will see you through. May you ever turn to Him who was and who is and who is to come. And may your marriage give you to understand a little bit of what it means that He calls you Hephzibah, My delight is in you.
Let us pray.
Father, thanks for the Word. Bind it to our hearts through Jesus Christ, Amen.