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Topical - Ten Counts to a Strong Marriage(a)

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Ten Counts to a Strong Marriage

Topical                October 27, 2002

 

Scripture Reading:

Reference:

The basic points for this message are found in an RBC Discovery Series booklet entitled Building Blocks to a Strong Marriage by staff writer, David Egner, RBC Ministries, Grand Rapids, 2001.

Introduction:

Marriage is a divine/human institution both ripe for untold blessing and riddled with destructive temptations.

Christian marriages are in more trouble these days than you can imagine. The divorce rate equals or exceeds that found in secular society.

Joan and I recently heard that some Christian friends of ours, a younger couple with several children, have filed for divorce.

Divorce has beset other Christian couples we have known in the past as well – all quite tragically.

Divorce has beset some even in our own congregation, and you have endured much pain through it all.

But before you shut me off because of your pain, let me assure you that we love and accept you in your walk with the Lord as we know you now. Listen for God's truth in this message where you can apply it.

The tragedy of divorce is that you are not in control of your spouse. If they wanted a divorce instead of working out whatever difficulties your marriage faced, you may have been relatively powerless to prevent it. Maybe even you were the one who left.

But the other tragedy of divorce is that it is a divine coupling of two sinners, each with enough problems of their own, each with issues from their own family of origin, many of which would be fatal if it weren't for the grace of God.

And people make foolish mistakes of judgment in their lives that are inexplicable and irretrievable. In other words, it is hard for any two people to get along all the time in close company.

Nothing is totally one-sided, even if one party messed up more than the other. Mutual forgiveness is a continual mandate – or womandate.

So how can we apply God's Word toward a lasting and beautiful marriage?

One thing we could do is apply the little lesson our parents taught us when we were kids.

ILLUS: Just count to ten – when you are tempted to do something you'll regret or you've given up caring. Stop and think about it.

There are ten points to this message that will help you do just that.

When you think, "I'm getting out. This isn't the person I thought I was marrying. Life is too short for all of this pain. We're no longer good for one another," just count to ten – these ten points that is.

When you think, "We've tried everything. Nothing seems to work. He just insists on having everything his own way. It's just hopeless. The only thing to do is bail out," just count to ten.

When you think, "This is the 3rd millenium. Marriage doesn't mean what it used to. A lot of people aren't even bothering with a ceremony anymore. You try it; and if it doesn't work, you leave it. It's nothing to get moralistic about," just count to ten.

When you think, "Look at how high the divorce rate is. Everybody's getting a divorce – even prominent church leaders. So why should I suffer through a bad marriage? There's no need for me to be the exception," just count to ten.

When you think, "Our marriage needs a little excitement. We're too used to each other. Maybe if I have an affair, it will put the spice back into our marriage," just count to ten.

When you think, "We've been going from counselor to counselor. I don't know how much money we've spent. We even went to a preacher. Somebody must have the right formula for us. I guess we'll just have to keep searching," just count to ten.

When you think, "I know our marriage will eventually work. Once I've had a few drinks, I can tolerate just about anything. It will help me make it until things get better," just count to ten.

When you think, "I guess I'm destined to a life of unhappiness. There's nothing I can do about my marriage. Maybe when the children all leave home I'll have the courage to get out. Until then, I'll just have to pretend everything's okay," just count to ten.

Divorce, extramarital affairs, counselors, alcohol, drugs, resignation – these are just some of the ways people try to deal with troubled marriages. But these ways of killing the pain just make a bad situation worse.

There is a better way. You can go to someone who knows your heart and understands your trouble. He made marriage and he alone can give you what you need to make it.

God is the only one who can make you into the right kind marriage partner – the kind that pleases him. He is the only one who can make your spouse into the right kind too.

Charlie Shedd said, "Marriage isn't so much finding the right person as it is being the right person."

God is the One who made marriage in the first place, and he can give you the inner strength you need to take that first step.

He'll give you ten principles upon which marriage is founded and tell you to count them out and add them up.

Big Question:

How can I make sure my marriage will have a chance to last for the full count?

I.       Count One – lifelong commitment

          A.      Narrative

God's ideal for marriage is one man and one woman for a lifetime.

“ "Haven’t you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’  and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?  So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."” (Matthew 19:4-6 NIVUS)

Jesus did address that possibility, but certainly offered no mandate.

 “ Jesus replied, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.  I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery."” (Matthew 19:8-9 NIVUS)

Marriage is a vow not to be broken.

 “ When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow.  It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it.  Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the temple messenger, "My vow was a mistake." Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands?  Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore stand in awe of God.” (Ecclesiastes 5:4-7 NIVUS)

When we consider the Garden of Eden and our first parents, we cannot fail to see that (1) they were created to live forever (2) all they had was each other since there were no other humans at the time and (3) therefore marriage was for life. When tempted in our marriages, we should think in terms of the Garden.

          B.      Implication

I must make a lifelong commitment.

II.      Count Two – shared identity

          A.      Narrative

Consider Adam's self dialog of truth in the Garden when he put words to his discovery of God's specially crafted creation just for him.

“ The man said, "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman, ‘for she was taken out of man."  For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:23-24 NIVUS)

Eve was like Adam in many ways but different. She had pretty much all the same parts but they were accentuated differently.

She came from him and so her identity would be shared with him. She had her own personality but she would be a perfect complement to his.

His flesh was the model for hers, and so his identity would be extended in hers.

It is impossible to mention Adam without mentioning Eve in the same breath.

This was a perfect marriage before sin entered the picture. They were built to complement and satisfy each other physically, spiritually and emotionally. There were no other alternatives – until sin came along.

It's not always easy to live out this oneness in everyday life. Husbands and wives now have different habits, backgrounds, parents, education, personalities and emotional scars.

Larry Crabb, Jr. said, "The foundation of oneness is a mutual commitment to minister to one another's personal needs." With a shared identity, when you minister to your spouse, you also minister to yourself.

Marriage is a blending into each other's lives. It is once-for-all yet a process over time.

This mutual identity matures with such wonderful results that you are no longer alone even when you are. Even separated by physical distance you are still together emotionally and spiritually (Navy experience with Joan).

It is precisely this unique bond that causes us so much consternation at times because we are able to get so deep into each other that we become vulnerable to each other's sin nature.

But embracing a shared identity was God's intent that we celebrate when we say in the marriage ceremony, "Now I present to you Mr. and Mrs. ______ .

          B.      Implication

I must embrace a shared identity.

III.    Count Three – absolute faithfulness

          A.      Narrative

Having a shared identity means being faithful to the one you share it with. When you are unfaithful to your spouse you are unfaithful to yourself.

The Bible gives no ground on the issue of being true to each other.

“ Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned?  Can a man walk on hot coals without his feet being scorched?  So is he who sleeps with another man’s wife; no one who touches her will go unpunished.” (Proverbs 6:27-29 NIVUS)

Sexual faithfulness is to be expected and to be taught.

 “ Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children,  to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.” (Titus 2:4-5 NIVUS)

Adultery is a sin of the flesh that, unabated, will keep you out of the kingdom.

“  The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery;” (Galatians 5:19 NIVUS) ----"those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God."

In case of any confusion, God said it clearly.

 “ "You shall not commit adultery.” (Exodus 20:14 NIVUS)

Marital love is a decision to obey God: saving our hearts for each other, keeping our promise of loyalty, letting no one come between us, realizing we are not our own.

This does not even seem natural in today's climate. But in the Garden it was the only way. All they had was each other. Let us see our spouse with eyes for the only other person on the face of the earth we could ever be intimate with.

          B.      Implication

I must commit to absolute faithfulness.

IV.    Count Four – well defined roles

 

          A.      Narrative

One of the greatest modern attacks on the family is in the area of traditional roles. Why are they traditional? It is because they have been worked out over time as what works and what is workable. They are also largely scriptural. As marriage partners we cannot complain that God didn't tell us what he expected of us.

The Bible has the answer about roles in marriage that flow from God's created design.

Husband's Role: Headship

“ Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” (1 Corinthians 11:3 NIVUS)

 “ For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.” (Ephesians 5:23 NIVUS)

We all know this can be misused and abused. But biblical leadership is not dictatorial or selfish.

Headship is to be provided in love ---

“ Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25 NIVUS)

 “ Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.” (Colossians 3:19 NIVUS)

It is to follow the example of Christ's love for the church ---

“ Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25 NIVUS)

It is to be done with understanding ---

 “ Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” (1 Peter 3:7 NIVUS)

It is to be done without bitterness ---

“ Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.” (Colossians 3:19 NIVUS)

It is to equal his love for his own body ---

 “ In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” (Ephesians 5:28 NIVUS)

Ultimately, his headship is not superior ---

“ Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” (1 Corinthians 11:3 NIVUS)

The husband's headship is functional. It helps the marriage work. Understood in Christ, it is a servant role and a great responsibility to provide loving, understanding, selfless, patient, God-honoring leadership.

Wife's Role: Submission

The wife is to submit thoughtfully and wisely to her husband's leadership ---

 “ Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:22 NIVUS)

 “ Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” (Colossians 3:18 NIVUS)

 “ Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives,” (1 Peter 3:1 NIVUS)

 “ Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children,  to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.” (Titus 2:4-5 NIVUS)

God made Adam first and he made him to be the head ---

 “ For Adam was formed first, then Eve.” (1 Timothy 2:13 NIVUS)

“ Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” (1 Corinthians 11:3 NIVUS)

“ For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.” (Ephesians 5:23 NIVUS)

Eve was to be ready to help Adam fulfill his God-given role and responsibilities.

 “ The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him."” (Genesis 2:18 NIVUS)

 “ For man did not come from woman, but woman from man;  neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.” (1 Corinthians 11:8-9 NIVUS)

A woman works to her own detriment if she doesn't help her man provide loving, thoughtful leadership in the home. Where there are difficulties she needs to show that her ultimate confidence and trust are in God himself.

The marriage roles are exemplified in the Godhead itself ---

“ "You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.” (John 14:28 NIVUS)

Yet Jesus also said ---

“ I and the Father are one."” (John 10:30 NIVUS)

Equal but submitted is heaven's pattern for marriage.

          B.      Implication

I must accept a well-defined role.

V.      Count Five – unreserved love

          A.      Narrative

Unreserved love is genuine, heartfelt, through-it-all, till-death-do-us-part love. It honors and esteems and considers each other's welfare above their own.

The Bible teaches and expects love between husband and wife. But this unreserved love is the kind that grows with the years as it is worked out and truly understood. It is love with a track record of proven endurance.

It is sad that so many marriages don't finish the race to receive the prize of this high calling in Christ Jesus.

True love is deeper and more practical than young married romance. Mature love is more than sex. It becomes a willingness not to have sex. And until the urgency of sex is removed, love cannot be understood. It crosses the finish line after many laps, pit stops, and near fatalities.

The biblical pattern for love is spelled out for us in 1Cor. 13:4-8 ---

“ Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails ---.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8 NIVUS)

Even if you are the only one in your marriage who tries to follow this pattern of biblical love, it has changed you and it will give the message to the other that change is possible for them too.

More than making a marriage work, it puts us into a right relationship with the Father. It carries out the love of Christ in us.

          B.      Implication

I must offer unreserved love.

VI.    Count Six – mutual submission

          A.      Narrative

Wifely submission is much misunderstood. These days it makes many women chaff at the thought. Many have bought the lie of living their own lives without restraint. Why should they have to submit when the husband doesn't? But let's turn to the Bible again.

“ Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:18 NIVUS)

 “ Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21 NIVUS)

Paul wrote this to the whole Christian community, but the first example he gives is in the marriage relationship. In another verse, our example in this is Christ who submitted to the cross for the sake of love.

 “ Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,  but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:5-8 NIVUS)

The will of God is that in submitting to him we submit to his will for us, which is to submit to each other. Nowhere is this more necessary than in the closest of human relationships in marriage.

Yo wife is not yo momma. Yo wife is not yo nurse maid. And yo home is not yo castle with all its inhabitants as yo subjects. Your home is the best place there is to practice humbling yourself for an effective life in the real world.

Marriage is the best training there is for life.

          B.      Implication

I must envelop mutual submission.

VII.   Count Seven – sexual fulfillment

          A.      Narrative

Adam and Eve were intimately intimate, feeling no shame in their nakedness. After all, they both came from the same body.

“ The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” (Genesis 2:25 NIVUS)

The command to be fruitful and multiply in Gen. 1:28 came before the fall in Gen. 3. So sexual fulfillment was always a part of the husband-wife relationship.

And like we hear in Christian circles sometimes: "It wasn't Adam and Steve, it was Adam and Eve." God had a purpose for sex. It was to give pleasure to couples who were fulfilling his command to inhabit and fill the earth.

Sex is to be protective. Especially today, a husband and wife who maintain intimacy are helping to protect each other from a sexually obsessed society. They are protecting their own faithfulness.

 “ But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband.” (1 Corinthians 7:2 NIVUS)

Sex is to be enjoyable – but only within marriage. Forbidden fruit cannot be enjoyed for long because you are always looking over your shoulder. It recoils on you like the snake that it is and bites with a ferocious poison.

Married sex goes far beyond procreation to provide long-term family stability for the good of mankind. It continually renews the marriage.

 “ Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well.  Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares?  Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers.  May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.  A loving doe, a graceful deer— may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love.” (Proverbs 5:15-19 NIVUS)

Sex within marriage is expected.

 “ The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband.  The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife.” (1 Corinthians 7:3-4 NIVUS)

 “ Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” (1 Corinthians 7:5 NIVUS)

Married sex must not be made more important than it is, but neither should it be minimized. It is part of the overall picture of a shared identity.

          B.      Implication

I must support sexual fulfillment.

VIII.  Count Eight – open communication

 

          A.      Narrative

In a recent survey by Family Services Assoc. it was discovered that 87% of married couples said their main problem in marriage was communication.

The wife is frustrated because she can't get the husband to talk and the husband doesn't feel it would do any good because the wife has already made up her mind anyway.

Some of the reasons husbands and wives don't communicate well ---

          They take each other for granted.

          They want to avoid confrontation.

          They are obsessed with their own interests.

          They feel they are being manipulated.

          They are too hurried to take the time.

          They don't want to hurt the other person.

But these barriers to communication must be removed if you want a strong marriage.

As always, Christ is our example. Husbands are to love their wives just as Christ loved the church. He is the Living Word that is always available to us since he is seated at the right hand of God to make him known.

We are invited to come boldly to the throne of grace to tell God what is on our hearts and to let him know our needs.

“ Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16 NIVUS)

Since Christ is the head of the church he must keep in touch with all parts of the body for it to function well. Since the husband is the head of the wife he must keep in touch with her for them to function well together.

A man tends to be interested in objective communication, facts and ideas, but for a woman, real dialogue is about feelings – hers and her husband's which she wants to understand but he doesn't know how to explain.

So start fresh on the fact level and then move on to feeling and conviction.

          B.      Implication

I must provide open communication.

IX.    Count Nine – tender respect

          A.      Narrative

Do you ever feel like your marriage is a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde paradox?

Are you nice to each other in public or in church but then behind closed doors at home it gets ugly?

“ Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32 NIVUS)

This passage certainly applies to husbands and wives as well as to all others.

But specifically to wife, Paul says ---

 “ However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” (Ephesians 5:33 NIVUS)

 “ Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives,” (1 Peter 3:1 NIVUS)

“ For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands,  like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.” (1 Peter 3:5-6 NIVUS)

And specifically to the husband, Paul says ---

“ Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” (1 Peter 3:7 NIVUS)

Husbands are to live with their wives with understanding – to know her needs and respect them. What pleases and comforts her, hurts or angers her?

He is to give her honor as a weaker vessel, a fragile container to be treated with care. And you know that container just loves to hold a bouquet of flowers now and again.

She holds the gift of life with you to enjoy together.

          B.      Implication

I must yield tender respect.

X.      Count Ten – spiritual companionship

 

          A.      Narrative

Indeed, husband and wife must see themselves as spiritual companions who are making this journey through life together – walking hand in hand as the children of God toward the blessings of eternity.

The spiritual dimension of marriage comes through clearly in Eph. 5:25-28 ---

“ Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her  to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word,  and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.  In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” (Ephesians 5:25-28 NIVUS)

The spiritual strength that a godly husband and a spiritual wife give each other is measureless.

Their relationship is to be purifying and cleansing – just like Christ is with the church.

How does this happen? He loved the church and gave himself for it. Love and sacrifice set a marriage apart and make for true spiritual companionship.

Remember what Peter said in 1Peter 3:7, "that your prayers may not be hindered?" What is that if not the deeper spiritual dimension of marriage?

An unhindered spiritual relationship with God depends on an unhindered spiritual relationship with your wife.

It may also be said that marriage is a triangle. As the husband and wife each draw closer to God they will also draw closer to each other in a relationship that pleases God.

          B.      Implication

I must give spiritual companionship.

Conclusion:

Now if you believe that none of this applies to you if you are single or divorced or widowed, think again.

Just as every marriage must count to ten to remain strong, so must you to remain strong in your relationship to Christ – to realize what you have in him.

Each of these ten counts are keys to your relationship to him as the Bridegroom in your life. Everything you would have in a perfect marriage you have in him.

Stop and consider what you have in Christ ---

1.       Lifelong Commitment2.       Shared Identity3.       Absolute Faithfulness4.       Well-Defined Roles5.       Unreserved Love 6.       Mutual Submission7.       Sexual Fulfillment (reproduction)8.       Open Communication9.       Tender Respect10.     Spiritual Companionship

Big Answer:

How can I make sure my marriage will have a chance to last for the full count?

I must make a lifelong commitment.

I must embrace a shared identity.

I must commit to absolute faithfulness.

I must accept a well-defined role.

I must offer unreserved love.

I must envelop mutual submission.

I must support sexual fulfillment.

I must provide open communication.

I must yield tender respect.

I must give spiritual companionship.

Timeless Truth:

In order to make marriage count, you've got to do the math.

It's ten points to a strong marriage – you can count on it.

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