Search This Blog

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Marriage Wisdom

I write this other blog ( where people write me with questions. On the whole, I've been pleased to see that the questions vary widely in nature and run a complete gamut of topics. If there has been any real concentration, I'd have to say it tends to be about sex and marriage. It seems people have a lot of questions about that.

Preachers often preach about marriage in such virtuous tones. The typical sermon fodder will be about husbands loving their wives "as Christ loved the church" and even as they love their own bodies (Ephesians 5:25-33). A typical marriage sermon will also touch on wives submitting to their husbands "as they would to the Lord" (Ephesians 5:22-24).

To be perfectly honest, I don't find either of these metaphors particularly useful in our modern culture. Let's face it, not a lot of men (or women) are intimately familiar with how Christ loves the church. And similarly, not a lot of women (or men) are intimately familiar with how we are to submit ourselves to the Lord. Why would that be? How could we be ignorant of such fundamental concepts?

Let's face it, most of us haven't had good role models. When the televangelist or youth pastor "leads us to Christ," he or she never, ever makes sure we grasp the concepts of sacrificial love and submission. Yet both are absolutely fundamental to both the Christian faith and godly marriages.

The same is true for marriage ceremonies. While traditional marriage vows have tended to include the wife "obeying" the husband - many modern marriage ceremonies conveniently edit that part out or gloss over it as they go. Have you ever watched that tawdry (American) TV show, "Bridezilla?" It shows brides-to-be acting like the most ungodly, selfish, uncaring, manipulative and controlling witches ever. Can you imagine that persona submitting and obeying anyone?

I can just imagine a marriage ceremony. "Do you, prospective husband, promise, commit and vow in front of God and man to love your wife sacrificially ... even to death if necessary?" "Do you, prospective wife, promise, commit and vow in front of God and mankind to love your husband, submitting to and obeying him in all things as you would to the Lord?"

If I were preaching that wedding, I'd probably want to add in some further questioning. "Do you, prospective husband, know what sacrificial love is? Have you really evaluated it and do you really know what you're committing to here?" "Do you, prospective wife, have any idea what submission and obedience really look like? Are you fully aware of the dynamics of such behaviors on your part?" "Have either one of you ever loved anyone sacrificially or submitted to and obeyed someone unconditionally?"

So what's my point here? The point is that most couples enter and live in marriages without fully understanding, much less acknowledging, the requirements of a godly marriage. I've done a far bit of marriage counseling in my day. And I am always dismayed with the couples who start off a counseling session by telling how their marriage doesn't work. Or they'll talk about the lack of credentials of their spouse.

There's never comprehension of these two fundamental marriage dynamics - given to us straight from God's Word. Why would that be? Is it that churches don't teach it? Is it that Christians don't model it?

Sexuality is another important topic, both inside and outside of marriage. Both married and single people want to talk about it. For most, it is an area of extreme pain and frustration - for a whole host of reasons. Here again, the contemporary church has Scripture references that are heavily leaned upon. They start with the exclusivity of our sexuality (Matthew 19:3-6, Genesis 1:27 & 2:24).

Some preachers will boldly march forth into the book of Solomon (aka the Song of Solomon). Here we find graphic references to sexuality that might otherwise be found in modern pornographic material. But the pastors cling to it as evidence that God intends for us to be sexy. They'll explain that God appreciates the value of a good "romp in the hay." But I'm not sure that's the right context to be speaking from -- or the right vision to be casting.

King Solomon, who wrote this graphically sexy book, was a noteworthy leader. The son of King David (whom God referred to as "a man after my own heart"), Solomon went on to build the temple. He also was astute enough to ask God for wisdom above all else ... and of course became very wise indeed. God's Word tells us he was the "wisest man who ever lived" (2 Chronicles 1:11-12). Indeed, Solomon wrote many Proverbs, among other things. His writings are testament to his rich wisdom.

But is wisdom the right place to go for the model of sensuality? Solomon may have been a wise man, but he was certainly not the most virtuous. While the Bible recounts many of his accomplishments, it also records his failures. Ultimately his sin - including the sin of idolatry and turning away from God - led to the ruination of his kingdom. So it would seem that the wisest man who ever lived was also one of the more sinful men the world has ever known. Did you know that?

Sexuality, upon close examination, was definitely one of the weakest aspects of Solomon's character. So while the Song of Solomon records in great detail the sensuality of his sexuality ... it tends to leave out some pretty relevant details. Take for example, the fact that Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. By his own account then, Solomon had at least 1,000 sexual partners in his lifetime. How many have you had?

Oddly enough, Solomon, for all his wisdom, failed to put many boundaries on his sexual cavorting. Simply put, his wives and concubines included a substantial number of women of ill repute. Some of Solomon's sex partners (or wives) were actually heathens who neither shared his values or acknowledge his God. A case could be made, based on Scriptural accounts, that some of these women actually led Solomon away from God. Said differently, they enticed him to sin.

So the point here is that Solomon may have had wisdom beyond his years or even beyond his humanness (i.e., divine wisdom). But what he had in wisdom probably rivaled what he lacked in virtue. He was not a good and decent man. It is therefore ironic that modern-day preachers would turn to the Song of Solomon for model of sensuality in the context of God-honoring relationships.

So if the world wants to know more about marriage and sexuality, and Ephesians or Solomon aren't the models --- where do Christians go for effective teaching? Oh, I'm so glad you asked! For starters, they go beyond the obvious. Christians begin to look at marriage and sexuality through the perspective of Jesus Christ.

If Jesus had married, what kind of sex life do you suppose He would have had? Seriously. We purchase those "WWJD?" (What Would Jesus Do) bumper stickers for our cars. What would Jesus do ... in the bedroom? Isn't that really the question we all want to have answered? Isn't it the question we all should really be asking?

For starters, let's look at what Jesus called the two most important Commandments (Matthew 22:37-40). They form the basis for the most important dynamics in a God-honoring marriage.

He said we are to love God above all else. Did you catch that part? How many of our culture's love songs put God first? Yet God says He is to come first. That's before infatuation. That's before hearts that flutter when our mate walks into the room.

And He said we are to love others as we would like to be loved ourselves. Think about that. How would you like to be loved? If you look fat in that outfit, wouldn't you want to know it? Would you feel special if others made sacrifices to express their love for you? Do you like to be on the winning end of compromises?

So just this one Scripture reference gives us bold context for a successful marriage. That context is that I have to come third in this marriage. God comes first. Then my spouse. Then me. Notice the children and the in-laws aren't in this pecking order (yet).

Often Christian counselors will draw a marriage "triangle," which depicts the husband and wife in the bottom corners, and God as the pinnacle or top corner of the triangle. They'll tell you that's what successful marriages look like. I think they're right too. It's been my own experience (by virtue of my own marriage), by working with other married couples, and being a student of marriage, that this so-called relationship "triangle" is not only true, but it's effective.

Over the years, I've developed a list of Marriage Truths that I believe bear repeating here.

1. Your marriage will never truly work unless God is first in each of our respective lives. No exceptions.

2. Marriage requires an extraordinary amount of compromise. You'll find the level and depth of compromise to be more complex than any you've ever experienced in the past.

3. Partners in successful marriages make extreme sacrifices, not only for the good of the marriage ... but for the best of the their spouse.

4. Uncompromising loyalty is always required in a marriage. It means there is always the preference in favor of your spouse, no matter who the competition is.

5. God's amazing grace must be modeled in your marriage. This means that you intend to forgive everything --- before you even know whether or not your partner is sorry or whether they are at fault. You always lead with forgiveness.

6. If you have a successful marriage, you will at times find yourself in situations that seem to smack of persecution. And like Christ did when He was persecuted, you must not try to defend yourself. Rather trust God to lead you through the persecution.

7. Marriages are often like sailing ships, with storms to go through, shallow waters to go through, deep waters to cross, etc. But they don't have the option to stop and get off the ocean. Rather they must keep on sailing, no matter what.

8. Your marriage will inevitably bring you to a "crisis of belief." Your beliefs about God, yourself, your spouse and your marriage will all be heavily tested. And only the strongest survive.

9. Selfishness and self-centeredness must be executed if the marriage is going to work and honor God. Unfortunately they are where most marriages start. People tend to consider their marriage prospects in terms of what's in it for them. That thinking error will need to get corrected before the marriage can thrive. When you get to the place where you can commit to the marriage and remain committed without thought of what's in it for you --- then you know you're ready for marriage.

10. Most of the world's wisdom on marriage is useless. Only God can define successful relationships of any kind. So successfully married people learn to stop listening to the wrong voices and to focus on listening to the right voices.

To conclude, I'd like you to forget what you heard at the last wedding you attended or read on the last greeting card you bought. Those are not marriage wisdom. I'd like you to turn past King Solomon and the Apostle Paul for your marriage advice. Instead, take a serious look at Christ. And ask yourself, "What would Jesus do?" For therein lies the secret to a successful marriage and a fulfilling dimension of sexuality in your marriage.

No comments:

Post a Comment