This past Saturday I had the privilege of officiating the wedding ceremony for a young couple in our church. As a pastor, weddings are highlights in my ministry. By the time of the ceremony, the couple and I have spent at least three months together in a premarital counseling relationship. We’ve discussed the “four F’s” as I call them — faith, family, finances and future. They’ve read at least one book and taken the tried and true premarital assessment provided by Prepare & Enrich (an assessment is also available for married couples that I would highly recommend). We’ve spent numerous office hours together discussing the biblical view of marriage, and they’ve had at least one dinner at the Thornton house. Usually Ashley’s cooking is the couple’s consolation prize for finishing the premarital counseling! All that to say, I have formed a relationship with the couple, which makes their wedding day very special to me personally.
Ashley and I have been married for thirteen years. For some of you that’s a long time, but for many of you that’s just getting started. To that I voice a hearty, “Amen!” Yet, enough water has gone under our bridge to have a perspective on longevity. Having moved twice, we’ve had the “joy” of purchasing three homes together. Just one move is enough to make you say, “I never want to do that again.” During those years we also had three children and walked the long road of two graduate degrees. By God’s grace he has provided, and we survived. Seriously. God is good, all the time.
We’ve had our fair share of marriage experience. Lived out in a real world, with real concerns in a real life, marriage is nothing short of hard work. Every marriage has its bumps and bruises, some of them self-inflicted. But nevertheless, we’ve learned that if you want to grow old together you must walk through the trenches together, too.
That raises the question: “What makes for a lasting marriage?” I must confess, that’s the question I have rattling around in my head every time I officiate a wedding. “Is this love going to last?” It’s the same question that I had in my head just this past weekend. In humility, I hope any married person would ask of their marriage, “Are we going to make it?”
As Ashley and I reflect on our years together, three points begin to surface. We’ve gleaned a few holy habits from godly role models. We’ve tried our best to implement these points in our marriage and would encourage you to do the same.
Here they are:
A love for Christ above your spouse.
Couples often struggle because they love their spouse too much. That’s right. Their spouse has the first place in their heart — not God. The Bible calls that idolatry. An idol is anything you expect (or rely on) to give you what only God can give you. If your spouse is the #1 love of your life, that can only mean one thing: God is #2. Misplaced affection can wreak havoc on a marriage.
Therefore, we need to re-organize our hearts. Love Christ more than your spouse. If you are single, you need to look for someone who loves Jesus more than they love you. Remember, God calls you to himself, before he calls you to your marriage. Your spouse merely complements you, but Christ completes you. Don’t confuse the two. Don’t look for your spouse to do for you what only Jesus can do. Listen to the Psalmist as he writes,
Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:25-26)
Only God can satisfy the longings of the heart. Marriage is temporary, but union with Christ is eternal. Give yourself first to Christ, and lead your spouse to do the same.
A sense of service to your spouse.
What is marriage? Two sinners living under the same roof together. That’s right. Two people that are more broken than they realize are now living in close proximity with one another and sharing the same bed. Does that sound like a disaster in the making? Well, it is. Let that be a reminder of how much you need God’s grace in your life before pointing the finger at your spouse. Trust me, most marriage problems have more to do with you than they do with the other person. Are you getting the picture?
But at the same time, your greatest ministry is your marriage. In the sovereign plan of God, he has placed you in this marriage relationship on purpose. (Yes, you married the right person. Trust God in that.) You married a broken person who needs ministry. They need patience, instruction, prayer, love, and a whole lot of grace. There is no person in their life who can be the hands and feet of Jesus like… you. Read the words of puritan pastor Richard Baxter. If this doesn’t sober a marriage, I don’t know what will. He writes,
Remember still that you are both diseased persons, full of infirmities; and therefore expect the fruit of those infirmities in each other; and make not a strange matter of it, as if you had never known of it before. If you had married one that is lame, would you be angry at her for limping? Or if you had married one that had a putrid ulcer, would you fall out with her because it stinks? Did you not know beforehand, that you married a person of such weakness, as would yield you some manner of daily trial and offense? If you could not bear this, you should not have married her; if you resolved that you could bear it then, you are obliged to bear it now. Resolve therefore to bear with one another; as remembering that you took one another as sinful, frail, imperfect persons, not as angels, or as blameless and perfect.
Your spouse needs you more than they know and more than you know. Seek to serve where, when and how no one else can. God has given you a unique and mutual opportunity. Take it today.
A view of finishing with your spouse.
A beautiful thing happens in healthy marriages. Her “my” and his “my” make an “us.” The Bible calls this “us” a “one-flesh” union (Genesis 2:24). Everyday you are being bound together in spirit, emotion, and body. Together you share life. You have children and you build homes — together. As life goes on, you cannot understand your own life apart from the presence of your spouse. You are best friends, having walked through the pains and joys of life — together. And as the years go by, these two will know one another like no one else will. Praise be unto God. One flesh, all the time.
The day will come when the only view is the rear view. Years — decades — will have passed. You’ll be standing in your kitchen one Saturday morning, sipping coffee and looking at pictures of your grandchildren. You want to look at your spouse and know you’ve walked this road together. Wherever you are in your relationship, let me encourage you to embrace the journey of your momentary marriage. Live one day at a time, making memories all the way. The finish line is coming, and you’ll want your spouse by your side.