Gail and I celebrated our 41stanniversary last April. God has taught us many things over the years, and improving our marriage has been one of the big ones. Here are five lessons on perfecting marriage we continue to work on:
1) Commitment: Our wedding vows included “’til death do us part,” and everything else works because we believe this. Once we accepted the fact that everything can work out, Rom 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose,” we have been able to witness just that. No back doors, everything needs to be dealt with and worked out for the benefit of both of us, Gen 2:18, 22-24, “And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him…And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” We have become one flesh joined by God, Mk 10:9, “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” This is why life is easier when we choose a partner who already believes in God and is willing to accept Jesus’ commandment, Matt 22:37-38, “Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.” Once we act on this belief, we will have the patience needed to develop a life-long relationship, grounded in love, which leads to one flesh.
So, divorce is not from God, but rather from the hardening of our own hearts, our unwillingness to work together to resolve problems, Matt 19:7-8, “They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.” God never leaves us, and He wants us to have faithful relationships with both Him and our spouses, Eph 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;” He waits for us to accept His offer of an eternal relationship and promises He will be faithful, Hos 2:19, “And I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies.” Why would He expect less from us? The real tragedy comes when one spouse is committed, and the other is not. This hardening of the heart of the non-committed partner poisons any attempt to resolve differences; thus, divorce enters as the only solution.
2) Demeanor: Once we accept we have to work things out, it is essential to understand that our demeanor will affect the process. God asks us tobe humble and to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” Eph 4:2-3, “With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” This means we are friendly, loving, and we always have the expectation our partner will return our benevolence, 1 Cor 7:3, “Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband.” Miriam-Webster defines pure benevolence: “A disposition to do good.” When two people enter into a relationship with this attitude, they will only be satisfied with an outcome that pleases both of them. Neither of them would want their partner to feel anything but love when working on problems. It takes time to build the trust necessary for this to happen. It begins with our demeanor and ends in love, Col 3:14, “And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.”
3) Communication: This is where we witness the joining of our commitment and demeanor. Our every word either confirms or erodes the trust we are building in our relationship. This is why God spends so much time explaining how we are to treat each other, especially in our communications.
We are to listen first, with a desire to understand, before we speak, Jam 1:19, “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:” we are demonstrating the demeanor we must bring to every conversation, 1 Pet 4:8, “And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.” It is our love that allows us to listen with an open mind, one that says, “I am not sure I agree with you, but I am going to listen until I fully understand what you are saying,” Prov 18:13, “He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.”
We must take the time to get to know each other. This is how we begin to understand the little non-verbal nuances of communication; like deep breathes, loss of eye contact, changes in facial expressions, clenching of hands, tightening of shoulders, Deut 24:5, “When a man hath taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war, neither shall he be charged with any business: but he shall be free at home one year, and shall cheer up his wife which he hath taken.” We might not be able to take a year off. However, we can take some time each day to get to know each other’s little nuances. This is even more important in the communication process than the words we speak. We need to be patient and get to know our partners if we want good communications. This same principle calls us to wash in His Word and to respond with prayer. This is the communication process that helps us develop a relationship with God.
4) Forgiveness: We will all make mistakes, some intentional, and some unintentional. Forgiveness takes these mistakes and turns them into the glue that binds our relationships. When our partners see we are willing to forgive, they become more willing to forgive us, as our Father in heaven has taught us, Matt 6:14, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:”
Forgiveness removes all bitterness and wrath, Eph 4:31-32, “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.” Forgiveness thus builds trust. It is God’s forgiveness that allows us to learn to trust Him.
5) Service: When we serve our spouses, they learn we are humble enough to work to improve our relationship. Jesus demonstrated this for His disciples, Jn 13:5, “After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.” If Jesus so humbled Himself, what is our excuse? Jesus continued to give Himself for His bride, the church, Eph 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;” He showed His patience and service, despite the fact, He knew some of us would still refuse His offer. He knew our refusal would lead to His suffering and death. He could have walked away from the cross; no one could have stopped Him. His patience through all of His suffering is the example for us. If He could stand the torture of the cross, can we not learn to patiently serve our spouses? The exciting thing is that we learn that serving our spouses brings peace to our marriage, for it is a demonstration of our love. This is what Jesus meant when He told us following His example would bring us His peace, Jn 14:27, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
It is this service that proves our love and willingness to work on improving our relationships. It is a part of the mystery of Christ, Matt 23:11, “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.” He told us, then He demonstrated this principle over and over again, even unto the cross, Phil 2:6-8, “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”
My testimony is, the closer we come to following God’s principles of relationships, the better our relationships become. Gail and I both freely admit our relationship is not perfect; however, it gets better every day because we are willingly working on it. If the Lord gives us another 40 years, I am sure we will reach perfection. And, marriage is the human relationship God cherishes most.
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