Saturday, August 19, 2006

So Ya Wanna Get Married

This year a number of young people we know have taken the big step of getting married. No wonder I'm feeling so old! What follows is an edited form of several posts I published on Xanga with the purpose of giving to those young people some advice based on the 34 years my wife and I have been together.

Yes, my dear wife has put up with me for 34 years. If we were Catholic, that would qualify her for sainthood. She really is a saint and also happens to be my best friend apart from Jesus Himself.

In the course of those 34 years together, we have found that there is a treasure that married couples accumulate. It is the treasure of the intimacy of shared experience of a life time together, a shared experience that goes far beyond the physical union, a shared experience that becomes more and more valuable as the years go on. That is another reason why the breakup of a marriage is a sad and tragic thing.

When a couple marries, they make a choice to love one another to the exclusion of all others. But that is just the start. For a marriage to last requires a continual choosing to love one another exclusively, a choosing that needs to be made every day, yes, even every hour and minute. It is in that continuous choosing that the treasure of intimate shared experience is accumulated.

I know that a few of you who will read this have gone through the pain and heartache of a failed marriage, that of your parents, or even your own. In Christ is the hope of the ultimate gain of your crushed expectations. The relation of Christ and His church is compared to marriage. There is an intimacy of shared experience you can have with Him, yes, that in the ultimate consummation you will fully have with Him. An intimacy that will more then make up any loss we've had in this poor, fallen, yet to be fully redeemed world.

At that time 34 years ago, when my wife and I got married, we included in the ceremony words in the form of vows that included the words, "... in sickness and in health.." and "..for richer or poorer..". Such words are usually included in most of the weddings we've witnessed over the years, and I think many couples, including ourselves, say those words without really comprehending their full meaning.

The words in that part of the vow have to do with expectations of "normalcy" most couple come to the altar with. You expect to have children. What happens when for whatever reason you are not able to? You expect the spouse to maintain some semblance of normal health. What happen when one or the other is disabled in a car accident or by a stroke? You expect that as a family you will have at least some semblance of an adequate income. What happens when the working spouse is bouncing from one job to another mostly through no fault of their own, or maybe in some cases because it is their fault? Or unexpected medical bills or legal bills or whatever bills devastates family finances?

There are also the unrealistic expectations that couples come into marriage with. One of the break throughs in my relationship with my wife came at a time of crisis when we both realized we were looking for things in each other that the other could not be or give, in fact the only one who could give to us individually those kind of things we were looking for from each other, was Christ alone; ultimate acceptance, basic worth and dignity, full understanding. In short we learned to allow each other to be human, redeemed yet not yet fully sanctified humans. The pressure was off. We were free to love one another as Christ Himself loves us.

Let's face it! A lot of our romantic expectations have been molded by the subtle pseudo-romantic view of our decadent media sotted culture. Even the most sheltered are not immune from it. It is when expectations are dashed upon the rocks of the reality of life that we face the choice; the same choice we made on that wedding day, to love that other one exclusively, to continue together to collect the treasure of the experience of a shared intimacy of life. In our own case, it was the hard times that in the end, when all was said and done, made that treasure all the more valuable.

It is my prayer for all of you who are married or may be approaching marriage that by God's grace and with His help, you will endure for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, choosing moment by moment to love that one you made or will make that promise to, and to love him or her exclusively no matter what providence may befall you in this yet to be fully redeemed world, that you will accumulate that valuable treasure, and never despise it.

What does this ultimately call us to?

"The main characteristic of love is unselfishness. Love thinks of the loved one before it thinks of self. The interests of the beloved are paramount."

Donald G. Barnhouse, Exposition of Romans, Vol. I

Several times over the years I've been asked to do the Scripture reading at a wedding. Usually the passage to be read has already been picked out, but one time I was allowed to pick the passage myself. The passage I choose to read from on that occasion was Philippians 2: 1-13.

Now Philippians 2 is not usually the kind of Scripture passage most people would choose to have read at their wedding. However, I submit that this passage above all passages hits at the crux of the foundational issues of the marriage relationship. The love of Christ was manifested by His denying Himself, giving up the glories and prerogatives of Heaven, and taking on flesh as a man to the point of death on the cross. His is the ultimate servant example of loving unselfishness.

As Barnhouse has commented, unselfishness is a mark and expression of love. For my purpose I want to focus on love in marriage, and unselfishness as the expression of that love.

I learned how wickedly selfish I was in the first year of our marriage. The past 34 plus years have been a lesson in the school of learning self denial. And though I do better then I did, I still have to work on it, and will need to keep working on it for the rest of my life.

It is my observation that the guy is the one who usually has the most problem with selfishness in the marriage relationship. The gal can struggle in that area to, but because we are from Mars, men tend to struggle with it more.

Now put this in the context of the wedding day and the marriage vows that are being spoken to one another. Those vows are vows to practice self-denial for the sake of the other. It is a promise to put the other above oneself.

Yes, guys, you are to put your wife above yourself. Headship and leadership is to be demonstrated by unselfishness toward the wife. Any other kind of headship or leadership is what Jesus called "Lording it over" as the pagans and secular unbelievers do. It's at this point, sad to say, some Christian husbands blow it. They use terms like "godly assertiveness" or "Biblical headship" to exert a leadership that is anything but servant or Biblical or truly godly. (Such leadership is also often marked by an un-Biblical low view of women in general.)

The bottom line is that as you approach your wedding day, you need to count the cost. You will no longer be the center of the Universe. You never were in the first place. In case you missed it the order goes like this: God - others - self. Day in and day out, hour by hour and minute by minute you will be called on to deny yourself in way up to this point you've not had to. It will take much grace and patience. It will call for the giving of much grace, patience, and forgiveness to the other. God can and will help you. Don't ever forget His part in your marriage relationship. Staying close to Him will go along way towards your being able to stay close to one another as a married couple.

May your marriage be a success, and may you and your spouse or spouse to be gather much treasure in the years God gives you together.


~ The Billy Goat ~

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