5 Characteristics of Relationships that Succeed

2014 Messages

Todd teaches on five biblical principles that are common to individuals who do well and form healthy relationships within their marriage. You must not believe lies that push you into a bad relationship to begin to, be ruthlessly committed to marriage, remain humble and consider yourself to be the largest problem, and radically pursue Christ and biblical community.

Todd WagnerFeb 23, 2014Matthew 19:3-6; Matthew 7:3-4; 2 Corinthians 6:14; Ecclesiastes 9:9; 1 Corinthians 7:28; Proverbs 19:2-3

Well, good morning! How is everybody doing? We are going to talk about something today I believe if we get right will be one of the most strategic… Strike that. …the most strategic thing we can do to change this city. Now, I say stuff like that a lot when I'm starting. Maybe not exactly those same words. I always tell you whatever the book of the Bible I'm studying is my favorite book. That's true. I do really believe if we get this one thing right it will change our city more than almost anything else we do.

Obviously, if we share our faith and people respond to us declaring the gospel, that will change our city, but the reason people are going to listen to us when we share our faith is because we're going to get this thing right. Jesus told his disciples that the ongoing mark of us being his followers and being associated with him is going to be by the way we love one another.

There is no greater human commitment and human relationship than the marriage commitment and the marriage relationship. When you have marital success, it gives you a non-stop opportunity to explain the source of that marital success. It has been well said when a newlywed couple smiles, everybody knows why, but when a couple who has been married for 15 years smiles, everybody wonders, "How?"

There was an article recently in the Dallas Morning News, and it talked about how things have not changed in our society for the last 50 years. It talked specifically about economically, that no matter how much our government has tried to flood our economy with tax-assisted relief programs in dollars to give people an opportunity through welfare programs and other ideas…

Harvard just came out with a study that said children growing up in America today are just as likely or, in other words, no more likely to climb the economic ladder as children born a half a century ago. That means despite all of the programs, all of the increased education, and all of the improvements we've made, kids are not better off. The reason kids aren't better off is because whatever "economic strides" we've made or whatever educational programs we've provided there has been a corresponding disintegration in the family.

One guy who specifically looked at this extensively said, "The strongest impediment to economic success or upward mobility… The number one thing that keeps kids from moving forward in any kind of socioeconomic opportunity we might provide is the family structure." In other words, not only is us getting this correct going to do the most important thing, which is give us a voice to a world that needs to know about a God who loves them and can set them free, it is the source of really changing our city radically.

If we can get marriages right in this city and in this country, it will more radically impact our country than almost anything else. I'm going to make the case that marriages can't be made right unless the gospel enters into marriage. One guy said, related to this study, "The fraction of children living in single-parent households today is the strongest correlate of upward-income mobility among all of the variables of the research team's exploration."

In English, what he meant was, "When we looked at everything that affected kids' chances to prosper, there was nothing we saw across all elements in the study or all variables that made as much difference as coming from a solid, intact, loving, encouraging, nurturing environment." No matter what we try to do to prosper our kids, if our family unit fails… If Mommy doesn't love Daddy and Daddy doesn't love Mommy, we hamstring our kids.

It is why in the Scripture you come across statements like, "God hates divorce." The reason God hates divorce… The Bible nowhere says that God hates divorcees. We don't hate divorcees. When you listen to this message today, for some of you, your hearts are going to be ripped out. You're going to shed some tears because you're going to realize because of some of the dysfunction and disintegration in your familial relationship, your kids are part of those who inescapably have a hurdle to overcome.

I get so sick when I hear dads talk about leaving their wives, and they say, "But I'm going to be the best dad of any dad who ever lived." I tell every single one of them, "You cannot divorce your wife and be the best dad who ever lived. It's impossible." There is no greater gift you could give a child than to love their mama unconditionally or respect their father to spur that dad to be everything he wanted to be.

If we get this right, we're going to have a voice, and it's going to bless our land. It is why, when God said, "He hates divorce," he doesn't hate divorcees. He hates divorce because he loves every individual, and God created us to live in the context of relationship, and he knows the fabric of every society is made foundationally from the strength of the family unit.

When you read in Scripture again and again, as they were getting ready in Old Testament times to move into the land and as Moses went back over the Word of God, he kept saying, "Obey the commandments of the Lord. Listen to his statutes. Respect your elders who teach you these statutes. Honor them." He says every single time the exact same thing. He says, "So that it might go well with you and with your children after you."

When the land did not do those things and they were sent into exile, the only other book of the Bible that repeats this phrase, "Obey the statutes and the commands of the Lord so that it might go well with you and that you might live long in the land and your children might prosper," is from the prophet Jeremiah. He repeats again and again. It's a message to us. The reason God gave us his commands and the reason God gives us his words is because he loves us and he wants it to go well with us.

It's not going to go well with us if we don't fundamentally look at the key to getting along. What I'm going to talk about today are five things I watch in the lives of my friends and people who I know who have successful relationships. I'm going to give you five things that absolutely have to be present if you're going to have successful relationships.

Nobody plans on being part of a disintegrating relationship, but every single one of us can relate to how hard it is. There are so many jokes and little quips we could use talking about this. Some people say marriage is a three-ring circus. There's the engagement ring, the wedding ring, and suffering. Some people say the first year of marriage the wife speaks and the man listens intently. The second year the man speaks and the wife listens intently. The third year they both speak and the neighbors listen intently.

I came across this thing a number of years ago, and it just totally cracked me up because we're not planning on our marriages messing up, but somewhere along the line our marriages got messed up. Listen to this. This is hilarious. One year ago a husband decided to buy his mother-in-law as a Christmas gift a plot in a cemetery. The next year he didn't buy her a gift, and the wife said, "Why haven't you bought my mom a gift this year?" He said, "Because she didn't use the one I bought her last year," and that's how the fight started.

A woman walked in and saw her husband sitting there watching TV. She said, "What's on the TV?" He goes, "Dust," and that's how the fight started. A woman was standing there nude looking in the bedroom mirror. She was not happy with what she saw. She said, "I feel horrible. I look ugly. I'm fat. I really need you to pay me a compliment." The guy goes, "Well, your eyesight is perfect," and that's how the fight started. Oh, man!

A husband asked the wife, "What do you want for your anniversary?" She said, "I'd love to go somewhere I haven't been in a while." He said, "Great! How about the kitchen?" and that's how the fight started. A wife sent her husband into the store to go buy $8 of lotions and face cream. He came home with $16 worth of beer. She goes, "What are you doing?" He said, "I figured the $16 worth of beer would make you look better to me than that $8 worth of face cream," and that's how the fight started.

A husband and wife went to a high-school reunion. The guy kept staring at this girl who was obviously drunk and overdrinking in a corner. The wife goes, "You're staring at that woman. Do you know her?" He goes, "Do I know her? That was the love of my life in high school. These guys over here told me she hasn't stopped drinking since the day I broke up with her." The wife said, "That seems like an awfully long time to celebrate," and that's how the fight started.

I think some of those are hilarious, and that's how the fight started in my house, really! We all crack up. Marriage is such a mess for all of us. It's so hard, isn't it? This is what the Scripture intends. Watch this. In Ecclesiastes, chapter 9, verse 9, this is what Solomon says life should be about. He says, "Enjoy life with the woman you love all the days of your fleeting life which He has given you under the sun…" How are you doing at that? Are you guys enjoying all of the days God has given you with your spouse under the sun or are you like, "Oh, man"?

One of my favorite episodes ever of Everybody Loves Raymond had Raymond's mom and dad at a store. They were sitting there and they watched this guy walk by with a woman who was obviously younger. The dad says, "Look at that guy! How did he get that woman?" Ray goes, "That's clearly a trophy wife." Then, Ray's mom looks at his dad and says, "Well, I'm a trophy wife." He looks at her and goes, "What tournament in hell did I win that you are my trophy?"

I think about how we struggle so much, don't we? The Scripture says in Proverbs 19:14, "…a prudent wife is a gift from the Lord." Solomon writes in Proverbs, chapter 5, "Drink water from your own cistern And fresh water from your own well. Should your springs be dispersed abroad, Streams of water in the streets? Let them be yours alone And not for strangers with you. Let your fountain be blessed, And rejoice in the wife of your youth. As a loving hind and a graceful doe, Let her breasts satisfy you at all times…"

I mean, it talks about the relationship God wants us to have. There's not much that's good in this fleeting life, but your marriage ought to be good, and I'm here to tell you this morning, if your marriage isn't good it's because of something that has gone terribly wrong that God didn't intend to.

Everything in the Scripture and everything the Bible says is about God running to people where things have gone terribly wrong and rescuing them out of the dysfunction and disintegration back into that which will bring them the joy they have missed. Really, what I want to do is I want to spend some time this morning bringing you back into that joy, and I'm going to give you what I think are five biblical principles that will help you have healthy relationships. Here we go. Are you ready?

1._ Individuals who do well in marriage resist the lies that push them into a bad relationship to begin with_. In other words, I have a buddy whose family is in the grocery business. He says, "We don't make our profit in the sale. Everybody basically sells this stuff. Every now and then we do loss leaders." The Wagner house always finds out where Blue Bell is going for $3 or $4, and we load up, but we don't really do our shopping there. Where we regularly do our shopping is a place that's really convenient to us.

What happens is grocers are all basically selling the product for the same price. He says, "I train my people and I teach my people you have to double down on the purchase side. If you want to have a model that works, you have to make sure you buy quality and do the research and the work you need to in order to get it at the best and most efficient price in that sense, because at the end of the day everybody is going to be in the same game of selling."

Here's the application I brought from that into a relationship. Individuals who do well in marriage double down on the purchase side. They don't rush into this thing. Proverbs 19:2 and 3 talk about how every single one of us has a tendency to blame God for our problems when things don't go well.

It says in Proverbs 19:2, "Also it is not good for a person to be without knowledge, And he who hurries his footsteps errs. The foolishness of man ruins his way, And his heart rages against the Lord." How many of us have done that? We've made decisions that are inconsistent with what God warned us about and God exhorted us, and we go, "God, how could you let this happen?"

He goes, "I didn't want it to happen. That's why I gave you my Word! That's why I exhorted you to live this way, that it might go well with you, and the reason it's not going well with you is because you made haste with your feet. You did what seems right to man. You were deceived by charm and vain beauty when I told you it was a woman who feared the Lord who was to be praised. You bought lies, lies of things like, 'If I don't have sex soon I'm going to die,' and 'Everybody else is getting married, so I'd better take what I can get.' Those are lies!"

I tell my friends. I got a chance to speak this last Tuesday night at The Porch. I love speaking at The Porch because in our marriage ministry we really have a four-pronged approach here at Watermark. We try to prepare people for marriage, we try to establish them in marriage, we try to enrich that marriage, and we try to restore marriages that are drifting.

I'm telling you we go long and hard at the beginning. That's our whole Merge ministry. That's the preparation side. That's where we're equipping the folks at The Porch. I said to them, "In marriage, you have to lengthen your patience and not lower your standard." I have a good friend who, when she turned 40, everybody was together with their family at Christmas. She's single.

Everybody else has families, so she sent out a Christmas card. Her Christmas card was a picture of her with a cow chip. That's odd. She had written on there, "What do women and cow chips have in common?" She put her cell phone on there so we'd all call her on Christmas Day. She goes, "Call me on Christmas Day and I'll tell you."

We all wanted to find out what the answer to the riddle was, so I called Kathy. "Kathy, what do women and cow chips have in common?" She said, "The older they get the easier they are to pick up," which I thought was hilarious and thoroughly unwise, and Kathy knew that, which was why she was 40 and single and still running hard after Christ. By the grace of God, it so happened just a few short years after that, Kathy married a godly guy who had been running after Jesus as well.

I tell my friends who are single, "Seek the Lord. Don't seek a wife." Because when you get married, you want to marry somebody who is running hard after Christ, and because they're running hard after Christ and that's where you're running, when they go to seek Jesus they see you there with him.

Don't you seek a spouse and try to convince them to do what God says. That's why it says in Proverbs, chapter 24, "By wisdom a house is built, And by understanding it is established; And by knowledge the rooms are filled With all precious and pleasant riches." If you don't find somebody who agrees with you what wisdom and understanding and knowledge are…

In other words, they don't have a similar worldview with you. You guys are going to have two different blueprints, and it's going to get really ugly really, really quickly. People who do well in marriage listen to the exhortation and the counsel of the Lord, which is, "Don't lower your standards; lengthen your patience."

Don't marry somebody who is not already well-married. What I mean by that and what the Scriptures mean by that… It comes, by the way, from 2 Corinthians, chapter 6, verse 14, where God is talking about yoking with people toward the great mission of honoring and serving Christ. He says in 2 Corinthians, chapter 6, verse 14, "Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?"

In other words, "If you guys are going to seek to represent me, make sure you represent me with other people who know where light and righteousness are found, in Jesus Christ." When you find folks who aren't running that direction, don't yoke yourself with them. Don't say, "We're on mission together."

What Jesus' counsel to you is, "Do you want somebody who is going to allow it to go well with you? Then, find somebody who is going to love because I first loved them and who isn't going to be a person who is going to look to have their needs met by you, a broken, needy person, but somebody who has met their brokenness and their needs and has given them value and honor and dignity and filled them with a spirit of love and patience and kindness and gentleness and goodness and faithfulness and self-control."

What the Scripture would tell you is, "You might have a chance if you marry somebody who is already well-married to me." Don't be hasty. Don't marry somebody just because they show up at church or because they go to The Porch on Tuesday nights or because they have a Bible with their name on the front. That costs about $60.

God says what transforms somebody is not having a Bible or being part of a Bible study but somebody who consistently abides with that Jesus. You watch them for a long time running that direction. You're running with them. All of a sudden, you go, "Let's just run together." Don't lower your standards; lengthen your patience.

The arrogance that we would think somebody who is not well-married to a perfect lover, Jesus Christ, and who is adulterous in a relationship with Jesus Christ would be faithful to you in a relationship is insane. The God who does meet all of their needs, who never sleeps, who never fails them, who never moves toward them in anger or moodiness…

They wouldn't be faithful to that lover and they covenanted to him? In other words, they have a said faith but they don't have a really saving faith. They're not really one with Christ. You watch them waffle in their commitment to Jesus and they say they're going to be committed to you, a needy, broken, moody person? That's crazy! That's crazy!

You have to be slow. You have to be careful. I have this story I found a number of years ago. I've kept it. It was on Reuters news service. It came from Iran in a town called Qazvin which is in the northern part of the country. Let me read it to you. "An Iranian bridegroom bit off more than he could chew…" That's literally the lead. "…when, according to custom, he licked honey from his bride's finger during the marriage ceremony and choked to death on one of her false nails." It's tragic. Watch this.

The newspaper from Iran said on Wednesday, "The 20-year-old groom died on the spot in the northern city of Qazvin while the bride was rushed to the hospital after fainting from shock." I guess so. "It's tradition that Iranian couples lick honey from each other's fingers when they get married so their life together starts sweetly."

Let me tell you something. Your life is probably going to start sweetly. Most of us go into marriage, and we go, "This thing is going to really rock." The Scripture says, "If you think your feelings and the sweetness you're experiencing right now are going to carry you through marriage, you are sorely mistaken."

In fact, what you're going to find out is you often don't really get to know somebody during the dating phase, because they're selling, and some of what they're selling might be fake nails. You don't get to find out that pops off. Sometimes those things don't pop off for six months to six years. All of a sudden, you go, "What in the world is here?"

I say again and again, whenever I marry couples… We get together to rehearse on Friday night. Everybody knows where they're going to stand and what they're going to do. We have our best clothes on. We make ourselves look as good as we can. We rehearse everything. Careful words are spoken because we don't want to do anything that would bring dishonor to our family on our wedding day, but how many careless words are spoken that bring dishonor to our family in our marriage?

Guys go all in to buy their wives-to-be valuable rings, but how many women are treated like precious possessions on the side of their husbands? There's a big move here right now around to make the engagement the big thing. Guys go all in and show their love for their wives with their creativity in the engagement ask.

I'm going to tell you something. Don't you be fooled by a guy's creativity in asking you to marry him. You watch that that guy is faithful to the one they're already married to. You find a guy, by the way, who is engaging with you physically and he says he loves Jesus… He's lying. Jesus has already told him, "Sex was my idea. I'm all for sex, but because I want it to go well with you, you need to know something."

Over 70 percent of couples who are getting married today cohabitate before they're married. About 90 to 95 percent, they say, are sexually active with one another. Here's the reason God says, "Listen! Don't defile the marriage bed before it's time. Don't awaken love before it's time." I've said this before, but you need to hear it again.

Couples who live together before they're married… Everything that we want to go up goes down and everything we want to go down goes up. What do I mean by that? What goes down is satisfaction once you do get married. What goes down is frequency of sex once you're married. People who cohabitate together have less sex when they're married than people who don't cohabitate together.

The prosperity and income future of that couple is consistently lower of people who live together before marriage, and you won't be surprised to find that the commitment they have to one another goes down. In other words, what goes up is the divorce rate. Couples who live together before they're married are twice as likely to divorce. Couples who live together before they're married are twice as likely to have an affair once they are married.

Doesn't that make sense? Women, if you want a guy to like you and commit to you because you give of yourself to him sexually… If that's a guy who would commit to a woman who offers herself to him sexually, don't be surprised that you lose that guy for the exact same reason you got that guy.

God tells you these things. What goes up to couples who cohabitate is most of those couples… In fact, there is a 70 times greater chance that you will never marry. Sexual abuse goes up. Physical abuse goes up. Child abuse goes up with couples who cohabitate. Don't lower your standards. Lengthen your patience.

One of the greatest gifts you can give your bride-to-be is purity in your dating relationship. Here's the reason why. Because God says you want to marry someone who knows what righteousness and love look like. Love can't wait to give itself. Lust can't wait to get something from somebody. When you have a guy who is telling you if you love him you're going to give something, he misunderstands love. Love gives. Lust wants to get.

Do you want to find a guy you can trust? You find a guy who is with a woman that all of society says, "It's normal and natural that you guys start to imbibe," but he says, "No, I'm committed to another one. I made a marital commitment to somebody else who I'm in love with, and he tells me it would be destructive and damaging to him and to others if I do this. Even though I'm with a woman who wants me and desires me who I'm alone with and that most folks would kind of wink at and say, 'You're going to get there anyway,' I'm not going to do it."

How secure would that make you feel if you knew a guy was with a woman who says, "I love you. I want to be with you. I desire you," and he says, "But I'm going to be pure here because it's not time"? If you have a guy or girl who is reckless sexually before marriage, just assume that guy or girl is going to be reckless sexually after marriage.

People who are successful in relationships resist the lies that push them into a bad relationship to begin with. It's why, when I was given the stewardship of three little girls and I started to teach them what it means to be a godly woman, the very first characteristic I gave them as a godly woman is that they seek the Lord.

It's right from Scripture. "But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." It's normal for a woman to want somebody to come and give her value and honor and celebrate her and rescue her from this broad swath of womanhood that is out there and say, "You are my queen. You I pursue. You are my treasure."

That's normal for a woman to want that, but Jesus would tell them, and I've told my little girls from the time they were little, "Don't ever buy the lie that anyone or anything other than Jesus can satisfy you. You don't need some guy in high school to validate you. Your daddy is validating you constantly and your Father in heaven has already validated you by showing you honor and worth and you are a daughter of the King.

You don't need some suitor. One day you will allow a man to share his life with you and to give himself to you because you are the King's queen, and he wants to serve the kingdom, but until then, don't you dare…don't you dare…let some guy give you worth." I have to say this really quickly. I've shared this in a small parenting class.

My oldest daughter, Ally… I built that into her just like I did my sweet daughter Kirby and my little girl, Landry. Ally went to college, and one of the very first things she did was go to a mixer. It was with her sorority and some fraternity. It was a stoplight mixer. I had never heard of that. I've never heard of a stoplight mixer.

It's where you wear either green, yellow, or red. Green means, "I'm ready to go. I'm available. There's no reason not to move forward." Yellow means, "It's complicated. Maybe I had a relationship in high school. I'm not really sure if it's going to keep happening or not, but I'm not completely green and I'm not completely red, which means I'm in a relationship, so there's really no reason to waste your time trying to start one with me."

When they got there, they broke them up in a room. All of the green unconnected people were in one room. All of the complicated people could go in there and share their stories. All of the folks who didn't want to really mess anything up could go and make some new friends. Allie goes, "Dad, do you know what I wore?" I go, "What did you wear?" She goes, "I wore white. I got there and they said, 'You're supposed to wear green, yellow, or red.'" She said, "I'm not defined by relationships. I'm defined by something far different than this."

I said, "What room did you hang out in?" She said, "I went in all of them, and I had the greatest conversations. The green people were like, 'Why are you wearing white?' 'Because I'm not really going to be defined by relationships.' I went in the yellow room and told those people, 'It doesn't have to be complicated. It's pretty easy.' I went in the red room and told them what was going to make their relationships work.'"

Do you know what she said? Everybody said, "I'm wearing white next time!" Here's the thing. It just shouldn't be clothes you put on. It should be an attitude you carry forward. "I am pure, I am significant, and I am holy." One last thing on this. Parents, can I just beg you not to encourage your kids into relationships before they have the maturity to really understand those relationships and the ability to consummate those relationships?

I have to tell you. I see more parents handicap and hinder their kids because they encourage their kids in relationships. "It's cute. It's fun. It's great that the kids go together." They're not ready. Let me just encourage you to celebrate your son's godliness not his girlfriend. Celebrate your daughter's security and purity not the fact that she's some boy's sweetheart for a season or she's popular.

You push your little kid into a relationship and you think it's cute when they start to be identified by whether or not someone goes with them in elementary school or someone has a crush on them in junior high or somebody says, "You matter to me," in high school, and you are setting them up to move forward in areas that are going to linger with them for a long time.

I couldn't feel more strongly about that. Guys ought to be friends with girls and enjoy each other, but the purpose of dating is to move toward marriage and intimacy. Why would you start to do that before you have any intention of that? You seek the Lord, not some significance from a guy. Never buy the lie that anyone or anything other than Jesus Christ will satisfy you. I'm not saying I'm wrong but anybody who disagrees with me on that is.

2._ People who have healthy marriages and relationships ruthlessly commit to their marriage. You might go, "What?" They ruthlessly commit to their marriage. My buddy, John McGee, is the first guy I heard say this: "Marriage is like a room with many doors in it. There's the door of divorce. There's the door of an affair. There's the door of distraction, hobby, or work. There's the door of what I would call _un-divorced apathy."

When things aren't going well in that relationship with that person, a lot of people just look for a door. They're on their way out. The people I know who are successful in relationships are absolutely committed to not walking through one of those doors, and early on they slam those doors shut, they lock them, and they throw away the key.

Here's what's going to happen. When all of the exits are eliminated, you really are out of options, so you're going to stay in that room with somebody and you either have to get along or kill each other, and the Bible is pretty clear about the second option, so you start to really figure it out and stay committed.

By the way, I don't mean this to be sassy at all, but I'm serious when I say this. Do you know what the number one characteristic of successful marriages is, marriages that have been around for 20, 30, 40, 50, or 60 years? The number one characteristic of all of those marriages is that they stayed married.

You can't have a successful relationship if all you do is get out of it as soon as it's hard. They're all hard! Every single one of them. Early on, my wife and I when we got married… "Todd is in ministry. Alex is in ministry. They're two godly folks. They're discipling younger people." They acted like we were going to go into marriage and be the first couple since Adam and Eve before they ate the apple who had it easy. We didn't have it easy.

Early on, even though we were two people who loved Christ, we were two people who still were being sanctified. I can remember I couldn't believe how short a time it was from the time I gave my wife a precious ring that I wasn't treating her as a precious possession at my side. When I was so careful to not ever say anything but to draw her to myself that I was wanting to say very careless words, words that started with D and words that started with B.

By the grace of God, I never said them, but I thought them, and we both looked at each other and we said, "Listen. We have to right now figure this thing out," and we both said, "There's a door right there called divorce. I'm never going to say that's an option for me. I am here, and I'm committed to you. By the way, there's another door over here called affair. I don't ever want to have one. I want to delight myself in you. I want to be satisfied in my relationship with you. There's a door over here called distraction."

Guys in ministry… We can easily distract ourselves. We go places. "We're so glad you're here. You mean so much to us." When I go home, I don't typically have my wife and kids go, "Oh, Dad's here! That's so awesome! Dad, do you have a word of the Lord for us? Could you teach us some God's Word tonight?" "Children, sit down. We've flown this speaker in today, and it's just a real privilege." I'll tell you what. If you live off of that, you can really distract yourself from the dysfunction at home.

I'll tell you another thing. We lock that door of just un-divorced apathy. You do what you want with the divorce statistics that are in this world, but I'm going to tell you something. I think once you get rid of all of the marriages that will never divorce, probably 80 percent of the ones that are still together are more un-divorced than they are married.

When I look at what the Bible's definition of a successful relationship is, it's that they're committed not to not having an affair, not to not divorcing, not to not being distracted, but they're committed to pursuing oneness, because that is in my Bible. "For this cause, a man should leave his father and mother and shall cleave to his wife, and the two shall not have an affair." Nope. "…shall not get divorced." Nope. "…shall not be distracted." Nope. "…the two shall become one flesh," and that takes a lot of work.

Can I just tell you I don't mean to discourage you this morning, but there is one promise in Scripture related to marriage? One. Are you ready? It comes in 1 Corinthians, chapter 7, verse 28. It says, "But if you do marry, you have not sinned…" Paul says that because he was zealous for people to be anxiously serving the Lord and to not be involved in a relationship that was going to take some time and effort.

"…and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned." Watch this. "Yet such will have trouble…" That is the only promise in Scripture related to marriage. If you do marriage God's way, you'll delight with her under the sun, you'll delight in the breasts of your bride and your beloved. That's if you do all… But I want to tell you something. It's going to be troublesome.

Why do you think your marriage takes extra work? One of the hardest things I have to do is convince people Alex and I have to work just as hard at our relationship as you do, daily dying to ourselves, abiding in Scripture, and believing in him. If you want to sit there and tell me your marriage doesn't have trouble, why do you want to make God out to be a liar?

Quit throwing a little pity party for yourself and start deciding to lock those four doors and say, "I'm not going to kill this person emotionally, relationally, spiritually, or certainly physically. I'm going to love her," or "I'm going to love him, and I'm going to do it the way God says I should do it."

Men, don't lock yourselves in that room with somebody who is not already well-married, but even if you marry someone who is already well-married it's going to take some work, and it's okay. Watch this. Jesus wants us to be committed. He has asked the question, "Is there ever a reason to bail on your commitment in a marriage?"

In Matthew, chapter 19, let's just read it. Some guys came to him and said, "Is it lawful for a man to bail on his wife for any reason at all? Come up with your most dramatic, radical, crazy, hurtful reason." Watch Jesus' answer. It's not one word, but after I read it we're going to vote and see if there's a word.

"And He answered and said, 'Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his mother and father and be joined to his wife'? 'So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.'"

In a word, what is Jesus' answer to the question, "Is there ever a reason for a guy to divorce his wife?" Nope. You're like, "Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!" I'm going to let you read in just a second verses 7 and 8, and I'm going to tell you why there is divorce, but I'm going to tell you, if you go into this thing…

A little bit later, by the way, the disciples clearly understood this, even with the so-called exception clause inserted because they raised their hands and said, "If this is what you're telling us as the God who wants it to go well for us and to represent you, it is better not to marry," and guess what Jesus says.

"I've oversold. Let me just back off." He says, "No. In fact, unless you're really ready to die to yourself and not be defined by your lustful passions and the way your flesh urges you to do things, you probably ought not marry if you're my child." I talk to couples in here. Let me just say this.

We have some blended families in our church (a lot of them) and I think they'd be the very first ones to tell you, "The second marriage I'm in and the things I'm doing to make this second or third marriage work are the things if I had just done in my first marriage were what I needed to do to make that one work. All I can do now is all I can do. I'm one of those people who unfortunately has brought hurt and brokenness into my life and hindered my kids. God is not done with me."

God doesn't hate divorcees, but I think they'd be the first ones to tell you, "Listen to him. Stay right there where you are and be committed because the things you're going to have to do later with that other person who is the person of your dreams are the same things you're going to need to do right now, and you may as well do them with the first one."

God says this because he loves you. There is a lie that's out there that goes like this: "I've only got two options. I can either divorce or stay married and be miserable." That's a lie. There is another option, and that is you can begin to do the things that make relationships work. Here we go. The very first thing I mentioned to you was individuals who have successful relationships resist the lies that push them into a bad relationship to begin with. Secondly, they ruthlessly commit to marriage.

3._ Individuals who have successful relationships regularly consider themselves as the biggest part of any relational problem_. People who have successful relationships always think they are the biggest part of the problem in any relationship. You'll hear us say this a lot. We've said this in relationship to our country.

If we want our country to change, the very first thing to do is at the church. We need to draw a circle around ourselves, radically be transformed into the image of Christ, and then invite other people into it. When you come and begin to reengage in truth with us so your marriage might change you'll hear us say, "Do you want to change your relationship with your spouse? Draw a circle around yourself and radically change everything in it."

I'm not telling you your spouse will ever change, but at least you will wake up every morning next to crazy with the satisfaction you've done everything you can do to honor God and make yourself the person God wants you to be. You change yourself. Watch what Jesus said. This is very biblical.

When you want to look at how to work through things, in Matthew 7:3-4… "Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' and behold, the log is in your own eye?" I told you I was going to read more of what Jesus said after he was asked, "Is there any reason ever a guy should quit being committed to his wife?"


"What? If that's the case, how come Moses said in verse 7 of the same chapter and why did he command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?" He said, "Because some guys are married to man-eaters and there is no way they can survive with them, so I gave them a way out." Right? No.

He said, "Because of your spouse's sin…" Right? No! "Because of your sinful heart…" It has nothing to do with your spouse. In that society specifically, God made a provision. I want you to be very clear, guys. I don't want you to just get rid of women for whatever reason. They were legalizing wife swapping, basically. Guys were saying, "I'm divorced from you. I'm going to marry her for a night, so I won't commit adultery, and then go back to this woman."

God said, "No, no, no. That's a very sinful way to go about this thing, so we're going to just say you have to very publicly stand up and say, 'I'm not one of God's people. I'm not going to stay here and be committed.'" He did it to protect the women by exposing the men in that culture in Deuteronomy, but it's very clear what Jesus says.

"Do you want to know why you quit on relationships? Because you have a hard heart. If you had a heart like mine, I don't quit on relationships. I run after sinners. I initiate with sinners. I give myself. I don't really consult my flesh. I love. I'm not provoked. I don't act unbecomingly. I don't take an account of wrong suffered. I bear all things, believe all things, endure all things because that's what love looks like."

Can I just tell you something? This is not what Todd's love looks like. Todd's love is really, really limited so the very first thing I have to do is just admit that I'm powerless. I can't love my wife like I want. Let me just give you some advice on this (some very practical advice). Focus on the good in your spouse. Why did you marry them in the first place? Do you remember anything? Focus on the good of your spouse and focus on the sin in yourself.

What is less than Christ intended in your life right now? There has to be something. Right? How about this? For the next 30 days, say nothing bad about your spouse and everything you can find every day something to celebrate and tell them what it is you're celebrating. It reminds me of the story of a guy who invited a buddy over from work.

He said, "I want you to come with me. I'm going to work on my deck after work." The guy went over there and the guy who invited him, as soon as he walked in the house, walked up to his wife and went, "Sweetie, it is so good to see you." He gave her a big kiss and said, "You look better this evening than you did this morning."

They went out and started working on the deck, and she called them in for dinner. They came in, he sat down, and he said, "Sweetie, this is maybe the best meal you've ever made. I thought last night was never going to get better, but you continue to get better in the way you love me and care for me with this food. It's unbelievable!"

They went back out to work on the deck, and the guy goes, "Can I just ask you something?" He goes, "Why are you so over the top on the way you praise your wife?" The guy said, "I just started doing that a while back, and it has been unbelievable the way it has changed my marriage when I just celebrate my wife."

The guy goes, "All right." He goes home, walks in, opens the door, looks at his wife, and goes, "Sweetie, it is so good to see you. I love you, and you look absolutely beautiful." She broke down in tears and started crying. The guy goes, "What's wrong?" She said, "This is the worst day of my life. The kids are sick. I had to go pick him up at school. Now you come home drunk!" That's funny! Would your wife think you were drunk if you started celebrating her?

This is what the Scripture says. You ought to be drunk with the Spirit, because I guarantee you God looks at that precious little girl made in his image who he died for, and he sees something beautiful. You start celebrating that. Is there something, anything, that made you marry that guy? Why don't you start telling him? You focus on what you can celebrate in your spouse, and you focus on what is sin in you. Those people have healthy relationships.

4._ People who have healthy relationships radically depend on Christ. They just radically depend on Christ. If you come and hook up with us at a little ministry called _re|engage, you'll hear us talk about that. I mean, the very, very first thing when I sat down years ago and I just took the acronym re|engage and started putting principles together that were the foundation of this whole thing, the very first thing we tell you when you show up is, "Recognize your inability to love."

Back then, the way I said it (I've tweaked it and improved it since then) was, "Realize you are unable to love your spouse the way you said you would and the way God said you should." Just understand your desperation. "I can't love the way Christ says a man should love a woman." A woman says, "I can't complete and respect and honor and encourage a man the way God says I should apart from loving because I have been loved."

If you're trying to get in this thing and you're just going to will your way through it by your emotional energy, it's just not going to last that long. This is what John, chapter 15, verses 4 and 5 say. "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me…"

Apart from Christ in you you're not going to love that little girl. You're going to hurt her. You're going to use the divorce word. You're going to use the B-word. You're going to just be un-divorced. You're going to be distracted and try to find life somewhere else, and home is going to be miserable for you.

Can I just encourage you? Here's what you need to do. I would just pray this for 30 days. Everyday, I would just say, "God, show me one way specifically to radically love my spouse today. Give me one way. Show me, Father. I'm asking you. Show me one way I can radically love my spouse today and give me the courage to do whatever it is you show me no matter how I feel."

You just try that for 30 days and say, "This is not about how I feel anymore. God, show me one thing I can do today to love her. Give me the courage to execute on it no matter how I feel by the power which dwells in me. I'm going to love much because I have been loved much." Do you know what my wife and I have inside our wedding rings?

I knew this going in. I had just a little better theological understanding of Todd Wagner than she did, so on this wedding ring inside of it is engraved, "1 John 4:19." We love because he first loved us, not because she wore that chambray shirt on that dark skin with long brown hair in those tight jeans the night we went country western dancing and I said, "I could live with that!"

Because that fades. Bodies deteriorate, but persons develop. My wife has become a godlier, more beautiful woman (you'll see in just a moment) than she was the day I said, "I want to give myself to you," but I don't love her because she's beautiful. I love her because he first loved me. That's what makes this thing work. I don't do it because it feels right. I do it because it is righteous, and I follow a righteous Spirit and not a wretched man who always wants to upgrade and thinks he deserves better for less work.

5._ Couples whose marriages work relentlessly live humbly in relationship with others_. People have asked me before, "Todd, what's the best thing you do to lead your wife?" I say, "It's easy. I tell her who to tell on." I say, "Sweetie, if you come to me and you tell me what it is I'm doing right then that's not consistent with my profession and what a godly man would do in his love for you and I kind of give you one of these…"

"The reason we have a problem in the marriage is because you feel this way, and if you didn't feel this way we wouldn't have a problem." (That kind of brilliant man logic I like to throw at her sometimes.) If I come at her that way, I say, "Here's what you do. If I don't say, 'Thank you,' if I don't ask your forgiveness, if I don't humble myself, repent, and make amends, here's the distribution list. You just hit send to those guys."

There are a handful of times she has had to. There have been other times she said, "Todd, you're doing great. You're responding every time, but we're consistently in this little problem right here. Because I love you, I want those guys to know where you're really struggling right now." I don't ever go, "Don't you dare do that to me, woman." I go, "That's exactly why I married you." Because I'm not done yet, and I need to be completed. "Thank you for spurring me on. Thank you for not surprising me and telling them first. Tell me, because I want to be that man, and I welcome others into my life who will."

As 1 Thessalonians 5:14 says, "Admonish me when I'm unruly, encourage me when I'm faint of heart, and help me when I'm weak, and do it with great patience." I have guys like that in my life. Couples who do well are couples who don't seek to make the relationship work on their own. Isolation is the garden in which idiosyncrasies grow, so you have to pull some people in your marriage and go, "The way this mixture is in your marriage is not consistent with God's Word. Let us pull some weeds. Let us exhort you on."

By the way, when we get done with re|engage or when we call you to re|engage, this is the very first thing we do. We put you in a group with other people who are living out 1 Corinthians 7:28. Their marriages are having some trouble. Some of them are 7s who want to move to 9s. Some of them will say, "We're a -3 and want to move to a 1."

All of you have to apply the exact same things to grow in that one area, and when we get to the end of re|engage, people start to panic because they're like, "I don't want to stop meeting with you," and God never intended that you would try and do this thing alone. You guys become one, but you become one with others who are seeking oneness.

When you and I do this well, when we really become the people who do that, it becomes such a sweet song that the whole world can't help but want to know the source of your song. One of the things I was going to do today if I had time and I don't (I didn't do it the first service either) was I was going to let you watch a little video by Fred Stobaugh who is 95 years old, lives in Peoria, Illinois, and his wife of 75 years (sweet Lorraine, he called her) died just last year.

He heard about a little studio called Green Shoe Studio that was also in the Peoria area that was running a nationwide deal for local songwriters. What they want to do is transform their community by helping people realize one dream at a time, so they said, "If there's a songwriter out there with a song on their heart, we want to listen to that song and help them take that out to the public airways," so Fred heard about this.

He's not a songwriter, but he sat down and wrote a poem while he was humming to his wife, sweet Lorraine. He sent it in, and the guy was so moved. Just go home and Google "Sweet Lorraine." It's about a nine-and-a-half minute video. I want to tell you it's one of the most touching stories you've ever seen. He talks about how he first met her when she was a carhop at an A&W Root Beer shop. He said, "We fell in love. We were married shortly. Then, we lived together. She gave 75 years of her life to me."

It shows pictures of them moving through. The guy said, "We couldn't help but write his song and produce it." They took his words. They went over to his house with a guitar, and he hummed the little tune he heard in his mind of the poem. They just made it unbelievable. I'm going to tell you that you sit there and you long. "What's the secret to Fred and Lorraine's relationship? What's the source of that melody, one that gets richer and thicker and sweeter over time?"

That ought to be our story. We're not just people who look pretty when we get married. We're people who develop and grow more in love with each other because we did our work at the beginning and we're committed all of the way to the end and we know if there's a problem in the relationship every marital problem is a spiritual problem so we draw a circle around ourselves, we focus on our sin, we celebrate our spouse, we abide in Christ, and we pursue it with one another.

That's what Jesus says is going to change your relationships. When you live with somebody and you think you loved them when you married them, you watch when you get to go through life with them. I love the song that says, "I thought I loved you then." I thought I loved that good-looking brunette then, but I'm telling you I'm moving into my third decade of marriage quickly here, and I love her more than ever because she helps me be the man God wants me to be and she's committed to me. There's no door she's trying to run through.

Father, help us be that people who love each other the way you want us to love so the world looks at us and marvels and asks us to explain the source of our song. Would you help us, Father, to be those people and may we point them to you as the great orchestrator of this relationship? Amen.

When your marriage because you stayed committed… There's a lot of trouble between those pictures. It's funny. When I first saw that, I was like, "That's Brooke! I just married her eight months ago. What's she doing from now till then? They're still young and beautiful." I thought to myself, "Todd, it was about eight months when you wanted to start using the D-word and the B-word." That's why we have this thing called Foundation Groups to help your first year of marriage be built on the foundation of the things I talked about today.

Just like Jim Wimberley and Judy at the very end of that… I mean, when I turned 40… I had my fortieth birthday party 10 years ago, and Jim gave me a present. It was a picture. He said, "Todd, this is what I was doing the day you were born." It was a picture of him and his wife getting married.

I just turned 50 and there are Jim and Judy with sweet Judy music. You just go, "Jim, what's the secret to that song?" He'll tell you. The secret is, "We're committed to one another. We know there's going to be trouble, and we know when there's a conflict it's our problem and not the other person's problem, and without Jesus we don't have a chance, and we do it in concert with others."

You watch that and go, "That's what I want." That's the hope of tomorrow. That's what doesn't hinder our kids. We have this thing called Merge. If you're not there yet, when you get seriously dating, we help prepare you. We have these things called Foundation Groups to establish you. We have this little deal we're going to give you right now to enrich you. Go home. Take it. We have this thing called re|engage to help restore what is lost.

You got married at 10. You've slowed to a 7. You want to move it back. Come on. Re|engage. Every single Wednesday night at 6:30 we're there. Last year over 3,000 couples at 40 different churches went through re|engage. That would fill up this room twice of folks who said, "We're going to be serious about this marital covenant."

Last year, over 600 couples went through our Merge class here. That's 5 percent of every marriage in Dallas/Fort Worth and in this county who went through equipping here. That's great, but 95 percent didn't. Every time you get a wedding invitation, what if you said, "Go to Merge. I'm coming to your wedding. I want you to go to Merge."

Every time this week you hear about somebody who is saying, "Marriage isn't what I want it to be," what if you said to them, "Come with me on Wednesday night to re|engage and let's begin to pursue our wives like we said we would and like Christ said we should"? Think about what would happen if we became those people and there were a bunch of fiftieth wedding anniversaries around here that were deeply covenanted together. People would want to know the source of that song, and we'd tell them about the orchestrator, whose name is Jesus.

If you don't know Christ, would you come today? Would you just do what people do every week? Check that little box on there that says, "I want to know more about having a relationship with that bridegroom through faith." We'd love to do that with you. If you know that, would you go out and love your spouse? Will you wait for the right spouse? Will you worship him?

Have a great week of worship. We'll see you.