Why Marriage is a Big Deal to God, part 5

Why Marriage is a Big Deal to God

Concluding the 5-part series, Todd offers an extensive list of things he would tell people about marriage if he knew they would take them to heart. Among them: We mustn't confuse being in love with the action of loving; successful marriages are made up of individuals who are committed to pursuing oneness; and the number one predictor of divorce is habitual avoidance of conflict.

Todd WagnerDec 7, 2003

Father, we thank you that your love is life to many of us who are here. We have a chance this morning to talk about your love, and especially as we move now into the month of December when the whole world's eyes and ears have a tendency to look towards Bethlehem, we pray that they wouldn't do it more as a cultural response that our whole world has largely adopted, but they would do it because they understand the love that is represented there.

So we come now and praise you. We're going to sing familiar songs the rest of the month and remember your great love for us, how deep it is, that you would come and humble yourself and take on the form of a man and that you would show your love for us in that while we were yet sinners, you would die for us.

We thank you, Lord, that your love for us covers all of our issues and all of our shortcomings. So this morning we can come to you in a great deal of security, not based on deeds which we have done that make us righteous, but we can come according to your mercy to the throne of grace that we might receive grace and mercy to help us in a time of need, a time of need even as now.

Lord, you know all the hurts and specific pains and loneliness, health issues, financial issues, and heart issues that haunt people you love who are in this room. We pray as we talk this morning about the hope that comes from your Word and dependence upon it, that you would allow them to find your love so they can find life as you intended for them to have. We pray this in Christ name, amen.


Jess: I like it. It works. It says home to me.

Marie: All right. All right. We'll let Harry and Sally be the judge. What do you think?

Harry: It's nice.

Jess: Case closed.

Marie: Of course he likes it. He's a guy. Sally?

Jess: What's so awful about it?

Marie: It's so awful there's no way to even to begin to explain what's so awful about it.

Jess: Honey, I don't object to any of your things.

Marie: If we had an extra room you could put all of your things, including your bar stools.

Jess: No,honey, wait, wait, wait. Honey, honey. Wait, wait, wait. You don't like my barstools? Harry, come on. Someone has to be on my side.

Marie: I'm on your side. I'm just trying to help you have good taste.

Jess: I have good taste.

Marie: Everybody thinks they have good taste in a sense of humor, but they couldn't possibly all have good taste.

Harry: You know it's funny. We started out like this, Helen and I. We had blank walls, we hung things, we picked out tiles together. Then you know what happens? Six years later, you find yourself singing "Surrey with a fringe on top" in front of Ira.

Sally: Do we have to talk about this right now?

Harry: Yes. I think that right now actually is the perfect time to talk about this because I want our friends to benefit from the wisdom of my experience. Right now, everything is great, everyone is happy, everyone is in love, and that's wonderful. But you got to know that sooner or later, you're going to be screaming at each other about who's going to get this dish. This eight dollar dish will cost you a thousand dollars in phone calls to the legal firm of "that's mine, and this is yours."

Sally: Harry.

Harry: Please, Jess, Marie, do me a favor for your own good. Put your name in your books right now before they get mixed up, and you don't know whose is whose. Because someday, believe it or not, you'll go 15 rounds over who's going to get this coffee table. This stupid, wagon wheel, Roy Rogers garage sale coffee table!

Jess: I thought you liked it.

Harry: I was being nice!

Sally: He just bumped into Helen.

Marie: I want you to know that I will never want that wagon wheel coffee table.

[End of video]

Well, I'll tell you. I want you to know something this morning too. If I could have one thing that I would share with a group of people that I knew at the end of it they would respond to my admonition, if I could give them one little simple run-through, a 30,000-foot fly-by of principles that I knew they'd say, "Okay. We're going to live life that way in the context of relationships," what would I say to them?

What would I say to them that I know they would say, "You know what? That's what I'm going to go with"? As I enter into life, into relationships, specifically marriage with the principles that affect and float through all relationships, if I knew that folks would listen to one thing that I would say, "No, it's the perfect time to share this," what would I say?

We are wrapping up this morning a little series within a series that talks about why marriage is such a big deal to God. We talked about last week how this God who loves us makes an observation that is almost bluntly obviously to all of us already. We see the devastation that comes in our own personal lives, in the lives of children, society, men, and women related to divorce.

We looked at that phrase in Scripture where God says, "I hate divorce," because he loves us, and he loves what marriage offers us, and he loves what marriage accomplishes in society and what marriage accomplishes in relationship to what other people understand about him. The God who love is life to us wants every picture that can scream of what real love looks like to be very, very clear.

If I had just one shot, if I knew people were going to respond and say, "I'll do that," and I had a crack at the city of Dallas, the state of Texas, our country, if I was put on TV this Christmas season, and I knew folks would respond to what I had to say about relationships and marriage, what would I share with them?

It wouldn't be to write their names in their books or to make sure they know who owns what plate so when they go to the law firm of, "that's mine, and this is yours," it would be this. It really fits tightly within the context of our ministry to marriage here. We have a marriage ministry at Watermark, and when we began to design what the purpose of that ministry would be, this is the statement that was originally drafted.

It says, "The purpose of the marriage ministry is to provide training, support, and encouragement to married couples and those considering marriage. Our goal is to strengthen oneness so that God might be glorified in Watermark marriages and not a single one would end in divorce." As I took a look at that, I go, "You know what? That is not the purpose of our marriage ministry." The goal of our marriage ministry is not to prepare people for a life that would not end in divorce. Our goal is to have people pursue was God says he wants them to pursue. It's that concept of oneness.

This is how it reads today, for those who would ever see it or certainly who are around that ministry who understand what they're there for. It's not so no marriage would end in divorce; it's so that no one would be in any relationship, specifically a marriage relationship, that is drifting towards the isolation that leads to divorce or the isolation that becomes just as much of a source of pain and dishonor to the Lord as divorce itself.

There are too many people, and it's just as tragic, who really can only say this. It's not that they're married; they're really just undivorced. One guy said this, and I agree with it. "The divorce certificate that comes that finalizes the breakup of a marriage…" I received an email from a friend just this week, who after the last six years of working with courts and attorneys, his divorce finally went final, and he got a divorce certificate. They haggled over businesses and buildings, and millions of dollars, frankly.

He said, "I finally got my certificate of divorce," but the certificate of divorce is not what ended the marriage. The divorce certificate he received is much like a death certificate. When the coroner finally comes by and says, "Yes, this person is, in fact, dead," and they issue a death certificate, it doesn't make somebody dead. It just makes it legal now that that life is no longer here in the way our world recognizes it.

What God doesn't want is folks to live in marriages that are undivorced. He wants folks to experience in the context of marriage the oneness that brings the companionship to completion, the community, the care, and the love that we all long for and desire to experience. How in the world do you get into a marriage and then stay in a marriage where you would have that as a descriptor and identifier?

Here we go. We're going to run through some basic principles that I would tell you is how to isolate-proof your marriage. Here's the very first thing I'd say if I had the chance to say this to some folks.

  1. Don't marry someone who isn't already married well. You go, "Now wait a minute. You're telling me that I ought to look for a future husband or a future spouse by staring at their left hand and seeing if there's a ring on and then work my way out from there because they've been successful already with somebody else? Well, I should see if I could move in, get them out of that one, and into one with me?" Of course not.

What do I mean by this? Don't marry somebody who is not already married well. What I would basically say to this one is when I look at individuals who you ought to yoke with, you ought not yoke with somebody who doesn't have a history of success in the context of relationship. I'm going to go a step further. A specific relationship that is also defined by a covenant. What I would tell folks (as you move into how you have a marriage that's isolation-proof) is I would encourage you to triple your investment, if you will, in the selection process.

I have a friend whose family was in the grocery business. As a young man when he was growing up, one of the things he learned from those who went before him in the family business was that you have to break your back, work your tail off on the buying side because there's never any guarantee on the selling side.

In other words, before you go and try and make money by what you sell out to the consumer, you try and make your margin and find the best deal before you invest in something for the greatest opportunity to have the most success. You triple your investment, like I said, in the selection process.

Now, when you ask yourself, "What is it that God wants me to have in the context of a relationship? What's this mean? 'Don't marry somebody who has not already married well'?" If I had to throw up a picture for this, I would say it this way. If there was an umbrella over your entire life, and you asked yourself, "What is God's will for my life? What's he want for me?" a lot of people want to believe, "God wants me one day to be married. God wants me one day to have a family. It's God's will that I yoke myself with another person."

I'm very careful with folks who I start to move forward in a relationship with as I admonish them about what it is that makes a marriage successful. I'd tell them, "God doesn't really care if you marry or not." We'll observe a little bit later together that he would tell you that if you marry, you have no sinned, which is God news for a lot of us who are here today. But he would tell you, "I really don't care if you're married." God's goal for you in life is not that you marry.

What word best captures this concept of God's will for your life? It's simply this. God wants for all of us to one day be able to stand before him and hear the words, "Well done, my good and faithful servant." There are lots of different words that can say this, but if I had to give one word that was to categorize the whole of your life, that word would be faithfulness. God wants us, in every area of our life, whether we're single or married, to be individuals who are faithful in relationship to him.

Most of us (many of us, not all of us) are going to have a major pivot point in our life, and it's when we specifically decide to enter into a relationship with another person that we call marriage. So on one side of our life, if you will, we have singleness. On the other side of our life, we have a married life. All of it, whether single or married, is done in the context of faithfulness. Here's my question. How's this relate to this morning? Simply this.

Before you enter into marriage, knowing that marriage is hard work and you cannot be faithful in the context of a marriage relationship when you have two people who are at odds with what a faithful marriage looks like, before you say, "I'm going to be committed to you," and before you ask if they'll be committed to you, watch this person to see if they've been committed in a love relationship before.

What's it look like to be faithful, if you will, as a single person? By the way, when I spend time with folks who I'm doing some premarital counseling with, what I do is I put this up there, and I say, "This is really what we're going to do in our next few weeks together. We're going to talk about these two sides.

We're going to evaluate whether or not you are a person who God would say, 'I want you to give you as a gift to another person,' and we're going to encourage you to really evaluate this other person. 'Are they the kind of person who God wants me to be faithful in marriage with?'" What I mean by that is you want to look at what some things are that should be true about a person who is faithful as a single. I just threw a few down there for you. Let's run through them together.

Firstly, that this person has found their security in Christ. Too many people have this pathological pull in them that they don't realize. Where there's this deep unmet need in them, and they find somebody else with a deep unmet need in them. It's like they're drawn to each other like a moth to a flame. There's this undertow that pulls them both out into this ocean of trouble that is marriage when neither of them were secure getting in.

They had these unchecked ideas that marriage is the panacea for all loneliness and problems in life. They don't realize that this undertow of their emotional needs is never really being fully met and satisfied the way God intended them to be. They've never slayed this idol of marriage. It just rips them like a tide right out to a deep part of this life, a challenge in life they're not prepared for, and they drown in this ocean of difficulty.

God says, "Listen. Before you try and share your life with another, love deeply, know what it means to be deeply loved. Before you're going to be in a relationship that's going to require constant grace (an incredible sense of what it means to forgive somebody else), know what it means to be forgiven."

Any relationship is only as healthy as the least healthy person in it. I would beg folks before they get married to realize that if you marry somebody who has not dealt with their ultimate issues in life of what gives them value and meaning and purpose, if they haven't established who their master is and is secure in that, then they're not ready to figure out who their mate is. Find somebody who is, first and foremost, secure in Jesus Christ.

Secondly, find somebody who is a student of the Word. They're not just somebody who has some cultural idea of what it means. They're not a census believer. They're not a census Christian where they check every 10 years what denomination they're a part of, what belief system they've subscribed to, but they're individuals who passionately, attentively pursue this God who they say loves them. Here's another one.

You want to find somebody who's a servant to others. Before you say, "This is the right person. This person is married well to Christ," watch the way individuals treat those who can do nothing for them, I would beg you. Christ said, "Imitate me. Follow me." He says, "I didn't come to be served but to serve and to give my life away, and to be a faithful follower of mine is to love other people."

Not the way they treat you and your cuteness and in the offer of a relationship and the thrill that goes with it, but you watch the way people treat those who can do nothing for them. Are they faithful as a servant to other people?

I would encourage you to look for somebody who is connected deeply to others. Do they have a long history of relationships? If you find a guy who says, "My whole life I've been misunderstood. My parents don't understand me. I don't have a good relationship with them. My brothers and sisters have abandoned me. I don't have a good relationship with them. I've had friends who I thought were close to me who I roomed with a for a while, people I went to college with. None of them do I have a real deep abiding relationship with. Nobody can love me the way you love me."

Look out. That is more than a little bit of a red flag because there is one common denominator in all those relationships that this person just described to you. That is that they cannot have successful relationships. When you hear a guy say to you, "You are way too good for me," believe him and move on. Say, "Thank you. I appreciate that."

All of us like to kid about the fact that as guys we have out-punted out coverage. That's fine to say that in a way that's extending a compliment to a wife, but when you have a guy who is treating you wrong and acknowledging that and saying, "I don't deserve a woman like you," believe him. God doesn't think he deserves you either. What else I would I say to somebody? What else defines faithfulness?

Find somebody who can control their tongue; who builds you up when they speak and doesn't speak harshly like the thrust of the sword. Another characteristic of faithfulness you want to find is somebody who is disciplining themselves not in things that glorify themselves. In other words, when you see somebody who is put together, totally coiffed, their clothes are just right, their body fat is down in single digits…

One of the reasons people often look like that or have their act together like that is because they are the most significant thing in their world. You will find that they are very disciplined in things that glorify them, but they're not often disciplined in things that give glory to the one who created them.

The Scripture says, "Bodily discipline is of some gain, but godliness is of great benefit in this life and the life to come." You watch. Is this a person, who when they said, "I love you, Christ. I will yoke myself to you. I will be faithful to you," are they faithful to these things that Christ says a faithful follower of Christ should do? Are they disciplined in working through their relationship with God?

Here's another one. Do they have an eternal perspective? Do they have a sense that this world is not ultimately where they're going to find full life and meaning? They realize they are on task right here, and do they live accordingly? Or do they get distracted consistently with fleeting things that pull them away of what they ultimately said they would be about?

Yet another. Are they a teacher and discipler? Have they taken the things they have learned and are pouring it into other people? Do they have a love for the lost? Do they invest in others? Are they faithful in the way God said they should be faithful? Are they somebody who ministers to others with their life? That's what a faithful person does. God says, "I don't want you to be committed to a person who is not committed to me.

The last characteristic I threw up here was somebody who is pure. Too many people think that if somebody has a purity problem as a single, the panacea for that is marriage. I have couples come to me sometimes and say, "We're going to get married?" Why? "Because we can't keep our hands off each other, and we know that the Scripture says, 'it is better to marry than to burn…'"

I go, "Well, fine, but you guys have not been burning. You have been deeply partaking of your desire for one another. There is no burning passion that you've been quenching. You've been in the flame of disobedience. Don't tell me you're going to get married so you can start to be obedient."

One of the things I do exhort folks a lot in the whole area of purity as a single individual is they can't believe how hard it is to control their physical passion for one another. I tell folks all the time, "If you think it's difficult to control your physical passions three months, six months before you're married, and if you find somebody who consistently fails in that area, then what you're going to find is there's a person who's not able to consistently control other passions they're going to have.

They may not blow it physically with somebody when they get married to you, but I will tell you this. You have a characteristic in that person's life that when they say they will be faithful to somebody, they are not committed to it because part of their commitment to Christ was to treat you appropriately in the context of a relationship as a single man and a single woman and they ignored faithfulness there. What makes you think they will not ignore faithfulness with you?

If you think it's difficult to control the physical passions that define an intimate dating relationship, just wait until your married, and see how hard it is to control the passions of emotion three months after you're married. When you want to let that tongue fly. When you want to let your emotions of anger and hurt begin to have you drift away from somebody. If somebody is not in the practice of dying to themselves to do what God called them to do, you shouldn't be shocked to see that they won't do it in the context of your marriage.

I would tell you to not marry somebody who isn't already married well. That's exactly what God says. You find somebody who is a fully devoted follower of Christ. Let me just say this. When you look at all those things I just saw up there, you don't want to look for perfection because that person doesn't exist. The fourth person of the Trinity is not single and living in Dallas looking to marry you. You want to look for direction, not perfection. You look for the direction of their life. Is it toward that?

A fully devoted follower of Christ is somebody who says, "If you can show me an area of my life that is unfaithful, inconsistent with what God calls me to be, I want to bring that life back into obedience. I want to repent. I want to turn from that inappropriate lifestyle which is rooted in rebellious thought and hard-heartedness towards the God I said I loved and wanted to serve in the context of a covenant relationship that we have with one another. I want to get my life back right with him."

So you look for somebody who has consistently reproved and corrected back on that course, and there's a history of it. What is the direction of their life? What's the direction of your life? That's what you look for. Now, here's what happens when you get married.

By the way, which one of these things doesn't come over when you go to be married? As a faithful married person, what's one of those elements that were there? And is it difficult to be a faithful single person? You bet it is. Which one of those do you leave behind when you cross into this other area of your life that you have to be faithful in? All of them come, plus some other things are added.

That's why the Lord says to you, "Make sure you don't get involved in a relationship that you're unequally yoked to somebody." In 2 Corinthians 6:14 it says, "What fellowship has light with darkness or believers with unbelievers or righteousness with lawlessness?" You don't connect with somebody who isn't committed to what you're committed with.

A long time ago, many folks have said it this way. "You determine who your master is first, and then that will determine your mission. Once you know your mission, you can find out who you want to share that mission with in life. That's how you chose your mate." That's exactly what God is saying.

Proverbs 24 is a verse that simply talks about, "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." The idea there is when you start to build a foundation for your life, if you don't have the same blueprint for what a healthy relationship looks like, it's destined for failure. God wants you to understand he wants your marriage to be a success. He wants you to experience the life there he intended for you to experience.

You will never be able to be faithful in this mission if you have a mate who doesn't have the same master with the same goals. You have to make sure you have a faithful person already married well to Christ, who has the same purpose in life, has shown faithfulness there, and who's going to build the house that is your relationship the exact same way as you are.

Scriptures tell us that if you yoke with somebody else… In Deuteronomy 7 it says, "The problem with marrying outside of the faith, is they will take your heart and pull you a different direction and pull you off course. You will turn from me. You will lose what is the primary call in your life, which is to be faithful." So marry well.

He wants you to know what it is to be married, and he's going to tell you in Ephesians 5:18-21 what it means to be an individual who is filled with the Spirit, who speaks a certain way, who has an attitude of gratitude before the Lord, who lives in mutual submission, who understands the different roles and responsibilities that are in marriage. So part of being a faithful married person is educating yourself to what kind of person you should marry and what marriage biblically should look like so that you can be faithful in the context of that.

I would tell you if you want to have a relationship that does not consistently drift toward the mutual isolation which ends in defeat and rancor and hurt and separation that sometimes a divorce certificate certifies what we already knew (that that relationship is dead), then you double your investment on the buy side. You tripe your investment on the buy side, and you make sure you get it right.

One of the things the Scriptures encourages you to do is to make sure others see what you see. There's an old song that was a number-one song in country music in the 80s by the Forester sisters called "Mama's Never Seen Those Eyes." It says this. "Mama says that I shouldn't let you steal a kiss. Mama says it just ain't right. She don't know that I can't resist with the moon so big and bright…

She says you're just a one-night man and you'll end up hurting me… She says I'll find a love someday, but you're not the one… Aw but I've seen something that Mama ain't ever seen. Mama's never looked into those eyes, felt the way that they hypnotize. She don't know how they make me feel inside. If Mama ever knew what they do to me, I think she'd be surprised [because] Mama's never seen those eyes."

Well, yes, she has. Sometimes Mama has bought the same lie from those eyes underneath that bright moon that you're about to buy, and she knows the pain that is there. One of the things the Scriptures tell you that you ought to do before you move across that line from single faithfulness to marital faithfulness is you ought to have other people who are echoing and affirming your decision of who you're joining your life with, saying, "Rightly, do you love her?"

In the one book of the Scripture, that talks the most about the relationships (Song of Solomon) the chorus all throughout that book early on during the engaging, dating process is they keep saying, "Rightly, do you love her? This is a good woman." If you are the only one who sees that you are right to love this person, beware. I would encourage my friends if I knew they would listen to me, and I knew they would take their principles to make their marriage a success, I would tell them…

2 . Don't confuse being in love with being a person who loves. What do I mean by that? I've said before that biblically love is not an adjective which describes how you feel. One of the books I read a long time ago was a book called A Severe Mercy. It's a book that really is made up of letters from a guy named Sheldon Vanauken to a guy by the name of C.S. Lewis. They became friends through their mutual interest in the literary world, and both of them at the time were single men. Both had dreamt of real love.

Lewis was in the midst of his relationship with Joy and had come to the place where he really found somebody he knew he wanted to share his life with, even though she had this diagnosis over her life that was terminal, and Sheldon Vanauken had met this gal who he wasn't sure if he should love her.

I love a lot of what C.S. Lewis says. The man as brilliant. One of the things he wrote back to Sheldon Vanauken lends to this error. Sheldon Vanauken said, "How can I know when I'm in love?" He basically wrote back and said it's like this. Sometimes you can be in a jungle, and you hear a hyena growl (you hear a hyena roar), and you think it is a lion. But he went on to say when you're in the jungle, and you hear a lion growl, or you hear a lion roar, you know darn good and well it's a lion.

That's just a very creative way to say, "You'll know you're in love when you'll know you're in love." It's that feeling you'll feel when you feel like you've never felt before." Biblically that is errant. This is the way the Bible defines love. There's a big difference between being in love with a person and delighting underneath that moon and being a person who loves. Biblically…

"Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails."

None of those words have anything to do with how you feel but everything to do with how you act. This is why the disciple whom Jesus loved understood the right way to define love. In 1 John, he said it this way. "In this is love, not that we loved God…" Or that we even love one another romantically. "…but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the [satisfaction] for our sins."

God demonstrates what love is. " …i n that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us," and "Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." I would beg people to understand that truth and that fact as you move in. Don't confuse being in love. Do you want to have success in marriage and not have a marriage that's going to drift consistently towards mutual isolation? Then you have to know what it means to love, and it has very little to do with how you feel.

Scripture says it's a sin for a man to make a vow and then afterward to consider the seriousness of it. A lot of folks get shocked in marriage when they go, "This is not what I thought it was going to be. I thought it was going to be this long, extended honeymoon. This long, extended time of romance and celebration. I had no idea love hurts and requires so much self-death, but boy does it." If I had a chance to share with some folks, and I knew they'd believe it, I'd tell them…

3 . Don't confuse being informed about their spouse's life with being intimate with your spouse. In other words, I would beg folks to start dating the day their honeymoon ends. There's a great story I read a long time ago that happened, actually, in the 70s of a young man who was a college baseball coach.

He was ordering some baseball equipment for his university. He was calling this different catalog that was a supplier, and he heard a fun, cute voice on the other end of that phone. They struck up a conversation around ordering this equipment. This woman had a love for sports as well. He thought her voice sounded fun and spunky. They found out they had a mutual love for the same Master. He found himself consistently ordering from the same supplier as long as this one girl was the one he got to eventually do the deal with.

They fell in love with each other. She flew out to where he was. They began a relationship, and in the context of a short but very intense year, they got married. Ten weeks after they were married, they were driving together, and they came up in a foggy area to a flatbed that was stopped. As the car swerved, it flipped, and it caused this young woman (her name was Krickett) to have severe trauma to her brain which caused her to lose all memory of the last two years of her life.

When she finally came back around, they started to ask her, "Who's the president?" At the time, she said it was Nixon. They said, "Where were you born?" She could answer that question. They said, "Who are you married to?" She said, "I'm not married." They said, "Who are you married to?" She goes, "I'm not married."

She met her husband when he walked in the room. She had never seen the guy before, as best as she could recollect. This guy kept then as a coach trying to coach her back to this place of strength and encourage her and call her. "No, you are married to me. This is what it meant for us to share our lives together. You love me." He kept telling her how to love him and what it meant to be in love with him and how they were together and how they shared this relationship. He kept calling her to this thing.

Finally, one of the doctors who was watching this guy do this and watching the girl look at him with a great deal of distrust said, "Why don't you stop coaching her how to love you and start loving her again?"

In a way that all of us need to think, this man had to experience. So he started to think back about the conversations they had that made her fall in love with him the first time. He began to write her notes. He began to call her instead of going to the hospital room and having fun, engaging conversations over the phone. Over a series of months, she fell in love with him again.

Some of you guys have not had a traumatic accident, but you've had a traumatic 10 years. You go, "I have no idea why I married this person. Yes, I do. I made a huge mistake. That's why I married this person." What you need to do to get that marriage back is not tell each other and coach each other and demand from each other that they act a certain way so you can have a relationship that's mutually tolerable but start right away to date and pursue each other, love each other, have a conversation about each other.

Don't confuse being informed about facts about your spouse's life with being intimately acquainted with your spouse. I would encourage all of us to never stop dating those who we're sharing life with. Never stop loving. Never stop wooing. Never stop winning. If I knew folks would listen to me and they would apply what I've asked to apply out of this thing, I would tell them to resolve to…

4 . Never settle for a bad marriage. I would also tell them to never settle for a bad solution. Going into this thing, I want you to know something. Get rid of this divorce assumption, which is that you have only two options: to stay married and be miserable or to get out and be happy. I would beg them to take the word divorce out of their vocabulary. In other words, I would tell them good marriages don't exist. You want to isolate-proof your marriage, so you don't even drift towards the isolation that leads to divorce? God wants you to pursue oneness.

I would tell folks that good marriages don't exist because one of the spouses develops a martyr complex and says, "Well, I guess this is what it is for me, and this is the way it's going to be. So I have to be in here and be miserable the rest of my life because the Bible says God hates divorce. I'm miserable, but I have to stay, and I can't leave." I would tell them to never settle for a bad marriage. God doesn't want them to have a bad marriage. I would also tell them that good marriages are not made up of people who say it's sinful to divorce.

Successful marriages are made up of individuals who say, 'I will pursue oneness." When there's anything that comes into my life because I am committed to this marriage and I am absolutely committed to not being miserable, I will be that completing spouse we talked about a couple of weeks ago.

Let me remind you completing spouse has certain characteristics. They're consistent. In other words, they don't just come up to somebody and all of a sudden drop on something they have a problem with that five times out of ten they don't ever really mention. They're consistently keeping the accounts short in a loving way. When there's something that's hurting the relationship they speak to it.

Secondly, a completing spouse, we said, celebrates what is good in the other person. They don't just look for things they would say are problems, but because they want a marriage that works, when they see their spouse do something that is great or affirms their relationship, they celebrate that.

A completing spouse is courageous. Even if the other spouse says, "You know what? Just leave me alone and be happy with what you have." They're going to persevere through that. When the response tendency…remember this…comes, and the person says, "Don't mess with me. This is the way a woman responds to a man. This is the way a man responds to a woman. That's the way it's going to be around here," you persevere through that. A completing spouse is somebody who is committed and is not going to say, "I'm going to be out of here, but because…"

This is what sociologist would tell us. They would tell us consistently that marriages that have a mutual commitment to make it work also have a greater success rate in their marriage because they know they're not going to get out, so they work harder to make staying in what it should be. That's as it should be. They found consistently that even the folks who don't work hard enough to stay in that marriage and make it work, end up doing better when they stay in most marriages.

Not where there is severe abuse, but where there is severe abuse, does God want you to stay there? Absolutely not. He wants you to say, I will not allow this to continue, but because I am committed to making this work, we're going to bring this abuse, emotional or physical or whatever it might be, to the light."

We said a completing spouse is just a few more things. They're Christ-dependent. They know what it is to be loved and know what it means to love and be forgiven to others. A completing spouse is contrite, and they see the log in their own eye before they start to talk about a problem in another's life. And, finally, a completing spouse is connected to other people.

I would tell you to resolve to never settle for a bad marriage or never settle for a bad solution. Don't believe you only have two options: to get out and be happy or to get in and be miserable. Don't buy the lie that divorce is going to make it better. Everybody agrees.

Non-believers left and right are writing books like The Case Against Divorce. It hurts men. It hurts women. It hurts children. It hurts society. Lose that as a trap door that you think is going to lead to life. Stay in there and don't accept isolation and separateness as an option but work hard together. I would beg them to believe me when I say….

5 . Know that trouble is coming in your marriage and know what to do about it. I might say it this way. Believe Paul knew what he was talking about, and be ready as a result. What do I mean by that? Know that trouble is coming and know what to do about it. I'd beg them to prepare for that. I would beg them to think this way.

This is what it says in 1 Corinthians 7:28. "But if you marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Yet such will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you." Can I hear an, "Amen"? Paul is saying, "If you think it's hard to be a faithful single man…" And it is. It's incredibly hard. "…you try and be a faithful married man."

You think it's hard to be all that God wants you to be as a faithful single woman? Well then just cross over under that umbrella that is the freedom for you to choose what you want in life and try and be faithful in the context of being committed to another person. That's where real trouble starts and real heartache begins.

There's an old joke, an old story about a dietitian who was lecturing to a large group of people. They said, "There's a lot of things we eat that are bad for us. Red meat is awful. Soft drinks erode your stomach lining. Chinese food is loaded with MSG. A lot of vegetables have stuff that's not really good for us. Even your drinking water has a lot of things in it that aren't good for you. But there's one food we all have eaten or all will eat that has a longer damaging effect to us than any other food that we know of. Does anybody know what it is?" Some guy raised his hand in the front row. He said, "Wedding cake."

I'll just tell you that in the context of life, such will have trouble when you get married. This is one of the first verses I read to my wife when we were married. "Let me explain this to you. Don't be surprised. This has been predicted. There is trouble that is here, and let's not be shocked by it." What the Scriptures tell us to is make sure that you know it's coming and you know what to do about it. What do you do about it?

Almost as a subset of this one, I beg people to believe this. After the ring, learn what it means to let God be Lord of the ring. In other words, after the wedding ring, as you're going to inevitably move into the ring of conflict that you have come up against, learn what it means to deal biblically with the conflict that naturally happens in the context of relationships.

One of my favorite cartoonists is a guy named Gary Larson. This is one of his "Far Side" cartoons. It's right there. You can see, obviously, there's Mrs. Satan there with little Satans. She says, "For crying out loud, look at this place. Well, this is one little satanic ritual that's going to come to an end," sitting there on that couch eating chips. We're going to put an end to this thing right here. As she goes ahead and says, 'We're not going to have this kind of relationship," the way she went about it is not the way the Bible would encourage you to come about this thing.

Trouble will come. Knowing how to enter into the circle of conflict, though, is a key to not letting any relationship, specifically marriage, drift towards isolation. There's no way that I could do this little section justice. The reason I use that "Lord of the ring" as a little metaphor here in this point is because we spent three entire weeks talking about a biblical way to deal with conflict; resolving conflict with God in your corner.

It's a little series we did called Lord of the Ring. Some basic principles from it were simply this. You have to learn the difference between a minor offence and a major problem. Know the difference between what it means to be a completing spouse and contentious spouse. It says in the Scriptures, "It's a man's glory to overlook an offense," and be able to sort through what that is.

Know the four things that make an offense too small to overlook. If it's damaging that person's relationship with you, damaging that person's relationship with somebody else, hurting that person's testimony to the world that watches it or hurting that person's relationship to God, you cannot overlook it. You are obligated to go.

You have to learn the difference between "I am sorry," and "Will you forgive me" Do you know what the biblical response is when somebody comes up to me and says, "When I responded the way I did to you this morning and talked to you that way or wasn't considerate of your time or didn't tell you that I had this commitment that was going to affect the way that you planned for me, I am sorry"?

The biblical response to that is this. "You are sorry. What you did is sorry. I agree," which usually catches people a little off guard." "You're telling me that you're sorry. What you did was a sorry thing. A sorry individual would act such a way. I agree with you, so what are we going to do about that? That sorry activity has put a wedge in our relationship, and the Bible tells us how to heal that wedge."

God doesn't just want us to say, "You know what? I'm not a perfect person. I'm a sorry person. When you put me up in light of holiness, I am sorry that I'm not holy." God says, "You have to do more than that." God wants you to act on your sorry-ness and to look for a means through which forgiveness can be received in light of the fact that he has offered.

Learn the difference between telling your spouse, "Hey, look. I'm just sorry, all right? If you don't get over it, that's your problem." The Bible says, "No. When you hurt another person in the context of conflict, you love them enough to humble yourself, get on your knees before them and say, 'Will you forgive me for the way I spoke to you? Will you forgive me for I was inconsiderate of your plans? Would you forgive me for…?'" And you wait for that response.

Learn what it means to love one another. "Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you." Has God forgiven everybody in this world? Of course not. Does God offer forgiveness to everybody in this world? Absolutely. Who gets that forgiveness? Who is the relationship restored with? Not folks who know they're sorry; folks who have asked him for forgiveness for their sins and accept the means through which he accomplished that.

You learn the difference between "I'm sorry," and "Will you forgive me?" The last big qualifier for this is that you remove the log in your eye before you concern yourself with a speck in your spouse's life. I'd beg people to know that going into marriage. Such will have trouble. You have to, after the ring, let God be Lord of your ring and deal with conflict biblically, because it's going to happen.

Do you know that everybody who studies marriage will tell you the number-one predictor of divorce is the habitual avoidance of conflict? So many folks think, "I have to avoid conflict. I can't talk to him about this because we fight when we talk about this," but the problem doesn't go away when you don't talk about it. You have to learn how to talk about it with grace, tenderheartedness, and kindness. This gets us to our sixth one, and that's simply this.

6 . Get help for your heart before you get hard-hearted. I would encourage you to do this right away. Biblically there are a lot of things that lead to divorce. Societally, we know all about financial strain. We know all about communication problems. We know all about adultery. Those are all things that certainly make it hard to work through problems in marriage. But according to the Bible, the primary reason for marriages that don't make it is a hard heart.

That's what Jesus said when he was questioned. The Pharisees said, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?" He said, "No. It's not. Haven't you read, 'What God has joined together, let no man separate?'" Then he continues. They say, "Well then how come Moses gave us the opportunity to have a certificate of divorce?"

He said to them, "I'll tell you why. God made a gracious provision for your hardness of heart so you would not be abusive, specifically…" Just like we talked about last week. "…in turning women in and out," in, at that time, a very male-driven culture that was always in disobedience to the way God said male and female should love and serve one another. God said, "Because of your hardness of heart, I made a provision so that you would not be more abusive than you were committed to be."

I would beg you before you find yourself 10 years into marriage and wondering why you married, before your heart gets so hard that all you want to do is pay him back for the pain he has caused you, to not settle for a bad marriage. It will harden your heart. You get help before your heart gets hard.

I'll close with this. This may seem like I'm repeating myself at this point, but really the last thing I want to tell you is tied to the first thing I told you. If I could tell folks, and I knew they would listen, I would tell them…

7 . In no way marry somebody until they marry themselves to Christ and they commit to maturing in their relationship with him. Why? Because only in the context of a relationship with Christ do these things happen.

First, Christ alone can heal the hurts that are in your life. Christ alone can give you a healthy relationship model of what it looks like. Security is necessary for us to love another person, not in a manipulative way to get them to do things so my needs are met but in a way that is able to love them the way that God designed them to be love is to make sure I'm loved myself. Only a relationship with Christ can allow that to happen.

Secondly, only a relationship with Christ can give you what you need: an inexhaustible and unconditional love that is necessary to make any relationship work. Ultimately, every relationship is going to end at the grave. A union with Christ, a relationship with him, is the one thing that can meet the pain that ultimately is going to end every relationship, which is death. Only a relationship with Christ can deal with eternity and your need before him.

So I beg you to double your investment on the buy side, and to no marry somebody who has already married well. Once that person has married well, you want to find yourself consistently maturing in your relationship with him because only in that relationship with him can you have the kind of relationships you've dreamt of. The goal is not to stay undivorced. The goal is to work hard at staying together. If you want a marriage that works, you'll work at your marriage.

Father, we thank you that your Word gives us such practical advice. We know there are folks who are out here who have 10 years now where they've been unconscious, they have 20 years where they've been unconscious in the sense of they've forgotten why they love each other. Some of them have said, "I'm going to have martyr's complex. I won't leave, but I'm going to be mad at God. I'm going to be mad at him for more than just a while, for another decade."

Lord, you make it very clear that successful marriages are not marriages that don't end in divorce. They are marriages which are defined by oneness. Successful marriages are not made up of people who understand that you hate divorce. They're made up of people who understand that you love us loving each other out of an overflow of a relationship with you.

You call us to be individuals and people who practice these things and who serve each other in this way in our right response to who their Master is. Our mission in life is to be committed to our mates. Father, we can't do that because we are selfish, prideful, arrogant, hard-hearted people. And we will abandon this life, this call to faithfulness unless we stay tightly yoked to you and we remember how much we have been forgiven, so we can forgive others, and we will remain tenderhearted to others as you have been tenderhearted towards us.

We pray that as a result of today and other times like today that we have talked about this, that we will not entangle ourselves in affairs of everyday life in order that we might please the one who has enlisted us as a soldier and we would walk faithfully through the battle that is our desire to love one another. Would you accomplish that in our hearts? For your glory and for our good, amen.

About 'Why Marriage is a Big Deal to God'

So why is marriage such a big deal to God? Because we are such a big deal to God and He hates things that hurt us and confuse others about Him. In these five messages by Todd Wagner, learn how God has chosen to use our relationships - marriage specifically - to understand the Trinity, defeat evil, reflect His sovereignty, transform us, and ultimately, model His love to a world He is desperate to reach. Learn what it means to be a completing spouse, how it is possible to be a complete single, and how to be completely on track when it comes to choosing a marriage partner. Whether you're single, divorced, married happily or married miserably, these messages will be a source of encouragement, healing, hope and guidance. Note: This message series is a sub-series from the longer message series entitled "<link http://www.watermarkradio.com/index.php?id=153&series=13&message=0 - external-link-new-window>God Is From Mars, We Are From Venus</link>".