He said: 'Marriage Matters.' We say: 'How?', part 5

Malachi: God Is From Mars, We Are From Venus

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, 2003Proverbs 24:3-4; Ephesians 5:18-21; 1 Corinthians 7:28

In This Series (10)
He said: 'Return to Me.' We say: 'How'
Todd WagnerDec 21, 2003
He said: 'You are wearing me out.' We say: 'How'
Todd WagnerDec 14, 2003
He said: 'Marriage Matters.' We say: 'How?', part 5
Todd WagnerDec 7, 2003
He said: 'Marriage Matters.' We say: 'How?', part 4
Todd WagnerNov 30, 2003
He said: 'Marriage Matters.' We say: 'How?', part 3
Todd WagnerNov 23, 2003
He said: 'Marriage Matters.' We say: 'How?', part 2
Todd WagnerNov 16, 2003
He said: 'Marriage Matters.' We say: 'How?', part 1
Todd WagnerNov 9, 2003
He said: 'You have turned away.' We say: 'How?'
Todd WagnerOct 26, 2003
He said: 'You've despised me.' We say: 'How?'
Todd WagnerOct 19, 2003
He said: 'I've loved you.' We say: 'How?'
Todd WagnerOct 12, 2003

In This Series (10)

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. 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 would do it more as a cultural response that our whole world has largely adopted, that they would do it because they understand the love that is represented there.

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. 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. In a time of need even as now.

Lord, you know all the hurts and specific pains and lonelinesses, health issues, financial issues, heart issues that haunt people who 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's name, amen.


Well, I tell you, I want you to know something this morning, too. If I could have one thing I would share with a group of people who I knew at the end of it would respond to my admonition, if I could give them one little simple run-through, if you will, a 30,000-foot fly-by of principles I knew they would say, "Okay. We're going to live life that way in the context of relationships," what would I say with 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 and relationships, specifically marriage, but the principles that affect and flow through all relationships… If I knew folks would listen to one thing that I would say, "Now is the perfect time to share this," what would I say?

We are wrapping up this morning a little series within a series that we're doing 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 just bluntly obvious 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. He loves what marriage accomplishes in society, what marriage accomplishes in relationship that what other people understand about him. God, who is love, is life to us. He 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, "You know what? 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; This is Yours," it would be this. It really fits tightly within the context of our ministry to marrieds here. We have a marriage ministry at Watermark. When we first 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." Because 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 what 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 that 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 about the last six years of working with courts and attorneys, his divorce finally went final. He got a divorce certificate.

They haggled over business and buildings, hundreds of thousands…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, 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 just going to run through some just basic principles that I would tell you are how to isolate-proof your marriage. Here's the very first thing I would say if I had a 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 I look for a future husband or a future spouse by staring at their left hand and seeing if there is a ring on it on 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 a 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 is 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.

When you ask yourself, "What is it that God wants me to have in the context of a relationship? What does 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 does he want from me?" what a lot of people want to believe is, "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 I start to move forward in a relationship with as I give them, 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 if you marry, you have not sinned, which is good news for a lot of us here today. He would tell you, "I really don't care if you marry."

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 a lot 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. It's when we specifically decide to enter into a relationship with another person that we call marriage. On one side of our life, if you will, we have singleness. On the other side of our life, we have a married life. But all of it, whether single or married, is done in the context of faithfulness.

Here's my question. How does this relate to this morning? Simply this. Before you enter into marriage, knowing 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 can say, "I'm going to be committed to you," before you say, "Will you be committed to me?" watch this person to see if they've been committed in a love relationship before.

What does it look like to be faithful, if you will, as a single person? By the way, when I spend time with folks who I am doing some premarital counseling with, I put this up there and 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 to give you as a gift to another person.' 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 just run through them together.

A. Find somebody who 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. 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 an undertow that pulls them both out into this ocean of trouble that is marriage when neither one of them was 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 had never slayed this idol of marriage. It just rips them like a tide right out to a deep part of a challenge in life they're not prepared for and they drown in this ocean of difficulty.

What God says is, "Listen. Before you try and share your life with another and 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, they're not ready to figure out who their mate is. Find somebody who is first and foremost secure in Jesus Christ.

B. 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 they say loves them. Here's another one.

C. Find somebody who is a servant to others. I would ask you before you say, "This is the right person. This person is married well to Christ." 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."

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

D. Find somebody who is connected deeply to others. Do they have a long history of relationships? If you find a guy who says, "You know what? 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 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, "Man, you are way too good for me," believe him. Move on. Say, "Thank you. I appreciate that."

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

E. Find somebody who can control their tongue. Who builds you up when they speak. He doesn't speak harshly like the thrust of a sword. Another characteristic of faithfulness you want to find is…

F. Find somebody who is disciplining themselves not in things that glorify themselves. In other words, when you see somebody who is just 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 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.

"Bodily discipline," the Scripture says, "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 with you. I will be faithful to you," are they faithful in 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.

G. 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 then they live accordingly. Or do they get distracted consistently with fleeting things that pull them away of what they said ultimately they would be about? Yet another.

H. Are they a teacher and discipler? Have they taken the things they have learned and are pouring them 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?

I. 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." Finally…

J. Find 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's 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 have 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. What I tell folks all the time is 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 is 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 you're 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 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 exit. 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 towards that?

What a fully devoted follower of Christ is 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 we have with one another, and I want to get my life back right with him."

You look for somebody who is consistently reproved and corrected back on that course, and there is a history of it. What is the direction of their life? What's the direction of your life? That's what you look for.

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? 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 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 that you don't get involved in a relationship that you're unequally yoked to somebody." Second Corinthians 6:14 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 then that will determine your mission. Once you know your mission, then you can find out who you want to share that mission with in life. That's how you choose your mate. That's exactly what God is saying.

Proverbs 24:3 says, "By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; and by knowledge the rooms are filled with all [good] and pleasant [things] ." 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 that 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 is going to build the house that is your relationship the exact same way as you are.

Scriptures tell us 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 the primary call in your life is, which is to be faithful." So marry well.

He wants you to know what it is to be married. He is 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.

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 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 towards the mutual isolation which ends in defeat and rancor and hurt and separation that sometimes a divorce certificate certifies what we all already knew that relationship is dead, then you double your investment on the buy side. You triple your investment on the buy side. You make sure you get it right.

One of the things the Scriptures encourage 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." She has 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 that you're just a one-night man and you'll end up hurting me.

She says I'll find a love some day but you're just not the one. Aw, I've done something that Mama ain't ever done. 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. Aw, but 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. 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 Scripture that talks the most about 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 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 these 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 right here 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. 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 was brilliant. One of the things he wrote back to Sheldon Vanauken lends to this error. Sheldon Vanauken said, "How can I know when I am in love?" What he wrote back and said was, "A man in the jungle at night, as someone said, may suppose a hyena's growl to be a lion's; but when he hears the lion's growl, he knows [darn] 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 is 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[always]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 [he] sent His Son to be the [satisfaction] for our sins."

God demonstrates what loves is. "…in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.""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. 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. 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." Boy, does it. If I had a chance to share with some folks if 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. A young man was a college baseball coach. He was ordering some baseball equipment for his university. He was calling this different catalog that was a supplier. 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, and 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. In the context of a short but very intense year, they got married. Ten weeks after they were married, they were driving together. 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 Krickitt, 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 is the President?" At the time she says, "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 that… As a coach he tried 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. How they were together. 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. He started to think back about the conversations they had that made her fall in love 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 they act a certain way so that 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 with 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 are 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 them to apply out of this thing, I would tell them…

  1. _ Resolve to 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, what I would tell them is 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 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. 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 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 is 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, a completing spouse has certain characteristics.

A. A completing spouse is 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 is something hurting the relationship they speak to it.

B. A completing spouse 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 that affirms their relationship they celebrate that.

C. A completing spouse is courageous. Even if the other spouse says, "You know what? Just leave me alone and be happy with what you got." They're going to persevere through that. When the response tendency 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.

D. A completing spouse is somebody who is committed and is not going to say, "I am going to be out of here, but because…" This is what sociologists 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."

E. A completing spouse is Christ-dependent. They know what it is to be loved and know what it means to love and be forgiven to others.

F. A completing spouse is contrite. They see the log in their own eye before they start to talk about a problem in another's life.

G. 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"?

All Paul is saying is, "If you think it's hard to be a faithful single man…" It is. It's incredibly hard. "…you try and be a faithful married man. You think it's hard to be all 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 to 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 story about a dietitian who was lecturing to a large group of people. They said, "You know, there are 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 is one food we all have eaten or all will eat that has a longer damaging effect to us than any other food we know of. Does anybody know what it is?" Some guy on the front row raises his hand. 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. I said, "Let me explain this to you. 'Don't be surprised. This has been predicted. There is trouble that is here. Let's not be shocked by it.'" What the Scriptures tell us to do 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 would beg people to believe this:

A. 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." It's right there. You can see, obviously, there is a 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. 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 toward isolation. There is no way I can 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 just simply this. You have to…

First, learn the difference between a minor offense and a major problem.

Secondly, know the difference between what it means to be a completing spouse and a 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."

Thirdly, 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.

Fourthly, learn the difference between "I am sorry," and "Will you forgive me?" You know what the biblical response is when somebody comes up to me and says, "You know what? When I respond in 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 I had this commitment that was going to affect the way you planned for me, I am sorry"?

The biblical response to that is, "You are sorry. What you did is sorry, I agree." Which usually catches people a little off guard. "You're telling me you are sorry. What you did was a sorry thing. A sorry individual would act such a way. I agree with you. What are going to do about that? Because that sorry activity has put a wedge in our relationship." 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 am 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 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, it'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.

Fifthly, learn what it means to love one another. "Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ [Jesus] 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 am sorry," and "Will you forgive me?"

Sixthly, remove the log in your eye before you concern yourself with a speck in your spouse's life. I would 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. 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." 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. Which gets us to our sixth one.

6._ Get help for your heart right away before you get hard-hearted_. Biblically, there are a lot of things which 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.

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. When 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, how come Moses gave us the opportunity to have a certificate of divorce?" He said to them, "I'll tell you why. Because God made a gracious provision for your hardness of heart so that you would not be abusive, specifically…" Just like we talked about last week. "…in turning women in and out."

At that time it was a very male-driven cultural 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. Because 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 that they would listen I would tell them…

7._ In no way should you 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. Christ alone can heal the hurts that are in your life. Christ alone can give you a healthy relationship model, 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 God designed them to be loved is to make sure that I am loved myself. Only a relationship with Christ can allow that happen.

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.

I beg you to double your investment on the buy side, to not marry someone who has not 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 that 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, "You know what? I'm going to have a 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 you hate divorce. They are made up of people who understand 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, who serve each other in this way in our right response to who our 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. We will abandon this life, this call to faithfulness unless we stay tightly yoked to you. We remember how much we have been forgiven so that we can forgive others. We will remain tenderhearted to others as you have been tenderhearted toward 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 'Malachi: God Is From Mars, We Are From Venus'

When it comes to communication, men and women often struggle to understand one another. Even though we care, at times we just can't make sense of what's being said. In the same way, the nation of Israel misunderstood what a relationship with God should look like, even though He repeatedly revealed His heart to them. And even today, churches and followers of Christ miss what He's trying to say. In "God is from Mars, We are from Venus", you'll see God's effort to clearly communicate what a vital, abundant relationship with Him entails as expressed in the book of Malachi. You can learn volumes from this small book that caps off the Old Testament as you consider who God is, who we are, and what it takes to live in right relationship with Him.This series includes the 5-part sub-series on marriage entitled "Why Marriage is a Big Deal to God".