Grace in Marriage

I’ve been away.  Since I started this blog nearly 4 years ago, this is, without question, the biggest break I’ve taken.  And there’s been lots of interesting things going on recently.  But, as I was feeling a little “off” today, I was reminded how clarifying it is for me to get my thoughts down in writing and I realized it was time to get back at it.

One of the reasons I’ve been away from blogging in recent weeks is that my wife and I were out-of-town celebrating our 5th anniversary.  Years later, I’m still a bit shocked that a woman would be willing to continuously put up with my controlling, obsessive, can’t-fix-or-build-anything-to-save-his-life ways.  And yet, here I am.  Here we are.  The only thing I can attribute it to is grace.

This leads me to a bigger point about marriage this week.  And granted, I don’t claim to have everything figured out at 5 years of experience.  But it’s really not an issue of experience.  Not entirely at least.  It’s more an issue of biblical wisdom.

What would it take for two sinners living under one roof for 5 years to not rip each other’s heads off?  The single greatest thing I believe it requires is GRACE – undeserved loved – particularly in the form of forgiveness and repentance.

In fact, let me go so far as to say this: there are two extremes that get a lot of press when it comes to relationships – Romanticism and Pragmatism.  One side is the star-crossed lover, there’s only “one right person” in this galaxy for me sappiness.  This would seem to ignore what the Apostle Paul says in 1 Cor. 7:9, where, talking about the prevalence of the Corinthian people falling into sexual sin, he says, “But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”  Paul stops short of saying “anyone will do” but his advice is still not particularly starry-eyed.  It is, however, highly spiritually practical.

The other end of the spectrum is when people consider themselves so painstakingly pragmatic that a significant other that they commit to must be perfectly “compatible”.  Under such circumstances, it’s believed that one partner being a Viking fan and one being a Packer fan could potentially disrupt the future harmony of the family.  Or if he likes Sci-Fi and she likes Rom-Com’s, maybe it’s just not “meant to be”.  Okay, so these are extremes, but this thought process is insanity.  If one of you is a man and one of you is a woman, you WILL/SHOULD have some significantly different interests in life by definition of what you are.  This doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with having some things in common.  But that’s an added bonus, not a requirement.  Biblical wisdom suggests that the one thing that a husband/wife must have in common in order for a marriage (or really any other non-business relationship) to work, is GRACE.  Put another way, if you have grace in your marriage, you’ll be able to get through any supposed incompatibilities.  If you don’t have grace in your marriage, it will fail regardless of how simpatico you may be.

Think of the biblical anecdotes:

Consider for a moment the example of Isaac & Rebekah (Gen. 24).  When it came time for Abraham to find a wife for his son, Isaac, he refused to take one of the exceptionally worldly women from amongst the Canaanites to be Isaac’s bride.  Rather, he sent his servant back home to his relatives to find a woman from the same kin, the bloodline to which God had made a promise of a Savior.  Yes, Isaac & Rebekah’s marriage was arranged by Abraham (oh how regressive and chauvinist!).  Nonetheless, when they were put together and married, we’re told about Isaac, “he loved her.”  (Gen. 24:67)  Without an overly romantic story (here, “Once upon a time…..a slave finds a woman watering her camels”) and without calculating all their similar interests, Isaac & Rebekah loved one another.

Now consider the story of Samson & Delilah, the original prom king and queen (Judg. 16).  After a quick one night stand with an….ahem, woman of questionable moral character, from Gaza, Samson proceeded to destroy the city.  To establish his personal identity and self-perception, Samson clearly sought to feel good about himself by “conquering” both women and men.  And the biblical text then tells us, “Some time later, he fell in love with a woman in the Valley of Sorek whose name was Delilah” (Judges 16:4).  Look!  He “fell in love”!  How sweet!  Notice that the Bible doesn’t question his passion.  But it certainly questions his character.  To be brief….the relationship doesn’t end well.

Now the point in these examples is to show that marriage has much less to do with the feelings you have towards the person you bond yourself to and much more to do with the character of that person.  Isaac & Rebekah both graciously chose to selflessly love one another – to see what they could add to the other person’s life.  Samson & Delilah both chose to selfishly love one another – to see what they could take from another person to add to their own life.

A proud person’s life is about him/her.  A truly humble person’s life is ultimately about Jesus, and then about others.  A proud person cannot repent, because they refuse to admit they’ve done wrong.  And a proud person will not forgive, because they always feel that they deserve better.  A marriage cannot withstand two proud people.  A marriage can possibly withstand one proud person.  A marriage will function as God intended, flourish even, with two gracious, humble, repentant and forgiving people.

The cynic might argue that I’m trying to suggest it’s not important to be physically attracted to your spouse, or have certain communication skills, or other natural considerations.  I’m not.  The Bible does not demonize physical beauty and Christians certainly don’t have to crumble under the religion of the pietistic and pharisaical grandmas of the world who say that it’s only “what’s on the inside that counts”.  Yes, what’s on the inside counts more, but that doesn’t mean that nothing else matters, only that everything else should only matter proportionately.  And, if you believe what the Bible teaches – that both you and your spouse are tragically flawed – the thing that logically should matter most is whether or not the other person understands the concept of grace.  That would reasonably be the vital key to happiness in marriage.

So, if it’s true that when looking for a marriage partner, the key ingredient would seem to be grace, then where are you most likely to find a person full of grace?  It would naturally be amongst people whose lives revolve around the embodiment of grace – our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  And not surprisingly then, Christians who are regularly and actively living out their faith, including through their participation in their local church, see significantly higher percentages of successful and satisfied marriages.  I think some people, even Christians, have falsely attributed that success rate simply to “God has blessed their obedience”.  I’d propose that that’s a slightly backward way of looking at it though.  While I’d admit that God does promise some blessing as we live according to his life guidelines, when are our blessings in life as Christians principally about our obedience?  They’re not.  The gospel says that those blessings are principally by grace.  Therefore, I’d attribute much of the actual “success” to Christians in marriage to have less to do with blessed obedience, and much more to do with two people who recognize the grace in forgiveness that they’ve received from their Savior Jesus, and subsequently reflect that grace into their own marriages.

Jesus lived and died for his wife.  Eph. 5:25 says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”  Every day was more about his spouse than about himself.  Every day required grace.

I’m not going to pretend to be more romantic than I am, but quite honestly, I can’t imagine anything more romantic than the man who has everything, but realizes something essential is still missing, and then finds that missing piece to be…his wife.  This is the basic premise to countless movies from Pretty Woman to Sleeping Beauty, but where do you think those movies got that theme from?  It starts in the Garden of Eden, where a man named Adam is dropped in the center of paradise that has repeatedly been called “good” by God himself and yet, the one thing that God calls “not good” is the fact that this man is alone (Gen. 1-2).  And then when Adam is made complete by the creation of his wife and bonding in marriage, he’s so happy he bursts into song.  I don’t have time to explain how fascinating it is that God, who designed human beings, felt that even a vertical relationship with God himself wasn’t enough for humans, but that a horizontal relationship with other humans was similarly essential.  It’s incredibly profound.  But I know that this narrative culminates in the final Adam, i.e. Jesus (1 Cor. 15:45).  Once again, there existed a man in the middle of paradise, this time heaven.  And he looked around and felt that there was one essential thing missing………us.  And so he left paradise, laid down his life, and took his bride home to him for eternity.

If you’re currently searching for a marriage partner, keep this in mind.  If you’ve been married successfully for many years, don’t take credit that grace simply doesn’t allow you to take.  If you’re married to someone who doesn’t understand grace, read 1 Cor. 7, show them what grace looks like, and see what happens in time.  My wife could personally testify to this.  She’ll be the first to tell you that I’m a significantly better husband than I was a boyfriend.  Yes, I’ve certainly grown in my love for her throughout the years, but I’ve also been led to a much deeper understanding of God’s grace to me, which has turned me into a better marriage partner.  The same is true for her.  Never underestimate the power of the gospel which saves you to also melt your heart and change your life, including the most important of your relationships.

If you start thinking about it right now, for the rest of your married lives, you will never run out of implications for the truth of Jesus-reflected grace in your marriage.

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