Everyone agrees that a good marriage is more pleasant and beneficial than an unhappy one. But equally important, a good marriage is a model of the heavenly union of God with the believer. In other words, your marriage might win someone to Christ or cause him to turn away from a life in fellowship with God. That in itself should be reason enough for us to learn to be godly mates and live the abundant life in the context of a Christian marriage!
As we review the details of the first union of a man and woman, a great deal can be learned about what God had in mind when He created marriage. When God made man, three Persons were involved: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They created man in Their image, imparting Their nature to him so that man, in a sense, had Their nature.
Before the fall, Adam was able to walk and talk with God in the way two friends might visit on a summer evening. During those talks, God made His will clear to Adam. Among the topics they discussed was work. In the second chapter of Genesis, God places Adam in the garden and appoints him to be its overseer, a pleasant job in a fertile garden where there were no weeds, no destructive insects, and no droughts. Then God gave Adam instructions to enjoy all the fruit of the garden, with one exception: the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God gave Adam lessons about work and following instructions even before He created a mate for him.
The first lesson we can draw from this is a warning for single women.
It’s clear from the order in which these events took place that God wants a husband to work and to be responsible. That shows us that a lazy and irresponsible man, no matter how attractive, is not a good choice. Marriage won’t make him a responsible provider and leader. God wants the best for each of His daughters, so single women should consider their choice of a mate carefully and follow God’s standard by marrying only a man who demonstrates while he is single that he can and will take care of them in marriage.
If you ask the average man what God has said about his responsibility to his wife, to his children, and to himself as the head of the home, he will often admit he doesn’t know or give an answer that demonstrates he doesn’t know. And instead of looking to God for answers, these husbands either listen to their friends on the corner or adopt standards from TV. Because they don’t know God well enough, they base their personal identities on clothes, cars, cash, or romantic conquests. That reduces manhood to a primitive level.
No amount of strength, good looks, or assets can improve his performance from God’s perspective. A biblical husband is a man who has learned to submit his manhood underneath the Lordship of Jesus Christ. It is then that he will experience all of the fullness that a healthy marriage has to offer.
Marriage is a covenantal union designed by God to enable both partners to fully live out their divine purpose for being. Only when husbands and wives understand their responsibilities underneath God will they maximize this unique union!
For far too many people, the subject of marriage is like a three-ring circus. First, there is the engagement ring. Next comes the wedding ring. Then, there is suffering.
One lady said that she got married because she was looking for the ideal but it quickly turned into an ordeal, and now she wants a new deal. One man said that he and his wife were happy for twenty years . . . and then they got married.
Many people today are disappointed with marriage. They wake up one morning only to discover that the reality they live in looms far from what they had once dreamt or imagined. Because of this, some are getting out of marriage almost as quickly as they got into it.
On top of that, the break-up of a marriage these days doesn’t seem to carry the same gravity that it did in the past. So-called “no-fault” divorces offer the option of an amicable split. My question is, if things are so amicable, then why not stay married? What we are experiencing today is the ending of marriages without even a hint of remorse.
It reminds me of a guy who went to the Super Bowl. The stadium was packed, but the seat next to him sat empty. The man behind him questioned him about the empty seat. He answered, “That seat was for my wife. She would have been here, but she died.”
The other man offered his condolences and asked him if he didn’t have a friend that he could have asked to come with him rather than let the seat remain empty. The man replied, “I do, but all my friends said they wanted to go to the funeral instead.”
Now, I realize I’m making light of a weighty subject, but I’m doing so to illustrate how the seriousness of the wedding vows seems to no longer be honored. Statistics remind us what we already know, either from personal experience or from our friends, and that is that over 50 percent of all marriages will end in divorce. Over half of every promise made that “until death do us part” gets broken.
If we do not understand the nature of the agreement we made when we got married, then we will not be prone to protect it. What’s even worse is that neither will we be apt to benefit from it.
Our marriages today are deteriorating at such a high rate not because we no longer get along, but because we have lost sight of the purpose and prosperity of the marriage covenant.
Most people today view marriage as a means of looking for love, happiness, and fulfillment. Make no mistake about it, those things are important. Those things are critical. They are just not the most important, or the most critical. Yet because we have made second things first, as important as second things are, we are having trouble finding anything at all.
Marriage is a covenantal union designed to strengthen the capability of each partner to carry out the plan of God in their lives. You cannot leave God at the altar and expect to have a thriving marriage. God must join you in your home according to the aspects He has set up in His covenant. When He does, and when you abide by His authority, your marriage will not be a statistic, but rather it will be a satisfying tool used by God to advance His kingdom both in you and through you.
Emotional wounds can be like physical wounds. If you had a cut on your arm but didn’t clean it or care for it, the wound could become infected and you wouldn’t even be able to touch it because it would hurt so much. Even if you covered that wound so that no one could see it, if someone bumped into it, you would jerk your arm back in pain and might even lash out at the person. Your reaction wouldn’t be reflective of what that person did because what he or she did was simply an accident. But that person might receive the full venting of your pain because you did not treat your wound.
Unforgiveness is like an untreated injury of the soul. It can set in motion a cycle where small marital scuffles become large marital wars. When the wounds in our hearts are left untreated, they often produce pain in other areas of our lives. As a result, we become highly sensitive and reactive to the actions, inactions and words of our spouse. The slightest offense from our mate—even if he or she didn’t mean anything harmful at all—evokes a harsh reaction. We may lash out, accuse, blame, cry, or say and do things we later regret. All the while, our spouse is caught off guard by our reactions. To overcome unforgiveness, we need to treat our wounds and let them heal.
Biblical forgiveness means you release your spouse from a debt owed to you. Forgiveness is not contingent on how you feel about your spouse. It is a choice to no longer blame your spouse for an offense. First Corinthians 13:5 details this in a most straightforward way: Biblical love “keeps no record of wrongs” (NIV). Biblical love doesn’t justify wrong, nor does it ignore wrong, excuse it or pretend it doesn’t exist. All of those types of responses to wrongdoing would lead to enablement. Rather, biblical love acknowledges and addresses the wrong and then forgives and releases it. I’ve been in counseling sessions with some couples who bring up things that were said or done not only years ago but decades ago. When I hear this, and it happens far too often, I sigh inside because I know that the roots of bitterness and unforgiveness run deep.
One of the better analogies for forgiveness is comparing it to ejecting a CD, DVD or Blu-ray Disc from a player. You can’t play two discs simultaneously. You must eject the first disc to play the second. Likewise in marriage, you can’t experience a healthy, thriving relationship with your spouse if you keep replaying whatever he or she did to anger you. You have to eject that offense and replace it with love. You have to turn the offense over to God and replace your thoughts of anger, hurt and pain with thoughts of thanksgiving—gratitude that God has given you the faith and ability to be released from the stronghold of unforgiveness.
You may be surprised at the advice I give when I encounter lack of forgiveness. I’ve seen this method work in countless marriages, and I believe in its effectiveness because it addresses the unresolved anger that often feeds our failure to forgive. Arguments frequently become so toxic and volatile in their language and tone that they drive a deeper wedge of division into the marriage. So this is what I propose for couples who are in a marriage with unresolved anger:
Say or do something every day that expresses value to your spouse.This might be a note, an unexpected phone call, a nonsexual hug or a time of cuddling. Married couples are good at doing big things on birthdays, anniversaries or Valentine’s Day, but they often neglect small, consistent ways of expressing that they value each other.
Pray daily for and with each other. This is a specific time for you to come together—holding hands or holding each other, kneeling beside the bed or sitting on the couch—and pray aloud for your marriage. This is not an opportunity to hash out differences by bringing them before the Lord in prayer. It’s a time to pray that God will bless your spouse and that He will bless the two of you together with His grace and mercy.
Date regularly. By date, I mean doing something fun together every other week, if not more often. It doesn’t count if you’re just grabbing dinner at a restaurant because neither of you feels like cooking. Too many marriages get caught up in drudgery or routine, and spouses lose the joy they once shared.
Set a weekly agreed-upon time when you allow the spouse who holds the unresolved anger to vent. Many married couples rarely give each other the freedom to deal with frustration by speaking. I don’t mean couples don’t yell at each other; they do all the time. But this is a set time—one hour every week—when one spouse is allowed to vent his or her pain without the fear of being shut down. This means that the other spouse agrees not to argue, defend or tune out. Turn off the television and your phone. The other spouse must agree to give his or her undivided attention to the venting spouse. When you agree to listen, the spouse who is venting also agrees not to bring up these issues during the week—unless something is time sensitive. Before long, that one hour may turn into 30 minutes and then 15 minutes. Then it may not be needed at all.
Filling Your Spouse’s “Love Account”
So much of what married couples harbor against each other is stuffed internally. Later, when you don’t feel heard or validated by your spouse, it’s easy to throw those harbored offenses at each other in your nagging or fighting. But healing comes from a place of understanding and affirmation. When you allow your spouse the freedom to communicate what has pained him or her—and you validate that pain without becoming defensive or saying your spouse is wrong to feel it—you will be amazed at how quickly healing and forgiveness can come.
When you simultaneously implement all four of the above recommendations, you can see and experience healing in your marriage. Doing these things allows you to make more deposits than withdrawals to your spouse’s “love account.” Too many spouses “overdraw” their accounts. Men, in particular, have the propensity to come home after work and look for what their wife can do for them—making dinner, cleaning the house, caring for the children—even if their wife is working full time outside the home, too. Men far too often want to know what their wife can do to meet their needs each day rather than looking at what they can do to meet their wife’s needs. As a result, they make frequent withdrawals from their wife’s love account, and the account runs empty.
Both spouses need to put more into their relationship than they take out of it. When you wake up in the morning, and as you go about your day, ask yourself what you can do to make a deposit in your spouse’s love account. It doesn’t have to be huge, but it does need to be consistent. Life has a way of dictating the withdrawals—they’ll come whether you seek them out or not. So look for ways to make deposits. Otherwise, when forgiveness needs to be given, you will lack the emotional depth and relational harmony for it to be granted easily.
Forgiving an Unrepentant Spouse
What about those times when your spouse isn’t sorry—how do you forgive then? Unilateral forgiveness is when you choose to forgive your spouse even if he or she has not asked for it and may have not even repented. Essentially you are forgiving your mate on your own, without his or her involvement.
Why would you grant forgiveness to someone who doesn’t want it, has not asked for it and may not deserve it? The reason you grant unilateral forgiveness is not to set your spouse free but to set yourself free. Unilateral forgiveness keeps you from being bound by something the other person may never set right. This is what Jesus did on the Cross by “not counting [our] trespasses against [us]” (2 Corinthians 5:19).
Forgiveness is crucial for any marriage to thrive. But if that forgiveness is conditional, it is not couched in the love of God. Jesus Christ died for our sins and asked His Father to forgive us while doing so himself. He didn’t wait to give us His gift of mercy and grace until we got our act together or came humbly to Him with flowers or chocolates. Forgiveness is probably the greatest gift you can give your spouse, but it’s also the greatest gift you can give yourself.
Taken from Kingdom Marriage, a Focus on the Family book published by Tyndale House Publishers. Copyright © 2016 by Tony Evans. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
STRENGTHEN YOUR MARRIAGE WITH PRAYER
Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. – JAMES 4:7 (ɴᴀsʙ)
If you are a believer and you are married, you’re in a battle whether you realize it or not. The battle is for your unity to be destroyed, your love to be diminished, and ultimately your marriage to fail.
Marriage is a foundational covenant created by God through which He manifests His presence and power in a unique way. Satan would like nothing more than to do what he did in the Garden of Eden, tearing apart the family unit by inciting blame and undermining trust and respect. We all know what this led to—the removal of Adam and Eve from the garden and later the murder of one of their children by a sibling.
To say that spiritual warfare happens in the home is an understatement. The home, and particularly marriage, is a hotbed of Satan’s tactics and techniques. Whoever owns the family owns the future. You can see why the devil would like to bring destruction to marriage.
Your task is to walk in your God-given authority so you are enabled to live out a strong and influential marriage. AND YOU DO THAT THROUGH PRAYER.
Remember as you pray that you do not pray as a beggar, but as a warrior for the King of kings. You have power over your enemy when you pray. You probably have more power than you realize.
Your part in carrying out spiritual warfare on behalf of your marriage can change the course of your personal history, your family, your church, your community, and even our nation.
SPIRITUAL WARFARE PRAYER FOR YOUR MARRIAGE
Jesus, You have already won this battle. You have already gone through the pain, betrayal, death, and resurrection that were required to secure my victory over Satan. My submission to You and alignment under You cause the devil to flee. They cause temptation to turn around and leave.
Therefore, I pray that my spouse and I will humbly live in submission to You and Your rule over our lives. Let our words, thoughts, and actions conform to Your will. Give us the grace of humility to seek You and Your way in all we do. When we walk with You in intimacy, Satan must flee.
Show us how to bring You honor by submitting to You in our own hearts and in our relationship with each other. I know that will bring You joy and will delight us as well. In Christ’s name, amen.
Read more in Prayers for Victory in Your Marriage by Tony Evans.