Brad Hambrick shares advice for husbands who want to cultivate their marriage.
Kay Warren shares what she would say to her younger self in the early years of marriage.
I wanted to be a missionary when I was a little girl. Actually, I think I just wanted to be Christie from Catherine Marshall’s popular book. I wanted to be the heroine who was humbled by trying to teach impoverished people, but ultimately fell in love with and was adored by the people she came to serve. Basically, I wanted the accolades and glory of a life devoid of day-to-day faithfulness.
No one thinks making coffee, doing laundry, washing dishes, and serving meals is radical service to God. We watch touching videos and read moving stories about people who left suburbia for the inner city or foreign missions and think it’s radical. But as Nik Ripken said in The Insanity of God, “Serving God is not a matter of location, but a matter of obedience.”
Obedience is radical no matter where we are in life. But particularly in a culture that values independence and instant gratification, faithfulness in marriage is radical obedience to the call of God. My idealism about what it means to follow Jesus has never been challenged more than in my 26 years of marriage.
The daily self-denial of choosing resurrection life over temporary comforts
When I think of radical service, it usually involves leaving the temporary comforts of my American suburban life. But once there, I’d have to deal with the lack of trust I have in God to provide for me, and the dependence I’ve formed on having things I like. I’d have to deal with the sin that would rise to the surface. And in a real sense, we have to do the same in marriage.
You are going to have to deny your own wishes when the excitement over the newness of marriage has faded if it’s going to flourish. Choosing to follow Jesus into radical service means obeying his call to daily deny yourself. It’s looking past the cross of your self-centeredness and the unintended sabotaging of your plans by your spouse, to the resurrection and hope of Christ’s redeeming power. As Nik Ripkin said,
“If we spend our lives so afraid of suffering, so averse to sacrifice, that we avoid even the risk of persecution or crucifixion, then we might never discover the true wonder, joy and power of a resurrection faith. Ironically, avoiding suffering could be the very thing that prevents us from partnering deeply with the Risen Jesus.”
Want to radically follow Jesus? Sacrifice your comforts for the sake of your spouse.
The daily dying to self to serve your spouse
One of the most radical acts of Jesus was his descent to the feet of his disciples, washing them, and demonstrating the way we are to love and serve each other. My friends who have lived in the remote wilderness of Papua New Guinea for many years, translating the Bible and leading people to Christ, are an excellent example of this. It struck me as I was listening to them on one of their visits to the States that serving others is the posture of a disciple of Christ. It can be easy, however, to compare their act of service via international missions and feel like our lives don’t have the same opportunity for service.
Serving others is the posture of a sent disciple of Christ regardless of your location, and it can be particularly hard for the married believer. It’s easy to forget this posture in marriage. When the honeymoon feelings wear off and there are socks on the ground, a messy toothpaste tube on the counter, and sharp words spoken out of frustration, we tend to want to stand for our rights, for our way of life. But the radical focus of the Christian spouse is the day in, day out faithfulness to serve the other with the humility that Christ had when he lowered himself to wash even Judas’s feet. It’s when you feel the weight of your spouses’ sin and weakness that you truly have an opportunity to take up your cross and follow Jesus in serving him or her. It’s then that laying down your personal preferences and serving one another becomes radical in a me-centered society.
The daily investment of your life into your spouse’s
Investing your entire life into the life of others is at the crux of Jesus’ radical call. In marriage, the challenge really lies in how you, as a Christian spouse, will obey Jesus in investing your time, talents, and treasures in the life of your spouse. If your spouse is a Christian, spend yourself enriching their affection for Jesus. Pray with them. Study them to find out what increases their joy in Jesus. Join them on mission, side by side. Decide together what your lives will look like for the Kingdom.
If your spouse is not a Christian, pour out your life into theirs like an offering, praying God will save your spouse. Affirm the God-created good you see in them. Join them in something they enjoy like weight-lifting, hiking, cooking, or other projects. Encourage his or her endeavors to “subdue the earth” through a vocation, hobbies, and child-rearing. And if you spend your life doing such seemingly mundane things, no doubt, you’ll be living like a radical.
Obedience to the call of God to die to yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow Jesus is where any act done for the Lord becomes radical—whether it be mission work overseas, in the inner city, or in the suburbs with your spouse and kids in a minivan on the way to the grocery store. The day-to-day self-denial of choosing resurrection life over temporary comforts, dying to self to serve the other, and the year-after-year investment of your life into your spouse’s is a counter-cultural radical stance. With the adventurous heart of Christ in us, those of us who are married can be radically faithful in the everyday life of marriage.
We live in a time of confusion. Throughout most of American history, marriage didn’t have to be defined. Americans understood that marriage was between one man and one woman for life.
But it’s clear that in our society, the church cannot ignore the duty to teach believers—and the world—what the Bible says about marriage and it’s goodness.
What is marriage?
The Bible begins talking about marriage in Genesis—the first book of the Bible. Why? Marriage is a part of the creation story. God created humans in his own image, and he created male and female distinct from one another (Gen. 1:27). He created Eve because it was “not good for man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18), and he brought them together in a union. He ordained marriage as the most intimate form of relationship on earth, where husband and wife work together in a complementary way.
Genesis 2:22-24 describes the first marriage:
Then the Lord God made the rib he had taken from the man into a woman and brought her to the man. And the man said:
This one, at last, is bone of my bone
and flesh of my flesh;
this one will be called “woman,”
for she was taken from man.
This is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh.
From Genesis 1 and 2, we understand marriage to be a lifelong, monogamous, covenantal, and complementary relationship between one man and one woman.
In this first marriage, Adam clearly delighted in his wife. God’s design was for a man to break away from the relationship with his parents as his priority in order to be joined with his wife and be exclusively committed to her. The phrase “one flesh” is important, too. Two individuals become one in this mysterious, bodily, spiritual, one-flesh union.
Furthermore, the phrase in traditional wedding vows “till death do us part” is founded on biblical teaching that the marriage union is intended to be a life-long union.
During his earthly ministry, Jesus taught about the timelessness of marriage. The union between a husband and wife is a union that God joined together, so no one—not husband, wife, or anyone else—has authority to separate this union (Mark 10:9). Traditionally, many Christians have understood the Bible to teach that divorce is only acceptable in cases of sexual immorality (Matt. 19:9) and abandonment (1 Cor. 7:15).
Biblically speaking, then, marriage is the union between one man and one woman for life. Any other definition is a perversion of its true meaning.
Marriage is not the only good
There is more to life than marriage, so the Church must be careful to not uphold marriage as the only good.
The apostle Paul also encouraged single men and women to remain unmarried because the unmarried believer can give undivided concern to the things of the Lord. The married believer, however, must be committed to the concerns of his or her spouse (1 Cor. 7:32-34). Because of this, Paul argues that unmarried believers have a unique opportunity to devote themselves to the Lord.
As the Church, let’s honor marriage without demonizing singleness. Let’s remember that the ultimate goal in life is not having a husband or a wife. As we press on toward Christ, let’s not idolize the good gift he intended as an imperfect and temporary reflection of himself and Church.
Marriage is still good
Traditionally, the Church has upheld marriage as a good thing, but perhaps we need to be reminded of why it is good. Going back to the creation story, we see that God established this union in the beginning and blessed it. God blessed Adam and Eve in their relationship and gave them responsibilities to carry out together.
In Genesis 1:28, we see that one of these responsibilities was to procreate. God intended for Adam and Eve to fill the earth. Today, every married couple who has children joins in on this blessing, fulfilling God’s command to fill the earth.
Scripture also teaches that sex is specifically intended for married couples. Hebrews 13:4 states, “Marriage is to be honored by all and the marriage bed kept undefiled, because God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterers.” Whether married or single, we honor our holy God by honoring the marriage bed as holy, which means reserving physical intimacy for a man and a woman who are one flesh.
The blessings of marriage point us to the goodness of marriage. Solomon celebrates marriage in Proverbs, recognizing that a man who finds a wife finds a good thing (Prov. 18:22). And the teacher in Ecclesiastes teaches that the days of one’s life are fleeting, but it is good for a man to enjoy those days with his wife (Eccl. 9:9).
Furthermore, the Bible teaches us that marriage is a good thing because it is a picture of something better: it points us to Christ. The relationship between the groom and his bride is supposed to be a visible image of the relationship between God and his people. Paul declared this is Ephesians 5:31-32: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”
Marriage is a gospel issue. The marriage union between man and wife is intended to be a tangible demonstration of the love God has for us in Christ. Our union with Christ is the reason for a one-flesh union in marriage. It’s the earthly, imperfect picture of the eternally perfect love of God. In the Bible, God presents himself as the bridegroom of his people—the Church. Marriage was created as the most intimate relationship to be experienced on earth, and it is intended to illustrate the intimacy God wants to have with the human beings he created.
We should not be intimidated by the role marriage is supposed to play in mirroring God’s relationship with his people. Rather, our understanding of this role should humble us and lead us to honor and uphold marriage as a good gift from God, especially in a culture moving farther away from God’s design.
Through happenstance, I recently found myself touring the exhibit hall at a kitchen and bath expo. It was in a large hall, filled with booths displaying everything from faucets to flooring, countertops to bathtubs, sinks, and plumbing supplies. In one booth, I was astonished to see portable camping stoves with ovens. Now that’s living the dream: baking a cake in the forest.
I also saw the coolest bathtubs, many of them with unique shapes, and a display of beautiful vessel sinks in various shapes and colors. Suddenly I realized how much I had always wanted a sleek rectangular bathtub and a green leaf-shaped vessel sink. Had I known my bathroom sinks were boring? I suppose I had. And had it ever mattered? Not much. They had always gotten the job done. But now, staring at that sink, it was hard to imagine ever again washing my hands in a plain old sink. A new desire had taken root—not truly based in dissatisfaction with what I had, but in simply wanting to own something I didn’t.
So what was wrong with wanting an upgrade to my bathroom? At face value, probably nothing, especially since I ultimately did nothing more that acknowledge the desire, admit it was outside my means, and wash my hands of it (in my plain old sink). But I still wanted to pause and examine the feeling I had when I saw that stupid sink.
Longing to possess
This was more than a passing admiration for something beautiful; this was full-on desperation to possess—just for the sake of possession. And with it came cruel aspiration, luring me toward the possibility that possession could make me into someone I admire.
I find it discouraging to clearly recognize such forces at work in me. I supposed they’re with me all the time, motivating more of my actions than I could ever see. But I don’t always notice that sudden surge of desire for an object I never would have wanted if I hadn’t seen it. I’m not talking about a desire to meet a need, have a comfortable home, or even keep up with the Joneses. This was just the urge to acquire and own not only the object, but what I perceived it could provide my ego.
Aspiration breeds discontent. We know that; so do advertisers and entrepreneurs. That’s why, in the fourth grade, my daughter told me she needed some clothes from Justice. And not just any clothes from Justice, but specifically clothes that had the Justice logo prominently displayed. These clothes were no better than the ones she had (maybe they were worse), but they were the only palliative for an appetite she had acquired in seeing the logo on what “everyone else” was wearing to school. When I was her age, I felt the same way about Guess jeans. I never got any, but I was certain that just one pair would give me what I longed for—comfort in my own skin and in the crowd.
It’s deeply embedded in the American way. Early in life, we start chasing after the next big thing, like donkeys chasing carrots on sticks they can actually reach with a little work, devouring one after the other. And the more carrots we eat, the more we want—so we chase other donkeys’ carrots, too. We’re surrounded by carrots, each one of which looks like it might be the last carrot we’ll ever want. But instead of satiated, we grow more and more greedy.
The self-denial solution
We are deceived when we think the next thing will satisfy us rather than leave us emptier than we are now. We know, somehow, this is true—yet we keep trying. It’s so tempting to believe our longings will be satisfied by something new, sitting right in front of us; so easy to believe that possessing what we desire will change reality. Owning that dress will make me the kind of person who owns a dress like that. Driving that car will make me the kind of person I can feel proud of. Buying that music will make me fit in with the other people who pretend they don’t care what music other people buy. It’s pathetic, really.
Most devotional books would tell me the solution is to find satisfaction in Jesus. That people are only trying to fill that “God-shaped vacuum” in their souls. But what if this vacuum has a different shape? What if there’s no such thing as satisfaction for this kind of desire? What if this is not a soul-deep longing but an ugly fissure that only widens when we try to fill it?
“For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave” (1 John 2:16-17).
What if the solution is not to turn those desires toward Jesus, asking him to satisfy our cravings, but instead, to exercise actual old-fashioned self-denial? Rejection of indulgence and our “need” to indulge. What if Jesus doesn’t mean to satisfy us here and now? I believe he has something better (although, perhaps harder) in mind for us. If you’re curious about this, read my book Blessed Are the Unsatisfied.
There is no such thing as satisfaction for these desires; we will always want more. Maybe that’s why many super-rich people appear so deeply troubled. After all, if satisfaction is possible, they should be able to achieve it—but they can’t. The closer we think we are to finally getting what we want, the more money and effort we pour into the quest, the more devastated we are when satisfaction remains elusive. Like the ghost-sailors in “Pirates of the Caribbean,” we drink and still feel thirsty. We eat our fill and only feel emptier. Like the people of ancient Israel, we have dug for ourselves “cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all” (Jer. 2:13).
In these days when so many of us can’t afford to live as we do, maybe it’s time for self-denial to make a comeback—for us to not only embrace gratitude for what God has given us, but actually say no to more. Maybe it’s time for some serious discipline aimed not only at our behavior, but also limiting our exposure to messages designed to capitalize on our appetites and our efforts to find a kind of satisfaction we can never achieve. Stay home from the mall. Turn off the TV. Upgrade to the ad-free app or subscription, because some desires really are bad for your soul.
Self-denial is difficult, requiring not only strenuous discipline but also courageous counterculturalism. It means ignoring the chanting voices telling us we don’t have enough. It means refusing to believe the next thing will make us happy when we know it will make us hollow. It calls for letting go of the rush of acquisition, the fleeting pleasure of possession. And it requires us to risk looking like plain old, everyday, ordinary people in a world where image is everything. If the media are right, it also means forgoing an economic boom, another heady surge forward, another bubble we can pretend (for a while) won’t burst. But in the long term, wouldn’t it be OK to live with less if it means we get our souls back? After all, “what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?” (Mark 8:36).
With his characteristic biblical insight and cultural engagement, Tim Keller’s book on marriage, The Meaning of Marriage, is filled with wisdom and encouragement. Aimed at those who are married and singles considering marriage (and singles who have sworn off the institution), Keller provides a helpful look at God’s design for this covenant.
He spends the first chapter considering the state of marriage today. He recognizes the way in which marriage has been assailed by the culture, and he makes a cogent argument for its enduring goodness in a secular age.
I want to share a few quotations from this first chapter that reflect on the pain of marriage, the enduring goodness of marriage, the perversion of marriage (i.e., how redefined expectations for marriage have twisted God’s original design), and the way the gospel brings hope and meaning to marriage.
If these quotes resonate with you, I encourage you to pick up Keller’s excellent book.
The pain of marriage
If we are honest, marriage brings with it incredible blessings, but also incredible pain. Therefore, any consideration of marriage must tackle both the goodness and fallenness of marriage. As Keller observes,
“No marriage I know more than a few weeks old could be described as a fairy tale come true” (21).
“Like knowing God himself, coming to know and love your spouse is difficult and painful yet rewarding and wondrous” (22).
“As comedian Chris Rock has asked, ‘Do you want to be single and lonely or married and bored?’ Many young adults believe that these are indeed the two main options. That is why many aim for something in the middle between marriage and mere sexual encounters—cohabitation with a sexual partner” (22).
Cohabitation is a prevalent option in our day, and any full-throated defense of marriage must consider why this is a popular option, and why God’s vision of marriage is both better and more satisfying.
The enduring goodness of marriage
In response to cohabitation, Keller shows why all of its promises fail under closer scrutiny.
“Cohabitation is an understandable response from those who experienced their own parents’ painful divorces, but the facts indicate that the cure may be worse than the alleged disease” (23).
Cohabitation is a prevalent option in our day, and any full-throated defense of marriage must consider why this is a popular option, and why God’s vision of marriage is both better and more satisfying.
Keller identifies at least five ways that marriage, specifically considered, provides greater enduring happiness and security than anything approximated by cohabitation.
First, Keller reminds us that divorce is not inevitable in marriage. He writes,
While it is true that some 45 percent of marriages end in divorce, by far the greatest percentage of divorces happen to those who marry before the age of eighteen, who have dropped out of high school, and who have had a baby together before marrying. [Quoting Bradford Wilcox of the The National Marriage Project], “So if you are a reasonably well-educated person with a decent income, come from an intact family and are religious, and marry after twenty-five without having a baby first, your chances of divorce are low indeed” (23–24).
To be sure, this argument depends on socio-economic realities, but it also mirrors God’s design. When a couple grows up, leaves home (implying some measure of economic stability), and waits to be sexually active until after marriage, the blessings are profound—including a lower chance at divorce.
Second, related to the order of marriage and sex, statistics also show economic security is improved by marriage.
A 1992 study of retirement data shows that individuals who were continuously married had 75 percent more wealth at retirement than those who never married or who divorced and did not remarry. Even more remarkably, married men have been shown to earn 10–40 percent more than do single men with similar education and job histories (24).
Third, marriage has a track record of improving mental and emotional health.
Marriage provides a profound “shock absorber” that helps you navigate disappointments, illnesses, and offer difficulties. . . . Studies show that spouses hold one another to greater levels of personal responsibility and self-discipline than friends or other family members can (24).
Fourth, despite much anecdotal evidence and popular myth, marriage on average improves happiness.
All surveys tell us that the number of married people who say they are “very happy” in their marriages is high—about 61–62 percent—and there has been little decrease in this figure during the last decade. Most striking of all, longitudinal studies demonstrate that two-thirds of those unhappy marriages out there will become happy within five years if people stay married and do not get divorced (25–26).
Fifth, the stability of marriage greatly improves the emotional health of children.
[Citing Bradford Wilcox again], Children who grow up in married, two-parent families have two or three times more positive life outcomes than those who do not (26).
In short, these five benefits show why marriage is happier, healthier, and more stable than anything cohabitation can offer. That said, a Christian view of marriage must go beyond the common graces offered by marriage. Indeed, it must uphold and extol a biblical vision of marriage that finds its origin in Eden and its pinnacle in Christ and the church—a vision that has been increasingly turned and twisted by the ideals of individualism and self-expression.
The perversion of marriage
By perversion I’m not talking about sexual orientation; I’m describing the way the Enlightenment changed the fundamental orientation of marriage from self-giving to self-expression. Keller highlights this in a number of ways.
“Instead of finding meaning through self-denial, through giving up one’s freedoms, and binding oneself to the duties of marriage and family, marriage was redefined as finding emotional and sexual fulfillment and self-actualization” (28).
“The Enlightenment privatized marriage, taking it out of the public sphere, and redefined its purpose as individual gratification, not any ‘broader good’ such as reflecting God’s nature, producing character, or raising children” (28).
“Marriage used to be a public institution for the common good, and now it is a private arrangement for the satisfaction of the individual. Marriage used to be about us, but now it is about me” (29).
All of this self-orientation in marriage has led to unrealistic expectations for husbands and wives. As a result, marriage can no longer deliver “apocalyptic romance” (41) that is offered by it today. But the problem is not with marriage; the problem is with how it has been redefined. As Keller puts it, the modern world “look[s] to sex and romance to give us what we used to get from faith in God” (41).
Gospel hope for marriage
With all of these factors in mind, is there any hope for marriage?
Absolutely! There is hope for marriage when it is considered in light of the gospel. When the gospel of Jesus Christ is brought to save, sanctify, and strengthen husbands and wives, then pain, problems, and perversions of marriage find new light.
This gospel hope is where Keller brings his readers, and where we must begin in our conversation about marriage, especially as we talk about marriage to a culture that despises it. For that reason, let me conclude with Keller’s words focused on the gospel and its relationship to marriage:
Marriage is a major vehicle for the gospel’s remaking of your heart from the inside out and your life from the ground up.
The reason that marriage is so painful and yet wonderful is because it is a reflection of the gospel, which is painful and wonderful at once. The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope. This is the only kind of relationship that will really transform us. Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. God’s saving love in Christ, however, is marked by both radical truthfulness about who we are and yet also radical, unconditional commitment to us. The merciful commitment strengthens us to see the truth about ourselves and repent. The conviction and repentance moves us to cling to and rest in God’s mercy and grace (48).
Truly, with this focus on the gospel, there is hope for marriage—for yours and any marriage that looks to Jesus Christ. Ultimately, this is why God gave it to us, and why we must look first to Christ and the church as the model and motivation for all marriages.
This article originally appeared here.
When God pointed out, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18 CSB), he was moved to do something good for the man, and ultimately, for the woman. He made them both for each other, showing that the love relationship of a man and woman in marriage is a good gift from God, a demonstration of grace.
Grace did not stop, however, at the union of this first couple. They soon sinned against God and each other. While these lovers were quick to shame and to blame, God was again moved to show grace. They hid, but he found them to correct them, for sure, but also to cleanse and to heal them. Knowing their fig leaves could never camouflage their guilt, God tailored new clothes from the skins of an animal to show them just how far grace goes.
In our romanticized culture, gifts are often rightly connected with love. The two naturally go hand in hand, but not necessarily in a way that comes natural to us. We often give gifts to express our love. That’s good, but grace does more than show love. Grace makes love possible. So, here are four everyday graces that create an enduring love, even in the most imperfect marriage:
1. The grace to fail
No one likes failure, but every relationship is full of it. The “better or worse” of wedding vows is not an abstract idea, but a practical reality. There are seasons of better, and there are seasons of worse. Sometimes the worse is gross sin or betrayal, and sometimes it’s less dramatic than that. Whether the dip is big or small, it always begins with subtle neglect that we allow to grow into something more than it should.
That’s how it went for Adam and Eve. Apparently, Adam simply neglected to adequately pass on God’s command to his wife. Eve showed an interest in the fruit of the tree. Adam was inattentive to her wandering heart, and then present but silent when she fell to the temptation. The explanation of their failure is amazingly run-of-the-mill, but the consequences were no less devastating.
The “worse” was so unnecessary, yet every married couple has been there. He knew better, but he did it anyway. She was warned, but didn’t listen. We have a right to be angry. We have a right to condemn. We have a right to leave, but we don’t have to do any of that because the “worse” is where grace shows up the best.
We do not sin so grace may increase (Rom. 6:1), but the failure of our spouse gives grace the chance to shine. The consequences of sin are a good tutor, but the demonstration of grace transforms the relationship and makes space for the lasting love God designed us to experience.
2. The grace to change
The dust cleared. God removed Adam and Eve from the garden, and then Genesis 4 says, “The man was intimate with his wife Eve.” Their living arrangements had been downgraded, their circumstances had changed, and they were different than before, but they found the grace to let their love grow outside of the garden.
We are not the same people we were when we said, “I do.” Our spouses have changed too. Our successes shape us, and our difficulties wound us. Experiences reveal our character in a way that was previously unknown and unseen. In time, we discover the ugly realities of sin in each other. Despite declarations of love, we do not always love well, choose well or forgive well.
We should never overlook or make excuses for sin, but sin is no match for grace. Sin may occasionally win the day, but grace means the scars of sin that disfigure us do not have to destroy our love for one another.
Instead, while success and suffering change us, by grace, they also sanctify us. They make us better, not worse. I do not want my wife to be the woman I married. I don’t want to be who I was back then either. We need each other to be more than that, better than that, and that is the work of grace.
3. The grace to try
Adam and Eve began their relationship in paradise. When Adam first saw Eve, he immediately said, “This one, at last, is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” (Gen. 2:23). They were “naked, yet felt no shame” (Gen. 2:24). Life was really good, and then it wasn’t.
Sin separated them from God and from one another, yet God pursued them, forgave them and restored them. He was generous with them. But then they did this: they received his grace. Rather than wallowing in the past or holding each other hostage to previous failures, they tried again. There were only two guarantees: (1) life would be harder than ever, and (2) God’s grace was sufficient.
So outside of the garden, Adam and Eve gave their love another go. After devastating failure, they restarted their life together.
In a healthy marriage with two flawed people, we discover grace, not grit, makes trying again possible. It’s a humbling thing really. Can you imagine Adam’s sense of regret and inadequacy after losing so much? How tempting would it have been for him to push the reset button and just try harder to attempt to reestablish his manhood? Grace, however, doesn’t allow us to try harder. It requires we just try again, and this time by trusting God with empty hands and a yielded heart.
4. The grace to lose
Eve soon gave birth to two sons, Cain and Abel. She knew God had helped her, but we read that as these sons became adults, the Lord accepted Abel’s sacrifice of worship, but not Cain’s. “Cain was furious, and he looked despondent” (Gen. 4:5). The Lord warned Cain not to allow sin to rule his heart, but Cain refused to listen and ultimately attacked and killed his brother Abel.
In a way that is remarkably similar to how he responded when Adam and Eve sinned, the Lord confronted Cain. It’s right to assume that God was willing to forgive and restore him, but Cain denied any responsibility for Abel. As a result, the Lord judged him by exiling him as a “restless wanderer on the earth” (Gen. 4:12).
First, Adam and Eve lost their home to sin, and then they lost their only two children, one to death and the other to disobedience. They were powerless to fix any of it.
None of us can restore to ourselves what sin takes from us. In marriage, these losses threaten our union. As the devil seeks only to steal, kill and destroy, we are prone to turn on each other and demand a recompense that is impossible for anyone to pay.
That was not how Adam and Eve responded. Without the benefit of the Bible, a local church or a certified therapist, they found grace. No doubt they grieved, but by grace, grief does not have to turn into despair. Instead, grace gives more than sin takes. Adam and Eve were intimate again, and Eve gave birth to Seth. In Hebrew, Seth’s name sounds very similar to the word for “appointed.” Adam and Eve knew Seth was a sovereign act of generosity toward them.
When we are engulfed by irreparable loss, God’s grace secures us and binds us together. We may lose and lose greatly, but grace means God never loses us.
Feelings of love come and go throughout the seasons of marriage. Circumstances challenge our resolve and loyalty, but God’s amazing grace sustains us in marriage as a gospel witness and beautiful picture of his enduring love for us.
This article originally appeared here.
Is a wedding the mountaintop of a romantic relationship? Or is it the base of the mountain, the foundation for all that follows?
In our time, many people see the wedding as the capstone, or the summit. You start out at the bottom of the mountain when you meet someone with similar interests, and then you decide to climb together. Perhaps you live together for a while, to give your relationship a more serious try. Eventually, if you’re lucky, you and your partner arrive at the summit—the wedding day.
Marriage as the mountaintop. That’s why almost every romantic comedy ends with the wedding—the celebration of a relationship that has endured all the trials of dating and romance (that you can fit into two hours!) and has now achieved success.
The Bible flips this picture upside down. The wedding isn’t the summit; it’s the base of the mountain. It’s the starting point, not the goal. And the pinnacle to which we climb is even grander and more beautiful than the wedding reception.
When I lived in Romania, I served in a church in a small village near the Hungarian border. One of the elders in the church was Mihai. He and his wife were in their seventies and had lived next door to the church building for decades. They were so devoted to the church that when the church built a new building in another part of the village, they moved to a new house right next door so they could continue to be the first ones there and the last to leave. They had four children and lots of grandkids.
On their fiftieth wedding anniversary, the two of them (we called them “Bunu’ and Buni”—Romanian for “Grandpa and Grandma”) hosted a celebration feast in their living room. They brought in a long table that extended across the room, along with dozens of chairs for all their guests. And then this farmer with gnarled hands from years of labor put on his suit and tie and took his place at the head of the table next to his wife of five decades.
Fanning out across the living room, scrunched together in chairs so we could all fit at the table, were children and grandchildren. I was included at this feast, and so were a few more young people doing church work in the village, including the girl who would later become my wife. It felt a little weird for those of us outside the immediate family to be included in this celebration, but I now realize that a good marriage always invites people into its sphere of happiness, especially those who are single and in need of family bonds. We started the meal by singing some of their favorite hymns. Then we had a time of prayer, thanking God for the two of them and for their marriage. Bunu’ and Buni said a few things about each other and about their family, and we ate like there was no tomorrow.
I remember that day well, how it seemed the laughter and love and conversation filled the room and soaked into the walls. I was sharing in the blessing of an ordinary husband and wife, whose faithfulness to the Lord and to one another had been fruitful. Filling that room was the flesh-and-blood, living-and-breathing fruit of their union. As the two of them looked out over that table, they saw the fruit of their love—their four children, all those grandchildren, some of which were old enough to begin having children of their own. They also saw their spiritual kids and grandkids—people like me—who were the fruit of their faithfulness to the church. Five decades of faithfulness, four precious families, the pillars of a strong church.
I wonder if, instead of seeing the wedding ceremony as the pinnacle of a relationship, we ought to see the fiftieth anniversary celebration as the summit. Mihai’s kids passed around a couple of old, faded, black-and-white pictures of the happy couple on their wedding day. Everyone made the customary remarks of how good they looked together. But looking over the room that day, I wondered if this wasn’t the better picture of marriage—not the wedding ceremony, as nice as it was, but the anniversary celebration, the faithful witness to God’s design for so many decades, and the joy that overflowed into fruitful family life.
The Eastern myth of marriage (that it is primarily a contract) and the Western myth of marriage (that it is primarily an expression of love) do not get at the heart of marriage. You don’t endure in a marriage for fifty years simply by gritting your teeth; nor do you endure by “feeling” like you’re in love the whole time. There has to be something more. And faithfulness in our time must display the richness of marriage at its finest.
Excerpted from This is Our Time by Trevin Wax. Copyright © 2017 by Trevin Wax. Used by permission of B&H. www.bhpublishinggroup.com.
I want to take you back to a scene you’re most likely familiar with. It’s a scene in which a deceptive snake is in dialogue with a woman in a garden. He says to her, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’ . . . You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
The story takes a heartbreaking turn as the woman sees that the fruit the deceiver was describing was desirable to her. So, with cosmic consequences, she takes and eats. Moreover, when she eats she turns to her husband and serves him the fruit that leads to death.
There’s much that can be—and has been—said about this tragic scene in history. What sticks out to me in this story from Genesis 3 is that a theologically-equipped husband could have been a vital interjector at this junction.
Imagine Adam standing up at the beginning of the dialogue and saying, “Eve, no. We know that God, who gave us each other and the garden, is our satisfaction and delight. We lack nothing when we have him.” While we’ll never know if this hypothetical situation would have changed the outcome, the moral of the story remains: husbands should seek theological awareness—and obedience to that knowledge—for the good of their marriages.
Husbands, your wives, like Eve, are going to be bombarded by lies. Day in and day out she is going to be told things that are contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ. She will be told that she needs to looks a certain way, say certain things and have certain items. She will be told that if she doesn’t meet a flawed society’s view of femininity, that she has little or no worth. These lies will come from friends, co-workers, family, and oftentimes, her own mind.
When the storm of lies washes upon your wife, many things will help you lead her well. Theology is certainly one of them. When the culture tells her she has little worth because she is lacking in some misconstrued area, you can assure her that because of her union with Christ, she lacks nothing and that every good thing she needs has been secured for her in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
When she’s tempted to listen to the lies in her head about how she’s not good enough, you can assure her that her justification isn’t in how her co-workers or family perceive her. Rather, it’s in the atonement of a murdered Son who took on flesh for her behalf.
I’m not saying that a man who has all of his theological ducks in a row is guaranteed to be a gifted husband. What I’m arguing for is that husbands who are thinking clearly about theology will have a unique ability to point their brides to the splendor and comfort of the Rock of Ages and help their family withstand storms and prevent ones of their own making.
Husbands, your wives need you to deeply know the Lord and his ways. She needs you to have thought critically about the gospel. She needs you to have sat in awe at the depth of Christ and be ready with all your might to show and lead her to the truth. She needs your theology.