Today, we wrap up our series with what could be the most important teaching for some of you in all five weeks. And it stems from this: When you were dating, you found that opposites attract. You had different perspectives on what being on time meant, right? You had different perspectives on whether to plan things out or just be spontaneous? You had different perspectives on money. And it was all OK during that dating period.
But then you get married, and you discover that, sometimes, things evolve to where opposites attack. What was “cute” then just becomes irritating and maddening now. And it can begin to drive wedges between two people who vowed to become one on their wedding day. And that’s why we need this last commitment in our series--"Never Give Up.”
A quick caveat here before we dive headlong into this stuff. By encouraging the commitment to “Never Give Up,” I am not—repeat “NOT”—referring to a situation where you are in an abusive or violent marriage, where you are the punching bag and someone is just ripping you up. If that’s going on, the right and healthy thing for all involved is to get outta there and get to a safe place. Once there, you can get the professionals involved, and law enforcement, if need be. And depending upon how things go, there could come a time when it's safe to begin to work on seeing whether getting back together in a healthy environment is possible. But I don’t want anyone taking away from this message that you’re supposed to stay in a house where you’re getting roughed up or worse. You call your pastor, call someone, and get to safety.
OK, with that covered, let’s get back to the normal, run of the mill, challenging marriages, In those, we’re committing to Never Give Up. And for those of you who had a marriage end in divorce, I don’t want you feeling guilty. Some of you did everything you could to keep that marriage going, and the other person just refused to work at it with you, and the marriage ended. Others of you might be thinking, “Oh, man, I know I blew it big time. If I could do it all over, I would do it so differently.” Again, for all of you, today we are putting the past in the past. You can’t change it anyway. So, we are looking at how to operate from this day on.
With all that as a backdrop, let’s start in Matthew 19:3-6. It’s an interesting conversation between Jesus and the Pharisees, who were always looking to trip Jesus up. They question him about marriage and divorce.
Matt. 19:3 - Some Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
It’s hard to imagine, but in this culture at this time, women were pretty much considered property. Although when you think about it, with human trafficking and cultures around the globe who treat women as essentially slaves, maybe it’s not so hard to imagine. But the "happily ever after" that God intended when He instituted marriage back in the book of Genesis had gotten completely off track in the Jewish culture of Jesus’ day. If you weren’t pleased with your wife, you could simply declare, “I don’t want you,” and you were divorced—just like that. The test for Jesus was whether he was going to fly in the face of what was culturally accepted and violate what the Pharisees knew to be the truth of scripture, or whether he would risk losing popular support by sticking to what that culture considered the outdated guidelines of God’s word. It turns out not to have been that much of a dilemma for Jesus.
Matt. 19:4-6 - “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh?’ So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”
The issue Jesus highlights with divorce is that is it essentially undoing what God declared should not be undone. What’s been joined together, let man not separate. It’s like super-gluing two pieces of paper together and then trying to separate them. Try it, and you’re going to have two severely damaged pieces of paper. You wonder why divorce hurts so much? It’s like ripping your heart out. And those of you who have been divorced know this. Those of you whose parents divorced, you know this. The problem is that you really can’t undo what God has made one.
And the whole concept of divorce really highlights the problem in our culture, which is that people don’t really understand what marriage is, at its heart. We think marriage is a contract or an agreement, when in reality it is a covenant. The natural question you could ask at this point is, ‘Huh? What do you mean?” OK, good question. Let’s dig into that.
A contract is based upon what? Mutual distrust. A contract lays out duties and responsibilities and rights, presuming that without those being clearly articulated, one or both parties to the contract would violate them. And so, you want to rent a room, an apartment, or a house. Can you just move in? Nope. You negotiate a contract that outlines what you can and can’t do and how much you’ll pay to do and not do that stuff. And it also lays out what the owner of that room, apartment, or house will do and not do. And the contract is for a fixed time. At the end of that time, both parties, if they are agreed, can re-enlist for another year. But every contract has an end date. And if either party violates the terms, the other party can seek legal remedy.
And this is what so many people do with marriage. I’m in for as long as you perform what I deem to be your duties and responsibilities. If you don’t live up to my terms, we are done. It’s about staying only as long as the other person makes me happy, meets my needs, or until something better comes along.
A covenant, on the other hand, is not based on mutual distrust, but mutual commitment. And it’s a permanent commitment, with no end date. A marriage is kinda like Twinkies—no expiration date. And you are making that commitment not only with your spouse, but before God.
Now, on all of our wedding days, we were perfectly eager to sign on to “forever.” And that’s because we have this stupid fairy-tale notion of married life being “happily ever after.” And it’s not. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean that it can’t be happily ever after. I mean that it’s just not automatic. Happily ever after can result, but only when a couple is committed to forever and is determined to work through things when the marriage gets difficult and painful. And, make no mistake, it is guaranteed to get difficult and painful. Bad things happen in our world, sin still exists, guys are bozos sometimes, and even the gals have their moments of insanity, right? Hey, I suffered my own bout of temporary insanity while I was preparing this message that I had to apologize to my wife for.
Well, Dwaine, does this mean happily ever after is just a pipe dream? Not at all. I was reading about Billy Graham and Ruth Graham recently. A reporter doing an article sat down with Ruth and asked, “I have heard that you struggled at times with Billy’s travel schedule because he would be gone for up to six months at a time. I suspect that it would have been difficult to raise 5 children under those circumstances. Did you ever consider divorcing Billy?” Ruth’s answer: “I never considered divorcing Billy. I considered murdering him at times, but never divorce.” See, working through all the difficulties that come up, committed to never giving up, is what allows you the opportunity to experience the happily ever after that we all want and dream about. And a host of people saw in the marriage relationship between Billy and Ruth Graham an incredible love and tenderness that made them want that for themselves. But it all comes through the portal of never giving up.
Some of you might be thinking, “Well, I’m not happy,” or “I don’t trust him or her, “ or “She doesn’t do this or that,” or “I just don’t love him or her anymore.” But I’ll make this pitch to you—getting a divorce merely because you’ve run out of love is like selling your car because you’ve run out of gas. You run out of gas. What do you do? You refill the tank. In your marriage, you work to refill the love. And we talked two weeks ago about how to do that during the Have Fun message. If you need a reminder of those ideas, go back and review that message.
And I get it. There will be times when you just don’t want to. Or, maybe you’ve done all you can do, and nothing is paying off. What do you do then? You keep being obedient, keep seeking God, who can express His love to that other person through you. We serve a God who is love. It’s not just something He does. He radiates love, and He can use you to love your spouse when it’s hard for you to do it.
And to keep us on target here, we just need to remember God’s promise in Galatians, chapter 6.
Gal. 6:7 - Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.
You will reap what you sow. And then this little bit of encouragement.
Gal. 6:9 - Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
You see this in little ways. You smile at someone, what are you likely to get back? Yeah, a smile. If someone flips you off, what are you likely to do back? Yeah, because you’re a Christian, you pray for them and ask God to bless their day, right? But normal people give it back in kind. So, in marriage, if someone shows grace and compassion and thoughtfulness, what are they likely to reap? Yeah, the same. If someone is always complaining and comparing and critical, what’s going to happen? They are going to get defensiveness, anger, and self-justification. The harvest depends on the seed that’s planted.
So, think of your spouse as a field, and remember that what you plant not only comes back in kind, but it is multiplied. A stalk of corn produces far more than just the one kernel sown. Men, women, if you don’t like what you’re getting as a harvest, take a good, long look at what you’ve been sowing. If you don’t like what you’ve been getting, look at what you’ve been giving. Generally, what you’re reaping is simply the multiplier effect of what you’ve been sowing.
A word of caution here, because I know people in this situation. They got married as non-Christians, but subsequently, one spouse accepted Christ. And the other spouse has hung around, but has not accepted Christ. So, things are hard in that marriage. And the Christian is sowing like crazy, but not much is sprouting. In fact, maybe all they get back is opposition. What do you do? You never give up. You keep sowing. You live out the covenant you made to your spouse and before God. You are your spouse’s best hope for seeing Jesus in action. I’m not guaranteeing it will be easy or that it’ll end as you’d like. But you will reap a harvest based on that sowing, if not from your spouse, from God Himself. Your prayer life will blossom, God’s presence will be more real and constant, God’s comfort will be a warm blanket, and His words will offer encouragement. He will provide all you need to continue, one day at a time.
A second reality of sowing and reaping is that you reap where you sow. If you sow all your seeds into your hobbies, your kids, your career and not your marriage, you can expect that marriage to suffer. Get back to sowing into your marriage. Do the five things we’ve talked about in this series: Seek God with your spouse; fight, but fight fair—not to win but to reconcile; have fun—talk deeply about things, do things together, and get after that belly button to belly button time; don’t allow poison into the marriage—fight to keep the marriage pure; and, finally, no matter what, never give up. You reap “happily ever after” through these commitments!