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Marriage--For as Long as You Both Shall Love
Scripture: Ephesians 5:21-33
Track 4 of 7 in the A Transforming Church . . . Produces Transforming Families series
Running time: 34 minutes, 14 seconds.

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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.

An Obsolete Vow?

I was in the midst of the wedding when I looked down at the vows. There before me was the phrase "so long as we both shall love..." It certainly fit the culture, it may even have fit the couple, but it didn't fit the Bible. Marriage is not about how long we love... it's a commitment for life.

Hearing the Biblical perspective raises lots of questions that are hard. What about those who are no longer in their first marriage? What about issues of infidelity? Abuse? Neglect? Abandonment? Hard questions with no easy answer.

What do we do? We start from where we are. No matter what our situation, we seek to build a relationship that will last. We seek mentors, we go to counselors, we pray, read, change. We do "whatever it takes" to make our marriage work. We put the concept (and the vocabulary) of divorce on the back burner.

What do we do? We "guard our hearts." We protect ourselves from distractions to our fidelity. We avoid pornography like the plague. We don't indulge in TV or movies that promote an anti-marriage philosophy. We leave the romance novels in the dime store. We analyze the music we listen to and reject any message that opposes fidelity.

What do we do? We avoid all situations where our faithfulness might be challenged We don't get involved with anyone other than our spouse. We are extremely careful about business meals and travel. We are clear about our standards. We dress in ways that convey no mixed messages. We avoid physical contact that might be misinterpreted.

Our vows are clear... "so long as we both shall live." What precedes that line determines our response to life. "For better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health..." No one knows the future. No one anticipates an accident that leaves our spouse paralyzed or incapacitated. No one envisions the economy going bad and leaving us to face financial hardships. No one believes a person is misrepresenting themselves during the courtship.

What do we know? We know that marriage is our covenant, not our contract. Our covenant is not contingent upon what the other party does. The success of our marriage is based on what we are both willing to do to honor our covenant.

On January 9th of this year Joshua Bell, maybe unknown to some of you, but to those of you who love violin music, probably the finest young violin player in the world. Sold out Boston Symphony theater at $100.00 a ticket. Three days later the Washington Post decided to run an experiment. They dressed him in Levis, a long sleeved t-shirt , a Nationals baseball cap, and they put him in one of the Metro stations in Washington DC with an open violin case sitting at his feet. He played there some of the finest music you have ever heard for about 45 minutes. He was totally ignored by well over a thousand people. He garnered $32.00 from twenty-seven people who stopped long enough to even listen. Had they been paying attention this young man was standing there playing on a three million dollar Stratavari violin some of the finest music in the world.

Sometimes it's a matter of location. Its always a matter of perspective as to what you see when you come to look for things and whether or not if you see value in them. I don't have any question in my heart and mind at least of what were are talking about these few weeks about marriage and parenting and being single are some of the most important issues that we face. And yet it is easy for me to recognize that for some who either are not single or married or parents. Depending on what Sunday it happens to be you may not find it particularly interesting to you. For some the perspective is skewed because well you was one of those three long before you ever became a disciple of Jesus and now all of a sudden you're being confronted with issues you may not have thought of about back in the days you were making decisions that were gonna effect the rest of your life. I'm aware of that, I'm also aware that there is absolutely no way to address this subject biblically that doesn't address issues some of you have already faced. And have already felt the burden of. I cant do anything about that other than to say what I want you to hear starts today. And you begin where ever you happen to be. And you work from there.

So lets take a look. Shall we? I have been plagued by this question for a long time. Been thinking about it a lot these last few days and weeks as we thinking about this particular sermon series. I find myself asking when is marriage at its best. When is marriage at its very best? One of the answers that the world would offer, in fact that some of us probably would agree to, is marriage is at its very best when life is going well. When there are no major upheavals. When there is little conflict in our relationship, when we get to go from day to day and not have to face the hardship and the reality of life. that's when marriage is at its best., because we are not arguing with one another, we're not stressed out over things were just simply able to enjoy each other. And that's true, life is good when that's happening. The only trouble is life is rarely that way. Well at least its rarely that way when in my house. Maybe you live in a different world than I do. I don't know. Sunday morning I get up one of the first things I do is I check email to find out what may need to be known before the day starts. And once in a great while I am surprised by what I find. This morning was one of those mornings. Had a email from my daughter who works in intensive cardiac care in a New Jersey hospital. I knew a little bit about this story before because she had mentioned to me she was taking care of a 45 year old. That's a bit young to be in a intensive cardiac care unit if you ask me. She had actually gone to work on her day off because she wanted to be there when this family made the final decision about whether to let him live. If you can define living as being supported by machines. She was working with a wife, two teenage sons or preteen sons, and a set of parents who were about to lose a father, a husband and a son. And I thought to myself as I was thinking about this morning message and that email how much more true that is to life than the idea that life just goes rolling merrily along and we all wake up every morning happily ever after. That just isn't reality. And so sometimes we find ourselves in the trap of thinking, if life could just be just like we would like to be then marriage could be like we like it to be. Except that it isn't, just isn't realistic. And I find myself wondering how many of us were entering into relationships, either in the courtship stage or in the marriage stage where we had never really sat down to figure out what it was gonna be like if, spell that when, things got hard. I mean how many of you went to the altar to get married believing that you might one day wake up married to Christopher Reeves. None of us. Because most of us believe that we would just live our life out until we had been married about sixty or seventy years and then we would peacefully go to sleep together and we would never have to face harshness. We didn't figure out any alternative to that until the first time we stubbed our toe. Then we began to realize it may not work out quite that way. And we find ourselves wrestling with this statement I have come back to again and again. This isn't what I bargained for.

It's in the words of Steve Green presented so well to us by Dan this morning, "Guard your hearts." because life is not always what you thought it would be.

So if marriage is not at its best when everything is sailing along smoothly. Maybe life is at its best at another time. So when would that be? Well maybe life and marriage is at its best when I'm happy and all of my needs are being met. Now that seems to be pretty typical of an American attitude. I'm in this relationship with this other person and my primary concern is "Am I happy?" Well at least that's the American perspective. I don't know if any of you watch the "Unit." It's a CBS program about a special ops group and the subplot that runs through all the action film is about the really messed up way that their lives get turned around and their marriages. I want you to see just a brief clip from a "Unit" episode from a couple weeks ago. The lady you are about to see was assigned some courted ordered time, and she volunteered at a legal agency as a volunteer. The guy that you're going to see first is her boss in the legal agency , he's a lawyer. The man that you're gonna see second is her husband. You won't have any trouble figuring out which is which before this is over. I encourage you to listen carefully to the dialogue.

Woman…"Mac is back home."
Woman …"Today"
Lawyer…"Well, it doesn't change anything."
Woman…"Doesn't it?"
Lawyer…"No. Soon he'll be gone again. Then what happens to you?"
Woman…"Well, yeah. A rain drop."
Lawyer…"For a logistics cleric. I know enough about the Army to know that if he really wanted to put down roots and be with you, he could. So why does he keep abandoning you?"
Woman… "It's a little more complicated than that. He's a good man."
Lawyer… "Where's the good man tonight? Home again after two months away. Where is he? It's complicated?"
Woman… "Yes"
Lawyer… "Well I know if I were him, I wouldn't let you out of my sight for a minute, much less two months."
Woman… "I'm married. I have two children. I have a life that you're asking me to throw away. Which may be the very definition of selfishness. I mean what is this? What is this thing we have between us, which isn't even real. And what do you expect me to tell my daughters?"
Lawyer… "That they deserve the best."
Woman… "The best?"
Lawyer… "Yes"
Woman… "What is the best?"
Lawyer… "To be happy. It has been done before. Often with great results. That's why we as a society employ divorce judges. For the chance to finally be selfish enough to be intelligent enough to be happy."
Woman… "You're selling a fantasy."
Lawyer… "I'm falling in love with you."
Woman… "Well, stop."
Lawyer… "Thus, I have two simple questions. How do you feel about your husband? And how do you feel about me?"
Lawyer… "You made it to the parking lot, do you plan on coming into the office?"
Woman… "I came here to tell you that I can't do this."
Lawyer… "Tell me you're happy with him."Woman… "This isn't the solution."
Lawyer… "Then why does it feel the way it feels?"
Woman… "It's only temporary."
Lawyer… "It doesn't have to be."
Woman… "I have gone down this road before. And I got hurt."
Lawyer… "I would never hurt you."
Woman… "A lot of other people got hurt too. I don't want to do that to you. "
Lawyer… "I'll take my chances."
Woman… "Can't take chances you don't even know about."
Lawyer… "What are you talking about."
Woman… "What I am saying is this can't happen. I'm sorry but it can't happen."

Are you happy? That seems to be the driving question. Some days no, quite honestly no. kids aren't behaving like want them to. Finances have gotten a little tight. Frankly your husband wakes up grumpy. Don't smile ladies it's a dead give-away. And yet so much of American life when it comes to marriage is built on that question. Am I happy? And the line is so abundantly true, that is why we have divorce judges.. Because it might just be possible that in another relationship, on another day, I could be happy. The grass is always greener on the other side of the proverbial fence. Now there is a hundred things I want to say about that clip. I am going to bite my tongue and only say one or two. Did you happen to notice she allowed him to hold her hand? Did you happen to notice how provocatively she was dress? Did you happen to notice she went out to dinner with him? But those are matters for another day.

Guard your heart. Because if anything can come in to upset the equilibrium, it is that question. Am I happy. Because on a lot of days the answer is… NO! the question isn't am I happy, the question is am I committed to my spouse. And am I committed to Christ and the church. I think it would be nice to be happy. I like being happy. I prefer being happy in marriage. Been married almost thirty seven years. I think the majority of the time I would describe as happy. I'll let you talk to Gail to see if that is accurate. But I would lie to you if I said that all thirty seven years, 365 days a year were happy.

There were two views in Jewish culture that would have frames some of what Paul and Jesus taught. One was the view that you could get divorced for almost any thing. In fact if your wife just didn't cook the way you wanted her to cook, out she went. The other view was that you could only be separated if there was infidelity. But then there were lots of definitions of that. I want to just suggest to you that, you've heard this before I'm gonna say it again, and you'll hear it again. Marriage is not a contract, it a covenant. A contract is when the other person breaks a rule then you're released from your responsibility. that's not what we are talking about here. We're talking about a covenant relationship in which you say I promise, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health so long as we both live. There's nothing in that vow about love, and there's nothing in that vow about happiness. Its about commitment. So I gonna make a request , its all I can do. I have no more power to do anything than just make a request to you, but as one who cares about your life I want to make this request that you put a moratorium on any divorce talk in your marriage. I know that I am naive. I readily admit that I am naive. My wife and I made a decision before we got married, in fact before we ever committed to getting married we made this decision, the word divorce would be struck from our vocabulary. Because we knew once it we used it, it became possible. I'm not suggesting it can never happen. Don't hear that, I'm suggesting that you put it up on a shelf some place and you leave it there until you have exhausted every possible resource.

In your bulletin you will find a list of them that we offer her and there are more than that, but we want to call them to your attention, so you know that we as a body are here to help you succeed in your relationships. We will do everything in our power to help you succeed.

So I come back to the question when is marriage at its best? And I come quickly to a text, that we will come back to again, Ephesians chapter five probably the longest text on marriage in scripture. Ephesians 5 Paul's statement begins in verse 21, even though in your Bible it probably starts in verse 22, its one of those places I advise you to scrap what the editor has put in there and just let text speak for itself. So where it says wives and husbands , just eliminate that, that wasn't there, start with verse twenty-one. "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ is the head of the church's body of which he is the savior. Now as the church submits to christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands love your wives as christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing of water through the word, to present her to himself as a radiant church without stain, wrinkle or any blemish. Holy and blameless. In this way husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies, he who loves his wife, loves himself. After all no one ever hated his own body , but he feeds and cares for it, just as christ does the church. For we are members of his body, for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife. And the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery. But I am talking about Christ and the church. However each one of you must love your wife as he loves himself , and the wife must respect her husband. "

When is marriage at its best? Marriage is its it best when it wrestles with the issues of this text which is mutual submission to one another. It's when right in the heart of married relationship is Christ. There is a husband, a man and a woman, a wife and there is Christ, that three strands comes together in a relationship that is mutually submissive. Please don't hear this in 70's feminist terms, this is not about husbands subjecting their wives and taking away their freedoms and holding them down and pregnant in the kitchen. This is about each of us expressing our faith in Christ in what ever way God calls. But respecting each other enough to know the way that God has created the family. And the buck stops on the husbands desk. I'm sorry gentleman, you don't get to abdicate that responsibility to your wife. The final decision in your house are yours and you will be the one who will stand before God and give account for the way your family turned out. If your wife is not holy, blameless , cleanse, washed , redeemed person, you are responsible for that. That's your job. And you do that by dying to yourself. I'm not talking about theoretical dying , I know how that works. I have absolute, I a going to pick on someone I haven't asked permission to do that since he is a former policeman , and a security guard and all that he can take care of himself, I'm pretty sure of that. I'm not gonna met him in a dark alley, but I have just watched in my limited time here, I have just watched. I get the impression that Dave loves his wife. And even though I know he can care for himself in any situation, I have this sneaking suspicion he would die for his wife. Before he would let anything happen to her. But see that is theoretical, because the odds are nobody's gonna do that. The real question is will you die to yourself today. Which might mean something as simple as will you get up from the Cardinal ball game, although I don't know why in the world you would want to watch them, not this season, and go do the dishes. Or why men you would go to the opera instead of or why wives you might decide you wanted to do something. Because dying daily is a lot more difficult than hypothetically dying. Its that daily death that's says I will not always have my own way. That he says , he what it means to be mutually submissive. And husbands when you're willing to be that kind of person then your wife won't have any trouble respecting you. She will not have difficulties submitting to your leadership and following where want to go when you have demonstrated the only thing that you want in life is what is absolutely the best for Christ, his kingdom and your spouse who represents that kingdom.

So when is marriage at its best? Marriage is at it's very best when it is in imitation, when it is an echo, when it is a mirror image of Christ and his church. Because marriage serves a far higher purpose than we have allowed for it to serve. Even in the church we have not addressed this issue of why we have marriage at all. So we inundated with allowing the world to tell us why we have marriage. So sitting in a Christian college chapel I heard a young senior say, "If I knew that Jesus was coming tomorrow. I would get married today." In other words in I don't want to go into heaven without having slept with somebody. And since we all know as Christians sex can only happen in the confines of a marriage. Gotta get married tonight, because Jesus might come tomorrow. Because we all know that physical intimacy is the most important thing in the whole world. Well to a nineteen year old maybe. But to those of you who have been around for a while, you've came to realize that it was a wonderful part of your marriage but it was not that which drew you together. And it couldn't keep you together if there where other things in the way.

Being married is not about having physical intimacy, that is a side by product. Its not even about having companionship. You know some of us don't like to be alone and so we find ourselves married and what we ought to do is get a pet. I mean I don't want to be harsh, but I've seen some pets treated better than some wives or husbands. Simply because what we've wanted was not a spouse, we wanted a companion, we wanted a friend. Go to the kennel, they needs friends there.

Some of us get married because we think that love is everything. And man I'm all in favor of being in love, but when you understand biblical love. Biblical love means I'm gonna do the best for you no matter what you do in return for me. That's a pretty one-sided sort of thing and some people just don't get that in their marriages because they are so selfish. Some people get married because they want intimacy. And intimacy, I don't mean physical, I mean they want somebody who just really knows them. I'm here to tell you that a group of three or four guys meeting in a coffee shop can have the kind of intimacy that you are wanting, without you ruining somebody's elses life. Unless what you want is to enter into a relationship where you can purposefully demonstrate to the world what it means for Christ to love His church.

The Christian marriage finds it's purpose in our demonstration to the world of what Christ is doing for the church. The reason we love each other , the reason we care for each other, the reason we treat each other well is because we want the world to look at our life and say if that's what it means to be Christian then I want that. When a husband loves his wife, and a wife respects her husband , and they see the connection between Christ and His church and the way Christ died to redeem humanity. And how humanity responds in love and adoration. They see something they don't see any other place. Need that drives our marriages to be different. And so I plead with you. I plead with you who are just thinking about, I've got to be careful where I look as some of you have already made up your mind that you're gonna do this. I did a wedding yesterday for Lee and Lori. You know it was like twenty minutes before the wedding started , and I'm talking to Lee, and I'm saying to him that in twenty minutes you can be like twenty miles away. I mean if you want to go, now's a good time.

You know if you're thinking about getting married, I know that all those things are important factors , I'm not saying that those are not important factors. The love. The intimacy. The sexual relationships and the companionship. Those are all important things. But would you at least ask…"Can I with this person that I'm thinking about marrying, can I model for the world , Christ and the church. Because if I can't do that in this relationship, then I'm in the wrong relationship.

And if you're struggling in your marriage would you ask yourself if thinking about the demonstration of Christ and his church to the neighbor was your compelling factor what would that do to your relationship. How would that change the way you relate to one another. Because if you're a Christian that is why your married. While all the other things are true, don't misunderstand me. But marriage is about Christ and the church, its that divine mystery. So here's what I calling you to. If your married I'm calling you to live like Christ and his church. To love each other. To respect each other. And to deal with the issues and not let life get a head of you. Let us help you demonstrate Christ and the church. If you're thinking about getting married I'm begging you make sure you can live in this relationship for a lifetime of modeling Christ's love and grace. And I'm just asking you to start right where you are. This may not be your first attempt at this thing. We understand that, we do. And we are not condemning it. We are inviting you into a new life. A new way of living. And you'll find what you need in this, when Christ is at the center of it all.

I'm gonna ask somebody to come up here. Becky would you join me? Jim would you come up here. Some of you know Becky Crane, many of you do actually. She came to me last week, it just didn't seem like last week was the right week for us to do this. Becky's has been through some difficult times here lately. Without going into a lot of detail, she's, frankly she's made a mess of some stuff. Ok. And it was just bad decisions had to do with alcohol, drugs. Got involved with her employment. Its cost her immensely and its cost Larry immensely. But, they are together. I want you to hear that first in the context of this marriage. I want you to hear that they are together in this thing. But in her life right now what she needs is this step, some of you know what that means, it's public affirmation that I've messed it up and that I need help. And that's why she's here today. And because one of our elders is particular close to this family, Jim Wisenborn. And by the way our elders are here for this, that's why they're here. We've asked him to come and pray with us today for Becky and invite you in with and for her after today. Jim come pray. "Our gracious heavenly father we thank you for the decision becky has made. We've known her for quite a few years and we love her, and respect her. And we know father that she's went though in the last six months a rough time. But we are thankful that she's recovered from that. We're thankful that she's rededicating her life to you. And we just thank you that she's got a job again. Working in the field of nursing that she's good at. Father we just thank you for this time together that we can pray. And we just thank you for the forgiveness of our sins. And we just pray that you will be with becky and Larry as they continue in their marriage. that they will be as happy as Mary and I has been for fifty years. All this I pray in Jesus name. Amen."

It takes a great deal of courage to admit your mistakes in front of a lot of people. But you know what, your very presence here is what makes that possible. A community of people who've fallen in love with Jesus and fallen in love with each other. And they make community happen. Where redemption occurs. And we're here, us, because he's here. Because he not only wants to be the center of your marriage, he wants to be the center of your life. And he is in fact the center of the church. So every week we come to a table to celebrate that. To be reminded of who he is. To be reminded of what he's done. Cause this is not about us , this is about him. And in spite of everything we have done. We are welcome at this table. We belong here. Not because of who we are, cause of who he is. So we invite you as a believer in Jesus Christ to share at this table. And to remember the incredible sacrifice of christ for your life. Who invites you into a relationship that the Bible calls marriage. A wedding. Christ and His church. A groom and his bride. And we celebrate that today.

Father we come to this table our hearts open to you, guarding them against the temptations of the world. Because we want to belong to you and nobody else. And so we celebrate today as we eat and drink in the name of Jesus. Amen.

[Transcribed by SC2]