By Keith Simon
Keith Simon is a pastor at The Crossing in Columbia, MO. He and a fella named Patrick Miller co-host a podcast called Ten Minute Bible Talks.
No person really decides before they grow up who they’re going to marry. God decides it all way before, and you get to find out later who you’re stuck with.
– Kirsten, age 10
If, as Kirsten says, you’re going to be “stuck” with someone you might as well make it the best marriage you can! And everyone who has been married more than a few weeks (heck, maybe a few days!), knows that marriage can be a challenge. I don’t care how long you’ve been married, no one has it figured out.
That’s why, even after 30 years of marriage, I slapped “I think, I think” on this list. I’ve learned a lot and expect to learn more. But here’s what I think I think about marriage:
1. I think I think that we pay much more attention to the state of our marriages than the Bible does. Listen to people talk, find out why most people seek counseling, observe the bestselling Christian books and most attended Christian conferences and what you find they have in common is the topic of marriage. We are consumed by the pursuit of having the ideal marriage. What seems a little odd to me is that marriage isn’t discussed that much in the Bible. Make a list of the passages that deal explicitly with marriage and I think that you’ll be surprised how short it is.
2. I think I think that the Bible doesn’t speak about marriage as often as we’d expect it to (given our interest in the topic) is because we’ve put the cart before the horse. Let me explain. When the Bible does speak about marriage, it’s usually in the second half of a New Testament letter (see Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3). In both instances the apostle Paul spends the first half of the letter laying out key doctrines and then in the second half of the book he applies those doctrines to various life issues. I understand that to mean that the foundation of a good marriage is biblical truth. God’s truth is the horse that pulls the cart of marriage.
3. I think I think that we’ve substituted technique and skills for Christian maturity. Much of the “counsel” about marriage—whether it’s found in books, seminars, or the advice of friends—seems to deal with “how tos.” How to argue. How to divide up roles and responsibilities. How to budget. How to show love. Unfortunately, all this emphasis on skills tends to make us think that we are good people who just need a few pointers. Our problem is deeper than that. The main problem in any marriage is the sin each spouse brings into the relationship. While learning certain skills can surely be helpful, those skills don’t address the core problem.
4. I think I think that we’re better off focusing less on our marriage and more on growing in our relationship with Christ. When Christine and I had been married a very short time, a friend who was recently engaged asked what advice we’d offer. I remember saying something like: “I’m learning that if I live out the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control), my marriage—like all my relationships—would go well. And of course, if I lived out of my sinful nature, none of my relationships, including my marriage, would go well. There’s not much I believed when I was 22 that I still believe today, but that’s one piece of advice that I stand by.
5. I think I think that our expectations for marriage are not in line with what God intended marriage to be. Many of us think marriage is supposed to fulfill us, but I’m not sure that’s a biblical perspective. I do think that a good marriage can be a great source of joy, encouragement, and companionship. But maybe that’s not God’s ultimate intention for marriage. Marriage doesn’t appear that often in the Gospels but one place it does show up is Mark 10 where Jesus addresses the issue of divorce. What’s interesting to me is that Mark places this passage in a section of his Gospel that deals with discipleship. It almost seems out of place until you realize that he’s put it there because marriage can be a key part of the discipleship process. Marriage is meant to refine you and change you so that you become more like Jesus. Sometimes that’s a painful process as you see your sin, confess it to God, and ask him to make you into the person he wants you to be. God intends marriage to transform you, not fulfill you.
6. I think I think that when I get frustrated or angry with my wife, it says more about me than it does her. I’m learning that, in frustrating situations, my first response needs to be self-examination. Usually I find that I’m the one with unrealistic expectations or a selfish agenda. But even if I think that she’s wrong on some issue or that she’s at fault in some way, maybe that’s a time for me to be patient with her and love her instead of attacking and accusing her.
7. I think I think that we might be better off treating our spouse as our neighbor or even our enemy. It’s funny that Jesus said to love both our neighbor and our enemy, but many Christians fail to love the person they are married to.
8. I think I think that in Jesus’s famous saying, “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” we’ve focused all our attention on the wrong half. The reason that we are not to separate is because God has joined us. Think about that. God brought you and your spouse together. That’s pretty amazing. It means that behind the story of how you met, fell in love, and decided to marry, the God of the universe was at work. Your story was (and still is) part of his greater story. Meditating on this truth should give us confidence that God is at work in each of our marriages. It should give us great comfort to know that the God who loves us is using our marriage to make us into the person he wants us to be.
9. I think I think that the most helpful passage on marriage is found in Luke 7:36-50. While you should read the entire passage, the key verse says, “Therefore I tell you, her sins which are many, are forgiven-for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:47). Jesus’s point is not that some are forgiven much and some are forgiven little. His point is that some feel how much they have been forgiven and some don’t. When you realize how much God has forgiven you, you become a person who loves much, serves much, and forgives much (to name just a few of the changes believing the gospel makes in our life).
10. I think I think that a person who forgets they are a great sinner is the hardest person to be married to. As soon as you think that you’re a great husband or wife, you start finding fault in your spouse. But if you can remember that you are hard to live with, that you have great sin in your life, that you do and say a lot of dumb and insensitive things, then you will find it much easier to extend grace to your spouse when you see their faults.