The Working Family - Marriages That Last

Proverbs 18:22

It was the summer of 1942 and a young man was on his way to fight in World War 2. On his way to the train station in Memphis, Tennessee, he noticed a 12 year old girl working in a cotton patch. He parked his truck on the side of the road, and approached the young girl and told her that he was going to fight in the war and that he didn’t think that he would be returning home. This young man wondered if she would marry him so that when he died, someone could take possession of what little he owned. The young girl agreed and they had a quick wedding that day. She returned to her parents home and he went off to fight in the war. Two years later, the young man returned from the war to his home and his wife. At his death this couple had been married for 58 years, raised three children and had 8 grandchildren.

That beautiful story of fidelity and commitment did not come from a movie on the Hallmark Channel, but was about my grandparents. For years it had served as a marvelous testimony to the possibility of marital stability. It was also a story that I shared at my grandfathers funeral, to the absolute horror of my mom because it was not true. I am not sure where I heard the story, but it was not the story of my grandparents. Well at least not the first part. My grandfather did fight in the War, and he was married to my grandmother for 58 years, and raised three children. But like so much in life, the beautiful Hallmark Movie representation was not real.

I understand that according to culture, I am a bit weird. Both of my grandparents celebrated more than 50 years of marriage. My In-Laws celebrated their 50th anniversary in 2017 and my mom and Dad just celebrated their 50th anniversary this past April. I am telling you all of that to let you know that I come from a long line of folks who made the decision to do the hard work of being married. No one in my family would tell you that marriage has been all gumdrops, lollipops, unicorns, and rainbows. Actually they would tell you quite the opposite. There are times when being married is hard, there are times when you don’t feel like being married.

As we get started, let’s just lay it out there and admit that marriage isn't easy. That’s why it is so important for those who's marriage has endured the test of time invest in those of us that are coming behind you. Trista and I will be celebrating our 23rd Anniversary in the next few days and we have constantly looked to older couples as a pattern, as a beacon of what we can do, and what we can become. When we look at the men and women who have modeled longevity in their relationship we cannot help but be hopeful, even during the storms of life.   

Another point that I want to make upfront as well: I know that there are a lot of single moms and dads that should be celebrated for what they are doing. It's tough enough to be a parent when you've got someone there to help with providing, protecting, and discipline. But when you are doing it solo, you ought to get a medal, or an all expense paid vacation. 

Some of the most involved and faithful members of the Kingdom are single parents. So I don't want anything I say this morning to be taken the wrong way. Many of you didn't want a divorce, but were forced to accept it. Even if you did want one, you've got enough to deal with without the preacher coming down on you. As we talk about working families this morning I need you to understand that in no way am I here this morning to shame divorced people. I am here to celebrate marriage and to emphasize what the Bible teaches about it. I hope I will be able to keep both those balls in play this morning; appreciating the struggles of single parents, while praising the promise and virtue of marriage. If my words fail, thats where my heart is.

Look with me in Matthew 19:3-12. We'll read the passage, then pray.

As with any passage of scripture it is important to know the context of the text.  There are two levels of context, the literary context and the historical context. First the literary context. We need to notice where Matthew has placed this story in His gospel and why. Jesus' teaching on marriage follows His teaching on forgiveness and mercy and must be interpreted and applied accordingly.

In Matthew 18:21 Peter asked a question that has immediate relevance to this discussion. Lord how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Seven times? And Jesus' answer is scandalous. I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven times.

Then He went on to tell a parable about a man who owed millions but was forgiven the debt.

The forgiven debtor then went out and found someone who owed him a few dollars and threw the debtor in prison. The king who'd forgiven the million dollar debtor heard about what had happened and the man who owed the millions was himself imprisoned for his lack of mercy. Jesus concludes that story in vs. 35; This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.

That's a sober warning as we enter into this discussion of marriage. The placement of our text this morning is no accident. Few human interactions come preloaded with more need for forgiveness than marriage. Ex-spouses need to take that to heart. So do currently married people who nurse long held grudges against their mates. And so does the church. We need to learn how comprehensive, all encompassing, and even scandalous is the forgiveness that is available in Jesus Christ. At times in our history the church has been ruthlessly unforgiving of those who have endured divorce. We need to take Jesus' words about mercy to heart.

Second, we need to note the historical context in which Jesus spoke these words. By the historical context I mean the cultural conditions that prevailed when Jesus actually delivered His teaching on this subject. Jesus taught these hard truths about marriage in a culture in which divorce was the accepted norm and commitment in marriage was not seriously considered. In fact there was quite a debate about that issue going on then.

There were two schools of thought in Jesus' day. The first was led by a rabbi named Hillel, the other by a rabbi named Shemmai. Both based their teachings on what Moses wrote in Deuteronomy 24:1. If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, he may write her a certificate of divorce, give it to her and send her from his house.

Hillel emphasized the part that says if she becomes displeasing to her husband, and said that a man could divorce his wife for any and every cause. There are even rabbinical writings in which it actually says that if your wife burns your supper you can divorce her.

Rabbi Shemmai focused on the word indecent, an extremely strong word that referred to gross immorality or uncleanness. He said that the offense had to be extremely serious and that in most cases divorce was not an option. Guess which side was winning that argument in Jesus' day.

So that’s the context, now let’s move on into what Jesus actually taught. What is the core teaching in Matthew 19:3-12? That's an important question, because most of the time, Christians are so busy arguing over other things in this passage that we never get around to looking at what Jesus actually taught.

Look at verse 3; Some Pharisees came to him to test him. Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason? Let me stop right there for a moment. Isn't it interesting that many people today do exactly what the pharisees were doing? Using this issue as a test rather than trying to figure out what God's will for marriage is.

Pay careful attention to what Jesus says in verse 4. Haven't you read, STOP RIGHT THERE. I always love when Jesus says, “Haven’t you read?” Because 1) Of course they had read. 2) Of course they didn’t understand. 3) And Jesus was always going to point folks back to God’s original intention.

Jesus shows us that we need to always start with scripture. Here is the first core teaching in this passage. Jesus insisted that social custom, personal preference, and religious policy be submitted to the authority of Scripture.

Jesus didn't care one iota about what Hillel or Shemmai said. He wasn't impressed with the social customs of the day. He wasn’t intimidated by the personal preferences of His own disciples or anybody else. He was interested in what God's Word had to say about the issue. If I could convince you to do anything at all today I would implore, I would plead, I would beg you to tear a page from Jesus' play book. He insisted that every aspect of our lives be submitted to the authority of Scripture.

I think that it’s interesting that Jesus doesn’t really deal with their objections, or their interpretations, or their thoughts, or their ideas.  He simply takes them back to the scripture. Marriage was God’s idea so if we are going to be in a relationship then we need to go back to scripture to figure out how to live in that relationship. 

Some of you are thinking, that’s all well and good, but I can’t find the scripture that tells me how to act when my wife or husband hurts my feelings, or embarrasses me in public, or just acts like a jerk. What text do I turn to when I’m already carrying 99% of the load and my spouse wants to give me their 1% as well. 

If that’s your struggle this morning, let me share a few scriptures with you that might be helpful. The first one is Luke 6:31 where Jesus says Treat people the way you desire to be treated. 

Or what about John 13:34 Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

And then there is Romans 12:10 Be devoted to one another in love.

And if it’s really stressful in your marriage then maybe you need to hear Matthew 5:44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you! Just a thought!

The next core teaching we see is that Jesus’ intent was to recover God's original plan for marriage: one man and one woman living in a permanent relationship characterized by faithfulness and unity.

Listen again to what he said. Haven't you read 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.

That's a quote from Genesis 1:27 and 2:24. In the first chapter of Genesis, in the creation story,

over and over Moses pauses to let God express His approval of the creation. And over and over God saw that it was good. But then in 2:18 there is an abrupt and unmistakable change in the pattern of approval. The Lord God said, 'It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.'' So God created Eve, Adam's wife.

Did you notice what the disciples said in verse 10? The culture had taken the gift that God provided for mankind back in Genesis 2 and distorted it to the point that the disciples would draw the conclusion, If this is the situation between a husband and a wife, it is better not to marry. How's that for a high view of marriage? These men lived in a culture in which divorce was an accepted way of life for Jewish men. The disciples were shocked that Jesus would take such a hard line and they thought that if marriage was supposed to be a permanent arrangement it might not be a good idea at all.

Our culture continues to distort this idea of marriage. We have forgotten that marriage was God's solution to the only imperfection in all of creation. Marriage is God's idea and it is a good idea. And His plan is for one man and one woman to live in a permanent relationship, to live in faithfulness and in unity. 

The Third core teaching we need to noticed this morning is, Little things left unresolved will become big things.   

Jesus didn’t deny that Moses gave instructions on divorce, but He explained why, because of the hardness of your hearts. Marriages are frequently damaged not by big things, like infidelity or abuse or abandonment. Usually Marriages suffer because of the little things: criticism, lack of respect, and taking each other for granted are like a small pebble in your shoe. At first it’s a bit inconvenient but it would be more trouble to stop and get it out then it would to go on. But what happens is eventually the pain becomes so great that the whole body breaks down.

In many marriages little things become big things and begin to rip away at the relationship as partners begin to pick at each other. They nurse their hurts and become paranoid about what the other means when they speak. They overreact and speak angry words that should never have been spoken. This is exactly what King Solomon is talking about when he writes Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom. (Song of Solomon 2:15) Solomon knew that little problems can fester and destroy even the best of relationships. 

I know marriage is hard, but God expects us to stick with it. Our marriage relationship is to reflect the love between Christ and the Church; the same love, commitment, kindness and forgiveness. All marriages have their tense moments, and some have more than others. All homes have problems, some are relatively small and some are more serious. The serious problems are sometimes denied and therefore unresolved, and at other times the conflicts are an obvious and open wound. But in spite of how bad things might be, the good news of Jesus Christ is that we do not have to remain like we are. We can change personally and our marriage relationships can change as well. Even though they have been destructive, they can become redemptive. Jesus is in the business of changing lives and marriages.

Some of you this morning are contemplating giving up on it. You're tired of working at it. I beg you, try again.

Some of you feel you don't love your spouse any longer. You can't imagine ever loving them again. The very thought of their touch or their voice sends shivers up your spine. I beg you, try again.

Some of you have gone even further, you're thinking about contacting a lawyer. Or you've already done it. I beg you, try again. It isn't just my pleading. It is God's will for your marriage to last.

There was a time in my marriage when Trista and I hit a wall. We allowed our jobs to take more of us than we were willing to give, we weren’t sleeping or eating well. And we had very little energy or time to spend working on our marriage. During that time if you would have asked either of us if we wanted to stay married we would have said, Let me think about it.

We had to take a step back and both of us had to make the intentional decision that a family is worth fighting for and not worth fighting with. We went back to dating again, trying to get to know one another before we could figure it out. We started doing all of the little things for one another that we first did when we were dating to try to rekindle those feelings of love and compassion. We decided that we would stop taking one another for granted, I decided to hold her hand more, to open the door for her instead of closing it behind me and letting her fend for herself. We made an effort to only say things that were compassionate, and loving. We decided it was time to practice the art of forgiveness, and let stuff go that we had been holding on to for far to long. Today, things are not perfect, it’s still a work in progress. But what we have learned is that the benefits that we get from our marriage far out weigh the work that we put into it.

I am indebted to marriages that allowed Trista and I to get an inside view of how marriages work. The Cassidy’s, The Barber’s, The McKay’s, The Loftis’, The Mitchell’s, and the Temple’s all pulled the curtain back on their marriages and walked with us when life was difficult. They allowed us to see how marriages work for richer, or poorer, in sickness and in health. For families to work, they must be protected with love, because a family is always worth fighting for.   

Questions To Consider

What do we learn in marriage that we learn nowhere else?

Read Ephesians 5:25-32. What is this saying about marriage?

How does Christ love the church? List several adjectives. How should this affect the way we relate to each other?

Why can we have hope, even when there is a serious problem in our marriage?

Why is it that more people are living together today than ever before? What are the barriers to marriage?

Why do you believe we resist being known at the deepest level?

Why are we so often more aware of the faults in our mates than their endearing qualities?

How can people break the habit of fighting and quarreling?

How is our marriage a witness to an unbelieving world?

If you were to give a definition of love, what would it be?

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