Marriage – Prescription For A Powerful Partnership

Title: Marriage - Prescription For A Powerful Partnership

Bible Book: Ephesians 4 : 26-32

Author: J. Gerald Harris

Subject: Marriage; Love; Family; Home



Today we want to talk about the marriage relationship. What is the condition of your marriage? I hope it is better than the marriage I read about recently. There was this nagging wife who hired a medium to bring back the spirit of her dead husband. When he appeared in a ghostly form, she asked, "Honey, is it really better up there?" Without hesitation he answered, "O, yes. It's much better here that I'm not up there."

Well, today we want to consider the prescription for a powerful partnership. In all of the older forms of the traditional marriage ceremony you encounter these three words, "love, honor and obey." But the truth is that that word "obey" is an anachronism. Before many a ceremony, a bride has taken me over to the side and said, "Pastor, could you leave out that word 'obey?'" And certainly it is an old word.

And I personally would like to take those three words and reinstate them into every marriage ceremony, and apply them to the bride and the groom and change them in this way. The three words would be "do you promise to love, honor and forgive?"

Dr. Leslie Brandt, the great Christian psychiatrist, said that the divorce rate in America would be radically cut if forgiveness were as much a part of marriage as the conjugal bed. Forgiveness - a strong word; a needed word. In fact, a mark of maturity is the ability to forgive and to ask for forgiveness.

I dislike the word "incompatibility." So many divorces today are granted on the grounds of incompatibility. That is a meaningless word. It is a ridiculous word. It is a very poor word. It is a hollow word. Because most divorces are granted, not on the basis of incompatibility. The judge knows it; any discerning attorney recognizes it. Most divorces are granted on the grounds, not of incompatibility, but immaturity. It's one mate or the other saying, "I want my own way. I want to live out my own life. I have a right to myself." It is immaturity.

Now, immaturity is a rampant thing. Some of us have the idea that people get married too early, and we say they are too immature to get married. By the way, what is the right age to get married? Do you know? What if your son or daughter or friend said, "How old do you have to be before you can get married?" What is that magical age in which no longer do you go by separate names, but you can, in a mature way, become Mr. and Mrs.? How old do you have to be? I have the answer for that question. In order to be accurate, let me present it to you in a very accurate way. How old should you be before you get married? When you are mature enough to know whom you are without confusion. When you are mature enough to settle with one person forever without wavering. When you are mature enough to give more than you receive and to share more than you keep. When you are mature enough to love and be loved without reservations. When you are mature enough to invest sufficient energy to cultivate another life other than your own. Young man, young woman, when you reach this stage you have my permission to get married. And you will also have the permission of your parents. The tragedy is that there are some people right here in this worship center this morning - you may have been married five, ten, twenty, thirty years, but you do not meet these standards because of childish immaturity that still runs rampant in your personality and in your marriage relationship. Therefore,   you are thinking about getting a divorce or being separated on the basis of incompatibility when it is on the grounds of childish immaturity.

Love, honor and forgive - three vital words in a marriage. Now, we in America think we know a whole lot about love. We specialize in love and we talk a lot about honor. We honor our national heroes. We are taught to honor our parents. But how little we know about genuine forgiveness -to be able to forgive is a mark of maturity. In fact, a lack of forgiveness is the source of many marital problems.

And, indeed, that prompts me to share with you the first point in the message.

I. The Source of Marital Problems

Some of you may remember the movie that was popular 15 or 20 years ago. I noticed that it was being shown on one of the cable channels not long ago. I did not see the movie, but I remember reading the reviews. I am acquainted with the story. I am convinced of one thing. The book and the movie "Love Story" was profoundly evil. Why? Not so much that it was immoral as it was amoral. It is profoundly evil because it took something that was evil and it made it look beautiful and warm and alive and appealing. We are familiar with the famous quotation that says "love means never having to say you are sorry."

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "A decent person will never apologize for anything." I cannot think of a more erroneous and ridiculous definition for love than that. In fact, love is the very opposite. If you believe when that movie or book first came out that "love means never having to say you are sorry," and you were married then, I dare say that you are not married today. Because love is the very opposite. It means knowing how and when and where to say, "I'm sorry." It means, "I have to say I am sorry." It means, "I have to ask for forgiveness." Forgiveness is very, very important in a marriage relationship. It is important because men and women are different. God created us male and female. We are different. Do I have to tell you that?

Men generally miss this fact, believe it or not. Physically they can see the difference, but so many of us gentlemen haven't come to terms with the fact that emotionally women are radically different from us. It is little things in the marriage relationship that really disturb women, and therefore become a sort of cancer in the marriage relationship.

A lot of people have an idea that it's those big problems that break up a marriage. Generally that is not true. Big problems tend to bring us together. Big problems bind us together. Big things like the husband losing his job or one member of the family having declining health. Perhaps there is a sick child or the death of a loved one. These big, overwhelming problems tend to unite marriage and cause one mate to lean on the other mate. But it's those little problems that can ruin a marriage.

Solomon, the writer of the Song of Solomon, or the Song of Songs (By the way, the phrase "Song of Songs" means that Solomon was saying "this is the best stuff I have ever written - the Song of Songs. It is the best song; it's the best tune that I have ever sung"). So right there in the second chapter of the Song of Solomon you will find some romantic language, some words of intimacy and affection. It's the words of a very wise lover and husband; a godly man talking to his wife in beautiful tones, in bedroom tones literally. Right in the middle of this soliloquy, in the midst of these words of endearment to his mate, we read a strange verse. He says, "We have to beware of the little foxes that spoil the vineyards." It is the little foxes that snip and undercut the vineyard of the marriage and destroy the foundation and the structure of the marriage. It's the little things, not the big things. It's the little irritating things that accumulate, the little idiosyncrasies, the peculiarities, the aggravating things - these are the little foxes that spoil the vineyard. We know this in our own marriage.

You know, my wife and I are different in a lot of things. I am basically a night person. And until recent years I really hated to get up in the morning. I just despised getting out of bed. And for many years when I got up I was slow, and I was sluggish. And then, of course, about the middle of the afternoon my heart begins to beat. And then about nine o'clock at night something begins to happen to me. A new surge of energy comes into my being and I am ready to go. About twelve o'clock, I am warmed up. I can read and study and think and move. Boy, I am alive! Now, for all of those years my wife would get up early in the morning. She was the kind of person who would shake the rooster and say, "Crow!" During those first 20 years of our marriage, when it got dark at night she thought it was time to go to bed and go to sleep. Now, we have sort of moderated that and compromised on our chronological clocks. But you see, we were like that for years, and it was proof that opposites attract. But sometimes those opposite personalities cause little irritations to surface.

I read where one lady said she believed that the leading home breaker in America today was the thermostat. She advocates that every engaged couple should be locked together in a room for eight hours with a thermostat to see how they are going to get along when they get married. She gave her own testimony, and she said this. "When my husband and I were married, on our wedding night we checked into the hotel room and immediately he went over to cut on the air conditioning." I said, "It's already chilly in here. Why did you cut on the air conditioner?" He said, "It's already 90 degrees in here and it's August." She said, "I went into the bathroom and I got ready and put on a long sleeved   flannel gown and matching flannel boots." She said, "It has been that way throughout our whole marriage. He comes home from work and he makes a beeline for the thermostat. He goes over there and says, 'What are you doing in there? Trying to keep orchids or manufacture bacteria?' and he cuts it down." She said, "I always counter by putting on a sweater and lighting the oven." She says, "He moves over there and opens the front door and puts on some jogging shorts." She says, "I go plug in the frying pan to warm my hands and put on a scarf." She said, "He counters by putting some Coke over ice and sits down to eat and takes his shirt off at the table." She said, "I counter that by taking a hot pad and putting it over my shoulders so we can talk around the evening meal." "Now," she said, "I have been trying to get up enough nerve all these years to leave him because I know that we can't live with this kind of conflict, but I can't decide which coat to take with me when I go." She said, "If I ever decide which coat to take I am going to leave him there to his own devises with his thermostat." So, do you see what I am saying? It's the little things.

You know, my wife and I for years had a different heat index. And this is something else that has changed in the last few years that some of you will understand. But for years I was hot natured and she was basically cold natured. So one year for Christmas I gave to her an electric blanket. We used the blanket and, truthfully, one night somehow the controls got reversed. The control on my side was really controlling her side. And the control on her side was controlling my side. I got in bed and all of a sudden it was warm, so I cut the thermostat down a little bit. She got cold, and so she turned my thermostat up. I really got hot, and so I turned it down. She cut it up, and I cut it down. And by morning I had been baked alive. I was red all over. Now, the point is, it's the little foxes. It's the trivial things. It's not the big overwhelming crisis kind of thunder and lightning with drums and cymbals - it's the little foxes that irritate, that build up all of this tension. And because men and women are emotionally and physically and psychologically, and even spiritually different, so many times we need to recognize this. Therefore, forgiveness and patience is very, very important.

Now, that is in a shallow area, but we move to another area as to why forgiveness is important. And that is because nobody is perfect in this world. Did you know that? Nobody is perfect. I think a part of our fallen nature, a part of the original sinful nature in your life and in my life, is the idea that we're going to find a mate, and that man or that woman is going to be perfect. But there is no such person. Forgiveness helps us to understand that. But a lack of forgiveness is the source of marital problems.

II. The Stages of Marital Problems

Now, as we look at the stages of problems in a marriage, I want us to look at our text and see what Paul has to say. There is a progressive nature here to marital problems, to a marital conflict or to a marital argument. Paul begins in Ephesians 4, and he says, "Don't let the sun go down on your wrath." What does that mean? That means when you and your mate get into an argument, don't let a lot of time go by. Time is important. Deal with it before it gets dark; before you go to sleep at night.

Because when time goes by, everything spreads and it gets out of proportion. So it's important that we keep this tender heart. Now, there are stages in a marital problem, or there are stages in an argument between a wife and her husband.

A. Stage One - The Wounded Heart

Stage one I would call the wounded heart. "You've hurt me; you've let me down; you didn't treat me fair; you know I'm wounded." This is stage one. "I'm hurt; I'm wounded; I'm a martyr. O how terrible it is. I can't believe it." You know, we can express this truth with anger or violence or with just a kind of a whipped dog look. "My heart is wounded. You wounded me. I can't believe it. I never thought you would do that." The wounded heart, that is stage one. But, you see, if we keep a tender heart here  and we don't let the sun go down on our wrath, we come through this wounded heart stage in pretty good shape, and there is healing and there is forgiveness.

B. Stage Two - The Cold Heart

But so many times we move to stage two, and we go from the wounded heart to the cold heart - icy cold. That is stage two: "I am wounded. I am hurt." Now, "I forgive you, but I haven't forgotten it. I bear everything and I am cold."

I heard about two friends who met on a street down town one evening, and they had not seen one another for years. And they decided to sit and exchange stories of the past. They were not aware of how quickly the time was passing. Finally they left for home, but both of them were a little fearful of what their wives would say about their coming in so late. The next day they met again, and one asked, "How did your wife take your coming in so late?" The man said, "O, I explained it to her and it was     all right. What about your wife?" He said, "Well, when I came in my wife got historical." His friend said, "You mean hysterical, don't you?" He said, "No, I mean historical. She brought up everything that has happened in the past thirty years." Sometimes that happens. Your mate just remembers everything bad that happened in the past. Because of that there is a coldness. There is a dagger there. There is a barb there. There is a legalism there. There is a pietism there. You see, we go from the wounded heart to the cold heart.

C. Stage Three - The Hard Heart

But then there is another stage. Paul let's it progress right here in Ephesians 4. He says, "Don't let the sun go down on your wrath." Then he lets God get in the picture, and he says, "Don't grieve the Holy Spirit." Because we go from the cold heart to the hard heart. We are firm; we are set. We know we are right and we are indignant about it. "I'm wounded. I'm cold and calculated." And then, "I'm hard."

Stage three - the hard heart. Under the stage of the hard heart, it's tough to pray, isn't it? I Peter says, "Unless you have a right relationship with your mate, you can't get through to God. It's tough to pray because you've got a hard heart." Now, I have been in stage one, and I have been in stage two. And maybe I have been a little bit in stage three. But I've never been in stage four, because the opposite of love is not hate. Those are two very strong emotions, and I think you can move from love to hate     and back to love fairly quickly. Rollo May, the famous psychiatrist, says that the opposite of love is apathy. That is stage four - the apathetic heart. "I'm wounded; I'm cold, cool, calculated. I'm hard." And then, "I'm apathetic. I don't care. I don't feel. I don't have any emotions to hate any more. I am just paralyzed. I'm out of business. Love has died. I don't feel anything." That is an exceedingly deadly stance for any mate to take.

I wonder, no I don't wonder, I know there are husbands and wives here this morning that are in various stages of conflict. Wounded! Cold! Hard! Some tragically apathetic! What do you do about it? That brings us to our final point.

III. The Solution to Marital Problems

A. Go to the Cross

What do you do about it? First of all, stand beneath the cross of Jesus. Go to the foot of the cross, there is level ground. And remember that He died for you. Stand at the foot of the cross. That's the first thing that you do.

B. Claim Forgiveness

The second thing that you do is apprehending the forgiveness, the fresh forgiveness and cleansing of God in Jesus Christ, claim it for yourself. Be forgiven, be healed. For your part in the problem, become whole again.

C. Surrender your Will

The third thing that you do is give to God your will. Did you hear me? Give Him your will. Say, "I am willing to forgive." I'm not talking about feelings. That's God's part. Feeling is the Holy Spirit's part. But you, first of all, have to say, "God, I am going to give you my will in this matter; in this debate; in this conflict; in this hard-hearted, cold-hearted, apathetic-hearted situation. Whatever, I am going to give you my will." In time the Holy Spirit will begin to work and feelings will begin to come back and be restored. So that's the third thing. Give Him your will.

D. Communicate with your Mate

Then, number four, you begin to communicate with your mate. You confess your part, your guilt, your role. Because, you see, through all of these stages as they have developed, hardness has set in. Coldness has set in. Old damaged emotions have surfaced. Old sins have come to haunt us. So we confess our role in the problem. We begin to talk. Now, at this point I would say, don't push your mate. You may be asking to be forgiven, or you may be forgiving, but don't push at this point.

Be patient. Let them come along. And when they come along with love and response and embrace - maybe they say, "Give me time." Whatever they say, give it time. And then there will be that moment of beginning again.

E. Pray Together

Then you'll come to the next part of the solution. That is number five - praying together. When you pray, don't pray, "O Lord forgive me and forgive my wife." Don't do that. Don't confess anybody else's sin when you pray. You have got your hands full with old number one. Pray with your mate and the Holy Spirit will let you know about all of those things that you need to get right before His throne of grace and forgiveness. That's the fifth thing that you do.

F. Forgive Yourself

The sixth thing that you do is that you forgive yourself. Now, we can go take old things and pick them up and beat our mates over the head with them. But we can also take old sins in our life and beat our own self to death with them.

Bruce Larson tells the true story of a Catholic priest living in the Philippines, a much loved man of God who once carried a secret burden of long past sin buried deep in his heart. He had committed that sin once many years before during his time in seminary. No one else knew of this sin. He had repented of it, and he had suffered years of remorse for it. But he still had no peace, no inner joy, no sense of God's forgiveness. There was a woman in this priest's parish who deeply loved God, and who claimed to have visions in which she spoke with Christ and He with her. The priest, however, was skeptical of her claims. So to test her visions, he said to her, "You say you actually speak directly to Christ in your visions. Let me ask you a favor. The next time you have one of these visions I want you to ask Him what sin your priest committed while he was in seminary." The woman agreed and went home. When she returned to the church a few days later, the priest said, "Well, did Christ visit you in your dreams?" She replied, "Yes He did." "And did you ask Him what sin I committed in seminary?" "Yes, I asked Him." "Well, what did He say?" "He said, 'I don't remember.'" This is what God wants you to know about the forgiveness He freely offers you. When your sins are forgiven, they are forgiven. The past is gone, dead, crucified, remembered no more. What God forgives, He forgets. So you don't have to beat your own self to death with your sins. If they are confessed and repented of, they are forgiven and forgotten.

Do you know what forgiveness is? Forgiveness isn't saying, like one husband said, "My wife knows I'm having an affair, but she doesn't care. She says it's okay with her." That's not forgiveness.

Forgiveness is not saying, "O, it's all right." It's not saying, "Let's just forget about it" or "let's not talk about it." It's not just painting it over or putting on those rose-colored glasses.

Let me tell you what forgiveness is. Forgiveness is taking the pain and the shame and the guilt of another person and burying it within yourself. Forgiveness always involves a cross. It's taking all the shabbiness of someone else, coming to terms with it, taking it in yourself and burying it in your own life. And that's painful. Therefore, there is no such thing as cheap grace. It is exceedingly expensive to forgive.


A man was in the army of occupation in Europe. He came back home. His wife discovered some letters that he had been receiving from a woman he had lived with while he was stationed in Europe. He suspected she knew. He went to her and confessed and began to go into all of the details. The man said, "Finally she stood up and she said, 'O, I can't stand it. I can't stand it. She just spread her arms and began to cry and lament, and she walked across the room.'" He said, "I was sitting on the bed and I saw that her arms made a shadow. And I looked on the wall and there was the shadow of a cross, and I knew that my wife was being crucified because of my sin." He said, "I just fell face down on the floor, and I said, O, God what have I done? What have I done?" He said in a minute his wife came over, put her hands on his head and kissed him on top of the head, and said, "O, John, I forgive you. I forgive you." He said, "At the same time I heard another voice, and I felt another hand touch my heart. And the voice said, 'I forgive you too. Go and sin no more.'"

But that's not all of the story. Do you know what that wife did? She kept those letters of evidence and she put them in her secret drawer and locked it up. All those letters from that girl in Europe. She kept them there. She didn't mention them, but she knew they were there so that if anything ever came up she could go and get those letters, and she could say, "I've got the goods on you, buddy." But then one day she was reading in the Phillip's translation the verse that says, "Love keeps no account of evil." She thought of those letters. She went and got those letters. She put them in the fireplace, put a match to them and watched them burn. She said as they began to burn she almost heard a satanic voice say to her, "Hey, that's the evidence. You are burning the evidence!" She said, "I answered and said, ‘Thank God, that's exactly what I am doing.’"

"Love keeps no records of evil."

What's the secret of a dynamic marriage? There is the prescription for a powerful partnership. Let me give you a verse. I guarantee you it will work. You don't need even ten verses. All you need is the 2nd verse of Ephesians 4. It says, "Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you." Well, there's knowing how and when to say I'm sorry. I'm sorry.

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