What makes for a good marriage?
How about learning from Clifford and Marjorie Hartland about what makes for a good marriage?
He was a World War 2 veteran in the British Army and found himself a POW after the fall of Singapore early in the war. He was presumed dead but Marjorie refused to believe it.
According the article on the Mirror’s website (a leading UK newspaper), their daughter Christine was quoted as saying,
“There were 700 men in his regiment when they went out, but only four ever came back. Dad was the last to die from his regiment. In 1942, mum got a letter from the Colonel of the Coast Regiment saying dad was missing, presumed dead. She had the papers to claim a widow’s pension. She absolutely refused to believe it. At the time, she was conscripted to work in a parachute factory in Cardiff Bay. She hated it – it was dirty and rat infested. But every day, on her way to work, mum would go into the church she passed and pray that dad would come home. She lived without him for four years, but she never believed he was dead.”
But Clifford did come home, gaunt and emaciated from life in a Japanese prison camp and they built a life together that lasted to the end.
Christine also said
“They had an incredible marriage. They never, ever argued. Dad idolised Mum, and she adored him When they’d go to a restaurant, dad would eat the same thing that mum ordered. They loved dancing together, and they loved singing, too. Dad had been a choirboy at Gloucester Cathedral.”
They were married 76 years and they died 14 hours apart on July 29, 2014. Clifford went first, he was 101 and Marjorie was 97. July 29th was their anniversary.
(Here is the link to the story http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/inseparable-couple-die-hours-apart-4035320)
What makes for a good marriage?
You ask that question today and you will get a variety of answers.
Words like commitment, love, passion, happiness, and the like will be somewhere in the statements given to you. And they are good words to hear.
But what makes for a good marriage?
The Bible has a great deal to say about marriage. And as I prepared for this message there were many, many passages which I could have used to answer this question about what makes for a good marriage. But when I found our primary text for this morning I thought, “Uh huh, that makes for a good marriage!”
It is a very simple text that we will read in a moment because it describes what I am calling this morning four cornerstones of a good marriage. And before I read it, I want to acknowledge our teens’ input into this message as well.
Several weeks ago on a Sunday night I asked them to list some topics they would like to hear a sermon on. On one of the pieces of paper I was given was this request:
Maintaining a Godly Marriage/Faithfully sharing your life with another.
I am going to do my best to answer that request this morning.
The verse I am referring to is Psalm 85:10
Unfailing love and truth have met together.
Righteousness and peace have kissed! (NLT)
Lovingkindness and truth have met together;
Righteousness and peace have kissed each other. (NASB)
Four words, actually five, are our focus this morning as we consider four cornerstones of a good marriage and what a God honoring marriage needs to have.
Truth (also noted in the NASB translation as faithfulness)
In his book, Sacred Marriage, interestingly subtitled (at least on my edition), “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy,” Gary Thomas says this about a good marriage:
“…the idea that a marriage can survive on romance alone, or that romantic feelings are more important than other considerations when choosing a spouse, has wrecked many a marital ship…Romantic love has no elasticity to it. It can never be stretched; it simply shatters. Mature love, the kind of demanded of a good marriage, must stretch, as the sinful human condition is such that all of us bear conflicting emotions.”
I am going to let Thomas’ words echo this morning as I turn to the five words from Psalm 85:10 and spend the rest of this message using them to look at what I think is the most detailed account of a marriage in the entire Bible – that of Abraham and Sarah.
Their story starts in Genesis chapter 12 and ends with Abraham’s death in the first eleven verses of chapter 25. It takes around 28 percent of Genesis to tell the story of Abraham and Sarah! Joseph and Mary get far less print!
The Biblical record of Abraham and Sarah’s life together is an honest and un-varnished one. There is no spin and there are no publicists who answer questions for them and make things appear to be better than they are.
We are given a close up and personal view of these two very human followers of God. Flaws and all are part of the Biblical narrative. And yet, Abraham and Sarah stayed together for a looong time and we need to see this and be inspired by it! They illustrate that marriage matters!
Now, how do these two people of long ago demonstrate the power of unfailing love?
They stayed together in spite of the choices they made which affected their relationship, sometimes seriously. Of note is Abraham’s fear driven denial of who Sarah was in two different situations for fear of being killed and Sarah taken into the household, more like a harem, of another man – in the first case an Egyptian Pharaoh as we read in the latter half of Genesis 12 and in the second case, noted in Genesis 20, King Abimelek who is warned in a dream to “return this man’s wife.”
Now Sarah is no saint either. In Genesis 16 her impatience for her long promised son flares and so she drags one of her servants, Hagar, into the mix and Abraham impregnates her. The result is Ishmael. Eventually the relationship between the Lady of the House and her servant becomes like sandpaper and Sarah has Abraham kick her out of the household.
By the way, what might we call today this “arrangement” between Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar? Surrogate parenting, perhaps?
So we have a very human married couple. But God’s unfailing love keeps working in them and through them and they continue to love and obey God, though very imperfectly, with a very long, and I think at times, stretched to the limit obedient waiting on Him.
An unfailing love is vital to a God honoring marriage. It is a love which chooses to stick together through thick and thin, when things are going well and when they are not. If we believe that God has called marriage into being for reasons far greater than all the reasons given today, then we have to choose to ask for and cultivate an unfailing love for our spouses. It is a glue that keeps couples together moving forward when it would so easy to say, “I give up and we are done.”
I also think that part of this unfailing love is connected, as the Psalmist connects them, to truth that is vital to marriage.
A couple of situations in Abraham and Sarah’s life illustrate the need for truth but not just the kind of truth we think of when we think “telling what is right.”
The word truth in this verse also can mean:
In both their cases, the issue of truth, God’s truth challenges what I call their “laughing doubt.”
For Abraham we read of this in Genesis 17:17-19
Abraham fell face down; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!” Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.
For Sarah we read of it in Genesis 18:9-15
“Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked him. “There, in the tent,” he said. Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”
Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”
Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”
Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.”
But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”
Truth telling and truth living is part of Abraham and Sarah’s lives and lives together. The importance and place of truth telling and truth living is seen in the reactions to Abraham’s deception about Sarah and in God’s reaction to both person’s laughing doubt.
Truth telling and truth living is vital in all relationships especially a marriage. Above all, God’s truth is vital and necessary in a marriage. For Abraham and Sarah God’s truth came true – a son did come to them, one through whom God’s plan of salvation would eventually come. Remember what Matthew 1:2 says,
Abraham was the father of Isaac,
And you read down the list (all those “begats” in the King James version) and you come to verse 16 that says
and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ…
Truth told and truth lived… in sickness and in health; in plenty and in want; matters in a good marriage.
Then there is the cornerstone of righteousness in Abraham and Sarah’s marriage.
But it is a righteousness declared by God in response to Abraham’s faith noted in Genesis 15:1-6
After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:
“Do not be afraid, Abram.
I am your shield,
your very great reward.”
But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”
Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
Have we who are married ever stopped to consider how powerful and important God’s truth and promises are to us? Can you recall a time in your marriage when God’s truth- in the form of a promise – was all that you hung on to?
Despite their flaws, their deceptions, their impatient actions, and their lack of faith, God’s unfailing love, His truth, and His righteousness was NOT thwarted by them. It was accomplished in spite of and through them.
There is a lesson for us here.
For in spite of our flaws, our sin, our lack of faith, God can use and does use we married people in His mission here on earth.
Married couples are not exempt from helping to fulfill the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. They are just as important as single persons in God’s plans and purposes and single people are just as important as married persons in God’s plans and purposes.
Marriage is one of God’s many ways to help us become more and more like Christ. It is a vital and important relationship. God has made it so from the beginning when He made humanity male and female.
And one of the most important characteristics of a good marriage is that of a righteousness that we cannot manufacture on our own but comes as we yield to the Lord and allow the Holy Spirit to make us in to righteous people. And by righteous people, I do not mean morally snooty people. I mean authentic and God honoring people.
I think that Abraham and Sarah eventually got there. And so can we.
Finally there is the cornerstone of peace.
Having witnessed the birth of my two sons, especially the first one, and especially due to the fact that the possibility of biologically not being able father a child was very high, I think that I can relate to the great joy that Abraham and Sarah had when Isaac was finally born.
But there was not peace in the household quite yet because as we read in Genesis 21, there was a conflict (verses 6-10)
Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.” And she added, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”
The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”
Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael away but, as we note further down in verses 17-21, God does not turn His back on either one of them:
God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer. While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt.
Peace finally came to the Abraham and Sarah’s household but it was a relative peace. I am not just speaking of a peace with relatives I am speaking of an imperfect peace. Some of us with blended families understand this relative peace issue.
It is a peace that is fragile and one that all concerned have to work on keeping. (Even non blended families have this issue, right?)
Look what Sarah’s impatience caused…. Don’t go saying this all was God’s will… I see no proof whatsoever that this desert scene with Hagar and Ishmael was God’s will. None. at.all.
And there still is no peace today in the ancestral home of both Issac and Ishmael.
What do we do then about peace, an imperfect peace, in our marital lives? Some couples, perhaps many couples, are struggling with that these days. There is an uneasy peace because of the results of choices made in the past. Might forgiveness and mercy and grace show up here to “keep the peace,” albeit an imperfect one?
So what does this mean for us this week and this weekend, when romantic love (important as it is) is splashed in red everywhere?
One of the first things perhaps we need to do is throw out one word that is often used in holding up the ideal marriage:
I am sorry if I have hurt your feelings this morning or burst your bubble, but when I hear that term, I wonder, “What is going on that we don’t know about?” And you why I don’t have a perfect marriage? Because I’m in it!
Great and good are good terms and goals to aim in marriage. But perfect? I don’t think so.
Second, if we want to have a God-honoring marriage, these four cornerstones – unfailing love, truth, righteousness, and peace- need to be part of such a marriage. I believe that all four are rooted in God’s character because God is love, God is truth, God is righteous, and God is peace. Furthermore, God’s love, God’s truth, God’s righteousness, and God’s peace must be part of a God honoring marriage. Abraham and Sarah stayed together because of God’s work in these four areas in their lives and marriage and their on-going choice to stay together.
I think that we expect so much out of marriage today and seem to put so little into it. It is more than a right or an institution. It is a deeply intimate, personal, and spiritual relationship that we need to again honor and respect.
To those who are single I say, “Take your time about marriage. It is too important to jump in before seriously considering the deep responsibilities that come with it. Yes, it is wonderful. It is a source of joy, love, and peace. But it is a very serious relational and spiritual commitment.”
To those who are married I say, “We are all still learning how to be married. Let us resolve to let the Holy Spirit in to our marriages and to help us be shaped into and strengthened into people of God who are married and attempt to faithfully serve Him through and in our marriages.”