June 11, 2014 Broadcast

Knowing Each Other

A Message by R.C. Sproul

Marriage provides a unique opportunity to know and be known by another person. But true intimacy takes hard work. In fact, many people become satisfied with the status quo and start to drift away from their spouse once the excitement of marriage wears off. In this lesson, Dr. R.C. Sproul gives some road-tested methods that have helped keep his marriage thriving for more than fifty years.

From the series: The Intimate Marriage

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. article

    Bringing Marriage Back to Earth

  2. devotional

    Loving One's Wife

  3. article

    Accepted in the Beloved

Bringing Marriage Back to Earth

Brian Tallman

Determining the church's intersection of and proper degree of engagement with the culture is something that the church has been wrestling with for centuries now. Judging by the number of books on this topic that continue to roll off the presses, it is something she will continue to wrestle with for a long time to come. Perhaps this isn't all bad news. It is the nature of our pilgrimage not to know everything. As pilgrims, we confess we are going somewhere and at the same time that we have not gotten there yet.

Few areas provide opportunity for reflection upon the church's engagement with the culture more than the institution of marriage. The reason for this is that marriage is not something on which the church has a monopoly. Christians and non-Christians, like those living in the days of Noah, eat and drink, marry and are given in marriage (Matt. 24:28). Like the temptation that Paul refers to, marriage is something that is common to all humanity (1 Cor. 10:13). It is part of our culture and not something distinctly Christian. It began before the fall and is thus numbered with the creation ordinances of Sabbath and labor. James F. White gets at this in his description of Christian wedding services:

There are few, if any, occasions more joyful than a wedding. Yet the church's approach to weddings has been a slow and cautious one, always willing to leave most of the festivities outside the church door. Even now the wedding service is a curious amalgam of Christian and pagan elements. The words are an unlikely match of liturgical language and legal jargon. The minister serves as both pastor and civil servant, subject to the canons or laws of both ecclesiastical and civil societies. Weddings are a strange combination of Christ and culture.

John Calvin makes a similar point in his polemic against marriage as a sacrament when he compares it to the ordinary vocations of life: "Marriage is a good and holy ordinance of God; and farming, building, cobbling, and barbering are lawful ordinances of God, and yet not sacraments."

All of this is helpful for explaining why pagans can have good, healthy, strong, culture-making, and society-contributing marriages. To deny this, one also has to deny that those outside the church are capable of good, healthy, strong, culture-making, and society-contributing vocations.

Common critiques of contemporary marriage in the West often include the recognition that marriage has become too sentimentalized. In light of Calvin's comments, I wonder if the church isn't guilty of making marriage too spiritual. That's not to say that there aren't Christian ethics that relate to marriage. Of course there are. Moreover, that isn't to say that there aren't opportunities to model and display the gospel in marriage. There are. But even when Paul speaks of the great mystery of marriage because it refers to Christ and His church, his proof text is Genesis 2:24: "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh," a text universally considered to be referring to the institution of marriage in general and not Christian marriage specifically. Marriage—Christian marriage and non-Christian marriage—point to the gospel.

Is it possible that our over-spiritualization of marriage can be seen in the number of Christian books that come out on this subject? On my desk, I have two new ones I am told are must-reads, not to mention the shelf full of others I already have. I am constantly wondering if I should require a different book for the couples in my premartial counseling— something newer, more relevant and up to date. The author of one new book on the subject says that he read all or part of 187 books on the subject in preparation to write his tome, and that most were written for and by Christians. I haven't looked into it, but if I had to guess, I would bet that most of those were written in the last century.

Is it possible that our over-spiritualization of marriage is evidenced by the number of retreats and conferences offered and attended on this subject by Christians? Is it possible that our over-spiritualization of marriage can be seen by the number of series on the topic that fill our pulpits?

Here's the point. I wonder if we have made marriage more difficult than it really is. I wonder if this is why couples who come to me for premarital counseling are scared to death that they are not going to be ready and that failure is inevitable.

Maybe it's time for us to bring the institution of marriage back to earth. Maybe it's time for us to realize that in this institution we serve God and our neighbor. Maybe it's time we recognize that we are members of Christ and culture. And just maybe, in bringing marriage back to earth, we might come to realize that marriage really isn't all that hard. We might just find that God will bless our marriages and use them to build and shape the culture and as a stage upon which to magnify His grace.

Loving One's Wife

Though we are, in a sense, already declared holy in Christ (we are “saints”; Rom. 8:27), Scripture clearly presents all believers as engaged in a struggle with sin’s presence until they die (1 John 1:8–9). Its exhortations, therefore, are for imperfect people who sometimes fail to meet God’s demands.

Practically speaking, this means that husbands and wives are not allowed to delay obeying God’s commands until their spouses fulfill their own God-given roles perfectly. Wives must submit to their husbands even when they are not perfectly loving, and husbands must love their wives even when they do not submit themselves perfectly. There is no out for wives when their husbands are in a bad mood and no out for husbands on the days their wives are hard to love.

The realities of our sinful world and God’s sole possession of absolute authority also mean that spouses are not required to endure gross, impenitent sin in the name of superficial Christian obedience. Wives, for example, are never called to remain in situations where they or their children are being abused. In fact, staying in such a predicament breaks the Lord’s command for them to submit to their husbands “as to the Lord” (Eph. 5:22). True wifely submission is service (v. 21), and wives are not serving abusive husbands if they refuse to confront their husbands’ gross sins (Matt. 18:15–20), which may mean leaving an abusive situation.

Submitting to the authority of one’s husband, then, is not servile obedience. Neither does it mean the wife must keep silent when she fears her husband is about to make a foolish decision. Good husbands realize this and lead their wives with self-sacrificial love, following Christ’s model by putting the interests of their wives in first place (Eph. 5:25). They do this aware that no matter how much they give up for their wives, Jesus has given up far more for His people. John Chrysostom exhorts husbands: “Even if you must offer your own life for her, you must not refuse. Even if you must undergo countless struggles on her behalf and have all kinds of things to endure and suffer, you must not refuse. Even if you suffer all this, you have still done not as much as Christ has for the church” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament vol. 8, p. 185; hereafter, ACCNT).

Accepted in the Beloved

Burk Parsons

When I begin premarital counseling with a couple in our church, one of the first things we talk about is the purpose of the marriage covenant. I usually astonish the couple when I explain that their marriage is not primarily about them. After the initial shock, the young couple usually just looks at me with blank stares. I then explain that marriage is first and foremost about God and His kingdom (Eph. 5:30–32). We spend some time talking about the creation ordinance to be fruitful and multiply, and I explain that their marriage is intended to bring glory to God as each fulfills his and her covenant role in the relationship. I explain that they are getting married not just to live under the same roof with the same last name, but that their marriage is to reflect the relationship of Christ and His Bride (Eph. 5:25–29). When they understand that truth, they have a good foundation on which to build a loving and full marriage. 

When we begin to realize that salvation is not primarily about us, but about God’s kingdom and His glory, only then are we able to have a right understanding of our salvation. We are not Christians so that we can merely live under the same roof as other Christians, or for the mere reason to be called a “Christian.” We became Christians because God accepted us by adopting us into His family. We were dead in our trespasses and sins, but God the Father made us alive in Christ (Acts 10:35). Though this is quite simple, it is confusing to many who have been duped into thinking they have somehow accepted God as their Father. However, the Word of God is clear; it is not that we have accepted God; rather, He has accepted us into His family. The apostle Paul writes: “…having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:3–6 NKJV).

God accepts us into His family (Ps. 19:14; Rom. 14:3; 1 Tim. 2:3; 1 Peter 2:5), and if it is God who accepts us as His adopted children, it is God who keeps us so that we might be holy and blameless coram Deo. Jesus Christ is our Great Shepherd, and we are His sheep who hear His voice, who follow Him, and for whom He laid down His life so that we would be adopted by the Father only as a result of the Son’s perfect, and completely acceptable, life and death (John 10:1–11).

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