If I Only Knew Then… Marriage by John Burke

If I Only Knew Then… Marriage | August 12, 2012 from Gateway Church on Vimeo.

At Gateway Church in Austin, John Burke shared the following insights on marriage.

“Scripture records wisdom from God about the human experience, and God cares most about our relational world. I’m going talk about some of the things no one tells us before marriage, but if we’d known, it could help lead to something wonderful. Our society gives us a picture of love and marriage that leads to some poor expectations and very unrealistic demands.

What does it take to have a love that lasts, a love that endures, a love that produces a joy and friendship, a partnership and adventure that is far better than what society seems to offer?

1. Marriage is entering a war zone. A battle is not the picture we have of marriage. Marriage is not a battle against each other—it’s a battle to love each other while enemy forces are trying to destroy that love at every turn. If you don’t see this, you’re going to get ambushed, and that’s why ½ don’t survive.

Marriage is part of much bigger Epic Story than you’ve ever imagined. It’s a Love Story—not just your love story, a far grander love story that you’re love story is part of. The setting of this love story is war. The story of God begins with a marriage and ends with a marriage. In Genesis 1 & 2, you find the first couple coming together in marriage. Jesus 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 flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’ (Matthew 19:4-5)

The goal of marriage is two people become one spiritually, emotionally, and physically. They don’t lose their individuality or personality or differences. They learn to value those things and love that person as much as they do themselves until her thoughts matter to me as much as my thoughts. His dreams matter as much as her dreams. How she feels matters as much as how I feel. We are together, unified, back to back, fighting for each other’s best.

Marriage is not the ultimate end. It’s a symbol intended to point to a much greater love – an Epic Love Story far greater than any we’ve ever imagined. The whole Story of the Universe is God’s Love story for humanity. Maybe you’ve never considered this, but marriage is ultimately about God’s marriage – not yours. The reason God’s so invested in your marriage is because it’s a microcosm—a little picture of His marriage to come. God is wooing his Bride. His Bride consists of all willing humans who will say ‘Yes’ to Him in love, so that he can bring us all together in a perfect unity, perfect oneness, not losing our uniquenesses or
distinctions, but live together in love with each other and the One who Loves us most.

That’s why God says through the Jewish Prophet Isaiah: ‘The LORD will take delight in you, and your land will be married. As a young man marries a young woman, so will your Builder marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.’ – Isaiah 62:4-5

God intended marriage to be a temporary picture of a Greater Relational reality to come. Which also means that if you don’t get married, you’re not actually missing the Love Boat. In fact, Jesus and Paul and Isaiah indicate there’s something even better to come that may be more available or accessible to you if you’re devoted to God like you would be that spouse.

‘[To those] who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters…that will endure forever.’ Isaiah 56:4-5

Better than sons and daughters? That’s a motivation to honor God even if it’s hard. There’s something even better than marriage, even better than sex, all that’s just pointing toward a greater relational reality to come.

2. Marriage is a lesson in giving, not getting. The world’s whispers lead us astray. Most people enter marriage to get something—I want someone to make me happy, cure my loneliness, heal me, make me whole. As Tom Cruise said, ‘You complete me.’ No person can complete you. Jesus was complete as the perfect human, but he never married. When we put that expectation on another person, we’re saying to them, ‘I expect you to be God’ because only God can make us complete, whole, lacking nothing.

If you don’t learn to be happy in who God made you to be, you’ll make someone else miserable trying to get happiness from them. If you can’t be alone and feel secure, you’ll find it’s far lonelier to be married than single. If you don’t seek God’s healing but expect a person to heal you, you’ll infect both of you. Marriage doesn’t work if you’re trying to get something from a human that only God can give. It works when you learn to receive a love and security only God can give, so that you can give to the other. Then you receive more than you give. Love doesn’t come from getting, it comes from giving. Marriage is a lesson in giving–even to the point of death. God took the lead and showed us what true love does:

‘Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord…For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her.’ – Ephesians 5:21-25

Think of how messed up our view of marriage is. We bristle at the word submit. We’re ready to fight against it, but notice it’s mutual. Husbands and wives are to submit themselves to one another. You don’t make another person submit, they choose. And what’s the choice? Well, the opposite of submit is to dominate—to overpower, to force your will. The picture is modeled by God himself—laying down his life, sacrificing himself for our good.

How many people enter marriage prepared to put the other person first, and even lay down their lives for the other person?

That’s what makes marriage last, and that’s also what makes a healthy marriage possible. That’s the irony. When we stop demanding that they love us like we expect, and we give our lives away to love our spouse, we get the love we could never take. That’s how love works. Love comes to those who give, not to those who take.

3. My job is to change me, not my spouse. If you don’t understand that Marriage is an Epic battlefield, where God wants to teach us to Love with His self-sacrificing love then we will forever be trying to change our spouse to be what we think we
need. You can’t change another person, unless they’re in diapers. So don’t try.

This is where so many marriages go wrong. It’s actually kind of funny to watch because it’s so predictable. The couple while dating is full of the romantic intoxication that distorts their senses. They both think, wrongly, ‘If I can just get her/him to marry me, everything will work out.’ Both are willing to overlook all kinds of idiosyncrasies, bad habits, annoying patterns, even destructive tendencies—all with the hope of ‘I Do’ landing them in Happily Ever After Land. Then they get married. And suddenly everything changes. Now that she’s MY wife, now that he’s MY husband, all those annoying things reflect on me.

So what’s the real problem? The real problem is a false identity. Gaining our worth from others more than God. We somehow see ourselves, our self identity not rooted in God and our relationship to Him. We view our identity as dependent on that other person’s behavior and how others view us!

If you try to fix your spouse, it backfires. The only way people change is when they feel fully loved, accepted, supported, encouraged so that they are no longer afraid to be wrong, judged, or condemned. That’s why God not only takes the lead to sacrifice himself for us in love, but uses that to forgive and set us free forever from condemnation. As a result, we can allow God to change us into what He created us to be.

Healthy marriages come when both spouses say: ‘My job is to let God change me. Changing my spouse is not my job.’

4. Sex is a barometer, not a thermostat. Society tells us sex is a thermostat; it controls the atmosphere. If you have good sex, you’ll have a good relationship. That’s the Hollywood message, right? But Hollywood didn’t invent sex, neither did sexpert Dr. Ruth, as old as she is. God made up the idea of sex. God intended it to be a gift to a married couple, intended for pleasure, not just procreation. Sex is a barometer, not a thermostat. A barometer doesn’t control the atmosphere, it just tells you what the atmosphere is like. Sex can’t make a marriage great (or every Hollywood marriage would stay together), but it does tell you what the marriage atmosphere is like.

God intended sex to be a beautiful, physical expression of the life-long, committed, self-sacrificing Oneness that healthy marriages are aiming for. It’s a physical reminder that union, togetherness, oneness in mind, emotions, and body, sealed in a secure, safe, life-long commitment that reflects God’s commitment to never leave, never forsake.

That’s why sex outside of marriage doesn’t help—it hurts. It’s taking what God intended to be a human representation of his committed, unconditional love that will never leave or forsake you, and it’s using his gift for our own selfish purposes—to feel good, to feel secure, to try to coax a commitment—but it doesn’t work. It doesn’t get us lasting, lifelong, love or even growing sexual satisfaction. If you’ve gone down that road, God will forgive, and God can heal, but you need to change your heart and mind about what it is or isn’t.

We’ve done lots of series on this before—go on message archives and find them, but what I want to say is this: God likes sex. Sex is good, and married couples should do it often. A whole book of the Bible is devoted to the celebration of sexual love in marriage. I’m not going to tell you which one, you’ll have to read the whole thing (Song of Solomon).

In the New Testament, Paul says: ‘The husband should fulfill his wife’s sexual needs, and the wife should fulfill her husband’s needs. The wife gives authority over her body to her husband, and the husband gives authority over his body to his wife. Do not deprive each other of sexual relations, unless you both agree to refrain from sexual intimacy for a limited time so you can give yourselves more completely to prayer. Afterward, you should come together again.’ 1 Corinthians 7:3-5

If there’s hurt, shame, insecurity, distrust, inability to talk about it, if you find the moon and the Sun getting closer each month more frequently than you and your spouse—that’s not God’s desire or design. Your marriage is getting attacked, and those sexual struggles are merely indications that there’s some other area of your relationship that needs attention. Sex is a barometer so don’t ignore it. Talk about it, go after it. It’s worth fighting for. We live in a love story set in the midst of a war.

God’s desire is our freedom. In Genesis it says before humanity rebelled against God, the first couple were naked and not ashamed. It was only after we rebelled and said, ‘forget you God, we know what’s best,’ that shame and hurt came in and they hid their nakedness. God’s desire is to liberate you back to the beauty and innocence and playfulness of Eden. Liberation and freedom are God’s plan.

5. It gets easier after the 35th year. Just kidding, healthy marriages will always take work. You can’t ever coast. And no one ever tells you that seasons change, and your marriage will have to change and adapt. You may have a picture perfect marriage, and then you have kids—BAM, everything changes and you’re thinking, “When do we go back to normal?” You know the answer yet? NEVER! You two will have to change because it’s never going back to the way things were. If you prioritize making time to grow and not just coast, you’ll find yourselves growing closer even through the tough seasons.

Your marriage matters—it’s worth fighting for. It was never meant to be your love story alone, it’s part of an Epic Love Story in the midst of a battle. So don’t fight each other, fight your common enemy, rely on your common strength—the love of God, because ultimately, Your battle is about the cosmic battle, your marriage is about His marriage, Your love is about His love.”

To watch or listen to this message or the one I shared on Dating, go to www.gatewaychurch.com/podcast.

  • Margaret

    Like the image of a barometer instead of a thermometer. To know if a marriage is healthy or not, all you have to do is check that barometer!

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