“Tempering is a heat treatment technique applied to ferrous alloys, such as steel or cast iron, to achieve greater toughness by decreasing the hardness of the alloy” (Wikipedia). I refer to this as an analogy to the process of God perfecting His love in us toward others, especially for our spouse. We often resist the “heat treatment” process God take us through to develop His character in us. But He allows testing to strengthen relationships rather than weaken them.
Of all the character qualities God is honing in us, love is the most difficult. In its true sense, love is a quality that gives sacrificially to someone else we value, whether we think they deserve it or not. God teaches us this quality because of the image God has placed in human beings (Genesis 1:26).
As we have noted before, the marriage institution is designed to be a direct reflection of the Creator. Therefore, love must start at the level of God’s design, “agape – sacrificial love”. Our culture and experience has influenced our understanding of love so that it is degraded to a point that the word is used with no personal commitment behind it. Please read the following verses and honestly allow the Holy Spirit to convict you of areas in your love for your spouse that need surgical repair. Ask Him to renew your mind and heart with this truth, and then put it into practice.
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4–7).
Among so many principles that apply to marriage, I think true forgiveness toward the other person is a serious test of what a marriage is made of. Though as believers in our Lord Jesus, we have received the greatest act of forgiveness by God through His Son, we seem to have a very hard time forgiving each other on a horizontal level. Why is this?
Paul addresses this issue in a general sense when he says, “bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:13, also Ephesians 4:32). When someone says to me, ‘I can’t forgive so-and-so because…’, I ask them to read this verse in its context. Then I ask, ‘what if God said the same to you because of all your sins against Him?’
God’s forgiveness toward us is very humbling and makes us realize that forgiving another imperfect person is far different than a perfect God forgiving a sinful man or woman. Put in that perspective I can understand why Paul put the two situations in contrast to each other. I want to forgive my spouse considering what God has done for me. This requires showing forgiveness in my attitude toward the other person. This springs from the heart, not just mouthing words that are empty. As a child of God, I have the same basis to forgive another person as God had in forgiving me – His Son! This test will show how we are drawing from the grace we have in Christ for our marriage.
“A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.” Ruth Graham
As we have observed from previous blogs, God designed marriage to reflect Himself as the creator. But this unique opportunity is not forever. Testing the Lord about the resurrection state, the Sadducees tried to put Jesus in a corner about marriage in heaven.
“And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection” (Luke 20:34–36).
We understand from this text that God intended marriage to be an institution for our time on earth. In the “age” to come, the resurrection, when God will gather His children “and we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17), there will no longer need to be a public witness to the world of what marriage represents because it will have its fulfillment in the marriage of the Lamb (Revelation 19:6-9). This places all the more extreme importance on our marriages now. You and I have only this one opportunity to get this principle right and with the Spirit’s help, and reflect the Designer.
“We were made to admire, respect and love someone who has a purpose bigger than ourselves, a purpose centered on God’s untiring work of calling His people home to His heart of love.” (Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage, Zondervan, 2015, page 243)
In speaking with a couple the other day about some difficulties they were facing, I discovered that they never pray together. My mind immediately went to Peter’s first letter where he addresses wives and husbands and their relationship with each other and its impact on their prayers. He is very concerned that “husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way…since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7).
Notice the emphasis in this verse is unhindered prayers. The way that we live with our spouse through God-given understanding and as a joint grace from God, is in view of living together centered around God in prayer. This sort of intimacy is a two-way street, ass we seek the Lord to give us understanding about our spouse so He will give us His grace to live in “love which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:14). Prayer is a special glue that holds us in intimacy, first with the Lord, and then with each other.
It would take pages to list all the things, attitudes and pride we allow in our marriages that hinder us praying together. Yet, this is the very habit that does the opposite. The more husbands and wives come together for the purpose of depending on God for every detail of life, and thanking Him for what He has already done, the more we will experience God answering our deepest needs through prayer. Prayer is not limited to a certain time of the day, a certain place or posture. It is open to all of us 24/7!
When was the last time you and your spouse spent time in God’s presence?
So many books, poems and songs have been written on the subject of love, in marriage and other relationships, that no one would be able to read or sing them all. There is one description of love that surpasses all of them put together. You may be familiar with Paul’s exhortation, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).
I can tell you from personal experience that there is a major disconnect between reading this verse and applying it to our lives. Most are okay with the “love your wives” part, but to give up myself in sacrificial service for her is little understood by me or anyone else. We live in a very self-centered world and this attitude has affected most in the church. Our priorities have become so messed up that we will put a hundred things before we consider serving our wives in this way.
Earlier in this chapter, Paul gives the same example, but in a more general sense. “Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (5:1-2). Notice that the principle of love and sacrifice are not confined to marriage. The word “walk” is an “active imperative” that requires a continual behavior in love by giving of yourself to serve others. Paul adds that this kid of love is “a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God”. In other words, if this becomes a way of life for you and me, God will have continual worship from our behavior and way of life, not just Sunday.
Yesterday we saw the divine act of God placing Adam into a deep sleep so that He could remove part of Adam, a rib, and form that rib into a “helper…a woman” (Genesis 2:21-22) and then He brought her to Adam. In the marriage ceremonies I have been asked to perform, it is always my intent to point the couple to the presence of God at these occasions. While there are always human witnesses, the primary witness and participant in the marriage ceremony is God who “has joined together” the man and woman.
Again, Matthew and Mark tell how Jesus responded to the inquiry of the Pharisees about their desire to legitimize divorce. He pointed to what God has done; “God has joined together, let not man separate” (19:6; 10:9). It is highly important to see the acting of God in this institution of marriage. While we may perform certain rituals in the marriage ceremony, God is the main player in bringing together a man and woman into a unity that must not be broken. Jesus is very clear about trying to reverse what God has done; “let not man separate”!
Sadly, we see in our day a deliberate attempt to leave God out of the affairs of men, including marriage. The attitude that prevails is, ‘I did it my way’. Then we wonder why there are so many difficulties in marriage and in the fallout from divorce. Many have come to me for counsel and quit very soon because they do not want to return to the Designers plan. I am issuing a clarion call to the church everywhere to return to God’s design for marriage. There is forgiveness for sins of the past to those who repent. If we repent and return, our witness to the world will take a powerful turn. Most of all, God will be glorified and bring blessing to those who honor Him. HE IS BOTH THE DESIGNER AND JOINER!
God’s way of creating man and woman was very different from all the other aspects of creation. Even the “living creatures” were created after “their kind” (Genesis 1:24). The infinite wisdom of God in creating of man and woman, they were not placed in creation the same way any other part of His creation was made (2:18).
“So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (1:27). This image of God placed in mankind is to reflect the character of God in the way they relate to each other. There was no other creature that God took a piece of the first to form the second. But with man, God made sure that Adam’s “helper” was a rib taken from man, a part of man that was nearest his heart and part of his support structure. From that rib “the Lord God …made a woman and brought her to the man” (2:21-22). Though Adam reviewed “every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens…there was not found a helper fit for him” (2:19, 20).
It was necessary for God to “make (Adam) a helper fit for him” (2:18). In response to the perfect design of God, Adam said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (2:23). In that statement, I see some exciting emotions with Adam. We need to recapture those feelings toward our spouse. In the light of this divine act, it should not surprise us that God followed Adam’s words with the command, “and they shall become one flesh” (2:24).
The unity between a man (husband) and woman (wife) was God’s design from the beginning. As this unity is worked out in our marriages, we then reflect the original design of our Creator God, and this glorifies Him. At the same time, we gain renewed joy in God’s design for us.
In a world that largely is living in the present, allowing its desires to run wild for the next best experience that money can buy, God has a very important reminder to those who know Him, or even profess to know Him.
At a time when Israel was just coming out of exile, God gives Isaiah a message to comfort these weary people. To awaken the conscience of God’s people, He asks a series of questions to restart their hearts. “Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 40:21, 28). Even though Israel had changed their hearts a thousand times, God had not changed.
Jesus uses the same approach with the Pharisees to remind them that God has not change His mind or His design for marriage. Even though “Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so” (Matthew 19:8; Mark 10:6). While cars, watches, cloths and a host of other items get redesigns all the time, God is not changing His design to cater to the whims of man on His design for marriage. He has never made a mistake and never will. If only we would realize that our greatest blessing and prosperity is in RETURNING TO THE ORIGINAL!
With the marriage of another granddaughter in three days, my mind and heart is focused on their lives and relationship, having Christ as their center. For that reason, I will draw from a few lessons in chapter six of our training manual, God’s Plan for His Church as material for several blogs.
The importance of marriage as instituted by God is much larger than most think. To put this in perspective, Paul refers to “a man…leaving his father and mother and holding fast (cleaving) to his wife” as a “mystery” (Ephesians 5:31-32; Genesis 2:24). Then Paul explains that marriage of a man and woman is a “profound mystery…and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church”. The “profound mystery” means a ‘great secret doctrine or teaching’ that could only be understood by divine revelation (see Ephesians 3:3). This view of marriage places it on a far higher level than our culture sees it today, or for most of the church for that matter.
God has never deviated from His original plan and establishment of the union or marriage of a man and a woman (Genesis 1:28; 2:24) which He intended to be continued throughout human history. Jesus affirms this when the Pharisees tried to corner Him on the issue of divorce; “But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female” (Mark 10:6). God is not going to change it because of social or cultural pressures or because some do not understand or agree with it.
More on this subject tomorrow, but consider how often we ‘dumb-down’ our understanding of a truth or principle God has established because we do not seek to understand the original design. There is only one way to correct this trend: REPENT AND RETURN!
Hudson Taylor (born 1832), missionary to China (1854 to 1905), faced trials much like Paul. Over time, he arrived at a deep sense of rest in Christ no matter what the circumstances were. George Mueller and Hudson Taylor exchanged many letters and Taylor drew great comfort and courage from Mueller who lived and ministered to orphans by simply trusting in God.
It is said of Hudson that “To diminish one’s comforts seemed to him of small account, but “to diminish our work”- well, thank God, that was something he never had to do! In a letter, Mueller wrote: “My dear Brother, the work of the Lord in China is more and more laid on my heart, and hence I have been longing and praying to be able to assist it more and more with means, as well as with prayer.” (1)
We are growing in our rest in the Lord regarding His work. Often the challenges we face are difficult and require great wisdom and grace from the Lord. But, we also need those who will encourage us, especially through prayer. God is opening “a wide door for effective work…and there are many adversaries” (1 Corinthians 16:9). By the grace of God, we refuse to let money either be a primary concern or the focus of those we work with. Paul didn’t and neither can we!
If you are praying for us on a regular basis, we would like to know that. Please send us an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
(1) Howard Taylor, Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret, Moody Publishers, 2009, page 151.
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