Relationships 101: Spouse

Pastor Craig Carter

In our current sermon series, Relationships 101, we’ve been learning how to love God, love others, and love ourselves in order to fulfill the Great Commandment given by Jesus. 

In recent weeks we have explored Biblical principles to guide our relationships with God, friends, parents and children. This week, my wife Lee and I are writing together to share some insights about marriage relationships. We’ll go back and forth during this message, so just pretend like you are listening to us as you read.

C: I have a hard time remembering where I was or what I did yesterday, but I distinctly recall exactly what took place 40 years ago on May 22. Lee, do you remember?

L: How could I forget? I officially became a Carter on 5/22/1982.

C: Yeah, you were definitely the first person in our family named Yolanda Cristina Flores Carter. What do you remember about our wedding?

L: I remember we had family and friends from across the country join us for the ceremony that took place at our church home at the time, First United Methodist Church of Fort Walton Beach, FL. 

C: I remember that you had an impressive group of bridesmaids that included an Ivy League PhD along with a future astronaut who made five Space Shuttle flights and spent six months on the International Space Station. 

L: How about your groomsmen? Anything notable about them?

C: None of us have spent time in prison … that I know of or will admit to. 

L: If you had it to do all over again, would you still marry me?

C: Of course I would … what else could I say in this conversation?! But I will say there are some things I wish I had known then that may have better prepared me for what was to come. 

L: I agree. We sure have learned a lot in the past 40 years about marriage from our own experience and from our text for Relationships 101, the Bible.  

C: One of the things Scripture teaches is that marriage is foundational for the family, church, and community. Marriage should be honored by everyone… (Hebrews 13:4 NCV). 

Instead, our society has refined it, ridiculed it, demeaned it, denounced it, discouraged it, and disrespected it. And we’re suffering the consequences. 

But the institution of marriage is so vital to our society that we all need to do whatever we can to promote it by supporting those who are (or will be) married. Even if you’re not married or never intend to be, what we’re going to share may help you support others and pay honor to the institution of marriage. 

The Bible makes it clear that the marriage of one man to one woman forever is part of God’s plan for His creation. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul quotes from the first book of the Bible, Genesis: 

As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way…Christ treats the church. And this provides a good picture of how each husband is to treat his wife, loving himself in loving her, and how each wife is to honor her husband. (Ephesians 5:31-33 NLT, MSG)

The way a husband and wife are to relate to one another is by following Christ’s example of how He relates to His followers. That means we can’t understand marriage apart from the Christian faith. 

Sadly, that ingredient is missing in many marriages and may explain the sad state of matrimony in our world today. It’s why many choose not to be married or if they do, more than half end in divorce. By making it to this 40-year milestone we beat the odds! ☺

L: So what gifts of advice do we have for those who are currently married or considering it in the future? 

1) A Christian marriage is more important than a Christian wedding.

C: I have conducted dozens if not hundreds of weddings. Almost every couple wants the ceremony to be distinctively Christian – led by a pastor, in a church, kneeling for prayer, Scripture read, God’s name mentioned, etc. But unfortunately I find that many people spend more time and energy on their wedding than they do in preparing for their marriage. As a result, God gets left at the altar and they relate to each other apart from Him.

Listen to the guidance Paul gives to couples: Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ … Love [one another], just as Christ loved the church. (Ephesians 5:21, 25 NLT)

L: When we met, we had both strayed from the faith we were raised in. But soon after we met each other, our relationships with Christ were renewed. We got involved in a local church that became our “family.” Then when we returned from our honeymoon we were invited to work with the youth. As our relationship with one another grew and developed, so did our relationship with Christ. As a couple gets closer to God, they grow closer to one another (and vice versa). 

C: It’s worth noting that “it takes two to tango” and some of you know the truth of that statement (may have contributed to disunity or even divorce). So if you’re looking for a spouse, find one that shares your commitment to Christ. And if you’re already married, make Jesus the focus of your lives.

L: We’ve pointed out throughout this series that since there are no perfect people in this world, our relationships with one another suffer, including marriage. So if we’re going to have a truly Christian marriage, we have to address the hurts we inflict on one another God’s way – through forgiveness. The Apostle Paul’s counsel definitely applies to how we need to relate to our spouse: Be kind and loving to each other, and forgive each other just as God forgave you in Christ. (Ephesians 4:32 NCV)

C: Jesus said we must forgive, not once, or seven times, but 70 times 7. I think we passed that milestone well before our 40th anniversary. 

2) Make your spouse your BFF, but not your OFF.

L: I know that BFF means Best Friend Forever, but what’s OFF?

C: Only Friend…

L: Our relationship was birthed through a pack of Air Force friends who spent a lot of time together (e.g. “The Gang”). Then we developed Christian friendships with folks in two different churches. But it was when we moved to Kentucky for Craig to attend seminary that our friendship with one another really began to bloom and take shape. 

We learned to laugh together, cry together … do life together. We developed a deep and abiding friendship that has stood the test of time. We enjoy one another’s company, have common interests (although maybe a little bit too much of it sports-related), and share experiences. I can honestly say that Craig is my best friend…

C: You’re my bestest friend, Lee, but as I like to say, “too much of a good thing ain’t a good thing.” Trouble isn’t far away if we make one another our only friends. We can’t let our spouses become everything to us or they’ll inevitably let us down. 

No one is able to meet every need in another person’s life. So we need to find a balance in our relationship with our spouse. He or she plays an important role, but so should other people. 

L: We don’t have to feel threatened when someone else fills a void in our spouse’s life – though care does need to be exercised in regard to what is shared and with whom (especially when that person is of the opposite sex). 

When it comes to having a BFF, however, it needs to be one another. I think the writer of Proverbs was absolutely on target when he penned these words centuries ago: “Friends love through all kinds of weather, and families stick together in all kinds of trouble.” (Proverbs 17:17 MSG) As friends, we have loved each other through all kinds of weather – both bright, sunny days and dark, stormy nights – and consequently, our family has stuck together in all kinds of trouble (for 40 years and counting). 

C: If you’re looking for a wife or husband, find someone you can be friends with. If you already have a wife or husband, develop a deep, abiding friendship with them. As someone has put it, “Happiness is being married to your best friend!” 

L: Amen!

3) You can choose to be right or to be happy. Be happy.

C: It didn’t take me long to learn this principle … the hard way. I love being right but I found that oftentimes it came at the expense of my happiness. I also like winning but again, I discovered that winning and happiness don’t always go together (especially when you have to live with the losing party). 

If marriage teaches us anything, it’s that we can’t always get our way. Negotiation and compromise are essential in marriage … as is just plain giving in. Consequently, I’m not sure I’ve been right or won an argument in decades, but I’m a very happy, happy man.☺Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it! 

L: I feel the same way so maybe we’re ending in a lot of ties … just saying. But you’re right, conflict is inevitable since spouses live in such close proximity. You see, marriage doesn’t solve or create problems, it simply reveals problems. Since we are all flawed individuals, we bump into one another and our “issues” spill over onto the other party. 

We’ve all got issues, which means we can’t run and hide from conflict. We’ve got to address it head on. The difference in a Christian marriage is that we don’t attack one another, we attack the problem. We don’t rant and rave and kick and scream, instead we follow Paul’s advice: Clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience ….Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. (Col. 3:12, 14 NLT)

When conflict is approached with these attitudes, it doesn’t destroy the relationship, it becomes a pathway to greater intimacy. 

Let me tell you from experience, if you sing, I Surrender All, in worship, expect to go home and have God ask you to surrender something. 

C: That’s the truth!

4) It’s okay to change jobs or the channel, but don’t try to change your spouse.

C: Most of us are attracted to someone who complements our personality. I’m analytical, Lee is intuitive. I make decisions based on the data, she makes them by how she feels. I’m always right, she’s always wrong … I mean, I’m always happy, she’s always right!

But while we’re initially attracted to what makes our spouse different, we then spend the rest of our lives trying to change them to be more like we are. The first time Lee called me to tell she locked her keys in the car, I thought it was cute. It’s not cute 40 years later! 

If you’re tempted to try and change your mate, cease and desist. For one, it won’t work (been there, done that). For another, you’re not equipped for the task. You didn’t make him (or her), so you can’t change him (or her). But God can, so pray! (and pray hard!)

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV)

Let me clue you in on a little secret, if you ask God to change your spouse, change will come … but not for them, for you! God can and will use marriage to change us. 

L: God’s #1 purpose in marriage is not to make us happy … but to make us holy. When we grow in holiness, we grow in happiness. It’s a byproduct, not the goal. Life is all about relationships … and love is to be the primary characteristic (loving God, loving others, loving ourselves). 

Marriage is a wonderful laboratory for learning to love, but the chief obstacle to authentic love is our own self-centeredness. Marriage is a life-long course in unselfishness, putting others first. In it, we discover that life is not about me, it’s about us. 

Paul is on-target when he says: Don’t just pretend to love … Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.” (Romans 12:9-10 NLT)

If you truly love and honor your spouse, you won’t try to change them. 

Let me add: I’ve heard couples say, “We’re not compatible.” But the truth is, no two people are compatible because we’re all different. Nobody, including your spouse, is exactly like you or agrees with everything you think, say, or do. In successful marriages, couples learn to be “happily incompatible.” They celebrate their differences and work with them, not against them. 

Instead of seeing your spouse as a “fixer upper” project, celebrate their uniqueness. Rejoice that he/she is not just like you – the world’s not big enough for two of you (and your house is definitely not big enough for two of you!)

5) Make every day your wedding day.

C: On May 22, 1982 you and I stood at the altar of a church and each of us told God and everyone present, “Out of all the other people in the world, I choose you.” To me, the key to a successful, long-lasting marriage is making that same choice every day. 

At practically every wedding I’ve ever conducted, I read a portion of 1 Corinthians 13 – The Love Chapter, as it is known, and I make sure to point out that biblical love is a choice versus a feeling. Then I paraphrase: “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud … Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” (1 Corinthians 13:4, 7 NLT). 

God wants every marriage to last forever and we get one day at time … to choose to love our spouse. 

L: Couples may say, “We just fell out of love,” but the truth is, they chose to stop doing the things that demonstrated true love for another. We cannot control our attractions (feelings) but you can control your actions. Choosing to love creates the feelings of love (and not vice versa). 

Don’t forget that relationships are never stagnant. If you are not growing intentionally in your love, you are growing apart. If you don’t feel the same love you initially felt for your spouse, do the things you used to do. Let him/her know that you still choose them and do a little courting. Pastor Rick Warren was right when he said in a sermon on marriage: “If there was more courting in marriage there would be less marriages in court.” 

C: I like to tell Lee, “If I were looking for a wife today, you’d definitely be in the top 3.” Recently I told her, “Over time, the list has changed, but you’ve always been in the top three” (I’m quite the romantic, huh?)

The truth is, Lee, you always have and always will occupy the top spot. So if you’ll continue to have me, I can eliminate the runners up. I choose you. 

I graduated high school in 1976 and the band, Orleans, released a song that summer that sums up how I feel 40 years into my marriage

We’ve been together since way back when

Sometimes I never want to see you again [every spouse knows that feeling!]

But I want you to know, after all these years

You’re still the one I want whisperin’ in my ear

You’re still the one that make me laugh

Still the one that’s my better half

We’re still having fun

And you’re still the one

I hope what we’ve shared today has been helpful to you (it may make some of you say, “I ain’t ever getting married!”) 

We’re not saying we are the perfect husband and wife but we do think we have the perfect marriage … at least according to our favorite definition: “A perfect marriage is just two imperfect people who refuse to give up on each other.”

Thank you, Lee, for never giving up on me and choosing me again and again.

A prayer from the United Methodist Book of Worship:

O God, our Heavenly Father,

We thank you for the gift of marriage and we pray for husbands and wives today. We are grateful for what you have done in their lives and look forward to your continued blessings in their homes. We praise you for the joys of family life and give you thanks for seeing couples through times of trouble.  

Renew your blessings upon all married persons, even as they renew their love and loyalty to you and to one another. May your Holy Spirit strengthen all marriages, so husbands and wives may remain steadfast in their faith and dedicated in your service. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.