Mark 10:2 – And Pharisees came up and in order to test him – that is, they had ulterior negative motives – they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” That’s a trick question, because they knew that Moses allowed that. So here’s what He said: He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ He’s quoting now. ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
So, we can learn some things from this. A God-based marriage is a close emotional and physical connection between a male and a female – so much so that God says they are to become one flesh. He tells us that, in a God-based marriage, a change occurs – before two, now one. They’re to think of themselves as a unit. And what is good for one is also good for the other, and what’s bad, vice versa. Before two, now one – maybe we could say, “connected at the hip” today. We can notice that a man is to hold fast to his wife. So, it’s God’s position that He joins people together and that we need to make an effort to be joined – to hold fast to one another. And also, we are not to separate couples. So there’s what He had to say.
So what does all this imply? Well, in a God-based marriage, the man and the woman are committed to the relationship, and consequently, to each other.
So I have some points here about the organizing principle of commitment. So we can call commitment the bedrock organizing principle. In every presentation in this series so far, we mentioned the idea of organizing principles in a God-based marriage. So how does commitment organize a marriage?
Well, in recent times past, people would say that they would stay marriage for better or for worse. In other words, no matter what happens, they promise to stick with each other. Now, sometimes people get sick and they can’t live up to the ideal of their role in marriage. And sometimes people lose interest in their mate. I could go on and on and on about difficulties that people have in marriage.
So how does this kind of commitment that God is talking about affect the relationship of the two people in it? Well, it’s what I call the bedrock relationship. It’s so hard to be married because of what reason? Well, Jesus named it. He said, “…the hardness of heart.” So the self-centered, stubborn, self-will, the willingness to give up and quit trying, and sink into self-pity and anger and depression, etcetera – you know, all the thoughts that cause us to want to give up and try again somewhere else – look for greener grass. When we are really committed to keeping our promise to our mate and to God, a number of amazing things happen to defeat all these negatives.
I have eight points here to talk about – the benefits of marital commitment – the way it organizes the relationship.
The first one is the determination to fix the relationship, if it’s not pleasing. No matter how hard-hearted, if both people in the marriage have nowhere else to go, and they’re facing a lifetime of misery, they are motivated to fix the problem – in a way that they would not be if they weren’t committed. If they weren’t committed, they would just look elsewhere. And that’s what people do today. There’s something amazingly positive that happens when we have nowhere else to go and yet have a deep desire for peace and happiness. Once we find the right track, it’s amazing how quickly years of misery can be turned to relief and happiness. I see that quite frequently in my work. The determination isn’t present when we’re not committed.
Okay, second – the creativity to fix the relationship. This desperation, and the idea of a lifetime of it, can generate an incredible amount of creativity, in some people, to fix the problem. But that’s only true of the desperate person. I know this woman, who was married to a good man, but he was completely unaware of most of her feelings. She felt like she wasn’t important to him – so unimportant that he didn’t even try to understand, she thought. She tried and tried and tried to communicate to him how she felt and what he was doing that bothered her. One day she came to my office and explained her dilemma. She was trying something else now. She was going to get some coaching – coaching because he wouldn’t come. She was going to try this and that would be one of the many efforts that she had made, because I asked her what she had tried already. And there was this long list of things that she had done. She had been married for 15 years and she hadn’t found a way to make it happen yet, but she was not giving up. And she had been very creative in the ways that she had tried to get through to her husband. I was really impressed. So I started giving her lessons on how she might be able to reach him, and we would do role playing. Sometimes I would play her husband, and sometimes I would play her, to show her what to do, while she played her husband. She would give me scripts that had actually happened in their relationship. So we were working on the very issues that had occurred. We’d practice something, and she would go home and try the various things that we had worked on, if an opportunity came up. And then the next week, she would come back and tell me about her efforts. She got amazingly good at it. She thought of things and did things I never would have thought of – very creative – and creative out of a desire to be happy because she’s committed. Right? No where else to go. The desperation creates a sense of creativity in some people. If you don’t want it to stay the same, you don’t just sit there and expect something to change. You do something different to try to find something that will work.
Okay, the third point is to be patient. Sometimes we explain and explain and explain to our mate how they may be hurting us, or hurting our children, and they don’t seem to get it. Rather than leaving, we patiently wait for them to get on board, or we realize that we are the problem, but we keep making mistakes. And instead of giving up, we work on it. We’re patient with it. Sometimes it takes people a really long time to hear something. Sometimes they have to grow into it. So, if we’re committed, and we’re not going anywhere, then we’re around when the change happens. But most of the people that leave each other, if the change happens, they’re long gone.
Let’s think about another one. I was talking to a man who had been unhappy for years. Before he came to see me, he had talked to lots of men about his marriage – ministers, friends, marriage coaches. I said, “Wow, that’s quite an effort.” And I said, “What did you learn from all that?” And he said, “Somewhere along the way, the idea hit me that this might be my fault.” And it was and it wasn’t. It always takes two to Tango. Marriage is a dance. It’s a relationship. And we’re always reacting to what the other person does, so it’s a system. But I think you can see how important it was for him to realize – or to, at least, entertain the idea – that he could be part of the problem. Well, what does that do for us – when we start to get suspicious that we might be part of causing the problem? Well, only the most important part. We start thinking about our own motives and our own reactions. And, if we change what we’re doing, our mate will definitely respond to that in some way. Anytime you change, there’s a reaction – an adjustment. And also, when we get to that place – where we start to think about our part of the problem – then we’re thinking about something that we have control over. We can’t change our mate, but we can change ourselves. And we can ask our mate for feedback about what we’re doing, and be earnest about hearing what they have to say. And we can start making changes then that affect the relationship. It always takes more than one person to make changes, and sometimes only one person is willing to do that, but at least we’re working on something that we can do. Most of the time, when somebody accepts the fact that they have caused at least part of the problem, and they start taking steps to correct that, the other person makes changes too in response to it. So that’s always a good thing.
The fifth point that I want to mention is that commitment causes deeper closeness. As we have learned earlier in this series, the thing we all want in marriage is emotional connection. And realizing that we are part of the problem helps us start working with our mate on the problem. And that, in itself, causes deeper closeness. Just the move alone creates increased closeness. In fact, any move to work together on any issue is a step in the right direction, because it puts us in a partner role where we’re cooperating with each other. And that helps us feel connected, which is the thing that we all want in marriage. Remember how we discussed earlier about God’s desire to be close to us? See, it’s all connected. Our relationship with our mate and our children and God, it’s all part of the same thing. He designed marriage so that we could learn how to connect and that He wants that connection with us too.
The sixth thing is a deeper valuing of the commitment comes when we commit to each other. If we live in a relationship that has, underneath it, a total commitment on the part of the two people in it, we begin to see the power of it in other areas of life. If, when we face things that are hard, and we don’t give up, but we hang in there – we keep moving one foot after another, step by step – things always get better. And one of the places that we can learn this in life is in marriage, if we’re committed and if we stick with it. So, I don’t know if many people think about things like that, but everything that I have ever accomplished in my life has, as a part of it, a commitment to stick with it – to not give up – and to keep going. God give us that example. And, if we follow it, and if we value our commitment in marriage, it all starts to make even more sense for us.
The seventh thing is that, when there is a commitment, both partners tend toward God-like behavior. Do you recall that Jesus said, of the written law, that one could keep the seventh commandment by not physically committing adultery? But now, if a person even desires have sex with someone else, they have broken the spirit of the law and stand guilty of adultery. So a much deeper intent of the law is put forth by Christ. But what if a person, miserable in their relationship, but committed – they never divorce – but instead of working to fix it, and being creative, and patient, and determined to resolve the issues, what if they give up and just quit trying, and sink into bitterness and discouragement and self-pity. They just get stuck – stuck in a bad relationship – not willing to leave, because they’re committed, but not applying the effort to make it work either. Isn’t that violating the law as well? Isn’t that giving up on the marriage, instead of working on it? Think about Jesus and His bride. The Bible points us to that relationship, doesn’t it? Paul said it was a great mystery that we and Christ are like marriage. And marriage is like us and Christ – the church, the body. Is the body of Christ the bride of Christ? All of us – the church members, the saints – are we perfect? Not a one of us. Do most of us have huge problems that pull us away from our relationship to our spiritual husband? Well, over a lifetime, most certainly. And what does Jesus do about that? Does He give up on us? Does He not divorce us, but does He just give up and quit trying? Does He go bitter because our pitiful efforts and our uncommitted approach? No! He’s determined! He’s patient! He’s creative as He works His plan to draw each of us ever closer to Him. So we’re not to give up. And we’re not to settle for a sick status quo. We are to persist all of our lives to make our marriage better. Jesus is a committed husband and so should we also be committed to Him and to our mate. It says in Hebrews that Jesus is the architect of our salvation. Does that sound like He sat down on the job? No! He’s always working to help us. It says He’s going to present us faultless before the Father at the resurrection. So He’s working. He’s working on making the relationship work. And so we should be committed to Him and to our mate. And, if we follow His lead in our marriage, we will become more God-like in our spirit, because we’re doing what He does.
Okay, the last one is, commitment helps us grow closer to God and to seek His help. God has provided clues in the Bible to point us toward the organization of marriage – how it should be operated. And He knows where we are lacking and what we need to do. And also, He wants us to be happily married. So, if we ask Him for help, it’s quite likely that He will, in His own time, show us what to do to repair a broken marriage, or what to do make our marriage stronger. I mean it just goes without saying, doesn’t it? God wants good stuff for us, and He wants us to be happily married. He wants us to be successful at the relationship that He has created for husbands and wives.
But there are a lot of “buts” that go with this. “But, but, but what if we have already given up on our mate and divorced? Well, we read where Jesus said we’re really not to do that – and in another place He said, “…except if they commit adultery.” So why would He make that exception? Well, He explained that already too – because we’re hard-hearted. He knows that some of us are so hard-hearted that we would never stop adulterous relationships, and so put our mate at risk. Others of us are so hard-hearted that we would never understand how hurtful we have been in committing adultery, and just think our mate should just get over it and let us off the hook, like it never happened. And others of us are so hard-hearted we can’t find a way to forgive our mate, even if our mate has deeply and bitterly repented. So divorce, it seems, is God’s allowance for our own hard-heartedness. Well, that’s what He said in the beginning. So it’s still the case. But it is not His first choice for us. He wants us to work through our problems. That’s why He tells us to stick with it! And to stick with each other.
Now another big “but, but, but…” is: What if our mate is physically hurtful or emotionally destructive to us or our children? Well, let’s read in 1 Corinthians 3:16.
1 Corinthians 3:16 – Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
So there are His instructions that we are to take care of ourselves. In these cases, a person can leave a destructive mate. In some cases, they may be sinning if they don’t. They’re breaking this edict that we just read. Children must always be protected. And we must protect ourselves. We belong to God. And we cannot destroy our own temple or allow someone to destroy it. We have to take care of it and take care of ourselves. Of course, it’s easy to say these things, but they’re always hard choices. And maintaining a clear attitude is also hard in these times. But, as we are tested in these areas, we grow stronger. And while these situations are terrible to endure, they can also make us stronger in faith and draw us closer to God.
So, not too much to say about this one. It’s so obvious. It doesn’t take much to make the point really. Commitment is one of the most important parts of a marriage to make it last.
This is the last of the organizing principles in this series. We saved the bedrock for last. And yet, we have one more presentation to add, but it’s not an organizing principle. It’s about how the knowledge of these organizing principles can help those who are not yet married see clearly what they need to be looking for in a mate, and what they need to bring with them into a marriage, if they hope for success. So I’ve called that Premarital Considerations. Now we know that our heart is incredibly deceptive and we can think we are God’s gift to the opposite sex, when, in fact, we are a marital train wreck waiting to happen. I meet people like this all the time. They don’t have a clue what marriage is about, and what they need to be happily married, and what they need to look for in a mate, so that they can be happily married to them, or how to be as a mate, so that their mate can be happy with them. So, in the next presentation, we will cover some of that, along with some thoughts about having once found someone to marry, how to get the marriage off to a good start.
If you know anyone who’s thinking about marriage, you might want to point them to this series as food for thought.
So don’t forget to check out our Website, liferesource.org, where you can find all of our presentations – mostly on Christian living and holy day topics.