If you are married or thinking about getting married, this is one of the wisest and most practical "gospel centred" books about marriage I have read. Not only has Ryan and Selena Frederick been through a very tough time in their marriage, but they have also emerged humbled, closer to God and as a result closer to each other. May this summary inspire you to go out and purchase the book and read it yourself. The most important thing is that when we understand the way God has designed marriage to work, we start to understand how Jesus, the bridegroom, is wanting to relate to his bridegroom, the church. God is wanting to sanctify you powerfully ..... through your covenant marriage.
2 For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. 2 Corinthians 11:2
What is the purpose of marriage? Is it about me or has God designed marriage for a much deeper meaning?
In the Forward, by Gary Thomas, the author of Sacred Marriage, and Cherish, he starts the book by saying that when we understand the meaning of our lives as Christian, we realise that everything we do is designed to grow more centred on God. We are learning to love with His love, think with His thoughts and live for His will. Worship of God and works are the two things our Christian life hinges on. Therefore, in a marriage, the husband and wife are compelled to ask "What does it mean to worship God in this situation" and "What good works can I do in this situation?". Troubles in marriage happen when the primary focus is getting our own way.
The book Fierce Marriage is the story of two people striving to put Christ first starting individually and then in their marriage. They give are three excellent quotes.
"You don't fight for your marriage as much as Christ uses your marriage to fight for you"
"You don't pursue your spouse's heart as much as Christ uses your spouse to pursue your heart
"You do not prize your spouse's affection with nearly the same ferocity with which Christ prized yours.
Marriage is not about you… it is about Jesus!
In the introduction, Ryan and Selena see an issue with the books that are available for Christians that talk about marriage. There are hopeful books that are theoretical and point to the eternal hope we have and helpful books that are totally opposite and focus on practical matters. Fredericks aim in writing the book is to contain both deep gospel truth and equip the readers with time tested, wisdom fuelled advice. The end goal is to learn how to trust Jesus with your heart….. And your spouse!
Chapter 1: Our Swiss Adventure
Ryan and Selena talk about an adventure that they had as a couple in Switzerland where Ryan found that he had an issue with his heart. Through a near-death experience, they found that their perspective on each other and marriage radically changed as they had to consider what Ryan's death meant to them both. The near encounter with death brought them to a realisation that God had given each other a very precious gift and they were determined to learn and grow their marriage through their relationship with Jesus.
Chapter 2 - Matters of The Heart - How the Gospel Revolutionizes Marriage.
God has designed us to need and cherish love… real love that is unconditional and without expiration. This type of love is quite rare. This love is not able to be given by anyone. We are all inadequate at giving this love because we have gaps in our ability to both give and receive love. No matter what we try as individuals, nothing works over an extended time. There is hope though …. The gospel brings the answer to marriage.
The gospel is like a rudder on a huge ship. Without it, the ship would be dangerous and ultimately end up on the rocks. Through Christ (the rudder), we can understand unconditional love, true covenant and radical grace and forgiveness. Armed with the gospel we can love truly till death separates us on earth.
What is the gospel? Gospel means "good news" and points to the story of creation, the fall, redemption and salvation, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus the Christ. We can be saved through no other name. The beauty of the gospel is the work of Christ, God in the flesh, is finished! What happened on the cross has three huge ramifications on how we live in a marriage.
Our Diagnosis: The Gospel is Realistic about What to Expect - We understand through the gospel that sin exists and Jesus is calling us to admit we are sinners and need to repent of any sin. A gospel centred marriage will have both husband and wife understanding that their spouse is not perfect and will always fall short. Repentance through the work of the Holy Spirit is something that happens regularly in a healthy gospel centred marriage.
Our Cure - the Gospel transforms how we Love - The cure comes when we experience the love of God through Christ. This experience changes how we love each other in three ways:-
Real love is more powerful, costly and rewarding than anything offered by the world - loving each other based on God's design is extremely difficult but always worth it!
We understand what covenant means - When we love according to covenant boundaries we treat the other person according to our promise to them and not their performance.
Experiencing the gospel first-hand transforms how we love - when we experience the gospel our heart is flooded with grace, empathy patience and the capacity to forgive. We can radically love because we have been radically loved.
Our Recovery - the Gospel provides context for real married life - By understanding the gospel, we learn to live with an eternal perspective. It is the compass for the direction we take. As we endure difficulties, the gospel gives us overwhelming joy. Marriage was made by God for His eternal glory and your ultimate joy. Purpose and infinite power come when your marriage points to an infinite God. How you love when it is hard, how you keep your covenant when you want to give up and how you display unity shows the oneness God's people will have with the Bridegroom which is Jesus. Everything our your marriage should point to the gospel!
When we think about marriage, we first think about our happiness. What if the marriage was designed by God to make us more holy and not happy. More importantly, if marriage is all about Jesus and your holiness in light of the gospel then how we approach marriage will change completely. Our goal becomes to reveal His unconditional love as we love our spouse with all their imperfections. Knowing the who and what questions then helps us fully answer how and what questions.
Finally, the gospel is not a recipe to modify someone's behaviour, but to change hearts. The gospel changes hearts, beliefs and identity leading to life-time changes. Only real change can happen when the heart is transformed through the gospel. As the gospel changes hearts, marriages can be a primary way God makes His name known throughout all the earth.
Chapter 3: The Magnitude of Covenant - The Power and Purpose of Lifelong Commitment
When we know and understand God's promises and covenant, we find He gives us a permanent or stable foundation for our lives. The trouble with today's marriages, even ones lived out by Christians, is that they are constructed and maintained using cultural ideals. This has caused an avalanche of separations and divorces. The test of real-life has found the foundations to be sinking sand, not bedrock, which is Christ. This bedrock is called the covenant.
What is a covenant? It is a set of promises that two people agree to and keep together. With a biblical covenant, we find that it is an extremely strong promise and bond that can only be kept with God's help. When we love inside a covenant, no matter what the other person says or does we will never leave them. This leads to peace. On the other hand, when love is expressed as a result of our performance, we are constantly living in fear that the other person will leave. When we live in God's covenant of marriage, He releases His incredible joy in us and glory through us.
The main theme of the Bible revolves around the pursuit of God for His people and His incredible love for us. God shows and releases His love to us through covenant promises. There are conditional and unconditional covenants. When we understand the gospel, we see that God has kept His covenant with us no matter what we did. For marriage, it is conditional but God hates divorce. We can only seek a divorce for sexual immorality (Matt 5:32) and abandonment by an unbeliever (1 Cor 7:15). Apart from these two reasons, there are no grounds for divorce for God's people.
Through the use of covenant in a marriage, God moulds each couple into the images of Christ. Inside the covenant, we are designed to flourish. Through the covenant, God draws His people into deeper intimacy, displays his everlasting love and shows His sovereignty.
One thing that is really important is the way God compares the love of a husband and wife to that between Christ and His Bride, the Church. When we read Ephesians 5:22-33 we find out not only how wives and husbands are to relate to each other, but this then demonstrates how Jesus, the groom, and the church the bride relate as well. Husbands love and the wives trust and submit modelling how Christ's relationship with His bride works. Marriages show us how this relationship works. In the depths of pain and in the hardest of times, God demonstrates to us how He relentlessly pursues us AND how He is a covenant-keeping God. In a covenant-keeping relationship, the only place we can go for help is to Christ to receive the help we need AND each other for reconciliation. Through this process, we are awakened to the need we have for unending grace, how it is impossible for us to earn it and what a huge price this grace costs.
God has given us three instructions in Genesis, that need to be completed in a covenant relationship with another:-
Purpose 1 - Be fruitful. When we are filled with God's Spirit we are fruitful. It is a sign that God is living in us. Being in a covenant-keeping relationship allows us to be totally honest with our spouse and deal with issues without the fear of them leaving.
Purpose 2 - Multiply - When the wife and husband come together, they complement each other. Through this relationship, there is a stable platform for discipleship starting in the home and then with others.
Purpose 3 - Subduing the earth - God has given His blessing and permission to have dominion over the earth. This is something no other creature on earth has been given! It is done in a team that is in a covenant relationship. Our unity in relationship with our spouse can amplify our effectiveness as we minister together.
Marriage is extremely important to God. Your marriage is the most important relationship you will ever have outside your relationship with God. Your marriage has a purpose that is lofty and familiar, eternal and daily, earthly and heavenly.
Chapter 4: Gritty Love - It's Everything You Think and More!
But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. Timothy Keller.
When we make a commitment to love another human being forever is hard and messy, but it causes our love to deepen. Marriage is not about convenient love, but covenant love which is deep, unwavering, unconditional and decided. When Christ is the foundations for our marriage covenant love is the foundation. Without a clear understanding of this love, marriages can so easily fall on the rocks.
Robert Sternberg of Yale University developed a model of love that contained three key components; intimacy (representing emotional closeness and caring), passion (Which represents emotional or physical excitement) and commitment (decision to try to maintain love over a period of time). This is a biblical love that he called consummate or complete love.
A challenge with this love is that often our feelings do not align with what we know we must do. We must choose to love despite our feelings. Marriage is unique in that it is the only relationship that exhaustively tests our understanding of what it means to love another. Even though we will never love our spouse perfectly on earth, God will continue to help us grow in our ability to love.
Jesus is our only reliable definition and source of love. He was able to walk on earth fully aligning his will with the Father's. In love, He walked the path to the cross. This covenantal love Jesus displayed is the one God is calling us to walk within our marriage. When Christ is our absolute standard and context for loving each other our marriage will flourish. God is calling us to be thirsty and cry out for His Spirit to forgive our selfish ambitions and empower us to love with His covenantal love! When this thirst is met by something outside God, we have our hearts hardened and each spouse looks outside their marriage for their needs to be met.
Chapter 5: Time and Priorities - What Being Christ-Centred Truly Means
When we think about our priorities, we have often been taught that when we are Christ centred, we put God first and then our spouse, children, work, church etc. This chapter challenges this thinking totally. With our lives, we can get to a place where our lives are full of good things, but if our foundations are not fully on Christ, things start to crack and fall apart... Including our deepest relationships. Security on "good" works and things is actually false, and we can only be fully secure when we are totally reliant on Jesus.
For our lives, including marriage, God is calling us to be intentional about centring our life on Christ. When we do this, our priorities will align and good things will not cause things to turn bad. When we have misplaced priorities in marriage, we manifest many issues including lacking quality time, communication that is deteriorating, the distance between each other increasing and finally reduced intimacy. If this is the case, can we change our priority list where God is first? One of the keys is the following scripture:-
37 Jesus answered him, “‘Love the Lord your God with every passion of your heart, with all the energy of your being, and with every thought that is within you.’ Matthew 22:37.
If we understand this passage, then if we love God with everything, how can we love anyone else? God is calling us to live out our God priorities with our whole being. God is not first on our priority list… He is the list! Without Him, in every relationship and situation, things fall apart. Our to-do list is removed and Jesus matters more than everything, and everything matters more because of Him! We now start with Jesus as the centre and everything radiates out from our identity in Christ. Our priorities, then, are centred on Christ. What matters to Jesus now matters to us!
God is calling us to be consumed by God. This means to experience and know Him through reading his Word, communing with Him through prayer and worship. His words must have an impact on our lives and as we read and understand, we do what the Word says. God is calling us to wrestle with scripture, ask hard questions, digest it and seek wisdom from the Word. Pray from what God has already said … His Word! This is very powerful! Ensure you not just speak, but spend time listening to what God is saying and respond to what He says.
Once God is at the centre, God gives us freedom, joy and releases us to be powerful ambassadors of the Kingdom of God here on earth. We can love others in a new way and make disciple through the way we interact with our spouse, children and the world. It must start at home first! Making disciples is the key reason for loving each other in marriage. Anything that hinders loving our family well or stifling discipleship with our family, God wants us to eliminate it. The endpoint of our life is to give God the glory and to enjoy the graces of God. He wants us to REST in His sovereignty. He is calling us to stop doing and to start BEING!
Chapter 6: Communication and Connection - Using Words To Strengthen Your Marriage
When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen. Ernest Hemingway.
The whole reason to communicate is to send signals to the other person. The goal is the have your signals in sync so there is harmony, safety and freedom. When we are married, we have a direct line to our spouse's heart. There is life or death in what we say. Our goal, then, is to grow our relationship and intimacy through every conversation.
A surprising thing is that when we react badly from the flesh, we have functional disbelief in the gospel. Each time there is an issue, it is essential that we remind ourselves that we are secure in God and we are rooted in the incredible love of God. The biggest thing Satan tries to attack us in is our identity. While we are on earth, we will have communication breakdowns. Learning the path of reconciliation is an essential skill that requires listening and hearing so we can engage with and understand our spouse. This requires humility as we understand we too are loved and saved through the grace of God.
When communication breaks down, there are a number of things we can do. The most important is to not try to fix it but to go to God's Word and humbly seek His instruction.
19 My dearest brothers and sisters, take this to heart: Be quick to listen, but slow to speak. And be slow to become angry, 20 for human anger is never a legitimate tool to promote God’s righteous purpose. 21 So this is why we abandon everything morally impure and all forms of wicked conduct. Instead, with a sensitive spirit, we absorb God’s Word, which has been implanted within our nature, for the Word of Life has power to continually deliver us.
22 Don’t just listen to the Word of Truth and not respond to it, for that is the essence of self-deception. So always let his Word become like poetry written and fulfilled by your life! James 1:19-22
In this passage there are four instructions:
Be quick to hear - when we hear what is happening in the other person's world we are stirred to love them... We see them as a gift that is still a work in progress. By listening and affirming them, we let them know they are valuable and worth our full attention. This form of respect is essential. Stop any interruptions and listen!
Be slow to speak - When we engage with our spouse wisely, we stop thinking about what we need to say, and know when to speak and when to pause. Pausing and reflecting before speaking back is a very important skill. When we engage in intentional conversations we both understand both partners bring different and complimentary gifts, and when we have these intentional conversations, we acknowledge that we need each other's help.
Be slow to anger - When we lengthen our fuse allowing the processing of feelings and motivations, we can respond in wisdom and love. We can express the righteousness of God and live our His will for us by showing covenant love to our spouse.
Put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness - Things change when we receive God's Word as our authority and instruction. We allow Him to be sovereign in both our lives and our relationship. We step up and not only hear but do what the Word says. Relating with intentionality allows us to speak with honesty. As we speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15) we point both of us back to Jesus where we both can find the love we need.
One of the things we must learn is when to communicate. The timing of the conversation is critical. If you relate at the right time, you can properly read the other person's signals and ensure communication is not corrupted by our sinful nature. Making time that is suitable for both persons means each one has space in their hearts and minds to carefully deal with even the most difficult problems. Making "talk dates" was suggested. When both are ready and prepared, each person can be mentally and emotionally ready so they are fully engaged. The most important thing is to keep talking, even through the hard times. Issues can be diffused when we are quick to listen and slow to speak and communicate with godly timing.
Why do we communicate? The end goal should always be relational intimacy and the end goal of talking through conflict is reconciliation. If our goal is retaliation then the conversation will NEVER be productive. When we are working through a tough issue, we intimately and privately deal with things one on one. When we deal with the issue at hand through repentance and forgiveness then we can realign our hearts and restore our friendship. (See Matthew 18:15)
The most important thing in a relationship is to never stop being curious about your partner and keep exploring through intentional, curious communication. When we keep the desire to keep learning about the other person, our marriages thrive. When we don't, they start to stagnate and die. Communication allows us to explore the other person's heart. Regular time needs to be set aside to do this! Never love the ability to rest, have fun and laugh a lot together. Stop taking yourselves too seriously and enjoy God's gracious gift of communication in your marriage.
Chapter 7: Money and Stewardship - Gaining agreement and Creating Vision for Your Finances.
I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God's hands, that I still possess. Martin Luther.
Money is one of the leading causes of stress in a marriage. Money is spent because of habits, life choices and fear. Our identity and security should not come from our bank balances. When we take the attitude that we do not provide or our needs but God does, this changes how we think about and use the money that God gives us. God is calling us to put our identity, worth and security in Christ alone.
There are two reasons we spend money:
We are consumers - we purchase products because of the perceived benefits.
We are comparers because we buy things to keep up with trends, friends or societal expectations.
For couples, the aim should be to align your view of money with God and to fully agree together on this view. Marriages flourish when we place our trust in God and live in this freedom. God is calling us to see ourselves as stewards of what God temporarily places in our care. Our lives can be lived openhanded and in the full trust, we can only have when we realise God is sovereign. Financial stress always has a root cause in our disbelief or dissatisfaction with Jesus. Every conversation about money, then, should remind us of the gospel - that Jesus is enough and He will provide what we need. As we trust God and become faithful stewards, we develop a radically generous heart. We learn to give sacrificially in response to the gospel for the gospel. Having joint accounts, for example, show the incredible unity, trust and commitment we can show as husband and wife.
An example of creating trust and freedom is to set a spending threshold that requires a conversation if we need to spend more than a certain limit. Also agreeing on which bills will be paid and who will pay them is essential. God is calling us to be grateful for what He gives us to enjoy and appreciate all we have. When we understand all we have is a gift from God, we live in the right context.
Chapter 8: Intimacy and Sex - Experiencing each other to the glory of God.
Within the context of covenant love and mutual service, no amount of passion is excessive - Betsy Ricucci
Sex is an incredibly powerful gift and blessing, but when used outside the way God intended sex to be expressed in a marriage, it can cause massive issues. Understanding God's parameters bring maximised enjoyment and reveal God's glory. Sex is one activity that is exclusively between a husband and a wife and physically manifests your intimacy, unites your bodies and represents your trust, vulnerability, passion and generosity towards each other. Within a marriage, sex demonstrates and reinforces the exclusive covenant marriage is for pleasure and growing new generations. While sex outside marriage brings many negative consequences, through Christ, we are now defined by His perfect life, death and resurrection.
There are three modern views of sexuality that need to be understood before we can fully understand God's worthy design for sexuality in marriage:-
Sexual Realism - Sexual desire is just a natural physical appetite the same as eating and drinking. When we view sex this way, we focus on the physical desire and resulting outcomes but not the mental, emotional and spiritual implications of sex.
Sexual Platonism - This is on the opposite side of the spectrum. Based on Hellenistic philosophy, it looks at sex as a crude physical indulgence. It is something that is not good for you as it takes your focus off more important pursuits including knowledge, awareness and spirituality.
Sexual Romanticism - This is the idea that the desire for sex is a primal instinct that should be indulged because it is inherently good. Sex is a way of becoming self-actualized and a source of personal fulfilment. This is the way of happiness. It is not just an act you do but is part of your biological makeup.
These views are very interesting and contain hints of truth. If we live by any one of these beliefs, then we will not achieve lasting joy through sex as God had intended. Sex was created by God for His glory.
God's View of Intimacy and Sex
God created sex and intimacy as good. We as Christians have been made by God to glorify Him. Sex can glorify Him when it is celebrated for the purpose God created it for. It must be celebrated for the right purpose, with purity and where it is appropriate so both God and our spouse are honoured.
The Purpose of Sex and Intimacy - God made sex and so it is good.
Man has been given a directive to go out and fill the earth so procreation is His first purpose for sex. Through sex, a new soul and flesh are created. We participate in the creation and reflect the image of God when we do.
We also become one flesh through sex so unity is the second purpose. For example, husbands, in Ephesians 5:28-29, are called to love their wives as their own bodies. When making love, a married couple is reminded they are totally exposed, fully known and still completely love.
The third and most profound purpose of sex is to point us to the gospel. When having sex a married couple proclaim and declare the good news of the gospel to each other saying "I love you just as the perfect eternal God, who fully know you, your sin, and your flaws, and still loves and pursues you despite your imperfections.
The final marriage of Christ and his Bride is foreshadowed through this union. This love is just a tiny taste of God's love for us. The euphoric experience we have through having sex comes through having every aspect of our being becoming involved with the other person. Each person is physically, emotionally consumed by the selfless, sacrificial, naked act of love that sex represents. This is a glimpse of what our relationship will be in the future with God when we are in a perfect union with God.
The Place For Sex: Drink Water From Your Own Cistern
Sex is exclusively for marriage. In Proverbs 5:15-19, we read about drinking water from your own well. We should not steal other people's water and it is not to be spilled on the street and wasted. For a marriage, sex life and intimacy is yours alone and you are free to drink from your well and enjoy it whenever you desire. Protect your own well and enjoy it! Sex is an expression, a deep expression of a spiritual covenant. This is a lifelong commitment to your spouse that is consummated by the physical joining of flesh. Without the intimacy of souls, sex is taking something that is not yours. God's purpose for sex can only be accomplished between two married people. As sex foreshadows our unity with Christ as His bride, sex's context can only be a lifelong covenant where each part is loved with boundless grace and spiritual sanctification as their ultimate prize.
To be able to develop the intimacy for a healthy sexual relationship, you need to have honest conversations so expectations can be aligned leading to intentional intimacy. When you talk honestly you can align your expectations, live more transparently, meet each other in the middle and through this become much more intimate. The author said they made a pact that they could ask each other anything and they would never lie or sugar-coat the truth. This creates trust and vulnerability. They learnt to discuss expectations, diffuse frustration without heated arguments. Unity was achieved a set goal and was achieved as expectations were brought to the open and they learnt to love each other and get to know each other more intentionally.
There are three tools that help in starting honest conversations about expectations and sex:-
Keep perspective - The act of sex is only a very small part of your relationship. Focus on pursuing each other's hearts and souls. Learn to talk honestly and let soul intimacy be the gateway for sexual intimacy.
The Spectrum of sex - Sex can occur quickly and slowly depending on need and other pressures. Knowing each other's expectation is very important.
Find your rhythm - Couples need certain amounts of sex to keep them connected and functioning in unity. Having an agreed time for sex each week/month takes away fear, frustration or confusion. When you have a rhythm you can take opportunities when they arise and you can align expectations and make each other a priority. You also both know when each person needs sex both physiologically and emotionally. Depriving your spouse of sex is not only unhealthy for your relationship but is also unbiblical.
5 So don’t continue to refuse your spouse those rights, except perhaps by mutual agreement for a specified time so that you can both be devoted to prayer. And then you should resume your physical pleasure so that the Adversary cannot take advantage of you because of the desires of your body.1 Corinthians 7:5 TPT
Sex is designed by God and is an awesome gift bringing enjoyment and revealing His glory. Enjoy the fire of your passion at home with your spouse. The fires are released in the wild only bring incredible damage.
Chapter 9: Dealing with Discord - Ground rules for fighting fair and growing through conflict.
Conflict brings experience, and experience brings that growth in grace which is not to be attained by any other means… Charles H Surgeon.
Conflict in marriage is inevitable. When you live in close contact with one person daily there is so much room for opportunities for conflict to arise, no matter how good the relationship is. With our insecurities comes pride, and in heat of battle, our goals become twisted. Instead of seeking understanding, we become entrenched in our own position. This leads to being right, not dealing with the issue, being the most important part of the argument. On the other hand, conflict is the way God brings people closer together and in the struggles, our hearts are sanctified. In fact, the road to sanctification is lined with conflict, but God sustains us on this journey. In the deepest conflict, God is calling us to trust Him completely and find all we need in Him. When we have conflict, reconciliation can only truly happen because we have been reconciled ourselves to Christ. We love because God loves us. We forgive because we have experienced radical forgiveness. Our journey of conflict leading to reconciliation starts and ends with Jesus!
As we are led by the Holy Spirit He is calling us to keep our hearts soft and yearn for reconciliation that only comes through clinging to God's Word and seeking authentic forgiveness from each other. The cycle of repenting and forgiving is essential and keeps our hearts soft towards God and each other. Without this cycle, all relationships are heading for disaster. God is calling us to know the depth of our sin and the need for Jesus. Then, in Christ, every fight, argument and disagreement becomes an opportunity to experience His intervening grace and unrelenting love.
In Colossians, we read:-
3 If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. 3 For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.
5 Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Colossians 3:1-5
When we present our lives as a living sacrifice, it keeps wanting to crawl off the altar. When we are raised with Christ we die to our selfish, sinful ways and lose the power to rule ourselves. As soon as our sinful nature comes to life, we need to put it back to death. We do this by setting out minds on things that are above. When we are truly hidden in Christ we can live honestly and openly with each other and sacrifice feelings and trust in God and work in the way He is calling us to work leading to restoration and fulness. The grace we display, then, is not about excusing sin, but dying to fleshfull desires to retaliate. It is about responding out of the peace and security we have been given as our lives have been hidden in Christ. Instead of thinking and acting in fear, we become safe harbours for each other to confide in.
One of the keys is that in each argument we can be pursuing our spouse. This means we take our defences down to emphasize or ask how we can help. This selfless thinking helps the other person to put to death what is inside them and respond in love with their defences down. With the rules of engagement changing because of Christ, we become compassionate, kind, meek and patient. In Christ, we can endure problems together and fight for each other, not with each other. The marriage covenant becomes a safe place where we can work in and through the love of God and be renewed through His work. With this approach, we learn to bear with one another and even in the huge storms, we learn to put our full weight on God, our all-powerful creator who can bear all things.
God is calling us to change how we pray. Our "should" prayers could be:-
"Jesus, please show me the blind spots in my relationship. Show me areas where I am selfish, prideful and just plain ignorant. Help me to see you in these areas, and please uproot them from my heart. Show me areas where I can trust you more."
When we relate in the grace of God, we fight fiercely for biblical resolution by first seeking Jesus. When we do, our marriage becomes transparent, open and fearless because God is our foundation. There are a couple of ground rules for handling conflict that both spouses must agree to follow:-
Ground Rule 1: Reconciliation is always the goal - Before a fight starts, reconciliation must be the endpoint. This means being fully re-joined without reservation. In covenant we have promised to love and fighting forever is not an option. The issue must be resolved. In this process, we must recognise any sin, repent and turn to Christ. As we come with repentant, willing hearts, we maintain hearts that are not bitter.
Ground Rule 2: Repentance and forgiveness are non-negotiable - In Luke, we read:-
3 Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. 4 And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.” Luke 17:3-4
God is calling us to rebuke, which means 'admonish' or 'warn or prevent something from going wrong. Therefore rebuking is a heart issue that is not self-righteous, but is done in honesty, love and with their best in mind. When your spouse sins against you, calling them on it is not only the right thing but the most loving thing you can do. Then we are to forgive them as Christ forgave us, without limit, reservation or restriction. Rebuking then repentance, then forgiving etc… This Is the cycle of a healthy relationship.
3. Ground rule 3: Anger is natural, but never an excuse for sin - Sin is ugly and reveals the ugliness in us! Paul wants us to never sin in our anger. Instead, He says in Ephesians:-
26 “Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, 27 nor give place to the devil. Ephesians 4:26-27
When we give in to sin, we give the devil the opportunity to work. God is calling us not to sin in anger or let the sun set on it.
4. Ground Rule 4: Prioritize listening and patience - When we fight in a healthy way, we start by desiring to listen intentionally and desire to understand our partner before we respond. In James, we read:-
19 So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; 20 for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. James 1:19-20.
We are instructed to be quick to hear, eager to understand and to let them know that you understand by telling them in your words what they have been saying. Then as we understand how they are feeling, God wants us to seek in our hearts how we have contributed to their feelings. Our words need to be intentional and only spoken through deliberation. Fast, angry words damage trust and exploit the relationship for selfish gain.
One of the interesting bits of advice given to the authors was to fight naked, literally. When you are naked you cannot stay mad for long. When we fight with armour on, we cannot know our spouse or be known. Our goal in intimacy is to be known and know our spouse …… impossible when our defences are up. Guarding also keeps our spouse at arm's length. Being naked emotionally and physically you can see the other person for who they are and they can see you. It then becomes an intimate, trusting exchange. You show you are not perfect BUT you want to be loved and trust the other person. Being naked also reminds you not to bring any weapons into the battle. The beauty of healthy reconciliation is that it brings intimacy as each other come back together in repentance, sacrificially giving to each other through listening, speaking, understanding and empathizing in love. Through this process, our affections for each other are clarified and intensified and you can "drink water from your own cistern" (Proverbs 5:15)
There are at times sins that are too great for the couple to work through. Emotional or physical affairs are devastating and emotional or physical abuse needs greater help. The first step is knowing you need help. We must see and realize how unhealthy our marriage is so we can get help. Sometimes, when you are living in brokenness for so long you are unaware of the depth of the problem and how to fix it.
God is saying:-
11 And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret. 13 But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light. 14 Therefore He says:
“Awake, you who sleep,
Arise from the dead,
And Christ will give you light.” Ephesians 5:11-14
God wants to expose the sin and let the glorious light of Christ to start the healing process. When you need long term restorative care, you must have a person to walk alongside you who knows your exact situation and can speak into your lives in a very personal way. God is calling for the Christian community to help deal with marital conflict. Other people can bring a new perspective and biblical wisdom.
Finally, every conflict can be seen as an opportunity to experience God's grace in new, profound ways. Learn to hold your tongue, knowing that Christ intercedes for us (Romans 8:34). When you want to quit, remember that Jesus will not give up on you and the eternal hope of heaven is beyond anything we can imagine. Human covenant and human conflict go together. God is calling us to become sanctified as we learnt to do life with our best friend.
Chapter 10: Upward And Outward - Why Fighting For your Marriage Mens Fighting For The Future
God gives us of the good things of this life, not only for necessity,But for the delight, that we may not only serve Him but serve Him cheerfully. Matthew Henry.
When we fight for our marriage, we are fighting for everything. The thing that is the most encouraging is that Jesus is fighting for your marriage harder than you ever could. He fights for your marriage, pursues your spouse's heart and prized your spouse's affection much more than you do. ln the hard times of marriage, God is refining you as He is committed to working in your life so you are conformed to the image of Christ. He is calling you to anchor your identity in Him and trust the sufficiency of what He has done instead of what you can do. God is working to sanctify God's people and reconcile the bride of Christ, the Church, to Him. Your marriage is a tool God is using to draw you and your spouse closer to Him.
Marriage is not just about now and happiness on earth. Your marriage is about God's eternal purpose in and through you! Christ is the foundation of thriving marriages and families and these are the foundations of a flourishing society. Also, God has commissioned you to share the gospel through your marriage. This is done through disciplining future generations, building the local church and reaching the community in which you live.
One of the key reasons marriage is important is the task of raising children and disciplining them. Having Christ-centred parents who live out the gospel and are engaged, present and actively disciplining their children is very powerful. Your children will not only hear the gospel and commands of God but will see them lived out by their parents. Through a gospel centred marriage, you bless not only your children, their children but many generations to come. As gospel centred parents till the soil of their children's hearts, love and pursue each other, foster affection for Christ and pass down their heritage of faith all have powerful effects on your children's faith and future.
God values earthly families as they are the building blocks of His heavenly family. They are the foundations for a healthy church body here on earth. Through this body, God can reach the community through the way you love God and others. God is using your marriage to sanctify you, your spouse and through this strengthens the way the body of Christ is able to operate. Your marriage is the training ground for being able to walk as the body of Christ as He intends. As you grow in your gospel centred marriage, you must grow more in love with Jesus and through this be able to minister to others in ways you thought impossible.
Finally, marriage is a powerful allegory of the courtship between God and HIs people through the person and work of Jesus. God is sanctifying us powerfully through covenant marriages. As you live a covenant and gospel-focused marriage, you will experience his endless love for you, have your heart moulded through the work He does in you and your marriage and then fires you up to passionately reach the lost.
Keep fighting for your marriage. God is! Allow Him to grow you in and through your marriage so all the rough edges are removed and God can transform you into the image of Christ then release you into doing the good works He has made you for. The battle is fierce.... but is worth it!
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