To do well in marriage …

Originally posted on WisdomForLife:

Important audio message —  just click here: When Two Become one 

When sinners say, “I do.” — Expect trouble! There are risks involved because there are sinners involved! But we can minimize some of the risks by better understanding the Creator’s plan for marriage. To this end, I offer a few important thoughts in the audio link above.

For ambitious learners, listen also to the message:What does the Spirit-filled Life look like?

Steve Cornell

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Why marriages don’t last

Sociologist Andrew Cherlin of Johns Hopkins University suggested that the majority of divorces occur within 10 years of the time of marriage because “most people who are unhappily married figure that out quickly.” 

There’s typically more to divorce decisions than happiness, but there is little doubt that our culture has elevated personal happiness to an unrealistic and deeply misguided level of importance. This likely contributes significantly to the pervasive reality of divorce.

Faulty expectations for gregariousness can make life a miserable story. It takes maturity to understand and grow through struggle, sadness, disappointment and hardship. Here’s a simple fact: Marriage is not supposed to make you happy; it’s meant to make you married.

Marriage is not about a feeling of love but an agreement to love. It takes work for marriage to work. Many marriages would improve if husbands and wives placed a greater value on the role of commitment reflected in their wedding vows. 

“Commitment is having a long-term view of marriage that helps us not get overwhelmed by the problems and challenges day-to-day. When there is high commitment in a relationship, we feel safer and are willing to give more for the relationship to succeed” (Dr. William H. Doherty).

Consider 5 commitments for a good marriage.

Steve Cornell

7 purposes for marriage

  1. Completion (Genesis 2:18)
  2. Companionship (Genesis 2:18; Malachi 2:14)
  3. Continuance (Genesis 1:28) of the human race)
  4. Coregency (Genesis 1:28)
  5. Care (Exodus 21:10-11; 1 Corinthians 7:15Ephesians 5:25-33)
  6. Communication (Genesis 1:27) of God’s image and Ephesians 5:25-33 – Christ’s and His Church)
  7. Constraint (I Corinthians 7:3-5)

Marriage is God’s gift to humans. It was given to resolve the problem of human loneliness by providing complimentary companionship between a man and a woman (“The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18).

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24-25). As originally designed, it is meant to be an exclusive (leaving) and permanent (cleaving/be united), one-flesh relationship.

Jesus affirmed the original plan for marriage when he said, “Haven’t you read, that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate” (Matthew 19:4-6).

We learn from Jesus that marriage is intended as a life-long relationship (what God has joined together, let man not separate). Brides and bridegrooms honor the teaching of our Lord when they solemnly promise to love, honor and cherish, and remain faithful to each other for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, until death separates them.

Equality is reflected in the first marriage as the man and woman were created in the image of God and given co-regency over the created order (Genesis 1:26-28). For believers in Christ, marriage is a covenant of companionship between two spiritually equal human beings (Galatians 3:26-28). Yet equality does not eliminate roles in a marriage relationship. Nor do roles in marriage diminish the call to mutual love and respect.

According to Scripture, the husband bears primary responsibility to lead the home in a God-glorifying way. His leadership clearly involves authority and should be honored by his wife and family (Ephesians 5:22-24, 33; 6:1-3). His authority, however, must be based on love (see: Ephesians 5:25, 33, w/ John 10:11-13; I Corinthians 13:4-8a) and thoughtful consideration (see: Philippians 2:3-5).

Scripture warns against husbands who treat their wives with insensitivity (see, I Peter 3:7). Husbands must never forget that they are commanded to love their wives as Christ loved the church. Cultural limitations or biases should not be placed on this command any more than on the command for wives to respect their husbands.

Steve Cornell

Forgiveness is an act of worship

Have you ever thought of forgiveness as an act of worship?

Jesus said, “When you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” (Mark 11:25).

Forgiveness is the choice not to hold things against another. Forgiveness is absent when one holds things against another. This is what we call resentment and it is a root cause behind many personal and societal problems. It’s the tendency to bear grudges and it often leads to revenge.

Holding against

Many people go through life collecting grievances (perceived or actual) and then storing them in their memory bank — specifically, in what I call their grudge account. Rather than forgiving an offender, they choose to nurse their anger; to lick their wounds and to sludge in their grudge.

This way of life is rarely traveled alone because misery enjoys company. It validates our resentment when we can find people to commiserate with us in our grievances by swapping grudge stories. Some throw pity parties to seek solidarity with others in their resentments.

Those who habitually collect perceived rather than actual grievances are in a different category. These people behave in narcissistic pathologically paranoid ways. They’re narcissistic because they think people think about them more than people do and pathologically paranoid because they imagine people are continually against them. They people who are self-destructively self-absorbed and must come to even deeper levels of repentance by embracing Jesus’ call to self-denial.

“Forgive him?!” “Not after what he did to me!”

But Jesus’ words “Forgive him” are hard to hear when you’ve been badly hurt. I recall more than once, people responding, “Forgive him?!” “Not after what he did to me!”

Does Jesus ask us to become morally neutral about the wrongful and damaging behavior of others? Is he asking us to pretend nothing happened and let our offender off the hook?

One thing is clear from Jesus’ words, whatever else forgiveness involves, it’s the opposite of “holding something against” someone. Forgiveness requires an act of “letting go” or “releasing”— a refusal to “hold against”.

Empty your grudge account

But this act of releasing is not a superficial or feigned act of erasing or ignoring the wrong committed against us. Letting go of an offense does not require moral neutrality about right and wrong. We’re not required to let the offense go into some imaginary zone of forgetfulness.

Forgiving is an act of worship that takes place in the presence of the God who is the righteous judge of all the earth. Forgiveness is an act of releasing the offense to the God who said, “Do not take revenge, …but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).

I am suggesting that forgiveness is first and foremost a matter between you and God, not you and your offender.

When someone hurts us, we tend only to see the horizontal significance of what occurred. “This is about me and the one who hurt me!” we insist. For those who worship God, however, life is primarily about God and secondarily about them. In the rest of Mark 11:25, Jesus reminded us that even our grievances must be dealt with in relation to God: “…if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

Do we earn God’s forgiveness?

When Jesus related forgiving others to God forgiving our sins, was he suggesting some form of conditional or earned system of forgiveness? Is this a quid pro qo arrangement (favor for favor)? No! Our forgiveness from God is based on God’s undeserved favor received through Jesus Christ. It’s not that we earn God’s forgiveness by forgiving others, but that God expects His forgiven people to forgive. When forgiven people don’t forgive, God is not worshipped— He is dishonored (See: Matthew 18:21-35).

This is where worship connects with forgiveness. When we forgive, we “let go of” instead of “holding on to” or “holding against.”

Forgiveness is an act of releasing to God the hurtful actions and consequences of the wrong done to us. God has sole prerogative of vengeance (Romans 12:19). If the one who hurts us is to be punished, it is God’s right to punish him. When sinned against, turn to God and worship Him by acknowledging His authority as Judge. Acknowledge that any judgment against the one who wronged you is His right — not yours.

Forgiveness as worship is not surrendering or neutralizing our sense of morality and justice. This is not a cheap “letting off the hook” of the one who hurt us. It’s not a mental exercise in forgetting or a feigned effort to trivialize evil by saying, “O well, we’re all sinners.” It’s an act of worship before the final Judge.

On this view, forgiveness is not solely about me – what happened to me and who did it. It’s about God—who He is and His authority as Judge.

Worshipping God, not using Him

Forgiveness is an act of releasing to God what rightly belongs to him. Since God is “the Judge of all the earth who will do what is right,” releasing to God places the offence in the purest context of judgment. Forgiving is releasing the grievance and the offender to God’s all-knowing perspective and to the perfect balanced of justice and mercy. This honors God by placing matters into His hands and His timing.

But this approach to forgiveness must not be corrupted into a “God will get you” mentality. Worship is not an effort to use God; it’s an act of humbling yourself before Him.

When forgiveness becomes worship, the offended person humbles herself before God honoring and confessing Him as judge and trusting Him to uphold His judgment as He chooses and in His time.

Unexpected blessing

In this act of “letting go” or “releasing to God,” the one who forgives is also released and empowered to live out the radical prescription of Romans 12:20-21: “On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. …. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Punishment of wrongdoers

Please don’t leave this subject with the final words from Romans 12. The connection with Romans 13 is important in any discussion of forgiveness. According to Romans 13:1-4, sometimes God executes His wrath (compare 12:19) and punishment of wrongdoers through the agency of human government (see esp. Romans 13:4). This strengthens the point that forgiveness is not a matter of moral neutrality.

When the one who wrongs you receives punishment from a God-ordained authority, it’s right to support and honor the role of government in punishing wrongdoers (see: I Peter 2:13). We honor this role of authority for the glory of God and the good of society. Yet endorsement of just-punishment must never be sought as a means for vindictive and vengeful intention. If tempted toward this response, turn to God is worship based on Romans 12:18-21.

When we’ve been wronged and the punishment of the wrong-doer becomes a matter for human government, we cannot sincerely support such punishment with the right spirit until we prayerfully apply the teaching of Romans 12:18-21.

An invitation

This is an invitation for those who bear grudges to worship God as the only rightful judge of evil. Turn your grudge over to the Judge! Recite His deep moral opposition to the evil committed against you and surrender every desire for revenge to His prerogative in punishing evil (Romans 12:19).

If God chooses to (or involves you in) mediating His judgment through ordained human authority, honor and support those authorities for fulfilling their divine role (see: Romans 13:1-4), but check your heart against seeking false and destructive satisfaction through personal revenge.

The connection between Romans 12 and 13 offers the important reminder that forgiveness does not require a surrender of our sense of right and wrong.

We need the grace of God to apply these truths with sincerity and humility.

Prayer

“God, please help me to worship you when I’ve been hurt by others. You have forgiven my sins and each day I remind myself that you have not dealt with me as my sins deserve. I release my grudge to the Judge and trust you with the outcome.

Steve Cornell

See: Moving From Forgiveness to Reconciliation

I will not remember your sins

You are living by the promise of I John 1:9 when you refuse to hold against yourself the sin God does not hold against you.

What is the promise? 

  • “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Reinforce this truth

  • “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness” (Psalm 131:3-4).
  • Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight! Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt, whose lives are lived in complete honesty!” (Psalm 32:2-3, NLT).
  • God said, “I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for my own sake; and I will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:25).
  • Where is another God like you, who pardons the guilt of the remnant, overlooking the sins of his special people? You will not stay angry with your people forever, because you delight in showing unfailing love. Once again you will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean!” (Micah 7:18-19).

Action point – Refuse to hold against yourself the sin God does not hold against you. 

Steve Cornell

Don’t be alarmed by conflict

Mature perspective on conflict

The key to unity in a marriage, family or Church is not the removal of all conflict (that happens in heaven).

So instead of being unrealistically alarmed by differences and disagreements or dancing around them, we should view them as opportunities to mature in deeper and stronger love for one another (I Peter 4:8). When we avoid conflict or just enable others, we often postpone trouble for the future. God provides many opportunities (through conflicts) for us to practice the kind of love He demonstrated to us (Romans 5:6-8).

The key to unity is a deeply shared commitment to work through differences and pursue reconciliation based on God’s love for us in Christ (see: Ephesians 4:32-5:1; Titus 3:3-7)

Make every effort….. (memorize these verses)

  • “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace” (Romans 14:19).
  • Make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).
  • Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy” (Hebrews 12:14).
  • Do everything without complaining or arguing” (Philippians 2:14).
  • “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins” (offenses)” (I Peter 4:8).
  • “It is to a man’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel” (Proverbs 20:3).

 Love is anti-rivalry and peace-building 

  • “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (I Corinthians 13:4-7).

Balancing truths

Short audio clips

Steve Cornell

What real love looks like

 

What does someone means when he or she says, “I love you”? These magical words must be given substance and there’s no better place to find it than I Corinthians 13!

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (I Corinthians 13:4-8, NIV).

Those who practice love minimize conflict because love is anti-rivalry. Playful rivalry is not bad but some form of nasty rivalry is almost always involved  when a relationship breaks down.

A closer look at love

1. Love is patient: It is long-suffering. It restrains anger when provoked. Patience is more than passive waiting. It’s active restraint in the moment of provocation. God is patient (Romans 2:5; II Peter 3:9).

2. Love is kind: It reaches out in good will with acts of care and concern. Love not only patiently forebears, but through kindness, actively pursues. Loving people are distinguished by their kindness. God is kind — even to the ungrateful and wicked (Luke 6:35-36; Titus 3:4-5)

3. Love does not envy: It does not resent the blessings of others. Envious people engage in evil rivalry. The envier gloats over the harm or misfortune of the envied. Enviers delight in evil.

4. Love does not boast: Love corrects the desire to call attention to self. A loving person is not a windbag or braggart. He does not parade himself. Love is willing to work anonymously. It needs no limelight or stage, applause or recognition.

5. Love is not proud: not puffed up; not arrogant; not full of oneself. A loving person does not think more highly of himself than sober judgment dictates (Romans 12:3).

6. Love is does not dishonor others: It is not rude. It is respectful of others.

7. Love is not self-seeking: It does not insist on its own way. It is not self-absorbed.

8. Love is not easily angered: It is not easily agitated nor easily provoked. Loving people are not hot-tempered, short-fused people.

9. Love keeps no record of wrongs: Love seeks forgiveness and reconciliation. When hurt badly, this part of love is hard to practice.

10. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth: This rules out gossip, slander, and Schadenfreude (delight in the downfall of others).

Love’s grand finale - Love always protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres.

There is nothing love cannot face and endure. Four verbs (protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres) offer repeated emphasis on how love brings everything under its influence. Love is tenacious and faithful. Love is positive and hopeful. Love is brave and noble; it never fails.

Let’s back up the words “I love you” with this kind of love.

Steve Cornell

4 approaches to conflict

  1. Passive Responders:  the good is they tend to have a ton of patience. The shadow side is their silence often makes them complicit in the conflict, or at the very least uncaring toward the people in it.
  2.  Evasive Responders:  the good is they don’t want to hurt others and often have high mercy gifts. The shadow side is in their avoidance they become the patient who doesn’t want to hear they have cancer until it’s too late and then don’t want to deal with surgery or chemo because it will hurt too badly.
  3.  Defensive Responders:  the good is they think/know they are called by God and are ready to do what He said to do. The shadow side is they can leave a trail of scarred souls in their wake, chopped up in the propeller of their rightness.
  4.  Aggressive Responders:  the good is they have a clear sense of where they are going and what needs to be done. The shadow side is they pummel people into submission, working on a sense of power and control instead of love and trust.

(source: Jim Van Yperen’s Making Peace)

4 destructive patterns of communication

Destructive communication patterns are almost always part of the reason that marriages fail.

Consider four negative patterns of communication that hurt good relationships.

1. Escalation - What Goes Around Comes Around

Escalation occurs when partners respond back and forth negatively to each other, continually upping the ante so the conversation gets more and more hostile.

2. Invalidation - Painful Put-Downs



Invalidation is a pattern in which one partner subtly or directly puts down the thoughts, feelings, or character of the other.

3. Negative Interpretation - When  perception is worse than reality

Negative interpretations occur when one partner consistently believes that the motives of the other are more negative than is really the case. This can be a very destructive, negative pattern in a relationship. It makes any conflict or disagreement harder to deal with constructively.

4. Withdrawal and Avoidance - Hide and Seek

Withdrawal can be as obvious as getting up and leaving the room or as subtle as “turning off” or “shutting down” during an argument. The withdrawer often tends to get quiet during an argument, look away, or agree quickly to a partner’s suggestion just to end the conversation.

(source: A Lasting Promise: A Christian Guide to Fighting for Your Marriage, Scott Stanley)

A delusional euphoric state of stupidity

Emotional attraction is powerful and can be dangerous. It can induce drug-like feelings of euphoria that come with a blinding effect on otherwise intelligent people.

Be careful not to overdose on emotional love because it has a potency that can take you into a delusional state of stupidity.

Although most relationships that lead to marriage begin with high doses of this dimension of love, emotions don’t last long and they always change.

Women tend to be especially vulnerable to this when allow themselves to be in love with the idea of being in loveThey’ve dreamed of a wedding and marriage; a husband and a family. But (I am quick to remind them) it’s one thing to be in love — an entirely different thing to love someone for life. Emotions dissipate quickly in the routines and challenges of life together.

The danger with emotional love is that it can lead very bright people into a delusional euphoric state of stupidity.

Have you ever witnessed this in a friend? It’s tough to watch a friend become overly and irrationally obsessed with another person — especially when you see red flags about the relationship.

The delusional part is often in the irrational thinking about knowing the other person well when you’ve only known him for a short time. Or, when you think that she is just perfect and can’t see any flaws in her. It’s delusional when you let yourself think that you could never be happy without the other person and that you have to be together all the time to be happy.

This kind of euphoric state (often called the “in love” experience) tends to come with a number of superficial opinions based limited exposure and hasty conclusions. People in this “in love experience” typically exaggerate similarities and good qualities while overlooking differences.

When caring friends or family express concern, the delusional lover doesn’t tend to hear them or claims that, “You just don’t know him as well as I do.” But the euphoria of love can move from delusional to dangerous when people are unable or unwilling to see red flags.

Advice – Let your head lead your heart.

Let your head lead your heart when it comes to relationships. Use your brain! Don’t give your heart to anyone until your head has processed the necessary data to tell you that you are making a wise decision. If you give your heart to a bad relationship and I try to talk your head out of it, no matter how much I might make sense, I will probably not be very successful. 

Emotional love is a natural part of human attraction, but we must not allow it to lead to a delusional euphoric state of stupidity. No matter how good it feels, always be aware that it can produce a blinding effect that hinders rational and wise decision-making. It can also lead to profound disappointment and perhaps even contribute to divorce.

Although people who are “in love” tend to think that the feelings will never change, studies show that the euphoria diminishes early in marriage. This often comes as a surprise or even a shock to the delusional lover. When feelings fade and differences emerge, conflicts become a reality. Delusional lovers often don’t have a plan for resolving conflicts because they don’t think they’ll have any. This is why they tend to be unrealistically traumatized by conflicts.

When this reality hits, it can make people wonder what they were thinking or why their partner changed. “I didn’t see this side to him or her when we were dating.” they tell me. I gently remind them that sides to people don’t appear out of no where. Character traits are typically cut in deep channels with extended histories. So either he was concealing or you weren’t looking — probably both!

Remember that dating often tends to be a time when people conceal information that marriage will inevitably reveal. This is why we must guard our hearts and use our brains.

Someone once recommended that we should focus on becoming the person that the person we’re looking for is looking for. Start first by becoming the person that your future spouse needs. This will more likely lead you to attract and be attracted to the right kind of person. 

We also need a more mature understanding of love. Emotional love tends to be more selfish, more about how I like to feel. Those who are obsessed with emotional love reveal their immaturity.

Immature people are not going to enjoy deep companionship in a functionally healthy marriage. Perhaps the best advice an emotionally obsessed person can hear is that it’s time to grow up and stop making life about your feelings.

The emotional dimension of love (no matter how natural) is not enough to sustain a meaningful and lasting relationship. It’s far too superficial. Deeply satisfying relationships are built on the dimension of love I call “behaving in love.”

This dimension does not depend on feelings and chemistry. It’s based on a choice to value my mate and seek his or her best. It’s a daily decision to respond to my mate in a loving manner — regardless of feelings. While I can’t always make myself feel a certain way, I can always choose to act in a loving way.

Most marriages start with higher doses of emotional love and, in most relationships, the feelings diminish with time. When this happens, the key to love  is not pursuit of feelings — but a choice to act in love even when we don’t feel love. And what I’ve learned is that the feelings often follow the actions.

I am not advocating dishonesty about feelings but a priority on and enjoyment of a more mature approach to love. Marriage is not about feeling love but an agreement to love.

Steve Cornell

See also: