God wants to use marriage to change you

Just wrapped up premarital counseling with a couple getting married this fall. I’ve had the privilege of sitting with hundreds of couples over the years as they prepare for marriage.

One thing I’ve been placing more emphasis on is the need to recognize how God wants to use husbands and wives as instruments of positive change in their mate’s life. No one will have closer access to your mate than you.

I am trying to get husbands and wives to embrace this reality and to leverage closeness and access to each other for ongoing transformation into the likeness of Christ (II Corinthians 3:18).

Christlikeness is what God is producing in those who belong to Him — a restoration to the glory of the image of God from which we have fallen (Genesis 1:26-27; Romans 3:23; 8:29). Husbands are commanded to love their wives as Christ loved the Church (Ephesians 5:25).

When God ordained marriage it was for completion of one individual with another. Something was missing. God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” So God said,  “I will make a helper suitable for him.” (Genesis 2:18). “Helper” and “suitable” are not demeaning terms but beautiful descriptions pointing to the complementary way a woman brings completeness to a man.

The woman was created for the man (I Corinthians 11:9).

She filled up what was missing. None of this implies inferiority for she too is made in the image of God and shares a call to co-regency with the man (Genesis 1:28).

“Woman is the glory of man” (I Corinthians 11:7).

Her union with man fills up what is lacking. She is a “helper” or a “support to him” but this relationship and role does not imply inferiority (see: Galatians 3:28).

Marriage is made up of two unique individuals and loss of uniqueness in either could hurt the purpose of their companionship and completion.

But emphasis on oneness or male leadership should never lead to the disappearance of a woman into the dominance of the man. Nor should male passivity be permitted behind the dominance of the woman. Either approach would violate the original purpose of a complimentary completion. It’s also significant that the man is the one given primary responsibility to forge the bond with his wife (Genesis 2:24). 

Marriage is a bonding of two individual identities into one new relationship. Like the different colors of sand in a sand ceremony, each one brings individual significance, gifts and beauty to the relationship of marriage. Each one is meant to be God’s instrument of ongoing transformation in the life of the other?

Can it work?

Husbands and wives must be secure in their love for each other for this plan to work. When I am convinced that my wife genuinely desires what is best for me according to God’s will, I am secure enough to allow her to speak into my life.  

Where there is rivalry and competition for control and superiority, there are deeper spiritual issues of immaturity to be addressed. Only as we walk by the Spirit with the mind of Christ can we leverage the closeness for ongoing transformation of our lives through marriage (Galatians 5:13-26; Philippians 2:3-10).

Question for discussion: How have you seen this work in your marriage?

Audio messageWhen Two Become One

Steve Cornell

A closer look at love

Relationships are miserable when love is absent. But is there an objective way to identify true love? 

Love defined

The fourteen qualities of love in First Corinthians thirteen offer the best available description of love known to humans. This text remains one of the most quoted Scriptures in wedding ceremonies.

Reflect deeply and often on this description of love:

“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).

This is God’s prescription for great relationships. Love (as defined here) is notably anti-rivalry. It protects relationships from destructive conflict. Playful rivalry is not bad. But when a relationship deteriorates, some form of ugly and divisive rivalry is involved.

  1. Love is patient: It is long-suffering. It restrains anger when provoked. Patience is more than passive waiting. It is active restraint that rests in God.
  2. Love is kind: It reaches out in good will with acts of care and concern for others. Love not only patiently forebears, through kindness, it actively pursues. Loving people are distinguished by their kindness.
  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 one envied. She delights in evil.
  4. Love does not boast: Love corrects the immoderate desire to call attention to one-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. Love is hard to practice when hurt badly (see: Forgiveness).
  10. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth: This rules out gossip, slander, and delight in the downfall of others.

And the grand finale: love always protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres. In a staccato of four verbs enriched with repeated emphasis on how love brings everything under its influence, we learn that “there is nothing love cannot face” (NEB). “Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance” (NLT).

Love is tenacious and faithful. Love is brave and noble; it never fails.

Love is “the most excellent way” (I Corinthians 12:31). “These three remain:Faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (I Corinthians 13:13). “Over all virtues, put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity”(Colossians 3:14).

In Scripture, husbands are commanded to love their wives (Ephesians 5:25); Older women are told to train younger women to love their husbands and children (Titus 2:4) and communities of Christians are to be distinguished by their love for one another (John 13:35). 

The personal nature and greatness of love takes on powerful significance when we realize that God is love. His love was put on display when he loved the unlovable—when “we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Jesus offered a living example of love. In Jesus, the Creator became a creature; the King became a servant; the Shepherd became a lamb; the Sinless one was made sin for us; the High Priest became the sacrifice (see: Philippians 2:3-10).

A gift for you

I recommend regular evaluation of relationships based on the 14 qualities of love in I Corinthians 13. We have put these qualities of love (along with an eight point communication covenant) on laminated cards for easy use. If you email your mailing address to me, we will send you several copies as our gift.

office@millersvillebiblechurch.org

Steve Cornell
Senior pastor
Millersville Bible Church
58 West Frederick street
Millersville, PA. 17551

Sex and Marriage

When couples are preparing for marriage, we help them by looking at the well-known sources of marital conflict. One of them is sex. I explain to engaged couples that the reason for conflict over sex is the very thing that makes it possible. It involves men and women.

Generally, male and female approach sex very differently and couples need to understanding this to minimize the conflict. Analogies are always inadequate but, when it comes to sex, I suggest that men are like microwave ovens and women are like the crock pot. What I am getting at is that the act of sex registers more with men than the relationship leading to it.

If couples want to have a better love life, husbands must be more intentional by taking initiative in cultivating the relationship. Wives must be intentional and take initiative in sexual matters. Wives must realize that they are God’s source of protection for their husbands in the area of sexual temptation. I don’t say this to lay any blame on a wife when a man refuses to resist temptation but, far too often, wives do not take the sexual part of marriage as seriously as they should.

I tell wives-to-be that when a man goes to bed with a woman, there is a good chance he thinks about sex most nights. But when he feels like he always has to be the one to initiate or even has to ask for sex with his wife, a man’s self-respect will be damaged in ways that lead to other problems. This is particularly problematic when a woman uses sexual advances to win a man before marriage only to shut down sexually in marriage. In these cases, deeper changes in thinking need to happen to protect the marriage.  

Open and humble communication are essential in this area. Couples must view sexual frustration as a threat to their marriages. Prolonged sexual abstinence is forbidden in marriage. Scripture specifically identifies this as an opportunity for the evil one to tempt married people because of lack of self-control (see: I Corinthians 7:3-5).

If interested in further consideration of this aspect, consider, “Do you wish you had more sex in your marriage?

Steve Cornell

To love and to cherish

I typically use the traditional vows in wedding ceremonies. Some couples, however, ask to write their own vows.  When they do this, I always ask to review their vows to make sure they align with the substance of the traditional ones.

The vows below are the ones I’ve used for most weddings I’ve performed. If you’re married, review them and recommit yourself to them. If you’re single, reflect on the depth of their meaning.

The line that stands out to me in light of many troubled marriages is the vow “to love and to cherish.” It might sound redundant but loving and cherishing could be two different expressions. Certainly, one cannot claim to cherish someone without love. But is it possible to love without cherishing? I am commanded to love others but I am not sure I am ready to say that I cherish everyone I love.

To cherish implies something precious. Love is doing what is best for others according to God’s will. Love is clearly a value word implying that the one being loved is important. But cherishing seems to take value to a different level. Cherishing implies that someone or thing is exceptionally  precious and valuable. It also seems to imply a kind of tenderheartedness and sweetness that we don’t give to everyone we love. 

When marriages become troubled, you can be certain that cherishing has diminished. When a couple allows an ugly form of competitive rivalry to threaten their unity, loss of good will toward each other replaces cherishing. I realize that it takes work for marriage to work. I remind young couples that it’s one thing to be in love but another to love someone day by day for life.

When we cease to love and to cherish, it’s easy to find fault in the other person. But please look at the condition of your own heart first. I am not suggesting that one’s mate cannot make it exceptionally difficult to love and to cherish him. I know of a number of people facing this challenge. If you’re in this situation, the last line of the vow is important to note: “according to God’s standards.” I do not vow to love and to cherish “according to my mate’s standard” or “my own standard” but God’s standard. This means that sometimes loving and cherishing must be expressed through tough love and accountability (see: Seven signs of true repentance). If I love and cherish someone, I want her to flourish in God’s best for her life. 

____________________________________________________________________

Groom’s name (please repeat after me)

I, _______________, take you ______________, to be my wife, to have and to hold from this day forward. I promise to be your loving and faithful husband, in prosperity or in need, in joy or in sorrow, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death causes us to part, according to God’s standards.

Bride’s name (please repeat after me)

I, _______________, take you ______________, to be my husband, to have and to hold from this day forward. I promise to be your loving and faithful wife, in prosperity or in need, in joy or in sorrow, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death causes us to part, according to God’s standards.

Steve Cornell

See also: How can we know what love is?

What Should You Expect?

Paul Tripp raises an important question for married people in his book titled, “What did you expect?” Many enter marriage with unrealistic expectations. They fail to understand what it realistically means for two sinners to enter a covenant relationship like marriage. 

In my message from this past Sunday, I asked, “What should you expect?” This is a bit of a different approach. If we choose to marry someone who claims to have received God’s  forgiveness and salvation, what should we expect? What difference should it make in the way one views and relates to other people? 

Scripture tells us that, “… when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior…”

So what should we expect to see in a person’s life if she has experienced God’s kindness, love, mercy and salvation? 

Since Scripture warns us not to enter into a covenant with an unbeliever (II Corinthians 6:14), it assumes we can tell the difference between a believer and an unbeliever. What is that difference? If we find the answer to this question, we’ll gain insight into what we should expect. 

Yes, with Tripp’s book, we must guard against expectations that are not based on the narrative of the gospel. But, as I am suggesting, we equally must expect the vertical encounter of the gospel (between a man and God) to send transforming influences into the horizontal of life (relationships on earth).

To listen to the message, click here.

Steve Cornell

The Greatest Way to Live

If you don’t like the life you’re living, allow me to point you to “the most excellent way” (I Corinthians 12:31).

If you want to leave mediocrity and complacency behind to pursue a transformed life, faith and hope are important but the greatest pursuit of all is love” (I Corinthians 13:13).

Love is so great that it binds all other virtues together in perfect unity (Colossians 3:14).

But I must warn you that a life of love is not for the faint of heart. Love will deeply enrich your life and relationships, but it will first require you to put everything under its influence. 

  • Slow down and reflect on the nature of love.
  • Let love examine every part of your life.  
  • Let it ask for changes as you submit to the transforming influence it requires.

The best place to go for love’s examination is to the 14 qualities of love listed in I Corinthians 13. Here is the best available description of love for humanity. A global pursuit of this love would change the world into a much better, safer and more godly place.

“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).

This is God’s prescription for great relationships. Those who practice it minimize conflict because this love is anti-rivalry. Playful rivalry is not bad but when a relationship deteriorates, some form of divisive rivalry is involved.

  1. Love is patient: It is long-suffering. It restrains anger when provoked. Patience is more than passive waiting. It is active restraint that rests in God.
  2. Love is kind: It reaches out in good will with acts of care and concern for others. Love not only patiently forebears, through kindness, it actively pursues. Loving people are distinguished by their kindness.
  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 one envied. She delights in evil.
  4. Love does not boast: Love corrects the desire to call attention to one-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 delight in the downfall of others.

The grand finale: Love always protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres.

In a staccato of four verbs enriched with repeated emphasis on how love brings everything under its influence, we learn that there is nothing love cannot face. Love is tenacious and faithful. Love is brave and noble; it never fails.

The personal nature and greatness of love takes on powerful significance when we realize that God is love. His love was put on display when He loved the unlovable – when “we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Jesus offered a living example of love when as the Creator, He became a creature. The King became a servant; the Shepherd became a lamb; the High Priest became the sacrifice; the Sinless one was made sin for us (see: Philippians 2:3-10).

I recommend regular evaluation of life and relationships based on the 14 qualities of love in I Corinthians 13. We have put these on laminated cards for easy use. If you give me send your mailing address to me, we will send copies of these as our gift to you. (office@millersvillebiblechurch.org)

Steve Cornell


 

 

Does Ephesians 5:21 teach mutual submission?

 

The biblical command for wives to submit to their husbands is one of the more difficult teachings for people to accept.

This is partly due to ways that the command has been misrepresented or abused. Unfortunately, there will always be those who try to make the Bible say things it doesn’t and those who misuse Scripture to oppress others.

But misuses should not make us avoid the truths of Scripture. Some do this regarding submission by suggesting that Scripture actually teaches mutual submission in marriage. They point to Ephesians 5:21 which says, “And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” But this verse should not be read as an isolated command. The context does not support the idea of mutual submission as I will demonstrate in a moment. 

First, we should note that when Scripture portrays a wife as one called to be a keeper of her home who submits to her husband it is not an idea limited to the time it was written. Although responsible interpreters of the Bible understand that not everything in Scripture is meant as a binding obligation on all people in all places, when it comes to marriage, Scripture explicitly transcends cultural limitations by connecting the teaching to the way God created humans and ordained marriage for our good (Genesis 1:26-28; 2:21-25; Matthew 19:3-9; I Timothy 2:11-15).

So a question the Church must answer is what the New Testament requires when it says,

“Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything” (Ephesians 5:22-40)?

A closer look at Ephesians 5

In the original text, the word for “submit” in verse 21 prepares the way for verse 22 (where there is no greek word for submit).

The word in v. 21 also prepares the way for the flow of the next chapters. What we find after verse 21 is the order of submission. It would be like saying, “Submit to one another in a way that looks like this: wives to your husbands…” “Church to Christ,” “children to parents” and “servants to masters.”

To apply mutual submission to any of these would be misguided.

(* V. 21: Ὑποτασσόμενοι ἀλλήλοις ἐν φόβῳ Χριστοῦ “submitting yourselves to one another in the fear of Christ.” v. 22: αἱ γυναῖκες τοῖς ἰδίοις ἀνδράσιν ὡς τῳ κυρίῳ, “wives to your husbands as to the Lord.”)

While one might suggest ways in which a husband could submit to his wife, I believe it is best to call such acts “servant-love.” The term submit is better left to structures of authority and submission. 

Servant-love and submission

The word submit is a term of response to those who bear responsible leadership in human relationships. When Scripture says, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority” (I Peter 2:13), it reminds us that God endorses orders of authority and submission.

Since we can even find this structure demonstrated in the Trinity, we know that submission has nothing to do with inequality or with the fall of humanity into sin. God both models and ordains the functional structure of authority and submission for us. He instituted it in the angelic world as well as the human.

Along these lines, I cannot emphasize strongly enough how important it is for husbands and wives to have the same vision of the nature of marriage. A primary reason for many marital problems is a failure on the parts of husbands and/or wives to understand, respect and live by the God-intended plan for marriage.

According to Scripture, marriage is a one-flesh relationship based on mutual self-giving love. It’s a covenant of companionship between two people who are equally made in the image of God. Yet this equality does not mean that marriage is a relationship is without roles. Nor do roles in marriage diminish equality and the call for mutual love and respect. 

The husband bears primary responsibility to lead the marriage relationship in a God-glorifying manner. His leadership clearly involves authority and should be honored by his wife and family. This authority, however, should be based on love (see: I Corinthians 13:4-7) and thoughtful consideration of the needs of those he leads (see: Philippians 2:3-5). As with all human authority, it should not be followed if it requires one to disobey God. 

What submission does not mean

Misguided notions of submission abound. Some picture a wife who allows her husband to order her around and force her to do whatever he demands. These ideas do not reflect the biblical understanding of wives submitting to their husbands.

To guard against abuses of authority and wrong notions of submission, it’s important to note what submission does not mean. I appreciate the seven things that Piper and Grudem note concerning what submission does not mean (“Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism” ed. John Piper and Wayne Grudem). Their list is based on a New Testament text that curiously offers Sarah as a paradigm of submission (see: I Peter 3:1-7).

  1. Submission does not mean putting a husband in the place of Christ.
  2. Submission does not mean giving up independent thought.
  3. Submission does not mean a wife should give up efforts to influence and guide her husband.
  4. Submission does not mean a wife should give in to every demand of her husband.
  5. Submission is not based on lesser intelligence or competence.
  6. Submission does not mean being fearful or timid.
  7. Submission is not inconsistent with equality in Christ

Submission is most evidenced in a wife respecting her husband through her actions and speech. Wives should resist attitudes, verbal tones and facial expressions that convey disrespect. Playful rivalry is not bad between husbands and wives but divisive rivalry is a sign of deeper heart issues. Husbands must equally act and speak in ways that encourage respectful responses from their wives. But, if their husbands are not being respectful, I encourage wives to find a respectful way to tell them that you are finding it difficult to respect them. (see - Celebrate distinctions between men and women)

For more on what submission should not mean, and on the beauty of diversity within marriage, see - Does unity sand offer a better picture of marriage?

(See - Position Statement On Marriage).

Steve Cornell

What if you don’t feel love?

A wife once told me that she planned to leave her husband because (in her words) she “just didn’t love him anymore.” When I asked her to change the way she worded her decision by saying, “I am choosing to no longer value my husband and to break my commitment to him,” she refused.

She preferred to see herself as a victim of feelings she could not change and actually thought her decision was noble since she was being honest about her feelings. After all, she didn’t want to be a hypocritical.

What’s happening here? Some people tell me they want to be married because of love and others (like this woman) say they want out of marriage because they no longer feel love. This has led me to ask some questions about the nature of love.

What is love? Is it something we can fall in and fall out of? Is it chemistry? Infatuation? Is it an emotional response or a choice? I’ve concluded that we must distinguish two dimensions of love.

1. Being in love

This dimension is the emotional attraction of love. It’s what people mean when they speak of “falling in love.” It’s usually based on more superficial reactions to appearance and first impressions. Clearly, it’s a natural part of human attraction and although not necessarily wrong, it’s not enough to sustain a meaningful and lasting relationship. It’s far too superficial. Marriage is not about being in love but an agreement to love.

Deeply satisfying relationships are built on the second dimension of love:

2. Behaving in love

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

The distinction between these two dimensions is very important in a marriage relationship. Most marriages start with a high dose of being in love and in most relationships these feeling diminish with time. When this happens, the key to keeping the flame of love burning is not pursuit of feelings — but a decision to value your mate and be devoted to his or her best — no matter what one feels. 

Behaving in love is a choice to act in love even when we don’t feel love. I am not advocating dishonesty. It’s a matter of priority. When we choose to love, the feelings often follow our actions!

Cultural obstacle to love

Have you noticed how being true to your feelings has become a measure of good character? One who fails to act consistently with her feelings is considered dishonest and hypocritical. This cultural standard is often used to give people a false sense of virtue when breaking deep commitments. Using this standard of avoiding hypocrisy and being honest enough to admit a loss of feelings, married people justify (and even consider virtuous) breaking wedding vows.

There is a deeply self-destructive deception in this line of reasoning. It implies that we are victims of our feelings instead of being capable of mastering them. Feelings come and go with changes in the weather. Do you go to work only when you feel like going? Do athletes or great musicians only practice when they feel like it? We simply cannot live a healthy and productive lives if we let feelings master us. This is especially true in relationships.

Love must be understood as a value word and an action more than a feeling if we hope to experience deep and lasting relationships as intended by God.

God demonstrated His love for us not because we were a warm and lovable group of people whom he couldn’t resist. “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  This is the love husbands are commanded to show toward their wives (Ephesians 5:25).

Reflect often on this distinction between: Being in love and Behaving in love. Share this with your family and friends, in small groups and with those preparing for marriage.

Prayerfully evaluate your love based on the best definition of love available to humanity.

“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. Love never fails” (I Corinthians 13:1-8a).

Steve Cornell

_________________________________________________

“Often we speak about love as if it is a feeling. But if we wait for a feeling of love before loving, we may never learn to love well. The feeling of love is beautiful and life-giving, but our loving cannot be based in that feeling. To love is to think, speak, and act according to the spiritual knowledge that we are infinitely loved by God and called to make that love visible in this world. Mostly we know what the loving thing to do is. When we ‘do’ love, even if others are not able to respond with love, we will discover that our feelings catch up with our acts” (Nouwen).

Other resources:  (Audio clips: Heart, mind and emotions & Facing Divorce)

Sex – differences between men and women

Do you wish you had more sex in your marriage?

I asked this question one night at a large gathering of men from our Church when I was assigned the subject of sex for a Men’s Fellowship night.

When men get together, it can get interesting. When the subject of sex comes up, it gets really interesting! I told the men that I planned to talk openly with them about something that is on all of their minds. 

I asked, “How many of you wish you had more sex in your marriage?” and the response was loud and affirmative. With a kind of male grunt (unique to the species), the men quickly acknowledged their desire for more sex. This might not sound great to women but the truth is that most husbands want more sex in marriage — more, that is, than their wives desire.

A main source of conflict

Counselors have agreed for many years that sex is one of the four or five main areas of marital conflict. I love asking young couples preparing for marriage why sex is a big source of conflict in marriage. If they’re striving for purity in their relationship, one of their toughest challenges is keeping their hands off each other! 

Most engaged couples don’t understand why sex would be a source of marital conflict. It sounds strange to them. So premarital counselors must look down the road and help them to think realistically about life — and, reality is not unclear on this matter. 

I tell singles and engaged couples that one of the primary reasons sex is a source of conflict in marriage is the very thing that makes it possible. I always get a look of confusion from them until I say: “It involves a man and a woman!” Then, after awkward laughter, they return to their confused look. To help them understand, I use the following illustration:

Microwaves and Crock-pots

The point I am making is that men and women typically approach sex differently. A somewhat simplistic illustration I use is the difference between a microwave and a crock-pot. Men can tend to be like microwaves when it comes to sex; women tend to be more like a crock-pots (I didn’t say “crack-pot”!).

Do you get the illustration? Sex for women is typically part of an overall relationship. It tends to be more of a physical act for men. Please understand that I am not validating all that could be implied by the illustration, I am just trying to illustrate general facts.

In most marriages, sex will be more of an area of intentional giving for women. Relationship-building will require more thoughtful intention from men.

A primary reason sex becomes a source of conflict is this fact that husbands tend to want more sex in marriage than their wives. When you factor in how a man often tends to connect his sense of self-respect to sex, things can get really bad if he feels rejected or like he is always the initiator.

I’ve sometimes observed resentment from husbands over the way their wives were sexually aggressive before marriage and shut down after marriage. Some single women (sadly) assume that they must use sexual advances to “win” a man. In doing this, they give him the impression that this is how life together will be.

Couples who don’t follow God’s plan for sexual purity often don’t realize that they’re inviting more trouble into marriage. The need for sexual restraint doesn’t end with marriage. And I’ve talked with men who resentfully express how they had more sex with their wives before they were married. 

Lest I sound like I am picking on women, in a similar way, men are often guilty of using intentional relationship building to “win” a woman only to shift into complacency after marriage. The pastor who performed our wedding charged me with these words: “The graces you used to win her love, use to keep her love.” I need to be reminded of this charge.

Sober words for married couples:

When it comes to the sexual part of marriage, couples should pause over these words:

“But because there is so much sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman should have her own husband. The husband should fulfill his wife’s sexual needs, and the wife should fulfill her husband’s needs. The wife gives authority over her body to her husband, and the husband gives authority over his body to his wife. Do not deprive each other of sexual relations, unless you both agree to refrain from sexual intimacy for a limited time so you can give yourselves more completely to prayer. Afterward, you should come together again so that Satan won’t be able to tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” (I Corinthians 7:2-5, NLT)

If couples want to have a better love life, husbands must be intentional and take initiative in building relationship and wives must be intentional and take initiative in sexual matters. 

Wives, please remember that you are God’s source of protection for your husbands. Couples must view sexual frustration as a threat to their marriages. Prolonged sexual abstinence must not be permitted in a marriage. Scripture specifically identifies it as an opportunity for the evil one!

Teach singles 

Men and women are different. Without some prior discussion about this reality, the differences will likely become unnecessary sources of selfishness and conflict. Many images have been used to explain male/female differences. Men are from Mars, women from Venus; Men are like waffles; women like spaghetti. The differences are real and should be studied by couples preparing for marriage. Once understood, couples should consider the way God can use their differences to build stronger oneness. 

A unique challenge in the Church

The challenge to allow differences lead to oneness is sometimes hindered by an unfortunate tendency to use biblical references to headship and submission to diminish the uniqueness and contributions of wives. When a husband insists that life conforms to his dominant identity, he violates God’s original plan for marriage and fails to embrace the original truth that it’s not good for the man to be alone. 

I’ve also observed women who suppress their identity under more dominant men who frankly need their gifts and strengths. Sometimes these women entertain misguided understandings of headship and submission. Trying to be “submissive wives,” and letting their husbands be “leaders of their homes,” these women violate the original design by not fulfilling a complementary role for husbands who badly need their unique gifts. 

The original plan assumes the necessity of individuality and uniqueness (in both husbands and wives) for the completion of oneness. The two must become one — without one disappearing into the other.

 Steve Cornell 

5 commitments for a good marriage

My wife and I recently celebrated 30 years of marriage. We share many good memories but we also experienced many challenges and trials on the journey.

Two years after getting married, we moved from Philadelphia to Millersville, Pennsylvania to start a Church. We were proud new parents of a baby boy and ready for our adventure.

In a very short time, the Church grew from 10 to more than 250 people and our family also grew from three to five. A few years later, we would have our fourth child and the Church continued to grow.

Leading a growing ministry and parenting a busy family tested us in many ways! Sometimes we wonder how we survived. “How did our marriage withstand the tests of life and ministry?” we’ve asked.

Certainly, we give thanks to God for sustaining us yet we recognize that we are not passive recipients of God’s work. Maintaining a strong marriage requires some basic relationship commitments. 

Five specific commitments helped us to stay on course toward a marriage that is thriving instead of surviving.

1. We are teammates not opponents

Married people must look beyond “me” to “we.” Marriage is based on togetherness and companionship. Teammates watch out for each another. They take each others backs. Whether they come from without or within, we must guard against forces that threaten our unity. Even our children should respect the priority of our relationship and learn to value it. Children build so much of their identity and security on the strength of their parents’ marriage.

Ask yourself the hard questions: Am I too proud or too selfish to be a good teammate? Am I too critical? Am I open to correction? Does my tendency to be argumentative hurt team unity? The potential changes in marriage and family require flexibility and a willingness to make adjustments. Work together! You’re on the same team!

2. We will value and respect each other

In a pre-marital meeting, the pastor who officiated our wedding looked at me and said, “The graces you used to win her love, you must use to keep her love.” Wow! I have not always done very well fulfilling that assignment. In courtship, I tried extra hard to treat my future wife with value and respect. As the years passed, it became easier to grow complacent and to take her for granted. I’ve rarely counseled a troubled marriage that did not have some degree of complacency in it. 

As a “typical man,” for example, I don’t always listen to my wife as well as I should. My lack of listening easily communicates disrespect. To value and respect each other, we must stay “tuned in” to each other. Encouraging words, well-timed compliments, thoughtful notes, a simple hug—these are little but meaningful ways to express value and respect. They teach us to keep first things first. Their absence can lead to a loss of good will toward each other.

Here are a few lines worth repeating: “I appreciate how hard you work around the home.” “I realize that your job has been stressful, how can I help?” “Thank you for______________.” Communicate value and respect as much and as often as possible.

3. We will acknowledge selfishness

Selfishness is enemy number one to a good marriage. A wise counselor said, “There are two kinds of people in the world, the givers and the takers. A marriage between two givers can be a beautiful thing. Friction is the order of the day, however, for a giver and a taker. But two takers can claw each other to pieces within a period of six weeks. In short, selfishness will devastate a marriage every time.”

I encourage couples to preface their acknowledgements of wrong with words that assault this enemy of marriage. Say, “It was very selfish of me to…” or “I was only thinking about myself when…”. Many couples have simply (and painfully) allowed selfishness to destroy their marriages. Do you tend to demand your way? Do you always have to be right? Are you easily threatened by constructive criticism? If you want a strong marriage, you must defeat selfishness. 

4. We will not neglect our physical relationship

Sex is part of marriage. Most men would like it to be a bigger part of their marriages! Men and women approach sex differently. Men are like the microwave; women are like the crock-pot. Both men and women would benefit from reading material that explains their differences.

This area of marriage (like all others) requires open communication. Couples with communication problems have many other problems. The absence of a healthy sexual relationship in a marriage is an indicator of deeper problems. Couples who struggle with this commitment need to revisit the first three commitments. Improvement on these –will improve a couple’s sexual relationship. Do not allow neglect or other issues to ruin sexual intimacy.

5. We will stay close to God

“A rope made up of three cords is hard to break” (Ecclesiastes 4:12). The “third cord” of a meaningful and lasting marriage is God. As husbands and wives cultivate their relationship with God, they make a strong contribution to their marriages. We were created to live in a personal relationship with God and he has opened the way for this to be possible (see: John 3:16,17).

We can strengthen our relationship with God by listening to him as he speaks through the Scriptures. We also cultivate this relationship through prayer and fellowship with others who are trying to live for God. When husbands and wives continually examine their lives according to God’s standards they become better mates and enjoy a stronger marriage.

Questions for deeper reflection

  1. What have you allowed to become a dividing force in your marriage?
  2. Are you too busy or too pre-occupied with hobbies or entertainment?
  3. Have you allowed bad attitudes or uncontrolled anger to drive a wedge between yourself and your mate?
  4. Are you too proud, or too selfish to be a good teammate?
  5. Are you too much of a critic and fault finder?
  6. Does your tendency to be argumentative hurt team unity in your marriage?
  7. What changes could you make to bring team unity to your marriage?

Scriptures to guide you

  • “Two are better off than one, because they can work more effectively. If one of them falls down, the other can help him up…Two people can resist an attack that defeats one person alone. A rope made up of three cords is hard to break” (Ecclesiastes 4:9,12).
  • “Live in harmony with one another.  Do not be proud,… Do not be conceited (Romans 12:16).
  • “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18).
  • “Do everything without complaining or arguing” (Philippians 2:14).
  • “It is to a man’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel (Proverbs 20:3).

See: Two principles for resolving conflict

Steve Cornell