Marriage Series: 6) The Reality of Marriage

The Reality of Marriage

Text: Galatians 5:24-6:10

 

Over the last 5 weeks we’ve been looking at Ephesians 5 and Paul’s absolutely magnificent picture of what marriage is meant to be. The vision of marriage in Ephesians 5 is the marriage that we all should aspire to, it’s the ideal marriage, the marriage that God originally intended. But the reality is that we don’t have ideal marriages. Our marriages aren’t pictures of Christ’s love for the Church. Our marriages aren’t characterized by the power of the Holy Spirit. Our marriages aren’t marked by covenantal commitment. Our marriages are about our happiness rather than our spouse’s holiness. Our marriages are marked by the abuse of power and the rejection of gender roles. Our marriages are often far from ideal, in fact often our marriages are better described as broken, painful, lonely, and frustrated. This morning I want to look at the reality of marriage, the reality of your marriage, or if you’re not married, the reality of whatever relationships you have. We’re going to look at how to deal with your personal brokenness, how to deal with the brokenness of others, particularly your spouse, and how to deal with inter-personal issues.

 

1) Dealing with your own brokenness

So let’s start by dealing with your own brokenness. There’s an old hymn that goes, ‘If there’s need for changing people, let it begin with me.’ It’s good advice, we need to start with our own brokenness before we deal with someone else’s. In fact, Paul says the same thing in our text. He writes, ‘1 …if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. 4 Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, 5 for each one should carry his own load. (Gal 6:1,4-5)’ Paul has five things to say about you before you worry about anyone else.

a) Be Spiritual

Firstly, we ought to be spiritual. What does Paul mean by that? Does he mean that we have to be perfect before we can confront others? Let’s hope not, because the reality is that we’re far from perfect. Paul is actually talking to ‘24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus… (Gal 5:24a)’ We often think of spiritual people as people who do spiritual things, but according to the Bible spiritual people first and foremost belong to Jesus. Being spiritual is all about your connection to Christ. Secondly, spiritual people are those who have the Holy Spirit. Earlier in this letter Paul says, ‘16 …live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. (Gal 5:16)’ and he talks about being ‘18 …led by the Spirit… (Gal 5:18a)’ and he says, ‘25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (Gal 5:25)’ And later he talks about people ‘8 …who sow to please the Spirit… (Gal 6:8b)’ Spiritual people aren’t perfect people, rather they are people who have put their faith in Jesus Christ for their salvation and they now belong to Him. They are spirit-filled people, people who allow the spirit to convict them of their sin, and who respond with repentance, who keep in step with the Spirit. As we saw earlier in this series, the only way to grow a marriage that begins to reflect Christ’s love for the church is by the power of the Holy Spirit. So how do you become a spiritual person? This is so important I want to spend a few minutes on this point. There are 7 things that you need to do to become a spiritual person.

i) Trust Jesus

Firstly, you need to trust Jesus. You need to believe that Jesus is your Lord and Saviour, that he is God in the flesh who died on the cross for your sins. The first step in dealing with your own brokenness is not trying harder to be a better person, but turning to Jesus Christ in faith. Without Jesus you will never find true healing for the brokenness in your life. Without Jesus you will never find forgiveness for your sin. Dealing with your brokenness without Jesus is like putting a bandaid on a skin cancer. Often in our world we treat the symptoms rather than the underlying cause. If you want a good marriage you have to start with your relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

ii) Confess your sins

Secondly, you need to confess your sins. Jesus says, ‘5 …first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s, or in our case, your spouse’s, eye. (Mt 7:5)’ Our natural tendency is to see other’s sin and lay the blame at their feet, but Jesus tells us to begin with our own sins. Confession means we agree with God about our failures. We no longer excuse our behaviour, rather we acknowledge before God how we have sinned. Only as we confess our brokenness before God do we find healing. It’s only as we confess our own failures that we are equipped to help with the failures of our spouses. I suggest that you get a pencil and paper and ask God where you have failed in your marriage, and write down it down. Then go over your list and confess each sin thanking God that Jesus has paid the penalty for your sin and accepting his forgiveness.

iii) Read God’s word

Thirdly, you need to read God’s word. The only way to grow in our knowledge of who God is and how he wants us to live is by going to the Bible and reading what God has told us about himself and the purpose of our lives. If being spiritual is about belonging to Jesus we need to learn as much about Jesus as possible, otherwise we will get sucked into some very unspiritual views of God, salvation and life.

iv) Pray

Fourthly, you need to pray. Your relationship with God will only grow if you learn to communicate with him. As God speaks to us through his word, we respond to him through prayer. Often we think of reading the Bible and prayer as religious activities, but they are meant to be avenues of intimate fellowship between us and God. Through prayer God gives us the spiritual resources to deal with the issues that we face both in our personal lives and in our marriage.

v) Obey

Next, we need to obey. As you read Scripture you will come across clear commands from God, such as ‘22 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. (Eph 5:22)’ and ‘25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. (Eph 5:25)’ Such commands are given for our good. God, who made us, knows precisely what will make us happy and fruitful in life. Spiritual people, people who trust Jesus, who confess their sins, who read God’s word and pray, choose to obey God’s will. But we don’t obey God in our own strength, rather we do so in God’s strength through the power of the Holy Spirit. Spiritual people ask the Spirit to enable them to live obedient lives.

vi) Worship

Next, we need to worship. As we sing praises to God we remind ourselves what God is like and the awesome things he has done for us in Jesus Christ. Before dealing with marriage Paul says, ‘19 Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Eph 5:19-20)’

vii) Fellowship

Finally, you need to invest in the fellowship of other believers. Spiritual people not only belong to Jesus, they belong to his body, the church, they are a part of something bigger than themselves, somewhere they can serve and be served, somewhere they can challenge others and be challenged by others. Spiritual people encourage other people, as Paul says in our text, ‘9 Let us not become weary in doing good... 10 …especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (Gal 6:9a,10b)’

The truth is that as we trust Jesus, as we confess  our sins, as we read God’s word daily, listening to God’s voice and responding to God’s commands in the power of the Holy Spirit, as we worship God and invest ourselves in God’s people, God uses all of these things to help us become more like Jesus, to help us become more spiritual people. When it comes to dealing with our brokenness the first place to start is our spiritual condition, our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. This morning I want to ask: How spiritual are you? How is your relationship with Jesus?

b) Watch Yourself

So let’s get back to what Paul has to say in our text. The second piece of advice that Paul gives us is to watch ourselves. He says, ‘1 …Watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. (Gal 6:1b)’ You see there are two dangers in looking at someone else’s struggles.

i) You can be tempted by their sin

Firstly, you can be tempted by their sin. Jesus tells his disciples to ‘41 Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak. (Mt 26:41)’ The danger is that if we’re not careful we can end up doing what others do. The danger is that we can become like our spouse instead of like Jesus. We need to watch that we don’t fall into the same trap that our spouses may be struggling with.

ii) Spiritual Pride

The second danger is that you can be tempted to think you’re better than they are, which is the sin of spiritual pride. If you spend all your time looking at the sin of others you can often forget about your own sinfulness. This was the sin of the Pharisees. They spent all their time looking at other people’s sinfulness they became blind to their own. In fact, they became so blind that despite how much they knew about God they couldn’t recognize him when he was standing right in front of him. Spiritual blindness makes people ungracious and arrogant. People who are spiritually blind expect people to be more like them, rather than more like Jesus. We need to watch our tendencies towards falling into temptation and sin on the one hand, or spiritual pride on the other.

c) Test your own actions

Thirdly, Paul tells us to test our own actions. Verse 4, ‘4 Each one should test his own actions. (Gal 6:4a)’ And notice that we’re to test our actions, not the actions of others. Again, we’re to start with ourselves. The Psalmist prays, ‘2 Test me, O Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind. (Ps 26:2)’ Ask yourself, ‘Am I acting in love towards my spouse? Are my motives pure? As a husband, am I practicing servant leadership, am I laying down my life for my wife? As a wife, am I submitting and showing respect for my husband? Am I acting in a way that honours God?’ Before you can confront someone else, you need to test yourself.

d) Don’t compare

Fourthly, Paul says, ‘don’t compare.’ What he means is ‘don’t compare yourself to others.’ Don’t judge your actions against the actions of your spouse, ‘they aren’t loving me much so I won’t love them much!’ And don’t judge your actions against the actions of others, ‘I’m a better husband or wife than such and such!’ One broken sinful person comparing themselves with another broken sinful person is what we call ‘the pot calling the kettle black!’  The only person you’re allowed to compare yourself with is Jesus. That’s Paul’s point in Ephesians 5, ‘husbands love your wives like Christ loved the Church, and wives submit to your husbands like Jesus submitted to his Father.’ Don’t compare yourself to your spouse, or anyone else, compare yourself with Jesus. Ask yourself, ‘Am I loving my spouse the way Jesus loves me?’ Or, ‘Am I loving my spouse the way Jesus loves them?’

e) Carry your own load

And the whole point according to Paul is that you need to carry your own load. You have a load of sin, and it’s your responsibility to take it to Jesus so that he can deal with it on the cross. You have the responsibility to confess your sin, no one else can do that for you. You have the responsibility to read God’s word and grow in your knowledge of God. You have the responsibility to pray and obey, to worship God and invest in your fellow believers. Ultimately, it’s not your spouse’s responsibility, it’s yours.

The reality of your marriage is that it’s not the marriage God wants it to be because of you. So I encourage you to do a personal self-reflection. Where is your faith in Jesus? What sins do you need to confess? How are you growing in the spiritual disciplines? Are you being obedient to God’s will? Are you keeping in step with the Spirit? Are you watching your own tendency to give in to your sinful nature? Are you testing your actions, whether you are behaving in a way that honours God? Are you comparing yourself to Jesus rather then others? Are you carrying your load, are you taking responsibility for dealing with your brokenness?

 

2) Dealing with your spouse’s brokenness

And if you think that’s scary, now I want to look at how do you deal with your spouse’s brokenness? There’s a minefield! The simplest answer is carefully. Actually, there’s a lot in Scripture about how we are to confront sin in other people.

a) We can’t avoid it

Firstly, we can’t avoid it. If the mission of marriage is the holiness of your spouse, you can’t avoid confronting sin in their lives. Paul says, ‘6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. (1 Cor 13:6)’ If you love your spouse you cannot allow their sin to slide, you have to speak truth into their life.

b) We deal directly with them

Secondly, we need to deal directly with them. Jesus tells us that ‘15 If your brother, or in this case your spouse, sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. (Mt 18:15)’ You go directly to the person involved and deal with it. The opposite is gossip. Gossip is where you go to someone else and talk about it. If you have a problem with your spouse go directly to your spouse.

c) With humility

Thirdly, we need to deal with our spouse’s brokenness with humility. When Jesus tells us not to judge others his point is that we’re in no position to judge others (Mt 7:1-5). The only way you can deal with the brokenness in your spouse is as a broken person. We are all sinners, and we confront sin in others not because we are better than them, but because God calls us to confront sin in others. We approach our spouse’s sinfulness, on our knees, so to speak.

d) With Gentleness

Fourthly, we do this with gentleness. Like Paul said earlier, ‘1 …if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. (Gal 6:1a)’ When faced with the sin of your spouse you need to remind yourself how God dealt with your sin. God could’ve rubbed your nose in it, he could’ve condemned you for it, he could’ve judged you for it, but instead he was gracious to you, he was merciful, he was compassionate, he didn’t treat you as your sins deserved. Just as God is gentle towards us we need to be gentle with others.

e) With Love

Fifth, you deal with your spouse’s brokenness with love. Paul asks ‘how do we will grow up into Christ-likeness?’ And he says by ‘15 …speaking the truth in love… (Eph 4:15a)’ We have to speak the truth. We have to be honest about our spouse’s sin, but we do so in love. That means that we confront our spouse with their best interests at heart. Dealing with their sin isn’t about making your life better, but about encouraging them to become more like Jesus, it’s about making their life better. So you have to examine your motives, is this really about them, or is it more about you?

f) With forgiveness

Finally, you need to practise forgiveness. Just before Paul turns to the issue of marriage he writes ‘32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Eph 4:32)’ You will never be able to live with your spouse’s brokenness unless you can forgive them. Forgiveness means saying what you did was wrong, what you did hurt me, what you did made both me and God angry, but I am committed to you, and I’m not going to hold this against you, I’m not going to allow this to drive a wedge between us.

g) With the Holy Spirit

And all this is possible only with the help of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit gives us the boldness to confront the sin in other people’s lives. And the Spirit helps us do so with humility, gentleness and love, after all they are the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23a). So before you confront someone else’s brokenness you need to ask the Spirit to give you the grace and wisdom to do so in a way that will honour God and encourage that person to repent and change their life.

What things do you need to confront in your spouse’s life? You can’t avoid those things, confronting sin is one the reasons God brought you into their life and them into yours. But confront one another’s sin with one another. And do so with humility, gentleness, love and forgiveness through the power of the Holy Spirit. And remember, the purpose is not to make them feel guilty, or make yourself feel superior, but to restore them into relationship with Jesus, to help them become more like him.

 

3) Dealing with issues

So, in dealing with struggles in marriage you first deal with your own brokenness, then you deal with your spouse’s brokenness, thirdly, you need to deal with any issues that crop up. Issues can just about be anything from who puts out the garbage, how the finances are handled, and dealing with unexpected emergencies. And every marriage will face issues of one type or another. So how do you deal with them?

a) Talk about issues

Firstly, you need to talk about them. It’s not exactly rocket science, but in my experience one of the most common causes of tension in marriage are issues that aren’t dealt with. One person presumes everything is okay, and the other person presumes that they know it’s not okay, and suddenly you have an issue. You need to make talking through issues a priority in your marriage. Men generally aren’t very good with verbal communication, let alone non-verbal, so if you want your husband to know what you’re feeling you sort of have to tell him. And husbands, you have to prioritize time to talk things over with your wife. The Bible says, ‘15 See to it that …no bitter root grows up to cause trouble… (Heb 13:15b)’ When stuff remains unspoken it often leads to bitterness. And if you are finding that you are resenting your spouse, you have to speak up. Don’t let bitterness take root in your marriage.

b) Pray about issues

Secondly, you need to pray about any issues that arise. Don’t just rely on your own wisdom, or your own strength to deal with stuff, turn to God for help. Paul says, ‘6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition… present your requests to God. (Phil 4:6)’ Remember that the ability to love your spouse like Jesus loves the Church requires the power of the Holy Spirit. You need divine intervention to have the sort of marriage God wants you to have. God’s help isn’t an optional extra. Marriage needs to be based on a foundation of prayer. And I encourage you to pray together about issues.

c) Seek godly advice

Thirdly, if you have talked about an issue and prayed about it and you can’t resolve it, you need to seek godly advice. If it’s something that you’re dealing with personally, you can personally seek help. But if you’re dealing with something as a couple, you need to seek help together. I’m not a trained counsellor, but I’m happy to listen and help in whatever way I can. But there are also some great Christian counsellors out there that can help you resolve issues. I would also recommend books like the ones I used as the basis of this series, Tim Keller’s book ‘The Meaning of Marriage,’ Mark Driscoll’s, ‘Real Marriage,’ Gary Chapman’s, ‘The Five Love Languages,’ and Henry Cloud’s, ‘Boundaries in Marriage,’ and there are plenty of others. Whatever you do learn from the wisdom and experiences of others.

d) Don’t take your marriage for granted

Finally, I want to encourage you, don’t take your marriage for granted. Paul writes, ‘12 …if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! (1 Cor 10:12)’ Maybe you’re listening to all this and thinking, ‘Our marriage is great, we don’t have any problems, I don’t have to worry about this stuff!’ That’s great, but don’t become complacent. Make sure you prioritize your marriage and your relationship with your spouse. Be intentional about dealing with your brokenness. Be intentional about dealing with your spouse’s brokenness. Be intentional about talking and praying through issues, because if you’re not working on your marriage, you can be sure that Satan will be working on it. You can experience God’s grace as you deal with the brokenness in your life and in your marriage.

 

I don’t know what’s going in your marriage this morning, but whatever it is it’s likely that you’re partly to blame and if there’s a need for changing things it needs to start with you. This morning I want to encourage you to look at yourself. Where are you at spiritually? Deal with the sin in your life, that if left unchecked with threaten to break your marriage. Invest your life in becoming a spiritual person, in keeping in step with the Spirit. Watch yourself, test yourself, don’t compare yourself to others, carry your load. But I also want to encourage you to deal with the brokenness in your spouse. Don’t avoid it, don’t whinge about it to others, but encourage your spouse to become more like Jesus with humility, gentleness, love, and forgiveness, through the power of the Holy Spirit. And if you’re facing a particular issue at the moment I want to encourage you to talk about it and pray about. And if you need to, don’t hesitate to seek godly advice. Whatever you do don’t take your marriage for granted, instead work on it so that by the Spirit it will more and more come to reflect Christ’s love for the church. Amen.

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