Bad marriages often involve people who are wounded. And what you will notice about those who have been wounded by significant others is that they have been oppressed, they have been mistreated, injustice has been done to them. But you will notice something else. You will notice that they are also very self-absorbed. They can’t defer. They can’t see another point of view. They cannot see the needs of others. They might burn themselves out meeting others needs out of a desire to meet their own needs. But they are still operating from the self.
And when a wounded person gets married and a sin is pointed out, their response is yeah, I can kind of see that, but you don’t understand me. You don’t REALLY know me. You don’t know the ways I have been wounded by others. And the relationship hits a brick wall. And over time, an emotional distance begins to form. And you might not say this aloud, but what happens is a kind of bargaining. You don’t bug me about that, and I won’t bug you about that. You don’t mention that, I won’t talk about that. This kind of bargaining. And the married couple might seem happy on the surface, but when the cameraman takes the picture for the 40th anniversary, it will be forced.
Modern advice suggests that if someone is wounded, the last thing you want to do is to challenge them. You have to coddle them. You have to build up their self-esteem. There are many self-help books around nowadays. And when looking for a spouse, modern advice suggests that you need to find someone who will acknowledge your wounds and meet your needs and allow you to grow into your full potential. And if your spouse doesn’t help you toward this end, then it’s time to move on.
At this point, it would be helpful to keep the Biblical view of human nature in mind. The Bible is clear–our self-centeredness was prior to our woundedness. The wounds just aggravated our selfishness, but our selfishness was there all along. It just got aggravated.
When you first get married, you are blind to each other’s faults. Because the feelings are so strong. But what happens when the feelings fade, and they do, what happens several months or several years into the marriage? 3 things happen. First, you begin to see your spouse’s selfishness. What was once a cute quirkiness now annoys you to no end. A second thing starts to happen. Your spouse begins to point out your selfishness. And a third thing happens, you determine that your spouse’s selfishness is more significant than your own. Trust me, it happens.
Here is the secret of marriage. In marriage, we re-enact the gospel to one another. Jesus died for the church, not because the church was so lovely. No, Jesus died in order to make the church lovely. Through sacrificial service, by dying on a cross, he is moving us toward our future glory self, that radiant bride without blemish, holy and blameless–Eph 5:27. The same thing is happening in marriage. Through sacrificial service, we are helping our spouse achieve their future glory self. And we do this toward our spouse regardless of how they treat us. What if Jesus decided to die on the cross only when we were loving toward him? Then, we’d be in a heap of trouble.
Another way to put it–marriage, just like the church, is a tool in God’s toolbox to sanctify us. There is no physical marriage in heaven. And there is no local church in heaven. Only the universal church. But why are those two things so important in this life? Because they are tools that God uses to sanctify us and help us achieve our future glory self. A radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
Practically, this means that when each spouse determines, my selfishness is more important, more central than my spouse’s selfishness and I am going to work on it, if both parties commit to doing this, then the marriage is going to soar. Even if one person says, my selfishness is the biggest problem in our relationship and I am going to work on it, even if one person commits to this, then the marriage has a great chance for success. Because your humility and service will have a softening effect on your spouse.
What about in a church, what if brothers and sisters in Christ said to one another, the biggest problem in our relationship is my selfishness and I commit to working on my selfishness first and foremost, if most of us do this, then you have a church that will soar spiritually.
If you are married, I believe the application is pretty straightforward. Don’t look at your spouse’s selfishness as the main problem in the relationship. Look to your own.
What if you are single? Cherish your singleness. It’s time to devote yourself fully to the work of the Lord. If you don’t live fully for the Lord as a single, it will be exponentially more difficult once you get married and have kids. If you don’t believe your calling is to be celibate and you desire to be married, work on your selfishness now. It will save you a lot of pain and heartache later in marriage. Ask for the Holy Spirit because you won’t be able to submit to another without divine help.
More than anything, saturate yourself with the Biblical picture of marriage. It’s a glorious picture that points to Christ and His love for the church. Don’t apply the message by being anxious about marriage. Apply it by thinking about the passages that speak about marriage. Filter your life through God’s wisdom rather than filtering life, including your future marriage, through your own wisdom and experiences.
To wrap up, time is short. Even in the absence of crisis, we have no idea how long God will allow us to remain together. At this church. Whether single or married, whether here or somewhere else, let’s live wholeheartedly for the Lord.