Is love enough to sustain a marriage for a lifetime? Pastor Alistair Begg talks about the importance of understanding God's plan for marriage.
Is love enough to sustain a marriage for a lifetime? Pastor Alistair Begg talks about the importance of understanding God's plan for marriage.
Bob: Romantic feelings for one another are good, but Alistair Begg says they’re not sufficient to sustain a marriage throughout a lifetime.
Alistair: I met my wife when she was a 13-year-old girl and I was 16. When I held her hand for the first time, it was like electricity. I mean, I’m surprised my hair never actually elevated on my head. When I hold her hand today, it’s not the same as then; it is better, but it’s not the same feeling. Do you want the feeling, or do you want to do what God says?
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, February 9th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. What does it take to sustain a marriage for a lifetime? We’ll hear about that from Alistair Begg today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition. We were together in Lynchburg, Virginia, back in October. We had several hundred people joining us there, and several thousand people in locations all across the country, who spent a day with us, hearing messages like the message we’re hearing this week from Alistair Begg about the importance of understanding God’s design / God’s plan for our marriage.
This is a great message. Alistair is, of course, the pastor at Parkside Church in suburban Cleveland, Ohio. He is heard on the daily radio program, Truth for Life. He’s a good friend, and I think our listeners are going to appreciate what he has to share.
Dennis: And if you missed the first half of the message, you can go online and listen to it there. Frankly, you ought to. You’ve got to find out how you are stuck as only a Scot can tell you you are stuck.
How can that have so many—what’s that roll called that the Scottish has?
Bob: Are you talking about the brogue?
Bob: [Imitating accent] Scots have an accent, but I don’t think they have a brogue.
Dennis: Oh, my goodness!
Bob: [Imitating accent] Find it and see if they do.
Dennis: [Laughing] Google® it!
Bob: [Imitating accent] “Do the Scottish people have a brogue, or is it just the Irish?”
Dennis: While Bob is looking this up, now on his Google, our teacher today—
Dennis: —is Alistair Begg. What do you call the way he speaks?
Bob: [Imitating accent] He speaks with a Scottish accent.
Dennis: It has a brogue.
Bob: [Imitating accent] I don’t know that it’s a brogue.
Dennis: It is a brogue!
Bob: [Imitating accent] Ay, but I’m not sure it is lassie! [Laughter]—laddie! I should call you “laddie”; shouldn’t I? [Laughter]
Dennis: This is the first time—
Bob: —you’ve been called a lassie. [Laughter]
Dennis: —in 23-and-a-half years Bob has ever called me a dog. [Laughter]
But we are going to hear a message that isn’t a dog today. You know what? Let’s cut away from the chase here, and let’s listen to Alistair Begg at I Still Do®.
[Previously Recorded Message]
Alistair: Now, you see, God has ordained marriage and God has ordained the boundaries for marriage. The boundaries for marriage are not a cage, as some suggest. The boundaries for marriage are not detrimental to the dimensions of intimacy, and joy, and so on; but they are absolutely essential for a number of things. One—for security—security: “How do I know she’s not going to run out on me when she finds out what I’m really like?”— because she promised. “How does she know that I won’t bolt on her?”—because I promised / I promised!
You see, in Christ, when you begin marriage, you’ve got these two clumsy, stumbling sinners who are now stuck.
Yes, you are! You are gloriously, wonderfully stuck! [Laughter] And the promises that you made to God and to each other are the key to it because, you see, when the first blush of romantic passion flickers and fades—and that will be a recurring cycle in the framework of marriage—the safety we find is the safety that is in our vows.
If we don’t believe that God’s way is best / if we don’t believe that is His good, pleasing, and perfect will, then we’ll be tempted to buy into the cultural narrative that values spontaneity over stability—and so the whole notion is, “Well, I used to have such a feeling, and I’ve got to get that feeling again!”
Listen! When I held my wife’s hand—and I met my wife 47 years ago tomorrow—when she was a 13-year-old girl and I was16—
— when I held her hand for the first time, it was like electricity. I mean, I’m surprised my hair never actually elevated on my head. When I hold her hand today, it’s not the same as then; it is better, but it’s not the same feeling. Do you want the feeling, or do you want to do what God says?
You see, society deals with this. The sort of serial affairs of Hollywood are emblematic of it. Society says, when that happens, it’s time for a change: “Obviously, you need a change! The thing’s not really working. I mean, if it was really working, you’d feel the way you always felt. Now you don’t feel that way; therefore, at least, you should have a part-time experience of something.” That’s Elton John—“You, me, and everybody needs a part-time love.” That’s what society says. The Bible says it’s time for you to commit to the promises that you made in your vows.
Now, husbands and wives sit and tell me, as they tell their pastors all across the country, about how things are not just doing so well: “If you knew what my wife was like. She’s a problem. She’s always over at her mother’s house. Her mother is an interfering person,” “We’ve got some difficulties with our finances,” “I mean, physically, it’s just not what it was. I mean, look at her / I mean, look at me! I didn’t mean to say, ‘Look at me,’— Look at us!”
I sit and listen for a while, and I say, “So what you’re saying to me is that this marriage thing is worse.” “Exactly!”—to which I say, “You signed up for worse. You signed up for worse. That was in the vows!—‘…for better or worse…’—you committed to worse!” [Laughter]
“So what’s the issue here?” [Laughter] You say, “It’s obvious you don’t do much pastoral counseling.” Well, they never last very long; I guarantee you that! But no one’s in any doubt! The vows weren’t just an expression of your feeling, but they were a promise about what you would do. You promised, and now it’s time.
You know, in Ephesians 5, where Paul is working out much of this same material—in verse 25, he says, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church.” He comes back to it again, adding to it in the 28th verse, where he says, “Husbands ought [emphasis added]to love their wives.” They ought to love their wives. Isn’t it quite frequent in our contemporary culture people to say: “Don’t tell me what I ought to do! Don’t tell me what I ought to do.
“That sounds too much like obligation. And if there’s obligation, then that can’t be the way it should be.”
Let me tell you something—without obligation, it will never be the way it should be. It is duty; and in the realm of duty, we discover delight! How many failures—
let’s just talk with the men for a moment: “How many failures lie at the feet of men who revealed their unwillingness to do what they ought to do by expressions of unbridled selfishness?—selfish in the use of time, selfish in the use of finances, selfish in the use of affection, and so on?—often justifying it in terms of, ‘Well, she’s not what I expected her to be; therefore, I don’t think I need to be what I need to be.’” Now, that kind of quid pro quo will never lead to anything other than disaster.
In a novel by one of my favorite Scottish novelists, I came across a quote, not so long ago, put in the mouth of one of the characters in the book. This lady is bemoaning the fact that her husband has essentially ditched her. She soliloquizes / she’s pondering this while she’s sitting in her house. This is what she says:
Are real relationships based on trust and understanding?—the sharing of the little things—moments of happiness and laughter, realizing you’ve both just said the same thought or were about to say the same thing? James and I shared nothing except the same space and even that less and less often. I grew to realize that his emotions were without substance. His obsession was with himself, not me.
He’d be telling me about some big contract he’d signed— some export deal to the United States—and I’d realize he was watching his own reflection in the window as he told me, playing to his own imagined gallery, posing for photographs that weren’t being taken. He was in love with the idea of me, but I was just another trophy in a life that was all about him.
Boy, that’s quite amazing; isn’t it?—in a secular book.
Within the boundaries of covenant love, not only is there security to be found, but it is in those boundaries that sexual intimacy and romantic creativity have the time and the framework to flourish—the time and the framework to flourish.
You see, that’s the wonder of the clarity of the Bible for me. It doesn’t leave any loopholes, and it’s not dry / it’s not dull. I don’t find this tough, you know: “Delight yourself in the wife of your youth,”— “Okay; I’ve got that.” [Laughter] “Hmmm—even when they’re not what they used to be?” [Laughter] “Yes; yes!”
No, this is an adventure—this is fantastic! This is the way it’s supposed to be. It’s in this environment that you pick flowers along the line of duty. Any Labrador dog can roam around the neighborhood, fathering Poodles, and Labradoodles, and all other kinds of creatures; but it’s going to take a really nice Golden Retriever to stick with his spouse for the whole journey.
It seems to me it must be relatively easy to go out and change your partners the way you change your socks or change your cars, but I’ll tell you where the real challenge is found—where the real security it found / where the real intimacy is found— is 40 years with one person, knowing every nook and cranny of each other— psychologically, emotionally, physically, and in other ways— and bringing satisfaction to that individual in that experience.
I tell you—there is nothing like God’s plan in marriage in the whole world. The devil is a liar and the father of lies! Don’t listen to his lies! Let me tell you—[Applause]—it is within that framework as well—the “I take you,” stuff—that you can be honest, and you’re forced to be humble—honest and humble.
You know, if you think about it, you didn’t know this lady when you married her; but now, we can be honest / we can be vulnerable. Why?—because we have the security within the framework of covenant love. That longevity is not only desirable, but it’s possible. “I’m going to love you forever and ever,” sang Randy Travis, “as long as old men sit and talk about the weather, as long as old women sit and talk about old men. If you wonder how long I’ll be faithful, I’ll be happy to tell you again because I’m going to love you forever, forever, and ever, Amen.”
Do you want to see your wife get crazy? Tell her that she’s absolutely secure in your affections because you promised—because you promised.
You see, it’s the promise and the “I take you,” that keeps you in the ups and downs and ebbs and flows. It’s inevitable that you will find people that are attractive to you. If you buy the lie of the devil, you will then say to yourself, “Well, since the spontaneity thing is slightly on the back burner, presumably, I’ve got to try to get the feeling again.” You don’t want to do that.
Think about it—the promises of God find their “Yes,” and their “Amen,” in the Lord Jesus. Ultimately, our marriage is supposed to be emblematic of a far greater mystery—the love of Christ for the church: “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and He gave His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins [1 John 4:10].” John, in the same passage [1 John 3:16] says, “This is how we know what love is—Jesus Christ laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our (spouse).”
Actually, he says, “…for our brothers.” I just changed it there—I hope you don’t mind—but the principle is clear; isn’t it? If we are to lay our lives down for our brothers and our sisters, then surely, we must lay our lives down for those who have been committed to us in marriage.
You know, I started with an old guy; I’m going to end with an old guy—George Burns, who said—“You know, if you’re doing a talk like this, make sure you have a good beginning and a good end; and then keep the two of them as close together as you can.” [Laughter] So I want to just pay attention to him as I finish—it goes like this [Quotes I Wish I was Eighteen Again©, Sonny Throckmorton].
Well, I need to change that because it seems to me that that is sentimentalism, or nostalgia, or perhaps even a little bit of despair and a solid dose of stupidity. But when young people ask me about marriage, I tell them, “I wish I was eighteen again,”—I genuinely do. So I rewrote my own line:
I wish I was eighteen again
To relive that Saturday when
I said, “I take you,”
To a young girl called Sue.
Oh, I wish I was eighteen again.
That’s the real test, loved ones. It’s a long obedience in the one direction. [Applause] If you go down any other road looking for it, I guarantee you—you’ll really feel disappointed spending your time in Vanity Fair.
Thank you for your attention. I am now officially finished. [Applause]
Bob: I have two questions for you.
Bob: The first relates to those couples who are not yet married because, in our day, the biblical idea of marriage / the biblical idea of sex inside of marriage only—the idea that you don’t live together until you get married—that’s all passé. Can we, as a culture, get that back?
Alistair: Well, we’re not going to be able to get the culture back unless we get our churches back and unless we get our families back. Again, that’s where, you know, these principles—we long to discover them in our own lives, and now we look on our children and our grandchildren, and we want to see these things instilled there. I mean, God’s pattern for church growth, actually, is directly related to the family.
Bob: Yes, it is.
Alistair: The Hebrew Shema [Deuteronomy 6:4-9]: “…these things…are to be upon your heart; teach them to your children when you walk along the road, and when you lie down, and get up…” But, as Christians—if Christians are prepared to take it seriously—then, we’ll have an attractive alternative to the ensuing chaos, which is prevalent.
Bob: There are some who hear you talking about the vow we’ve made, and they think: “I have no hope left for my marriage. I’m in a prolonged season of suffering. Do I just grit my teeth and gut it out, or what can I do to maybe get back closer to the kind of covenant love that we pledged to one another?”
Alistair: No, I don’t think those are the alternatives, you know—like some sort of slave-ish, dutiful, horrible existence or sort of crazy romantic passion. The wonder about the covenant of God is that both framework and freedom coalesce—
—that duty and delight are intermingled with one another. The lie is—that duty extinguishes delight / and that delight has to be present, and duty interferes with it.
The Bible says—there’s an old hymn that says, “In duty that His will appoints, there are no bones for me.” That’s the line: “In duty that His will appoints, there are no bones for me.” This is actually a pathway to freedom. We’re probably going to need help by coming to an event like this / by talking with someone who’s prepared to be honest and to help us through.
No, the alternatives are not “Grit your teeth and hang on,” or “Run off with the lady up the street,” but actually do what God says and let your feelings follow your doings—not the other way around. Do this because God said to do it, and then trust. You’ll be amazed how much there’s a transformation when you do what you’re supposed to do and then you discover that the affection is often found along that line.
Bob: And this is where community / this is where being in a church—and not just going to church—but being related to one another / sharing our burdens with one another—this is God’s plan for us pursuing that kind of oneness; isn’t it?
Alistair: Yes; I mean, the church is great because it’s not a homogenous club of people that we would just automatically want to go on vacation with.
Alistair: It’s a whole bunch of really weird people. [Laughter] And it’s the only place in the world I know where intelligent people and dumb people, like me, all hang together—sing songs together / listen to the Bible together. In that experience, God has fashioned it in such a way that we will benefit from the team that He has put together.
Bob: Your message was a gift to us this morning. Thank you for doing it.
Alistair: Thank you.
Bob: Thank Alistair Begg, if you would. [Applause]
Bob: Well, we’ve been listening to Part Two of a message from Alistair Begg—a message presented at I Still Do.
And, by the way, the I Still Do one-day event for your marriage is still available. If you’d like to host this in your church, the simulcast video is still available. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com and find out how you can have Alistair Begg, and Alex Kendrick, and Dennis and Barbara Rainey, Crawford and Karen Loritts, and others for a one-day video event in your church. Again, the details are available online at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Dennis: And we have looked it up online!
Bob: Yes! Yes, we did.
Dennis: And, Megan, what did you find out? Read what the authority of the universe says about the Scottish people and whether they speak with a [Imitating accent] brogue.
Megan: “A strong dialectical accent, especially a strong Irish or Scottish accent, when speaking English.”
Dennis: There you have it! It’s the second time in 23-and-a-half years Bob—Bob was wrong. [Laughter]
Bob: I stand corrected—I guess there is a Scottish brogue.
But I’m not sure that that’s—the “authority of the universe” just gave us that definition?
Dennis: Oh, yes! Everybody knows it is Google.
Dennis: Everything on there is the truth—you know that’s the reality. [Laughter]
Well, here’s what you need to know. You made a promise to leave, cleave, and receive. It’s no laughing matter. Marriage needs to go the distance today. It is why, Bob, FamilyLife is calling this year—2016— that we are the “Proud Sponsor of Anniversaries,” beginning with your anniversary. We want to help you celebrate the most important promise you ever made to another human being.
Bob: And, speaking of celebrating, Charles and Cathy Boyer are celebrating ten years of being married today. Today is their tenth anniversary. They live in Sharpsburg, Maryland—listen on WAVA. They are Legacy Partners—they help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today and keep it on in their community.
“Congratulations!” to the Boyers. “Happy Anniversary; and thanks for your partnership, here at FamilyLife!” We couldn’t do what we do if it weren’t for Legacy Partners.
In fact, this month, we are hoping and praying that God might raise up for us 20 new Legacy Partners in every state where FamilyLife Today is heard. So, if you live in Maryland, and you’d like to join the Boyers as Legacy Partners—be one of the 20 new partners joining us in that state this month—go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the button that says, “DONATE.” The information about becoming a Legacy Partner is available there. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY if you have any questions about being a Legacy Partner; or if you’d like us to get you all signed up, we can do that. And “Thanks,” again to those of you who support this ministry and make FamilyLife Today possible in your community. We appreciate your partnership with us.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to hear a message from a pastor who doesn’t speak with any kind of a brogue; but he’s still got a lot of good stuff to say.
We’ll hear from Dr. John Piper tomorrow as he helps us explore: “What does it look like for a marriage and family to be focused on God’s glory? If that’s the purpose for your marriage and family, what does that look like?” In fact, we’ve got a study guide available to download. So, if you’d like to download the study guide to Dr. Piper’s message, and have that ready as you listen tomorrow, just go to FamilyLifeToday.com and you can download the PDF.
I want to thank our Irish engineer, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, [Imitating accent] I'm Bob Lepine. That’s terrible; isn’t it? We’ll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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