Read an Excerpt
Countdown for CouplesPREPARING FOR THE ADVENTURE OF MARRIAGE
By Dale Mathis Susan Mathis
Tyndale House Publishers Inc.Copyright © 2008 Dale and Susan Mathis
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA Marriage of Three
What's God's View of Love and Marriage?
I [Susan] was so excited. Dale and I had driven to Estes Park, Colorado, to get away and visit some friends. We sat gazing at the beautiful mountains, asking question after question of each other and discussing the possibility of our future together. Before considering marriage, we had promised to reveal our thoughts, fears, goals, and needs to each other completely.
After our time in the mountains, every night for several weeks Dale and I went through lists we'd made of things we wanted to know about each other-everything from how we were raised to finances to roles and goals to expectations and pet peeves to sex and health issues to our relationships with God, and so much more.
As adults, we had both been single for more than a decade. We'd been deeply hurt by our earlier failed relationships, and we worried that we might not be able to be successful in the future. Although we had tried to learn all we could about love, relationships, and God's plan for marriage, being open and honest with each other made us feel very vulnerable. We realized that this kind of openness could make or break our budding relationship. But we also decided that without complete honesty, we'd both be marrying a person we didn't really know.
We realized that we needed to start by establishing a solid foundation for our relationship.
Scripture says, "Where there is no vision, the people perish" (Proverbs 29:18, KJV). In addition to talking through important topics and sharing our feelings with each other, we discovered a principle we want to share with you: The best way to begin planning for your future together is by deciding now what your vision is for your marriage.
What did this look like for us? Dale and I agreed that our vision was to live the message of Jesus Christ's redeeming love through our relationship. By caring for each other physically, emotionally, spiritually, and every other way, we wanted to create a fully intimate and inspiring relationship that could show our children and grandchildren, family, and friends the beauty and promise of God's plan for marriage.
Every couple's vision will be different, of course, but a clear vision for your marriage will guide, inspire, and motivate you as you grow through the stresses of life. When you have a positive and exciting vision for life together, you can work toward that goal, even when times are tough.
A vision for your marriage goes far beyond just learning and practicing relationship skills. Understanding God's perspective is critical to the success of your marriage.
God has given us that vision in His Word. He has given us His definition of love, His blueprint for covenant commitment, and His grace-filled plan for marriage.
Let's take a closer look at God's design for marriage.
The Very First Marriage
When God created the first marriage between Adam and Eve, He said it wasn't good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). Why? Because we're all made in His image, the image of a completely relational God-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who work together unselfishly for the good of humankind and for God's purposes. Because we were created to be like Him, there's an inner yearning for that same deep, intimate relationship.
Adam and Eve exemplified the deepest, most intimate relationship as a couple. Scripture says they were naked and not ashamed (Genesis 2:25), not just in a physical, sexual way, but, we think, they were "naked" emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually as well. They were vulnerable with each other. From the very first married couple, we see that marriage is taking two unique people and uniting their souls and bodies for a common purpose, for the rest of their lives.
What Is Marriage?
Marriage is the legal, social, and spiritual contract between a man and a woman. It's a covenant agreement made before God. It's a commitment to each other-a pledge to live together, to serve each other, and to remain faithful to one another. Marriage is also God's way of showing His love for us, showing His marriage plan to the world, and helping us become more like Him.
Socially, marriage is a public contract that says "We are one" as we share our lives with others. Emotionally, it's being vulnerable, transparent, and honest with each other as with no one else. Intellectually, it's sharing our thoughts, opinions, and desires with each other. Physically, it's everything from a tender kiss to passionate sexual intercourse. Spiritually, it's praying together, worshiping together, and growing together in our faith.
Marriage is about working on our character; extending love, grace, and forgiveness to each other; and growing through our mistakes. None of us is perfect, and understanding and accepting this up front is important. We are all works in progress. When we see marriages fail, we sometimes think those marriages must have been mistakes. But remember, marriage is taking two imperfect people and putting them in a committed relationship so they can safely grow and mature together as they work on their imperfections and problems. It's about giving, helping, trusting, forgiving, caring, learning, and living through the ups and downs of life.
What Is Love?
If marriage is a picture of God's love for us as well as an opportunity to show love to each other, it's imperative that we have a good understanding of what love is. But how can we define love?
A good place to start is the Bible. The Love Chapter is 1 Corinthians 13. You've probably heard it before. But what does it really say? Let's look at verses 4-8.
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.
Most, if not all, of us have tasted the pain of love lost, and none of us wants to experience that again. These few verses provide a good framework to help us understand how we can love well. They show us the ideal, the perfect model of love. But the truth is that although the characteristics of love are great, we don't always love perfectly. Sometimes we simply fall short. If you understand this, you'll give each other space and grace to make mistakes. And God can use your marriage to show others that real love and grace can make people different, even better.
Throughout this book we'll continue to unpack 1 Corinthians 13 as you learn how to better love the way God intended for you to love each other. You'll also learn practical and helpful ways to put God's love into practice.
What's Covenant Commitment?
In our living room there is a symbol we used in our wedding ceremony. It's a three-strand cord of red, white, and gold. For us, it symbolizes that the commitment we made to marriage wasn't just between the two of us. The covenant was made by three of us, with God at the center. Scripture says, "A cord of three strands is not quickly broken" (Ecclesiastes 4:12).
A commitment to marry is more than just signing a contract. Marriage is a sacred covenant, a plan God created for our benefit. In the Bible we read that God made covenants with His people. But people like Jonathan and David, Ruth and Naomi, and others also made covenants with each other. They were committing to love, serve, and care for each other. Covenant promises are unconditional; there are no escape clauses and/or money-back guarantees. Covenants are made on the foundations of faith and love, and they are permanent.
We all know couples, maybe even our own parents, who divorced. Maybe they just grew tired of each other. Or maybe the marriage was plagued by abuse, addiction, or infidelity. Whatever the reason, the couple broke the commitment they made to each other, and the painful consequences of their choice affected many others besides themselves.
But most of us also know couples who have been married for decades and are happy despite the challenges they've faced through the years. Our friends Bob and Gayle just celebrated 55 years together. They love each other dearly, are the closest of companions, and remain deeply committed to each other. As Dale says, "When we grow up, let's be just like them!" These are the kinds of couples who can give us hope for our marriages.
As you begin your marriage, it's a good idea to find one or two couples you can look to as a model of what you hope your marriage will eventually look like. Especially if healthy marriages have been rare in your life, looking to others who have successful marriages can be beneficial. We'll talk more about this a little later.
Marriage is all about choice. It's about making the right choices to love, honor, and care for the one you commit your life to, even when it's tough. We have to choose to love each other on a moment-by-moment basis every day of our lives together. This type of commitment involves more than just romantic feelings; it's a choice to be physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually faithful to each other every day.
Leaving and Cleaving
Haven't you read ... that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female, and said, "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh"? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate. (Matthew 19:4-6)
Leaving and cleaving-uniting-are choices every married person must make to leave his or her parents and the single lifestyle and to cleave to the union, security, intimacy, joy, and even struggles of life with his or her spouse.
When a couple enjoys this covenant commitment, when they truly leave and cleave, they feel secure emotionally and physically. A wife feels that her husband is truly devoted to her and looking out for her best interests. A husband has the surety that he is important, valued, a priority, and worthy of investment or sacrifice. This is why cohabitation before marriage lacks permanence and creates a false sense of security. A relationship without covenant commitment lacks true intimacy.
Karen misunderstood the concept of leaving and cleaving early in her marriage with Rick. As soon as they returned from their honeymoon, she started calling her mother daily. She shared with her mother the most intimate details of her marriage, and she relied on her mother's advice and opinions for everything. Soon Rick began to feel betrayed, so he quietly stepped into the background and busied himself with other activities until he couldn't take it anymore.
It took several painful discussions before Karen understood that she needed to leave and cleave to Rick. Of course she needed her mother, but she also needed to leave the single life and family ties of her childhood. When she married, she became "one" with her husband, and she needed to act accordingly. That meant putting him first when it came to her time, interests, privacy, and more.
* * *
This covenant you're about to make affects more than the two of you. It affects everyone who comes to your wedding, everyone you know. When you say your vows before an audience on your wedding day, you'll be doing much more than performing a ceremony and allowing your friends and family to celebrate a special occasion with you. They are witnesses to a sacred covenant, which you freely choose to enter into. But while we want to emphasize the fact that marriage is a major commitment and takes work, we also want to assure you that the right kind of marriage can be the greatest blessing of your lives.
Congratulations! You're on your way to becoming ready for the most amazing adventure of life: marriage!
What About Me?
Looking back on what you've learned about covenant and commitment, each of you write your own definition of a covenant commitment in marriage.
What About Us?
What's your vision for marriage? Read Psalm 127:1, Proverbs 24:3-4, and Matthew 7:24-27.
Having a marital vision is having common goals that are bigger than your everyday circumstances and feelings. Maybe you hope to be a couple who strives to support and build up each other, helping one another reach your full potential. Maybe you have a deep desire for your marriage to be a place of safety and love. Maybe you want your marriage to be an adventure in which you work together to make your goals and dreams come true.
Whatever your vision is, make a united plan and be strategic about carrying it out. Set goals for your marriage.
List five things you want to include in the vision for your marriage.
Share with each other what your vision for your marriage entails. What does it look like to you? How will you fulfill it? Your ideas may be different, but that's okay.
If your ideas are different, you'll need to work together to find a united vision in the midst of those differences. If you can't resolve your differences, be sure to consult with someone who can help you work through them now. As you develop and refine a clear vision for your marriage, the exciting vision of the marriage God has for you will become clear to you. Revisit your vision statement often. Establish one-, two-, and five-year goals as well as a lifetime vision.
Just for Fun!
What one question would you like to ask God?
What event in the Bible would you most have liked to witness?
What Does God Say?
Read the following scriptures together, and answer three or more of the questions as you reflect on what you've read so far.
For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. (Ephesians 5:31)
How do a man and a woman become one?
Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Matthew 22:37-39)
What are God's priorities for love?
You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. (Galatians 5:13)
How should you love each other?
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35)
As a couple, what's your ultimate purpose on earth?
Read Ephesians 5:22-33 in your Bible. What is God's vision for your marriage?
Ask the Expert
Author Al Janssen imagines the moment of creation and a heavenly scene in his book Your Marriage Masterpiece:
"Amazing." Abdiel watched as God stepped back, glowing with pride, and the man and woman gazed at each other, touching only their fingertips. "Yes, God has created two like Himself ..."
"Not exactly like Him," corrected Zephon.
"No, not the same. Yet, you see glimpses of Him in the two of them together."
Zephon understood. "Yes, He is three yet one. They are two yet one."
"Two, maybe. But with the Creator that makes three!"
By now, all of the angelic audience saw what Abdiel and Zephon had recognized. In this man and woman, joined together, God had provided a reflection of Himself for all His creation. Two incredible creatures, brilliant and beautiful, each unique, but together revealing deeper aspects of the intricate beauty of their Creator.
Truly, this was a work of art. This was God's masterpiece.
In Your Marriage Masterpiece, Janssen shows us how God's vision for marriage is His supreme artistic achievement. He teaches us how we can make our marriages fulfilling and reflect God's masterpiece in our relationships with our future mates.
Excerpted from Countdown for Couples by Dale Mathis Susan Mathis Copyright © 2008 by Dale and Susan Mathis. Excerpted by permission.
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