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One hundred forty-two. That's the number of weddings held in our church last year. I didn't perform all 142, of course, but as a pastor with more than forty years of experience, I've "been to the altar" more times than I can count. Many of the ceremonies have left me with lasting memories-some touching, some quite humorous. But in the middle of all the smiles, laughter, and tears of joy that accompany most weddings, something very serious takes place.
When I perform a wedding, I am asking the couple to promise-before God, family, friends, and me-that they will love and cherish one another. I ask them to pledge to honor and sustain each other in sickness and in health, in poverty and in wealth. I instruct them to put the other's needs and desires before their own and anyone else's, except God's.
These solemn promises make up the wedding vows. So far, every bride and groom standing before me has responded with a heartfelt "I do!" But sometimes I wonder if they understand fully what they are promising as they exchange their vows. When I ask the couple to make these promises, I am in reality challenging both partners to embrace ten biblical principles that, if applied, will help their marriage not only to survive but thrive! The task will involve commitment, work, plus a lot of give-and-take, but they (and you) truly can have a marriage that sizzles!
That's the kind of marriage God wants us to have. After all, marriage is His idea. He has a divine purpose and plan for the relationship between a husband and wife. And like all of His plans, it is perfect.
GOD'S PERFECT PLAN
God performed the very first marriage ceremony-a beautiful garden wedding on a perfect day with a perfect man marrying a perfect woman. Adam and Eve had it all.
Just imagine! Adam could truly say to Eve, "You're the only girl in the world for me!" And he would never hear from Eve those haunting words, "Let me tell you about the guy I could have married."
This first couple enjoyed the perfect love relationship, the kind God intended for a husband and wife to share for a lifetime. Adam and Eve lived for some time in sinless perfection, enjoying a pristine garden where God visited them and walked with them in the cool of the evening. Not even a hint of sin or imperfection marred the picture. The Bible tells us that Adam and Eve walked around the garden naked but felt no shame or embarrassment (Genesis 2:25). And their nakedness went beyond the merely physical; they remained totally transparent with one another and with God.
God had promised this first couple great blessings and had given them the run of the garden ... with just one condition. "This whole garden is yours," God told Adam, "and you can eat the fruit from any tree or plant-that is, all except one. I have placed one tree in the middle of the garden from which you are not to eat. If you do eat from this tree, you will gain the knowledge of good and evil-and you're not equipped to handle the weight of that knowledge. If you eat of that tree, you will die" (vv. 16-17, author's paraphrase).
GOD'S PERFECT PLAN DISRUPTED
Adam and Eve both knew the consequences of disobedience. They realized that God had forbidden them to eat from this single tree. But the devil, using language filled with deception and selfishness, enticed Eve.
"Indeed, has God said, 'You shall not eat from any tree in the garden'? ... You surely will not surely die!" the serpent hissed. "For God knows that [when] you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (3:1, 4-5).
You know the rest of the story. Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden tree, and with their disobedience a divine curse fell on all humanity, resulting in the ultimate tragedy of human history. On that day sin and selfishness permanently stained our existence. At that moment, we lost the perfect fellowship with God that He intended for us to share with Him. At that very instant, every human relationship we would enter, including marriage, shriveled under a divine curse.
HISTORY'S FIRST MARITAL BATTLE
This tragic chain of events set off the first selfishness-induced marital battle in history. When God confronted Adam about his sin, the man responded by blaming his wife: "Lord, it's not my fault. It's hers!" He used different words, but he intended exactly that accusation. The Bible reports that he told God, "The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me [the fruit], and I ate" (v. 12, italics added). When God turned to Eve to hear her side of the story, she did no better. She blamed her surroundings and her circumstances. "God, I can't be held responsible for this. The serpent deceived me. Blame him for this!"
The whole sordid scene provides a vivid and ugly picture of selfishness in action. It reveals two people giving in to temptation, sinning against God and against one another, then covering for themselves-all in an attempt to avoid accepting the blame and consequences for their sin. The husband blamed the wife and God, while the wife blamed her circumstances.
As a consequence, the beautiful marriage relationship that God had designed as a perfect union to benefit both the man and the woman, and to glorify Himself, collapsed into a bitter exchange of accusations and recriminations.
Things have never been the same since.
THE NUMBER ONE PROBLEM IN MARRIAGE
Our first commandment deals with the number one problem in marriage, a setback that cropped up in the garden with Adam and Eve. Since then we've seen it continue all the way to the twenty-first century. It remains the number one problem in your marriage and in mine. What is it?
We all suffer from the sin of selfishness. It lies at the heart of nearly every marital problem. Marriage counselor Willard F. Harley Jr. wrote,
Those of us in the business of trying to save marriages struggle daily with cultural beliefs and practices that make our job difficult. The sudden surge of divorces in the 1970s, that has made America the country with the highest divorce rate, has a great deal to do with changes in our basic beliefs. More to the point, it has to do with a major shift toward self-centeredness. Beliefs that encourage self-centeredness destroy marriage.
I could not agree more with Dr. Harley. And that's why our first commandment of marriage states: Thou shalt not be a selfish pig.
That's about as simple and blunt as you can get. Still, I'm convinced that if every couple walking the aisle took seriously this single principle, a welcome oasis of marital bliss would spread across this nation. Divorce lawyers would have to "take a number" at the unemployment office. I'm beginning to think I should incorporate these exact words into the marriage ceremony: "Thou shalt not be a selfish pig."
This first commandment calls us to do in marriage what the apostle Paul instructs all of us to do: "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves" (Philippians 2:3 NIV). Sounds easy, doesn't it? But our number one problem, selfishness, makes it tough.
Perhaps we can take some positive steps toward incorporating this commandment into our marriages if we look at the problem of selfishness as a disease.
THE DISEASE CALLED PIGITIS
I like to refer to the disease of selfishness as pigitis. If you've ever seen a pigpen, you get the idea. I saw my first pigpen as a boy. I had imagined a corral filled with shiny little "Porky Pigs," but I saw quite the opposite. The pen overflowed with dozens of chunky beasts, all nuzzling slop with muddy snouts. Those pigs lost themselves in the mire, even shoving aside any other pig that tried to nudge in-including their own piglets!
You don't have to be the world's leading physician to diagnose pigitis. Wherever you see someone with his snout so mired in his own interests that he forgets everyone else, you see an infected person.
I wonder: Do you have pigitis?
SYMPTOMS OF PIGITIS
If you're not sure, look for the symptoms. Most illnesses reveal visible, physical symptoms. Selfish pigtis is no different. Its symptoms are as obvious as those of chicken pox!
Do a little "self-diagnosis" as you consider each of the symptoms listed below. Ask yourself, "To what degree has this symptom of selfish pigitis infected me?" To help you remember these symptoms, I'm going to use the "itis" of pigitis as an acrostic. The four symptoms are: immaturity, time choices, insensitivity, and stubbornness.
Jo Beth and I dated for more than six years before we married. In hindsight, I believe that whatever we felt for one another on the day we married had more in common with "puppy love" than with genuine, mature love. We had to start growing up.
Forty-three years later, the process continues!
What do I mean by "puppy love"? Puppy love is an immature form of the love dynamic that binds two people together. When we are in "puppy love," we want to be with a person because of how he or she makes us feel. In puppy love, our emotional and physical needs take a central place in the relationship. And like those pigs in the slop, we push aside anyone who doesn't satisfy and gratify our needs.
Many of us start with puppy love. Nothing wrong with that; it can be fun and enjoyable. But unless puppy love grows into mature love, the marriage will struggle and may not survive the trying times. And if you build your marital relationship on puppy love, you'll end up living a dog's life!
Consider the contrasts between puppy love and mature love in the chart on the next page.
Puppy Love Versus Mature Love
PUPPY LOVE MATURE LOVE
Focuses on receiving Seeks to give to the other person Impatient, self-centered Patient in spite of the other's flaws Tends to outbursts of anger Responds gently and appropriately Self-protective, because it insists Transparent and vulnerable on meeting its needs above all
The answer to the problem of puppy love is maturity-and that means living, as Paul puts it in Ephesians 5:15, with "wisdom" toward one another. We are to live and conduct our marriages as mature men and women in Christ. Unfortunately, however, far too many of us never grow beyond immaturity in either our married or our spiritual lives. While Jesus tells us to be childlike, immature people remain childish.
Sociologists and psychologists agree that America suffers a crisis of fatherhood partly because so many men never grow beyond adolescence. Their bodies age, but their minds still think like immature kids.
Men (and women too) experiment constantly with new ways to satisfy their desires. But even the most immature can acquire wisdom as they study and embrace God's principles.
Jo Beth and I had a lot of growing up to do when we married. Though we are now grandparents, we are still growing as individuals and in our relationship. And I can honestly say that growing and maturing together has yielded a life even more exciting and rewarding than those early days of puppy love!
The apostle Paul tells us to "redeem" our time (Ephesians 5:16 KJV). Literally, we are to "buy up" all the opportunities time can bring us.
I enjoy playing golf. So whenever I get the opportunity, I visit a nearby course to play or at least hit some practice balls. I've become casually acquainted with a man who seems to be hitting golf balls at the practice range every time I show up. Unless by some great coincidence he just happens to arrive at the course when I'm there, he apparently spends a great deal of time golfing. It seems as though he is already there whenever I arrive and is still there when I leave. He must hit hundreds of balls every day.
I can't help but wonder: How does this man spend his time? Does he have a neglected wife and kids at home, waiting for their husband and father to return from the golf course?
One man recently told me, "I struggle with selfishness in my marriage in the area of leisure time. I grew up loving sports, and would spend hours watching it on television. During the first several years of my marriage, I noticed that many of my evenings were spent not with my wife but with ESPN."
Because this young man did not want to be a selfish pig, he made a tough choice. He decided to get rid of cable-and he called it one of the best decisions he ever made for his marriage! How much time could we men gain to spend quality time with our wives if only we would turn off the television? I have to confess, I can channel surf with the best of them, especially when it comes to sports and news networks. But I'm convinced, men, that if we'll just turn off the TV, we will have the opportunity to gain more joy in increased intimacy with our wives.
It's easy to spend our time on our careers, our hobbies, our avocations, and other self-gratifying activities-all at the expense of our marriages. I can't begin to tell you the number of people I've known whose marriages have suffered because one or both partners became "too busy" to make time for their relationship. The husband and wife seemed to inhabit different worlds. They lived together, yet never took the time for one another. The best that either could hope for from the other was "leftovers." Leftover food might make a tasty meal, but leftover time creates a bland relationship.
"If I had known he was so insensitive and unfeeling, I never would have married him!" I've heard this complaint from unhappy wives more times than I care to count. I sympathize with the feelings that spark such harsh words. They often come from a frustrated wife who feels unappreciated, who believes that her husband doesn't care about her needs or what she's thinking or feeling.
Insensitivity kills a marriage and can destroy any kind of relationship. It's hard to live with, work with, or associate with an insensitive person. No one wants to spend time with someone who doesn't listen or give any consideration to the feelings or thoughts of others.
In Ephesians 5:17, Paul provides a model of what sensitivity looks like: "So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is." Two contrasting words take the spotlight in this verse: foolish and understand.
Excerpted from THE 10 COMMANDMENTS OF marriage by ED YOUNG Copyright © 2003 by Ed Young
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.