When I prepare a couple to be married, I want them to think through what it means to be married.  To do this, I ask them a simple question.  Think about all the marriages you know, how many of those marriages do you think are awesome?  Maybe the kind of marriage you want to become.  They normally sit back and think about the question.  The normal answer, they can think of three to four marriages that are awesome.  My follow up question is, why do you think so few marriages are awesome?  That’s what I want to jump into today.  How to be good at being married.

We started this series by saying, to be good at being married, we need to be good at dating.  To be good at dating, we need to be good at being single.  So, having a good marriage really goes back to when you are single.

What does it mean to be good at being single?  [1 Corinthians 7] You should be able to answer three questions.  Do I bring relationship drama into my life?  Am I in love with God and do I allow Him to love me?  Am I am able to enjoy life?

What does it mean to be good at dating?  [Ephesians 2] You should be able to answer one question.  Do you believe, to find long term joy in life, you need another person, or do you need God?  We said, if you expect someone else to bring you joy, you are expecting a person to do what only God can do.

Here is a big point.  When it comes to being single and dating, you can ignore scripture, you can ignore the wisdom of older people, but you will be opening a door of your life and inviting pain and struggle into your life.  It’s like saying, “Welcome pain and struggle, please come into my life and create chaos for several years.”  And remember, this isn’t God’s fault, that is a choice.

To start our talk on marriage, I want to share a couple of points and then jump into scripture.

Point 1, marriage is defined by scripture as a covenant between a man and a woman.

21 Then the LORD God made the man fall into a deep sleep, and while he was sleeping, he took out one of the man’s ribs and closed up the flesh. 22 He formed a woman out of the rib and brought her to him. 23 Then the man said, “At last, here is one of my own kind — Bone taken from my bone, and flesh from my flesh. ‘Woman’ is her name because she was taken out of man.”  24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united with his wife, and they become one. GNT Genesis 2:21-24

Point 2, the context for sex is in marriage.

Now, getting down to the questions you asked in your letter to me. First, is it a good thing to have sexual relations?  Certainly – but only within a certain context. It’s good for a man to have a wife, and for a woman to have a husband. MSG 1 Corinthians 7:1-2

Point 3, marriage is hard and not everyone is mature enough for it.

Jesus said, not everyone is mature enough to live a married life. It requires a certain aptitude and grace. Marriage isn’t for everyone. MSG Matthew 19:11

Last point, marriage has the power to refresh your soul.

A sweet friendship refreshes the soul. MSG Proverbs 27:9

What does it mean to be good at being married?  I believe the greatest power that we have in a marriage to make it great is called forgiveness.

Scripture tells us;

Love does not keep a record of wrongs. GNT 1 Corinthians 13:4-6

Sin didn’t, and doesn’t, have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace. MSG Romans 5:20

As a disclaimer, we are not talking about abuse or cheating, that is another discussion.

The reason marriages go good, or go bad, normally has to do with how the spouses responded to hurt and unmet expectations.  So, I want to ask you a few questions if you are married.

How has your spouse disappointed you?  What expectation did you have that hasn’t been met?

How has your spouse hurt you?  Over the years, have you kept quiet about that hurt and is it growing?

How would define your marriage?  Is it hot [romantic, great friendship, there is joy]?  Are you just paying the bills and doing the chores [you do what you have to do and nothing more]?  Is it getting worse [not talking, not really honest, not having sex]?

If you are married with unmet expectations or hurt and it feels like you are going through the motions, don’t you wish you could just go to Jesus and ask Him, what do I do in this marriage?  I got married and I thought it was going to be great.  Over the years, my spouse hasn’t followed through on what they promised.  I know I’m not perfect, but if you lived with me you would see what I am talking about.  They have worn me down.  They have hurt me.  I don’t know what do to do with that.  Jesus, what do I do?

The good news I have for you is that Peter did ask Jesus about this.

21 Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” NLT Matthew 18:21-35

Peter is asking Jesus what we want to ask Him.  How long do I have put up with my husband?  My wife?  When I can I finally let them have it?  How long do I have to be the victim in my own marriage?

Now it’s important to understand that in Peter’s day the Rabbis taught the law.  And they taught that you were required to forgive someone three times.  If you did that, you were excelling at this religious life and met the legalist standard that was required.  So, when Peter suggested forgiving someone seven times, Peter was kinda like the teacher’s pet.  “Jesus, I’m amazing to suggest that I forgive someone more than three times, that’s over and above what the law requires, what do you think of that Jesus?”

Let’s see Jesus’ response;

22 “No!” Jesus replied, “seventy times seven!”  NLT Matthew 18:21-35

Jesus blew him out of the water.  You don’t forgive someone three times.  You aren’t amazing if you forgive someone seven times.  No, Peter, you forgive them for as long as they are in your life.  In other words, if you are looking for a number, you missed the point.  You are living by the old legalistic law that brings death into relationships.  Jesus was saying, I expect you to forgive, that brings life to a relationship.

I want you to think about this.  Jesus basically said, I hear ya, keep forgiving.  If you are married and living with unmet expectations, hurt and you are going through the motions, how do Jesus’ hit your heart?  Jesus said, forgive and keep on forgiving.  Does that help you?  Does that bring you to life?  Probably not.  And here is why.  When we come to Jesus, or others and ask questions like, how much longer do I have to deal with this?  We want the permission to give up, to end it – right?  We want the permission to finally say, “I was right you were wrong.”  When Jesus says forgive, it’s disappointing because we have to continue to live with the pain and struggle.

So, Jesus does something brilliant, He tells a story to explain why.

23 “For this reason, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him.  24 In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars.   25 He couldn’t pay, so the king ordered that he, his wife, his children, and everything he had be sold to pay the debt.  26 But the man fell down before the king and begged him, ‘Oh, sir, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’  27 Then the king was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt. NLT Matthew 18:21-35

The king represents God and the servant represents us.  Here is the thing, you know you have sin in your life.  We owe God millions that we can’t repay.  You know you aren’t perfect.  You know that you have a natural tendency to be selfish.  It’s in you.  And when we look at our lives, when we are honest, we conclude we are a mess.  When we look at ourselves, we know we come up short of any Godly, righteous standard.  And, we know we don’t deserve God’s grace.

We are that servant that owes the king millions of dollars.  We come to God and say, “I’m sorry, I’m desperate, please forgive me.  There is no way I could ever repay you.”  What does God do?  He says, “Absolutely yes!”

God forgives us, gives us hope and joy.  We are free from the debt that would be impossible to pay.

Jesus goes on;

28 “But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment.  29 His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient and I will pay it,’ he pleaded.  30 But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and jailed until the debt could be paid in full. NLT Matthew 18:21-35

That’s you going back into your marriage.  Yes, your spouse hasn’t met your expectations.  Yes, your spouse has hurt you.  Yes, all of that has taken your heart out.  It’s all true.  It’s the story of every marriage.  And because of that, don’t you want to demand that they do what you want?  Don’t you want to be the judge and make them pay?  Don’t you want to finally let them have it?  Don’t you want to talk to all your friends about how your spouse has failed you?

What do we do?  We don’t forgive and we want to make them pay.  We might not get a divorce, but we pull back.  We don’t love anymore.  If they want talk, we don’t talk.  If they want sex, they aren’t getting it.  Whatever the marriage needs, we aren’t giving it.

Have you seen that?  We go to church and do all the right Christian activities, mission trips, discipleships but we pull back from fully engaging into our marriage.

Jesus goes on;

31 “When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him what had happened. NLT Matthew 18:21-35

That’s your family and friends around you.  When they see how you are treating your spouse, it hurts and upsets everyone around you.  They see the hypocrisy.  What makes this even worse is, how can you hold your spouse to a standard that you don’t hold yourself to?  How can you be forgiven by God for a debt you could never repay and at the same time, not forgive your spouse?  How can you say you are a disciple of Christ living in God’s grace and at the same time, hold your spouse to the letter of that law?

When you live like this, it hurts everyone around you.  They see the hypocrisy.

How do you think God views that way of living?  Jesus tells us;

32 Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me.  33 Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’  34 Then the angry king sent the man to prison until he had paid every penny.  35 “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters in your heart.” NLT Matthew 18:21-35

Did you see that?  When God forgives us and we chose to not forgive, that kind of living Jesus called: evil.

Yes, your spouse hasn’t met your expectations.  Yes, your spouse has hurt you.  Yes, all of that has taken your heart out.  It’s all true.  It’s the story of every marriage.  And we forgive.  Why?  Because God forgave you of a debt you had no ability to pay.

23 For all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious standard. 24 Yet now God in his gracious kindness declares us not guilty. He has done this through Christ Jesus, who has freed us by taking away our sins. 25 For God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins.  NLT Romans 3:23-25

And what it means to be a disciple of Christ, we take the grace and mercy God gave to us and give it to our spouse.

Now that being said, sometimes forgiveness doesn’t resolve ongoing issues.  How do we deal with ongoing issues.  Addictions like pornography, alcohol, gambling, etc.  Emotions like anger, greed, jealously.  Wounds that lead to depression, suicidal thoughts, low self-esteem.  Relationship killers like judgmental criticism, checking out of life and not engaging the family or spouse.  What do we do?

We always forgive.  It’s what brings life, God’s love, into the relationship.  And forgiveness keeps our hearts healed.  If there are ongoing issues, recurring arguments, financial struggles, those are indicators you probably need to get help from a Christian counselor.  It’s normal and healthy to see a professional councilor.

Here is what I want you to do today.  Homework.

Go to your spouse and say, “I think I may have missed your expectations in this area ___________, is that true?  I am sorry for that.  How can we work on that?”

Go to your spouse and say, “I think I may have hurt you in this area ____________, is that true?  I am sorry for that.  How can we work on that?”

Ask your spouse, what do you need from me to move this relationship from not to hot?  How can we work on that?