Welcome to our marriage series.  We started by saying that to be good at being married begins with being good at dating.  And to be good at dating begins with being good at being single.  So really, a great marriage begins when you are single.

I would also say, after the wedding day, to be good at being married requires us to grow up into emotional and spiritual maturity.  But sometimes instead of growing and changing couples who get married go on cruise control.  They can view the wedding as the finish line not the starting line.  And because life gets busy, they can ignore what matters, to get things done.  This isn’t because people are bad, it’s because life gets harder.

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

Why do marriages ‘go good’ or ‘go bad’?  Many reasons.  The number one reason for divorce is over finances.  But, in general, I think there are several reasons, here are two.  First, one of the deciding factors is how people respond to the unmet expectations or hurt from their spouse.  However, if we are aware of how much God forgave us, it makes it easy to forgive our spouse.  Remember the Jesus story of the ungrateful servant?  If we live in God’s grace and forgiveness, our marriage can thrive.  If we don’t, our marriage will probably starve.

Secondly, it also depends on one or both spouses who want to grow up into emotional and spiritual maturity.  If they are growing and talking and maturing and changing to be better, that marriage will thrive.  If they are stuck, do the least possible, check out, refuse to change and remain selfish, that marriage will probably starve.

If you are married, I want to really challenge you.  Deal with your relationship.  Don’t fall into a rut and check out.  Why?  Because outside of your relationship with God, your spouse can be the greatest source of joy and courage and healing in your life.

Scripture says,

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

The big question I have for you is, are you the kind of person who refreshes the soul of your spouse?   I want to turn to scripture.

Today I want to tell you that after you are married, you will discover that you are a mess.  And, after the wedding you will discover that your spouse is wounded.

Let’s jump into scripture.

25 One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what must I do to receive eternal life?”  NLT Luke 10:25-28

What is happening?  A religion scholar, an expert, comes to Jesus to get clarification.  He asks Jesus an interesting question, “Teacher, what must I do to receive eternal life?”  This man thinks it’s up to him and what he does to earn eternal life.  He looks at life like a formula.  I must do enough good things to balance out the bad things to get into heaven.  He sees religion through the grid of rules and regulations.

26 Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?”  27 The man answered, ” ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ”   28 “Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!”  NLT Luke 10:25-28

How did Jesus answer the man?  Jesus made the complex simple.  He told the man to love.  Love God and love your neighbor.  This is simple isn’t?  Jesus could not have made it any more simple.  It’s like preschool finger painting… love your neighbor.  So easy, right?  Let’s keep reading.

29 The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” NLT Luke 10:25-28

Isn’t this us today?  We are told, ‘love God and love your neighbor’ and we want clarification.  We need deeper teaching – right?  Jesus said ‘love your neighbor’ so does that mean the people in the house next to me?  Does that mean people two doors down?  How about my town because not everyone lives beside me?  Does that mean I love people in a range of 1 mile from my house?  What about people 5 miles from my house?  What exactly does love your neighbor mean?  Only people can take the simplicity of the finger painting, pre-school teaching of ‘love your neighbor’ and make it complex.

Why would we ask those questions?  Why would this guy ask that of Jesus?  Because he is looking for a loophole.  He isn’t looking to love more; he is looking to figure out the rules to do the least.  He still views life through a clunky formula.  He views religion through the grid of rules and regulations.

So, Jesus does what He always does.  He tells a story.  Why does Jesus do this?  Again, Jesus makes the complex simple.  He tells a story because stories stick.

30 Jesus replied with an illustration: “A Jewish man was traveling on a trip from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes and money, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road.

31 “By chance a Jewish priest came along; but when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by.  32 A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side.  NLT Luke 10:25-28

Jesus is talking to a Jewish religion scholar.  You would think, if Jesus is telling a story, the Jewish priest and Jewish temple workers would be the heroes of the story.  They are not.  You would think, they are the obvious people to stop and help another Jew, a brother.  They are not.  That means Jesus is up to something in this story.

Jesus continued.

33 “Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt deep pity.  34 Kneeling beside him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with medicine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him.  35 The next day he handed the innkeeper two pieces of silver and told him to take care of the man. ‘If his bill runs higher than that,’ he said, ‘I’ll pay the difference the next time I am here.’ NLT Luke 10:25-28

What is a Samaritan?  A Samaritan is half Jewish and half Assyrian.  They were a mixed race and in the times of Jesus, Jewish people hated Samaritans.  It was racism.  Who is the hero of the story?  A despised Samaritan.  Who stops and helps?  Who allows his day to be interrupted to show love?  Who is the one filled with grace and love and mercy?  The Samaritan.

What is Jesus saying?  Sometimes the most obvious person to show love to the wounded is the most self-righteous person and ignores the pain of others around them.  Jesus is telling this man that he is self-righteous.  Jesus told him to ‘love your neighbor’ and he is looking for loopholes.

Then Jesus ends the story with a question.

36 “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked.  37 The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.”  Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.” NLT Luke 10:25-28

I want to share with you three things about your marriage.

First.  You will discover in your marriage that your spouse has been wounded by life.  Maybe it was before you were married.  Maybe it was while you were married.  Hear me, life has wounded your spouse.  Chances are, they are in pain.  What have you discovered about your spouse?  How has life wounded them?  You know the thing that bothers you, the unmet expectation, maybe it’s because they have been wounded.  And you being critical and negative about it will not help.

For example, your spouse to communicate more and they don’t.  You become critical and negative.  Chances are they might be wounded.  Insecure.  And afraid to talk because they don’t know if you will approve of them.  They go quiet.  What they need is love.  A spouse with mercy.  I didn’t say you can’t have honest conversation about it, I am saying that constant critical and negative words will not heal their broken heart.

Your spouse doesn’t come through for you sexually.  They are a disappointment.  You become critical, negative and mean.  Changes are they are wounded.  Insecure.  What they need is love.  A spouse with mercy.

Secondly.  It’s God’s plan to heal your spouse and you are a part of that plan.  You are the obvious one to help heal your spouse.  God placed you in your marriage to love them.  How do you do that?  Jesus told us.  You show them mercy.  I will define that later.  Did you know that you are the obvious one to help heal your spouse?

Third.  How you respond to your wounded spouse reveals what is in your heart.  Maybe you are like the Jewish priest, the obvious one.  It’s you who are supposed to love your spouse.  But when the time comes to show mercy, you ignore them and their pain.  Life for you is about rules and regulations, formulas, tit for tat, and you only show love when you get what you want.  When your spouse doesn’t meet your expectations, how do you respond?  What comes out of your heart?

How do you show your spouse mercy?  How do you help them heal from the wounds of life?  It’s quite simple actually.  You love and praise them.  Can we just agree from this Sunday on, we never say a mean or negative word about our spouses ever?  Can we just agree, when our spouses aren’t around, we build them up to others and not share our disappointment in them?  Can we just start telling our spouses what makes them awesome?  Can we not wait till their funeral to tell others how special they are?

To show mercy, you listen to them talk.  Don’t speak until they are done.  Zip it.  Zzzziiiiip iiiiit.  Don’t defend yourself.  Don’t start an argument with, ‘Oh you are hurt, well you hurt me so I’m hurt.  Let’s talk about my hurt.’  Don’t one up them.  Just, for the love of all things that are good, listen, listen, listen and learn.

To show mercy, fully engage.  That means you break out of your selfish world to give what they need.  If your spouse tells you what they need from you to bring them to life, why would you not give that to them?  If you want to show them mercy, help them heal, break out of your selfish, it’s always about me, world.

How do I know your spouse needs love and praise?  They need someone to listen to?  They need someone who will get out of their selfish world to fully engage?  Because that is what you want.  Don’t you drive to work and think, ‘Good grief, could they give me one day from telling me how bad I am?’  ‘I wish they would just listen to me for one day.’  ‘I have begged them for ten years for, fill in the blank, and they just won’t come through for me.’

Jesus told us,

“Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them. MSG Matthew 7:12

Are you the kind of person who refreshes the soul of your spouse?  It’s simple really, overcome being selfish and show them mercy.

Okay, we close with this.  When God asks you to love your wife or respect your husband, it might push you to the limits.  There is something inside men who don’t want to love their wives unconditionally.  There is something inside women who don’t want to respect their husbands until they earn it.  Here is the thought.  Maybe that area inside your heart, is the area God is trying to deal with you.  God knew exactly what He was doing by placing you in your marriage.  And He knew exactly what He wants to do inside your heart.

Go today and show mercy to your spouse.