A few weeks ago, on the 5th of July 2015, my lovely wife and I celebrated our very first wedding anniversary. I had been looking forward to that day for weeks if not months before it arrived, obviously because it has significance to our lives, but also because I had some surprise plans for my wife and I that I was just aching to reveal. One of the many things that came to my mind and that both my wife and I kept recapitulating as we spoke about the past year is that it went by like a wind, it was coming and it was gone. (I hope that’s a good thing.) As quickly as it went it did not go by without reminding us of certain truths that we were already forgetting, teaching us some new ones and showing us a few experiences that we simply could not have had by any other means. I want to share here just four of the things that I have learnt from one year of marriage for the benefit of some youth out there preparing for marriage or just the entertainment of an addicted haphazard blog-reader.
1. Marriage Sanctifies
One of my primary responsibilities as a husband according to the Apostle Paul (Eph. 5:25-26) is to set aside my needs for the promotion of my wife’s growth in Christ. I am to play a positive role alongside the Holy Spirit in my wife’s sanctification. Both in this text and in Jesus’ priestly prayer of John 17 (Jn. 17:17), the means given to husbands to carry this out is God’s own Word. This has certainly been one of the greatest pleasures of married life for me, spending time every morning reading the Word of God with my wife, discussing it and praying from it. I know that it has had a sanctifying effect on her, whether we can both see immediate results or not, because it is God’s Word, it shall not return void, but it shall accomplish that which God has purposed, and shall succeed in the thing for which He sent it. (Isa. 55:11). Secondly because God says that he will reward and show himself to those that seek him (Mat. 7:7-11, Heb. 11:6, Jer. 29:13-14, Pro. 8:17). And finally, I know because I have seen it and heard it in my wife, she is a better Christian than the one I married.
It has also been sanctifying to me because every time I would read to her; preach to her and pray with her I would be simultaneously exercising all these graces to myself as well. It has been sanctifying to me because if I have been ready to preach to her, I have also had to be ready to say, as Paul, “Follow me as I follow Christ”. I have had a far greater compulsion than before to live what I preach lest I undo all my preaching to her.
I have had countless opportunities to exercise this in some really practical ways during the past year and one interesting one was that, I had to take a few exams that our school allowed us to take from home on vow of honesty, with a family member signing as an invigilator. It was an interesting opportunity because it wasn’t just an opportunity for me to show Christ to my wife in my integrity and honesty and thereby working with the Holy Spirit to be sanctifying to her as she saw Christ at work in her husband. But the situation had potential to be devastating as well, I could have cheated and not only lost the opportunity of witness, but also made my wife accomplice with me in my sin as she signed as my invigilator, which is far worse than just cheating by myself (Luk. 17:1-2). I am sure that she also feels this godly compulsion to Christlikeness because of my presence, which can only be good for both our walk with the Lord and our marriage.
2. Marriage Covers a Multitude of Sins
Of course with sanctification does not come sinlessness, so married couples who are being sanctified in marriage continue to sin even as they are being sanctified. That is why the Bible is awash with verses about forgiveness. Being the good Calvinist that I am, I got married knowing that I am a sinner marrying another sinner, who will bear me even more wretched sinners. But what the Arminian in me had never realised is just how wretched I truly am. Marriage revealed this to me. I do not think that my poor wife has ever had to forgive as many times in her entire life as she has forgiven me in the past twelve months alone. (maybe a bit of exaggeration there). Being forgiven is a present, sweet reality for those of us who are in Christ. Our appreciation for what it is that God did for us through Christ when he once-for-all forgave our sins grows with our theological understanding of ourselves and of Christ himself. Paul says that as we extend forgiveness to each other it should point us to what God has done for us through his Son (Eph. 4:32). As I have dismally failed not to offend my wife and have constantly needed her forgiveness, I have more and more appreciated what Christ has done for me because the helplessness of my estate (WSC. 17-19) has continued to be clearer to me with every instance I have had to say “I am sorry”. Though the joy of hearing the words, “I forgive you” from the lips of my wife cannot be compared to Christ’s work of forgiveness, but it is a sweet reminder and pointer and that is exactly what it should do. O! What an awesome thing forgiveness is.
Essentially and functionally all of this applies to all acts of forgiveness between any two Christians. Paul was after all not only speaking to married people in Ephesians 4, he was speaking to the whole church. So what is the big deal about forgiveness between two married people? Well, there is a significant difference and it lies in the uniqueness of marriage to all other human relationships. The Bible has made it very difficult for us to come out of a marriage relationship, more difficult than coming out of any other relationship. So again . . . yes as Calvinists we know that we will offend one another in marriage, as we offend one another in all other relationships, but in marriage God has said, “whatever the offense, stay together” (depending on your views on biblical divorce). One can resign from their job if they quarrel with their boss or colleague, they can part ways with a friend if they don’t see eye to eye, and they can even amicably leave a church over doctrinal differences. And the Bible actual affords us the freedom to come out of all these and many other relationships as long as we retain the biblical ethic on the dispute. But in Christian marriages we have to resolve every single dispute, offering continuous repentance and forgiveness and often overlooking one another’s sins in love (1 Cor. 13:7, 1 Pet. 4:8, Pro. 10:12), following the pattern of God who does not deal with us according to our sins (Ps. 103:10). If we have to live with one another until death do us part our relationship has to be characterised by daily covering, repentance and forgiveness, otherwise death will be too far.
3. Marriage is About Serving the Other
I remember three weeks after we got married, I wrote something to this effect on Facebook “Lessons from 3 weeks of marriage: Love is done not said.” As early as then I was already learning the very subject of this third point and God has continued hammering me on this. It is just simply amazing how true God’s Word is at every single point. It has simply blown my mind how most of my happiest moments in my one year of marriage have been the moments where I was serving my wife in one way or another in a real practical way. I am a selfish human being and my default setting is that of wanting to be served, and since I realised how pleasant it is to serve my wife, I constantly have to remind myself that it is not about receiving, but about giving.
Gal. 6:9-10 which basically says that we must never give up doing good because we will be rewarded tells no lie, and marriage has convinced me that not every aspect of these rewards is in the future. The first and immediate reward is the joy we derive from serving one another in the “household of faith” (Gal. 6:10), which is the church. A body of Christians. And which better Christian than the one that God has put closest to you than all others to be the first to receive “good” from you?
The sad irony is that as I have heard people, even Christian people (including me) complain about their spouses, they would say “he doesn’t do this for me; she doesn’t do that for me”, not realising that most of the joy of marriage does not lie there in the first place. It lies in serving. Rather than seeing ourselves as victims in marriage, we actually do better to overcome whatever evil we perceive with good (Rom. 10:21). Our burden should always be to begin a new cycle, that of outdoing one another in doing good (Rom. 12:10), and never becoming weary (Gal. 6:9) because the reward is always worth it.
4. Marriage Gets Better
People used to ask me a lot a few days to a few months after we got married, “So how’s married life?” and of course I would genuinely give an affirmative response. Many of them would say, “Just wait until you go past the honeymoon phase, it’ll all be downhill from then on my friend.” Some would be obviously joking, but sadly there are also many who truly believed what they were saying. This is the world’s view of marriage, that it is a kind of a necessary evil that cannot be truly enjoyed. Unfortunately I have to agree with them, they are right, a worldly marriage is a misery – it is like a dripping roof on a rainy day (Pro. 21:19).
Of course this is not to say that God in his goodness and common grace has not allowed multitudes of non-Christian marriages to flourish, as he has allowed the wicked to prosper. But besides that they could have been even better as Christian marriages, these marriage have worked because marriage is a creation ordinance. Man can simply not escape it, man can violate it, and he has, but he can never erase the longing within himself to be with a spouse (Gen. 2:18) and to procreate. It is no more possible than erasing the image and likeness of God in himself.
But this is not the fate of a Christian marriage, I have to strongly disagree with the jesters. In a certain way I have already proven this with the first three points. As two people become more Christ-like it is only inevitable that their relationship will become more pleasant because as they both become like Christ they become more and more of one mind with one another, which really is the key to all relationships. My wife and I have already enjoyed this grace, yet we are less sanctified now than we will be 50 years into our marriage – need I say more? So there really is nothing for me to labour here, only simply to dispel the myth in the case of Christian marriages. The unsaved on the other hand only become more hardened and only seek to overcome evil with evil and that is why their marriages become worse and worse. The fact is the sins of a 16 year old are worse than the sins of a 4 year old because the older conscience has had more time to be calloused. Bishop Ryle put it best when he said:
“I say it because of the force of habit. I say it because experience tells me that people's hearts are seldom changed if they are not changed when young. Seldom indeed are men converted when they are old. Habits have deep roots. Once sin is allowed to settle in your heart, it will not be turned out at your bidding. Custom becomes second nature, and its chains are not easily broken. . . . Custom is the nurse of sin. Every fresh act of sin lessens fear and remorse, hardens our hearts, blunts the edge of our conscience, and increases our evil inclination.”
What Bishop Ryle describes here can only be referred to a downward spiral, a vicious cycle, and a marriage of two people who are in this condition can only follow the path of the spiral. Praise the Lord that this is not the Christian condition, that we can prayerfully expect our marriages to become sweeter and sweeter as they more and more resemble the relationship of Christ and his Church. Be encouraged young Christian!
by Sinenkosi Dlamini