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My wife and I celebrated our 36th wedding anniversary a little over a week ago. I remember the day we were married as though it were yesterday. Cathe was a vision of beauty as she walked down the aisle, while I had long hair and a big, bushy red beard. I was also wearing the ugliest tuxedo ever made. Now as I look at those old photos, I have to ask, “What was I thinking?” But we are grateful for how faithful God has been to both of us over the years.
Sometimes couples will ask me to redo their vows. I don’t have a problem with that, but I have never felt a great desire for Cathe and me to do this. We haven’t broken them yet, and we don’t plan on breaking them. So I think once is good enough, because I meant them when I said them to Cathe, and I know she meant them when she said them to me as well.
From the very beginning, we sought to build our marriage on biblical principles. Now, I know a little bit about marriage and a little bit about divorce. I have never been divorced, but my mother was married and divorced seven times. She went through a lot of what might be described as relationships, though I don’t really think they were. So for many years of my childhood, I saw how not to do things. Then, when I was getting married, I knew that I was about to make a lifelong commitment that I planned, by the grace of God, to honor and keep.
We wanted to have a marriage God’s way, because we certainly didn’t want to have it our culture’s way. Our culture doesn’t know anything about marriage; in fact, it is largely hostile toward the family and everything it stands for. I have never known a time when the family was under attack like it is today, from those who want to redefine what it is to those who just simply want to undermine it. So we don’t want to look to our secular culture for advice on how to have a successful marriage. We want to look to God. We want to look to a credible source, and we find that in the Bible. It speaks directly to men and women about how to have a successful marriage.
When couples come to me for marriage counseling, one of the first things I will ask them is whether they are both Christians. They usually will say yes. Then I will ask them if they both believe the Bible is God’s Word. Often they will say yes immediately. Then I ask them, “Are you willing to do what the Bible says, even if you find it difficult?” It is then they realize that I am kind of setting a trap for them, because I have never found a couple who were divorcing, yet doing what the Bible says. Never. And I don’t think I ever will. I believe that if couples do what God says, they will not be headed to divorce court. But if they don’t, then they are going to have trouble.
The Bible works. I know it works, because I have seen it work. But sometimes people don’t like what it says. Sometimes they don’t like what the Bible teaches about the role of the husband and the wife. But it is God’s Word. And because divorce is so commonplace today, we should want to see what it has to say.
So let’s look at a word that very few people like to hear – a very unpopular word: submission. Although “submit” is used in the pages of the Bible, we don’t like to do it. We don’t want anyone taking advantage of us, after all. We don’t want anyone infringing on our rights. But first we need to make sure that we understand what it means.
The Bible tells us to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21 NIV). To submit means to get in order under something. It is sometimes used in a military sense, and it means to rank beneath. And just as there is a chain of command in the military, there is a chain of command in life as well. A husband’s submission to his wife does not mean that he abdicates his responsibility of leadership in the home, but it does mean that he helps her to bear her burdens. He gets underneath her to help carry her cares. He is ready to meet her needs and sacrifice his own desires. And, she is willing to do the same for him. The idea is for both the husband and wife to do their part. So put the needs of your mate above your own.
If you went into your marriage saying, “I want to make this the happiest person who ever lived, and I am going to make it about my mate – not about me,” do you know how much that would change your marriage? But we don’t like that idea. Yet the Bible tells us that we are to imitate God, and we are to walk in love (see Ephesians 5:1–2). Far too often we make everything about us: How can my spouse fulfill me? How can he make me a happier person? What can she do for me? A successful marriage is not so much about finding the right person as much as it is about being the right person. There is no perfect person out there.
The ultimate model of submission is Jesus Christ in the fact that he gave his life for us. He laid it down. Jesus laid aside His privileges and rights. The Bible tells us, “You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being” (Philippians 2:5–7 NLT).
He is our model. So, if you want to have a successful marriage, then read the fine print of what the Bible says. Don’t say your vows until you are ready to live by them. A successful marriage is the result of attention to detail. Every marriage will be tested. And if you let things go, it will begin to unravel. So you have to keep at it. Read the fine print. Apply yourself. And if you will do that, God will bless your marriage, and you will stand whatever test comes your way. Good marriages don’t just happen randomly or by accident. They happen because people apply what the Bible says.