Building A Thriving Marriage
By Pastor Michael Olawore
New Wine Church, London
Foundation Scripture: Jeremiah 30:18-19
Sunday 17th May 2015
We continue the Family Convention series ‘Thrive’, which I began a fortnight ago. From the first message titled ‘Laying the Foundation for a Thriving Marriage’, we zeroed in on the word ‘Thrive’. To ‘thrive’ could be defined thus: To ‘grow vigorously’, ‘become prosperous’, ‘increase in bulk’, ‘grow luxuriantly’, ‘flourish’, ‘boom’, ‘expand’, ‘become greater or larger’, ‘fly high’ and ‘make significant progress’.
God has promised that He will turn things around by rebuilding homes, as outlined in Jeremiah 30:18-19. As a result of this, the town will be rebuilt on its old foundations, the mansions will be splendid again, thanksgivings will pour out of the windows, laughter will spill through the doors, things will get better and better, depression days will be over, families would thrive and flourish and the days of contempt will be over. The prerogative to build is God’s. And He plans to do it His way, according to His original intention. We also agreed that in order to have a successful marriage, our walk with God as a husband or wife must be successful. The degree of our success in marriage is proportional to the degree of our walk with God. Also, we agreed that our wholeness in our marriage relationship is dependent on holiness, or agreement with God. Hence the word of God and not our emotions must rule our hearts.
Today’s message ‘Building a thriving marriage’ opens up to us the next stage of a thriving marriage. From our foundation scripture in Jeremiah 30:18-19, we’ve agreed that God wants to rebuild our homes. The first place to begin is in rebuilding our marriages. Let’s start today by underscoring the importance of our priorities. Mark 12:28-31 reads: ‘Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, “Which is the first commandment of all?” Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”’ A thriving relationship with God is the greatest relationship we could ever have, and it is the basis for a thriving relationship in our marriages. Hence, unless we love God passionately, it becomes difficult to love our neighbours including our spouses as God desires.
Our love for God facilitates a thriving relationship with others. In other words, without a thriving vertical relationship, there cannot be a thriving horizontal relationship. The natural progression, once we love God, is to begin to enjoy our relationship with others, including our spouse. Without a doubt, the overflow of God’s love within us enables us to love our husbands and wives better. Here is how 1 John 4:19 put it: ‘We love Him because He first loved us’. In effect, a thriving marriage begins with a thriving relationship with God. Hence, if God is left out of the equation, it is unlikely that such a marriage will thrive. So can I challenge you today, to make loving God a priority in your marriage?
Let me share with you and address two basic human needs that we all long for, that oftentimes accompany us into a marriage relationship. Besides, there are unwritten expectations that a spouse will fulfil these needs, which usually leads to issues in marriages, as these longings were never designed to be fulfilled by another human being.
These two basic needs are identity and acceptance. Firstly, let’s discuss identity. A marriage was never designed and has no capacity to give an identity to a person. It is from our relationship with God, that we can enjoy the full benefits of an identity in Him. So you need to ask yourself ‘Do I know who I am?’ or ‘Do I define who I am by my relationship with my spouse?’ Unfortunately, a spouse cannot offer nor give his or her partner an identity. Hence deriving your identity from a spouse is simply placing an unrealistic demand or expectation on him or her. We need to realise that our spouses are work in progress, and they are not perfect. So, if you try to derive your identity from your spouse, you become over-possessive, suspicious of others and unduly attached to him or her. If care is not taken, a spouse who feels that his or her identity is not being defined from their marital status may soon begin to look outside the marriage for identity. The bible reminds us that our identity cannot be defined by our marital status but by our identity in Christ. Here is Colossians 2:9-10: ‘For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body. So you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority’ (NLT). Also see Romans 8:16-17. You are God’s child, you are complete and you must be secure in that identity in God.
The second basic need is acceptance. Again, if you are looking for acceptance from a spouse, you may be disappointed as your spouse may not always accept you – there would be moments of arguments and disagreements. So, we must realise that only God can accept us unconditionally because of His agape love for us. Hence you are already accepted in God. Ephesians 1:5 reads: ‘having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved’. As a single person, it is important that the difficult issues of the past are resolved before getting married, as unresolved issues can easily hinder the thriving capacity of a future marriage.
To enjoy the blessings of a thriving marriage and to have your needs of identity and acceptance met, look to God. The more you accept the love of God, the more you feel fulfilled. This positively impacts your marriage, as you feel secure in your identity in and acceptance in Christ.
In rounding up today, let me share with you the four phases of a thriving marriage. Moses, Jesus and St. Paul all alluded to these in various verses in scripture. Here is Genesis 2:21-25: ‘And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. Then the rib which the Lord God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man. And Adam said: “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.’ Also see Matthew 19:5-6 and Ephesians 5:31-32. From these scriptures, we can deduce the four essential phases, designed by God for a thriving marriage, namely: leaving, cleaving, oneness and openness.
From here, we can conclude that marriage is a journey, and it takes time to move from one phase to the next, similar to the various phases of growth that we experience in life. Many times, young couples put unnecessary pressure on themselves, as they aspire to become like older couples who may be enjoying the blessings of oneness and openness. Conversely, older couples must be judicious when counselling younger couples so as not to put unnecessary demands on a growing marriage. However, these phases should be given the time to occur naturally as the marriage grows, from one phase to the next.
(a) Leaving: This first phase must be a period of redefining priorities and allegiances. Your priority as a married person must switch from your parents to your new home with your spouse. Your spouse as soon as you are married takes precedence before your parents. Unless both partners in the marriage deliberately leave their old families behind, their marriage may never experience cleaving. It is in leaving that cleaving is given a chance to bud and grow. In other words, in order to build a thriving marriage, there must be a desire to leave and put the past behind, otherwise there will be every excuse to go back to the past. Having established this point, it must be stated that both set of parents should be celebrated and appreciated every now and again, but it should never be at the expense of cleaving.
Besides parents, past romantic relationships or even old classmates must also be severed, if it is at the expense of your marriage – keeping contact numbers and browsing through social media pages are all indications that the door on the past has not been closed. It is vital that you redefine your priorities. Old destructive habits such as anger, malice, long phone calls to old friends at the expense of your spouse should be jettisoned and redefined in order to create an atmosphere for cleaving. Our marriages were given to us by God to model before the world, the relationship between Christ and the church.
(b) Cleaving: This second phase will happen automatically once you successfully leave old relationship as explained above behind. If there is something in your past that is taking your affection, attention, energy and time, then it is likely you have not closed the door on the past, which must be dealt with. Here are some of the definitions of cleaving: to stick, cling, stick with, follow closely, join to, riveting and soldering. As soon as you leave the past behind, you inadvertently become closer to your spouse and this gives each of you the opportunity to bond and enjoy the relationship better. It is at this stage of cleaving that you can point to some common interests, values and orientation as your spouse. At this point you become devoted, loyal, selfless and ready to sacrifice for the sake of the future ahead of you.
(c) Oneness: Cleaving graduates to this third phase automatically as well. St Paul describes this stage as a mystery as outlined in Ephesians 5:31-32: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”. This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Just in the same way that Christ and the church are one, the two individuals in a marriage at this phase become one. The couple at this phase share the same values, desires, same vision and common goal; they are passionate and motivated about the same life issues. In marriage, whatever you do for your spouse, you are doing for yourself – Hence, in the eyes of God, when you invest in your spouse, you are investing in yourself. Conversely, when you despise your spouse, you are despising yourself. Such a union is inseparable, because you are one. Divorce should hardly be an option as it destroys what God has joined intricately together.
(d) Openness: This is the phase of intimacy in marriage, in which a couple can be vulnerable and comfortable with each other.
As a married couple, when you successfully go through these four stages of a thriving marriage, you exemplify the relationship between Christ and the church.
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