Sunday, April 3, 2016
Pastor Joe Wittwer
The Jesus Marriage
#1—Marriage isn’t that great!
Introduction and offering.
I love Laina. I first saw Laina when I visited her older brother Mark, who is my age. It was the summer before my senior year in high school; Laina was going into 7th grade, and it was love at first sight. Ok, maybe not. A few years later, in my sophomore year in college, I became the youth pastor at Westside Christian Church, where Noel and his family (including Laina) belonged. Laina was a freshman in high school and one of the students in my youth group. That’s right—I married one of the students in my youth group—my philosophy was get her while she’s young and raise her the way you want! By the time I was a senior in college and Laina was a junior in high school, I realized that she was special. Of course, we couldn’t start dating until she graduated, and we were married a year later. I wasn’t going to let her get away! We’ve been married for 40 years, and it’s been amazing. I think we’d both say that we love and enjoy each other now more than ever. Marriage is great!
So it may surprise you that the title of my talk today is “Marriage isn’t that great!” What could I possibly mean?
Life is about God, not marriage. You were created for a relationship with God first and foremost. This is true for everyone, whether you are single or married. Life is about God and your relationship with Him—this is first. This is why the first of the Ten Commandments says, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” Nothing before God—not money, not things, not success, not pleasure, and not even marriage or family. God first. That’s how life is meant to be lived.
So in this series, The Jesus Marriage, I am proposing that the best thing you can do for your life is to love God first, to get close to God. When you do that, your life will be better—all of your life, including your marriage. The best thing you can do for your marriage is to love God first.
I love Laina. But I love Jesus first. And at our wedding, that was part of our vows. We did something that I now discourage couples from doing: we memorized our vows. Not smart! And of course, Laina, who never speaks in public, sailed through hers perfectly. When it was my turn—it was gone. Totally blank. I stood there speechless! And everyone burst out laughing. While they laughed it came back to me. And here is what I said. “Laina, I love you. I promise to love you like Christ loves the Church. And I promise that I will love Jesus even more than you. The more I love Jesus, the better I love you.”
We’ve built our marriage on our relationship with Jesus. It’s a Jesus marriage—and that’s what makes it great. We live for Jesus first. We are on mission for Jesus, and everything we are and have is missional currency, to be used as He directs. Our focus isn’t on our marriage, it’s on Jesus and His mission—and that makes our marriage better.
So for the next four weeks, we’re going to talk about the Jesus marriage. As you can guess, this series will be more about Jesus than it is marriage. In fact, I’m calling it the “un-marriage marriage series” because it’s really about Jesus and your relationship with Him. And that’s why you’ll benefit whether you’re married or single.
If you want to read more about this and dig in deeper, I’m recommending Francis and Lisa Chan’s book, You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity. We’ll be borrowing heavily from this very challenging book. Here’s the Big Idea for today:
The Big Idea: Marriage isn’t forever; God is. The good news is that when you get that squared away, your marriage gets better.
Marriage is great; but it isn’t that great. What do I mean?
- Marriage isn’t forever, God is.
Many people say that marriage is forever. Is it? Will you be married in heaven? Many people hope so. And many people with bad marriages hope not! I certainly hope that I’ll be with Laina forever, and I believe we will. But I don’t think we’ll be married as we are now. Jesus seemed to indicate that marriage isn’t forever. Here’s the story from Matthew 22.
The Sadducees asked Jesus a question about the resurrection, hoping to trip Him up. Matthew tells us that the Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection; that’s why they were sad, you see. So they pitched Jesus a hypothetical situation that they thought demonstrated the absurdity of the resurrection.
A man married a woman, and then died childless. Jewish law required the man’s younger brother to marry his widow and have children in his stead. Well this man had 6 younger brothers. So the next brother married his widow, but he too died childless. Then the next brother married her, and he too died childless, and so on with each of the brothers. Finally, the woman died—worn out no doubt by 7 husbands! So here’s the question: “At the resurrection, whose wife will she be, since she was married to all seven?”
Matthew 22:29–32 Jesus replied, “Your mistake is that you don’t know the Scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God. 30 For when the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage. In this respect they will be like the angels in heaven.
31 “But now, as to whether there will be a resurrection of the dead—haven’t you ever read about this in the Scriptures? Long after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had died, God said, 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ So he is the God of the living, not the dead.”
The Sadducees’ mistake—and one that is common today—is to assume that heaven will simply be a continuation of the present, with the bad removed and the good multiplied. At funerals you hear this kind of stuff all the time. “He’s up there tracking a trophy elk in the big hunting ground in the sky!” Heaven doesn’t sound so great if you’re an elk! While there is certainly some continuity between this life and the next—it seems clear that we’ll know each other—Jesus also indicates that there is discontinuity, that the next life will be a whole new kind of existence. And in this new life, there won’t be a need for marriage. Now we need marriage and family for the propagation of life. Evidently it will be different in heaven; we will be like the angels who don’t marry or propagate. Notice that Jesus doesn’t say we will be angels, but that we’ll be like them in that we won’t marry. So this passage seems to say that there is no marriage in heaven. Marriage is “until death do us part” but it’s not forever.
For some people, this is distressing, so let me quickly add that I believe relationships will continue and get even better. Laina and I won’t be married in eternity, but that doesn’t mean that we won’t know or love each other even more than we do now. The relationships of heaven will be new and greater and transcend those of time. It’s hard to imagine not being married, especially when you’ve been married for 40 years like we have. But I’m confident that as good as this is, that will be even better. The one thing I can guarantee is that you won’t be disappointed in heaven. The best is yet to come.
ILL: Think of it like this. When my kids were small, they didn’t want to get married. They wanted to live with Laina and me forever. The boys wanted to marry their mom and the girls wanted to marry me. From their childish perspective, they couldn’t imagine not being with us; they couldn’t imagine a relationship better than the one they had. But when they grew up, they outgrew these ideas—thank God!—and they happily married terrific people.
In the same way, we may not be able to imagine something better than marriage, but Jesus says it’s coming at the resurrection. So don’t despair—it only gets better!
Marriage isn’t forever, but God is. One of the clear implications of Jesus’ teaching here is that all the relationships in this life will be transcended in eternity; therefore, marriage should not be given the ultimate priority. Marriage is great, but it’s not that great. Only God is.
What’s the most important thing you could do for your spouse and kids? Prepare them for eternity. God is forever. Nothing is more important than their relationship with God. We spend all kinds of effort preparing for the next ten years, but very little preparing for the next 10 million years with God. What if “happily ever after” really meant focusing more on the first 10 million years of eternity than the next 10 years? If you love your spouse and family, help them prepare for eternity. Help them know and love God. Here’s the wonderful thing. Living with an eternal focus will make you better now! Living with God and His purpose and His mission in mind will change you. It will keep you from silly arguments—we have more important things to do! Too much is at stake! God created us for a purpose. We can’t afford to waste our lives. We can’t afford to waste our marriage by merely pursuing our own happiness.
Life is about God, not marriage. The Bible is not a book about marriage, but a book about God. Does it speak about marriage? Of course, and it has a lot of important things to say. And one of those things is that life is about God, not marriage. We live for God’s glory, not for ourselves, or for marriage. Our relationship with God is forever, and is most important. When that is right, our marriage gets right. We’re to prioritize our relationship with God above all else. Which leads to our next point:
- Worship God, not marriage.
Some of you might be thinking, “This is a stupid point! Who would ever worship marriage or family?” It happens when we make an idol of marriage, when marriage or family becomes more important to us than God. Before I give some examples, let’s look at the Scripture. Here’s what happened next after the question about marriage and the resurrection.
Matthew 22:34–40 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees with his reply, they met together to question him again. 35 One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”
37 Jesus replied, “ ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”
First, Jesus is asked a question about marriage, then immediately after He is asked what is the most important of all the commandments. Notice that Jesus doesn’t say, “Get married, be fruitful and multiply.” What is most important? God! Love God with all you’ve got: heart, soul, mind and strength. Love God! This is the first and most important commandment. What’s second? Love your neighbor as yourself. Love people. Does this include your spouse and family? Absolutely. They are your closest neighbors! Love for neighbor has to start at home—but it can’t end there. We are to love everyone always.
What’s first? Love God with all you’ve got.
What’s second? Love your neighbor.
Love God first. Love people second. That’s always the order in Scripture. If you want to love people better, love God more. God first; people second. Whenever we get that order mixed up, when we put anyone or anything before God, that is idolatry, and it never ends well. The more we love God, the better we’ll love people. But it is always God first. Love God with all you’ve got.
Matthew 10:34–38 “Don’t imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth! I came not to bring peace, but a sword.
35 ‘I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 Your enemies will be right in your own household!’
37 “If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. 38 If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine.
This is a difficult and uncomfortable passage. Jesus says that He will be a source of division, even separating family members. Does Jesus bring people together? Of course. But He also divides us.
ILL: For years there was a clear division in my family as all of us chose to follow Jesus, except for my dad. I can remember my dad in a drunken rage complaining that the church had stolen his family from him. “I have come to set a man against his father,” Jesus said. I experienced that. I’m happy to say that my dad came to Christ late in life and that division vanished. But we lived as a divided family for years.
Jesus said that families would be divided over Him—how many of you have experienced that? You chose Jesus over your family. That is what Jesus expects us to do, and is the meaning of verse 37.
Matthew 10:37 “If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine.
Jesus chooses our most important relationships—parents, children, and spouses—and insists that we love Him more than the people we love the most. Does Jesus want us to love our family? Of course! But we must love Him more. If we’re ever forced to choose, Jesus or family, there should be no hesitation. It’s Jesus first.
So the Scripture is clear: we love God most, we love Jesus first. Worship God, not your marriage or family. Do people really worship marriage more than God? Sadly, yes.
A word to singles: I’ve known single people whom became so obsessed with getting married that they sacrificed their faith to get a spouse. They leave Jesus to get a guy or gal. Marriage has become an idol, more important than God. This never ends well. Jesus once said that if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it’s better to enter heaven with one hand than to go to hell with two. Let me paraphrase Jesus: it’s better to enter heaven single than to go to hell married. Marriage is not worth sacrificing your relationship with Jesus. By the way, singles, here is some advice: the best person to marry is one who doesn’t have to. When someone says, “I can’t live without you,” watch out! They will suck you dry! You don’t want to marry that person and you don’t want to be that person. Find your fulfillment in Jesus. Worship God, not marriage.
A word to the marrieds: I’ve known married people who became so obsessed with their marriage or family that Jesus became a distant second. Marriage and family became an idol, more important than God. This will kill your marriage. When someone says, “My wife or my husband is everything to me,” you have made an idol of your spouse, and placed expectations on them that they can never fulfill. No one person can be everything to you. No one person can meet all your needs. This places a crushing burden on your spouse.
ILL: I think of Bob in my all time favorite movie What About Bob following Dr. Marvin on vacation. Check this out: Video. “I need, I need, I need; gimme, gimme, gimme.” Don’t be a Bob!
Making your spouse or kids #1 will only suck the life out of them. They weren’t created to be your everything, and you weren’t created to worship them. You were created to worship God. To make anyone else #1 will crush them and kill you.
Would you agree that love of spouse and family is important? Absolutely! Of all our human relationships, it is the most important. No human being is more important to me than Laina and my kids and family. But while love of spouse and family is important, it must not be an idol. We are to love God first with all we’ve got; everything else—including marriage and family—is a distant second. It should look like this.
- God 1. God
- Possessions 2. Family, friends, work, possessions
God first. Everything else is a distant second. Worship God, not marriage.
- Focus on God.
If the best thing we can do for our marriages (or any other relationship) is to love God more, then maybe we don’t have marriage problems; maybe we have God problems. Instead of focusing on our marriage, we should focus on God. Fixing this (vertical) will fix this (horizontal).
ILL: Picture it this way. You look in the mirror before heading out the door to work or school and you notice that your hair is out of place—it’s not a good look for you. What do you do? Here’s what you don’t do: you don’t reach out and touch the mirror and try to fix your hair. Why? You know the mirror is only a reflection. Touching the reflection won’t fix the problem.
Maybe our marriage problems are just a reflection of our God problem: we’re not loving God, we’re not following Jesus, and it shows in our relationships. Trying to fix the relationship without addressing the God issue is like trying to fix your hair by touching the mirror.
Hebrews 12:1–3 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
The author of Hebrews is writing to persecuted Christians who are in danger of “growing weary and losing heart” and abandoning their faith. He uses the metaphor of a race, and encourages them to do three things.
- Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. It’s difficult to run a race in your stiletto heels, or a long gown, or a suit and dress shoes. Serious runners strip off anything that slows them down or trips them up. Is there anything tripping you up and slowing you down? Anything you need to strip off and throw away?
- Let us run with perseverance the race set out for us. Sometimes we say, “Life is a marathon.” We mean that it’s a long race and you just have to keep going. Don’t quit. Don’t give up.
- Let us fix our eyes on Jesus. Jesus is the author and perfector of our faith. He is both the goal and the example. He is the finish line we are running towards, so keep your eyes on Him. And He is the One who has run the race ahead of us, so keep your eyes on Him. To fix your eyes means “to look away” from other things so you can focus on one thing. Focus on Jesus.
If you are focused on your marriage, you are focused on the wrong thing. Focus on Jesus. Let me illustrate it this way: draw a triangle on your page.
Now write God on top, your name one lower corner and your spouse, fiancé, or best friend in the other lower corner.
As both of us focus on God and get closer to God, what happens to us? We get closer to each other. The more I love God, the closer I get to Laina. The more I love God, the better husband and father I am. So the best thing I can do is to focus on God. Fix my eyes on Jesus.
If we were focused on God, most of our problems would disappear. He would change us deeply and transform our relationships. Most of our marriage problems are really God problems, and we’re trying to fix them by touching the mirror. Focus on God. If we don’t, we’ll focus on lesser things, namely ourselves. But when we focus on God, everything else comes into perspective. Everything falls into its proper place. There’s an old song that says it beautifully.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Fix your eyes on Jesus. Focus on Jesus. And everything else takes its proper place.
Let’s sing that, and as we do, focus on Jesus. What do you need to look away from to focus on Jesus? Maybe it’s your marriage, or your kids, or your job. For many of us, it’s just ourselves—we naturally focus on ourselves. Let’s look away from all that, and look to Jesus. Pray and ask Him to help you live God first.
Song, prayer and ministry