Dear Groom and Bride,
I write not only to say congratulations but also to share some wisdom accumulated in my own 21 years of marriage.
I never understood divorce and its real possibility in any marriage until I got married myself. To be so “in love” with “the one,” it was as if in my mind divorce was an unfathomable reality, or even possibility, for my own marriage. Julie and I heard the same words from our friends and family every couple does, “You deserve happiness.” I’m certain you have experienced the fleeting nature of happiness. I recall a quote which I repeat often, “Happiness is the moment before you need more happiness.” I have a personal quote I tell to anyone getting married or contemplating marriage, “Marriage isn’t meant to make you happy; it’s meant to make you holy”.
In Christian Marriage it’s not as if our marriages shouldn’t satisfy us with joy, but our own happiness must bow to something else. Our personal happiness should bow to God’s holiness.
Julie and I have faced our own set of difficult circumstances– often self-inflicted–but painful nonetheless. We have discovered there is a struggle in marriage and it’s common to all marriages: We each want our own way, and often our own way is marked by desiring what we want personally. The book of James explains it like this in James 4:1-3,
“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”
Murder seems like a strong end result, but remember the words of Christ, “everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment,” which means that if we have hate or anger in our hearts toward each other we have committed the root sin of murder. Pay close attention to what makes us fight and quarrel with each other: Our own passions and desires.
If your ultimate aim in marriage is personal happiness and your spouse is responsible for it, you will find disappointment.
Perhaps in your disappointment you will seek counsel from the same people who have told you over and over again, “You deserve happiness,” or “You deserve the world.” They may, in your moment of distress, offer these things as supreme above all else. If you believe this then you will consider in that moment that perhaps you married the wrong person.
I would remind you: God hates divorce. Why does He hate divorce? It’s because of the hardness of the heart, the unwillingness to forgive one another. There is nothing–and I mean nothing–that either of you could do or commit against each other that should cause separation. Not even infidelity. God permits divorce for those you have been unfaithful to one another but just because He allows it doesn’t mean He still doesn’t hate it. Why? God hates divorce because of the hardness of man’s heart and his unwillingness to forgive one another.
Must I remind you: God loves you. What type of love has been lavished on you if you be in Christ and are His redeemed? The type of love that loved you even while you were yet a sinner, a sinner totally and wholly worthless. We must remind ourselves daily of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is that I have been forgiven and experienced this gift by His grace through faith not works. Therefore, I’m compelled to love as I have been loved. Who am I to withhold forgiveness if the record of my sin’s debt that stood against me has been cancelled at the cross of Christ? I have no right. I have been bought with a price and that price is the infinite worth of our Almighty God Jesus Christ our Lord.
It’s from this truth that our obedience in marriage will be demonstrated to one another. There we find our holiness perfected in love to one another, not being slow to forgive and not counting our sins against one another. It’s here that we see our love for Christ be the supreme measure of our love for one another. The head of the marriage is called to love his bride as Christ loves the church, and the bride seeing the type of love by which he loves her then she brings herself under glad submission to her groom. You will find no greater happiness this side of eternity than when your marriage is filled with the testimony of Jesus Christ.
I encourage you to stay committed to one another, to forgive one another as Christ has forgiven you. Please know that marriage isn’t to be lived alone. Your accountability to one another should be lived out in the context of a local church, a church with members that will hold each of you accountable to the measure of holiness which should be lived out in your marriage. In your pursuit of holiness there you will find no greater happiness.