How to Avoid Marital Failure
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How to Avoid Marital Failure

From Series: We Two Are One

Selected Scriptures  (ID: 1738)

God intends that our marriages be full of liveliness and abundant affection for each other. A lifeless marriage is usually the result of not consistently paying attention to the basics. It’s easy to take our spouse for granted, and maintaining a wonderful marriage is hard work. Alistair Begg gives us 16 helpful principles that will help us build meaningful, lasting marriages.


Sermon Transcript: Print

I invite you to take your Bibles, and we’ll turn to the New Testament together and to the book of Hebrews and to the thirteenth chapter. We’re going to concentrate this morning on Hebrews 13:4. If you like, the platform upon which we’re going to build what we discover this morning is here in Hebrews 13:[4]: “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” “Marriage should be honored by all.”

It is an immense privilege, a great joy, to be a pastor. To spend one’s life in pastoral ministry is to be given the privilege, daunting as it is many times, of sharing with people in experiences that one would ordinarily not have the opportunity of enjoying or enduring—crucial junctures of life, moments of great joy, sometimes of great sadness. There are days that are disastrous or disappointing, there are days that are delightful, but really, there are no days in pastoral ministry that are dull. It is an immense thrill to be included in so many different aspects of life at so many key and pivotal turning points.

And outside the task of spiritual midwifery—if you like, being there at the birthing of spiritual children—there is nothing which I personally enjoy more than the unique and close-up position which is entrusted to me in weddings. I don’t know just what it is. I certainly would never have imagined that it would be so. But it is a tremendous, genuine thrill to be that close at a wedding. I mean, I’m closer than the bride’s mother, closer than the groom’s father. I am as close as you can get. I am so close that the event is palpable. You can see their eyes, you can hear the little things they say to one another, and you can virtually hear their hearts beat if it’s quiet enough. I’m sure that I have heard many a fellow’s heart beat. Otherwise, I’ve got no explanation as to why his tie and his shirt moves in that way. I’ve seen the sweaty palms. I’ve had to shake those hands—and I’m talking not about the girl now. But I’ve seen it all.

And I’ve also sensed the awesomeness in their minds—the wonder, the joy, the privilege, the anticipation of it all—and the awful solemnity of what is taking place as the minister would say, “Whom God has joined together let not man put asunder,” and when, in their making of their vows to one another, they have said, “For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part.” That is an amazing commitment like no other commitment that we are ever asked to make in all of our earthly pilgrimage.

So it is that apart from spiritual shipwreck, whereby those who have professed faith in Jesus Christ begin to stumble and fall and wander from the path—apart from that kind of sad and sorry failure, nothing pains me more than to learn of the unravelling of these bonds in Christian marriage, to see the crumbling of the foundations that have been laid by a couple full of anticipation in their early days, to watch and see the tearing of the fabric which has been part and parcel of their early lives as they’ve sought to entwine themselves around God’s purposes and around one another.

There has been for me no pain in life, apart from the loss of a loved one, greater than the pain attached to observing the disintegration of marriages, particularly those whom God gave to me the privilege of conducting in the first place. And yet, how sadly commonplace it is to see such disintegration, with what remarkable ease are couples able to walk away from these solemn vows. And for all who walk away, there is another great host, a large company of people, who do not walk away but are held together not by self-giving love but are held together more by custom or convention or, if you like, maybe even fear of what the neighbors have to say. Such individuals are enduring what they might, in the purposes of God, be enjoying.

It is not necessarily that they don’t know about marriage. They may in fact be very aware of marriage and all that is involved in it. They may have given themselves to the principles of marriage. They may have studied. They may have listened to tapes and gone through seminars. They may have preached a series of sermons on marriage. They may even have been privileged to become the author of a book on the subject of marriage. But all of that, on its own or cumulatively, cannot necessarily be equated with a wonderful discovery in practical terms of what the writer to the Hebrews refers to when he says, “Let the marriage bonds be held in honor.”

Sadly, in the case of marriage, many of us have become adept at being hearers of the Word but not doers also.[1] And our marriages are held together by enough veneer to pass inspection, providing the inspection is conducted by blind guides. But anyone with any measure of perception at all will be able to tell whether what we have is the embodiment of what God has designed or a pale imitation of the real thing. What a tragedy to see couples who have decided that all they can anticipate in marriage is adequacy when in point of fact, what the Bible calls us to is abundance.

Now, a word of explanation as to how I arrive at this, this morning. On Friday afternoon, as I was travelling home from Glasgow and coming across the ocean, I was working on my message for this morning from Nehemiah chapter 9. It’s a tremendous section, and we’ve done five verses of it so for—the great sweep of human history. And I had my notes out, and I was working away. The gentleman who had been seated next to me had left soon after takeoff. He was still in the plane, but he had moved. And he’d gone to find a seat with somebody that didn’t move around as much and look out the window, I fear—’cause, you know, I fly it from whatever row I’m in. So he’d moved off, so there was just Nehemiah and I together in 15A and B.

But my mind wasn’t on Nehemiah. I couldn’t get my mind off marriage matters. Because the context out of which I’d come had to do with some of the great sadnesses to which I’m alluding this morning, some of the deep concerns that I had and have for those who are near and dear to me. And so I found myself turning over the pages of my notes. I was using a legal pad, and I had all this stuff on Nehemiah 9. I just turned over two pages, and I decided I would write some notes to myself. So I wrote notes to myself on how to prevent marital failure. And I stopped after I had written down sixteen principles.

Now, you should be glad of that, because I’m going to tell you them now. ’Cause there’s a lot more than sixteen. But I stopped at sixteen; somebody brought me a Diet Coke or something. But I stopped at sixteen. And then, as I’ve proceeded since Friday, I’ve been very much in two minds as to whether I go with Nehemiah 9 or I deal with this matter of marriage. And so, I’ve determined that I’m going to deal with the matter of marriage.

Now, a word to young people who are not yet married: you can never learn these principles too young. Write them down, if you would, and store them away, and one day you’ll pull them out again, perhaps; you’ll find them, and you’ll say, “Ah! This is what that fellow meant on that morning towards the end of April ’94. Now I see what he meant.”

Singles, acknowledge the fact that you have a present responsibility both in praying for and influencing marriages of those around you. Most single people have an impact on families— maybe on one or on two or on more. They certainly have an impact on their own parental structure, and they may be the kind of praying influence and godly companion and friend that will be the key to developing and sustaining the marriages of those that are under their care and influence. It is also sadly possible that it could be that a single person, because they were naive to the principles I’m now about to refer you to, could be the catalyst for the disruption of one of these marriage bonds.

As with most matters in life, the breakdown in marital affairs comes not as a result, usually, of the extravagant and the bizarre but on account of a failure to pay attention to the basics consistently. In nineteen, almost twenty years, now, in pastoral ministry, I have to say that in terms of marital failure and breakdown, I could count on my one hand the times when I would have to say that this came, as it were, completely out of the blue in some dramatic, bizarre event. In 95, 99 percent of the occurrences, it has to do with the fact that the husband and the wife have not been taking care of business. They’ve just allowed it to slide. They’ve become experts too soon, and it has all unraveled for them.

Principle #1: Marital Failure Could Happen to You

Now, some of you are perhaps tempted to press a kind of a mental ejection button at this point, because you know that you’ve heard all this so many times now that you’re experts at it. Well then, the first thing I wrote down on my notes will be particularly appropriate for the likes of you. So here it is. Number one: in preventing marital failure, do not be so foolish as to maintain that it could not happen to you.

That seems to me to be so straightforward and yet so fundamentally important. It is a statement of unbelievable naivety, a statement of the most foolish bravado, to assume that somehow or another, who you are and what you have, or what I am and have, is somehow immune to all of these external influences, is somehow immune to the forces, the wars, and the temptations that approach us from without and seek to pull us down from within.

The principle is found in 1 Corinthians 10:11 and following and eventually where Paul says, “The person who thinks that they’re standing up should take heed in case they be the very one to fall down.”[2] And virtually every occasion that one has had the responsibility of being involved in the demise of a marriage, one hears again and again statements such as this: “I never ever, ever believed that I would be in this situation, confronting these circumstances,” or that the couple would say, “We regarded ourselves as the last people in the whole of” wherever it is “ever to face this event.”

Well, I want to tell you this: that I think that is really daft. And I’m not talking about living with some kind of paralyzing fear in your marriage. I’m talking about living with a sense of realism in your marriage.

Do not assume that a great marriage can be discovered and enjoyed without some solid hard work.

You know, when you fly on the plane, they always give you the same spiel before you go, right? They take out the thing; the poor girl has to walk around with a plastic bag on her face. She has to clip the thing on and off. She goes through the whole thing. And it is all couched in phrases like “In the unlikely event of…” And it is very unlikely! “In the unlikely event of a water landing…” Now, you’re flying over two thousand miles of open water between the coast of Scotland and Newfoundland. “In the unlikely…” You like to hear that. I like that: “unlikely.” I’d like to say, “In the unlikely event of a water landing…” Despite the fact that it is unlikely, what do they do? They prepare you for the worst while hoping for the best.

Now, folks, in our marriages, we need to be realistic enough to set up the precautionary mechanism to prevent the possibilities that we may so naively believe are going to be the province of someone else rather than us. It really is quite intriguing, in all of that safety instruction, the way they have that little sheet in front of you there that pops out of the seatback in front of you. And if you notice it, it says something like “If you cannot read this instruction manual, please ask somebody for help.” It seems to me that was written by a… I don’t know who wrote that, but…

Don’t be so foolish as to maintain that it could not happen to you.

Principle #2: A Great Marriage Is Hard Work

Secondly, do not assume that a great marriage can be discovered and enjoyed without some solid hard work. Do not assume that a great marriage can be discovered and enjoyed without some solid hard work.

In the book of Proverbs, Solomon confronts the sluggard, the lazy individual. And in Proverbs chapter 24, he speaks of the fact that he “went past the field of [a] sluggard.”[3] And when he looked at “the vineyard of the man who lacks judgment”—Proverbs 24:31—he said, “thorns had come up everywhere,” and “the ground was covered with weeds, and the stone wall was in ruins.” So the thing was just a shambles! The man’s garden was an expression of the man’s life—as is so often our marriage. What we have in a marriage, if it becomes overgrown with weeds and thorns and begins to disintegrate, is simply an expression of who we really are. And, says Solomon,

I applied my heart to what I observed
 and [I] learned a lesson from what I saw:
A little sleep, a little slumber,
 a little folding of the hands to rest—
and poverty will come on you like a bandit
 and scarcity like an armed man.[4]

And sadly, loved ones, so many marriages are so unattended. They are overgrown, they are disintegrating, they are filled with weeds, and a large contributing factor is downright laziness—an unpreparedness to do what it takes, consistently, to make sure that the home fires are tended to. Hebrews 6:12, in relationship to salvation, the writer says, “We do not want you to become lazy.”

Principle #3: Don’t Allow Busyness to Disguise Neglect

Thirdly, do not allow the busyness of life to disguise neglect. Do not allow the busyness of life to disguise neglect.

I think the song was by Alabama, a little while ago. It had a refrain, I recall:

I’m in a hurry, and I don’t know why.
All I’ve got to do is live and die.
I’m rushing and rushing, and there’s no doubt …
And I’m in a hurry, and I don’t know why.[5]

Sold well, I believe, because so many people who listened to it on the radio said, “Hey, how did they write a song about me? That’s exactly it! I’m in a hurry, and I don’t know why.”

You know how many marriages are in a hurry doing everything except looking after each other? Running here, running there, taking care of this, going to that event, coming back from that event—just absolute craziness! And consequently, what happens is a bit like the picture in Luke chapter 8, in the parable of the sower: that the thorns begin to grow up around the plant and begin to choke its very life out. And Jesus on that occasion says that that which chokes out the life is a preoccupation with worry, with wealth, or with pleasures.[6] And yet so often marriages are held out to us in the magazines on our newspaper stands as a great quest for possessions and pleasure, as long as we can distance ourselves from the worry that attaches to such an acquisitive lifestyle.

I say to you this morning—it’s what I wrote to myself—“I better not allow the business of my life to disguise the fact that I’m neglecting my marriage.”

Now, let’s just get down and talk straight about it in relationship to church. The responsibilities of our lives are to be attached to Jesus Christ, to be attached to our spouse, to be attached to our children. And even good things that are not the best things may find us a busy success in manifold activities and a tragic failure at the point of greatest accountability.

Principle #4: Don’t Take Your Spouse for Granted

Fourthly—this is a simple one—don’t make the mistake of taking each other for granted.

First Peter 3:7, Peter says to his readers, he says, “Husbands, be considerate in the way that you live with your wives.”[7] I’m going to be biased to speaking to husbands. It’s inevitable, since I wrote the note to myself. You ladies can just apply it the other way around. You can breathe a measure of relief as well, that I’ve decided to approach it in that way. It certainly seems to me to be the safest strategy for advancement. But anyway… You can talk about that when you get home.

Even good things that are not the best things may find us a busy success in manifold activities and a tragic failure at the point of greatest accountability.

But this is what I found most recently. I found this strange phenomenon, especially as it relates to the great calling of motherhood: I’m deeply saddened to find how many men, after a period of time, begin to denigrate their wives because they have chosen to make the ultimate sacrifice in the calling of motherhood. They have chosen not to be a career girl. They have chosen not to try and do everything before six o’clock in the morning so that they may don a business suit and go out and impress the business world. They’ve turned their backs on that deliberately—and I’m not talking about the unique responsibilities in relationship to funds or the peculiar responsibilities of single parents. That is a separate issue which needs its own attention. I’m talking about in the average situation, where a wife has determined that she will respond to the high calling of motherhood, that she will be a keeper at home, that she will be a tender of her children, that she will be a provider, that she will give all of that sustenance and security within the family unit. I find many men saying out loud, “You know what? All that my wife is, is this.” And they somehow find far more attractive at eleven o’clock in the morning somebody wearing a navy-blue suit and high heels than the thought of what they have left behind within their own home. And they begin to take their wives for granted.

In recent days, in talking with a couple, I asked them to write down what had contributed to the demise of their marriage. On the column of contributing to the demise of their marriage, the man had written, “My wife appears to be content just to be a mother.” And that was, in his perspective, contributing to his response, which was clearly beyond the bounds of anything that the Bible would countenance.

Now, I want to take a guy like that and just, in a very loving way, bang his head up against a wall. I want to just go up to him and shake him warmly by the throat and say to the character, “Listen, cloth ears, you’ve got to understand something: life goes by very quickly! And if you have been given the privilege of having someone in your home who is prepared to be that for you and to you and to your family, you ought to get down on your knees and thank God every day.” But instead of that, there are too many people that are reading their Bible too little and reading Cosmopolitan magazine too much. And if you read that godless drivel and allow it to filter through your brain, you will inevitably spit out the world’s view, and you will not have sufficient biblical awareness to be able to declare spurious what is clearly spurious.

Now, we could turn that around, but I don’t have time, ’cause I’ve still got another twelve points to go. All right?

Principle #5: Don’t Dig Up Failures and Disappointments

Number five: don’t dig up old failures or past disappointments. Don’t dig up old failures or past disappointments.

It’s a really tragic thing to see how many times, especially in disagreements, husbands and wives have discovered an immense capacity for remembering bad stuff. The same man who can’t find his car keys can remember an event, with crystal-clear recollection, that was seven years ago or more.

Philippians 3:14: “I press on toward[s] the goal to win the prize.” “Forgetting those things which are behind, I press on.”[8] Psalm 103:3: God forgives all of our sins; he heals all of our diseases; he renews our lives. The devil’s great strategy is to bring us down and, having brought us down, to see if he can’t keep us down. Don’t let him bring you down. And if he brought you down, make sure that, with Christ’s enabling, you stand back up.

Principle #6: Don’t Compare Your Spouse with Others

Sixthly, don’t compare your spouse unfavorably with others in terms of looks, abilities, or anything else. (Now, remember, these are notes that I wrote to myself. I’m simply sharing with you out of my own notes. You understand this.)

Again, Solomon is really wonderful when it comes to these issues. In Proverbs chapter 5 he makes this wonderful, telling statement, which I will now quote to you. Proverbs 5:15:

Drink water from your own cistern,
 running water from your own well.
Should your springs overflow in the streets,
 your streams of water in the public squares?
Let them be yours alone,
 never to be shared with strangers.

This is within the framework of a call to marital purity and the resisting of adultery. You understand what he’s saying?

May your fountain be blessed,
 and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.

Now notice, it is “the wife of your youth.” He doesn’t say, “May you rejoice in the wife who looks like a youth.”

He describes her then. I’m not sure, necessarily, we ought to send this on a card to our wives or, over lunch, remind her that she looks like “a loving doe” and “a graceful deer.” That obviously has some kind of Middle Eastern sentiment to it. It’s not usually on cards in Hallmark: picture of a deer on the front with your wife.

 May her breasts satisfy you always,
 may you ever be captivated by her love.

Do you get the impression there that this is something that is directly related to the will and not to the emotions? You’re right. Doesn’t it come across with clarity that what Solomon is saying there is that this is a decisive activity of the mind, a preparedness to say, “This is my focus, this is my commitment, this is all that is mine, and everything else beyond that is nothing”?

Well, how are you going to put this into practice, men? I’m going to speak at a men’s retreat in Indiana, Friday and Saturday. I think I’m going to speak on this. ’Cause I couldn’t decide what I was going to speak on anyway. I’m just making that decision as I’m speaking just now—not that you care. But anyway… It was just passing through my mind. But I’m going to talk to these men out there in Indiana. I’m going to ask them how this works. I mean, do we really think that we can sit on the plane and leaf through People magazine—all right?—and read about the exploits of the rich, the famous, the foolish, the cute; turn a magazine open to get that right light shining on it so that we can see exactly how Kim Basinger really looks; allow those images to penetrate the computer of our brain; and then, realistically, to apply the Bible to our marriage? The fact is, it can’t be done! And the degree to which we play with that stuff in our minds is the degree to which we make it increasingly difficult to live out this principle—namely, don’t compare your spouse unfavorably with others in terms of looks, abilities, or anything.

It’s one thing for you ladies to make yourselves attractive; it’s another for you to make yourselves deliberately seductive. You know the difference. So do I. So does every guy. So, in the Eastern picture, when the bride of Isaac comes to meet him, what was the attraction? He couldn’t see much. He’d just see her eyes sticking out. But through the eyes you find the soul.

Okay, don’t think about it in relationship to your wife; think about it in relationship to your daughters. Say, “Well, what are you planning on doing, dressing your daughter up in one of those gigs, with the whole thing and stuff like that?” Well, I wouldn’t mind doing that. I wouldn’t mind doing that to give her into the hands of a guy in marriage. We can’t baptize so much of our Western trash into biblical orthodoxy. We have imported so much garbage into our lifestyle that we don’t know how messed up we really are. And that’s why our marriages are in the dreadful condition in which they are: ’cause we are playing around with stuff in our minds while all the time professing to be erudite and straightforward and in the clear.

Principle #7: Don’t Be Naïve about Intimacy

Seventhly—we’re going to speed up now—don’t take someone of the opposite sex into precincts that are the exclusive domain of your spouse. Don’t take someone of the opposite sex into precincts that are the exclusive domain of your spouse.

Cut through it: What does it mean? It means this: There’s a lady in your office who thinks you’ve got broad shoulders and she’d like to cry on them? Tell her to keep moving. “Go find someone else to cry on,” ’cause your shoulders are only for one girl to cry on, or a few more, if you’ve got daughters. So, only three people can cry on here—girls, that is: Sue, Michelle, and Emily. All the rest can go cry somewhere else.

“Oh! You call yourself a pastor and you say things like that?” Yeah. “Why?” ’Cause I want to be a sensible pastor. ’Cause I want to be a married pastor. ’Cause I want to be a pure pastor for my kids growing up underneath me.

“Oh, well, Pastor, there’s this lady in my office, and all I’m doing is witnessing to her at lunchtime. We just get a sandwich, and we go down, and she’s got all these questions about the Bible.” Stop it! Stop it yesterday! “She won’t listen to anybody else.” Secondly, don’t fatten up your ego with nonsense like that. If she is interested in the things of faith, she’ll listen to anybody. She doesn’t need you. So go find a girl that she’ll listen to.

“Oh, you’re away with it, Pastor. I mean, what are you? Are you some kind of foolish individual or stuff?” No. The situation that I just crossed the Atlantic for, in four days, started with “Have you ever heard of the four spiritual laws?” and ended up with the disintegration of a family. Don’t be so naive as to think that we can take into our lives that kind of stuff. You can’t do it! You’re not supposed to do it! You start to understand the principles of women ministering to women and men ministering to men in a way that takes us beyond those kind of precincts.

I could say more about that; I can’t. The only intimacy that should be enjoyed with someone of the opposite sex is your wife or your husband, your sons or your daughters.

Principle #8: Don’t Allow Freedom That Breeds Neglect

Eighthly—eighthly—do not allow each other the kind of freedom that so readily breeds neglect. Don’t allow each other the kind of freedom that so readily breeds neglect.

What does that mean in practical terms? It means this: when you say you’re going to phone, phone—and phone. And don’t go off on business trips and say, “Well, I’ll call you whenever.” Say, “I’ll call you at six o’clock,” or “I’ll call you en route. But I’ll call you. You’ll know where I am. You’ll know who I’m with. You’ll know what I’m thinking.” Why? Out of a sense of fear? No! Because it’s a great pain to be separated. And it’s a great joy to be united, even if it’s only to hear the sound of one another’s voice, even if it’s only to see the scrawl of one another’s handwriting.

Eight Things You Should Do

Now, I’ve got eight more, and I’m just going to tell you them, and we’re done. I won’t expound on them at all. After I’d written these eight down, I decided I’d better write some positive ones down to myself. ’Cause I had clear now what I shouldn’t be doing, and then I thought, “Well, what should I be doing?”

So, ninth, be daily in prayer for the health of your marriage and the harmony of your home. Daily in prayer for the health of your marriage and the harmony of your home.

Ten, be sacrificial in the expression of your love for each other. If you want to check that, just ask yourself the question, “What have I done in the last seven days that was an act of sacrifice on my part for my spouse?”

Eleven, be imaginative, daring, and occasionally extravagant in displaying your affection. Be imaginative, daring, and occasionally extravagant in displaying your affection. Righteousness is not a synonym for boring.

“How’s your marriage?”

“Very holy.”

“Speak to me a little bit about that. What does that mean?”

“Well, we have a very holy marriage. Mm-hmm.”

“What do you mean? You always keep a Bible between you or something? I mean, what’s…?”

I don’t want to be unkind, but I’m going to tell you something: in nineteen and a half years of pastoral ministry, I am scouring the face of God’s earth to find good marriages that I can copy. Now, it may be that I’m just missing them all, and you know where they are, and you can come and tell me where they are. But I don’t think so! And the amount of boring marriages that I uncover in the course of my days is incredible to me—guys whose imagination went south after they walked down the aisle! They thought up the craziest things to do to tell their bride-to-be they loved them. They used to write on big sheets of wallpaper and roll it up and send it UPS—huge, big letters, “I LOVE YOU,” sent in a roll of wallpaper. What the girl said: “He’s crazy, but I love him.” Okay? She would do these bizarre things: make him ties and embroider them and do all this, and he would get all these amazing ties. Then all of a sudden, there’s no wallpaper, no ties, no nothing! Just “business as usual.”

Be daily in prayer for the health of your marriage and the harmony of your home.

Now, here’s the funny thing. The guy goes off and takes a lover. Suddenly, he’s Mr. Imagination. His wife is left to say, “He never thought of that with me. He never said he’d meet me in that place. He never planned to take me on that trip.” Guys, let me tell you something: if you don’t get creative, daring, and imaginative with the wife of your youth, you will either die as a boring old claptrapper or you will find yourself getting daring, imaginative, and creative with somebody who isn’t the wife of your youth. So you got three choices: boring old joker, involved in adultery, or give it your best at home. Only one choice may keep you on the Christian path and following after Christ.

Twelfth, be sure that you don’t use your children as the glue that holds you or the wedge that separates you. The children that hold you or the wedge that separates you. It happens all the time. Remember this: the kids are the ones that are leaving; we’re the ones that are staying. They’re going; we’re staying. So if all we have to talk about is them…

“Did you go to school today?”

“Yes.”

“How was it?”

“Fine.”

“And did you drive them there?”

“Yes.”

“Did you pick her up?”

“Yes.”

“Did you go to the cello lesson?”

“Yes.”

“How was it when” this, this, this…

After about five minutes of that, we think we’ve had the most meaningful family-time conversation when in point of fact, we haven’t spoken about anything! And then the children stand up, they walk out the room, and it’s like, “Well, what should we do now?” And that’s, of course, what happens so many times.

Thirteen, be ruthless—ruthless—in resisting anyone or anything that will draw your affections from each other.

Fourteen, be ready to listen to and willing to speak about what’s going on inside each other’s heads. Okay? Every time, this is what they tell me: “She never listens to me,” or “He won’t speak to me.” “There is no intimacy in our marriage,” says the woman. Says the man, “What do you mean, intimacy?” And he thinks in physical terms; she’s thinking in emotional terms. She’s thinking in companionship, in abiding enjoyment of one another’s company, and his brain has completely gone off!

Peter Sarstedt, in the ’60s, had a song:

Where do you go to, my lovely,
When you’re alone in your bed?
Tell me the thoughts that surround you;
I want to look inside your head.[9]

Do you know what your spouse is thinking about? (’Cause he’s obviously thinking about something funny over there!) But the fact is, many husbands haven’t got a clue about their wife’s fears, their hopes, their dreams, ’cause they never asked them in the longest time, never said, “You know, tell me five things that have been bugging you about me,” never said, “What do you hope for?”—so on, so on. And what happens is, again, you go in the office, and somebody comes in and says, “You know, I’d like to talk to you about something,” and then the husband is driving home in the car and says, “You know, it was so wonderful having that conversation with her. Such a talkative person! So open. So easy. Not like my wife, man. Can’t remember the last time we had a decent conversation.” Click! “Can’t wait to get back tomorrow for another one of those conversations.”

Fifteen, be certain that a great marriage is possible with divine enabling and human effort. God is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or even imagine.[10] We’re not going to just settle for adequacy when God would give us abundance.

Finally, sixteen, be aware of how quickly time is passing, and seize the day. Seize the day! “Yesterday’s dead and gone, tomorrow’s out of sight,”[11] to quote Kris Kristofferson. So this is all the time we’ve got: sixty seconds, right now, that’s it. All the thank-you notes we never wrote yesterday, all the cards we never sent yesterday, all the endearances we never sent yesterday, all the compliments we never gave yesterday, they’re all gone, and tomorrow is not here; there’s just today, there’s just this afternoon. So what are we going to do about it? Our lives are like a vapor that appears for a little while and then passes.[12]

A few years ago now, I attended a service, and in the course of the service, the young minister read a letter from a lady to her husband. I can’t quote it exactly, but I remember I was profoundly moved by it. The letter went something like this:

Dear X,

Thank you so much for taking me on our trip this last week to see the autumn colors. I always love being with you. Thank you also for buying me these little notecards, which, you’ll see, I like so very much—which is why I’m using one to write you this note. X, I love you more today than I have ever loved you.

Now, you say, “Well, you know, you get letters like that read out all the time—Valentine’s Day, birthdays, stuff like that.” Uh-uh. This letter was read out at a memorial service. The letter was written some fifty years after the couple had been married. It was written, actually, within days of the sudden home-call of the lady who wrote it. Fifty years on, still writing thank you notes? Fifty years on, still taking trips? Fifty years on, still saying, “I love you”? How could it ever be possible? As a result of a steady, daily commitment to take our delight in the partner whom God has given us and to build in the present for all that the future will hold.


[1] See James 1:22.

[2] 1 Corinthians 10:12 (paraphrased).

[3] Proverbs 24:30 (NIV 1984).

[4] Proverbs 24:32–34 (NIV 1984).

[5] Roger Murrah and Randy VanWarmer, “I’m in a Hurry (And Don’t Know Why)” (1992). Lyrics lightly altered.

[6] See Luke 8:14.

[7] 1 Peter 3:7 (paraphrased).

[8] Philippians 3:13 (paraphrased).

[9] Peter Sarstedt, “Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)?” (1969).

[10] See Ephesians 3:20.

[11] Kris Kristofferson, “Help Me Make It Through the Night” (1970). Lyrics lightly altered.

[12] See James 4:14.

Copyright © 2022, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.