Planting Hedges in Marriage — Part One
return to the main player
Return to the Main Player
return to the main player
Return to the Main Player

Planting Hedges in Marriage — Part One

From Series: We Two Are One

Selected Scriptures  (ID: 1888)

Most often a failed marriage is not the result of a one-time event, but rather the result of a slow leak that finally bursts. Alistair Begg warns us that regardless of how strong we think we are, we are not immune to the pitfalls that bring about marital chaos. Because of this, we should carefully consider the environment to which we subject ourselves, working hard to establish boundaries that protect our marriages.


Sermon Transcript: Print

I determined that just for a few Sunday evenings, I want to address with you the issue of marriage. And I’m not sure all that I’m going to say concerning it. I haven’t drafted it out. But I’m going to address it with you now.

For those of you who are single and are tempted to think that this is something that is irrelevant to you, then I hope you will understand that it isn’t. All of us are involved in marriage in some way or another, either through our friends, or because we have been married, or because we are a product of a marriage, or because one day we hope to be married. And I will, in the next couple of Sunday evenings, speak very directly to our young people and to those who have never been married. And tonight I’m going to take a different tack.

And before I turn to it, let me just lead us in a word of prayer:

O God our Father, we thank you that you order all of our steps, and even today and tonight is known to you. And so we pray that you will take the truths of your Word and write them in our hearts. As we see so much around us that is fractured and broken, disintegrating and decaying, the evidence of manifold chaos, we pray that, amongst other things, you will take couples and families within our church family here and make us as lights in a dark place. For Jesus’ sake we ask it. Amen.

I want to begin by reading to you a little scenario. So, this is a story. You can just sit back and relax, if you like stories.

Jack and Kathy were the ideal couple—at least that is what everyone thought. They had been friends since childhood. Their families vacationed together. They were like brother and sister in high school, and in college, they realized that their feelings for each other ran so deep that it was unbearable for either of them to think of spending the rest of their life absent the companionship of the other.

So, when they married, no one was surprised, and everyone seemed delighted, not least of all Jack and Kathy. The first twenty years of marriage were standard fare: two healthy children, a boy and a girl. They more than coped with the challenges of school and were successful in achieving a place at the college of their choice. Each summer was spent at their cottage on the lake. Kathy and the kids would go up as soon as school was out, and Jack would join them at the weekends and then for three weeks in August.

“What do you think about offering Carla’s room to the college student who will be in charge of the lifeguard program at the pool?” Kathy asked Jack on the phone. “After all, she will be gone most of the summer. And although Danny will be away part of the time at soccer camp, he’ll still be around enough to prevent Rick being stuck on his own with me or us in August.”

Jack was leaving for the office, his mind somewhere else entirely. He answered without really thinking: “Sure, let’s help the young man out. There can’t be any harm in it.”

By the time Jack reached the cottage that next weekend, Rick the lifeguard was already installed. The firmness of his handshake, combined with the way he looked Jack in the eye, made a good impression immediately. Jack later recalled how in that first encounter, he’d wondered if this young man would be interested in a job in sales. He seemed to have a winning way and was just the kind of fellow that he was constantly on the lookout for to add to his organization. His son, Danny, also got on well with Rick, and they’d gone sailing together many evenings when the pool had closed. The speed with which Rick could pull that place together was impressive. If he had a plan, he went for it.

It was actually Danny who was first to get that strange, unsettling feeling in his gut. Having gone to bed around eleven thirty, he awakened around one a.m. As he headed for the bathroom, bemoaning the amount of pizza and diet coke he and Rick had put away, he heard voices out on the porch. Pausing, he picked up snippets of conversation through the screen door: “I haven’t always felt that way. There used to be a lot more excitement.” It was his mother’s voice, and the responding “When did things begin to change?” came, of course, from Rick. “What’s this, a midnight feast?” Danny asked, trying to disguise his sense of internal quiet with joviality. “Oh no,” said Mom, “Rick and I just started talking about everything. We must wrap it up. Although I must say, I’ve not had as good a conversation as this for some time.”

When Danny grabbed his usual combination Frosted Mini-Wheats and Cheerios the following morning, Rick was already at the pool. “It probably was nothing,” he thought to himself as he looked at his mother, forty-five and wearing well—very well, in fact. His college buddies frequently told him that his mom was hot, and they wondered at how his portly, balding dad had managed it. “He didn’t always look like that,” Danny would tell them. “He just kind of let things go.” Kathy, on the other hand, blessed with the genes of her Finnish forebearers, seemed to be improving with age. Her daily routine of running with her golden retriever and her willingness to be disciplined with the Abdominizer made it possible for her to face Shape magazine at the grocery checkout without any feelings of inadequacy.

When Danny reached the cottage on the following Friday evening, he was greeted by a sleepy stare from Strachan, their faithful retriever. He was in the walk-in closet, trying in vain to fasten the button on his favorite pair of denim shorts… That should actually be Jack, not Danny: when Jack reached the cottage on the following Friday evening. And he was in the walk-in closet, trying in vain to fasten the button on his favorite pair of denim shorts. “That dryer is far too hot. Shrinks everything,” he thought. “Five more business lunches could have nothing to do with it, surely.”

“Hello!” Kathy’s voice was quickly followed by a face around the door and a kiss on the cheek. “How was the traffic?” she asked. “Would you like some spaghetti? Did your father reach you at the office?” As Jack began to answer the questions one by one, he thought there was a kind of flush about Kathy’s face and neck. He knew that she hadn’t been running, because the dog was in his usual spot in front of the wicker rocker. “I’ve just been helping Rick tidy the pool,” she volunteered. “He works so hard, and those lounge chairs are such a hassle to wipe off and straighten. Nobody seems to have a care. They just walk away and leave him to it.”

“That’s what he’s paid for,” growled Jack, surprising even himself by the tone of his response. He couldn’t put his finger on any one thing, but by the time he left on Sunday evening, he was sure that there was something weird going on with his childhood sweetheart. His car could almost take itself home, and he had plenty of time to think and wonder, and even worry. Was this a physical change in Kathy? He should probably check with her sister. The two of them talked all the time, and Joan would be able to point him in the right direction. As he pulled into the driveway, he was thinking that maybe he should make more use of their health club membership, maybe even buy those Adidas running shoes that Danny had been pushing.

“Will you take a call from Henry?” his secretary inquired, interrupting the sales team meeting at her peril. Jack excused himself, wondering why his longtime friend would be wanting him on a Monday morning, especially since they had spent part of the previous day together. They were usually together as couples on Sunday afternoons. Their cottages gazed at one another across the half a mile of Mirror Lake. “Henry, good morning!” Jack enthused. “Only four more days and we’ll be back on the boat. What can I do for you?”

“You free for lunch?”

The cryptic response took Jack off guard. “When?”

“Today,” Henry said. “Say eleven thirty at Finley’s?”

“I’ll see you there.”

Jack took just a moment before returning to the meeting: “I sure hope that everything’s okay with Henry’s company.” There had been rumors of an attempt to move him on and make way for a more aggressive young man. “Something’s eating him though. I haven’t heard that tone since his daughter had been forced to drop out of college and stay with an aunt before putting the baby up for adoption. I can’t imagine there’s a problem between he and Helen”—not after twenty-eight years of being an example to Kathy and himself.

He was in his usual booth just before eleven thirty and had already decided on the pita pocket, in keeping with the resolve of the previous evening, when Henry arrived. “May I have your Rueben, please, and an iced tea?” Henry leaned forward in his seat and fixed his gaze on his dear friend and dropped the bomb: “Jack, I do not know how else to approach this, so I’ll just come straight out and say it. Helen and I have strong reason to believe that Kathy and the summer lifeguard are developing a relationship that is destructive and wrong.” He then went into details which made the pita pocket taste more like an oven glove than usual and ripped a gaping hole in Jack’s emotions, which he could neither cover or control. His shoulders heaved under the weight of the news, and somewhere in the distance he could hear Henry assuring him that he and Helen would do everything they could.

Now, I made that one up. But for twenty-two years in pastoral ministry, I’ve heard the story again and again and again. I’ve sat with couples who look at one another furtively across the table, and once they make their opening statement, the scenario can be written from that point on without any further elaboration on their part. They often use phraseology like “We never thought it would happen to us.” “How can God allow such things?” “We probably were never right for each other.” “Why didn’t someone say or do something?” And the list goes on and on. And sadly, I have to tell you that in the majority of cases, the couples do not make it. They fail to put in the necessary effort to climb the mountain of forgiveness and restoration, and they choose instead to settle down in the plain, along with the rest. And the plain is increasingly full of tents.

Those who live with the myth of perfection for any prolonged period of time will make themselves and their partners increasingly uncomfortable, disgruntled, and unhappy.

And so the question is—and it’s a pressing question—how, then, are we to avoid becoming simply another statistic in the growing statistical average in relationship to these things? “How am I,” says the young man, in the full flush of zealous excitement for a young girl of his choice, “to ensure that I will not be that man? That my wife will not do that? That I will not do that?” What are we supposed to do?

Avoiding Marital Collapse

When I was in Grand Rapids earlier in the summer, in the Saturday newspaper, which had a flood of notices for the church services—which was the reason for my purchasing it—I found a very interesting thing: there was a complete page of announcements of young couples’ engagements. And there was also another page that featured couples who had been most recently married. But then there were two pages which outweighed the previous number of photographs, and these two pages had double photographs on them. It was a photograph of an elderly looking couple and then of a younger couple right next to it, and a smaller picture. This was two complete pages of couples in the Grand Rapids area who were celebrating their fiftieth anniversary. And the wee picture beside the big picture was the picture that had been on the previous pages fifty years ago in Grand Rapids or somewhere else, on the day when they had been married to one another.

And struck by this, I took it, and I laid it out on the kitchen table, where I was by myself, working on this project. And I just kept it there for the whole day. And I kept going back and looking at it and picking out names—James and Lillian, Richard and Betty, Dale and Gwen—and saying to myself, “How did they do this? What did they do? Did they begin with a myth of perfection, as many do? And how long did it take them to dispense with the mythology?” Presumably, fairly quickly. For those who live with the myth of perfection for any prolonged period of time will make themselves and their partners increasingly uncomfortable, disgruntled, and unhappy. They surely discovered somewhere along the journey that if they were going to make it through the challenges and privileges of marriage, if they were going to love each through all of their lives, till death they do part, then they were going to have to settle down and pay attention to the basics. Just the basics. Just the basics.

Now, simultaneously, I was reading a golf book. I was reading the latest biography of Hogan, probably the consummate striker of a golf ball—certainly the man who introduced to the world practice at a degree that no one had ever seen before and possibly has never seen since. Hogan was committed to trying to hit the ball perfectly on every occasion that he addressed it. And it’s a fascinating book.

In the course of his pilgrimage, you find this quote: “In 1946,” says Hogan, “my attitude suddenly changed. I would guess what lay behind my new confidence was this: I had stopped trying to do a great many things perfectly because it had become clear in my mind that this ambitious over-thoroughness was neither possible [or] advisable, [nor] even necessary. All that is really required to play good golf is to execute properly a relatively small number of true fundamental movements.”[1]

“Oh,” I said, “I should write that down, not simply because of the help that it is in relationship to the golf swing but because it fits perfectly my consideration of this matter of marriage.” The quest for perfection is neither possible or advisable, or even necessary. But what it is going to take, all that is really required to ensure a good marriage, is to execute properly a relatively small number of true fundamental movements.

And yet still men and women chase from pillar to post in search of mythological, Hollywood-engendered perfectionism. And some marriages have foundered not because people have been unwilling to do the essentials well but because they’ve had absolutely no interest in doing the essentials well. And the more you listen to couples give their recipe for success—and it’s one of the things that I’ve been doing. I’ve been asking elderly couples. I was caught off guard not so long ago, on the aeroplane, where I saw an elderly couple, and they were sitting together, and they were very keen to be close in the middle and the aisle seat, and they were holding hands. And I set in behind them, and his head was on her lap, and so on. And they got off the plane, and they came striding down at Hopkins, and they were still holding hands. And I came up behind them, and I said, “You know, it’s wonderful to see a married couple so much in love.” And the guy said, “She’s not my wife.” But when I find the good ones, I ask them. And the straightforward answer is that they’ve done the basics well most of the time.

I said the other evening, when we addressed this, that when marriages disintegrate, it is not usually as a result of some bizarre event which appears out of the blue, but it is a result of a slow leak that has gone on undetected for a period of time. And it is neither some kind of superficial optimism or a debilitating pessimism that ought to permeate our thinking in relationship to this. But if we’re going to be realistic, then it includes a healthy dose of skepticism.

And this may seem strange to you, but I’ve been thinking a lot about this, and I think skepticism is a large part of a good marriage. Skepticism. Doesn’t sound right. It’s not sort of culturally and politically correct in its sound; I’ll admit that. We’re not supposed to be skeptical, we don’t think. We’re supposed to be loving, and trusting, and glowing, and going, and all those positive words. But no, I think skepticism is a really good word, and I’ll tell you why: because we live in a fallen world, and because we live in the reality of Romans 7: the good we want to do, we don’t do, and the bad we don’t want to do, we do.[2] Therefore, skepticism is absolutely essential for spiritual wholeness. And if it is essential for spiritual wholeness, then it is essential for biblical faithfulness within the realm of marriage.

See, skepticism starts with an examination of our own motives. The man might ask himself just why it is that he’s so concerned to be calling his secretary at such a late hour on a Friday evening. You ought to be skeptical of that. You ought to ask yourself the question, “Am I emotionally attached?” The parent might not take at face value the bright-faced assertions of the young man who’s taking their daughter on a date. After all, he’s a raging sea of hormones, and they need to be skeptical, lest their daughter would be swept away on the tide. In fact, it’s the height of naivete and foolishness to assume that we can enter high-risk areas without facing the potential for failure.

Gordon MacDonald, writing on this in his book Rebuilding Your Broken World, quotes Oswald Chambers. And I was delighted to find this, ’cause I had the thought before I discovered it backed up by anybody of stature. This is Chambers:

Always beware of a friendship, or of a religion, or of a personal estimate of things that does not reconcile itself to the fact of sin; that is the way all the disasters in human friendships and in human loves begin, and where the compromises start. Jesus … never trusted human nature, … He was never cynical, He trusted absolutely what He could do for human nature.[3]

But he recognized that with which he was dealing.

So, if we’re going to be realistic in preventing the kind of demise that we’re alluding to this evening, then we need to make sure that we put necessary boundaries in place. And I want to give to you, in a moment or two, in the time that I have at least—I’m staggered to see how long I’ve taken introducing this—but I want to give to you one or two hedges, if you like.

England is the land of hedges. If you’ve driven in England at all, you’ll know that there are huge, big hedges everywhere. It’s downright scary, especially in the home counties, in Buckinghamshire and Surrey and all around there. You meet these cars going at breakneck speeds all around the lanes, and you can’t see around the corner because of the hedges. Some of the hedges are beautifully fashioned with care. Others are wild. They’re haphazard. Apparently, in each case, they’re usually planted as a line of demarcation between farmers’ fields or as a means of protection from the elements for the things that are within their precinct. And the care which the average Englishman takes of his hedgerow is actually an indication of the importance of it for him, not simply as a thing of beauty but also as a boundary. And if Robert Frost is right in saying that “good fences make good neighbors,”[4] then surely good hedges also are a very important part of life.

In fact, it is interesting for me to live in a neighborhood—and this is the second time I’ve done it. In both places we’ve lived here in the States, we’re not allowed hedges, and we’re not allowed fences, and we’re not allowed any kind of demarcation between the property lines. It’s very un-British. And I understand it is in order that there might be a sort of open feel to it. And it’s a nice feel; I admit that. But I’m tempted to see in it a parable of human relationships, where the freedom of movement between places and people, while offering great potential for interaction, is also fraught with danger—and not least of all in the realm of marital faithfulness.

“Well,” you say, “well, what kind of hedges are you thinking of?” Well, very simple things. Let me give you just one or two.

The Hedge of Carefulness

Let’s call the first hedge the hedge of carefulness. Carefulness. There’s nothing dramatic about that, is there? No, and deliberately so. The principle is that which is found in Paul’s writings to the Corinthians: “Let the man or the woman who feels sure of his standing to be careful that he doesn’t fall tomorrow.”[5] That doesn’t mean we’re supposed to live in paralyzing fear. We wouldn’t be well-served by living every day imagining all the dreadful things that might happen to us—for example, driving from Cleveland to Detroit at approximately sixty-five miles an hour, unable to relax because we have imagined the possibility of a wheel falling off or the car catching on fire. The fact of the matter is, if we’re going to live in sanity, we have to proceed believing that the best will be the case and yet at the same time making constant provision for possible failure.

When you and I tonight think about our children heading down the road of life here in the late twentieth century in America, when we think of them getting their driver’s license and going down the street, and when we try and affirm for them the importance of the stop signs and not becoming an Amber Gambler and not trying to jump the red and sustain it beyond the green, we teach them all these things because we want them to come home in the evening. And in the same way, as we think of them going into marriage, we want to teach them about the green lights, the stop signs, the cautions, and we want to tell them about the importance of hedges.

You see, it’s very foolish for us to live with the kind of naivete that assumes somehow or another we are immune from the external forces that would work against our marriage. Anybody who tonight believes themself to be immune from those things is in a perilous situation. That is why, you see, that to expose our minds constantly to ungodly thinking is a great danger. And ungodly thinking will be formed by the stuff that we take in through our eyes and through our ears. That’s why to read trashy novels will be imperiling to our marriages. To watch movies which glorify adultery and infidelity will be perilous to our marriage. To listen to stories and jokes and conversations which constantly undermine the framework of godly living will be perilous to our minds. And as a man or a woman thinks, so is that man or woman. Please don’t tell me that you can live with impunity in relationship to these things. You cannot! You are silly to think that you may. And while we may enjoy the lush music of Out of Africa, and while we might marvel at the abilities of Meryl Streep, it’s still a sorry tale of adultery, as is The Bridges of Madison County, as is so much.

And if there is a direct correlation between the issues of violence and so much on our streets, isn’t it interesting that no one is prepared, from the Hollywood jet set, to stand up and acknowledge a direct correlation between a barrage of filth and immorality and the extent of chaos amongst our young people in our generation? If it is true for one, it is true for both. And the Bible says it is. That’s why you have to plant hedges.

To expose our minds constantly to ungodly thinking is a great danger.

When you travel, they prepare you, don’t they—those nice ladies—for the worst, while all the time hoping for the best? So therefore, if you are going to be effective in staying against the marauding hand of the Evil One, who is a roaring lion looking for those whom he may devour,[6] make sure that you constantly are sowing, planting, cultivating, nurturing, clipping, and caring for the hedge of carefulness.

The Hedge of Endeavor

Second hedge we might call endeavor. Endeavor. It’s another word for hard work. You see, we daren’t assume that a healthy marriage can ever be discovered and enjoyed without hard work. We’ve all witnessed the transformation in the neighbor’s yard after a new owner has moved in. Pathways that were previously just totally unkempt are now manicured, and they’re bordered with flowers. The large expanse of grass which was one of the greatest seed beds of dandelions for miles around has now become a lawn. Small stone walls which we never knew existed have suddenly reappeared to define flower beds, and the borders are now tailored in such a way that there is an exquisite eye for detail behind it all. And what can we deduce from this kind of metamorphosis? Certainly that the new owner loves to garden, but more than that: that he or she or both of them and their helpers were prepared to put in long, hard hours to turn the jungle to beauty. Are you prepared to put in the long, hard hours necessary to ensure that your marriage is like a botanical garden rather than like a disaster zone in some rain forest?

You see, if you live in shambles for long enough, you actually become unaware of how bad things really are. That’s what had happened to the man that Solomon describes: “The field … of the man who lacks judgment,” he said, “thorns had come up everywhere, the ground was covered with weeds, and the stone wall was in ruins.”[7] And he looked at it all, and he made a mental note to himself. He said to himself, “Listen: laziness and neglect will make us an even prey of poverty, and scarcity will grab us like a bandit.”[8] He looked at it, he said, “You know, I could be like that. My yard could look like that. My life could be like that. My marriage could be like that in just a moment.” If you want to have a marriage like that, let me tell you what to do: do nothing! Just do nothing, and you’ll have it sooner than you ever realized. You just do nothing, and it’ll get like that. But in order to be one of the two pages in Grand Rapids, in order to hit the fifty mark smiling, in order to have the big picture and the wee picture, it’s going to take the hedge of carefulness and the hedge of endeavor.

And that means that we constantly have to review where we are, regularly assessing where we are, where we’ve been, where we are going—strategic points along the journey demanded of us: the arrival of children, the development of our careers, the college years, the decisions of retirement, so on. Probably one of us will be better at doing this than others, more of an initiative taker. But together, we have to have a united plan of action, learning, with an eye for detail, to take care that we don’t allow our garden to be infected in a destructive way by all kinds of weeds. And it can be tiny wee things.

You know that I have a psychological problem with dandelions—I’ve already admitted that openly to you—and that I can be seen on my hands and knees with a screwdriver, digging the things out from the root and pouring inordinate amounts of Roundup down holes in my lawn, which not only cures the dandelion but makes dead patches for about a foot and a half in circumference all around it.

But little things. For example, I just recently read of a lady in her sixties who was tired of having her husband open mail which was addressed directly to her as an individual. I don’t know if you saw this. I think I saw it in the newspaper, and it intrigued me. I just caught it out of the corner of my eye. It was something like “Sixty-year-old lady is ticked off with her husband opening her mail.” “Oh,” I said, “I got to read on here.” And the reason was because I’m guilty of the same thing. I can open everybody’s mail. I love opening mail. I mean, the people in the office are sick of me going, “Where’s the mail?” you know. I love opening mail—the good, the bad, and the ugly. I can’t get mail and lay it down and go away somewhere. If I’m going to the bathroom, it comes with me. If I’m going in the car, it goes with me. I’m tearing it open as I drive. I’m reading it, stashing it, filing it, crumpling it, chucking it. But I deal with mail. So I said, “Wow, I’ve got to read this.”

And as I read, it wasn’t that the lady wanted to keep anything from her husband. Because in point of fact, everything that she got she always read to her husband. It was simply that one of the things that she looked forward to every day was the joy of opening her own mail. And her husband was insensitively depriving her of the privilege. And he was oblivious to his wife’s sensitivity.

See, it’s care in little things which make a huge contribution to the enjoyment of our relationship. And if we are to ensure that things don’t dry up underneath us, then we need to make sure that we are sitting under the Word of God so that it can confront us with things like this.

The Hedge of Communication

Now, let me do just one more, ’cause our time has gone, hasn’t it? Boy, it’s tough for me, because I didn’t preach this morning, you know, and I kind of got to get it out my system. How about the hedge of communication? Communication. You know the line “Before I was married, I would lie awake at night thinking of all that my fiancée had told me that evening. And now that I am married, I fall asleep before my wife has stopped talking.”

Now, that vaguely humorous statement is actually too close to the mark for too many couples. Because in tracing the roots of extramarital affairs, it is very common to be told that in the beginning, the appeal of someone of the opposite sex had been the appeal of a listening ear. It hadn’t been that the ear was attractive. It was simply that the ear was open, in direct contrast to the ears of their spouse, which apparently were closed. And somewhere along the journey of life together, the couple had failed to take time to let each other know just what was going on inside their heads.

Now, it’s very, very important, incidentally, in preparing for marriage, that this issue is addressed and the potential pitfalls in this area are identified. Because, you see, unless young couples are friends when they marry—and by that I mean that they are those who really enjoy each other and want to know what each other is thinking and what their view is on this particular subject and what their view is on that—if they do not begin in that way, they will not easily cultivate it in marriage. Communication is absolutely essential to all human relationships, and it is imperative if we’re going to discover and maintain any kind of level of intimacy, which is God’s design for marriage.

Now, I trust you see that all of this is biblical. I’m not giving you chapter and verse here. But, for example, if we return to the book of Genesis, we would notice that the origin of any kind of communication breakdown is traced to Adam’s sin. Prior to that, there was absolutely perfect communication between God and man, between man and his wife. There was complete openness between them. That is why they were naked and they knew no shame.[9] But suddenly we discover them covering their bodies, hiding from God, hiding from one another, and now the big cover-up has begun. Unconfessed and unforgiven sin always leads to a cover-up, with this inevitable consequence: that is, a breakdown in one’s relationships with others. Husbands hide from their wives, and wives cover up parts of their lives when there is unresolved sin. In order to reestablish communication and intimacy, it is first necessary to eliminate the sin that blocks our communication.

Now, when you understand this, loved ones, you can no longer hide behind the excuses of temperament or childhood patterns. You sit and listen to couples explaining why this happened and that happened, the next happened, and along the line it always comes out: someone says, “Well, that’s just the way I am.” For example, the husband explaining why it is that he doesn’t talk to his wife very much, as if somehow or another that justified it: “Well, that’s just the way I am! You see, temperamentally, I’m that way.” Or, “I never spoke much when I was a kid, and frankly, I don’t feel like speaking much now. And hey, that’s just the way I am.”

So what are you supposed to do? You’re supposed to say something like this: “I don’t doubt that that’s the way you are. But I’m going to tell you something, Charlie-o: it’s not the way God wants you to be. And if you confess your sin and do what God tells you to do, you won’t be that way in the future. That’s a little bit of a revolution! Because contemporary counseling says, “Now, we’re just going to have to work with this. I mean, this is obviously an imbedded condition. This goes back a long way. This is a temperamental flaw. It’s some kind of genetic thing,” blah, blah, blah, blah, rotten blah. It’s flat-out sin! The Bible says, “You talk to your wife. You do as you’re told. You take the initiative. You’re not doing it, you’re a flat-out sinner. You repent of your sin and ask God to help you, and start talking.” Say, “Well, I’m glad I never came to you for counseling, Al.” And so you should be!

You see, instead of hiding away behind a file drawer full of theories of temperament… And incidentally, these temperamental things, I pay scant attention to them, I’ve got to tell you. Theories of temperament, incidentally, do not have their basis in the Bible; they have their basis in pagan, Greek thought. That’s where they come from. They don’t come from the Bible. They come from paganism and from Greek thought. That doesn’t mean that they’re all wrong and everything’s wrong with them. I just want you to know that they don’t come from the Bible. Therefore, I’m not going to use temperamental analysis as a means of determining who somebody is, and what they are, and why they’re not, and what they’re going to be. The Bible stands champion over all of that stuff. Therefore, instead of hiding away behind the file drawer with all this stuff about temperament, we need to step up and fulfill our obligations, in the awareness that the changes which God demands in his Word he makes possible by his indwelling Spirit.

You see, that’s the difference with Christianity. The changes that God’s Word demands God’s Spirit makes possible. He does not call for behavior from us that he does not provide the resource within us to be able “to will and to do of his good pleasure.”[10] So we can’t go home and tell our wives, “I’m sorry, that’s just the way I am.” I could say more about that, but time is gone. Yeah, we’d be here a long time. We can’t do this. Yeah, we should stop. I’m sorry.

The changes which God demands in his Word he makes possible by his indwelling Spirit.

Is this okay? I mean, is this helpful in any way? Is it? ’Cause, I mean, I don’t do much of this stuff, you know.

The next one is sacrifice, but we’ll save that for next time. If you want something to go away with, just ask yourself the question, “What have I done in the last seven days that was an act of sacrifice on my part for the sake of my spouse?” You probably shouldn’t be coming up with “Took out the garbage,” incidentally. I tried that one. It’s not on the list.

For fourteen years, I’m trying to learn to like baseball. I think I like it. I think I’m beginning to understand it. I don’t understand the games within the games. In fact, I think I’m prepared to say that I like baseball best of all American sports. But I don’t understand how it all works. But I do understand the principle of sacrificing yourself for the advancement of another who’s already on base. I don’t know what you call it, but you bunt, and you’re out, and he’s on. And essentially, this bunting business is what we’ll come back to next time—bunting for the sake of the advancement and well-being of the one that God has given to us as a partner in life.

Let’s pray together:

O God our Father, we thank you that your Word is fixed in the heavens,[11] that your Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.[12] Thank you that today is the first day of the rest of our lives—that past regrets and disappointments and failures and fears belong to yesterday. We thank you that sin confessed is sin forgiven. We thank you for clean pages, fresh starts, new opportunities. And we pray that you might grant us grace to resist the inroads of the Evil One, who would seek so to mar the benefit of positive advice by dragging us back to the garbage cans of sin already confessed and forgiven.

Help us, Lord, we pray, as we come out of a week in which the media has introduced us to homosexual marriage in a most enlightened and disgraceful fashion. And when all hell lets loose against what apparently is the disintegrating edifice of lifelong fidelity within the framework of a biblical mandate, God help us to hold on, we pray, by the power of the Spirit, to be able not only to live within the hedges that are provided by your Word but to begin to sow them in the lives of our children, so that as they look out fearfully on the prospect of leaving, as it were, the protective care of our homes and our influence, that they may, even on nights like this, be crying out to you, “O God, help me, and provide for me, and make me the kind of young man or young woman that you want me to be, and grant that I might live in this arena without regret.”

And so we entrust one another into your care and keeping. We thank you for being with us this day. And we thank you for those whom we represent, and we commend them all as we name them in our hearts to you tonight: our loved ones, many of them far from us—children at college and university, mothers and fathers and siblings. And Lord, we thank you that when they meet you at the throne of grace and we join you there, then we’re never far apart.

And now unto him who is able to keep us from falling and to present us faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, tonight and forevermore. Amen.


[1] Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf, with Herbert Warren Wind (1957; repr., New York: NYT Special Services, 1985), 113. Paraphrased.

[2] See Romans 7:15.

[3] Oswald Chambers, The Place of Help, quoted in Gordan MacDonald, Rebuilding Your Broken World, in Restoring Joy: Three Complete Works in One Volume (New York: Inspirational, 1996), 382.

[4] Robert Frost, “Mending Wall” (1914), line 27.

[5] 1 Corinthians 10:12 (paraphrased).

[6] See 1 Peter 5:8.

[7] Proverbs 24:30–31 (NIV 1984).

[8] Proverbs 24:33–34 (paraphrased).

[9] See Genesis 2:25.

[10] Philippians 2:13 (KJV).

[11] See Psalm 119:89.

[12] See Psalm 119:105.

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.