August 28, 2002
If a friendship between the opposite sexes leads to marriage, it is important that each partner be prepared with a solid understanding of biblical marriage. In a world focused on externals, couples should first be committed to a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. In this sermon, Alistair Begg candidly shares advice based on observations of his own marriage, as well as practical counsel on what to look for in a spouse.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Can I invite you to take your Bibles? And we’ll turn to 1 Peter and chapter 3.
I should say to you that this evening is not going to match up to any standard of biblical exposition. I’m not even going to attempt it. And if I am removed immediately from my responsibilities, then I want to say now that it’s been wonderful being here. But as I reflected on the opening addresses and the nature of this morning and then the events that have unfolded today, I determined that I would talk to you this evening hopefully in the kind of gracious manner of a benevolent visiting uncle. And everything that I say I trust will be grounded in the Bible and will be biblical in its framework, but I’m not going to attempt an exposition.
I want to talk to you tonight about relationships, and particularly interpersonal relationships between the sexes. And since they inevitably, in God’s plan, lead to marriage, we’ll read just these few verses in the instruction given by the Spirit of God, via Peter, to husbands and wives in 1 Peter 3:
“Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.
“Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.”
There is more than an even chance that whether you meet your intended life’s partner in this institution or not, it may well be that in the next two or three years of your life you will in some context meet the person that will share your life with you, providing that God has planned for you to be married. And since the statistics on relationships and marriage are so horrendous, not least of all within the framework of the Christian church, it’s important that we are constantly making reference to this in our own thinking, planning accordingly, so that we do our very, very best, if God intends for us to be entrusted into the custody of another, to come to that day and to that opportunity prepared and ready for the privileges and the responsibilities.
It has been my unbelievable privilege to be married now for the last twenty-seven years. We celebrated our anniversary on the sixteenth of August this year, as we do every year. And I may say more about that later, but probably not.
Let me just say certain things to you this evening.
When you think about relationships at all, in every relationship, our relationship with God must come first. And indeed, unless we have a meaningful, viable, increasing relationship with the Lord Jesus ourselves—not being kept afloat by our family structure, not relying on the temperature of the Cedarville campus, but our own personal walk with God, practicing the presence of the Lord Jesus, memorizing his Word, being in it daily, sharing it regularly—then we really should go no further than that in terms of developing relationships. Because it is in direct relationship to our walk with Christ that everything else falls into line.
Now, that is particularly so when we think about relationships with the opposite sex. And it is important that when we find ourselves in a context such as this, where the opportunities for friendship are many and varied, that we never assume that a friendship has to be more than a friendship when it begins. We should never assume that friendship is going to be more than friendship when it begins. And by the same token, we should recognize that the absence of a friendship with someone of the opposite sex does not determine our significance or our meaning in life. And indeed, if we do not have such a friendship, we want to beware of anyone who would try and press us into that kind of friendship. Many who have done so have found themselves in dire straits.
We need to recognize that there is “no good thing” that the Lord will withhold “from those whose walk is blameless.” If we are not involved in a dating relationship, if we do not have a special other person, there’s no need for panic. God makes everything beautiful in his time. And to be unattached to someone of the opposite sex may actually be God’s very best for you tonight, and it may actually be God’s very best for you for always.
But let us assume, since the Bible lays it out as the normal pattern of life, that each of you who as yet is not married is planning on being married. And therefore, you’re going to be faced with crucial decisions as you go forward. You’re going to have to decide where you’re going to take advice and whether you’re going to listen to those who love you most and care for you the best of all. Few relationships, if in any in life, are neutral. You remember that from high school. There were people in whose company it was easy to be good. There were people in whose company it was easy to be bad. That is true not only of fraternal relationships, but it is definitely true with those of the opposite sex. And when we make friends with the opposite sex, it is important that we take into account the way in which others view those friendships.
Now, I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest to you tonight that I believe in arranged marriages, but I think I’m quite close to the idea. Because it has always struck me as very strange that our children grow up entirely dependent upon us; they want to know whether they should attend this function or that function; whether they should apply to this school or that school; in the earlier days, whether these shoes are right with these trousers, or whether this skirt looks good with these heels, or whether my hair looks good here or over there, or whether you like this color on me now or then, and you’re just dying under the weight of all the decisions that you have to make in order to help you chart your course.
And then, all of a sudden, out of the blue, you show up at the front door on the arm of someone I don’t even know called Rodney. Who in the world is Rodney? And then I see in your eyes this strange, glazed look as you look up at Rodney. The look in my eyes is not glazed at all. It’s piercing! I want to know all about Rodney: who his dad was, who his mom was, what size his shoes are, whether he washes his socks at night. I want to know everything about him, because as a father, I care for my girls. And the same is true with our sons. (That was plural. What, you think I developed a speech impediment since this morning?)
My mother died when I was twenty. One of my sisters was fifteen. The other was eleven. And so they grew up through their adolescent years without a mom. And certainly I could never be a mother, but I found myself fulfilling a role that was not a normal role for an elder brother. And I took far more interest in the friendships that my sisters were establishing than I think would be normal for the ordinary elder brother—although I think it was a good pattern, and I would recommend it to every elder brother. And there were occasions when there was tears and argumentation and the banging of bedroom doors as I explained to my sisters, “This guy is a jerk! You want to have nothing to do with him. I know who he is. I’ve seen him around. Get rid of him!” “But he sent me roses!” “Yes, I already put them in the garbage. Don’t worry about that.”
And in the providence of God, I introduced both my sisters to their husbands. They’re both happily married: one in Scotland, one in England. I picked them out, almost. Of course, they like them, too, and they’ve been living with them for a while. But if you find that in developing a friendship, it isolates you from your immediate circle of friends—all of a sudden, they don’t want to come and sit next to you in the cafeteria because you’re with him, or they find you standing outside the restroom door waiting for her—if you find that this begins to isolate you from others and from Christ and from your family, then you’re probably, without question, on the wrong track.
And so, it is imperative that in all of these things we come to the issue slowly, with realistic expectations, and without anticipating marriage in any of its aspects in the development of friendship. So often I listen to young people tell me, “Well, I know that once we’re married we’ll be able to take care of that”—whatever that is. “Well, I know that he’s got a little problem there,” or “I know she’s a little difficult there, but we will be able to sort that out.”
Listen: most people on their dating relationships are on their best behavior. And so you have to be very, very careful. You need to see this potential spouse in a variety of different situations. For example, you need to see what he’s like when he’s late for an appointment because of congested traffic and you’re driving in the car with him. You need to see what he or she is like visiting a hospitalized loved one. You need to see what he is like in the way that he treats his mother and speaks to her and whether he looks into her eyes when she asks him a question. You need to see the way in which she brushes her hair from her forehead when her father asks her a question across the dining room table. You need to see what she’s like playing with children in the street, being around their parents, with their regular friends, participating in competitive sports, handling various stressful situations.
And the tragedy that I face as a pastor is in finding couples coming to me to be married, and they’ve never seen each other in any of these situations. They’ve got a kind of “hurry-up offense” stirred by their emotions, fueled by their glands. They’re ready to be married. And very often, they haven’t decided whether they’re actually marrying a person or whether they’re marrying a body.
Western society is obsessed with externals: facial features, figure, muscular composition, weight, hairstyle, and so much more. Most magazines—even Reader’s Digest is there now— manage to have an article somehow or another related to our bodies, even if it’s only the health of our bodies. And this puts tremendous pressure on our culture: young women quickly assuming that their significance is directly related to their shape and to their dress size; young men frequently modeling themselves after professional athletes, disappointed that their features are less than perfect; and products offered, from toothpaste to self-tanning products, with a covert message that image matters more than character. Image doesn’t matter more than character. Therefore, it is vitally important that when you think these issues through, that you’re asking yourself the question, “Is the attraction that I feel for this fellow, is the attraction that I feel for this girl, motivated primarily by physical instincts?”
Now, I wouldn’t suggest for a moment that that is some marginal consideration. But beauty is, for all of us, in the eye of the beholder. Now, there may be shared perceptions, but we often have very clear understandings of what we regard as lovely. And so the more significant questions don’t have to do with shape and size and structure, but we need to be asking questions like “Do I enjoy having a conversation with her?” “Can this fellow carry on an intelligent conversation?” “How do I feel when I introduce this chap to one of my father’s business associates?” “Is this character a social misfit?” “Does he or she have a growing interest in spiritual things, or do I get the impression that they’re simply saying that because they know that it is important to me?”
My young friends, tonight, listen: these questions get to issues that are enduring. Age takes its toll on all of us. Physical beauty is passing. To invest in a person as simply a physical package is to set ourselves up for a dreadful fall, because the package will begin to sag and will begin to droop over time. The law of gravity is the law of gravity. There is only so much you can do to keep it all up where it needs to be. And some of us never, ever had it up where it needs to be in the first place, and so we are of all men most miserable.
When I came to America for the first time in 1972, I came in search of a girl. I knew who the girl was. I wasn’t trying to pick her out of the crowd. But I tracked her down to Michigan, to the shores of western Michigan—found her there amongst a bunch of young American fellas who had muscles in places that I didn’t have places. They took great delight in teaching me how to water ski. They could ski in their bare feet. They didn’t need two skis, one ski, no skis. They skied in their bare feet. They gave me these gigantic doors on which to stand, never telling me that if you don’t get up the first time, you let the rope go. My hair was like on the front cover of Sweet Baby James, where he wears the blue denim shirt; find it in an old fashion store somewhere. But it was long, and they dragged me through the water like a dead dog, much to their hilarity: “We’ll get rid of this Scottish whippersnapper, 139 pounds soaking wet, ugly little creature that he is, coming over here for our American girls.”
Then they took me on dirt bikes. And that was a bad decision on my part. Some fellow’s father had an agency or a dealership or something, and I arrived at a place—and I don’t know where it was—to find all these bikes. The fellows got on the front, the girls got on the back, and off we were going through the Michigan dunes. So I did what they did: I got on the front, the girl got on the back. They all took off. I went about a hundred yards and ditched it in the sand, with the girl as well. I got back up. I can’t bore you with the story. I had dreadful hay fever, the worst kind of hay fever. It produced horrendous nose bleeds. I ditched the bike in the sand. My nose began to bleed. The hay fever began to go. The blood began to congeal with the sand on my face. I looked like a Mohican Indian somewhere. And they had given me a helmet of all things, and my hair was sticking out in bunches at the side. Boy, did I look good! And the final ignominy was that I had to ask the girl to drive the bike while I sat on the back. And she rode the bike back around in the sand, and they were all there waiting for me, the all-American Marines, and here he comes, peering over the shoulder of his girl, the Mohican with the hair sticking out the back. What possible hope did I have? I was a no-hoper! No chance! Now I have to go home across the Atlantic Ocean and leave this girl and the dirt bike and everything else behind.
And sometimes, when we ride in the car together now, all these years later, I look across at her and I say, “My, my, my! It certainly couldn’t have been physical.” I actually met her when she was thirteen. I decided pretty quickly that if ever this girl would grow up around her eyes and I got the chance, I would marry her. I’ve never, ever wanted to marry anyone else. From the age of sixteen, I wrote letters to her for seven years—four of those years across the Atlantic Ocean. So for those of you who are doing English, never doubt the power of the pen. All those American water skiers bowed to the Scotsman’s pen.
So, girls, your beauty shouldn’t be that which comes from time spent in front of a mirror but rather time spent in front of the mirror of the Word of God. And men, the biggest thing that you can bring to the possibilities of marriage is the character of integrity and a life of spiritual maturity.
Now, what I would like to do in the remaining time that I have—and I’m not sure how much I have—is help you by suggesting what you should look for if you’re planning on getting a husband. And then, if I have time, I’ll tell what you should look for in a wife. This is just my opinion—and it’s really quite a good opinion, as I think you’ll agree. There’s nothing funny about this, nothing surprising.
Number one: “What should I look for in a husband?” The man should be committed to growing in his relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Committed to growing in his relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Do not take on a fellow as a discipleship project. Don’t take on a husband who has merely mastered Bible trivia. Look for a husband who is serious about growing in grace and in a knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Imagine that he’s going to be in part your shepherd and your guide, that he’s going to be the spiritual leader of your home, that he is going to be the nurturer of your children together. And think about that long and hard before you sell out for anything else.
Secondly, a husband should be an individual of obvious integrity. If he cheats on the golf course, beware! Anyone that cheats on the golf course has the potential for cheating anywhere. If you find him, in an employee-employer situation, fudging the issue in his sales calls, telling somebody that he can get the product to them in two weeks when he comes afterwards and tells you that actually he knew that he couldn’t get it there for four weeks, but he said that because he didn’t want to lose the sale—on the day he tells you that, you need to have a long, serious conversation with him. And if he seeks to undergird his deceptiveness with argumentation, you should probably kiss him goodbye.
No matter how some men try to justify their use of untruth, those lies should serve as neon signs to prospective brides. What makes you ever think that if a person would lie to a customer, to a boss, to a teacher, to a parent, he wouldn’t also lie to his wife? You need a husband who is honest to the core, to a fault.
Thirdly, you need to look for a husband who is able to lead boldly. To lead boldly. Not everyone’s going to marry the high school quarterback or the class president. That’s not the kind of leadership to which I’m referring. But every girl needs to look for the kind of man who can think for himself, who can weigh options, and who can make good decisions. No person always makes good decisions. Everybody makes mistakes. Many times, good leadership demands the willingness to acknowledge that I’ve made a mistake and to turn around and make a second decision.
In thinking of a man who is able to lead boldly, we ought to say very quickly that a girl should never settle for leadership that is selfish, bombastic, and domineering. The leadership of the Lord Jesus Christ, the leadership as espoused by the apostles, is a leadership that is marked by an attitude of servanthood—an attitude that submits to the leadership of others. And that is of vital importance.
The flip side of it, of course, is simply that a young woman should be more than a little concerned if the fellow that she’s dating has to check with his mother all the time: “Well, I need to phone my mom about that.” And all he’s trying to decide is whether he should buy the large or the medium T-shirt in Gap. You know you got a problem there. In fact, while he’s choosing, just slip off ever so quietly into the mall, and don’t ever come back. If he doesn’t have the wherewithal to decide between the medium and the large in the navy-blue T-shirt, you got a problem. Trust me! Let somebody else fix it. Forget the project. It’s a bad idea. You heard it from your Uncle Ali, okay?
Fourthly, you need to look for a husband who displays the ability to love sacrificially. To love sacrificially. Seek out men who display a self-sacrificial dimension—not a person who says, “Well, one of the things I’d like to mention to you is that I’m a very self-sacrificing person.” No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no! Sorry! Take that one off your résumé.
Self-sacrifice is detected in subtle ways that vary from person to person. For example, watch at the end of an evening with friends to see if this character is quick to organize and spearhead the cleanup or whether he just waits for everybody else to clean up. Listen carefully to his elderly aunt when she tells you whether her nephew has ever been faithful in visiting her in the nursing home. Observe the way he relates to children and to strangers. See if he possesses a willingness to hold doors for passersby with full arms. Watch his attitude to waitresses and to other people who are involved in serving the public. Watch his eyes as he sits in a café and observes the obvious ravages of AIDS in the body of the young man behind the counter. And in these things you’ll begin to find out what you’re dealing with. And incidentally and in passing, gentlemen, married gentlemen: When is the last time that any one of us did anything for our wives that would fit clearly, solidly under the category of self-abnegation?
Fifthly, a husband should be able to laugh heartily. Humor is a vital element in preventing marital failure. The ability to laugh doesn’t mean that he’s the class clown or even a joke teller. In fact, he may be hopeless at telling jokes. That may the funniest part about him! Constantly turning to you and saying, “What was that punch line again?” Finishing his jokes just to be met by vacant stares. But it is important that he likes to laugh. And a key trait to look for is his willingness to laugh at himself. If he takes himself too seriously, look out! Listen carefully to him—not necessarily when he’s on show, but can he tell a story where someone else is obviously the hero, where he comes off looking foolish? Is he willing to reveal pictures to you of the time when he was less handsome, with his teeth protruding and his ears sticking out? Actually, as you think about it, very similar to what he is right now. When he laughs at the comic misfortunes of others, is he able to laugh without being crude and unkind and cruel? Humor is vital. It’s way up on the top of my list.
If you’ve ever read Ragman and Other Cries of Faith by Walt Wangerin, I think his name is, he tells how he and his wife lived in a small apartment when they were first married. And when they had disagreements, as they apparently frequently did, the standard pattern was he would storm out of the door of the apartment and walk round the block one or two times until he cooled down, and then he would come back. On one occasion, as the disagreement erupted, he grabbed his coat and stormed out of the door, slamming the door behind him. It was raining outside, coming down in buckets. And as he went to move from the door, he realized he’d jammed his coat in the door and slammed it shut. So he had two options: one, slip your coat off and walk in the rain for two blocks without it, or ring the bell and wait for his wife to open the door. It’s an interesting choice, isn’t it? What would you have done?
Anyway, he rang the bell. His wife opened the door, and she was laughing uncontrollably. Because she had seen the bit of his coat sticking in the back of the door. She knew exactly what had happened. She’s waiting for the bell to ring. The bell rings, the door opens, and she’s just dissolved in laughter. And in that moment, he writes, “I could simply have laughed with her, and humor would have provided the bridge to reconciliation. But I refused to do so. I gathered up my coat, and I walked off into the rainy evening, a prisoner of my own refusal to laugh.”
Sixthly—and there are only six. A husband should model genuine humility. Simply put, a good husband shouldn’t be stuck on himself. Genuine humility keeps its focus on others. You need to watch and see if the other person can share the joy of a competitor’s success. I wonder, do you remember… It’s hard for me to say, “Do you remember?” Now the movie’s twenty years old. Some of you weren’t born. Staggering thought, to be this old. But go get it from the theater and watch Chariots of Fire. And in the fictitious scene that is created between the race between Eric Liddell and Abrahams—a race that never, ever happened, but it was good for the story—remember, Eric falls, and then when the Vangelis music kicks in, that spurs him on, and he gets up again. (Oh no, that music wasn’t playing. That’s what… Yeah.) Anyway…
And eventually, he runs to victory. And it cuts from the victory to the bleachers. And in the bleachers, Abrahams sits. And out comes his girlfriend, very pretty looking and all in white, as I remember, with a large hat, I think. And she sits down beside him, and he’s morose. And she says to him, “Well, you came second.” He said, “I don’t want to come second.” And then he says, “If I can’t win, I won’t run.” To which she replies, “If you don’t run, you can’t win.”
And if you find yourself in the company of somebody who cannot be an understudy, who can’t sit in the second chair, who can’t play second fiddle, who’s always got to be the theme of the story, the joke of the party, the success of the event, I want to suggest to you, girls, that you might want to take a long, hard look at whether you’re in the company of the person with whom you want to spend the rest of your life.
Okay, fellas, here we go. What do we look for in a wife? Number one: tall. Two: thin. Three… Sorry! Sorry! I couldn’t resist that! That’s terrible!
Number one. It’s the same as number one for the husband. It’s obvious: a good wife must have a personal faith and trust in the Lord Jesus. It is the basis for any and all of the other qualities on the list. I can’t overstate for you the importance of ensuring that you don’t enter into an intimate relationship where one person is a Christian and the other is not. The Bible is clear: don’t get unequally yoked. To be unequally yoked is to be unable to pull together. That means there are two divergent standards, two opposite goals, two radically different interpretations of life, two incompatible masters to serve, two contrary powers at work. Unbelief allied with belief in Jesus means just one thing: there can be no real intimacy in matters that really count. The two cannot pull together, because they are not truly together.
And so Paul commands believers to marry—1 Corinthians 7:39—only in the Lord. And in the course of twenty-seven years of pastoral ministry, I’ve watched and experienced empathetically the sadness of girls who got themselves way committed into something and felt unable to extricate themselves. They thought that they could evangelize him. They thought that they could bring him round. I sat with them and said, “If he’s not about to bow before your Savior while he doesn’t have your hand in marriage, do you think he’s going to do when you marry him?” “Oh yes, I’m sure. He promised me that when we get married,” and so on it goes. And I’ve had occasion just to sit and say to the girl, “You can either cry now or you can cry later. You can cry now because you’ve lost him, or you can cry later because you’ve got him.” And the same is true for a fellow if he is going to anticipate anything other than a godly wife.
Secondly, we need to look for a wife who possesses beauty that is deeper than the skin. Deeper than the skin. I don’t know of anyone who sets out to find a spouse who’s physically unattractive, but the importance of a gentle and a quiet spirit is almost unquantifiable. A wise fellow looks for a woman who possesses a natural radiance rather than a glow that comes from a bottle. It is less important to find a woman whose beauty comes from time spent in front of a beauty parlor than from time spent in the presence of the Lord Jesus.
I recall walking on the beach with the man who turned out to be my father-in-law. We were at a place called Rehoboth. I’ve never been there since. I remember going there. It’s perhaps in Maryland; I don’t know. And his daughter, one of four daughters, was out swimming in the water on the shore, and I was walking along with him. He liked me, but not a lot. I think he wanted to keep all of his daughters safely in America and get rid of me and anybody like me. And as we reached the spot where she was swimming, she came out of the water, and she walked towards us. She tossed her head back and her hair, and he turned to me and he said, “What a beautiful girl, inside and outside.” The inside is the key. The outside is the bonus.
Thirdly, you need to look for a wife who is an initiative taker with an attitude of submission. An initiative taker with an attitude of submission. This simply parallels what we said previously about a man being a sacrificial leader. Any wise fellow is looking for a woman with ideas, abilities, hopes, plans, gifts, dreams, the whole panorama of abilities that she brings to marriage. Because in entering into marriage, in more areas than we’re prepared to admit, we as the husbands will be dependent upon their knowledge, upon their insight, upon their courage, upon their faith, upon their expertise. So when I hear a noise in the night downstairs, I have a very brave wife for which I’m thankful. Now, you may be the kind of guy that immediately runs down the stairs and takes care of it. I’m the kind of guy that wakes her up and says, “Honey, there’s a noise!” And after all these years, she knows what that means: she dutifully gets out of bed, takes me by the hand, and we go down the stairs together. I’m unashamedly dependent upon her, not only there.
The word submission is so frequently misunderstood. It’s become a sensitive issue for many people. It’s not uncommon for girls to tell me that they’re not going to say that part in their vows. Incidentally, anyone who does, I tell them, “Get married by somebody else, because I’m not going to marry you.” And that, of course, goes over very well with the girl’s mother. But anyway, who cares!
God’s intended role for a wife is not to wait around for her husband’s directives as somehow or another she was paralyzed without them. You don’t think that Adam and Eve in the garden, Eve was sitting around with a bunch of flowers, saying, “What am I supposed to do with these?” And Adam said, “Well, put the daffodils on the left, put the tulips on the right, and put the begonias over here behind me.” No. He said, “Honey, I don’t know what you do with flowers.”
There will seldom be a day as a man when we do not have occasion to depend, on multiple levels, upon the wisdom, insight, initiative, grace, courage, faithfulness, integrity, skill, giftedness of our wives. All of that said, it does not negate the fact that in the order of God’s plan for marriage, the man is entrusted with the awesome responsibility of being held accountable as leader in the home. It is therefore imperative that you do not fall into the clutches of a bossy, self-opinionated woman who… You will see it in relationship to her father. You will see it in relationship to her peers. You will see it, that she’s unprepared to submit her heart and her mind and her lifestyle ultimately to the clear teaching of the Word of God. The roles of husband and wife, in more ways than physically, are not, in the Scriptures, interchangeable. And therefore, certain expectations for the individual role of each other needs to be understood and worked out.
Fourthly, a wife—the kind for which we look—should build her husband’s confidence. Trustworthiness stems from character. A woman’s intrinsic qualities are revealed by her actions. A girl knows the difference between dressing in a way that is attractive and dressing in a way that is deliberately seductive. Girls know the difference. So do we men. If you find, in dating a girl, that it is clear from the way she carries herself that she enjoys the possibility of creating titillation in the minds of other men who are around in the context—whether it be of the swimming pool or whether it be of the coffee shop, whatever it may be—let that be to you a gigantic warning sign. It may be an opportunity for learning and growth. It may, however, be the occasion when you “slip out the back, Jack,” and you get “a new plan, Stan,” and there’s no “need to be coy, Roy, just get yourself free.” Just “hop on the bus, Gus,” no “need to discuss much.” That’s actually from Paul Simon: “There must be fifty ways to leave your lover”—which, of course, I’m not suggesting to you, but it just came to mind, and I’m sorry.
Two more and we’re finished.
We’re looking for a wife who displays kindness that touches others. Looking for a kindness that touches others. Women don’t have the exclusive ownership of the characteristic of kindness, but often they do a much better job in expressing compassion than most men. It would appear… I don’t think this devalues; indeed, I think it exalts women to say that God has fashioned them to be capable of special tenderness. Men are frequently intent on “Keep moving! Let’s get going!” Women are far more willing to stop in the cause of compassion. In fact, probably, if you think about it, women that have marked our lives have often marked our thinking on account of their tenderness.
And as our culture continues to promote effeminate men and masculine women, as Christian people, we must be prepared, in the face of ridicule, abuse, and possibly persecution, to be unashamed in holding firm to the guidelines of Scripture when it comes to these things. There were very, very clear reasons for the Old Testament commands relating to the distinction between the sexes. And actually, we do well to pay more attention to them than we’re prone to do in an increasingly androgynous culture. Girls should look like girls and will always be their best when they do. And, of course, men should be like men. It seems almost impossible that we have to say these things, doesn’t it?
Finally, a wife, like a husband, should have a sense of humor that braves adversity. The ability to laugh will get couples through more than a few rough spots. I think about Susan when she came to Scotland with me after we were married. First of all, I had no money. She had a little money that she’d saved. I took all her money, and we used it to get back to Scotland. We cruised to London from the port of New York. Don’t get any illusions about how beautiful it was; it was horrendous. We were on a Russian sailing ship called the Mikhail Lermontov.
In 1986, in Zurich, I was reading the Herald Tribune with a doctor as we headed for Kenya together. And as we sat on the plane, I saw a tiny paragraph that said, “Russian motor vessel sinks off the coast of New Zealand.” I put my hand over it, I said, “The Mikhail Lermontov.” And I looked down, and that’s exactly what it was. I don’t know whether we were on its maiden voyage, but it was close. To say that this thing was backward is an understatement. I couldn’t use up your time describing how horrendous it was as I ushered my young bride lower and lower and lower into the belly of this cavernous thing, and then finally into our “stateroom,” where you had to go in, and then step back, and then let the second person in. And then, at the point, you were here, and so were your bunk beds.
And neither of us have ever done drugs except on that particular ten-day voyage. And I don’t know what it was we took, but it was a combination of anything that was available from the gift shop: Dramamine and anything that went with it. And in a semicomatose state, we celebrated our marriage, she on the top and me on the bottom, and then me on the top and she on the bottom, sailing towards London, leaving America behind, leaving her family behind, leaving all those boys in Michigan behind, leaving the whole thing behind.
Do you think she’s got a sense of humor? And when we finally got to the apartment that the church had set aside for us in Edinburgh, she set about the business of making a home. I told her that I had put together some furnishings which I had got from a friend at college who was adept at picking up junk everywhere he went. And I didn’t really know, but we put this stored furniture in a garage, and we had it picked up and brought to Edinburgh. I was gone on the day that it arrived. She was not. And she had the embarrassment of standing there as two elders from the church picked these horrendous pieces of furniture off the back of this equivalent of a U-Haul and carried them up the stairs.
And I remember coming home to her. It was, oh, maybe two or three days into this project. And this furniture, there was not two pieces that matched. It seriously was uglier than anything you could ever imagine. This stuff was bad with a capital B. And in the evening, I took it down the stairs and smashed it all to bits with a hatchet and put it out for the garbage to pick it up the following morning.
You think my wife’s got a sense of humor? She better have! And if you’re looking for a girl that can put up with your strange peculiarities, you’d better look for one who can laugh as well. ’Cause I’ve seen you. And you’re pretty funny.
Now, when I go over to the dorms tonight and tomorrow night, I’ll be dealing with the young men and other, more personal questions. I’m not going to engage in them now, but I want to finish with a quote. Because there are people here tonight, and you’re saying, “I don’t have a boyfriend. I don’t have a girlfriend. Frankly, I’m not planning on getting one anytime in the near future. And I’m wondering whether it may be that singleness is my lot in life.”
Well, let me quote to you from one of my favorite singles, John Stott. “What about us,” he says, “as singles?”
We too must accept [the Bible’s] teaching, however hard it may seem, as [being] God’s … purpose both for us and for society. We shall not become a bundle of frustrations and inhibitions if we embrace God’s standard, but only if we rebel against it. Christ’s yoke is easy, provided … we submit to it. It is possible for human sexual energy to be redirected … both into affectionate relationships with friends of both sexes and into the loving service of others. … Alongside a natural loneliness, accompanied sometimes by acute pain, we can find joyful self-fulfilment in the self-giving service of God and other people.
The chances are you will meet your mate in the next three or four years. Do not assume that a friendship has to be more than a friendship when it begins. Do you know how many people got married, and they weren’t even friends? Covenant before God that you will not add to the statistics but, God helping you, you will please him, whether in singleness or in marriage, living according to the principles of his Word.
Let’s pray together:
Father, I pray that out of a multitude of words, it may be to your Word that we look. I pray that anything that is unhelpful or foolish or trivial may be banished from our recollection and all that is of yourself and encouraging and upbuilding may be woven into the fabric of our lives.
I pray for these young people, Lord, as they’re surrounded by so much in our culture that drives them in directions that are clearly alien to the principles of the Bible. And where they’ve already found themselves in By-Path Meadow, I pray that you will give to them a repentant heart and a fresh start and a clean page, and may tonight be for them a new day. Don’t allow the Evil One to cause them to rummage around in the garbage cans of sin that has been forgiven and dealt with. And bring them together, Lord, in purity and in joy and in humor and in fullness. And may we as Christians, in this particular way, be as salt and light in our community, showing to a world of broken relationships and shattered homes and unfulfilled dreams and aspirations the difference that the lordship of Jesus makes within a heart and within a home. For we ask it in his precious name. Amen.
 Psalm 84:11 (NIV 1984).
 See Ecclesiastes 3:11.
 See 2 Peter 3:18.
 Walter Wangerin, Jr., Ragman and Other Cries of Faith (New York: HarperCollins, 1984), 126–27. Paraphrased.
 Chariots of Fire, directed by Hugh Hudson, written by Colin Welland (Warner Bros., 1981). Paraphrased.
 See 2 Corinthians 6:14.
 Paul Simon, “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” (1975).
 John R. W. Stott, The Message of Thessalonians: The Gospel and the End of Time, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1991), 84–85.
Copyright © 2024, 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.