In my previous post, I asked the question, “What is the key to a marriage that is long lasting as well as satisfying?” Here are some ideas of mine that I had included in that post, but my wife thought it was too long. Clearly, if we treat marriage like a marketplace commodity, we will soon experience what Dr. Becker referred to as the “mean reduction,” that addictive treadmill that keeps us searching for more satisfaction and happiness. I think Christianity provides the ultimate model of investing in another person. This investment involves at least three things: commitment plus sacrificial devotion to another person plus total personal surrender to our God.
I’m reading David Instone-Brewer’s book on the Bible’s treatment of the contract of marriage. Contracts are those agreements that nail down commitment. In his book, he describes binding covenant agreements, or contracts, with strong negative consequences for breaking the conditions. In another article, George Mendenhall defines an oath as “a conditional self-cursing.” That is to say, “If I fail to uphold my commitment, I subject myself to several specified negative consequences.” But we need to carry a god-like level of commitment into our marriages to get us through the painful tough times. God expresses his commitment to us in passages like Ezekiel 16:60. After chastising his people of Jerusalem for their unfaithfulness, he says “Nevertheless, I will remember My covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you.” In the New Testament, we are reminded “Let your way of life be free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.’” (Hebrews 13:5, a quote from His assuring words to both Moses and Joshua in Deuteronomy 31:6 and Joshua 1:5). God Himself is our model of commitment. But commitment does not mean simply repeating the same things over and over again for many years. commitment requires an involved patience that is creative and active.
Our Lord Jesus Christ models devotion for the care of another person. He said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 1:45). Marriage is designed to be a workplace for that kind of sacrificial giving for the benefit of another. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; that He might sanctify her, . . .” (Ephesians 5:25-26). Very few people seek counseling because they want to learn better ways to contribute to the well being of their spouse. Most often, they come because they are miserable in their unhappiness. Sometimes it’s about selfishness; other times it’s about not knowing what to do that’s new.
Our personal surrender is a relational dependency on God captured in the metaphor of a branch’s relational dependence on the vine. As such, the branch dies if severed from the vine. Connected, it prospers. “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in me.” (John 15:4). Doing your best isn’t enough. It’s about praying for the power of the Holy Spirit to indwell and empower you so your efforts are driven by something beyond your will. I think we need to recognize that God not only continues after our limited efforts fail, but He also causes those efforts that we can do to be effective.
I think these three characteristics of spiritual relationship need to be added to the pursuit of happiness at the economic level to provide fulfillment and happiness that does not go flat, but keep going and growing. Yes, we need a return on our investment or else we run dry. But we need to learn that need and resource must be reciprocal experiences within an intimate relationship with another person and with God.