Steven and Julianne, you know that you are disciples of or apprentices to Jesus, there is no distinction between the sacred and the secular. Every aspect of your lives comes under the influence of Jesus, and becomes part of your apprenticeship. This includes your marriage relationship. In 1 John 4:19-21 the connexion is made between how you relate to each other and how you relate to God. Let’s read that now. (The Message)
If anyone boasts, "I love God," and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both.
Steven and Julianne, growing in your relationship with each other and growing in your relationship with God are inseparable. Your discipleship, your apprenticeship to Jesus Christ will have its greatest challenges and its greatest growth in your marriage. You’ll find that many of the same disciplines which stimulate growth in your relationship with God will also encourage growth in your marriage relationship.
For example, your need to communicate. If you want to get closer to God, then you have to both talk to Him and listen to Him. That’s Christianity 101, right? But many of us still struggle with it, right? We struggle because in our heads it makes sense that if you want to get closer to someone, you have to talk and listen to them. But we get busy and distracted, don’t we, and sometimes we take each other for granted. Sometimes we’re even arrogant enough to actually believe that we know all the important stuff there is to know about each other. And communication gets put on the back burner, one more time. It works that way with God; it works that way with each other.
In the busyness of everyday survival, getting to know someone better can look awfully unimportant. And so communication has to be a discipline and a passion, both in marriage and with God. It’s a discipline when you say to yourself, "I’m going to unlock myself and talk and listen, whether I feel like it or not." It’s a passion when you say to yourself, "I’m not satisfied with keeping the relationship the way it is now. I want to know more; I want to get closer."
Here’s another example of parallels. The Bible isn’t a set rules. It’s an autobiography of God. You read the Bible, not to discover more rules, but to discover more about God. You search the book, you read between the lines, you dissect it, you exegete it because the God you worship is described here. Sometimes it’s very plain, and sometimes it’s almost beyond comprehension, the way He’s described. What you learn from this process of discovery, changes how you relate to God and to each other. This, too, is both a discipline and a passion.
Why not do the same thing in marriage? Study each other. Make each other the focus of intense curiosity. Ask questions that are deeper than "What’s for supper," and "What are we doing this evening?" Human beings are complex enough that I can confidently guarantee that if you study each other this way, you won’t run out of material. It’s a life-long study. And, just like with God, what you learn from this life-long process of discovery will change the way you relate to each other. That’s called growth.
There’s a third parallel. It involves something that might be called transparency or vulnerability or inclusion. Let me explain. You know that God resists being relegated to some special box in our lives called religion. His involvement in our lives isn’t just a religious or spirituality issue. He wants his involvement to be total. Why? Because apart from the fact that He knows what’s best for us, total involvement creates intimacy and relationship. Every part of your life can be infused with God’s presence and perspective and resources. That means that you and I need to deliberately include Him in every part. From the least to the greatest decision, we stay open to Him and flexible. That doesn’t mean that we have a heavenly vision every time we need to decide what colour socks to wear. It means living openly, with a willingness to change direction if that’s what He wants. It means including Him in all of your life.
It works the same way in marriage. When you include each other in your individual lives, intimacy and mutuality is created, and your relationship is enhanced. Closing off entire parts of your lives from each other decreases that intimacy and mutuality.
There’s one final parallel. Your relationship with God tends to grow when it is under pressure. There are dry times when it seems that God is far away. There are confusing and painful times when you hardly know which way is up. But during those times you are no less a follower of Jesus Christ, than during the really close times with Him.
Your relationship with each other is somewhat the same. You will go through many different stages in your married life. And as each stage dies and the next is born, it can be very confusing and painful and dry. But during those times, you are no less married than during the really close and wonderful times you have with each other. In fact, it’s often during those difficult points in your marriage that the real growth happens.
Steven and Julianne, as apprentices to Jesus Christ, when you follow through on your commitment to each other, then you’re also expressing your commitment to God. I haven’t talked at all about grace and forgiveness, and you and I know that you’ll have to both give and receive and lot of it. I’m convinced that your marriage is starting off on solid ground, because its foundation and focus is Jesus Christ. I commend you confidently into the hands of God. The Lord bless you with an overflowing of every resource you’ll need in your life together.