Summary: In order to survive your marriage, you need to: (1) seek to serve rather than be served, and (2) stop trying to change each other

When a man and woman are first married, they typically share a dream of having a wonderful, loving, life together. But too often, after a few years their marriage resembles a field of battle more than a field of dreams.

It may not be all-out warfare; the combatants may be able to put up a good front when they’re around other people, so that no one would suspect what’s really going on. But when they’re at home, then the verbal knives come out, as they cut and wound each other with their speech.

Maybe it’s more of a cold war. They don’t burn with hot anger, but there’s no warmth of affection either. Just a frosty coolness. Their relationship is in a deep freeze, with no thaw in sight.

Perhaps your marriage doesn’t resemble either of these. You’re doing pretty well. But occasionally you do have these skirmishes. They erupt out of nowhere, they make you both angry and unhappy, nothing gets resolved, and when it’s all over you just feel bruised and hurting.

Marriage can be a source of great happiness and satisfaction, but it can also be the source of intense pain. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the Bible can help guide us through the rough patches, and even avoid some of them. It can give us insight and wisdom, so that we can relate to one another in a different way, a way that’s healthier and more enjoyable, a way that builds up instead of tearing down. After all, God came up with the idea of marriage in the first place. It only makes sense that He would have some ideas on how to make our marriages thrive and flourish. Because, in spite of my sermon title, God doesn’t really want us just to ’survive’ our marriages. He wants husbands and wives to enjoy one another, and bless one another, and comfort, and help, and support one another.

[I’d like to begin by saying that I’m well qualified to teach on this subject, because my wife and I have been married for over seventeen years, and in all that time, never once has an angry word passed between us. I’d like to begin by saying that, but I can’t. . . ]

So by years of personal experience, and study, and counseling with couples, I’ve discovered some principles that can make a huge difference to the health of a marriage relationship, and this morning I’m going to share a couple of them. Here’s the first principle: Seek to serve, not to be served.

[Story: A man goes to see his doctor after having a mild heart attack. The doctor takes the man’s wife aside and tells her that her only hope of preventing another, probably fatal, heart attack is to remove all sources of stress in her husband’s life. The doctor then proceeds to gives the wife a list of things she has to do to reduce her husband’s stress and keep him alive -- three delicious homecooked meals every day, do all the housework, never argue or disagree, be available for romance every night. On the way home, the husband asks the wife what the doctor said to her. The wife thinks a moment, then tells him, "The doctor said you’re going to die."]

Most of us are naturally focused on making sure that our own needs are met. It takes an intentional effort, an act of the will, to focus instead on serving someone else and meeting their needs. When I speak with couples in counseling situations, a lot of what they say comes down to this: "My needs are not being met. My husband/wife is not doing what they should be doing, and so I’m not getting what I desire and what I deserve."

Do you want to hear something ironic? The more you focus on getting your needs met; the more you try to get someone else, such as a marriage partner, to meet your needs, the less satisfied and fulfilled you’re going to be. Conversely, the more you focus on serving others and meeting their needs, the more you will find that your own "need-bucket" somehow gets filled up. It’s one of those kingdom principles that runs counter to the principles of this world. For the world, it’s "look out for number one." But for us in God’s kingdom, it’s "do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

". . . just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." -- Matthew 20:28 (NIV)

"Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself . . . " -- Romans 15:2-3 (NIV)

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