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Summary: The marriage you want -- the marriage that leads to genuine happiness and lasting fulfillment -- is the marriage that fits God’s purposes.

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First Presbyterian Church

Wichita Falls, Texas

February 12, 2012

THE HORSE BEFORE THE CART

Of Horses and Carriages – Part 2

Isaac Butterworth

Ephesians 5:15-21 (NIV)

15 Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. 19 Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Leo Tolstoy opened his novel, Anna Karenina with this line: ‘Happy families,’ he said, ‘are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’ I don’t know if that’s entirely true, but, of course, what is true is that there are happy families and there are unhappy families. Some people get married, and it seems they ruin each other’s lives. Others get married, and they are never happier. What do you suppose makes the difference? I want us to look at that question today. Because a lot is at stake in marriage; a lot is at stake in your marriage.

Marriage provides opportunities like no other relationship, opportunities for frustration and defeat on the one hand or opportunities for deep satisfaction and fullness on the other. I want to propose to you today that the marriage you want -- the marriage that leads to genuine happiness and lasting fulfillment -- is the marriage that fits God’s purposes. How can you have such a marriage? Let’s look at three essentials.

I. KNOW WHAT YOU’RE UP AGAINST

The first one is: Know what you’re up against. The truth is: You and I are married to sinners...and so are our spouses! We are all fallen creatures, and that one fact has enormous impact on our marriages.

Take a second look at Isaac and Rebekah’s marriage. What do you make of it? It’s a power struggle, isn’t it? It’s distressing to see how this couple used their kids to manipulate each other. Isaac and Rebekah’s marriage was little more than an arena for tactical maneuvering. They had no common goals, only competing agendas. And the sad thing is: They were too tangled up in their dysfunction to know what they were up against.

That’s why, in Ephesians, Paul writes, ‘Be...careful...how you live.’ In fact, he says, ‘Be very careful...how you live -- not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.’ What’s he saying? He’s saying we’ve go to recognize the potential for evil in every relationship, but especially in the marriage relationship.

As sinners, we are bent on seizing the advantage for ourselves. Self-absorption is our middle name, and we are determined to serve our own ends rather than the needs of others around us. And we are masters at deceiving ourselves and others about what we’re doing. We rationalize self-interest and convince ourselves that it’s the straightest path to real happiness. There’s an ‘Isaac’ or a ‘Rebekah’ in every one of us.

We’ve got to be wise to this. We’ve got to ‘be...careful’ with it. It’ll destroy a marriage. That’s why the first essential is to know what you’re up against.

II. KNOW WHAT YOU’RE IN IT FOR

And the second is: You have to know what you’re in it for. ‘Do not be foolish,’ Paul says, ‘but understand what the Lord’s will is.’ If I were to ask you, ‘What is the Lord’s will for your marriage?’ what do you suppose you would say? Did God have a purpose in bringing you and your spouse together? The marriage you find yourself to be a part of -- do you know what you’re in it for?

I want to suggest to you something that may seem entirely novel to you, and that is this: Your relationship with your spouse is the crucible God uses for shaping your heart and soul and, of course, the heart and soul of your spouse. It is the primary staging area on which God will stretch you both and mold you into the likeness of his Son.

And guess how he does that. He transforms you into a person who finds greater joy in serving than in being served. That’s why Paul says in verse 21, ‘Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.’ That’s the only way you and I are ever going to have a marriage that fits God’s purposes.

Now, this is a big step. Many of us think that our marriage is acceptable if we function at a minimum level: avoid infidelity, remember anniversaries and birthdays, go to see the in-laws without complaint, help around the house – in other words, pay the rent so that your spouse will stay off your back. But God has something far more interesting in mind for your marriage.

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