Life-Long Loving

Scripture:  Genesis 23:1-2

(Preached at FBC Nitro 2/12/2012)

According to one marriage counselor, in many of his sessions, one spouse will often sit down and start ranting and raving, “My husband does this …;” “My wife never will do that …;” and it goes on and on.  The counselor would sit and think, This counseling isn’t going to be very effective, because the person who apparently needs to change isn’t even in the room.  So he would get a pad of paper, draw a circle on it, and say, “This is a pie that represents all the chaos in your marriage. Now, 100 percent of the blame is in that pie, because that’s where all the chaos is.” I would give them the pen and say, “I want you to draw a slice of pie that you think represents your responsibility for the chaos.”  The piece of pie that the client would draw was never very big, but he would say, “Okay. So why don’t you and I talk about just this. Let’s talk about this piece that is your responsibility. Let’s talk about your slice.”  You know what? His approach never worked. He could never get anybody to stay on his or her slice of the pie.  So as this Valentine’s Day approaches, try something different.  As you experience conflict of any sort, big or small—stop and think about your own slice of the pie.  Ask yourself,  “What is in my slice of the pie? Have I taken responsibility for my life, really, or am I enjoying the blame game so much that it has allowed me to ignore the areas in which I can improve as a partner?”  In any relationship, if we can ever get the two parties to own their piece of the pie, you can make progress.  But if each person is focused on the other partner’s slice of the pie, you will just have chaos.

Today one in two marriages ends in divorce.  Divorce is never an attractive thing or an easy thing.  Divorces are never clean-cut  — they are always messy.  I realize some of us here this morning have suffered through divorces.  We need to realize that just because a marriage fails, the people involved in them are not failures.  Still, our society in general has taken a weaker view of marriage.  The growing sentiment is that marriage isn’t really a lifelong commitment, but more of a 90-day option.  If a marriage fails, then just keep marrying until it feels right.

We live in a day and age in which many things that used to be durable are now disposable.  It seems the list of disposable things is growing.  Plates, cups, napkins and silverware are often disposable.  Electronic devices are pretty much disposable, including computers.  In the last few years contact lenses have become disposable.  When something for us has fulfilled its short-term desire, we increasingly pitch it.  That kind of mindset is creeping into our relationships, and especially into marriage.  Rather than seeing marriage as long-term commitment, it is seen as a short-term convenience.  Some of us have heard of the woman who was married four times.  First she married a millionaire, then an actor, then a minister, then a funeral director.  She entered and left each marriage on purpose according to a carefully devised plan.  A friend asked her, “Why did you marry a millionaire, then an actor, then a minister, then a funeral director?”  She said, “One for the money, two for the show, three to get ready, and four to go!”  Whatever happened to the concept, “Till death do us part?”  Today the idea is more along the lines of “till debt, or disappointment, or disillusionment do us part.”  I agree with Charles Swindoll who said, “There are two processes that should never be entered prematurely:  embalming and divorce.”

In our passage for this morning, we find one of the greatest love stories in all of the Bible.  Abraham and Sarah stayed together until “death did them part.”  There are some priceless insights on how a man and woman should come together, live together, and stay together.  If we are going to beat the odds and maintain our marriages, we have to take the bond seriously.  If we just follow the “natural order of things” we WILL be pulled apart from one another.  The institution of marriage today, the lifelong union of one man and one woman, is under attack.  Selfishness is assaulting us, sensuality is assaulting us, and Satan is assaulting us.  Marriage is a lot like a garden – give it no attention, no nurture, no care, and weeds will be the result.  A good garden is carefully and constantly maintained, as is a good marriage.  We all want to experience life-long loving.  This passage gives us some insight on how to do so.

First of all, we experience life-long loving through the memories.  Verse 1 tells us, “Sarah lived 127 years…”  She was 127 years old when she died.  With Sarah, beauty had long given way to bulges, to balding and to bunions.  Still, she and Abraham loved one another deeply until the end.  They were not like the one couple who were having a conversation when the husband asked his wife, “Will you love me when I’m old and gray?  She said, “I will not only love you, but I will write to you wherever you are.”  We know from the Scriptures that Abraham and Sarah had been married at least 60 years because Sarah was sixty-five when they were called from the land of Haran.  They were likely married much longer than 60 years, for women in those days married when they were extremely young, and their marriages were often arranged by their parents.  So if Abraham and Sarah were married when she was twenty, which is very likely, they would have been married over 100 years.  I believe one of the reasons why Abraham was so successful in his life is that he had a successful marriage.  Town and Country magazine once made a study of the presidents of one hundred top corporations in America.  What they found was not a lot of swinging executives who were shuffling from one partner to another, always looking for a newer model.  These successful corporate presidents had a divorce rate of only 5 percent.  The study concluded that a strong marriage is a great contributor to a person’s financial success.  Abraham certainly had a successful marriage, because he had such a sweet mate.  Now he has lost her, and his heart is crushed.  He remembered when he had wooed her and wed her.  They had walked together from the sunrise to the sunset of life.  They had shared heartaches and headaches together – there was a host of memories they had shared.  They had history together, and that history was a part of their life-long love.  They both were imperfect, they each had their faults, and the Bible shares those faults with us.  Sarah had to endure Abraham’s cowardice when he denied he was her husband in Egypt.  Abraham had to endure Sarah’s maidservant Hagar, whom Sarah forced upon him.  Abraham learned the hard way that one woman is plenty for any man.  They both had conflict in their home – things got so bad they had to tell Ishmael to leave.

They had their share of problems and heartaches, but they made it to the end not by chance, but by choice.  They had lived together, loved together, laughed together, learned together, but they would no longer be together on this earth, for Sarah had died.  Verse 2 says, “And Sarah died at Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her.”  Abraham’s heart was broken here, and he was weeping.  He wasn’t weeping however, for Sarah.  Someone once said to the great preacher Vance Havner when his wife died, “Dr. Havner, I’m sorry you lost your wife.”  He smiled and said, “Nothing is lost when you know where to find it.”  Abraham was not weeping for Sarah, he was weeping for himself.  Still, he had the memories of a lifelong marriage.  He was glad he had kept his vows.  He was glad he had followed God’s command of one wife for life.  Abraham didn’t have to look back upon his life and see it littered with the casualties of a broken marriage and a broken home.  He had given his children one of the greatest gifts a parent can give any child – a stable marriage and a solid family.  The memories were all there for him to cherish.  We experience life-long loving through the memories.

Then, we experience life-long loving through the mates.  What do I mean by “the mates”?  Well, experts have concluded after careful scientific study and years of extensive research that there are only two causes of unhappy, unhealthy marriages:  men and women.  The marriage in our passage this morning was a lasting marriage because it was a loving marriage.  Both Sarah and Abraham set an example of the kind of husband and wife that can make for a life-long, loving relationship.  First there was Sarah.  Sarah was one of the best-loved and best-looking women in all of history.  She had been a marvelous mate and a wonderful wife.  Nowhere in the Bible are we told to look to a woman as an example of a godly wife as we are told to look to Sarah.  Isaiah said to the people of Israel in Isaiah 51:2, “Look to Sarah.”  Peter in 1 Peter 3:1-5 indicates that Sarah was a model wife, and that women would do well to look to her example as a guide.

We see from 1 Peter 3:1-5 that Sarah had a submissive spirit.  1 Peter 3:1 says, “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands,…”  Sarah was totally submissive to Abraham.  In verse 6 of this passage we see that she even called him “Lord” or “Master.”  Now I am well-aware of the mindset today that takes exception to the idea of submission.  It is thought to be demeaning and condescending.  The Biblical stance on a husband and wife however, is equality as individuals, but distinction in roles.  The goal of submission in a marriage is not to reduce a woman to a doormat, but to provide an authority structure in the marriage.  In any group of people, high productivity and healthy morale come from a clearly defined authority structure.  When everyone works within the authority structure, the whole body prospers and flourishes.  When a marriage is governed by God’s authority structure, morale and blessing will remain high.  For the husband to be the leader in the marriage doesn’t mean he is a tyrant or a dictator – he is the one who sets the pace in spirituality and in service.  He has the greatest responsibility for the success of the marriage.  Some women may ask, “Well what if my husband is mean and ungodly?”  In that case, it is even more important that a wife submit to her husband.  1 Peter 3:1-2 says, “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives— when they see your respectful and pure conduct.”

If there are women here this morning who have unsaved husbands, and I am sure there are, I’d like to offer some Biblical advice:  an unsaved husband is not going to be nagged or lectured or preached into the kingdom of God.  In fact, I believe some men are discouraged from following Jesus Christ because of their nagging wives.  Nagging seldom produces good results.  One man said, “Things really do change in a marriage from the first year to the fifteenth year.”  His neighbor said, “What do you mean?”  He said, “Well, when I first got married I would come home from work and my little dog would run around barking at me and my wife would bring me my slippers.”  He said, “Today, my dog brings me my slippers and my wife runs around barking at me.”  I realize many Christian women have pure motives and good intentions, but instead of barking at your husband, try praying for him and trusting God to change him.  Ruth Graham once said,  “It is my job to love Billy.  It is God’s job to make him good.”

Sarah also had a sensitive spirit.  1 Peter 3:3-4 says, “Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair, the wearing of gold, or the putting on of clothing— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.”  Some Christians miss the point here and say women shouldn’t braid their hair, wear jewelry, or look attractive in their clothing.  The point here is that a woman’s beauty is to begin on the inside with who she is, not on the outside with how she appears.  Sarah was beautiful on the outside because she was beautiful on the inside.  Hair styles, jewelry and fine clothing are like a picture frame for a woman – they simply focus one’s attention to the masterpiece within it.  One preacher said, “Ladies, if you want to be beautiful, make up your heart before you make up your face.”

Sarah also had a servant spirit.  I Peter 3:5-6 says, “For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.”  Sarah didn’t just respect her husband, she obeyed him.  The word “obey” here carries with it the idea of paying attention.  She was attentive and sensitive to his needs, emotionally, physically and mentally.

Second in this example of life-long loving, there was Abraham.  1 Peter 3 also addresses husbands.  It says in verse 7, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”  I know some women hear the phrase “weaker vessel” and think, “You gotta be kidding me!  If weak, whiney men were responsible for giving birth to babies we’d have no future generations!”  Women, it is God’s Word, and we have to deal with it.  Men, we also have to deal with the idea that if we neglect our wives, our spiritual lives will be shot.  As I understand it, the word “husband” literally means “house-band.”  The husband is to be the band that reaches around his house to protect it, to provide for it, to defend it, to hold it up, and to keep it together.  Abraham excelled in this way.

I Peter 3:7 also says to husbands “live with your wives.”  It doesn’t mean just to share the same house.  It means a husband is to share his life with his wife.  He shares his hopes, his dreams, his joys, his sorrows – he shares all of who he is.  Husbands, our wives are to be not only our lover, but our best friend, our partner, our number one counselor, our most trusted advisor.  Too many of us as husbands today live in our homes, but we aren’t there.  Our wives need and deserve our true presence, for us to be present where we are.

Abraham then showed patience.  1 Peter 3:7 says, “Live with your wives in an understanding way”  We men are often such idiots because we don’t display patience and we don’t even try to understand our wives’ feelings and needs.  Here’s a clue from a guy who is beginning to realize how much he needs to learn as a husband:  “the needs of our wives are different than our own.”  Men, our wife needs our attention.  We need to talk to her, to listen to her, to share our lives with her.  One frustrated wife once said, “My husband pays so little attention to me that if I died, I don’t think he could identify the body.”  Men, it is amazing how we will pay attention to everyone and everything else under the sun, yet often ignore the one who really means the most to us.

Then, we as husbands are to honor our wives.  In other words, we are to communicate to our wives constantly how much they mean to us.  Martin Luther summarized things well when he said, “Let the wife make the husband glad to come home, and let him make her sorry to see him leave.”  We experience life-long loving through the mates.

Then, we experience life-long loving through the Master.  Abraham and Sarah had walked together, worked together, wandered together through the land of Canaan.  Because they had worshipped together however, they were welded together.  The glue that held them together was their God.  God brought them together, God joined them together, and God kept them together.  The latest statistic I have read says that one of every two marriages ends in divorce.  I also read however, that in marriages where both the husband and wife pray together, read the Bible together, and worship together, only one of one thousand fifteen marriages ends in divorce.  We experience life-long loving through the Master

The first step to experiencing life-long loving is becoming a child of God.  The second step is submitting ourselves to God, and focusing more upon our responsibilities to God and to our mate rather than our own rights.  The third step is being a part of a church family.

(Prayer)

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