Too often we speak of marriage as though the secret to a happy one is something uniquely marital. But marriage is a human estate, and is a relationship between two humans, a man and a woman. And as something that encompasses a vast number of humans in relationship, it also encompasses the range of things that fallen and fallible people can exhibit—including wisdom, cruelty, pettiness, decency, love, self-deception, sacrifice and more. Some marriages succeed and others fail, and others muddle through. It is no more possible to speak of marriage as a monolithic thing, automatically good, than it is possible to speak of enrollment in a school, or enlistment in the army, as automatically good. It all depends. It all depends on what you do with it, and that depends on the character of the two people who are doing it.
You can’t make a good omelet with rotten eggs, and you can’t make a good marriage with self-absorbed people. The key to a good marriage is something any competent chef could tell you—you must have good ingredients. A competent carpenter will say the same. You must have good materials.
I alluded a moment ago to the fact that we are all fallen, but God has not abandoned us to that condition. He sent His Son to die and rise so that we could die to our old selfish ways of living, and rise again to a new way of life, so that we might walk in newness of life. Jesus died and rose to remake humanity, and what we see in that refashioning is the glory of the gospel. Using nothing but the old corrupted materials, and the blood of His Son, He makes decent men and noble women. When a man and woman of that sort come together, what you have is a successful marriage.
In saying this, I don’t want to fly too high. I don’t want to speak as though a spiritually-minded man and woman walk through life with a kind of numinous glow, speaking in holy tones, as though everything they said was going to be broadcast on Christian radio. No, I mean something a bit more down to earth.
I mean a man who can laugh at himself. I am talking about a couple who can roll with being ordinary, not knowing how extraordinary that really is. I am speaking of a woman whose identity in Christ is strong enough to be amplified by submission to her husband, and hence is in no way threatened by it. A biblical couple doesn’t overthink it—God created us, and so the way He tells us to live must make sturdy good sense. How could it not make sense? He is the font of all wisdom, and the wisdom we receive from Him is nothing other than right reason, common sense, and a proper sense of decency.
Sturdy good sense includes the fact that men and women are complementary with one another, meaning that they go together by means of being completely different. We cannot receive this gift from God if we are influenced by the current heresy rampant among us, the view that men and women can only go together by means of being exactly the same. This false and pernicious view of equality has destroyed many marriages. A man and a woman cannot function as mere roommates. Their differences are their glory; their differences are the reason why they are so compatible. She is the violin; he is the bow. She is the lock; he is the key. She is the subdominant chord; he is the tonic. They are entirely compatible, but not by being identical. They are not two violins. They are not two keys. They are not the same chord. This is the only way glory is possible.
A sensible man and a sensible woman are therefore accommodating. They defer to one another, and they honor what the other must do. They know that the task they are undertaking is a glorious one, but they are also aware of the fact that the early days of violin lessons can have challenging moments. But they have good sense, and they know that marriage is something that forgiving and decent people can get really good at. They have seen good marriages around them, and they should recognize that if you want a good marriage, you need the basic ingredients—two good people, two good Christians. And that is only available by the grace of God through Christ.
Philip, my charge to you is this. Use your strength on behalf of your wife, don’t use it on her. For example—this is just one example; there are many such examples—men hate to ask for help. They want to solve things all by themselves. If they get stuck, really stuck, they can eventually be brought to the point where they ask for help. It might be help with a carburetor, or help with a teenage child, or help with a software program. And when a guy asks another guy for help, the next words he wants to hear are these: “Have you tried . . .” This is fair warning. Don’t try this at home. When women pour out their troubles, they are not doing what you would be doing. At least as a matter of emphasis, they are not seeking a solution for the trouble, but rather a companion in the trouble. The saying that “they won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” may not have been written by a woman, but it was written by someone who understands them.
Naomi, your charge concerns the same issues, but just in reverse. Just as you are seeking a companion in your troubles, Philip would prefer that he not play that role as a useless companion. Men want to help. When they see a difficulty, they want to fix it. They want to go get their tools. Here is some counsel for you—let him. He is doing it because he loves you. Now you might think that you already had the tools to fix it, and what you were really after was some company. Be that company for him as he is seeking to help. As you can see, in this one small example, good sense loves to give way. Both the husband and the wife are to give, and both are to give way. No one demands.
To both of you, what each one of you has to present to the other is completely different from what you already possess. Expect surprises. Live together, love together, laugh together.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, amen.