The longer I’m married, the more I pray for my marriage.
Not because it’s bad, but because it’s good. (God gets the credit!) And I want it to stay that way.
We don’t take that for granted any more because, as I wrote in my first post in this series, so many of our married friends are struggling.
We’ve had our own struggles, of course, and our relationship is still far from perfect. But more and more, I’m passionate about building our marriage on a foundation that will last.
Truth is, though, that this is way easier said than done. How can you beat the odds to have a marriage that thrives and lasts?
The Quick Backstory
In my first post on this topic, I shared that love is the key ingredient to a long-term, successful marriage. (Sounds simple, but it isn’t!) Then in the second, I mentioned that love needs to be defined. There’s so much confusion about love that we really need to take the time and understand it biblically.
Now, in this final post, we take a look at love’s foundation.
Normally, we use the idea of a ‘foundation’ metaphorically to mean the underlying basis or principle for something. But originally, it was a building term referring to the lowest, unseen part of a building that supports its weight. If you get that wrong, the entire building collapses. If you get it right, with some occasional maintenance work, the building can pretty much last forever.
A Tale Of Two Buildings
Let me illustrate through two famous buildings.
The Colosseum had a ridiculously large foundation. It was 93 feet wide and over 36 feet deep. Then, both inside and outside that foundation, a supporting brick wall, itself 9 feet wide and 18 feet deep, lent additional support. With a foundation like that, it’s no surprise that the Colosseum lasted nearly 1,300 years. (And even then, it only collapsed because of a giant earthquake.)
Contrast that with another famous building, the Tiger Hill Pagoda in Suzhou, China. Built around 960 AD, it’s leaning substantially because half of its foundation was made of rock, while the other half was made of – wait for it – soil. If it weren’t for substantial stabilizing efforts, you can guess what would happen.
A Foundation For Your Marriage
Your marriage needs a solid, Colosseum-like, foundation, too. Something that will support it ‘until death do us part’.
Because – as marriage veterans will tell you – your marriage will be tested, sometimes without warning. For Sharon (my wife) and I, it was our son Matthew’s diagnosis of autism on a routine well visit to his pediatrician.
In this series, we’ve been looking at 1 John 4:7-12, where John points us to the ultimate foundation for marriage. ‘In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.’ (Verse 10)
John, normally pretty simple with his choice of vocabulary, drops a million-dollar word on us here. ‘Propitiation’ is simply ‘a sacrifice that bears God’s wrath and turns it to favor’.
John is talking about God’s love – through Jesus – for everyone who trusts in him. Through Jesus’s death, God’s wrath toward us is turned away. We’re forgiven, but even better, God loves us like crazy even through we’re still a lukewarm mess. Nothing we can think of can ever take God’s love away.
Although we’ve heard that so many times, we need to let it sink in. Again.
So that’s our foundation, our starting point for our entire lives. But also for our marriages.
No matter what you see on Facebook or Instagram, no one has a perfect marriage. But I’m convinced that many Christian marriages are built on Tiger Hill Pagoda foundations. They’re partly based on the rock-solid foundation of Jesus and Christian principles, but they’re also relying on sketchier ‘materials’ that lack the strength to stand the test of time.
- physical beauty
- high-power careers and the trappings they provide
- common interests
Don’t get me wrong. All these things can be part of a healthy marriage if they’re kept in the right place. But if they’re foundational, if we’re relying on them to find joy and contentment in our marriages, our marriage is heading for a collapse when those things are taken away.
The Difference The Gospel Makes For Your Marriage
So let’s make the connection between Jesus’s wrath-turned-to-favor love and your marriage explicit. John continues: ‘Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.’ (11)
If you really understand what Jesus did for you, your marriage will be on solid ground no matter what happens. And things will happen. Unexpected physical limitations, financial struggles. Sin patterns that run deeper than you realized. The pressures of life with children. At some point, you’ll be tempted to give each other the cold shoulder, to lash out, to give in to apathy.
But when you see the lengths that Jesus went to to forgive you, it will melt your heart. And when you start to get how much he treasures you, it changes everything. You can’t stay angry at each other, you can’t withhold forgiveness, when you see that God in Christ stepped into time to pay the cost for you in love.
As you keep Jesus’s love and forgiveness in front of you, your marriage will sparkle and grow.
The World Needs Your Marriage To Thrive
That’s a good thing, because our world – including the church – really needs examples of marriages that not only intact, but growing and alive. In verse 12 John says, ‘no one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.’ He doesn’t quite say it, but it’s clearly implied: when we love each other, God and his love live in us, so that in a very real way he can be ‘seen’ by everyone around us.
Through your marriage, the invisible God can be seen.
- What foundations, besides Christ, is your marriage or (romantic) relationship relying on?
- What would it look like to have a conversation about that with your spouse or significant other?
- How could you (specifically) demonstrate Christ’s unconditional love better in your marriage or relationship?