Building a Marriage that Lasts
About the Guest
Are you getting married for the right reasons? Pastor Gary Thomas urges singles to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” before starting the search for a lifelong mate. Thomas says dating is a "dance" and that it is God who creates a marriage and sustains it. He reminds singles that they’re not just choosing their future spouse, but they’re also choosing the parent of their future children, their children’s grandparents and extended family.
Are you getting married for the right reasons?
Building a Marriage that Lasts
Bob: Author and speaker, Gary Thomas believes a lot of people are getting married today—not for the wrong reasons—but not with the highest reason at the front of their minds.
Gary: I believe we need to ask the “Why?” of marriage before we can even begin to answer the “who”—and that’s a shared spiritual purpose—seeking first the Kingdom of God. Jesus doesn’t say: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, except when you’re choosing someone to marry. Then, seek first sexual chemistry, relational compatibility, romantic feelings. And then, make your choice based on that. Then, all of these things will be added unto you as well.” So, I think we need to get married for the right reasons—so that, “I can fulfill what God has called me to be.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, May 15th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. How much does the glory of God and His Kingdom purposes fit into your thinking about marriage, as a single person? We’re going to explore that today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, we had a guest on FamilyLife Today, a while back, who said that the old pattern that single people followed to the alter is a very different pattern today than it was 50 years ago. He said: “Fifty years ago, you would meet somebody. You would date. You would get engaged. You’d get married. You’d”—
Bob: —“become one physically; and then, you’d wind up having kids.”
Bob: He said: “Today, the pattern is—you meet. You start having sex. You start dating. You have kids; and marriage becomes the culmination of the whole relational activity, after all of these other things have already occurred.” We’re living in a different day when young people have a very different view of marriage and whether it is even important or not.
Dennis: We are. And I think if there has ever been a time when we’ve needed men like Gary Thomas to listen to what they have to say from all their interactions with people, it’s today. And I want to welcome you back to FamilyLife Today, Gary. Thanks for making the journey, up from Houston, and joining us again here on the broadcast.
Gary: It’s my pleasure.
Dennis: Gary has written a book called The Sacred Search. He has written a number of other books. He’s a teaching pastor and a writing pastor at Second Baptist Church in Houston—had the privilege of speaking and joining your team down there in Houston about a year ago. It was a lot of fun.
You’ve addressed a subject here. As people begin to select a spouse, they really need good counsel—godly counsel. That’s what you’ve sought to do in your book. What caused you, originally, to even begin to think about this—and I have to tell you I’m really excited that you’ve written a book for singles because I really have been looking for a recent book that’s talking about what singles are dealing with today because it really is the second most important decision they’ll make in their lives.
Gary: What motivated me was seeing marriages that are really lifting people up—that just are enormously spiritually-fruitful, and the kids they raise, the ministries they represent—and seeing even more marriages that are tearing people down—they’re destroying each other.
You know, this morning, I was pulling out of a very tight Starbucks [parking spot], across the street from the hotel where I stayed. If I was a younger man, I would have just pulled the car out and gone. I’m always extremely careful because, if you’re about my age and you’ve been in a couple of accidents—you’re kids have been in a couple of accidents—you know two or three seconds of carelessness will cost you hours of time—
Bob: And thousands of dollars. Yes, been there.
Gary: —and thousands of dollars. And yet, how often in marriage, couples and individuals won’t take those few extra moments to really be cautious about what they are doing. They just pull out. They make rash decisions.
Gary: And they face severe consequences. The blessings of a good marriage are so good—I don’t want anybody to miss them. The consequences of a poorly-chosen marriage are so awful—I don’t want anybody to have to endure them.
Bob: Well, Gary, this is one reason why a lot of singles, and singles in the Church, today are saying: “That’s why we need to spend some time living together. That’s why we need to test out our sexual compatibility before we get married—so we can make sure we’re not making a mistake before we say, ‘I do.’”
Gary: Statistically—and even more importantly, biblically—it’s the most foolish thing you could do. I believe Jesus lays out an agenda, that all of us should follow, that should drive our choice for marriage in Matthew 6:33 when he says, “Seek first [emphasis from Gary] the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.” Then, it ends, “And all these things will be added unto you as well.” He doesn’t say, “Seek first relational compatibility.” He doesn’t say, “Seek first sexual chemistry, or whether you’re ‘sexually compatible’, or enjoy living together.” He says, “Be driven by my Kingdom and my righteousness.”
So, to do an unrighteous act—to deny His Kingdom in the name of trying to test out whether this would be a successful union—is self-defeating. You’re in rebellion against God’s purposes. God doesn’t bless rebellion.
Dennis: I want to add a whole-hearted, Baptist “Amen”.
Bob: You guys have been amen-ing each other, back and forth, on this program.
Dennis: I just want to say, “Thank you,” because you can’t begin the marriage relationship in direct defiance against the teachings of Jesus Christ.
Bob: And ask Him to bless your marriage.
Dennis: Exactly. And what your book is talking about is—you’re trying to coach single people into a healthy relationship rather than to start it in an unhealthy way.
Gary: I want more of God in my marriage. I want more of God in my wife—even in areas where singles may not think about. For the sexual relationship—guys, I would tell you a godly woman is going to be the best sexual partner you can find because you’re going to get older, you’re not always going to be loveable, you’re going to wake up with an attitude—if she’s motivated, out of love for God, then, she’s going to be motivated to be involved with you in that way.
Virtue protects a marriage. Virtue preserves a marriage. I think we love out of reverence for God—if that’s what holds a marriage together—reverence for God—because we’re not always loveable. We need God’s love in the midst of our marriage. Why would you ever try out a marriage, based on reverence for God, by disobeying God?
Bob: Yes, you make the point—and I thought this was really good. You said, “A lot of people will look at a relationship and go, ‘We know the sexual relationship in marriage is going to be great because, man, we just can’t keep our hands off each other right now.’” And the reality is—being able to keep your hands off one another, right now, is one of the ways you can tell whether the sex is going to be good because the question is, “Is it going to be others-centered or is going to be self-centered?”
Gary: Well, here’s what’s so sad about that mentality. God is so clear that there is to be no sex before marriage and lots of great soul-building sex after marriage. If you disobey God in the first, why do you think you won’t disobey God in the second?
Gary: Obedience builds on itself. So, the same couple that is more likely to disobey God before marriage—I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this in real life—are less likely to obey God after marriage. The two go hand-in-hand. It may not make sense to singles, but God knows what He’s talking about. Going His way blesses a marriage in all aspects of the marriage.
Dennis: And I’m just sitting here—I’m going, “I sure hope the single people just heard what you just said,” because they are on the outside, looking in. Bob and I are sitting back and nodding, about what you’re saying, because we’ve experienced it.
Dennis: I mean, I’m as selfish as they get. Who has redeemed me from my selfishness in my relationship? It’s Jesus Christ. It’s the Holy Spirit. It’s the Bible. It’s community. It’s worship, as you’ve said. All of that calls me to be the man God made me to be—not to be the person who’d like to gratify himself all the time.
Bob: You know, Gary, when Mary Ann and I were dating, I remember talking to somebody about, “How do you know that this is the one?” I mean, you are dating—you think it might be. How do you lock-in?
And I remember—I don’t know if somebody told me this or it just dawned on me—but I remember thinking, “When you’ve been through enough deep water together, in a dating relationship—when you’ve seen a person, unlovely”—and I had seen Mary Ann, unlovely, and she had seen me, unlovely—“and you still think, ‘I want to be with this person,’ that’s a pretty good indicator that maybe the two of you can go the distance together.”
Your ability to work through conflict—your ability to recognize the reality of selfishness in another person and not to go with rose-colored glasses—these are important kinds of things as you make that choice; right?
Gary: Well, absolutely. I would want to marry a humble person. If one of the goals of life is to seek first His righteousness, my wife and I both have to have the primary notion, “There’s room for us to grow.” And when we face areas of conflict, we have to own—even if we think we’re only 5 percent wrong, we have to own that 5 percent.
Where you really see problems in marriages is when they’re trying to be right—not trying to search out the sin in their own heart. The reality is few arguments exist of a husband being a hundred percent wrong or a hundred percent right.
Bob: Sure; right.
Gary: We have to own up. And if we’re committed, not just because of each other, but out of reverence for God—“I’m to pursue righteousness”—then, the conflict with my wife isn’t just about my wife and me—it’s about: “What is God trying to reveal to me in this situation? What do I need to repent of?”
Dennis: And the core of what you’re talking about—the essence of that—is whether or not you’re teachable.
Dennis: If you’re not teachable, you’re not humble. If you’re not willing to hear the truth of what God is saying to you—what your spouse may be saying to you—your heart is not teachable. You’re not humble, at that point.
Gary: Then, you can even welcome your spouse when they learn how to communicate it in a way that doesn’t tear you down but builds you up; but you’re even open to hearing—
If this is one of the purposes of marriages—for me to seek God’s righteousness—she sees an area where I’m not acting in righteousness—it’s not pleasant; but it’s sort of like a coach saying, “You know, there is a hitch in your swing.” He’s just pointing out the hitch. Rather than taking offense, you say, “I want to get there, out of reverence for God. I want to be more like Christ.” If there’s that hitch—when somebody says something like this, I become defensive, or I don’t listen, or I neglect them—I want my wife to point that out so that I can fulfill what God has called me to be.
Bob: I’m thinking of a young man that I know who is—well, he needs to read your book because he’s right at that phase where he’s in a relationship with a young woman. It’s a fairly-new relationship; but he’s already starting to think, “I wonder if this could be a marriage relationship.” I just want him to read the subtitle on the cover. I want him to step back—and before he’s asking the question, “Is she the right one?” I want him to be asking the question, “What’s the purpose for marriage in the first place?” Let’s get the “Why?” settled.
You believe that “Why?” question is fundamental. If you don’t have that settled, you shouldn’t even be moving on to questions two, three, and four; right?
Gary: Absolutely. I believe we need to ask the “Why?” of marriage before we could even begin to answer the “who”—and that’s a shared spiritual purpose—seeking first the Kingdom of God. Jesus doesn’t say: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, except when you’re choosing someone to marry. Then, seek first sexual chemistry, relational compatibility, romantic feelings. Then, make your choice based on that; and then, all these things will be added unto you as well.”
So, I think we need to get married for the right reasons so that we can be married—sharing things that grow deeper over time—not things that fade—like infatuation, physical beauty, and even our ability to share hobbies together.
Bob: Does it need to be more specific than just, “We’re both seeking the Kingdom of God”? Do you think you need to have some definition around how we’re going to seek that together; or do you just leave it at that, “We’re both committed to the Kingdom and however that’s going to manifest itself, whether it’s missionary work in Africa or whether it’s a youth pastor at a church in Idaho?”
Gary: I believe it’s wisest to recognize there are more things involved in marriage than just Matthew 6:33. I just think there has to be at least Matthew 6:33. What you mentioned about somebody wanting to go overseas or stay home is a big issue. I have a whole chapter on marital styles—where, for instance, you might sort of have a kids-focused couple—a mom who wants to home school five kids. Well, if she’s marrying a husband who wants to[ have] one or two kids, at most, and be focused on building a business or what not—that might be a problem.
There are a lot of different lives you can choose: rural lives, city lives, business lives, lives in the Arts, lives in the ministry—that really are a matter of choice. I think it’s wise to recognize God gives you that choice and to find somebody who is compatible in that area.
Bob: But a shared mission, a shared Kingdom-focus—at the center of all of that—is really what’s foundational; right?
Dennis: I’m thinking right now of singles groups that are in churches, around the country—I’m sorry, but I make some of these observations—some of them are very oriented toward spiritual growth—calling men and women into discipleship—to become true followers of Christ—but a lot of them are kind of spousal head-hunter gatherings—where they’re guys, who come into these groups, and kind of troll-around, seeking a young lady or young ladies—seeking if they can find a husband.
I want you to just comment on this, Gary, because just because someone is going to church doesn’t put them on a mission. Just because they are there doesn’t mean they’re about Matthew 6:33.
Gary: That’s absolutely correct. One of the ways you can help determine that is in your conversations with someone. Don’t just ask them how God has healed them in the past—that’s easy sharing. People do that all the time: “This is what I dealt with five years ago.” “This is what I went through—what God healed me from.”
I want to hear: “What is God telling you today? What is God working on in your life today? Is there something I can pray for you, where you know you’re not quite up to what God wants you to be?” and, “How can I help support you in that?” or, “What dreams has God given you, at this moment?” I want to see somebody who is currently driven with this dynamic relationship with God.
This is a world with so many needs. To believe that somebody is truly connected to God—and God isn’t giving His heart and compassion to that person—is beyond belief to me. If they’re listening to God, He’s giving them a mission of some sort.
Dennis: Let’s say that a young lady has gone out with a guy a dozen times—maybe 15 times. They’ve been on dinner dates. They’ve gone to the movies. They’ve gone to sporting events. They’ve had fun together, and the subject of God hasn’t come up. Make a comment about that, if you would.
Gary: Then, don’t expect it to come in after marriage. You’re going to be marrying a guy who won’t be supporting you, actively, in prayer. If he hasn’t asked how he can pray for you—when you’re single, and he’s trying to make the greatest impression, and he knows you’re a Christian—why is he going to ask to pray for you when— you’re a mom, or when you’re sick, or when you’re at work, and you just want that spiritual support, or when you have a problem with your mom, or a friend and you want him to just pray over you and with you?
Don’t expect that he’s ever going to be able to open up the Scriptures and encourage you when you’re discouraged and help you to think along God’s lines.
Dennis: And what I would say to that young lady— if she was the one who had been out with him for that many times—I would say: “Now, what’s attractive about him? What has been so alluring that you’d want to spend 15 evenings with this guy, developing ‘a relationship’?”
Bob: Well, come on. “He’s funny. He’s charming. He’s handsome. He likes me. He takes an interest in my life, my work.” You know the answers to this.
Dennis: And, “I’m alone. I’m lonely.”
Bob: Yes, that’s right.
Dennis: “I appreciate the”—
Bob: “He treats me special.”
Dennis: —“attention. I love the attention.”
Bob: So, what’s wrong with that?
Dennis: Well, what I want you to hear is what Gary said earlier. How’s he going to truly love your soul? How is he going to set a spiritual direction for your relationship? Marriage is not going to turn him into a spiritual leader.
Dennis: And if he’s not interested in God now, what makes you think he will be interested in God when you have two, three, four, five kids—and you start thinking about, “How are we going to develop their moral and spiritual character, as they grow up to become young men and women?”
Bob: Well, and I’d add to that. I think the Sterno® can of marital heat is a spiritual Sterno can. What you may be experiencing—if you’d like that to be sustained over a lifetime—it can’t be sustained over a lifetime unless there is a Holy Spirit Sterno that is stirring that fire. [Laughter] People are going, “What’s a Sterno can?” It’s that canned heat, where you light—and it just keeps the flame going.
What you experience during the dating relationships, Gary—that can be manufactured for weeks, months, maybe, even a couple of years—but for a lifetime, the wellspring for that is going to be a spiritual wellspring; isn’t it?
Gary: Dating really is a dance. You’re trying to put your best side forward. So, your job, when you’re dating, is to get under that—to really get at the heart and core of a person—to find out what’s driving them—if they’re leaning on God now, if they have dreams, if they have purpose. Are they praying for their other friends? When you bring up an issue, is that where they are thinking of going?
It really is, I believe, because you’re not just choosing your future spouse. If your future spouse isn’t praying with you, he or she isn’t going to pray with your kids. If you’re future spouse isn’t sharing Scripture with you, he or she isn’t going to be sharing Scripture with your kids. If you want God to be a part of your family, He’s got to be a part of your dating.
Bob: You know, I had some friends of mine who shared with me that the way they had proposed to their spouses was by using, I think, it’s Psalm 34—the verse that says, “Oh, magnify the Lord with me and let us exalt His name [together].” I thought: “Dog gone it! I missed that. I should—that, everybody ought to propose with that verse.” That’s the verse that says: “Let’s seek the Kingdom together. Let’s magnify the Lord together. Let’s exalt His name together.” That ought to be the foundation.
Gary: It’s brilliant—but when we’re talking about spiritual purpose—if all that we’ve been saying doesn’t convince them—let me give them something that will sound selfish. Why does the Apostle John say that we love?
Dennis: Because God loved us.
Gary: Because He first loved us. If you want to be loved, long-term, find someone who’s being loved by God, experientially. They’re drinking in God’s presence. They are receiving God’s acceptance, and favor, and power. They’ll be able to love you. They’ll be able to love your kids. They’ll be able to love your extended family.
You’re making a bet that this person has so much goodness built up inside of them that they can love you without being first loved by God. Scripture would say, “No, we can’t.” We love because He first loved us. So, “I want somebody who is connecting with God, or they’re not going to be able to love me or my kids.”
Dennis: Marriage is a spiritual institution. It takes three, not two, to turn two selfish people into one. The third part of that marriage is a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Some of our listeners are tired of hearing me quote Matthew 7, the end conclusion to the most famous sermon Jesus ever gave. He compared all of life and everything He’d taught to two builders of two houses—one who built his house on the sand; one who built his house on the rock. The house that was built on the sand was the one who heard the words of Christ and ignored them. The one who built his house on the rock—heard the words of Christ—heeded them. As a result, that house withstood the same storms that brought the other house down.
And Gary, what you’ve done in your book, The Sacred Search, is you’ve distilled out some of the principles of Christ that will help single people start their relationship as singles right and, then, move into marriage-building on the right foundation. I’m really glad you wrote this book. I hope a lot of singles will pick it up, and pass it around to their friends, as well. Thanks for being with us.
Bob: And let me just say, if listeners are interested in a copy of the book, all they have to do is go to FamilyLifeToday.com. The book is called The Sacred Search. We’ve got it in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. The website, again, is FamilyLifeToday.com. You can also call 1-800-FL-TODAY to request a copy of the book over the phone: Again, 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”.
One of the things I like about this time of year is that I can get my yellow scooter out of the garage and ride it to work. I’ve got a little—it’s a 250cc motor scooter that I like to ride to work. It worries Keith that I’m riding it because he’s worried about the brakes, and he’s worried about just the whole experience; but it’s fun. The weather is warm. The traffic on the way to work is not bad, and I just like being out on my little motor scooter. It’s one of the benefits of summer.
One of the liabilities for summer, for folks who work at a place like FamilyLife Today, is that often during the summer we see a decline in donations, here at the ministry. And the thing is that our expenses continue through the summer, even when our donations dip a little bit. We have some friends of the ministry who came to us, not long ago, and said, “We want to help you guys get through the summer without experiencing that dip.” So, they put together a matching-gift fund that has reached a total of $603,000.
We’re pretty excited about that. But to take advantage of that matching-gift fund, we need FamilyLife Today listeners to go to FamilyLifeToday.com, click the button that says, “I CARE”, and make a donation—whether it’s $25, or $50, or $100, or whatever you can do. When you make that donation, it’s going to be matched, dollar for dollar. So, your donation is essentially doubled as a result of your giving during the month of May. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com if you’d like to help us reach our matching-gift total of $603,000; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. You can make a donation over the phone when you get in touch with us; and please remember to pray for us, during the month of May, as well, that we would be able to take full advantage of this matching-gift opportunity.
And we hope you can join us back tomorrow. In fact, I’ve got a CD I’m going to bring in tomorrow. I’m going to play a portion of a message from Al Mohler that I want to see what Dennis thinks about it. So, tomorrow, we’ll play that. I hope you can be here and hear what he thinks. If you’re single, or if you know somebody who is, encourage them to tune in because it has to do with singles and with getting married; okay?
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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