We are officially halfway through our series called Nuptially Challenged. It’s a long series that is focused on all the challenges that come with this thing called marriage. This series is all about us being honest about our struggles and challenges, and allowing God to lead us through them.
The foundational Scripture for this series is from Hebrews 13. “Marriage should be honored by all…” (Hebrews 13:4a, NIV)
We honor marriage when we are honest about the fact that we don’t have it all figured out yet, but God does. We honor marriage when we admit that it is a huge challenge, but God can lead us through it. We honor marriage when we remain committed to a God-honoring marriage in the tough times.
That’s what we’re going to do as we talk about another nuptial challenge. The challenge of sacrifice. We’re going to be in the deep end of the pool today, so let me pray for us as we get started.
In the first message in this series, we laid out a foundational truth for marriage. My marriage is not about me. If you want to have a marriage that doesn’t just survive…if you want a marriage that thrives…this is the starting block. You have to understand and live out this truth…my marriage is not about me.
Too many of us take the Ron Burgundy approach. Instead of understanding that “my marriage is not about me,” we take the approach of, “I don’t know how to put this, but I’m kind of a big deal. People know me. I’m very important.”
Or if you don’t like that example, how about this one? Too many of us take the Toby Keith approach. “I want to talk about me, want to talk about I, want to talk about #1, oh my me my.”
You get what we’re talking about, right?
If you want a marriage that is blessed, a marriage that thrives, a marriage that will make it for the long haul, you have to grab onto this truth with both hands. My marriage is not about me.
And really, we can sum it up in one word. Sacrifice. If you’re not willing to sacrifice, don’t ever get married. Ever. Because marriage demands that you sacrifice everything. Anything less than that is not marriage as God designed.
In Romans 12, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Honor one another above yourselves.” (Romans 12:10b, NIV)
Honor one another above yourselves. In the context of marriage, this means that you honestly believe that your spouse is more important than you are. Their needs matter more than your needs. Their desires are a higher priority than your desires. Instead of fighting to get your way, you sacrifice. Instead of wanting to be served, you serve. That’s how we honor one another above ourselves.
Now, let’s back up just a little bit in Romans 12. Paul doesn’t just tell us to honor one another above ourselves. He gives us a roadmap of how to get there.
Starting in verse 9, Paul wrote, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” (Romans 12:9-10, NIV)
Let’s take a few minutes and just walk through what Paul is telling us here, because this is like marriage Miracle-Gro. If you are really hungry to have the kind of marriage that God has planned for you, this is the map to get there.
The first thing Paul said is that, “Love must be sincere.” (Romans 12:9a, NIV)
Love that is insincere is not love at all. In our marriages, there has to be a sincerity. A transparency. An honesty. An intimacy.
Love sincerely wants the best for the other person. Love sincerely sacrifices for the other person. Love willingly serves the other person. And love does all of this, whether the other person deserves it or not.
A marriage that is based on merit is not based on love. A marriage that is based on quid pro quo is not based on love. A marriage that is based on giving the other person what they deserve is not based on love. That marriage has not yet fully received the truth that “my marriage is not about me.” That marriage has not yet come to the point of “honor one another above yourselves.” It doesn’t mean that this marriage can’t get there. It just means that it’s not there yet.
And maybe that’s where you find yourself. You find yourself in a marriage that’s not there yet. Where do you begin? You begin with you.
You don’t begin with trying to fix your spouse. You don’t begin with all the ways that they need to change. You don’t begin from a position of bitterness toward all the ways that they fail you.
If we’re always focused on what our spouse needs to do or how our spouse needs to change, we are living in what Gary Smalley calls “misplaced expectations.”
Misplaced expectations live in these two little words: “If only…”
If only my spouse would lose weight.
If only my spouse would work less.
If only my spouse would be more romantic.
Gary Smalley wisely said, “Don’t expect the other person to be your solution.”
You can “if only” your marriage to death. “If only” never changes anything. “If only” causes bitterness and resentment and blame shifting. But it never fixes anything. It never heals anything.
So what do you do? You begin by understanding that when Paul said, “Love must be sincere,” he was telling us to examine our own heart.
You begin by walking to a mirror, and saying, “God, please fix what is broken in this person.”
Sincere love flows out of a heart that has been changed by Jesus…so that’s where you start. You don’t begin with your spouse. You begin with you.
Ask God to reveal what’s broken inside you. Ask Him to reveal where you need to grow. Ask Him to bring wounds from your past to the surface so they can be dealt with.
Like I said, this is the deep end of the pool. This is hard. Really hard. Because if you pray this stuff, God is going to answer. And the answers you receive will be tough. But the love of Christ is bigger than anything that is broken inside you. Ask Him to heal you, to renew you, to restore you so you can offer a truly sincere love to others…most of all, to your spouse.
Go back to what Paul wrote in Romans 12. He said, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” (Romans 12:9, NIV)
As God changes your heart, you will come to recognize what is evil and what is good. And you will learn to hate the evil of selfishness, and pride. You will recognize that a self-serving approach to marriage is not an approach that honors God or an approach that blesses your spouse.
Instead, you will want to cling to what is good. Humility. Service. Sacrifice.
This past summer, Ryan and I went tubing on the Little River in Tennessee. We’ve done it for the past couple of years, and it’s one of the highlights of our summer.
We went first thing in the morning and we were the only people on the river. We tubed for hours and never saw another person.
But at one point, Ryan got stuck near the bank. The water was really moving in the middle of the river, but he got stuck in this little cove near the back where the water wasn’t moving at all. His tube just stopped. So he yelled out to me. “Dad, I’m stuck!”
I was out in the middle of the river where the water was really moving fast. There was no way that I could get to Ryan. The only thing I could do was coach him on how to get his tube into the current again.
But if I didn’t get my tube stopped, it was going to take me too far away from him. He would never be able to hear me. I wouldn’t be able to help him.
So I just made a decision that the current was not going to take me away from my son. I reached down in the water and found a large rock. And I grabbed it and held on with all my might. And I coached and encouraged Ryan until he got his tube out into the moving water again.
But the entire time, I was clinging to that rock. The current was moving fast. It was trying to sweep me away. It wasn’t easy, but clinging to that rock kept me from being swept away.
Paul said that we have to cling to what is good. That’s true because everything around us is trying to sweep us away from it. You have to cling to it, because everything around you is trying to take it away from you.
Meg Fite wrote, “Everything in this world is telling me that I don’t need [my husband]. I only need myself. He has wronged me. I can do what I want. I shouldn’t have to listen to him. I should follow my own dreams and not his. I deserve whatever makes me happy. I am right. He is wrong. I do more than he does. I can do everything better than he does. Men are bumbling idiots. I’d be happier without him. He only thinks of one thing. I shouldn’t have to obey anyone. All men are selfish. Nothing will ever change. I should find some one else who understands me better…
Not only has most every magazine, advertisement, TV show, movie, radio program, person in our society, counselor, and even some of my Christian friends been telling me this for 25 years…
The strongest thing that has been telling me this… is my own heart.”
We are surrounded by these messages. A lot of time, these messages even come from our own heart.
But over it all, the Apostle Paul keeps saying, “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.”
Hold on to it as tight as you can. I know everything is trying to sweep you away. I know the current is incredibly strong. I know it would be easier to just let go. But hold on. Your marriage is worth it. Your spouse is worth it.
“But I just don’t feel it sometimes.”
That’s exactly where Paul goes next in Romans 12. “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love.” (Romans 12:9-10a, NIV)
This is the answer to the times when we’re just not feeling it.
Paul said, “Be devoted to one another in love.”
Devotion is not an emotion.
Devotion is not based on feelings. It’s based on fact. The fact is that you made a vow of love and devotion to this person, and there are times when feelings are not going to be part of the equation.
I know that sounds like a super-logical, unromantic, Sheldon Cooper approach to marriage…but it’s true.
Feelings are fickle. Emotions can’t be trusted because emotions come and go. And a lot of the time they come and go with no rhyme or reason.
But marriage isn’t based on emotion. It’s based on devotion. And devotion is a decision.
When it comes to sacrifice and serving in your marriage, there will be times when it simply doesn’t feel good. But sacrificing isn’t about feeling good. It’s a decision to work for the other person’s good.
There are times when I feel like serving my wife. There are times when serving her brings me so much joy. There’s just nothing else in the whole world that I’d rather do than serve her at that moment.
And then…there’s the rest of the time. You know what I’m talking about? There’s the rest of the time, when the last thing I want to do is serve my wife.
But take a guess when the depth of my devotion to her is really fully revealed. It’s revealed in the rest of the time. It’s revealed when I don’t want to serve her, but I serve her anyway. It’s revealed when I really want to get my own way, but I surrender my rights anyway.
That’s when the depth of devotion is revealed, because that’s when we are truly living like Jesus. We are never more like Jesus than when we serve.
A little later in the book of Romans, Paul wrote, “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had…
For I tell you that Christ has become a servant…” (Romans 15:5, 8a, NIV)
This is a game changing passage for your marriage. Paul prayed that we would have the same attitude that Jesus had. The attitude of a servant.
Jesus became a servant. He didn’t have to. Jesus was God. He had a great throne room where He was perfectly comfortable. Everything was great. In fact, it was perfect.
But in the greatest act of service in history, Jesus left that throne to come here to our world. He traded in the throne for a manger. He lived a poor life. In fact, He was a homeless nomad. And then, when He began teaching, the religious leaders grew to hate Him. So much so that they had Him arrested on a bunch of trumped up charges. He was mocked. He was nearly beaten to death. He was crowned with thorns. And He was nailed to a cross where He hung suspended in the air until He died.
All because He made the decision to be a servant. He served us by taking the punishment for our sins. He served us by being our perfect sacrifice so we could be forgiven and free.
Do you think it felt good? Are you kidding? Jesus even prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, asking God if there was any other way. But there was no other way. Jesus submitted. Jesus sacrificed. Jesus served.
And we are never more like Him than when we sacrifice and when we serve. That goes for any area of our lives.
The vision of our church is Connecting, Growing, and Serving. We want to help every single person at Connect to find a place to serve. No matter what your gifts are, we’ve got a place for you to serve.
People served you this morning by arriving early and setting up all our gear. And there’s always a place to serve on our setup team. Maybe that place is your place. Or maybe your place is serving in Connect Kids. Or maybe your place is making guests feel welcome on our Connect Team. The list goes on and on. The point is, serving is part of our vision at Connect. It’s part of who we are.
So is sacrifice. We talked earlier in the service about tithes and offerings. And I know that so many people grumble and say, “The church only wants my money.”
No. We want what Jesus wants. Your heart. And your heart is revealed by what you’re willing to sacrifice for.
Our church is here because so many people make sacrifices. They sacrifice their time. And they sacrifice their treasure. If it wasn’t for the sacrificial gifts that they make, you wouldn’t be here today. God wouldn’t be using this church to change you and your family without those gifts, because without those gifts, this church wouldn’t be here. And that’s why we don’t shy away from asking people to step up and sacrifice. Because when we give sacrificially, we are stating that it’s not about me. It’s about reaching more people for Jesus. It’s about lives being impacted. It’s about families being healed. It’s about eternities being changed.
Serving and sacrifice are who we are at Connect. And according to the Word of God, that’s who we are in our families and in our marriages, too.
It doesn’t always feel good. In fact, a lot of the time it doesn’t feel good. But we sacrifice and we serve anyway.
God is calling us to be people who embrace the anyway.
I don’t want to do this, but I’ll do it anyway. I don’t want to serve, but I’ll do it anyway. I don’t want to sacrifice, but I’ll do it anyway.
Guys, when you come home from a long day, all you want to do is sit down, watch a little TV, and decompress. But your wife needs to talk to you about the events of the day. She needs to talk it out so she can process it. Grab the remote, turn the TV off, look her in the eyes, and listen. Not begrudgingly. Not in a “I can’t wait until she is done talking” kind of way. But in a way that says, “You’re the most important person in the world to me, and I care about every single thing that happens to you.”
Ladies, when you’ve had a long day…maybe you’ve been at work all day…maybe you’ve been wrangling the kids all day…whatever has happened, you’re just done. And then your husband has the audacity to give you the look. You know the look, don’t you? And he says, “Hey, whatcha doin’ over there?” You’re tired. In fact, you’re exhausted. But you also recognize that your husband’s needs and desires are more important than yours, so you respond. And you respond enthusiastically.
You get what we’re saying? Your response to your spouse is based on devotion, not emotion. It doesn’t matter how you feel. It matters what you decide.
In some seasons of life, it will come fairly easily. In other seasons, it will be the hardest thing you’ve ever done. But we do it anyway, because we are devoted to this person in love. And devotion is not an emotion. Devotion is a decision.
And that’s how we get to the real heart of what Paul is telling us in Romans 12. “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” (Romans 12:9-10, NIV)
These verses are a great snapshot of what a God-honoring marriage really looks like. It is serving. It is sacrifice. It is placing the wants, needs, and desires of your spouse above your own.
There’s an old quote that I use in every wedding ceremony that I perform. The quote is from the actress Katharine Hepburn.
She said, “Love has nothing to do with what you are expecting to get—only what you are expecting to give—which is everything.”
That’s what marriage is. A declaration of selflessness and service. A commitment that the needs and desires of your spouse will always take precedence over your own needs and desires.
It’s not about what you can get. It’s about what you can give. And in this way, we come to understand the ultimate purpose of marriage.
Your marriage exists to make you more like Jesus.
The reason that so many marriages are struggling is because people don’t understand the ultimate purpose of marriage. They think that marriage exists to make us happy. The truth is that marriage exists to make us holy.
God’s ultimate purpose for marriage is to make you more like Jesus. And when we learn to live lives of service and sacrifice, we’re on our way to discovering the deepest purposes that God has for our life, our marriage, and our family.