Tuesday, 5 May 2015

How to win in marriage

At Christmas last year, some lovely friends of ours got married. And they very graciously (bravely?) asked me to speak at their wedding. People afterwards were very kind about this little talk so here it is if it's helpful to anyone else...

Hi everyone,

My name’s Ben. What a joy it is to be here – really delighted for you both.

I’m not a vicar or anything – I’ve just been asked to say a few words this afternoon. I think my only real qualification is that I’ve been married for a little over 10 years myself. And as such, Hazel and Steve, I feel like it’s my duty to share a few home truths with you.

See, the thing is, marriage, like any human relationship, is about...power.

To use business speak, it’s a bit like a merger – but also a bit like a hostile takeover.

Money, space in the home, time to yourself – basically, it’s a whole load of finite resources for which there is essentially increased competition.

When she’s trying to drag you to visit those people you really don’t wanna see; when he’s wanting to spend your savings on some crazy frivolous folly… How are you going to make sure you get your own way? How are you gonna make sure you come out ahead?

I mean, you’ll find there’s only so much duvet, y’know? If you don’t grab it for yourself first, how will you avoid having it all rolled away from you?

We know how the world works: there are winners and there are losers. So the question is: how do you win in marriage?

I’d like to suggest that there’s an answer in one short line from a song you’ve probably heard a hundred times already this Christmas. And it’s just this: ‘mild, he lays his glory by’. ‘He lays his glory by’.

You see, actually, the power of marriage is that it’s precisely NOT about getting what you can for yourself, looking after number one, accumulating and holding on to glory. It’s an opportunity to locate your life outside yourself, in selfless love – to lay your own glory to one side, and to seek to serve instead.

I’m just gonna read a couple of bits from the Bible and then try to briefly explain what I mean by that.

This is from Matthew 20. Jesus is talking to his disciples about how to achieve power in his setup:

‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’

And this is from Philippians 2, with Paul writing about how to live like Jesus:

‘In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,’

I know that you two are convinced that life in all its fullness is a life lived with God, God who is fully revealed in Jesus. And I want to encourage you that your marriage can be a fantastic way to follow Jesus – because he is the God who ‘lays his glory by’. And that is the secret to winning in marriage: to lay your own individual glory by, and instead to live out the radically different power dynamic that marks out the Kingdom of God.

'He lays his glory by' means all the power, all the fame, all the entitlement, all the leverage over other people is put to one side. It’s the totally unexpected thing we see in the Christmas story: an all-powerful God not pushing everyone aside to grab on to getting his own way, but instead entering into a life of humility, service, compassion and grace to others.

Let your marriage be a place to practice and model that same amazing selflessness. It’s like a house of cards – the strength is in the interdependence. The more you give your life away to each other, to God, to your neighbours, the more you’ll find it.

I’m not talking about being a doormat here – like, whoever gets the request in first, the other person just has to do what they say. It’s a fundamental reordering of priorities and motivation – being anchored not in self-interest but in a love outside yourself. But it can be found in the smallest things: yes, even the washing of dishes, the emptying of bins, the sharing of meals, the choosing of a film (always contentious!) – let everything be an opportunity to grow together in the character of servant-heartedness, of self-sacrifice instead of power-grabbing – because that can transform the world.

It’s not just a feeling, it’s a covenant – a promise, a resolution. It’s a choice you make today – and then every day for the rest of your life together.

You won’t always get it right – but God will. He loves you unchangingly, even on your worst day. As Romans 5 says, ‘While we were still sinners, Christ died for us’. He doesn’t wait for you to be good enough; he has already shown his love for the whole world, with all our screw-ups and failures and selfishness, in choosing to give up his life to rescue us. You believe that Jesus’ death and resurrection opens up a way to God – well, don’t forget it! He chose to make a way for people to be in relationship with him without it being conditional on how well those people are doing – so you can be sure that, like the Father in the story of the Prodigal Son, he will always come rushing out to meet you, however much you might feel you’ve messed up.

And I want you to know that you have both been a huge blessing and encouragement to many people already – both individually and in your relationship together. I pray that your marriage will continue that – to be a testament to the the Kingdom of God, and the power of selfless love, grace, mercy, forgiveness. That you’ll grow and learn that radical power in your marriage, that it will overflow into the lives of those around you – and that, on the days where things are a long way from rosy, that it will still be seen in the perfect love, grace and mercy that God always has for you.