According to 1950s crooner Frank Sinatra, love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage. But not all horse-drawn carriages ride off into the sunset nor do all marriages end with happily ever after.
Marriage – like a horse-drawn carriage – needs a driver to steer it in the right direction, and when that driver is anyone other than God, the relationship is off course.
Therefore, it is important for couples to have a Biblical understanding of marriage both before and after they tie the knot. AFA Journal interviewed a Christian counselor and a couple who offer wisdom and real-life experiences for those anticipating marriage as well as those seeking to sustain an existing marriage.
Winston Smith is a counselor and faculty member of the School of Biblical Counseling at the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation (www.ccef.org). Terry and Barbi Franklin have been married for 24 years and are singers, songwriters and speakers who travel around the world ministering through family concerts and marriage seminars (www.heartfortheworld.com).
Smith and the Franklins were asked parallel questions which will be printed in two articles. The first article has a pre-wedding focus, and the second, which will appear next month, has a post-wedding focus. Their answers are as follows:
AFA Journal: What are the three most important qualities for a person to possess when entering a marriage?
Winston Smith: The three most important qualities are actually three aspects of one basic attitude – the attitude of honoring the other person. To truly honor your spouse means at least three things:
One, seeing the other person as someone who fundamentally belongs to God. The roots of all manipulation are essentially found in the belief that others exist to serve my own personal ends. Even in marriage, your spouse does not exist for you in the sense that it is their duty to ensure your happiness and pleasure. Marriage is not intended to replace God.
Two, seeing the other person as someone that you expect to learn from. In marriage you should expect to learn from the ways that your spouse is different from you. Understand that you didn’t marry yourself and that’s a good thing! God has given you this spouse for reasons that include your need to grow and mature.
Three, understanding your essential role in marriage to be that of helping the other person to grow in their faith and love of Christ. Your love should be characterized by a desire to see the other become all that God intends them to be in Christ. This doesn’t mean judging and lecturing them, but primarily loving your spouse as Christ loves them – with patience, kindness, gentleness, and wise words and actions.
AFA Journal: Identify the most important qualities that made you ready to commit to each other?
Terry Franklin: The thing that was key to me was that she walk with the Lord and that there was a real spiritual dimension beyond just a surface relationship with Jesus Christ. [Plus] we believe that your spouse ought to be – if not your very best friend – at least one of your very best friends.
Barbi Franklin: The first thing on the top of my list was that he would love God more than he would even love me because I knew that if he loved God more than he loved me, he would never leave me. [Secondly], I knew if I was going to be in the ministry full-time, I would likely need a husband that would [be]. I guess the third thing would have been that he would love me.
AFAJ: How does a person know when he or she is ready for marriage?
WS: You should assume you aren’t. If you truly appreciate what marriage calls you to, you understand that you are completely inadequate for the task. Doesn’t the Bible tell us that marriage is really about Christ’s love for the Church? I haven’t met anyone yet who’s met that criteria. At the risk of sounding mystical, you’re ready when you know you aren’t ready. You’re ready when you know your marriage will call you to the impossible. You’re ready when you are committed to depending on Christ to love this other person in the same way He has loved you.
AFAJ: How old were you when you married, and how did you know you were ready for marriage?
TF: Early 20s.
BF: I don’t think we were ready. I don’t think anybody is totally ready.
TF: We had good foundational things that were going on in our relationship. The spiritual was lining up. The practical was lining up. We enjoyed each other’s company. There needs to be a good core friendship, and that’s not something that just happens by accident. We, particularly as men, need to be intentional about making that happen and proactive in our attempts to bring it about.
BF: In every single marriage there is nobody who can meet the four most critical needs that we have for intimacy, [which are] affection, intimate conversation, sexual satisfaction and recreational friendship. To be affectionate is more of a female thing. They want to have a kiss, not necessarily going beyond that. They [also] want to discuss intimate details. One of the biggest mistakes that couples can get into is showing affection and discussing intimate, emotional things with someone [especially of the opposite sex] outside the marriage. Sexual satisfaction is something that men are much more inclined to need, but it’s something that should only happen in marriage. Then [there is a need for a] close recreational friendship on a continual basis. Your spouse ought to be the person you spend the most time with doing the things you enjoy and things that you mutually enjoy.
AFAJ: What characteristics in a mate should a person run to and run from?
WS: You should rush to someone who helps you to grow. Unfortunately, we have idealized the experience of being “in love” which so often means little more than “this person makes me feel really good about me.” Sometimes even Christian attempts at match making only reinforce this by equating compatibility with “being happy” and “getting along.” Of course, we should marry someone that we enjoy and generally live in harmony with, but God’s purposes for marriage are much grander than giving us a relationship we will enjoy. When the Bible explains marriage to us in terms of Jesus’ relationship with us, we must realize that God expects marriage to help us grow to become like Him. For us sinners that is inevitably a painful process. The fun, romantic, wondrous moments help us to grow, too, but the difficult moments of misunderstanding, arguing and pain force us to see ourselves more accurately and realize our need for Him. And living with another sinner will require us to grow in love, patience and grace. Marry someone who knows your weaknesses and is skilled at loving you in them. Marry someone who is willing to share their weaknesses with you and you are skilled at loving them in them. You should run from anything less.
AFAJ: What characteristics, if any, in your mate did you shy away from?
BF: Sometimes I didn’t feel like Terry was able to communicate his feelings to me, and I didn’t understand that it was a pretty typical gender difference. So I remember talking to him about it.
AFAJ: What role should the church play in marriage relationships?
WS: I would say the characteristics of church life that promote marriages are the same characteristics that promote growth in every area. First, the church must be a community that invites honest disclosure of our problems. Problems that can’t be examined can’t be solved. Of course Christians should have the freedom and power to do this above all others. Jesus’ love for us is a wide-eyed, let’s roll up our sleeves and get dirty, kind of love. He has visited us in our fallen world and the darkest corners of our hearts and overpowered our problems. We should have complete freedom to be honest about our problems and every confidence that He can deliver us from them. Secondly, because this is true, the church should invite us to a life that is bigger than our personal dreams for marriage. Our marriages can be about so much more than the American dream. Our small, middle-class aspirations for the easy life are unworthy of God’s vision of marriage as a portrait of Christ and the church. The church must keep reminding us that our marriages serve a greater mission, the Kingdom of God. If our marriages are driven by our love for Christ, our marriages and families are essentially the hands and feet of God’s love and His power to overcome sin and brokenness in this world.
AFAJ: What role does the Body of Christ play in your marriage relationship?
BF: The Body of Christ is a part of God’s plan in sharpening each other so that we can learn from others and their relationships, and they can learn from us.
TF: The book of Hebrews talks about [how] there is a great cloud of witnesses watching what we do. I believe with all my heart there are couples that have gone on before us who have shown us the way to walk. Even those in this life, we look at them, and we say there’s a great relationship.
AFAJ: What are the signs of a lasting marriage?
WS: In successful marriages problems don’t become reasons to demonize each other. Spouses that are skilled in loving each other are basically merciful toward one another. They know that they are each flawed, sinful persons who need grace. Because they are gracious, their affection and commitment toward the other doesn’t erode when problems arise, even problems that have been long-term ones.
BF: Being unified spiritually in the right way to where you’ve given Jesus Christ Lordship of your lives [and] that means His Word being the foundation of the truth we build our lives on. When Jesus Christ is Lord, He’s the one that unifies us.
TF: And I would say a friendship, which involves a lot of things – pursuing friendship recreationally, pursuing time together and communicating together about intimate things.
BF: I would add to all of those, [to] walk in a spirit of humility throughout our days so that we remain teachable in all those areas, because really pride is what separates us from, not only God, but also each other. So if we can walk in a spirit of humility and a teachable spirit, it disarms the enemy from control over us, and it gives us the tools to be able to communicate and have that friendship and vulnerability and intimacy. If we don’t have intimacy in our marriage, it’s not what marriage was meant to be.
Reviving Your Romance: 40 Days To A Better Marriage by Terry and Barbi Franklin is available at www.afastore.net. A CD devotional guide is also included. A review of the book and CD will appear in next month’s AFA Journal.