Recently (not long after my wife and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary), I was interviewed by Perspectives magazine (the official publication of Indiana Bible College) on the topic of strengthening marriage. There were five key areas in the interview:
IBC: Current research shows that divorce is at an all time high—about the same for Christians as non-Christians. What does your church do proactively to strengthen marriages and families?
Joseph: Trying to keep proper focus on everything that needs attention is a bit like trying to keep 50 plates spinning atop 50 poles. Every church must needs have “a lot of irons in the fire.” At Christian Apostolic Church, we have a Marriage Ministry Dept, with an elected couple leading it. We schedule marriage retreats from time to time (Dr. David Norris and Sister Nancy Norris are tremendous at this; highly recommended) and other marriage events. We teach on marriage-related topics in Sunday School—both in the adult class for those already married, and preparatory lessons in the college & career class and high school-age class. Marriage topics often enter into preaching and teaching in other services besides Sunday School. To help families with their financial wisdom, we host a campus of Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University (highly recommended). We celebrate National Marriage Week annually, and basically do all we can to move forward in this vital area of understanding.
IBC: Do you recommend or require premarital counseling? Do you do this yourself?
Joseph: Yes, I do premarital counseling, teaching from a curriculum I culled from various sources and corroborated with Scriptures. It takes quite a few hours to teach and usually requires three to four sessions to accomplish it. For first-time young couples planning to get married, I insist on it before agreeing to officiate their wedding. We have occasionally abbreviated or waived this for older folks who were entering into a biblically-allowable subsequent marriage.
IBC: In your opinion, what are the three or four most important elements for building a strong marriage?
Joseph: I would summarize these three as 1. Prayer, 2. Preparation, and 3. Priorities:
- Prayer: The most important element is to pray from your youth up for God’s help in preventing you from marrying the wrong person, and for His help in choosing the right mate. Then, don’t settle for anything less than God’s best choice for you. This means saying no when other people falter and say yes. Don’t even date someone who does not seem worthy as a potential marriage partner! One must prayerfully, carefully choose a mate for life only after securing a certain word from God that they are right for you. Caution must be used because while one is infatuated with a “love interest” it’s all too easy for our heart to deceptively fool us into thinking we’ve heard from God, when He has not spoken.
- Prepare yourself for marriage emotionally and financially. Avoid the “Hollywood” lies, myths, and stereotypes, and realize you won’t be able to change your partner’s annoying habits and hangups. Many old-timers assure us all that it’s a terrible mistake to think (before you marry) that you can change someone after the wedding. Work hard (by budgeting, and being frugal and careful) to make sure you go into your marriage debt-free, hating debt, and already having either a nest egg toward a downpayment for a home, or a plan already worked out for a home. Dave Ramsey recommends waiting for at least a year after marriage before buying your first home, just to give time to get settled into marriage and good money-management habits, and, as he puts it, to learn just how close to your in-laws you can afford to live! (Smile.)
- Prioritize by building your marriage on a solid, biblical foundation of commitment to God first, your partner second (as a higher priority than one’s children—that’s important), family third, and then church, work, and all else coming afterward. Keeping God number one is a foundation both partners should share in common. Making a marriage work without that is very tough.
IBC: What is the greatest enemy of marriage and families today?
Joseph: The Bible addresses each gender’s area of weakness. For example, while both genders are taught by the Scriptures to love, respect, and submit to each other, men, in particular, are told to “love your wives, even as Christ loved the church” (see Ephesians 5:22-33). This points to a weakness; often we men don’t love our spouses as we should. After we “get the prize” (having gotten her married to us), we often stop treating her with affection and tender love as we did while courting. Women crave emotional intimacy more than men. They really need that from us. Men, on the whole, ought to give more attention to doing better in this area.
Likewise women, in particular, are told to “respect and obey” their husbands (again, see Ephesians 5:22-33). This points to an area of weakness. Many women don’t realize how powerful their words and treatment are in either building up their man, or tearing him down and destroying his sense of self-worth. And while women usually crave emotional intimacy more than physical intimacy, for guys it’s the other way around. We usually crave bedroom action and have need of it more often, while, regarding emotional intimacy, we’re like camels are with water. We can seemingly drink a little emotional intimacy and then go for years in the “desert” without any more. That’s no trouble for us men. In either case, where the man is not actively “loving” his wife, or the woman is not carefully “respecting and submitting” to her husband, there will be serious problems, often resulting in the destruction of the marriage. The final blow is often dealt by infidelity (either emotional or physical), but the underlying issue was there long before the infidelity began.
IBC: What book(s) (other than the Bible) do you recommend a couple read if they are struggling in their marriage?
Joseph: Without a doubt, the book on this topic I’ve recommended more than any other, next to the Bible, is Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the Bible by Jay E. Adams. It’s only a 100 pages long, but it’s so powerful because it points readers back to the Scriptures, giving them an in-depth, guided look into how very much the Bible has to say about these important areas. (In fact, I blogged about this very book recently.) The Word of God is powerful, and not only is it not silent about these topics, but it says much more than many people realize—even more than most preachers realize. This is a must read book. Get it. You won’t be sorry. Every preacher should have to read it, especially pastors.