The Secret to a Happy and Healthy Marriage
The Secret to a Happy and Healthy Marriage
I’ve had the privilege of officiating many weddings over the years. One thing I always look forward to is seeing how the bride and groom are dressed. A guy who usually slouches around in board-shorts and a T-shirt will be transformed for a day into a gentleman in a 3-piece suit. A young woman will become a princess for a day as she trades her typical jeans for a radiant white dress.
That’s why I love using Colossians 3:12 in wedding ceremonies. Paul says, “As God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.”
Paul’s using the picture of clothing, and it’s appropriate for the day because if you’re a guy this is the one day when you care a little bit about what you’re wearing. If you’re a girl, you’ve spent your whole life dreaming about the dress you’re going to wear that day. You’ve spent months going through racks of dresses to find the perfect one.
Our clothes are the way we present ourselves to other people, and that’s why Paul wants us to clothe ourselves with compassion and kindness. Most marriages start out that way. You start out caring for your spouse. But in many relationships, your kindness fades over time. You know your wife likes the toothpaste tube folded a certain way, but you just go ahead and crinkle it the wrong way. You know your husband doesn’t like cauliflower, but you keep making it anyway because you like cauliflower.
The Greek word for kindness was used in other ancient texts to describe wine that had been aged. Through the years it lost its harshness. Most people aren’t like that. As we get older, we get more harsh with each other. Less kind with each other. Less compassionate toward each other.
When you first get married and your wife sneezes, you’re running for the Kleenex. “Here you go, baby. You getting a cold? What can I do? You need a back rub? Five years later, your wife sneezes? Without looking away from the game you yell out, “Could you please do something about that honking?” Our kindness tends to fade over time, but Paul says our kindness should grow over time.
Also our humility and gentleness. Other Bible translations use the word meekness. That’s not the same as weakness. There are other ancient writers who used this word to describe a wild horse that had been tamed. He didn’t lose his fire, it was just put under his master’s control. If you’re gentle, you haven’t given up any of your strength. You’ve still got a lot of fire in you. But you’ve put it under God’s control, and he helps you use that fire to love and serve your spouse. That’s what it means to be humble and gentle.
The problem is, there will be times when your spouse isn’t humble and gentle toward you. That’s when Paul says you’ll need to put on patience. That can be really hard in marriage! Maybe you can be patient at a red light or a long line at Costco. You can be patient with people you don’t know very well. But when it comes to the people you see all the time? Your patience dissolves so quickly. Because you see the same shortcomings day after day, week after week.
That’s why Paul defines patience in the next verse as “bearing with one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a grievance against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you are also to forgive.” (Col 3:13). In other words, “The Lord forgave you! And you know what a mess you are! So why is it that you won’t forgive your spouse?”
Here’s why: we start keeping a mental list of all the ways our spouses have wronged us. Then we can use it as ammunition. If you’ve done it twice? I can say, “You always do that!” If you’ve failed to do it twice? I can say, “You never do that!” If I don’t forgive you, it gives me power. It stokes my pride. And it makes for a miserable life. Know how much work it is to keep a record of wrongs? It’s exhausting!
But Paul says we’ve been freed to forgive. To “bear with one another.” This is the biblical idea of forbearance, which means forgiving someone in advance. We need to decide in advance that we’re going to forgive the other person. Which means you need to prepare in advance for them to do something you don’t like. You need to know in advance what they might do to set you off, what they might say that would lead to an argument.
Like when your wife says Fine. You’ve gotta know that doesn’t mean everything’s fine. It means nothing is fine. And when your wife says, Nothing. That definitely means something. “What’s wrong, honey?” … “Nothing.” … Means you’d better buckle up. Bumpy road ahead.
Forbearance means knowing in advance the kinds of things that lead to a scrap. If you can do that, you can stop an argument before it ever happens. You can forgive before you even need to forgive!
And all of this can only happen because the Lord has forgiven us. The love and grace we’ve received through Christ as God’s “chosen ones, holy and dearly loved,” is what empowers us to give love and grace to our spouses.
God gave us the clothes. We just need to put them on.