Last week I shared the first essential perspective on marriage that we all need to be aware of from Paul David Tripp's book What Did You Expect? Redeeming the Realities of Marriage. We were reminded that we live out our marriages in a fallen world.
The second essential perspective on marriage is equally important: We are sinners married to sinners. We don't get married to someone perfect – rather they bring the fears and failures of sin into the marriage, just as we do.
Now to some of you, that might seems obvious. But practically speaking, marriages are filled with unrealistic expectations. Ask any pastor who does pre-marital or marital counseling. Couples expect their spouses to meet their needs, to have the right words to say, to have the emotional or physical energy to always support or comfort or encourage the other. And when those things do not happen, the result is disappointment or even conflict.
As Tripp notes, both members of a marriage bring something into their marriage that is destructive to what marriage needs and must do. That thing is called sin. Sin infects each of our lives and it will infect our marriages as well.
Contrary to what we are thinking when we are in the midst of a marital conflict, most troubles in marriage are not intentional or personal. Most spouses do not intentionally set out to make life difficult for their partner. I don't go home after a long, hard day thinking, “How can I pass my frustration/exhaustion/misery along to my wife?” What we experience in those times of marital trouble are the effects of sin, weakness and failure in the our life or the life of our spouse. The fact is, bad days at work or frustrations with kids spill over into our marriages.
When we experience those things, we face a choice. In at least some of those times, we will choose to be selfish, unkind, jealous, bitter or argumentative. There will never be a time when we respond graciously in every circumstance because we are sinners too. If we minimize this heart struggle we both have, we “will tend to turn moments of ministry into moments of anger.” (Tripp, pg. 24)
Rather, those times when the sin of our spouse spills over into our lives should be an opportunity for ministry. When their sin, weakness or failure is on display, we should think this way:
1. God loves my spouse.
2. God is committed to transforming my spouse by His grace
3. God has chosen me to be one of His regular tools of change in the life of my spouse.
Consistently thinking along those lines will bring change to our selfish responses to the sin in our spouse's life.
But what happens when we do not have a godly, gracious perspective? What happens when we personalize that which is not personal in our spouse's actions? What happens when we convince ourselves that the thing our spouse does that frustrates us right now is done as an intentional, personal attack?
When we personalize what is not personal, we tend to be adversarial in our response. We no longer think about how to apply God's grace to the situation. We are not oriented on ministering to our spouse – rather we are most likely to be about eliminating the frustration our spouse's sin presents in our lives. As a result, we can easily escalate the trouble, either settling for quick solutions that do not get to the heart of the matter or getting angry and confrontational, causing more damage to our marriage and multiplying the sin. All of us who are married or have been married have been there – don't deny it.
This is where the Bible comes in. Dr. Tripp reminds us much better than I could:
“The world of the Bible is like your world – messy and broken. The people of the Bible are like you and your spouse – weak and failing. The situations of the Bible are like yours – complicated and unexpected. The Bible just isn't a cosmetic religious book. It will shock you with its honesty about what happens in the broken world in which we live. From the sibling homicide of Cain to the money-driven betrayal of Judas, the blood and guts of a broken world are strewn across every page. The honesty of God about the address where we all live is itself an act of love and grace. He sticks our head through the biblical peephole so we will be forced to see the world as it really is, not as we fantasize it to be. He does this so that we will be realistic in our expectations, then humbly reach out for the help that He alone is able to give us.” (Tripp, p. 25)
Being sinners married to sinners, we desperately need the perspective and help only God can give!