A working marriage is a working marriage

The gender wars on how men should love women and how women should love men have flooded the blogosphere. Often, several readers inbox me soliciting my advice as well. I frequently point them to the scriptures and the responses are not very exciting. Perhaps they wanted some avant-garde view that had never been heard of before. They hoped I would quote Oprah and not Jesus. They wanted some fresh relationship mojo, maybe. But the truth is there is nothing new under the sun. My wife and I point to the scriptures because we have seen the results in our own lives; the scriptures have potency to invigorate the intimacy between a man and a woman unlike anything else. The Word is alive. With regard to marriage, the scriptures parallel God’s love for humanity to that of a man loving his wife. Throughout the Old Testament God describes the idolatry of man as the infidelity of a bride to her faithful groom. However, most profound is Ephesians 5:25, in the New Testament, that parallels Christ loving the church and a man loving his wife. I have come to see that every pint of wisdom necessary for our marriages lies in studying the man Christ Jesus. His life is undoubtedly the richest template for every man and woman to express love to each other in marriage. The studies from all his recorded life could take eons to analyze. However today I’d like to draw a key lesson from just one verse. Married couples can enrich their marriages in following Christ’s example in Mark 10:45.

In Mark 10:45, the scriptures speak about Jesus saying, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Christ, the groom, came for us the Bride with a focus on service not reception. Reception brings thoughts of bliss. Service brings thoughts of work. If you were to distribute bliss and work in an ideal marriage, what percentage would you give bliss? What percentage would you give work? When Turi and I walked down the aisle we were looking forward to the joys of marriage. Our dating and courting evenings ended at the bus-stage so we were looking forward to marriage where we would go home together. Our coffee dates were limited by restaurant closing hours so we looked forward to our own living-room and home-made hot chocolate. We both loved children and wanted some of our own so we were looking forward to starting a family together. All this is bliss! It is often the idea of what life should be when you get married. And bliss is good, Beloved! But Mark 10:45 is challenging our marriage dream to go beyond the Disney themes. Christ is on earth wooing his bride and all we see is work. The following are two common unhealthy responses concerning bliss and work that our pop-culture endorses.

Unhealthy response one: Bliss 100% Work 0%

There are countless people in our generation who are genuinely sold into televised romance. You mention marriage and work and it’s like you’re talking about a fish living outside the water. If you want to know this to be true, conduct a poll asking random people who believe this statement: "Once I meet my soul mate, we will have no issues." Beloved, you will be surprised that thousands who walk down the aisle every weekend believe it. Thousands get the shock of their lives. Ravi Zacharias once said, "A marriage is a full-time job without a vacation. Choose wisely." One myth that my wife and I often hear from some newlywed couples when they hit a snag in their relationship is that they never imagined struggling with basic things such as lack of exclusivity, poor boundaries, hints of  unfaithfulness, horrible communication etc. They thought things would be natural. My friend met a lady whose boyfriend got her the wrong gift on her birthday. When the boyfriend asked her what kind of gifts she would like, she got angry and said, “I can’t tell you that! That won’t be romantic!” The lady later expressed that since they were in love, her boyfriend should naturally know what gift she wanted. What she means is “I should not work in this relationship if it’s meant to be. If it’s not like Alejandro and Maria on a TV soap opera it is not love.” How unfortunate! Beloved, the only natural thing after starting a relationship is a break-up. Everything else must be intentional. Boundaries with the opposite sex won't be kept naturally. Purity won't be observed naturally. Faithfulness won't be established naturally. Exclusivity won't be maintained naturally. Friendship won’t grow naturally. Good communication won't occur naturally. Romance won’t bud naturally. All these pillars that support a great man-woman union must be done intentionally, purposefully and diligently, if you want a thriving relationship, you must work. If you think working on boundaries, purity, faithfulness, friendship, good communication and romance is unromantic, you’re not ready to walk down the aisle. Jesus is giving us the template in Mark 10:45 “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” The template is service.

If you enter marriage placing your feet up and waiting to be served, you inevitably begin strolling down the path of irreconcilable differences. When you make the pursuit of bliss the ultimate goal of your marriage, you lose it or catch a poor glimpse of it. When you make the pursuit of service the ultimate goal of your marriage, you get bucket loads of bliss from your partner, especially if they are walking with God. The lasting pleasures of marriage are often the result of selflessness and sacrificed service without strings attached to. I don’t rub my wife’s back because I need her to do me a favour. I rub her back because she likes it. Beloved, you did not say "I do" to be the recipient of your partner's doing; rather, you said "I do" so as to do the very things you fantasized being done for in a successful marriage. The reason many do not have this etched deeply in their hearts when they plan to get married is because everyone is thinking, “Marriage will make me happy!” Marriage is there to give ME, bless ME and entertain ME. But remember Mark 10:45 “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Perhaps God's plan for marriage is not meant to make us happy. Perhaps it is meant to make us holy.

Unhealthy response two: Bliss 50% Work 50%

This is ostensibly more sober and more popular than the first response. The person that subscribes to this knows that marriage needs work to make it thrive. They know romance is not natural. However, despite this knowledge, work is still not a priority when measured up against bliss. In fact, work seems to be doing a balancing act with bliss. “I put in 50 units of work, and I expect 50 units of bliss,” they would say. It sounds equal and fair, Beloved, but I warn you; it is dangerous. Why? Marriage is a covenant not a contract. In a contract you maximise on your rights and limit your responsibilities; in a covenant you limit your rights and increase your responsibilities.

In a contract your keen focus is on making sure the other party does not cross you. In a covenant, the key focus is in making sure YOU don’t cross the other party. The issue with a 50—50 model is that if your partner gives in 49% you are so quick to demand your missing 1%.  Too many people are getting married or are hoping to get married with the sole intent of pursuing their rights. Too few people are getting married or are hoping to get married with the sole intent of practising and maximising their responsibilities. When my wife and I give talks to the youth on relationships, we often hear this question: “What if I get married and the sex is not as good as I hoped and I regret marrying this person?” Even though you teach the truth and beauty of sex, the fact that it is a drop of water in the ocean of marriage and that it is something that a couple learns, you hear bits of resistance in a few. Why? This person’s primary focus is to receive and not to give. In fact they are most likely with a 50-50 perception of marriage. So we often respond, “How is your purity life?” People get surprised by that response. They get surprised because they see no correlation with the call for purity and their question about wanting torrential sex once they get married. What that person does not see is that sex in marriage is a right but purity in marriage is a responsibility. After talking to thousands of people in seminars, camps, churches and youth groups, I have come to see that it is true that people primarily obsessed about their rights are not really devoted to fulfilling their responsibilities. And if they are devoted to fulfilling their responsibilities, it is only contingent on their partners fulfilling theirs. Many of the newlywed men we meet who demand that their wives should submit to them are either:

    1.      Not loving their wives at all. Their focus is receiving and not giving. They are demanding rights whilst bankrupt of their pursuit of their responsibilities.


     2.      Not loving their wives completely (100%). They love 50% and wait for 50% submission. They will dare not move to 51% because an exchange of 51-49 is not fair...for them.

Also, many of the newlywed women that we meet who demand that their husbands love them are either:

    1.      Not respecting their husbands at all. Their focus is receiving and not giving. They are demanding rights whilst bankrupt of their pursuit of their responsibilities.


    2.      Not respecting their husband completely (100%). They respect 50% and wait for 50% love. They will dare not move to 51% because an exchange of 51-49 is not fair...for them.

We see the same in the unmarried people as well. They are concerned about the future rights of marriage with little or no concern about the future responsibilities of marriage. Everyone is seeking to maximise their rights and limit their responsibilities and the result is heartbreak. If you are more concerned about how much receiving you will get in a marriage, more than how much sacrificing and giving you will make, you too are not ready to walk down the aisle.

HEALTHY Response: Work 100%

No, Beloved, there is no typo in the title above. “Wait, where is the bliss?” you ask.  “Are you telling me that I have to work 100% and expect no pleasure?” Well, before you make any more wrong conclusions. Let me explain to you that the issue of dividing bliss and work in a marriage is the start of all the trouble many couples are facing. Any couple doing things right and enjoying a great marriage knows that there is no difference between work and bliss in their marriage. Work is bliss and bliss is work. Once you start measuring, taking score, comparing notes you have trouble. When you have a godly perspective of love and romance between a man and a woman, you realise that bliss is not necessarily the result of work. Nay! Rather work is the bliss! Listen, if serving your husband is not a joy, then you will never find the bliss you’re looking for. If loving your wife seems like a task, then you might as well forget the bliss you hope to get in your new marriage. A working marriage is a working marriage. Remember Mark 10:45 “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” This is the template. Christ served us joyfully and not begrudgingly. For the joy set before him, he served us unto death. Jesus Christ got the name above every other name by giving himself fully. He didn’t come in 50 and wait for us to come in another 50.

I have come to see that bliss in marriage is not a destination; it’s the journey! If you don’t enjoy the drive, you will not be impressed with the destination. Couples who don’t realise that the bliss of marriage is the road-trip will miss all the sceneries en route. Married people who are obsessed about fulfilling their responsibilities always reap the best of their rights and that is bliss. However married people who are solely obsessed about getting their rights are most likely not fulfilling their responsibilities. Sex is a right in marriage but purity is a responsibility. And purity is not a task for the one who loves like Jesus; it’s a joy! Exclusivity is a right in marriage but prioritizing your mate is a responsibility. And prioritizing a spouse over other men and women is not a pain for the one who loves like Jesus; it’s a joy. Fulfilling your vows is a right in marriage but pursuing your spouse is a responsibility. And pursuing my spouse is not a chore; it’s a joy. When your responsibilities in marriage become arduous and tasking pains, your rights follow the same route. It’s unfortunate that our judicial laws place more emphasis on the rights of an individual than on their responsibilities. The result is many people feeling entitled to rights where they have not sown responsibility. Rights grow bountifully in the garden of marriage when watered plentifully with responsibility.

The unmarried often say to us, “Yeah, but Ernest I’m not yet married.” Yes, that’s true; but I don’t need to see your wedding and your future marriage to know this. I just need to see what you are doing about your responsibilities now.  How is your purity now? What is your entertainment like now? How is your company of friends now? What is your life like now and what are you doing about it? Getting married will not flip a commitment switch or a purity switch in your mind? Are you dying now to fulfil your responsibilities as you await to enjoy your rights? Or are you too impatient to wait for your rights that you are trying to steal them right now with the hope of having no responsibilities attached to them? Are you lazily intent on receiving the pleasures of marriage with the least amount of responsibilities or are you proactively intent on giving? If you pursue your rights outside the realm of your responsibilities you will always be met with enforced regulations called consequences. Limit your rights and maximise your responsibilities and watch your rights increase. Your partner will be dying to grant you your rights because you are dying to meet your responsibilities. After all, Christ died to grant us our rights. In his footsteps, die to self as well, because a working marriage is a working marriage.

Mark 10:45 “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”


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