Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Season of Marriage

Last Sunday, I preached on Proverbs 19:13-14 on the topic, "A Season of Marriage." It is a seven-part sermon series dealing with the Seasons of Life. From cradle to grave, from childhood to old age, the purpose of the seven meditations is to help congregants connect their personal stories with some reflections on the wisdom of Proverbs. In my congregation, there is a mixture of adults both young and old in a 40/60 ratio. In other words, there are more members of the congregation that are above 40 years of age. Key to my sermon is the question: "How is it possible for two imperfect persons to work toward a perfect relationship?"

The clues in answering this question can be gleaned through four observations of Proverbs 19:13-14.

"Houses and wealth are inherited from parents, but a prudent wife is from the Lord." (Proverbs 19:13-14)

Firstly, the Proverb seems to indicate that the second part is "better than" the first part. Just like wisdom is better than silver or gold (Prov 3:14); better than jewels (Prov 8:11); and love with a little being better than hatred with plenty (Prov 15:17), so a prudent wife is better than material goods. This has implications for priority.

Secondly, we see a prudent wife as a gift from God while the houses and wealth are inheritance from earthly parents. The former can be purchased but not the latter. If we can be happy over inheritance, how much more should we be full of gratitude to God over a prudent spouse? This has implications for our level of gratitude over the more important things in life. Have we used our time to discover our spouses' love maps as a way to show our gratitude to God? Have we upped our efforts to love our spouses?

Thirdly, the Hebrew word for prudence is "sakal" which is also understood as understanding, or wisdom. In contrast, another Hebrew word "arum" denotes craftiness, cleverness and wit. Inner selves and inner wisdom can only be from God, and cultivated from inside out. Such spiritual surgery is not something we can easily obtain. The implication is that this ought to humble us. Growing the inner selves require both quality and quantity. Just like Israel's early years. In Deuteronomy 24:5, the nation was reminded about the importance of a new husband spending 365 days in the first year of marriage, to make his wife happy. This is a way in which one cultivates prudence in the wife, through the love of a husband.

Fourthly, houses and wealth are external things. A prudent wife is both external and internal. I pose the point about comparing and contrasting verses 13 and 14. Verse 13 speaks about a quarrelsome wife, while verse 14 highlights a prudent wife. Do we want to move from 13 to 14, or do we prefer 14 to 13? While most people will opt for the seemingly obvious, the subtle point I try to indicate is our actions often speak against what we personally believe. In other words, if we feel that our spouses are more important than our work, why then are some spending more time and resources at work than with their spouses?

So, how can two imperfect persons work toward a perfect relationship? We need the Lord. We need God to help us see perfection amid our imperfections. This means we recognize firstly the more important place our spouses need to occupy in our daily lives. This means we maintain an attitude of gratitude always, that our spouse is a gift from God. This means that we cultivate the prudence in each other, letting God help us build inner wisdom. This also means that we continue to improve our perspectives to move:

  1. From raw stones to JEWELS;
  2. From worldliness or happiness to HOLINESS
  3. From marital satisfaction to SPIRITUAL FULFILMENT
  4. From Ecstasy to INTIMACY.

We need to learn to be other-centered, to be sacrificial, to listen deeply, to love willingly, JUST LIKE JESUS. I end with the exhortation for people to begin slowly, continue steadily, and be encouraged surely. Above all, love sacrificially, just like Christ. As usual, time got the better of me. I had wanted to end with some call to honour our promises to one another. I provide two wonderful quotes on what it means to honour one another by keeping to our promises.

"Without being bound to the fulfilment of our promises, we would never be able to keep our identities. We would be condemned to wander helplessly and without direction in the darkness of each person's lonely heart, caught in its contradictions and equivocations." (Hannah Ar Endt, Historian)

My personal favourite is this.

"I didn't marry you because you were perfect. I didn't even marry you because I loved you. I married you because you gave me a promise. That promise made up for your faults. And the promise I gave you made up for mine. Two imperfect people got married and it was the promise that made the marriage. And when our children were growing up, it wasn't a house that protected them; and it wasn't our love that protected them - it was that promise." (Thornton Wilder, The Skin of Our Teeth, New York, NY: Samuel French, 1972, p84)


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