Mike Novotny - What Makes Marriage Work?
When one of my older friends told me about his epic anniversary party, I knew I needed to hear the details of exactly what happened. My buddy and his wife were celebrating 50 years together as husband and wife, so they decided to throw this multi-day, multi-generation marriage celebration. I saw the pictures and it was insane. For seven days, they rented this huge place, I think in Arizona, and they got together as a couple, they invited all of their children, all of the grandchildren, and they ate, and they drank. And they went swimming, and they went hiking. They were talking and they were toasting the gift of love and commitment in their home. They were celebrating 50 years. One of their kids was celebrating 25 years, another 23, another 20, and another 10. I think combined it was a 128 years of love and respect under their respective roofs and it was beautiful.
He said it cost him a load of money. I think he went into debt for the occasion, and he told me it was absolutely worth every single penny. But in my opinion, what was even cooler than like the connection with the relationships, was the connection with God. Apparently, at the start of every day of the celebration, one of the sons would lead the entire family, three generations, in worshipping Jesus. Craft a specific worship service with a specific message about love and respect. That's how they started every day with lifting up the holy, wonderful, powerful name of Jesus. And then, at the end of every day, one of the grandkids would get up and lead his parents, and his aunts, and his uncles, and his grandma, and his grandpa, in worship and praise to Jesus. And I heard that story, like, oh my goodness, families like this, families like this... Am I too old to use hashtags? Because if I wasn't, I would say, Hashtag goals, right?
Like, oh my goodness, isn't that, isn't that what every single person wants? Like, whether it's your own romantic relationship, or your best friends, or your roommates, or your parents, or your kids, don't all of us, at the end of the day want homes that are like this and like this? They're happy with the people we're with and holy in the sight of God. I mean, my friend's story was so inspiring to me as a married man and as a pastor because as I think of some of the best moments in life and some of the hardest ones, it so often comes back to what happens in our homes. But I probably don't have to tell you that the reason my friend's story so unique and inspiring is because it's not normal. Or maybe you've experienced this yourself. Many homes, I'd say, too many homes and too many of our homes are sometimes less happy and holy than sometimes sad or sinful.
I'm not sure about your parents' relationship but would you characterize it as like gushing love, respect, commitment, sacrifice? Maybe, if you're abnormal, but lots of us saw mom and dad fighting. We heard them arguing from the other side of the bedroom walls. Sometimes, they barely knew each other. Sometimes, they separated or divorced. Like, being raised in a happy and a holy home seems like the exception and not the norm. And maybe you've experienced that yourself. Maybe you've been through a breakup, a separation, or a divorce, where things started out with so much hope and potential, but then something, all kinds of things happened and it grew kinda cold and distant 'til you just couldn't do it anymore. Or maybe you've just seen that so many times among family and friends that you're in a relationship right now and you're feeling good about it, but you're also halfway scared about it.
Things change, people drift, people cheat and are unfaithful, and like, you're ready to take that step and get engaged and get married, but you're also kind of terrified. Maybe that's the reason you moved in together, right? You just want to be sure that you're compatible before you make this sacred commitment called marriage. And that's why I'm super glad that you're here today. We're going to talk about things like, what's God's blueprint and foundation for a great relationship? Next week, we're going to tackle in a whole message, living together, is that a good thing? A bad thing? A wise thing? A sinful thing? What does our heavenly Father say to his sons and daughters about that? And then, we're going to spend two whole weeks on a topic that we've never addressed directly here in our church, infidelity. How do you stay far away from it? What do you do if you're in the middle of it? How do you help family and friends who are going through it when people are picking sides, or when there's wounds that are very deep. We're going to cover all of those things in just four weeks with that big goal that we want to make you, your friends, and your family, according to the scriptures, happier, and holier, as you live under your home.
Now, before I dive in, there's three things I need to say. I'll try to keep them quick but all of them are important and all of them deserve a sermon, so forgive me for rushing it. Number one, I know that not all of you are dating, or married, or will be, and that's okay. Alright, the Christian church has a sad history, lots of people have a sad history, of thinking if someone is single, you gotta set them up. Alright, so there's no like Christian Mingle dating waiting for you in the lobby afterwards. We worship a Jesus who was single for his whole life and he was pretty great, so if you're single, that's pretty great and it's fine. I will say though, this is also a series for you because the guy who wrote the most about marriage in the whole Bible was... he was single. The apostle Paul never married and yet he cared so much about people's happiness and holiness in their homes that he devoted much of the scriptures to it. So, even if you're not dating, or married, or never will be, and that's okay, I hope that you can lean into this series because we really need your help as a church to do this right.
Number two, I find that the Bible's general marriage advice can be weaponized by abusive people. Alright, the stuff you're about to hear today about love and respect, saying "you first" in marriage is actually used by monstrous, manipulative people to continue abuse. Alright, "You're supposed to forgive me. You're supposed to love me. You're supposed to put me first". I wish I had time to explore all that. So, if you think that maybe you're in a verbally, or emotionally, or physically abusive relationship, kind of listen with half of an ear to today and after church find a sermon that we preached on God's word to the abused, because that's what I'd say to you if that was your situation.
Alright, well, quickly, number three. I also know the difficult thing about talking about relationships is that we can move forward but we can't move back, right? And so, if you're divorced, or you've been through a hard breakup, you might learn some beautiful things today from God's word but the fact is, you can't go back to your last marriage, you can't redo things, and you can't force the person you're with to do these things either. So, I know that talking about relationships is difficult because some things are out of our control. So, here's a promise I want to make to you, no matter what we talk about in this series, before I say, "Amen," every single time I'm going to come back to the most important thing of all, Jesus, right? I'm not just going to give you a list of husbands do this and wives do that, and say, "Amen".
I'm always going to come back to the forgiveness, grace, hope, and salvation we can have in our relationship with God. Deal? At the very highest level, I love this passage from 1 Corinthians 7. It says this, "A married man is concerned about the affairs of this world," specifically, "How he can please his wife". And I love Paul's words. What am I so concerned about as a husband? How I can please my wife. Note the singular words there. Not women in general. Not, "I read a book about wives and what they want". No, how a man can please his wife. The singular, unique woman that God has given to me, what is pleasing to her? What puts a smile on her face? At the end of the day, what makes her happy? Guys got a lot to do. Lots of us have work. We have hobbies. We have friends. We might be brothers, or roommates, or neighbors, or church members, but what Paul is saying here, in 1 Corinthians 7, he actually uses the word "devotion". "A husband is devoted to his wife".
God is calling us like, Jesus should be our number one love, and if we're married, it should be so obvious and so evident that the number two love in our life is our wife. There might be work, there might be friendships, there might be Fantasy football, there might be the yard, there might be the boat, all that's great, but it can never ever, ever, ever, ever take the spot of devotion that a husband has to his wife. A Christian husband is creating a happy and holy home when he can walk into a courtroom and there would be stacks of evidence that he loves Jesus and then her, no questions asked. And then, God gets specific. Yep, be devoted to your wife is kind of the big idea. As I researched those passages however, I found seven specific commandments that God gives to husbands.
So, guys, let me hear your pen real quick. Write all these down. Ladies, if you're kind of curious what God wants the dudes to do, you can write these down too. Seven things, here they are. Number one, be considerate of your wife. Consider her wiring, her needs, her emotions, her schedule. Number two, don't be harsh. There's differences. You can react in anger and frustration. Don't do that. Don't be harsh. Number three, treat her with respect. She's an equal partner in the kingdom of God, she's not your inferior or your servant. Treat her accordingly. Treat her with respect. Number four, the Bible says to husbands, love. Fifth, love. Sixth, love. And seventh, for the bonus points, also love, yes. Okay, apparently dudes depend on repetition. Love her, love her. Did you forget? Then, love her, love her. You might know this verse. "Husbands love your wives as Christ loves the church and gave himself up for her".
Alright, so, if we can do these specific things, we're considering her, we're not harsh with her, we respect her as an equal in God's kingdom and we love, love, love, love, love her, that makes a happy, holy home. Alright, gents, pens down. I need your full attention because I want to make this even more specific and I want to tell you today what women want. I mentioned that to one of my friends and she says, "Don't do that, Pastor Mike. Don't start mansplaining us", alright? So, I could be wrong. This is a total gender stereotype, but I've been a pastor for 15 years. I've gotten to help tons of couples, what causes frustration and distance and I think for most married women, this is gold. I'm going to try to summarize it in two minutes. Someone put me on the clock. Here's what I think most women want. They want a husband who acts without being asked.
Am I right about that, ladies? What means the world to a wife is when her husband acts. He does something beautiful without needing to be asked, or told, or reminded, or nagged. When a husband can do that, he steps up to serve her, love her, meet her needs, without being forced to do so, she knows without a doubt in the world that he is devoted to her. Right, now, the average husband says, "But I can't read her mind". That's true. You know what you could do though? You could treat your marriage like you treat your Fantasy football team. Do you know what dudes who do Fantasy football do? Every single week, every week, they fine tune their team so it's the best it can possibly be. Right? They know like this quarterback is playing against this defense, or this running back just got hurt, or I can't do this, I gotta... Like, they pay so much attention to the actual data, they make decisions that make the team the strongest as possible.
Here's a crazy idea, Fantasy football, my goodness, is a game based on a game that people made up. This, however, is the most important relationship of your life. God instituted it. What would happen if you would just pay attention to the data? Her schedule, when she comes home and she's frustrated about, what's going on in her world. Like, if you were just, as the Bible says, quick to listen, you considered her needs, you respected what she was going through and you acted upon that information, what do you think would happen in your home? I'll tell you. You'd be happier, you'd be holier, you'd be closer, and she would thank the good Lord that he gave her a man like you.
Alright, ladies, your turn. So, where the wives at today? Bunch of you here today. Bunch of you who will be married some day. What does God say to you? Well, at the highest level, he kind of says the same thing. Back to 1 Corinthians 7. The Apostle Paula added, "A married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world," Namely, "How she can please her husband". Now, if you're single you wouldn't have to worry about this, but you're not, so you're very concerned... Once again, Paul uses the word "devoted" to the simple question, "How can I please my husband"? The lie is, "If I push pause on marriage and invest little energy into it, it's going to be fine". It will not be fine. Relationships don't work that way, alright? They drain from intimacy and closeness without effort. And so, the way to be devoted to your spouse is not to say, "I have to do all this stuff for the kids and if I have time, you get the scraps". He's not a dog. He's your husband. He likely loved you first before those kids came. Return the favor. And Paul gets specific with you, ladies. Grab your pen.
There's seven commandments directly addressed to wives in the Bible. Here there are. Number one, respect your husband. Number two, love your husband. Number three is interesting. Be subject to your husband. Number four, submit. Number five, submit. Number six, submit. And number seven, is also submit. And you all seem excited to be here right now. Ladies, can I get an "Amen" for the word of God? Alright. Alright. This is the 2020s, not the 20s, 80s, so we have to talk about this.
Let's talk about submit. It's the number one thing God wants you to do. If you think "be subject to" is a synonym for submit, five out of the seven things that God says directly to wives are about this. Let's talk about a few things. Number one, this is not the patriarchy club speaking to you. Who says these things? God. Alright, this is the word of God. So, before the walls go up and before you blow this off, as some do... You know, like, Peter, who was married, did not slip 20 shekels to Paul and say, "Just put submit in there a whole bunch of times. Yes, I owe you man". No, this was God, the Holy Spirit, who loves marriages. The God who created marriage, what is he saying? Just as he says, "Love, love, love husbands," he says to wives, "Submit, submit, submit, submit".
Number two, here's what you should know, submitting by it's very definition is what Jesus did when he died for you. Alright, we sang it in a song earlier today, Bowing to the Father's will. Jesus didn't come to say, "What I want, what I'm going to do. I don't care what you think, heavenly Father. I'm not going to the cross because it's going to be painful". No. Do you remember what he prayed? "Father, if there's any other way to do this and forgive these people, let's do that, but not my will but yours be done". That's what submission is. Doesn't mean you're inferior because Jesus wasn't inferior. Doesn't mean you're not intelligent because Jesus wasn't less intelligent. Doesn't mean you can't express what you think, what you prefer, what you want, that's what Jesus did with his heavenly Father. But, at the end of the day, when you two don't agree on something, there's only one thing you can do, two things I should say. You can either fight to get what you want, or you can humbly say, "You first".
And God knows, who created men, like wives, if you do that, like if there are differences among you but you're not just fighting, manipulating to get your way at the end, if you respect him enough and love him enough to put him first, that will fill his sails with so much love. Let me make this really specific. What I'm about to say is another gender stereotype. It might not be true for everyone, might not be true for you, but I hear this all the time in struggling marriages after 15 years of counseling. I'm going to try to summarize it in under two minutes. Can someone put me on the clock? Alright, wives, if you really respect your husband, here's what you should know, sex. Was that under two minutes? Alright. I'm kind of joking but I'm actually kind of not. This isn't true for every man and woman.
Three out of every four relationships, a man has a higher sexual desire than his wife. For many people, for many men, that is the biggest source of frustration. They're treated like they're teenage boys, like hitting on their wife is something that needs to be brushed aside because I'm in the middle of something busy. And you can only do that so many times to a man until it gets deep, deep down in his heart. Feeling respected and being sexually rejected rarely coexist. And that gap between his desire and your desire is not right or wrong, but if it is a thing then it's not something to be brushed aside anymore than your differences are. Instead, it's a time to love, to respect, to serve. Ladies, I actually give you the same advice, act without being asked. A wife who responds to her husband's sexual advances makes him feel like a man. A wife who initiates those advances makes him feel like the man. It's true.
Love, respect. Submit, serve. Be devoted to one another in love and you will create a happy and holy home. Alright, all of you real quickly, put your pens down and put your fingers up like this. Alright, let's imagine this is a husband and this is a wife. Every single day in a relationship, husbands and wives either make decisions that move them closer or make decisions that move them further away. What God is trying to do in these verses is to get husbands and wives to do this. If only one person does, "I'm going to serve him, serve him, serve him," but he is so selfish, we will never be close. And in a sinful world, we're going to have good days and we're going to have bad days, but God knows this, no one ends up this close or this far away in a day. Instead, the closeness and intimacy of their relationship is based on these simple things. "Is she my priority? Am I loving her well? Am I putting him first? Am I meeting his needs"?
And if you can make those little decisions day by day, six months from now, you would be shocked at what God could do in your home. It's not easy. Selflessness is not natural but our heavenly Father who wants to see his sons and daughters happy in their homes gives us this beautiful guidance, "Husbands be devoted, lead the way, love, love, love. Wives, put him first, respect him, submit, submit, submit, submit". Yeah, and I think this is why Paul started with Jesus. The Book of 1 Corinthians, before it gets to the "Husbands and wives be devoted," it says this, "Christ Jesus is our righteousness, our holiness and our redemption".
Like, what is your righteous... What makes you right with God? Being a perfect spouse, an amazing person to date? Nope. It's Jesus. He makes you like this with God. No distance, no separation, no frustration. Jesus Christ died on a cross to be your righteousness and make you perfectly right with our heavenly father. Or the Book of Colossians before it said, "Love and respect," it said this in chapter one, "(God) has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death," I love this line. "To present you". Not him or her, you, "Present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation". Because Jesus loved, loved, loved, and loved you. Because he submitted, submitted, submitted, submitted to the will of his father.
This is the result, you, if you're a Christian, are holy in the sight of God. Right? You walk through the doors of heaven and your heavenly father is beaming with joy and happiness. He's not accusing you, he doesn't point a finger. When Jesus Christ erased all of your sins, relationship sins included, this was the result, that you are presented before God, holy in his sight, without blemish, and free from accusation. Or one last one, before it said, "Husbands, love your wives like Christ loved the church. Wives submit to your husbands in everything". Ephesians 1 said this, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ".
When Jesus gave his life for you on the cross, he made sure that waiting for you behind that door every single day was not a guy, not a girl, but God. But the God who is love is there in that room. A God who cares about all your anxieties. A God who says, "Give me all of it. I want to hear it. I want to help with it". The perfect relationship is yours whether you're dating, divorced, single or married. If you're a Christian, this is the promise, everything you deeply want in your heart, you have. And maybe you can't go back, and maybe you can't force him to be like this, or change the way that she is, but if you have Jesus, you have God himself. And so, this is the beauty of the biblical pattern, start with Jesus and you'll fill up your heart with what you really need. That's a good way to put it. We're all sinners, we all need Jesus, and through faith we have him. And Jesus is the secret and the center to the happiest, holiest home. Let's pray:
Dear Father in heaven, I'm so grateful for you and your love. I know as a husband that just consistently loving Kim well is a constant challenge in a busy life, and I think everyone who's been in a relationship here knows how easy it is to take someone so close to us for granted. And so, I pray today, God, that you're reordering our hearts, our passions, and our priorities. I would love to see, God, even a week from now, husbands and wives coming back to this church with a different expression on their face because they've felt what it's like to be a priority for the last seven days. Give us strength. Help us not to be distracted. For people here who are dating or maybe looking forward to it, God help them, help them look for relationships like this. Not who's the most beautiful, the most talented, the most intelligent, but who loves, who respects, who's devoted to one another, who is selfless like Jesus. Father, we're praying for the next generation of happy and holy homes as we're here today. And finally, father, I'm so grateful for your love which covers over a multitude of sins. Most of us can think of things we wish we could redo in our relational lives. Thank you that we don't have to carry that around with guilt and shame. Thank you that right now in Heaven, they're not talking about our divorce, our infidelity, our sin, or our selfishness. No, we are holy in your sight without blemish and free from accusation. So, today, we're so grateful for the gospel. We're so grateful for the work of Jesus. We pray that it would not just comfort us but it would compel us to seek holiness, righteousness, and selfless. God, may that be the case in all of our homes. We pray all these things today in the beautiful name of Jesus. Amen.