You know that feeling of slight panic … the sweat of gentle terror? You’re in the supermarket and you suddenly spot the Anniversary Cards or Valentine’s Day Cards, and the immediate thought is … “did I miss it? … is it today? …. when is it?”…. Yeah me too.
“Love and marriage” has been popping up a lot. We just had Valentine’s Day; I belatedly noticed that we recently had a Marriage Week here in the UK; the Church of England has been debating what we even mean by marriage, and I’m down to conduct my first wedding service in our church in Wythenshawe.
And yet down the years our society has increasingly devalued marriage.
There are choices now where you can pick ‘n’ mix the type of relationship you want with the level of commitment you feel like making.
Problem is, without the commitment, we’re setting off on the wrong foot from day one. After all it’s much easier to walk out of a relationship which we never committed to in the first place – right?
But while the idea of staying with the same person for the rest of your life might be under question to people around us, for Christians it’s still both the ideal and the expectation. Sometimes it might not be possible, but mostly it is possible. We will have problems and struggles – whether we are Christians or not – but:
The promise we made was to stay together “till death do us part”, literally until one of us attends the graveside of the other.
So back to those 7 words. I can’t remember many sermons, either ones I have heard or ones I have preached (… that’s not so good). But sometimes you hear a sermon and something sticks. So I remember many years ago someone telling me the “7 most important words in a Christian marriage”. I don’t remember anything else but I remember his 7 words.
Let’s go straight to the point. For many of us these may be the most difficult 2 words to say in the entire English language. We spend so much of our time convincing ourselves that we’re in the right. And even when we realise we were not as right as we thought we were, well, we don’t actually need to say sorry because … “my partner knows me and will understand”. Which is another way of saying “I’m too proud to apologise”. In a very real sense, I think pride is at the heart of all human failing. Pride will be the last sin to go. In other words, even when we have accepted all the other things we did which were wrong, some of us will somehow still hang on to an excuse … “yes but here’s WHY I behaved like that” …. We’ll desperately find a way to salvage some pride.
Easy? no. Necessary? Yes.
I love you
This is one of those things where we think “this is obvious …… why do I need to say it”. But that would be like God saying: “of course I love you, why do I need to keep reminding you? There’s no need for me to keep writing it in the Bible is there?”. Well yes in theory that’s right, but it’s still good, uplifting and encouraging to hear in scripture that … God so loved the world … that God demonstrates that he loves us … in fact that God lavishes his love upon us.
Of course there are lots of ways to say “I love you”. We might give up something we would rather do for the sake of our husband / wife, we might perform an act of kindness, we might just give each other time to go on a date. But the words themselves also matter, and can have a power of their own.
I love you
There aren’t just 2 people in a Christian marriage. God is also present and that means finding times when the 3 of you can talk together. But praying together does something else as well. It means we lay out on the table what we’re concerned about, what’s on our heart. If we have children it gets us on the same wavelength for our hopes, fears and aspirations. And then it does the most wonderful thing, where the two of you can hand it all over to the third person, to God.
What’s special about THESE 7 words?
Lots. Take a look at them again. I’m sorry – I love you – let’s pray. These words are both childishly simple yet immensely powerful:
- They are all ways of releasing pressure and getting on the same wavelength as each other, kind of like doing a level-set on your relationship. In fact, to coin a popular expression:
In many situations these phrases are game-changers
- They demonstrate the complete truth of James 3. James points out how our tongue (our words) can devastate a relationship. He says: a whole forest catches fire from the spark of a hurtful comment, a huge ship is knocked off course by the rudder of a single thoughtless remark. But what we often don’t realise is that the exact opposite is also true. A damaging situation that has gone on for months can be put right by two simple words “I’m sorry”.
- And I believe all 3 comments are sacrificial. In saying them we lay aside something of ourselves. We make ourselves ever so slightly vulnerable. In fact we begin to imitate Christ himself, who “being in very nature God, didn’t cling to equality with God …”
… And surely, being Christ-like is better than being “right”?
If you enjoyed this post try reading Do Relationships Make Us Happy?
The 7 most important words in a marriage (the actual 7 words that is!) are from a sermon by Brian Buhler, senior pastor at Pacific Community Church.