And then there’s Married at First Sight. About 4 guys and 4 girls all looking for love. And the experts match them up, and organise the weddings. The only problem is they don’t meet until they walk down the aisle. Which happens in the first episode. And then the rest of the show is about how they learn about each other. And whether it will work or not. And it’s more about how tough it is to live with another selfish person. And some of the relationships continue. And others don’t survive the honeymoon.
The publicity calls it a bold experiment. Although it wouldn’t be much of a show in LOTS of countries. Where arranged marriages happen all the time.
And then there’s The Seven Year Switch. The worst of them all. A show about two couples who are having problems in their relationship. And the show SWAPS the couples. Putting temptation in front of them, with another attractive person, who’s also vulnerable, and in a similar position. And we all watch as relationships fall apart.
And all those shows are watched by hundreds of thousands of people. Perhaps it’s because we all want the close connection that’s promised. Or maybe we want to learn some lessons about improving our own marriage. Or maybe we just like watching the struggles so we don’t feel quite so bad about our OWN imperfect relationships.
But there’s ANOTHER couple we’re going to watch this morning. From the pages of Proverbs. And this relationship is A MESS. Things are falling apart. The husband and wife are barely SPEAKING to each other. And when they DO, it’s only to ARGUE. To complain or criticise. It’s a household where the husband looks for excuses not to go home. Because the moment he walks in the door, the nagging starts. She’s never satisfied. No matter what he says or does, it’s not good enough. There’s never any complements, just complaints. It NEVER STOPS. To the point where he daydreams about heading off all on his own to somewhere quiet.
It’s a household where the wife just seems constantly FRUSTRATED. This isn’t the man she married. She married someone who NOTICED her. Who treated her as SPECIAL. Who had ENERGY and AMBITION. Who was HEADED somewhere. But now, when he finally DOES get home, he says nothing. And she might as well be invisible. And he thinks she doesn’t notice the way he looks at their attractive neighbour as she hangs out the washing.
And the husband and wife both have a deep, heavy SADNESS. Because they never imagined life would turn out like this. They look at the wedding photo on the shelf. And the two young, hopeful people grinning back at them seem like strangers.
But there’s HOPE, TOO. Because as Proverbs describes this family. It gives us WISDOM so we can learn how not to be like THEM.
This is week 2 of our series on what God says about marriage. Last week we looked at first principles. At God’s DESIGN, and the very FIRST couple. In some ways, it was a bit theoretical. This week we’re thoroughly PRACTICAL.
Marriage is a good gift from God.
First thing God wants you to know is that marriage is A GOOD GIFT. A gift from God himself. So, Prov 19:14 says Houses and wealth are inherited from parents, but a prudent wife is FROM THE LORD.
Or 18:22. He who finds a wife finds what is GOOD and receives FAVOR from the LORD.
Now, it’s important to notice that Proverbs is written as advice from A FATHER TO HIS SON. So much of its advice describes A WIFE. But it works equally well as advice for a DAUGHTER looking for A HUSBAND.
And the point is THIS. A wise wife, or husband, makes for a better home life than a nice house, new furniture, a home theatre system, or plenty in the bank. And it’s GOD who brings a partner like that along.
- Character counts
We can see something of HOW THAT WORKS in Prov 12:4 A wife of noble character is HER HUSBAND’S CROWN, but a disgraceful wife is like decay in his bones.
Notice what really counts? CHARACTER! Physical looks are normally what we notice FIRST. But Proverbs says there are more important qualities to look for in a marriage partner. 11:22
22 Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no DISCRETION.
Beauty is one VERY SMALL PART of the whole package. It might be a beautiful gold ring, but the REST of the pig makes a far greater impression on you than the RING. Same thing with CHARACTER and BEAUTY. Character counts.
So singles, are you LOOKING for CHARACTER? Do you notice discretion, Truthfulness, sense of humour, humility, generosity, faithfulness, loyalty? All those things are more valuable than good looks, or a nice figure. Or when it comes to HUSBANDS, gentleness, humility and patience are more valuable than muscles or money. What do you NOTICE about a girl or a guy? What turns your head? Perhaps more importantly, what KEEPS your interest? How about spending a bit more effort looking for NOBLE CHARACTER!?
Because a wife of noble character is her husband’s CROWN. He VALUES her, and is PROUD of her. But also, she makes her husband BETTER than he was before. Like a crown on his head. (Same with a good HUSBAND for that matter.) A wife of noble character is the mirror that points out embarrassing faults, the sounding board to get ideas right, an encourager, a sharpening stone, a kick in the pants, a shoulder to cry on, a warm comforting pillow to relax against.
And a HUSBAND of noble character is gentle and patient. He values his wife in how he SPEAKS to her, and how he TREATS her. He encourages her when she feels inadequate. He genuinely complements her when she lacks confidence with what she sees in the mirror. He’s a crown for HER head.
But the opposite of that is the DISGRACEFUL wife. Or husband. A wife who’s more concerned with clothes and comfort than character and service. More concerned with HERSELF than her HUSBAND. She’s like decay in the bones. She takes strength and endurance AWAY from him. Her criticism disempowers. Her lack of respect, and her conflicting agenda de-stabilises and distracts him from what he SHOULD be concentrating on.
Then there’s the disgraceful HUSBAND. Like decay in her bones. He’s too proud to apologise, or too pre-occupied to notice, or too impatient to simply listen, or too critical to notice, or too lazy to talk. And his wife shrinks up as he self-confidence plummets. And she freezes up. And withdraws into fantasy and romance. Or into raising her children. And dies inside a little more each year. Marriages like THAT are decay in the bones.
And you can see how character is important in a couple of OTHER areas in this sad household.
A nagging wife
We’ll begin with the WIFE. Life just hasn’t turned out the way she imagined it. And she’s placing much of the blame on her husband. And she lets him know every chance she gets. You meet this wife so often in Proverbs it’s almost a refrain. Again and again verses like 27:15 A quarrelsome wife is like a constant dripping on a rainy day; 16 restraining her is like restraining the wind or grasping oil with the hand.
This woman is simply unstoppable. Nagging and nagging. All the time. She can’t be STOPPED. She can’t be PLEASED. That sort of life just DRAINS the LIFE out of a man. 25:24 offers a better alternative. 24 Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife. It’s like living in a constant episode of Keeping up Appearances, that old English comedy with Mrs Hyacinth Bucket. Pronounced BOUQUET. With Richard, her poor hen-pecked husband, who’d rather be ANYWHERE ELSE than where Hyacinth is. Things are SO bad, he’s thinking about moving his things up onto the roof. Anything for a bit of peace and quiet. Or 21:19 It’s better to live in a desert than with a quarrelsome and ill tempered wife It might be dry and difficult to survive in a desert. But at least it’s QUIET!
An adulterous husband
But few problems in marriage are completely ONE-SIDED. Let’s take a look at THE HUSBAND for a moment. Maybe there are REASONS for the wife’s quarrels and nagging. Maybe it’s because his head’s being turned by the woman down the street. Who promises things that are so much easier, and more exciting than what he gets at home.
And Proverbs is LOADED with warnings against the sort of foolishness. Like chapter 2. Be WISE about the attraction of adultery. 2:16.
[Wisdom] will save you also from the adulteress, from the wayward wife with her seductive words, who has left the partner of her youth and ignored the covenant she made before God. For her house leads down to DEATH and her paths to the spirits of the dead. None who go to her return or attain the PATHS OF LIFE.
The LIE of adultery is that it will lead to a FUN, EXCITING, SATISFYING life. Everything your marriage ISN’T. That finally you’ll be treated the way you DESERVE. But it’s just NOT SO. That’s FOOLISHNESS. Life gets FAR MORE DIFFICULT and COMPLICATED when you head down THAT path. And it doesn’t just ruin YOUR life, there’s the kids And the grandparents. Not to mention your CHURCH family. It’s A MESS. The moments of excitement aren’t worth the trail of destruction it leaves behind. That path LEADS TO DEATH.
Marriage needs wisdom
And WISDOM will save you from that. A marriage built on a solid foundation of God’s wisdom is much more valuable than the most expensive house in Bellevue Hill. Prov 15:16-17 Better a little with the fear of the LORD than great wealth with turmoil. 17 Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred.
And that’s a comparison we see played out in real life. The poor but contented family in the suburbs. They don’t have heaps, but they love each other and share what they’ve got. And they laugh and ENJOY each other. Compared with the rich, bitter family in Double Bay. They’ve got everything they want, but they can’t stand being in the same room as each other. And there’s more TV’s than PEOPLE. And they’re all off watching their own show, living their own lives. Who’s got MORE? Fear of God, and HIS WISDOM, is worth much more in a family than money and stuff.
Or Prov 14:1.The WISE woman BUILDS HER HOUSE, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down. The WISE PERSON builds up her own house. She doesn’t TEAR IT DOWN. It seems obvious, but we all fall victim to this one. You fight with your spouse, and you give them the silent treatment. “I’ll show them. I’ll teach them to hurt me/ ignore me/ disappointment me” Whatever it might be. Or you GET EVEN with words. You HURT as YOU’VE been hurt. Or you deliberately DON’T mow the lawn, or take out the bins. Or forget the appointment. To prove a point. To win an argument. To maintain your pride.
But what do you end up doing? Make yourself MISERABLE! You LOSE! And you’ve CAUSED it. You’re tearing down YOUR OWN HOUSE. It’s called biting your nose to spite your face. That’s FOOLISHNESS – you’re destroying the peace of your home by your own hands! But the WISE wife. Or husband. BUILDS their house. So, do and say things that BUILD UP. Have attitudes. Use words. Have the servant heart. That BUILDS your home, rather than tears it down. Only FOOLS do that. Only fools console themselves with the thought, “But I showed her! But I was right!” And they take their aggrieved sense of self-justice all the way to the divorce courts. And misery. And regret. So, what are some specifics for BUILDING your home?
Listen first, speak second
Proverbs says Listen first, speak second. Prov 12:18 Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Prov 13:3 He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin. Proverbs 17:27 “A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered”. Proverbs 10:19 “When words are MANY, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise”. Listen first, speak second. You’ve got TWO ears, and ONE mouth for a reason! Ask questions. Reflect back what you’re hearing. Don’t assume you know what your partner is saying or feeling. Put your brain into gear before your mouth. Count to ten before you return fire. Begin your sentences with “I” rather than “You”. It’s much harder to accuse and hurt when you start the sentence with “I”. “I feel taken for granted when you don’t clear the table after dinner.”
Listen first and speak second doesn’t mean that you can’t say anything at all. That can be more frustrating for wives than an argument. But think of words as GIFTS. Proverbs 16:23-24. “A wise man’s heart GUIDES HIS MOUTH, and his lips promote instruction. PLEASANT WORDS ARE A HONEYCOMB, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” As you’re putting your brain in gear before your mouth. Ask yourself, How can what I’m about to say BUILD UP?
Stop the merry go round
Another way you can BUILD your home is to stop the merry go round. In other words, if you’ve been hurt, let it go. Forgive. Don’t escalate or intensify arguments. Prov 20:3 It is to a man’s HONOR to AVOID STRIFE, but every FOOL is quick to quarrel. Prov 17:13-14 If a man pays back evil for good, evil will never leave his house. 14 Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; SO DROP THE MATTER BEFORE A DISPUTE BREAKS OUT. Prov 26:20 Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down. Prov 17:9 He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.
Be willing to lose the argument, or apologise first. It’s not WORTH IT. That’s WISDOM. It takes a bigger man to admit a mistake. It’s LITTLE men who have to keep PROVING THEMSELVES. Proving themselves always RIGHT. Justified in their anger, or their actions. In Christ, you’ve been forgiven a HUGE debt. So let things go. Nothing else compares to that.
Eat at home
Another piece of wisdom for building up your home is to always EAT at home. Now, I’m not saying anything at all here about where you have dinner. Perhaps you’ve heard the expression, from a husband caught looking at a pretty girl, “It doesn’t matter if I look at the MENU, as long as I always EAT AT HOME.” Proverbs wants to say EVEN MORE, “Don’t eat out. In fact, don’t even LOOK AT THE MENU.” I’m talking about where your needs are satisfied. In particular the needs marriage is designed to satisfy. Look to YOUR MARRIAGE ALONE to satisfy those needs. That’s the way of wisdom. Listen to the advice the father gives his son in Prov 5:15-20. And I’ll just give a warning, just in case there’s any of you out there more sensitive than the Bible is / that this verse carries a M15+ rating. 15 Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well. 16 Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares? 17 Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers. 18 May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. 19 A loving doe, a graceful deer– may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love. 20 Why be captivated, my son, by an adulteress? Why embrace the bosom of another man’s wife ?
Obviously talking about a man. We NOTICE women. It’s almost an instinctive reaction. If you’re following a ute or van with some blokes in it, just watch what they do as they pass a woman walking in the street. Almost ANY woman. As they pass her, all heads in the cabin will automatically turn to the left. Just checking the menu. Men, we’ve got to foster, or recover, the enjoyment we find in our wives. Write lists, or love letters, or poems. Think back to what you loved about your spouse when you first married. Tell her. Enjoy her. That’s God’s wise plan.
Looking at the menu might be a temptation for men, but it’s just as relevant to a woman. And, at the risk of stereotyping, women’s temptation is to check out the menu of another man who might meet their EMOTIONAL needs more than their husband. Someone at work, or the gym, who notices them, who seems to listen. Who understands them, who pays them attention. But it’s YOUR HUSBAND who’s meant to provide those needs. Don’t make do with him NOT meeting them. TELL him, invite him BACK. Encourage him. Be creative. Meet him half-way. It might be an uncomfortable conversation, but it will be WORTH IT. REJOICE in the husband or wife of your youth. That’s God’s counsel.
And if you’re a wife caught up in the same spiral of nagging and criticism, try PRAYING for your husband. And not just that he’ll do what YOU want. But that God will be working in him to make him like Jesus. And pray for YOURSELF. Have a good look in the mirror. And ask yourself what’s BEHIND the nagging. What unbiblical goal have you set for your marriage that’s not being achieved? Is it having high-achieving careers? And your husband just doesn’t have the ambition? Or is it having the perfect house? And he can’t keep it the way you’d like? Or he can’t satisfy your emotional need for affection? Or gifts? Or quality time? Or that the kids achieve what you never could? All of those things are GOOD. And they might be PART of what a marriage together can build. But they’re not GOD’S priority. What GOD wants is for you both to be growing more like Jesus. Whether you get any of those other things or NOT!
And HUSBAND with the wandering eye. Pray for your wife. List before God the things your thankful for. And pray WITH your wife. INITIATE that. You’re the one God’s appointed to LEAD. If you’re not in the habit of that, it’s not easy to do. Because to pray is to let go of PRIDE. And men don’t like to admit we’re not in control. But she’ll LOVE you for it. And as you listen to her pray, you might be surprised by the things that are on her heart. And you’ll come to KNOW her better. And love her MORE.
God as the foundation
And finally, perhaps most OBVIOUSLY, build your house with GOD as the foundation. As the central beam that bears the load of the whole house. The central space that every other room joins. Prov 19: 21 Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails. 19:23 The fear of the LORD leads to life: Then one rests content, untouched by trouble. Fearing God, honouring him. Putting him first. In EVERY aspect of your marriage. He MADE you. He DESIGED marriage. It’s HIS wisdom that leads to LIFE. TRUE life. Maximum life. A contented, peaceful, rich life. And don’t we all want our homes and marriages to be like THAT? For God’s honour and glory.