Today we are going to talk about marriage. If you are married I hope you can take away at least one practical insight that will improve your relationship. If you are single, save this for the future, or it may just give you good reason for staying single. Seriously, apart from your relationship with God, nothing on earth is better than a good marriage.
On the other hand, nothing on earth is worse than a bad marriage. Unfortunately, over half of all marriages today end up in the latter category. Now it may surprise you to learn that Joanna and I do not have a perfect marriage. That’s largely down to me. I am therefore not presuming to be your guide to finding a heavenly marriage this morning, but I know someone who can. Probably like yours and mine, Solomon and his wife went through bad spells in their marriage.
In the passage from Song of Solomon we are looking at today, we can observe the rift, the reconciliation, and the reward of marriage. Because over half of all marriages end in divorce, we need help. We can find help in God’s Word. Divorce-proofing your marriage is not easy, but it is simple: Submit to one another out of your love for Jesus.
1. A Rift in a Marriage
“I opened for my beloved, but my beloved had left; he was gone. My heart sank at his departure. I looked for him but did not find him. I called him but he did not answer.” (Song of Solomon 5:6)
“Where has your beloved gone, most beautiful of women? Which way did your beloved turn, that we may look for him with you?” (Song of Solomon 6:1)
Solomon’s beloved recalls a dream in which Solomon comes home in the middle of the night and calls to his beloved to come open the door. In a scene that shows the honeymoon must be over, she says she is already in bed and doesn’t want to get up, put on her robe, and get her feet dirty again. Solomon leaves, and she recognizes the mistake she has made, but it is too late. He is gone. Her fear and panic are illustrated by the chaotic scenes that follow in the dream.
Solomon’s wife comes off looking pretty bad in this scene. Any marriage counsellor will tell you, though, it takes two.
My question for Solomon would be, “What have you done that makes your wife not even want to let you in the house in the middle of the night?” A good marriage does not just happen. It takes hard work. The mistake a newly married husband makes is to think she will stay the same.
The mistake a newly married wife makes is to think “I can change him” Marriage is about two sinners in a life-long relationship who must daily resist the natural tendency to drive each other crazy. Having a good marriage is sort of like having a pretty garden in the middle of the desert.
It takes constant tending, watering, weeding, fertilizing, mowing…. The worst thing you can do for your partner is take them for granted. Whether or not this only happened to Solomon in a dream is not important. The important thing is that it doesn’t happen to you and me. If your partner is not meeting your needs, ask yourself: “What is it about me that makes him or her act this way?” If the weeds have begun to creep into the beautiful garden of your marriage, don’t sit there cursing the weeds. Get up and start tending the garden. Start serving your spouse. The rift in the marriage.
2. Reconciliation in the Marriage
“You are as beautiful… my darling… Turn your eyes from me; they overwhelm me.” (Song of Solomon 6:4-5)
“I belong to my beloved, and his desire is for me.” (Song of Solomon 7:10)
In chapter 6:4-14, Solomon and his wife are reconciled. Again, whether or not the incident is a dream is not important. We can learn lessons from it.
Notice they do not focus on the old conflict. No re-hashing or score keeping. Instead, they refocus the relationship with an outpouring of love and affection, mostly from Solomon. Letting go and moving on lets them experience the wonderful gift of making up. Notice most importantly what they do. They talked to each other. And notice this was not a monologue either but a conversation.
Communication. It’s a part of the human anatomy that many men are not born with, but like any language, we can learn with patience and help from a good instructor. Reconciliation is not natural for us either. Our nature, when we feel wronged, is to get even. You know the wise Proverb, “Don’t get mad, get even.”
We hold onto the hurt and use it for ammunition whenever new conflicts arise. They greatest gift you can give your partner is forgetfulness. Unless we learn to forgive and forget your marriage will not grow. You know the scene played out in countless marriages. She uses her hurt from previous rifts to punish him whenever new arguments arise, and he won’t forgive her for not forgiving him. And so the wounds never heal and remain open to infection.
It takes grace, mercy, and forgiveness to maintain and strengthen a long-term marriage. Holding a scorecard or a record of wrongs will wreck a relationship. If you need help forgiving and moving on from a past wrong, consider how many times Jesus has forgiven you. And then remember, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15).
You have been reconciled to God by the free gift of His Son, who died on a cross for you. Don’t hang on to anger and resentment. Let go and love. Submit to one another out of your love for Jesus. We’ve seen the rift and the reconciliation in the marriage. Finally,
3. The Reward of Marriage
“Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep it away.” (Song of Solomon 8:6-7)
The last two chapters show the blessing that follows when a husband and wife are tending to each other’s needs.
A wonderfully intimate exchange proves the effectiveness of servant love. Solomon talks to his wife. He doesn’t just tell her he loves her; He tells her why—from her toes up! She responds by inviting Solomon to make love. She then describes their love as a strong, mighty flame, worth more than all money or riches. His love inspires her to love. Her love inspires him. Two people serving each others’ needs out of love is a wonderful thing. Before we can experience the reward of servant love, we must find the needs of our spouse, and as best we can, with God’s help, daily meet them. One reason this is so hard is that men and women’s needs are generally so different.
What do women really want? To be loved, to be listened to, to be desired, to be respected, to be trusted, and sometimes, just to be held. What do men really want? Tickets to the World Cup final. The reward for servant love is priceless. You may not be able to relate to all your spouse’s needs, and that’s alright. You can serve them anyway. You both reap the reward when you submit out of your love for Jesus.
The answer to divorce-proofing your marriage begins in your attitude. If you have the attitude that you are king of the castle and everyone should meet your needs and serve you—then look out! That kind of attitude leads to trouble. Paul describes the attitude that creates and maintains healthy relationships.
“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:5-8).
If you want a stronger, richer, more rewarding relationship, consider the One who has the attitude of a servant and submitted Himself to die because he loves you.
Ask Him to help you serve your partner out of love for Jesus.
Heavenly Father, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, give us the same attitude Jesus had, one of willing submission, willing service, and willing selflessness. Take our eyes off of ourselves, Lord, as we focus on our love for You. And when we face those inevitable rifts in our relationships, Lord, give us the grace and humility to submit to one another, be reconciled and enjoy the rewards of marriage as you intend, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.