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Marriage Sermons

The Grace-Filled Marriage - Week Two, Growth Principle Two:
Healthy Idealism

Genesis 1:26-28 and Selected Scriptures

Rod MacIlvaine
2/29/2004

Introduction:

This is week two in our series called the Grace-Filled Marriage, and this morning I want to present a second growth principle. But let me first remind you of where we've been.

LAST WEEK I TALKED ABOUT HEALTHY REALISM. Many couples go into marriage with wildly unrealistic expectations. They think marriage will heal my hurts, fill the deep canyons in my soul, and provide meaning in life. You hear this in pop songs. You see it in movies. Of course, as every couple knows, it doesn't take long before reality sets in, and dashed expectations bring disappointment.

But the Bible makes it clear that marriage will never match up to expectations because it's fallen. Shortly after the beginning, marriage was permanently tarnished by the sin-choice of Adam and Eve. And since then, marriage has been a relationship that exposes sin and brings pain.

Now why would God allow this? Well, the reason is that God uses marriage in its fallen state shape and form you for eternity.

Just like Michelangelo, the renaissance sculptor, used a hammer and chisel to form King David out of marble. God uses the trials and afflictions of marriage to form Christ in you at the deepest level. So healthy realism is vital to a thriving marriage.

BUT THIS WEEK I WANT TO GIVE YOU THE FLIPSIDE TO REALISM. You also need healthy idealism. See, even though marriage is fallen, it still retains a huge amount of its original dignity and nobility, and we see this in a thousand ways.

When a couple stands before each other on their wedding night, naked and unashamed, they taste a measure of the joy Adam and Eve felt on their wedding night. When a couple brings a child into the world, they experience what feels like a miracle from God. When married romance solidifies into commitment, and commitment into friendship, it's a taste of heaven.

Couples need both realism and idealism for a successful marriage. We need to be honest about the fallenness of marriage; but we also need to pursue its high ideals. And sometimes we need to pursue them athletic passion, and celebrate when ideals are met.

Several months ago I had an experience that I will always treasure.

Linda Myers and her husband Byron were reconciled. Some of you know them. We celebrated their reconciliation in a private worship service near Osage Hills. And they gave me permission to tell you their story.

After more than twenty years of marriage their relationship had grown so painful, Linda decided to separate. Their separation lasted four years. He lived in Nebraska, she in Bartlesville.

I met with Linda on a fairly regular basis, sometimes for counseling sometimes for encouragement. And quite honestly I didn't think there was any way they'd make it.

But during their separation they both persevered: they pursued God; they had someone holding them accountable; and over time, God slowly softened their hearts. After four years, they decided to reconcile. It wasn't without pain or risk, and they didn't do it lightly. But, they did it because they embraced what the Bible says about the high ideals of marriage.

When I presided over that worship service, I felt this huge sense of joy. Here was a couple deeply in touch with the fallenness of their marriage, but they committing themselves to its noble ideals out of a passion to live for God's glory.

And this is the tension we always need to maintain: realism coupled with idealism.

So this morning, I want to show you four noble ideals of a God-centered marriage. And here is ideal number one.

1. IDEAL # 1 - God designed marriage as a place for dignity. Gen. 1:26-27

A. And that dignity comes from the fact that we bear the image of God. 1:26

We see this in Genesis 1:26. "Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness.'"

To understand this we need to define precisely what the image of God is. To put it simply, being in God's image means you resemble him.

When we lived in Baltimore I had a friend who flew combat missions during the Koran War. He flew F9F Panther fighter jets off an aircraft carrier in the Pacific. In his office he had a very beautiful, meticulously accurate, scale model of the Panther made of cast metal. Of course this model was not the real thing. You obviously couldn't fly in it. But it was the image of the real thing, an exact representation in miniature.

In the same way, you possess the image of God. It's not that you share his deity in any way, but you resemble him.

• For instance, God is a spiritual being; you are a spiritual being.

• God is eternal; you have an eternal soul.

• God is infinite knowledge; you have finite knowledge.

• God enters into relationships; you enter into relationships.

You are a miniature representation of the infinite eternal God. And this is a huge privilege. What makes you different from a dog or a dolphin? Animals have personalities and living souls, but they don't resemble God. You, on the other hand, have the capacity to think abstractly. You reason, create things, love people, and relate to your creator - all because you bear God's image.

But it's also true that your spouse is an image bearer. And therefore, in God's sight, she is invested with tremendous dignity. As the person closest to her, you have a choice about what you'll do with that dignity. You can either honor it or dishonor it.

If you choose to honor it, you'll build trust and friendship that strengthens your marriage, and empowers you to weather the storms of life. On the other hand, if you choose to dishonor the dignity of your spouse, your relationship will become painful and its foundations will become extremely vulnerable.

I believe God has placed inside us an internal dignity detector. If your mate catches, even a whiff of indignity they'll feel robbed of something God built them to receive. On the other hand, when you treat your mate with dignity, it awakens respect and love.

So a huge part of your role as a husband or a wife is to recognize the God-infused dignity of your mate and reflect it back in words and deeds.

Now I want you to notice another thing about the image of God.

B. The image resides on both male and female alike.

One reason we disregard the dignity of our mate is frustration over gender traits. We don't understand maleness or femaleness. It's easy for women to bash men as brutish Neanderthals who have no clue about relationships. And it's easy for men to snipe at women as always being needy and nagging.

But look at Genesis 1:27. It says, "In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them." The image of God rests on male and female alike. Men and women are vested with equal dignity as image bearers, but that image is reflected differently.

In the opening chapters of Genesis, Adam reflects God's character in his masculinity. Eve reflects God's image in her femininity. Together, they fulfilled God's purposes for the world. And here's the amazing result: when maleness and femaleness operate in loving harmony, it beautifully pictures the fullness of God's nature.

You cannot fully comprehend God in a male-only world. You can't fully comprehend the God in a female-only world. It's only when maleness and femaleness operate in complementary unity that God's image comes into sharp focus.

But this is precisely where couples struggle: Rather than honoring the maleness of her husband a wife often have contempt for it and wonder, "Why can't he be more sensitive?" And rather than esteeming the femaleness of his wife, a husband scorns it thinking, "Why can't a woman be more like a guy?"

This is a tragedy. We learn things about God's nature we could never learn apart from our spouse. Dishonoring gender traits closes you off from that learning process.

So here's the challenge: Your spouse has dignity as an image bearer. Be proactive in honoring it.

C. Now let me make this very practical. There are two ways you can honor the dignity of your mate.

NUMBER ONE - COMMIT TO KNOW HIS OR HER INNER WORLD. As many of you know, I have done quite a bit of sailing. Two years ago, our family went sailing off the coast of Belize in the western Caribbean.

I had never been there so one year before departure I purchased a cruising guide and chart. I laid the chart on the dining room table, and using the cruising guide, I mapped out a seven-day itinerary. That map sat on our dining room table for months. I spent hours pouring over it, memorizing the names of islands, and landmarks and recommended places for fly-fishing.

Then we arrived, and Belize was nothing like I'd envisioned. The islands were farther apart and weren't mountainous. So I went back to the chart and re-envisioned the trip based on my new information.

Then we set sail. The sailing was different than any I'd done before, because we had to weave our way through coral reefs very close to the surface. So I was continuously updating my mental map based on fresh experience.

This is precisely what you have to do in marriage. Your mate has a whole inner world that is very real to him or her, filled with hopes and dreams…passions and desires. They have an entire life history, and God has been intimately involved in that life history from birth on. Romans 8:28 guarantees that even before your spouse became a Christian, God has been intimately working all things together for their good and his glory.

How current are you on your mate's life-map? When we sailed in Belize I needed a daily update, sometimes an hourly update. How current are you? The primary way you communicate dignity is by maintaining a clear mental map of your mate's life. To feel known is the foundation of feeling loved.

Several weeks ago, Cindy and I were down in the den after dinner. I was thinking about this topic, and I asked her, "How well do you think I know the current status of you inner world?" I thought she'd say, "Hey, pretty well! We work together. We're spending more time together now that the kids are older…."

But she kind of squinted her eyes and hesitated, clearly not as confident that I knew the map. And that illustrates an important truth. You may think you're updated on your mate's inner life, but your mate needs to feel known.

How do you do it? This is why a regular date night is so important. It's your catch up time to ask questions and find out what's going on in her world. Knowledge conveys dignity.

Here's a second way you can convey dignity.

NOURISH YOUR THOUGHTS BY FOCUSING ON THE POSITIVE QUALITIES OF YOUR SPOUSE. Here's a general rule about marriage. Everyone has personality flaws that cause problems, and when problems seem chronic or unresolved, they lead to feelings of contempt. Contempt is a deadly emotion.

You begin by despising a trait. Then you focus on the trait. And, if you let it continue, you end up despising the person with the trait. Once contempt sets in it's almost impossible treat them with dignity.

That's why it's so important to be disciplined in your thought life. The antidote to contempt is contemplation. Think on your spouse's good traits. Remember Paul's command to the Philippians. "Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things."

We need to apply this to marriage. You need to keep a mental list of things you admire about your mate, and periodically meditate on it.

Just after I graduated from seminary I started meeting regularly with a corporate trainer to help him grow in his faith.

After we completed several months of discipleship he said, "You've helped me, now let me give back to you. Let me take you through our corporate training program, but from a Christian perspective." I jumped at the chance.

"First thing I want you to do," he said, "is write down all of your strengths and all your wife's strengths." I kept that list of Cindy's strengths in my briefcase for years and periodically reviewed them. And this was a huge encouragement to me when our marriage hit icy spots.

This is also a very godly thing to do. Any positive traits your mate has are a gift from God. Why? Sometimes God produced those through spiritual growth. Sometimes those traits are the product of good upbringing. Other times those traits are the natural blessing of personality. But any way you slice it, God was behind it. By meditating on these traits you are actually meditating on the generous goodness of God.

So that's ideal number one: Convey dignity. Now, let's look at the second ideal.

2. God also designed marriage as a place for ministry. Marriage is a place where we can serve God with lasting influence. Genesis 1:28; Psalm 127

We see this in Genesis 1:28. God gives his first command to Adam and Eve, and he says, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth." God's command is very simple: Produce kids and expand the knowledge of God in the world.

One of the amazing blessings of marriage is that God made it a vehicle for extending your influence - not only around the world - but also into future generations.

Notice how this happens.

A. First of all, God endows couples with the ability to create new life.

This command, "Be fruitful and multiply," was a command for Adam and Eve to enjoy sexual intimacy, not just one time, but many times, over and over again, so kids would be produced and the knowledge of God multiplied.

Now if you stop to meditate on God's genus in creating sex, it's really quite amazing. Physical lovemaking is a private experience just between the two of you. But the natural byproduct is a third person. A child is conceived. And just like it took no effort for God to create the universe, it took no effort for you to produce a child. It came from the overflow of your joy.

The child has genetic material from both mom and dad. When the baby is born he's in the image of both parents, and as they see their image reflected in the features of their child, their love grows, both for their child and for each other.

Even more than that, God gives parents the privilege of creating spiritual life. From the moment of conception, that little baby has an eternal soul. If that child comes to Christ, he'll influence eternity. That means you, as a parent, have also influenced eternity. What a privilege!

This is just one of the reasons God considers sexual intimacy to be holy. The union creates something of eternal value. And in this sense sexual intimacy in marriage is a service to God: Through your one flesh relationship, God brings eternal souls into being that he will save through the death of his Son.

But that's only the beginning. Ministry in marriage continues as parents bring up their kids, and parents have a sobering responsibility because…

B. You have the power to shape you child's concept of God.

WHEN YOU ARE AN INFANT, YOUR ENTIRE VIEW OF REALITY IS SHAPED BY WHAT YOU SEE IN MOM AND DAD. When a mother tenderly cares for her child, he senses love at a profound level. When a dad is firm and kind, he senses security. All of this happens at a pre-linguistic, deeply emotional level.

As the child grows, he solidifies his concept of God by watching you. This is going to happen automatically; you can't stop it. Like it or not, day-by-day, you are telling your child - and showing you child - what God is like.

OF COURSE BAD PARENTING WILL DISTORT THE IMAGE OF GOD. Several years ago, New York University professor, Paul Vitz wrote an outstanding book called, Faith of the Fatherless. It's a psychology of atheism. In the book he develop a theory called the defective father hypothesis. He examines twenty famous atheists, among whom are Nietzsche, Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre.

Each of these men either had a dead father or a weak/passive father, and as they grew, they transferred their father-anger onto to God. And they concluded that God either did not exist or that he was evil.

It's very difficult for a young teenager to bow before God and call him heavenly father when he had an abysmal relationship with his earthly father. It's even more difficult to think about God as our Abba-Father. You know Abba was the Aramaic word for daddy. How can you call God a wonderfully intimate term like Abba if you never had an intimate relationship with your earthly dad? Bad parenting corrupts a child's image of God.

ON THE OTHER HAND, GOOD PARENTING INSTILS PASSION FOR GOD. Let's say you're a kid with a close relationship to your earthly father. He's tough, but tender. He's approachable, but worthy of respect. Know what'll happen? It'll be much easier to project those same qualities onto God as you grow.

But here's the key thing to remember: You have the power to imprint your child with a picture of what the God of the universe is like. That's ministry. You also have the power to encourage a child's heart so they engage in the greatest occupation in the universe, loving God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength.

But ministry doesn't even stop there.

C. Couples also have the power to create a lasting heritage. Psalm 127

To understand this, please turn to Psalm 127 verse 3. Solomon says, "Behold children are a gift of the Lord. The fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior so are the children of one's youth."

Solomon is saying sometimes life is like warfare. But what ammunition do we have to impact the next generation? Our children! Long after we are gone our kids have the potential to walk with Christ and impact the next generation.

Let me give you an example. Jonathan Edwards was born in 1703 and died in 1758. He was a pastor, a theologian and he is still regarded as America's greatest philosopher. By everyone's estimation he was a giant in the Christian faith. Many people believe Edwards' influence had a transforming effect on the spiritual life of our founding fathers and impacted their thinking about our form of government.

But his greatest legacy was his family. Many years ago Princeton scholar Benjamin Warfield charted the 1,394 known descendents of Jonathan Edwards. What he found was incredible. Of his known descendents there were 13 college presidents, 65 college professors, 30 judges, 100 lawyers, 60 physicians, 75 army and navy officers, 100 pastors, 60 prominent authors, 3 United States senators, 80 public servants and one vice-president of the United States.

Edwards' life beautifully exemplifies the five-generation rule. The five-generation rule says that how you raise your kids will not only impact your generation but at least the next four that follow. What a privilege! God has given you a way to impact the world through your kids.

And I love it that Solomon calls them arrows. An arrow flies into the world and penetrates the culture with power. Exactly what you want for your kids!

Five weeks ago, my oldest daughter left home for good. She drove down to Dallas, and a week later flew to England where she'll be married, and we're leaving for England Wednesday for the wedding.

Before she left, Cindy, Sarah and I had a talk. And the gist of my talk was this. "Sarah from the day you were born, you were my precious treasure. Through all through the ups and downs of growing up, you were a delight in my life.

In the next several weeks, I'm going to be releasing you over to God and to your husband. But I want you to know that my love for you will never fail. I'll always be her for you."

"But I do have one request." At this she kind of turned her head, wondering what I was going to say. But this was my request: "I just want you to be a good arrow. I'm launching you forth, and I encourage you to fly true to the mark, always pursuing Jesus. I encourage you to tell others about him. That's going to bring me the greatest joy." I totally agree with the apostle John in this respect. He said, "I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth."

As a couple you have this awesome privilege of ministry that will affect generations to come. And I just want to encourage you…seize that opportunity and exploit it for God.

And that leads us to ideal number three. Not only is marriage about dignity and ministry, but…

3. God designed marriage as a place for intimacy, and this is intimacy at a very deep level. Genesis 2:24; Ephesians 5:31-32

Turn with me to Genesis 2:24. This is the classic statement on how marriage works. Moses, the inspired author, says, "For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh." Both Jesus and Paul repeat this verse in their teachings on marriage. But Paul adds a new twist. After quoting 2:24, he says, "This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church."

So that raises a question: How does Christ relate to the church? Answer: there is a mystical spiritual union. The body of Christ is an organism composed of every believer who has ever lived, and there is a mystical spiritual union between Christ and the church.

• Christ is the head; we are the body.

• Christ is the vine; we are the branches.

• Jesus is the shepherd; we are the sheep.

• Jesus is the groom; we are the bride.

There is a mystical spiritual union between Christ and his church.

The same thing is true in marriage. Sometimes you hear people say, "Marriage is only about a piece of paper." Not true! Marriage is way more than a piece of paper.

A. When you get married, God creates a mystical union between you and your spouse that he considers holy.

Let me illustrate it this way. Abigail and Brittany Hensel are a remarkable set of Siamese twins, who were born to very faithful Christian parents. Below the waist these twins are like any child; they can run, walk and ride a bike. But above the waist, they have two sets of organs and heads that sit side by side on fairly broad shoulders.

Abigail's brain controls the left arm and left leg, and Brittany's brain controls the right arm and right leg. Now you'd think that with two different command centers coordination would be all but impossible. Yet they play baseball, basketball and several other sports with remarkable dexterity.

Are Brittany and Abigail one person or are they two people? Of course they are two people, but they share a one-flesh relationship. There is a mystical spiritual union between them. When Life Magazine did a feature article on the twins the title read, "One Body, Two Souls."

What would happen if doctors tried to separate Brittany and Abigail? It couldn't happen. One or both would die.

God intended marriage to be so close it's a one-flesh union. Now this is a huge blessing: Because of this closeness, marriage will fill your soul like no other relationship. It will bring delight like no other relationship.

But because it is such a close union, estrangement, separation and divorce are going to be all the more painful. It will be like the ripping and tearing of flesh. That's why God says, "I hate divorce." It tears people apart.

Now, once you get married that union is a reality in God's sight.

But how do you start enjoying it? Let's go back to Genesis 2:24.

B. Marital intimacy requires a three-fold process: leaving, cleaving and becoming one flesh.

LEAVING COMES FIRST. To enjoy intimacy, your mate must become the primary emotional center of your life under God, not parents, not friends, not kids, not your ex-spouse…but your mate…exclusively!

Some of thorniest marital problems I've seen in counseling have come because the husband wanted his wife to be like his mom, or the wife wanted her husband to be like her father. Or, sometimes in second marriages the couple is so focused on not being like the ex-spouse, the ex continues to wield emotional control. Not good!

In a healthy marriage all those former emotional ties have got to become radically secondary, so that your spouse becomes the emotional center under God.

And this is not easy. The Hebrew word for leave is a very strong word. It means to abandon or forsake. The tense of the verb leave is imperfect, meaning this is something that you must do on a regular basis, even a daily basis.

It doesn't matter whether you've been married for four days or forty years, you must have a radical change in perspective so that all other relationships are now secondary to your spouse.

THE NEXT STEP IN MARITAL INTIMACY IS CLEAVING. We don't use the word cleaving much any more but the Hebrew word behind it means to cling or to stick very closely to something else.

About eight years ago there was an unbelievable storm just after Christmas day in Australia. At the time, sailors from all over the world were competing in a very grueling race from Sidney to Hobart. When the boats were about six hours into the race, the storm of the century sent gale force winds and waves slamming into the fleet.

All through the night, massive Sky-King rescue choppers cut through the rain to rescue sailors whose ships had capsized. When the cable was lowered to the sailors, and they were hauled into the air, what do you suppose their attitude was toward that line? The clung to that line for dear life! They clung to that line as if their very existence depended on it. This is the meaning of the Hebrew word cleave. It means to stick together no matter what.

What does it mean in practice?

It means you turn toward each other instead of against each other as a regular discipline. It doesn't matter how hectic life gets, or how stressed out you are, you engage each other with skillful speech and you serve each other with kindness.

This is a discipline you've got to work at because it's easy for negativity to set in. When you get negative, you're always bugged by your mate. When they speak, you respond with sarcasm. When they express a preference, you make them feel stupid. If that's the cycle you're in, you'll quickly deplete the emotional bank account to the point where there is nothing left.

On the other hand, you can turn toward each other. When your mate speaks, you respond with interest. When your mate expresses a preference, you respond with respect. You do that, and you will build up a positive emotional bank account that takes you through many rough spots in your marriage.

And again, the tense of this verb is in the imperfect tense, which means this must be the habitual activity of your life.

And look at the result: "And the two shall become one flesh." When you faithfully leave and cleave you will enjoy that mystical one-flesh spiritual union God formed on your wedding day.

So God designed marriage for dignity, ministry, and intimacy; and now we come to ideal number four: harmony.

4. God designed marriage as a place for harmony. Song of Solomon 4:9-11; Proverbs 31:10-31

When you look at the wisdom literature, one of the interesting things you see is that marriage was designed to begin with romance and mature into friendship. That's not to say there won't be periodic times of romance through the years. There will! But the driving focus of the relationship, as it matures, is not romance but friendship.

Some couples plunge into distress because they think, "The romance is gone. Those feelings of infatuation that were so exciting at first…I haven't felt them in a long time." So they think there is something wrong with their marriage, and sometimes this addiction to romance that makes them vulnerable to an affair. But it's a simple fact of life that romantic feelings don't stick around for long.

And the way that you get them back seems counter intuitive. You can't get them by forcing them or by finding them with someone else. They don't magically return by going to expensive restaurants and fancy cruises. They come back by working on the friendship aspect of your relationship, day in and day out. When the friendship is strong and growing stronger, you'll discover you'll be surprised by romance. It will sneak up at totally unexpected times.

A. Now let me show you how this works in both Proverbs and the Song of Solomon.

The first half of the Song of Solomon is a poetic description of romantic love that led up to a perfect wedding and an even more perfect wedding night. The second half of the book describes some of the ups and downs of early-married life. But all through the book, both Solomon and his wife give us pictures of their romantic love.

For instance when the bride wants to describe her romantic love for Solomon she says, "My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms in the vineyards of En-Gedi." What's that all about??

En-Gedi is a desert oasis in the wilderness near the Dead Sea. The entire region surrounding En-Gedi is brown, dry, hot and monotonous. But when you come to the oasis everything changes. En-Gedi is lush and green. It's fed by waterfalls that produce refreshing mists. Shrubs and flowers abound. But of all the flowers that bloom in En-Gedi, the henna blossom is the most beautiful of all.

The bride is saying to her fiancée, "You are an oasis of refreshment to me. When I'm away from you I see the world in black and white; when I'm with you I see the world in color; and you are the delight of my life." These are the words of a woman deeply in love.

When Solomon wants to describe his romantic attraction to his bride he describes it like the buzz you might get when you've had several glasses of wine. (Hate to be blunt about it, but that's what he says.) "How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride. How much better is your love than wine." In the poetic books of the Bible, wine is a symbol of intense joy. Solomon is saying he has become intoxicated with her love.

Now you'd expect to get pictures of romance in Song of Solomon - it's all about the beginnings of love. But where do you go to get a picture of mature love the latter stages of marriage?

The best place to go is Proverbs 31. In that chapter King Lemuel paints a picture of a woman in middle age. She has many children. Her extended family surrounds her. And she has a place of prominence in the community because of faithful service to God and her family.

What kind of love does she have with her husband? Friendship! Verse 10 describes her friendship toward him. "She does him good and not evil all the days of her life." This woman is disciplined to reject negativity and pursue harmony.

Verse 38 describes his friendship toward her. "Her children rise up and bless her. Her husband also, and he praises her saying, "Many daughters have done nobly, but you excel them all. Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised." Unlike the lovers in Song of Solomon, her physical beauty is not the focus of his love; it's something deeper.

Rather, the focus is on their friendship. The Hebrew construction of 31:38 makes it clear the husband has led the children to bless their mother. But he goes beyond blessing; he praises her. He says that among all women in the world, she is chief in his affections. His greatest delight is that she is a woman who fears the Lord. This is a powerful statement of married friendship.

When we go from Song of Solomon to Proverbs 31 we see this really important principle: God designed married love to begin with romance, and mature into deep friendship, with flashes of romance along the way.

Do you know that there is also a biochemical explanation for this? Researchers have discovered several biochemical components of romance. When a couple begins a relationship, the brain secretes a hormone called phenyl*ethyl*amine. This hormone is responsible for the euphoric states we experience when falling in love, and it seems to have the same effects as cocaine.

But the brain doesn't continue to secrete phenyl*ethyl*amine for the duration of your relationship…like, you know, till death do you part. The hormone eventually subsides and is replaced by periodic doses of another hormone called oxytocin. That's the hormone that makes us feel bonded to someone else. Oxytocin is not quite as intense as phenyl*ethyl*amine, but it's still deeply satisfying.

The biblical pattern predicts biochemical explanation. God designed romance to mature into friendship.

Now if that's the case, let me tell you the greatest thing you can do for your relationship. When feelings hit a low point, don't be overly concerned about getting your romance back. Cultivate your friendship. If week-in and week-out your friendship flourishes, there will be seasons of romance that bring delight to your soul.

Conclusion:

Let me come to a close: When you think about your marriage, you need to accept a certain tension. There must be a healthy realism. But if that's all you've got that's kind of depressing. You also need a healthy idealism. You need goals that energize you and give you hope for the future. The Bible gives four. Marriage is about…

• Dignity
• Ministry
• Intimacy and
• Harmony

So let me ask you a question. Of the two attitudes which do you think takes priority?

I would argue that idealism takes top priority. Several years ago, Donald Baucom studied the marriages of hundreds of couples, and published the results in The Journal of Marriage and Family. Those couples with higher standards and higher expectations consistently had the best marriages.

So here's my assignment for you this week. Go out on a date and have fun.

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