The Greatest Sermon in History Part 9
Protecting Your Marriage
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
March 21, 2004


Main Passage: Matthew 5:27-32 (NLT)


“By all means marry. If you get a good wife, you’ll be happy. If you get a bad one, you’ll become a philosopher.”
~ Socrates

“A husband is living proof that a wife can take a joke.”

Lady Astor once said to Winston Churchill, “If I were your wife, I would put poison in your coffee.”
Churchill replied, “If you were my wife, I would drink it.”

Here’s a comic strip…
[Bringing Up Father – March 18, 2004]

Marriage sure does take a beating. And when you look at the statistics, it all seems pretty hopeless.

• 43% of marriages end in divorce within the first 15 years.
• The peak time for divorces is 2-3 years into the marriage.
• 39% of second marriages end within 10 years.
• Canada is higher than the US in its divorce rate.

Even so, people within the Church and throughout society agree that marriage is good. Marriage should be encouraged and protected and nurtured and strengthened. Yet divorce continues to threaten and destroy marriages every day.

Earlier, Chris read for us the words of Jesus in Matthew 5. In that passage, Jesus spoke against divorce and spoke in favour of marriage. So this morning, we’re going to take a look at the problems inherent in divorce and how we can protect our marriages and strengthen them so they don’t fall victim to divorce.

I believe some of the things we will talk about over the next 24 minutes or so will be extremely helpful to those of you who are in a marriage relationship. For those of you who aren’t married, many of the principles we’ll be talking about can be applied to any relationship. Let’s start with “The Problems of Divorce”.


The Problems of Divorce:


A. Divorce is not in God’s plan

God created marriage. Despite current forces in society trying to redefine marriage and change what it is, God holds the copyright. He created marriage. He placed within us a desire to be united in a life-long covenant relationship with someone else. And it breaks His heart when He sees these love-filled life-long commitments shatter into divorce. In fact, the Bible records God saying…

Malachi 2:16 (NLT)
“For I hate divorce!” says the LORD, the God of Israel.

Understand that. God hates divorce. He doesn’t hate divorced people… He recognizes human weakness and knows that sometimes we mess up, and divorce is part of that… But He hates divorce and what it does to us, the people He loves.

Now, if you were to read through the Old Testament, particularly the book of Deuteronomy (chapter 24), it would indicate that divorcing a spouse was cool with God and all you had to do was fill out a form. A husband could give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her out the door.

Deuteronomy 24:1 (MSG)
If a man marries a woman and then it happens that he no longer likes her because he has found something wrong with her, he may give her divorce papers, put them in her hand, and send her off.

That’s all there was to it. That simple. So why is Jesus so much stricter when it comes to divorce? That’s exactly what the Pharisees wondered. So they set out to trap Jesus in an argument about it. One day Jesus was teaching about marriage and speaking against divorce, and the Pharisees jumped at their chance.

Matthew 19:7-9 (MSG)
They shot back in rebuttal, “If that’s so, why did Moses give instructions for divorce papers and divorce procedures?”
Jesus said, “Moses provided for divorce as a concession to your hardheartedness, but it is not part of God’s original plan. I’m holding you to the original plan, and holding you liable for adultery if you divorce your faithful wife and then marry someone else.”

So divorce is not in God’s plan. But in our society we’ve developed a low tolerance for frustration and east access to divorce. As a result, a lot more divorces happen than should happen. But is there anytime when divorce is permitted? Well, Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9 tell us it is permitted to divorce…

When is Divorce Permitted?

When your spouse has been unfaithful.

Note this, though: Divorce is permitted, not recommended. Adultery does not mean that a marriage can’t be saved. There are plenty of examples all around us of marriages that have survived the storm of adultery. Jesus says that adultery can legitimately lead to divorce, but it would seem that this is still a concession He has made for our human weaknesses and hardheartedness.

Because marriage is meant to be binding and permanent. It’s a bonding in which husband and wife become one. It wasn’t designed to be terminated.

When your spouse demands it.

As a follower of Christ, you shouldn’t be the one to seek a divorce. And you also shouldn’t cause all kinds of problems trying to force your spouse to ask for one. But in the event that your spouse does demand a divorce, there’s not much you can do.

1 Corinthians 7:12-13, 15 (NLT)
If a Christian man has a wife who is an unbeliever and she is willing to continue living with him, he must not leave her. And if a Christian woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he is willing to continue living with her, she must not leave him…
But if the husband or wife who isn’t a Christian insists on leaving, let them go. In such cases the Christian husband or wife is not required to stay with them, for God wants his children to live in peace.

To my knowledge, that’s it. Those are the only Biblically supported reasons for divorce. That doesn’t mean that divorce is unforgivable, but it does mean that every effort should be made to avoid divorce and maintain the marriage.

“We must erase the word ‘divorce’ from our vocabulary with our spouse! It is not an option in the Christian marriage. Whatever happens, no matter how bad it gets, we must be committed to finding a solution and making it work through prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit.”
~ Brian Anderson

You shouldn’t threaten your spouse with divorce, you shouldn’t turn to it as a first resort, you shouldn’t be that eager to turn to it even as a last resort.


B. Divorce Exacts a Toll

It will cost you in many ways. Let’s identify three of them.

  • It costs you personally.

    For anyone going through a divorce, there is added stress, there are struggles with self-worth, and there are battles with depression. The Atlanta Center for Disease Control conducted a study of divorced people and their families. Their study concluded that the physical, relational, psychological, sociological and emotional effects of divorce far outweigh the positive aspects of divorce.
  • It costs you financially.

    I know a couple in Halifax who started the process of getting a divorce. They separated, talked with lawyers, worked out details with the kids, got their own places, and then were able to reconcile. But even just the 6-8 months that they were separated cost them tens of thousands of dollars in extra expenses. The financial costs of getting a divorce are much greater than you might expect.

    You know, when you mention marriage counselling, most people think, “I could never afford that.” But counselling doesn’t cost nearly as much as a divorce would cost. Hey, people will pay more for a vet for their pet than they will for counselling.

  • It costs your children.

    Many times, people will get a divorce and will rationalize that it would be better for the children to not have to deal with the tensions of a strained marriage. But study after study reveal that is simply not the case. Except in rare cases of violent abuse, children are better off in a home with a mother and a father even if they are having marital problems.

    Divorce can create huge consequences for children. 20-30% are affected to the point they need clinical help.

    “The fact is that divorce always brings great pain to both spouses, and when there are children involved, they will pay a price. It is always preferable to work the marriage out if at all possible.”
    ~ Gary DeLashmutt

    An article in Newsweek proposed:

    “Because of the shattering emotional and developmental effects of divorce on children, it would be reasonable to introduce ‘braking’ mechanisms that would require parents contemplating divorce to pause for reflection.”
    ~ Norval Glenn and Kathryn Kramer, University of Texas,
    cited in Barbara Kantrowitz, “Breaking the Divorce Cycle,” Newsweek, January 13, 1992

    And one more quote…

    “The ‘triple-threat’ of marital conflict, divorce, and out-of-wedlock births has led to a generation of children at great risk for poverty, alienation, and antisocial behaviour… A boring marriage doesn’t harm the child.”
    ~ Ken Nielson


Divorce is often seen as an “easy out”, but most who have been through a divorce would tell you there’s nothing easy about it. Only in rare cases involving abuse and possibly adultery does the situation improve because of divorce, and even then there’s a price to be paid.


C. Divorce Ignores the Root Issues.

If you get a divorce, it’s possible that you’ll never face and fix the real issues. Do you have unrealistic expectations of marriage? Do you have a problem with commitment? Do you lack relational skills? Are you bad at handling family finances? Are there things in your past that taint your present relationships? What led to the divorce?

With divorce, you never really have to answer that question. And whatever baggage or whatever issue led to divorce in one relationship could do the same thing in the next relationship… and the next… and the next. So you wind up in a repeating cycle of defeat and denial and the problem never gets solved. Sometimes you just have to push through it and get beyond the problem.

Did you know there is no evidence that unhappily married couples who divorce are any happier than unhappily married couples who stay married? In fact, researchers have found that two thirds of unhappily married couples who stay together report that their marriages are happy five years later. 8 out of 10 marriages that are very unhappy but avoid divorce are happily married five years later because they’ve had to work through the problems. They may not have solved all the problems, but they’ve worked through them.

“Marriages get better not because of solving problems but because of outlasting them.”
~ Ken Nielson

You solve the problems you can, and get through the rest.


So if divorce isn’t really an option, and if living with the pain of a dysfunctional marriage is unthinkable, and if a plea of insanity won’t help you beat a murder rap, what do you do? How do you take a marriage that is struggling and turn it around into a strong, healthy marriage?

John Gottman is a clinical psychologist and a professor at the University of Washington. And over the past 30 years he has observed the interaction of thousands of couples and can now predict with 91% accuracy which couples will go the distance and which couples are heading for divorce court. He says he can make these prediction based on what he calls the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. These are four poisons that he says are so deadly that it can kill love when allowed to roam unchecked in a relationship.

So let me give you each one, and talk about what antidotes help you counteract the poisons.


Four Marriage Poisons and their Antidotes:
(John Gottman’s “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”)


1. Criticism

Gottman says that complaints are okay. They are statements that deal with reality and express unmet needs. But criticism is a personal attack. A criticism accuses the other person and puts them in the awkward position of either having to take a direct hit or become defensive. It’s a no-win scenario. Criticism is aimed at the character of a person and is extremely damaging to the relationship.

What are examples of statements you might hear between a husband and wife that are critical?


Here’s an example: A complaint might say something like, “I was really looking forward to going out tonight. We haven’t been spending much time together lately.” That’s a complaint. A criticism would sound something like, “You always do this. Your friends and your work are more important to you than me.” See the difference? A complaint deals with a specific situation; a criticism makes broad, sweeping statements blaming the other person and says there’s something globally wrong with them.

What’s the antidote?

Antidote: Complaining without suggesting partner is defective.

Even better is offering a complaint along with a solution. Just beware of the “You always” or “You never” accusations.

In your notes, you’ll see a couple questions here that you can use for personal reflection.

Questions for reflection:
When I express displeasure, am I complaining or criticizing?
How can I better communicate my feelings without going for character assassination?


2. Contempt

When criticism fails to bring about the results we’re looking for… and it always does… we start to resent our spouse and even become hostile toward them. You see contempt when one person rolls their eyes at the other person, when name-calling starts, and when you dismiss the other person’s feelings because you think they’re stupid. You devalue them. That’s contempt.

What’s the antidote?

Antidote: Creating a culture of praise and respect.

We need to validate each other. Gottman says you need a 5:1 ratio of positive:negative. For every negative comment, praise your spouse with five positive ones. In fact, Gottman says that as long as the five to one ratio is in place, any marriage will work.

Questions for reflection:
How often do I express admiration for my spouse? Do they receive it as admiration?
Do I value my spouse’s opinions? Do I validate him/her?


3. Defensiveness

Criticism leads to contempt, and contempt leads to defensiveness. If you’re the one being attacked with criticism and contempt, a natural reaction is to become defensive. It is natural, but it’s not at all helpful. You respond by defending yourself while at the same time attacking back with criticism of your own.

What’s the antidote?

Antidote: Accepting responsibility for part of the problem.

As the song says, “It takes two, baby.” Any relational problem is a shared problem. Any pain you’re feeling is a shared pain. Stay connected. Learn to listen. Come together instead of taking sides.

Questions for reflection:
What forms of defensiveness do you recognize in yourself? (e.g. denying responsibility, making excuses, forming imaginary arguments, “Yes, but…”, reacting with more criticism and contempt, whining.)
How can you respond better next time?


4. Stonewalling

If you are stonewalling, you withdraw from the relationship. You’ve had enough and your not going to take anymore. So you avoid any kind of vulnerability, you evade conversations… you’re just not going to deal with it anymore. Maybe you feel you’ve had enough criticism and contempt and you’ve been on the defensive for too long so you retreat within yourself. Maybe that’s where you feel safe, or maybe you just think, “this will show them,” and you give them the “silent treatment.” So you end up simply living parallel lives like roommates.

I read this week that 85% of stonewallers are men. We’re the ones who tend to withdraw emotionally and disengage from the relationship when things go bad. The problem is, the problem still is. Nothing’s been dealt with. Stonewalling solves nothing, and leads to disaster.

So what’s the antidote?

Antidote: Staying emotionally connected and committed to solving the problem.

Questions for reflection:
Am I guilty of stonewalling? What do I hope to accomplish? What are the normal results?
How can my partner and I better face our issues together?


One thing I want to add to this talk about the Four Horsemen and dealing with these poisons in our marriages is that we don’t have to face them alone. It’s okay to shoot off a signal flare saying, “We need help!” Problem is, the average couple waits six years before seeking help for a problem. There’s something about counselling that we see as being weak, and if we admit that we have problems we’re afraid of what others will think. But the truth is, even marriages between two strong Christians who love each other and are committed to each other face difficulties. And what I want to do is give you permission to get the help you need without anyone judging you or thinking less of you because you recognize a problem. In my books, that’s actually a sign of strength and wisdom.


Now, before we finish here, I recognize that we have a number of single people in this church. You’ve sat here this morning trying to glean some advice for your own friendships and relationships while we’ve been talking about marriage. Well, if you’re here this morning and you’re single, I have some advice for you.


Advice for Singles:


A. Don’t tie your self-worth to marriage.

Your self-worth should be tied to who God made you to be, not who you’re married to. Jesus Himself said…

Matthew 19:11-12 (MSG)
“Marriage isn’t for everyone. Some, from birth seemingly, never give marriage a thought. Others never get asked—or accepted. And some decide not to get married for kingdom reasons. But if you’re capable of growing into the largeness of marriage, do it.”
Yes, God created man and woman and created the marriage relationship, but He also recognizes that marriage isn’t for everyone. If you were to read 1 Corinthians 7, you’d find Paul actually saying that if you’re single then you’re better off than if you were married. His advice is that if you can’t handle your sex-drive outside of marriage then you’d better get married. But if that’s not a problem for you, then stay single. This is what he said…

1 Corinthians 7:8-9 (NLT)
Now I say to those who aren’t married and to widows—it’s better to stay unmarried, just as I am. But if they can’t control themselves, they should go ahead and marry. It’s better to marry than to burn with lust.

So according to Paul, the people that should have a problem with self-worth are the ones who have to get married because they can’t control themselves!


B. Use your “singleness” to God’s advantage.

Matthew 19:12 (MSG)
“And some decide not to get married for kingdom reasons.”

With fewer responsibilities at home, you have more time to serve God and help others. That’s just a fact. When I was a staff pastor at a church in Bedford, the senior pastor used to joke that he wasn’t going to let me get married because I wouldn’t have as much time for the church. Robin White will be moving here in a couple of weeks to join us and volunteer his time at Sunrise. He couldn’t do that if he were married and had to support a family. He’s using his singleness to God’s advantage.


C. Don’t rush into anything.

There’s no hurry to get married. In fact, there’s no requirement to ever get married. But if you want to get married, that’s great. Just take your time during the selection process. Because a lot of the problems that couples face could have been avoided with a little more time beforehand making sure you’ve got the right partner.

Hey, there are a lot to choose from. If you’re not into tall guys, go for a short guy. If you don’t like blondes, go for a brunette. If you don’t find what you’re looking for in Charlottetown, check out the rest of the province. Travel across the country. If you exhaust all the possibilities in North America, take a trip across Europe and then on to Asia. Search through the Outback of Australia. You can search high and low for your marriage partner. If you still can’t find what you’re looking for, take a decade off then go back and search some more. There’s no rush.


D. Make sure you’re compatible.

There are lots of things to discuss here. What are some ways you need to be sure you’re compatible?


Life goals, family plans, who to visit on the holidays, where you want to live, career ambitions… those are all important. But the most important compatibility requirement is to find someone who shares your faith in God. I’ve known a lot of couples where one was a believer and the other wasn’t, and the stresses created by that are unbelievable. So if you’re going to get married, marry someone who shares your faith.

2 Corinthians 6:14, 15 (NLT)
Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers… How can a believer be a partner with an unbeliever?

(You probably know this passage better as “Do not be unequally yoked.”) That passage isn’t talking specifically about marriage partnerships, but I think that’s where it’s best applied.


That’s it. That’s all I’ve got for you this morning. I’m going to close in prayer, and I’m going to pray specifically for the marriages represented here at Sunrise. I would encourage you to join with me in silent prayer, that God would strengthen our relationships, keep us safe from divorce, and help up experience the fullness of a love relationship the way He intended. If you’re married, pray for your own marriage. If you’re single, pray for the marriage of the person sitting beside you or whoever else comes to mind.



Copyright © 2004