SWM 121 – Why marriage should be hard work

Marriage is hard. Divorce is hard. Choose your hard.

I made a post on social media some time ago saying, “Marriage is hard, divorce is hard, choose your hard,” and someone asked me if I then disagreed with some other bloggers and podcasters who say that marriage is and should be easy.  This post expands on what I wrote in response to that question.

There is a trend these days to water down Christianity and make it easy.  In the times of the early church, being a Christian meant persecution, possibly even death, and they still willingly took on that challenge.  These days, people want Christianity to be comfortable and easy. We see many churches that are more social clubs than ministries, many pastors who are eloquent speakers but not doers of the faith, and many teachers who scratch those itching ears by telling you that being a Christian should be easy and comfortable.

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

2 Timothy 4:3-5 (NKJV)

We see some of this in the prosperity gospel, but also elements of it bleeding into mainstream Christianity. Even if they claim to reject the prosperity gospel on the surface, aspects of it still infect their teaching.

In particular, I see this in the teaching about marriage.  Some few are teaching that marriage is and should be easy.  So, in this post, we’re going to tackle this false teaching and explore why it’s false and what that hard work is so that you can have a fantastic marriage, not because it’s easy, but because the work is worth it.

The Christian Walk and Difficulty

I think anyone who tells you being a Christian is easy is trying to make themselves look good, which I think is a bit ironic because, to me, it shows they’re not doing the work a Christian should.  It’s not easy. It was never meant to be.

Someone in my supporter’s forum challenged this by that originally the plan was for it to be easy, but the fall made it hard – I disagree – I think the fall was part of the plan. God didn’t make a mistake and wasn’t blindsided by it.  He knew it would happen, and He planned for its inevidibility. You can get more info about this viewpoint in my sermon It’s all worth it

Let’s take a look at some of the things the Bible says we can expect about following Christ:

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33 (NKJV)

“Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.”

2 Timothy 3:12 (NKJV)

“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

Matthew 7:13-14 (NKJV)

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”

James 1:2-4 (NKJV)

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: ‘For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’ Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”

Romans 8:35-37 (NKJV)

“Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.”

1 Peter 4:12-13 (NKJV)

“For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake,”

Philippians 1:29 (NKJV)

These are just seven verses and passages that tell us that we should expect pain, suffering, persecution, difficulty, and more to follow Christ.  There are many more in scripture echoing the same teaching.

Of course, it’s not that it’s not worth it – it is.  We will be victorious in the end, but even before that, we learn to live a life of joy and contentment – not because there is no suffering or hardships, but despite them.

“Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content:”

Philippians 4:11 (NKJV)

Jesus says that the world will hate us because of him.  Those with an easy life don’t fight against the world but become a part of it and follow it.  Why would Satan attack them when he already has them?

Marriage as a Reflection of the Christian Walk

Throughout the Bible, marriage is used as a metaphor for our relationship with God, either corporately or individually. From Isaiah to Hosea and parables to prophecy, the Bible consistently links the relationship between husband and wife to the relationship between God and us.

Paul goes a step further and says that our marriages should follow the example of God’s love for us:

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her,”

Ephesians 5:25 (NKJV)

These verses don’t depict an easy relationship but rather one of sacrifice and even death.  Of course, hopefully, this death in your marriage is symbolic – the death we should each (husbands and wives) die is the death of self as we seek to let a Christ-like life replace the sinful parts of us.

“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

Galatians 2:20 (NKJV)

As much as we’d like this to be a one-time thing, it is an ongoing process.

“Then He said to them all, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.'”

Luke 9:23 (NKJV)

The Purpose of Marriage

Every day, we seek to die so that we might live.

“That the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ,”

1 Peter 1:7 (NKJV)

It is a refinement process, and marriage is the best furnace to accomplish this.  And that’s not a comfortable thing.  As Paul writes, while he’s trying to become Christ-like himself, it’s a constant battle of trying to do what is good and failing because the sinful part in us rises up.

“For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.”

Romans 7:15-20 (NKJV)

And this is where we find ourselves in marriage – two people, both trapped in a sinful nature, hopefully, each trying to die to that nature daily and let Christ live in us, knowing that we will fail every day, most hours and likely most minutes.  

It gets both easier and more challenging the longer you know each other

If you read Paul’s writings, you see a progression in him.  He starts by feeling pretty good about himself: good upbringing, pedigree, and behaviours.  Then things begin to change.  He builds a relationship with God instead of just following rules.  He starts to realize just how sinful he still is.  The more he gets rid of sin, the more he finds.  Ultimately, he claims he is the worst sinner ever (1 Timothy 1:15).

His relationship with God gets better, yet he sees more and more of a struggle with the sinful part of himself.

And this is how our marriages go as well.  When you just start, marriage is easy.  You’re high on honeymoon hormones, and nothing they can do is wrong.  Then you get to know them, and they let their guard down.  You get to know their habits – good and bad.  You see more of their personality – good and bad.  You start to see their sinful nature.

And they get to see yours.

And now you have two sinful people who can’t hide anymore – because it’s easy to hide for a few hours, maybe, but every moment of every day?  You can’t keep it up.  You may hide some of them, but not everything.

So you work on yourselves, and you become a better person.  You peel back the layers and get out of sinful behaviours.  Hopefully, you reveal new ones.  Because they are there – it’s just a question of whether or not you’re hiding them.

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”

Romans 3:23 (NKJV)

“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

1 John 1:8 (NKJV)

And so, in some ways, things get easier – because you’re clearing up a lot of the small stuff at the beginning. You learn to be less selfish and be kinder and more loving.

But then you start digging into those sins that have been around your entire life – the ones you’re not ready to give up yet.  Sometimes, your spouse finds them before you want to see them.

And that is hard, especially when it’s something that hurts them.

They also start to see those sins that you haven’t been able to clear up yet that they’ve seen for a long time.  Some might be small initially, but they add up after decades.  

Marriage is about choosing to love them despite all that.  Even when they aren’t willing to tackle their sins, even when their sins hurt you – you keep loving them.  As best as you can anyway – you’ve got your own sins getting in the way after all.

And that is the hard work of marriage.  It’s not easy.  It’s a daily dying to self.  If it gets easy, you’re coasting rather than doing the work.

Ideally, you have a spouse that won’t let you coast.  You’ll have someone who will tell you when they’re hurt and why and ask you to be better.  Then you must swallow your pride and do it, and that’s hard.

Marriage isn’t easy because being Christ-like as a sinner isn’t easy – it’s not even possible.  The best we can do is die to ourselves every day, and even that, we don’t do well.

The reward of marriage you work hard at isn’t an easy marriage

The reward is that you have someone to do the hard work with, who will love you even when you fail, when the work is too hard, and when you backslide.  

It’s the opportunity to love unconditionally and be loved unconditionally and learn what that means when God loves you unconditionally because that day-to-day expression of love is far more tangible in marriage sometimes than in our relationship with God.

And so, your spouse becomes your oasis against that fight – you two against a world that hates you for being Christian, including your sinful nature.  That doesn’t make it easy – but it is fantastic.

Because what worth doing was ever easy?

Embrace the Challenges

Why marriage should be hard work

Eventually, you no longer have to run from conflict or challenges if you do the work.  You head towards them, knowing it will be challenging, but also that you’ll come out the other side stronger and better because you can’t have a happy resolution without leaving some sinful part of you behind.  Without a part of you dying and Christ coming in to replace it.

The difficulty in marriage, the hard part, is required for that growth and relational development.  If you never had conflicts or struggles, you would be left with a shallow relationship that hasn’t been tested and so does not know how much it can trust.

It’s the difficulties that build the strength.

It’s the couples that I see who say, “We never argue,” “We never had a struggle,” “We never had a challenge,” or “Marriage is easy” – those are the ones I worry about.  Their relationships aren’t growing because how do you grow without trials?  They’re relationships without vulnerability because how can you be vulnerable yet not share the sin in you?  They are relationships that don’t know about the war because they’re so far behind enemy lines that they don’t even see the battle anymore.

And they’ll tell you you’re wrong because you have struggles.  They’ll tell you not to listen to me because I’m not qualified to speak about marriage.  They’ll tell you it’s not biblical to struggle but won’t offer any verses.

Don’t listen to them.  Don’t listen to me.  Read your Bible and listen to it.

So, yes, marriage is hard work, and I think it should be

My life is better with my spouse than without it.  That doesn’t mean it’s easy – easy wasn’t in the cards either way.  But better doesn’t always mean easy.  

Our relationship with our spouse mirrors this journey in our relationship with God.  Just as marriage has challenges, so will our relationship with Him. We will find conflicts but also forgiveness and mercy.  The only difference in that relationship is that He is always right, and we always need compassion.  In your marriage, you get to take turns, or, more likely, neither of you is right, and both need compassion.

But, just as we find richness, growth and fulfillment in marriage, we find the same things in our relationship with God.  We gain a deep sense of purpose, peace and joy in both.

When we acknowledge the reality of sin in our lives, we are humbled to accept grace and forgiveness.  Our marriages allow us to practice this with someone to see the hurt and pain on their face when we sin, whereas, with God, we know He’s saddened, but we don’t get to see or feel it.

And so marriage, in its hardship, in those struggles, in the hurt and pain, teaches us about God.  It gives us a tangible opportunity to become more Christ-like and experience forgiveness and healing daily from someone who is right in front of us – where we can see the love and acceptance on their face.

So, while we acknowledge the reality of sin in our lives, in our marriages, and our relationship with God (at least on our side), we should also embrace the abundance of grace, love and mercy we get from both God and our spouses, acting as a proxy for Him as they work to reflect His love as well.  In this way, our weaknesses become opportunities for His strength to be made perfect (2 Corinthians 12:9).

So, have a hard marriage.  I think it’s good for you.

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