Want a Strong Marriage? Serve Others!

October 21, 2019

My favorite Biblical wedding passage is Romans 12:9-10. I try to work it in to every ceremony I perform. I love what it says (and it is also not 1 Corinthians 13, which seems to be read at every wedding).  The Apostle Paul wrote lots of passages talking about love, but this is one of my favorites.  So, Romans 12:9-10 reads:

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.

This communicates a lot about what I hope for a couple.  What will you need to be successful as a couple?  Your love for each other must be genuine.  There really isn't love at first sight. Genuine love is not instant; rather genuine love grows over a period of time.  It is not born out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.  It is not infatuation or anything like that. It is a strong and patient process. Your love must grow and mature. Mutual affection means being one in spirit and in purpose.  If a relationship is one sided, then it is not a relationship. Marriage has often been described as give and take, but a truly successful union is give, give and give.  In Philippians 2:3 Paul tells us to:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit but in humility consider others better than yourselves.

Paul encourages us to have a servant's heart, to have an unselfish determination to serve others. And when couples choose to unselfishly serve others together, they experience peace, contentment and a deeper bond that strengthens their marriage.

He encourages us to outdo each other in honor.  Marriage is a competition of service.  Who can out serve the other? How wonderful if the couple tries to out love and out honor each other, to live a life of service to each other.  That is a truly beautiful thing.

Paul then tells us not to lag on or lose zeal in spirit. Simply put, don’t let life wear you out. The couple needs to pause, take a look at the view.  Marriage is a journey, but not one that is plod along with grit and determination.  If all we focus on is getting there, we won’t enjoy the journey.  It is the moments of fun, of zeal that make the difference in being able to take the next step forward.  Stop and notice how far you have come as a couple.  Celebrate that with each other, in big and small ways. When i am talking to engaged couples, I stress not letting engagement season wear you out. Focus on the relationship and the planning at the same time.

Now, I usually stop there in the ceremony.  The passage speaks well to where a couple stands on wedding day.  To say much more on wedding day or the weeks leading up to it is futile.  Couples just don’t have the bandwidth to absorb anything else. There is a season where the couple needs to just focus on the couple. And that is ok. Especially on wedding day it can just be about them. But soon after the wedding, the couple gets back to normal life and has to answer the question, “what now?”  It cannot just be about them from this point forward.  Paul continues:

Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.  

Paul continues the idea of service, but makes the circle a little wider. What does serving others have to do with us as a couple?  Everything!  Serving each other in marriage is a template for serving others.  Having a servant’s heart does not stay in the marriage. It can’t. Couples that serve each other well will serve others well.  I recommend that couples find something they can participate in together.  As a minister, my first recommendation is getting involved in a local church.  But even for those who are not connected to a church, find an organization or cause that they both believe in.

Marriage has to be more than just the two of you.

In the end, it's not really about you as a person or as a couple, is it? It's about others – the poor, the needy.  Serving others strengthens your marriage and your family. But it also affects your church, your community and the world. Whenever you serve others, you change lives.

Every year, my wife and I lead a group to work with Disaster Rebuilders- Fuller Center for Housing.   And it is just what it sounds like.  We go to places that are recovering from hurricanes and spend a week doing construction.  Houston, North Carolina, Puerto Rico.  It’s not flashy, but it is extremely cool to work side by side with your spouse.  We are doing an act of kindness, but at the same time we are building our relationship. While we hate the pictures of disasters on the news when we see an area hit in the Fall hurricane season; we both look at each other and realize where the following summer is going to find us.

Serving as a couple has benefits that go beyond bonding, contentment and peace. There is an intimacy that comes with working together on a service project or giving together to those in need. Couples who embrace serving others experience an added closeness, and there are special moments and memories that naturally come when you do things together.

And once you are raising a family this becomes an incredible teaching tool. Kids learn early on that the world is bigger than them and that it is not all about them. Service is something that is caught through modeling, not taught without example.  Learning service at a young age will benefit them in their future marriage.

And how do we handle people who disagree with you? What is a good model for conflict in a marriage relationship?  Paul continues further:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Now if every married couple just took two of Paul’s suggestions to heart, it would be transformative in conflict resolution. But that is for another discussion. So, what is one of the biggest things you can do to feed the relationship between the two of you? Do something to help others outside of the two of you.

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