“Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.” – Psalm 127:1.

There was a movie made in 1938 entitled “You and Me.” It is a story about an altruistic department-store owner who hires ex-convicts in order to give them a second chance at life. Unfortunately, one of the convicts he hires recruits two of his fellow ex-convicts in a plan to rob the store. It demonstrates how complicated relationships can be, no matter how well intentioned. I can’t thing of anything so complicated, yet so simple as marriage. In our current teaching series at Northstar Church, we are trying to provide you with the blueprint for a successful marriage.

Most people imagine marriages somewhat differently than the reality. If you could be the proverbial fly on the wall in your marriage over the years, you would probably learn that. No doubt, you would see the occasional conflict over finances, see yourself weary from wrestling with a margin-less busy schedule, or watch communication meltdowns. You could also see stronger jolts such as infidelity, anger, and isolation. But, you will also see the many wonderful things that result from a good marriage. Someone once said that you can tell a good, surviving marriage, by the expression in the partners’ eyes–like those of sailors who have shared battles against foul weather and come out stronger as a result.

This series is about how we make our marriage stronger in good times and bad. Of course, I know that there are lots of circumstances that complicate things, but I also know that if you were to ask me what was the most important lesson I’d learned about marriage, my answer would be simple. It’s all about love.

People write songs and poems about it. Movies are made regularly on the subject. It is the subject of countless books and magazines.  And I don’t think we could even count the number of songs about love. A musician once said that “there are lots of songs about falling in love, and there are lots of songs about falling out of love, but there aren’t many songs about just being in love, and all the ups and downs of it, and how you make it last forever.”

There is one strong reason for the lack of songs about how you make love last. In order to make a marriage last, you have to go beyond love as a feeling to loving as Christ loved the church.  Because marriage, at the end of the day, is primarily a means of God drawing us to holiness rather than an instrument used to bring about our own happiness. That may throw a wet blanket on marriage for the hopelessly romantic. It would seem to some to be a recipe for unhappy relationships. But actually the opposite is true. A marriage connected to God produces a love that will stand the test of time.

Because in most long-term marriages, sooner or later, the intensity of our feelings for each other begins to dim or seemingly fade into the past. When this happens, some people see a red flag and wonder if their love, that was once so strong, is dying. This is when people start to consider making an exit.  This is where people begin to wonder if they married the right person. This is where people start to wonder out loud: “ Do I even love him/her anymore?”

But the truth is the temporary waning of those high intense feelings is pretty normal. It doesn’t mean the end of anything, but rather the opportunity to connect to God and become an even better partner to your spouse.  We have to understand that love is a decision not a choice. This is not a question about feelings, but about choices.  It is not “I do” but “I will.”

The word ‘love’ in the Bible very rarely refers to feelings; it usually refers to actions. To love someone in the Bible means to serve them, to bless them, to do good things for them, day in and day out, whether you feel like it or not. And the good news about marriage that I want to share with you is that when couples make this choice, day in and day out, something deeper and far more lasting grows inside. It’s different from the early feelings of romantic love that bring us together; it’s deeper, stronger, more stable – it’s the experience Jesus talks about in Matthew 19:5 when He says, “and the two shall become one flesh.”

Love is the willingness to take action. In the marriage ceremony, couples make some pretty radical promises: “Will you love her, comfort her, honor and protect her, be faithful to her?” There are many variations on those promises, but in most cases the intent and meaning is the same.  No wedding ceremony I have conducted or attended ever gave the condition that you are obligated to meet those promises “as long as the feeling of being in love doesn’t wane.” No the promise is “as long as you both shall live.” And in every case the answer I received or heard was “I will.”

In Part 2, I will go into more detail of what “I Will” means.