2 And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church in thy house:
3 Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
In an episode of All in the Family, Archie and Edith were having a recommitment ceremony to celebrate their wedding anniversary. In the service Edith said, “I, Edith, take you Archie to be my lawfully wedded husband ... until I can’t take you no more.”
There are lots of people today who are deciding they can’t take it anymore. They are throwing in the towel and calling it quits with their marriage. So many are doing this that some anthropologists and sociologists are saying that we need to find an alternative to the lifetime commitment that we have expected of people in marriage. That would be fine if marriage were nothing more than a human institution, but it has its origin in God. It was God who said in the beginning, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).
What we need is not to find an alternative to marriage, but to bring Christ into our lives and let him transform us and our marriages. The apostle Paul suggested this when he wrote to Philemon and asked him to greet “the church in thy house.” The phrase “the church in thy house” goes back to the time before there were special buildings called churches. The only place where worship could be held undercover was in a home, and this home was the place where believers habitually gathered and worshipped. While this is the bare meaning of the phrase, it was obvious that when they chose a home where the church was to meet, they must have selected one representing the best they knew in family relationships. They would not have carried the church into a wrangling, unhappy home. The phrase therefore become symbolic of something permanently true in a Christian family.
The church belongs in the home. Christianity at its best invades every area of life, making it richer and better. The home is no exception. The answer to most troubled homes is to let Jesus Christ be Lord of all relationships. The more the church is in your house, the stronger, better, and happier your life will be.
I am not talking about being religious. We can be religious and not have Christ in our relationships. In her book Ashes to Gold, Patti Roberts tells of her marriage to and divorce from Richard Roberts, the son of Oral Roberts. They enjoyed a life of luxury and glamour as singing stars on Oral Roberts’ TV series. They were depicted as the model couple. But all the while their marriage was disintegrating.
When the divorce finally came, Patti said, “People often asked, ‘What happened to your marriage? Did the devil just attack you all of a sudden?’” Her reply was, “No, the devil didn’t attack us suddenly. Our divorce was a direct result of the lives we lived.” Patti and Richard prayed on TV, but they never prayed together in the home. They talked to each other and treated each other kindly while on center stage, but ignored one another in their own living room. They gave more attention to their ministry than to their marriage, so they lost both.
It is the same with almost everyone. When divorce comes, it is usually the direct result of the lives we have lived. If you want a healthy, vibrant marriage, then you need to have the church in your house. You need to make Christ the center of your marriage and let him enrich every part of it. When the church is in your house, the gates of hell will not prevail against it.
What does it mean to have the church in our house? It means at least six things: 1) appreciation; 2) honesty; 3) humility; 4) tolerance; 5) togetherness; and 6) commitment.
1. You must have appreciation.
The novelist Arnold Bennett, I believe, remarked that it seemed to him that marriage nearly always resulted in the death of politeness between husband and wife. That does not have to be the case and it ought not to be. There is so much in the world to tear us down. The home and marriage relationship ought to be a place where we are continually built up.
Some marital partners seem to feel obligated to keep their mates humble, so they are continually chipping away at their mates’ self-esteem. That almost always destroys a relationship. A wife tends to be as beautiful as she is told she is. A husband will do almost anything to live up to the compliments and pride of his wife. So don’t put each other down—build each other up. Practice complimenting your spouse. Nobody ever gets too much genuine praise.
Mark Twain once confessed that he could live for two months on one good compliment, and Mark Twain was not an exceptionally vain man. He was just admitting openly what most of us feel privately—that we are all in need of an uplift from time to time.
2. You must be honest.
We live in a cold, lonely world. We all need to feel that there is someone who knows us, loves us, and cares about us. We need someone with whom we can honestly share our deepest feelings. When God created Adam, he said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” What makes marriage unique is the special intimacy involved. How tragic then to be shut out by the one you love. Yet so many husbands and wives brutally hurt each other by shutting the other out through a lack of honest communication.
Keep your heart’s door open to the one you love by sharing honestly. So often the last kind words people say to each other are the words “I do” at the altar. After that they clam up and resentments begin to build up. If we don’t share our feelings with our spouses, they have to guess at what is going on inside of us and they can never know us.
When we do talk, we ought to be kind and gracious in our speech. I read once about a silent couple who hadn’t been communicating for some time. They were riding on a Sunday afternoon in the country and spotted two mules on the other side of a fence. For the first time in three weeks the husband spoke to his wife, asking sarcastically, “Some of your relatives?” She equaled the occasion by replying, “Yes, on my husband’s side.”
Photographer James Van Der Zee said of a youthful photograph of his wife displayed in his apartment, “When she was young I loved her because she was beautiful. When she got old I loved her because I knew her.”
Do you really know the person you are married to? Have you taken time to talk and to listen? Unless we share our deep feelings with one another we never know the person we are married to.
3. You must be humble.
In any relationship, there will be conflicts sooner or later. Conflict is a part of life, so in marriage—the deepest of all personal relationships—conflict is to be expected. If you are looking for a conflict-free existence, you will not find it this side of the grave. To live successfully in and out of marriage, we must learn how to deal with conflict successfully.
Marriage requires humility. You must learn how to say you’re sorry and that you need forgiveness. If you must always have your way, if you must always be right, or if you can never say, “I am sorry,” your marriage is headed for trouble.
The five most important words you can say in marriage are: “I am sorry; forgive me.”
Then we must learn to forgive one another. Forgiveness means accepting what has happened, accepting the apology and pledging yourself to live in the present and in the future, but not in the past.
To forgive means to forget. If an instance keeps popping back in your mind, then you have not sufficiently forgiven the person. Marriages thrive best when people learn to “eat crow.” Eating crow is never fun. I have eaten it every way it can be prepared: fried, stewed, barbecued, baked, and even extra crispy. You may gag on crow, but it will never choke you to death. To the contrary, it is nourishing to any relationship. So learn to say you’re sorry. That’s the secret to good friendship and to good marriages.
4. You must be tolerant.
In the St. Petersburg Times, Dick Bothwell said, “Marriage, my mother used to proclaim, is like deep-sea fishing. You never know what you’ve got until you get in the boat.” When we are courting, we all do a masterful job of acting and pretending. We not only put on our best clothes, but we also put on our best behavior. Most couples present Academy Award performances during their courting days. But once they have landed their spouse, it is a different story. Then the real person comes to light, warts and all.
Good marriages demand a high degree of tolerance. We must learn to accept faults, weaknesses, and differences in our mate. Not every difference is a fault. Not every difference is a weakness. We must accept and adjust ourselves to our spouse’s differences. We must not demand of our spouse what we cannot give ourselves—perfection.
Your marriage is going to be what you and your mate determine to make it. You may discuss things, and you may even complain about things, but you will seldom change your mate very much. However, you can change yourself. When you change yourself, that helps to change your spouse. The switch to change is on the inside. No one can flick it on but you. So do most of your marital remodeling on yourself and learn to accept your mate as he or she is.
5. You must forge togetherness.
A long time ago somebody said, “The family that prays together stays together.” I loved that the first time I read it. Then later, a wise man added something else to that statement. He said, “The family that prays together and plays together stays together.”
The truth is that successful marriages are those in which husbands and wives plan together, work together, play, laugh, suffer, sacrifice, and pray together.
Good marriages involve having more fun with each other than with other people. This is a relationship built on friendship. Learn to enjoy each other by sharing the important things of life. This means tasks as well as feelings. Too many relationships become dull and routine because couples allow themselves too few opportunities to play.
If you don’t schedule time to be alone and enjoy activities together, then your happy moments will be shared with other relationships. Sometimes those situations can temporarily become more meaningful than your marriage. Commit yourself to being or becoming “best friends” in marriage. Third parties will not be a threat to you if you enjoy each other more than you enjoy someone else.
6. You must be committed.
One or our fine attorneys called me some time ago. He wanted to give some money to the church and requested that it go in some way to strengthening marriages. He said, “I spend a lot of time dealing with domestic cases in my office and it is ridiculous what is happening to marriage today.” Then he said, “When Jesus Christ is a part of a marriage, the success rate it has is remarkable. It doesn’t just survive, it flourishes and grows.”
That’s why it is so important to have the church in your house. It gives your marriage that added spiritual dimension that can strengthen and sustain it. The apostle Paul said of Jesus, “In him all things hold together.” Jesus is not only the glue of the universe, he is the glue of marriage and the family.
Every marriage needs the roots of commitment to God, commitment to one another, and commitment to the permanence of marriage. Marriages are like trees. Trees have branches, but they also have roots. Every time new branches come, there must also be stronger roots. As we branch out in our lives and our marriages into new experiences, new responsibilities, and new challenges, we must also deepen our roots.
The new expansions of life can never substitute for faith any more than branches can substitute for roots. Branches require roots. I drive out in the country occasionally and I often see trees that have been blown down. There were obviously too many branches above the ground and not enough roots below ground. I come back into town and I find some lives and marriages have broken down for the same reason: too much strain, not enough staunchness, too much modern life, not enough deep roots in God and his word.
Ruth expressed the kind of commitment that ought to bind marriages together when she said, “Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me” (Ruth 1:16-17).
Jesus Christ gives us the strength to make and to keep that kind of commitment. In a day when the marriage vows are taken so lightly and broken too readily, the people of God ought to be different. We will be if we will have the church in our house.