The one most important attribute of a successful marriage. has escaped millions. This story illustrates how that important facet can be in your marriage.
MOST of us are romantics at heart. We all enjoy a good love story. But have you ever stopped to ask what is the greatest love story of all time? Perhaps you think of the classical love story of Antony and Cleopatra in the glorious days of the beginning of the Roman Empire. Cleopatra had become queen of Egypt at age 17. But she was soon deposed of all authority and banished. When Julius Caesar obtained victory over the Ptolemies, he placed Cleopatra back on the throne and took her to Rome as his mistress. All the empire seemed to lie at her feet. But after the assassination of Caesar, she fled back to Egypt. Allying herself with Mark Antony, she then became his mistress. The Roman triumvirate soon was dominated by Octavius who was to become Augustus Caesar. In 31 B.C. Augustus defeated Antony in the battle of Actium — establishing himself as the first great emperor of a kingdom that would last almost 500 years. Under pretext of granting Cleopatra power in Egypt, Augustus persuaded her to assassinate Antony. Believing the love Cleopatra had for him was genuine, Antony yielded to Cleopatra's desire to commit suicide in a grand mausoleum she had constructed that "they might die together." Only Cleopatra had no plan to commit suicide. The unsuspecting Antony died, leaving Cleopatra to seek power from Augustus. Augustus, however, refused to yield to the charms of the beautiful Cleopatra. He ended her life by putting a poisonous viper to her bosom — at least that's how the story goes. Ah, the pathos of ancient love stories! Or maybe you recall the story of Helen of Troy. She was so alluring, she is remembered as "the face that launched a thousand ships." As the story is told, the beautiful Helen ran off with the king of Sparta. The jealous and enraged Greek king led an expedition to recapture his wife. You probably well remember the final battle of that famous Trojan war. It seemed to have come to an end when the Greeks withdrew leaving behind a crude wooden horse. Inside the horse were concealed Greek warriors who, after the horse was brought within the city walls, opened the horse late at night. The unsuspecting Trojans were routed. No clear tradition explains what became of beautiful Helen over whom the war was fought. Then there is the mythological story of Venus, who fell in love with the handsome young Adonis. But Mars, the god of war, was in love with Venus. He sent a wild boar to kill Adonis. Pathos and tragedy accompany so many of these love stories from so long ago.
A Different Kind of Love Story
Or maybe you think of one of the biblical love stories. One of the best known is the story of Isaac and Rebekah. Abraham sent his servant back to his own people to find a wife for his son, Isaac. Then follows the beautiful story of Rebekah her total willingness to leave her family and come to be a bride of a man she had not met. The love these two shared and their marriage is one of the most unusual recorded in the Bible. And who could ever forget the touching story of Ruth? This beautiful young Moabitess married into a family of Judah, but after a short time, her husband died. As a family in a strange land, Ruth's mother-in-law, then a widow herself, decided to return to her homeland. Ruth normally would have remained in her own country, remarried and had a family. But her love for her mother-in-law, for the people she had come to love and for the God of the Hebrew people was so great she made the momentous decision: "Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried" (Ruth 1: 16-17). Later, Ruth married into a wealthy family in Judea. Three generations later, her great-grandson, David, became king of Israel. Another inspiring story is the life of Esther. She was one of the most beautiful women in the days of the Persian king Xerxes. Xerxes searched the land for not only the most beautiful, but the most respectful woman in the kingdom. Esther was selected to be the wife of the great king. No one of the king's closest advisers knew that she was a Jewess. Meanwhile one of the leading commanders under Xerxes, Haman, had been devising a plot to destroy the Jews. But God used Esther and her uncle, Mordecai, to turn the plot against Haman — he was hanged on the same gallows he had constructed for the purpose of hanging Mordecai. All because of the love, beauty and respectful attitude of a truly great woman in the king's court. To this day the Jewish people celebrate the Feast of Purim as a memorial to God's intervention through Esther more than 24 centuries ago. But of all these stories, you have not yet heard the greatest of all love stories. It, too, comes from the Bible.
The Greatest Love Story
The story starts with a young girl who had been abandoned. Alone, unloved, hovering at death's door, she was rescued by a compassionate man who took her in. He began to care and provide for her. As the years went by she matured into a lovely young lady. One day the man realized he had fallen in love with her. The love he had previously was only compassion and concern. Now he had fallen hopelessly in love — romantically. They were married. He could not have been a better husband. Desiring the best for his lovely bride, he provided the finest quality clothing, furs, imported silks. He gave her gorgeous jewelry, fine gold necklaces and rings. They enjoyed the best in food and drink. It was simply the most fantastic love and marriage possible. But our story doesn't end here with the proverbial "they lived happily ever after." Tragedy struck the marriage. As is too often the case, unsurpassed beauty can result in vanity. An abundance of material possessions can result in greed. This once abandoned and forsaken young lady began to seek other lovers. Shocked and heartsick, her husband tried every way possible to help change her ways. But having tasted the forbidden fruit, she forsook the safety and love of her home and became nothing more than a common prostitute. She sank to the lowest depths. Who would have thought one could have been so high, had so much and thrown it all away? Normally a prostitute is paid for her services. This beautiful woman sank so low and became so immoral she was paying her lovers instead. There was no course of action possible except divorce. You may be wondering how this story is "the greatest love story ever told." It seems so sorrowful so tragic. Well, the story is not over. In spite of all the unfaithful wife had done, the husband could not help loving her. She meant everything to him. He did not choose to seek another wife. He hoped against hope she could turn from her evil ways. There were few signs she ever would. In fact, she went from bad to worse. Years went by. Years and years. Then one day she began to realize what she had been doing. She had a total change of heart. It was like a horrible nightmare had been happening. Was it too late? Would her once loving husband be able to forgive such a wretched and wasted lifetime? If only she could convince him she was truly, deeply sorry for all the hurt and pain she had caused. It was a real and genuine repentance.
How many would ever be able to forgive a mate who had lived such a life? In the course of human history there have not been many. But this man was unique. It was what he had patiently hoped for all those years. For when he had first married, he was COMMITTED. Here is the key — the vital ingredient so necessary to all successful marriages. COMMITMENT. The man in our story vowed he would love forever — and he did. He proved it. The wasted years. The loneliness. The hurt. All passed when his beloved bride and love of his life returned. A new marriage was then planned. Perhaps because of what had happened, this marriage was to be even more majestic than the first time around. Nothing was to be spared to make this the most memorable wedding possible. This time they would live happily ever after. To those who are married — and to those who ever will be married this example of total love and commitment should provide the firm basis for your comparison. It should serve as a perpetual example for both you and your mate to love with total commitment till death do you part, in sickness and health, in poverty and wealth. With that commitment you can solve the problems that will come your way. Even the best of marriages will have a few rocky moments. But if both partners are committed to love, forgiveness and solving those problems, you can have a happy marriage.
Who Are They?
But back to our story. The characters in the story are unique. The loving, caring, forgiving husband is the God of the ancient Israelites. The forsaken and abandoned girl who grew up to be so beautiful, only to depart so far from her caring husband, was the ancient nation of Israel. The story is told in the 16th chapter of Ezekiel. Perhaps you would like to take this occasion to read it completely through. Ancient Israel started her young life as a slave people in the land of Egypt. But God, in the days of Moses, freed her from slavery and led Israel to the land he had promised Abraham. When ancient Israel settled into the promised land, she was provided with the best crops, livestock and natural resources. From a fledgling start under Joshua, ancient Israel slowly developed into one of the leading nations of the Middle East in the days of David. Under Solomon she reached a zenith. The fabulous Temple and the wisdom of the king brought people from distant lands to see the glory of God's nation. But as the woman in our story, ancient Israel began to rely on her beauty. She lusted after the idols of the surrounding nations. Even wise king Solomon spent his last years rejecting the God who had given him everything. After Solomon, ancient Israel divided into two nations. The northern 10 tribes first fell into gross idolatry — immorality as God viewed it — for he had taken her as his wife. She rejected her divine husband and sought "lovers" (other nations). God put her away with a bill of divorcement and sent the nation into Assyrian captivity more than 700 years before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. About 100 years later the southern two tribes — the Jews — went into Babylonian captivity. But some of them repented and a remnant returned to the promised land under the Persian kings.
The Husband Was Jesus Christ!
We should briefly explain here an all — important doctrine. Most everyone has assumed — without proof — that the God of the Hebrews who was married to ancient Israel was the one whom people call the Father. The one whom we call the Father was not the one who "married" ancient Israel. The Bible reveals two personages in the Godhead. The one whom we now call the Father and the one we now know as the Son. We read of both in John's gospel account, chapter 1. There we read of the Word. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.... And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us..." (John 1:1, 14). The Greek for "Word" is Logos. It means the "Word" or "Spokesman." The God who spoke to ancient Israel was the "Word" or "Spokesman" for the Father. He was not the Father. The God of the ancient Hebrews was the one who emptied himself of divinity to become the physical human being, Jesus Christ (Phil. 2:6-8). He came to earth in human form as Jesus of Nazareth, died for the sins of the world and is now alive in heaven at the Father's right hand. The God whom we call the Father was not known to most of mankind till Jesus Christ came to reveal him. Read it for yourself in Matthew 11:27. It's important to understand whom ancient Israel married — it has great meaning for the happy ending to the story.
The Coming Wedding
When Jesus Christ returns to restore the government of God, one of the first great events will be the most exciting wedding of all time. It will pale into insignificance his marriage with ancient Israel at Mount Sinai. The story of this coming marriage is told in Revelation 19: "Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready" (verse 7). This time the Church — made up of repentant Israelites and converted gentiles whom God has specially called to salvation — is ready for marriage. She has "made herself ready." She has thoroughly repented. Changed. She is committed. Continuing in Revelation 19: "And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb" (verses 8-9). So the greatest love story ever told is not Romeo and Juliet, Antony and Cleopatra, not even Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel, Ruth or Esther. It is not any of the marriages of Henry VIII or of Napoleon and Josephine. The greatest of all love stories started so very long ago and is continuing today. The true Church of God is still in the process of preparing herself for that glorious wedding. On a charging white horse the Son of God will descend in the most magnificent wedding processional of all time.
Commitment the Key
The purpose of this article is not just to tell a nice love story. It's much deeper than that. It is to show you by Jesus Christ's personal example, the most important key to your happiness in marriage — COMMITMENT. In today's "modern" world, thousands enter into marriage with the philosophy "if it doesn't work, we'll divorce and try again with someone else." The results of this philosophy have been disastrous. In the United States more than one marriage in three ends in divorce. In most major U.S. cities there are as many divorce cases filed as applications for marriage. And other nations are rapidly copying the U.S. example. In many cases those who divorce and remarry turn and divorce again in a constant cycle of "marriage-go-rounds." As a minister on a college campus I have counseled with many hundreds of students and have performed more than a hundred marriages over the past 23 years. I would like to say not one single marriage I performed has ended in divorce — but that wouldn't be true. Many of those couples have kept in touch over the years. They send pictures of their babies and share their joys and sometimes their sorrows in letters or phone calls. A large percentage of them have happy marriages. But not all. I have helped a few through the shock and sadness of divorce. On rare occasions, a couple on the verge of divorce have seen how to forgive and love again and have successfully put a marriage back together. The one common ingredient I have found in every successful marriage has proved to be commitment. Successful marriage requires hard work — from both partners — faithfulness, love, forgiveness and commitment. Every marriage counselor would love to find the magic formula that would solve all marriage problems. But alas, there is no such magic available. In this life none of us will ever achieve the total love and commitment Jesus Christ has for the Church. But with his example to follow we can come a close second. Jesus Christ has known the hurt and sorrow of divorce. And he has shown the patience, commitment and love necessary to have a happy marriage. The opposite example is often found among the rich and famous of this world. Very few of them have anything to offer as examples of happy marriages. Instead, many popular personalities have only sorrow and divorce to hold up as illustrations of their life-styles. Oil billionaire J. Paul Getty once said after several unsuccessful and unhappy marriages, "I would trade all my wealth for just one happy marriage." His money could not buy commitment and happiness. There is no greater joy possible in this physical life than the love and sharing of a happy marriage. Perhaps the greatest love story ever told can serve as a personal example for you to be as committed in your marriage as Jesus Christ was, is and always will be in his marriage relationship. Maybe the second greatest love story ever told will be — YOURS!