Forty years! Holy cow! How did we get here?
Forty years ago last Sunday, on December 20, 1980, my lovely bride, Linda, and I exchanged vows in our church in Fort Collins, Colorado. Our pastor prayed that we would become one. We did, indeed!
Let me clarify that this is not an accomplishment that I should be proud of, as if I did it all by myself. It takes two to make a marriage work. Actually, three. A Christian marriage is a divine partnership. Linda and I knew could not do this without putting God at the very center of our marriage. This was expressed in my wedding vows to her, as I quoted Ecclesiastes 4:12, which states that “a cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
I am truly grateful that God, in His mercy, has provided for, protected, and preserved this sacred union. As the Apostle Paul put it, “Not that we are adequate in ourselves so as to consider anything as having come from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God” (2 Cor. 3:5).
This is another example in my own life of Immanuel labor, the biblical connection between God’s presence and human work. God was present with me to enable me to do the work He called me to do.
In this article, will share some things I learned about being a husband as I applied what the Scriptures teach about marriage and through many failures and successes of my own along the way. Four action verbs describe what I did as a husband over four decades: commit, cherish, choose, and celebrate.
Committing to the covenant
Coming from divorced families, my bride and I began with a solid foundation of mutual commitment to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and a commitment to a lifelong marriage. With 50% of marriages in this country ending in divorce and the other 50% ending in death, we have decided on the latter option.
A Christian marriage is more than a social and legal agreement. It is a holy covenant, established by God to serve the purposes for which He designed it. You don’t have to look too far to read how God created the first man and the first woman, and what He had in mind for them and all others who follow.
In Gen. 2:24, a verse that Jesus quoted in Matt. 19:4-6 and that Paul quoted in Eph. 5:31, we see God’s permanent design for marriage, that the husband and wife would be one flesh. This of course ties in with what God said about His greatest creation in Gen. 1:27-28: God created man and woman in His image, as equal partners; their mission was to be fruitful and multiply.
Adam and Eve did not have parents to leave, but every married couple from that point forward would have to leave their family of origin in order to cleave together in order to make a new family in God’s image and their own image. Jesus stated in Matt. 19:6 that it is God and not man who joins couples together in marriage.
So, as a young man who had asked an important question of this young lady a year and a half prior, “Would you marry me?”, I was committed to her for life. I wanted to grow old with her, and we have.
Choosing to serve
This next action verb describes how I tried to live out my commitment to my wife on a daily basis.
The deep theological teaching beginning in Eph. 5:25 that the Apostle Paul gives on how marriage between a man and a woman is a picture of Christ and the church contains one simple command to husbands. Love your wife. That’s it. I believe Paul singled out this responsibility because it is the most important thing that our wives need from us. Also, it is the hardest thing for husbands to do.
The love that Paul talks about here is far from just a romantic feeling I have for my wife, which I do. It is an unconditional, selfless, constant, and proactive giving of one’s self to meet the needs of the other. Just as Jesus sacrificially gave of Himself for the church, husbands are to sacrifice for their wives.
Paul also states that we ought to love our wife as we love ourselves, which should remind us of what Jesus said regarding loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. (See Mark 12:30-31.) It is not a narcissistic kind of love, but a practical one that we demonstrate every day. Do we not feed ourselves? Do we not take care of our own body when it needs something like rest, shade, healing, or cleaning?
So, over the years, it is my best interest to intentionally choose to care for the one that is one with me.
Cherishing the gift God gave
I cannot remember when it hit me, but the phrase “cherish the gift” has stuck with me for a long time. In response to God’s abundant provision of His goodness to me in the form of my beautiful, blue-eyed bride, I aim to be a good steward of this undeserved and absolutely amazing gift that keeps on giving.
This cherishing aspect certainly involves serving, which I just discussed above. However, the way I see it, it involves so much more. There is an emotional aspect to it. It is not merely doing practical things for her. When my heart is involved, I am attentive, not just to her needs but to her. I pursue my wife in every way I can. I am eager to spend time together. I work hard to improve our relationship.
Celebrating our love
Along with my commitment to the marriage and to her, I choose to serve her and cherish God’s gift. But it is not all work and no play. There must be times set aside to celebrate this blessed union.
We found many ways to celebrate over the years. We mark the anniversaries. Not just the wedding on December 20th, but our dating anniversary on April 1st and our engagement anniversary on June 24th. We try to do something special on those milestones like the one we just had, where we spent three nights in a cabin in Branson, Missouri, reminiscent of our honeymoon cabin in Estes Park, Colorado.
I am not a perfect husband. I still have a lot to learn. But I remain committed to this woman God gave me. Here’s hoping that in the next decade, we can continue to bring joy to others and glory to God.
Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of four, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. More than 50 articles posted on this blog have been published 100 times on numerous Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.