During my senior year of college I waited tables at Texas Roadhouse just a mile down the road from the University of Kentucky. And while I wasn’t the world’s best waiter, my tips were fairly consistent because I faithfully abided by one of the most basic laws of waiting tables: keep the refills coming. More often than not, I was filling sweet tea, except when nobody had brewed another batch. At Texas Roadhouse, a shortage in sweet tea is a problem. Waiters or waitresses who would hoard the last pitcher of sweet tea for themselves were often despised, however, those who simply took the time to brew another pot were praised and respected. During a shortage of sweet tea, the ultimate problem wasn’t the empty pitcher; it was the unwillingness to start the process over. To look to the source. It’s often the same in a marriage.
In any godly marriage, you’re likely to find a husband and wife who recognize that their true source of joy and fulfillment is found in Someone bigger than themselves. (Eph. 5:22-33) In the Author and life of marriage. (John 14:6) But inside that marriage you’ll also find two people who understand that love doesn’t work like a matchbook. It’s not something we just strike up and set ablaze from raw materials. It works more like a fresh brew of sweet tea: when you receive the fresh love of the Gospel from Christ and not your sinful spouse, you’re not angry when she can’t fulfill you. You’ve found your everlasting supply. That’s when love becomes something like a pitcher and a glass. A marriage founded on the Gospel begins with the truth that we have to be filled with grace from above before we can start satisfying anyone else. We have to be filled. This is the love of Jesus in a marriage.
Too often today couples expect “true love” to work like a match, only to become impatient and even bitter when they discover that their spouse is also a sinner who loves their sin. Neither can sustain the weight of fulfilling someone else’s purpose and joy. And that’s when the blame game begins. When Adam and Eve sinned against God in the Garden, they looked to each other for fulfillment instead of God’s Word. (Gen. 3:12) Thousands of years later, divorce is fairly similar: covering sinful expectations and hurt with more sin rather than the love of God.
The Gospel, however, takes a different marital tune. In a Christ-centered marriage, there’s freedom. Neither the husband nor the wife “need” the other to be fulfilled. They’re filled pitchers overflowing the grace of the Gospel upon one another instead of matches seeking a hard surface to strike. And that trickles down into the day-to-day dynamics of a marriage. A truly loving husband, for instance, a husband who receives his joy from God in Christ, doesn’t simply wait for his wife to “feel beautiful” or “look sexy.” He makes her feel beautiful. He makes her feel wanted. So often the lack of intimacy, romance, and confidence in a marriage stems from misplaced dependency: the husband needs the wife to initiate love in order to appreciate her and the wife needs to feel appreciated in order to demonstrate love to her husband. In this spiritually deadly circle, a marriage will inevitably conclude in one of two ways: (1) either a spouse will find someone else to fill their pitcher, (2) or the two will continue in a self-idolatrous marriage seeking out meaning and validation from a sinner who has no ability to fulfill another.
The secret to a satisfying marriage is found in the DNA of marriage itself: the Gospel. When Christ pursued His bride, she wasn’t righteous. She was made righteous. She wasn’t clean; she was washed clean. She wasn’t holy. She was set apart and made holy. It was only when Jesus gave Himself up for her, served her, and died for her that she was presented spotless, pure, and without blemish. (Eph. 5:27) It was the loving Groom who made his bride beautiful. And in many ways it’s the same in earthly marriages. There is no greater beauty in a woman than the kind given to her by her Savior and affirmed in her by her husband. Indeed a woman who believes she is beautiful in the eyes of her husband can feel like the most beautiful woman on earth. Furthermore, she doesn’t “need” Him for her integrity, her value as a woman, or her eternal happiness. The love she has for him is the best kind: the love born not out of necessity, coercion, or dependency, but the free love of one redeemed by the King and clothed in His righteousness.
Our God is a consuming fire, but that doesn’t make your marriage a matchbook. The fire of marriage begins and ends with Christ, and that’s precisely why there is no marriage in heaven except the one sealed in the blood of Christ. For those who seek their lasting fulfillment from their spouse in this life, their hopes will one day turn to disappointment for turning a beacon of the Gospel into an instrument for sin. But for those who gladly yield their marriage to the Author of marriage, the sweet tea only tastes better.