Sermon: Fireproof your marriage
Michael Catt has been the senior pastor of Sherwood Baptist Church, Albany, Georgia, since 1989. In that role, he has served as executive producer for the Sherwood Pictures films Flywheel, Facing the Giants, and Fireproof. For more information regardin Fireproof Your Life by Michael Catt, visit www.fireproofyourlife.com.
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Feel free to adapt this sermon as a follow-up to the movie. Be sure to give proper credit to Michael Catt and his book Fireproof Your Life.
You might begin your sermon with, "I'm going to be talking about Fireproofing Your Marriage this morning and wanted you to know that I've taken a lot of my content from Fireproof Your Life by Michael Catt. Michael is the pastor of Sherwood Baptist Church, Albany, Ga. They are the church family that produced Flywheel, Facing the Giants, and Fireproof."
Marriage is hard work. Some don't work hard at it. Many don't survive the first few years. Celebrating a fiftieth, or even a twenty-fifth, wedding anniversary is rare these days. Divorce rates among Christians are as high as those among non-believers.
We have allowed the postmodern mindset to convince our churches and our couples that divorce is now acceptable rather than an exception. We now justify divorce as a solution. It's not God's solution. God allows divorce under specific and limited terms. He allows it because of the sinfulness and hardness of man's heart. When marriage is no longer compatible with the age, the age needs to change, not the institution of marriage.
John Leo writes, "One of the problems in trying to shore up the institution of marriage is that so many of the professionals who teach and write about it-counselors, therapists, academics, and popular authors-really don't support marriage at all. Some depict it as archaic and inherently oppressive. Others give it tepid support as just one of many acceptable adult arrangements." (U. S. News and World Report, "On Society" by John Leo. September 22, 1997, page 14.)
In the movie Fireproof, Caleb and Catherine Holt have been married for seven years. Although once in love, they have grown apart and find themselves headed for divorce. Tension fills the air in their demeanors, attitudes and conversations. Both of them are self-centered, which causes many arguments to ensue. They point the finger at the other party and exaggerate one another's shortcomings to a fault. In reality they lack something or someone to hold them together and to restore their lost love-that someone is Jesus Christ. Only when Caleb finds Christ and begins to love his wife the way Christ loves the church do the tables begin to turn.
At one point in the movie Caleb has come to Christ, but Catherine is still skeptical. She has seen a change, but she's not sure why and even doubts his motives. One day while Catherine is sick at home in bed, Caleb comes in with some medicine and begins to open up his heart to her.
Caleb: Can you take this medicine and eat something?
Catherine: Why are you doing this?
Caleb: Because I've learned that you don't leave your partner, especially in a fire.
Catherine: What's happened to you?
Caleb: Dad asked me if there was anything in me that wanted to save our marriage, and he gave me this notebook. He said it saved their marriage.
Catherine: So what day are you on (in the notebook)?
Catherine: But there's only 40 days in the book.
Caleb: Who says I have to stop?
Catherine: Caleb, I don't know how to process this. This is not normal for you.
Caleb: Welcome to the new normal.
Catherine: You didn't want to do this at first did you?
Caleb: No, but halfway through, I realized that I never really understood what love was. Once I figured that out, I wanted to do it.
Catherine: Caleb, I want to believe this is real, but I'm not ready to say I trust you again.
Caleb: I understand. But whether you get to that point or not, I need you to know something. Catherine, I'm sorry...I have been so selfish. For the last seven years I've trampled on you with my words and my actions. I've loved other things when I should have loved you. In the last few weeks God has given me a love for you that I've never had before. I've asked Him to forgive me and have been hoping...praying that you would somehow be able to forgive me too. I don't want to live the rest of my life without you.
Catherine: Caleb, I'm supposed to give the divorce papers back to my lawyer next week. I need some time to think.
Caleb: You can have all the time you need.
Maybe you are at the point of giving up on your marriage, or maybe someone gave up on you. You may be living with the sting of divorce, burned by an unfaithful mate. Or you may be living under the same roof with your spouse, but it's just a house and not a home. How do you survive? How do you restore the love you once had? How do you prevent your marriage from crumbling beneath the pressure? How do you make the choice to never leave your partner behind, especially in a fire?
When a couple is going through a time of conflict, emotions start to escalate. Soon anger, frustration and emotions are out of control. A root of bitterness begins to grow. Concerns become complaints, complaints become threats, and threats lead to disaster. One spouse begins to put down the other. Suddenly there's nothing in the home but name calling, putdowns and cutting remarks.
Once a couple starts down this path, each person begins to withdraw and shut down emotionally. They may even begin to sleep in separate rooms. An intervention must take place. A couple cannot let themselves start to think or threaten of divorce. Once the "D" word is mentioned, problems escalate to a whole new level.
Society today doesn't view marriage as a life-long commitment based on a covenant with God. One Hollywood couple's marriage lasted fifteen days. Any couple married more than ten years in Hollywood is considered a rarity. Now the church is following Hollywood's lead. Marriages don't last. Instead, couples say "as long as our love shall last" in place of "till death do us part."
During the wedding ceremony we talk about the wedding vows. The minister asks the couple to turn and face one other and repeat their vows. Those vows are before God and the witnesses gathered, and they are to be taken seriously. Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes, "When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it; for He takes no delight in fools. Pay what you vow! It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay" (5;4,5).
Unfortunately we live in a day when many couples walk to the altar with no intention of keeping their vows or with doubt about the marriage lasting. Solomon's stern warning above reminds us that a vow is a vow. It's intended to be permanent. In his booklet entitled "Commitment" Chuck Swindoll writes, "No amount of psychological therapy, positive thinking (often dubbed ‘grace'), semantic footwork with a biblical text, alternative concepts or mutual support from family and friends can remove your responsibility to keep your vow." (Commitment: The Key To Marriage, Portland: Multnomah Press, 1981, page 5.) The story has been often told that Ruth Graham was asked if she ever considered divorcing Billy. She responded, "Murder yes, divorce no."
One reason society views divorce as easy is because we've bought the devil's lie that marriage is a contract. In reality, marriage is a covenant. A covenant is not based on the faithfulness of the human agents involved, but on God's faithfulness to fulfill His covenant obligations. Marriage is a unique relationship between three people: God, the husband and the woman. When a Christian couple lives as God designed, they are a powerful witness for the gospel.
Tertullian, the second-century martyr, said, "How beautiful is the marriage of two Christians, two who are one in hope, desire, one in the way of life they follow, one in the religion they practice...nothing divides them, either in flesh or spirit. They pray together, worship together, fast together, instructing one another. Side by side they visit God's church and partake of God's banquet; side by side they face difficulties and persecution and share their consolations. They have no secrets from one another; they never shun each other's company, they never bring sorrow to each other's hearts. They visit the sick and assist the needy. Psalms and hymns they sing to one another. Hearing and seeing this, Christ rejoices. To such as these He gives peace."
There is nothing more powerful today than a Christian home built on Christian values and a Biblical worldview. Satan's great lie through the media, society and literature is that marriage is a contract. Another great lie is that intimacy is limited to a sexual relationship.
While serving a church in Oklahoma, there was a couple in our congregation who epitomized the love of a covenant marriage. The husband was blind, and his wife was in terrible health, but the joy and love they shared was something to behold. In fact, I can only tell this story because they have both gone to be with the Lord. Although he was blind, he would drive, and she would be his eyes. She would tell him how fast he was going, where to turn, what was going on around them and when to change lanes. It was a partnership like I've never seen. While it's a bit frightening for a blind man to drive and depend on his wife to guide him, it may be even more frightening for an angry couple to fight in a car and not pay attention to the road!
If you want your marriage to burn up quickly, just neglect communicating to one another. According to New Man Magazine (January/ February 1995), "The typical U.S. married couple only spends four minutes per day in ‘meaningful conversation' with each other." That's only 0.3% of the hours in a day. The only way your spouse can know your thoughts and feelings is to communicate with them. They can't see your heart or read your mind. Years ago I heard the following statistic: Only one in four-hundred Christian marriages where there is time spent together spiritually will fail. If that statistic was true back then, it's truer than ever today. Choose to invest in your marriage spiritually.
Every living thing has to be nourished to survive. Whether you are talking about plants, animals, people, churches or marriages, nourishment is a necessity for health. When a couple communicates they are nourishing their marriage. If the husband loves his wife the way he loves himself then he will feed his marriage emotionally, physically, verbally and spiritually. Communication has nothing to do with being extroverted; it has to do with being the person God has called you to be.
Today's marriages lack intimacy. We are to seek the Lord as individuals and as a couple. Many couples don't talk about spiritual things or spend time in prayer. If marriage is a holy estate, as we preachers like to say, then God belongs front and center in our marriages.
In the Song of Solomon we read, "Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that are ruining the vineyards..." (2:15). Warren Wiersbe illustrated to me that the "little foxes" represent those things that quietly destroy relationships. Foxes get into vineyards to feed on the grapes, and the keepers must prop up the branches so the foxes can't reach them. It only takes little things to come in and destroy something great. Most marriages fall apart because little things become big things. We allow something trivial to grow with the capacity to destroy us. Fighting in marriage has become the source of many jokes for comedians. However, those whose marriages have been destroyed by fighting would testify to the contrary.
What may appear unpretentious now could become unmanageable down the road. Failure to take care of business now can result in greater failure later. We have to constantly prop up the things that are "true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, excellent and worthy of praise" (Philippians 4:8). The little fox of disrespect can turn a courtship made in heaven to a courtroom from hell. If most of us were as disrespectful to our friends and co-workers as we are to our spouse, we would be lonely and out of a job.
Another little fox is being inconsiderate.
We never call during the day to see how our spouse is doing. We fail to remember the anniversary, birthday or other special moments. We never leave a note saying we love them or we are praying for them. Being inconsiderate leads to being ungrateful, and ingratitude will result in a preoccupation with lesser things. We get so busy that we often forget to consider our marriage.
Whining, nagging, criticism and complaining are all little foxes that can undermine a relationship.
God clearly communicated his thoughts on murmuring to Moses in Exodus 16. Nothing eats away at a marriage like bad words and bad attitudes. When the home becomes a constant environment of pointing out flaws, there are destructive foxes eating away at the branches.
One little fox that destroys more families than we can number is the financial fox.
Money problems are one of the leading causes of divorce in our society. It's a short distance from "making money to live" to "living to make money." One of the major arguments in Fireproof deals with the way Caleb and Catherine handle their money. He selfishly saves for a boat and is unwilling to part with his dream savings, even when they need the money to help her ailing parents. One of the signs of Caleb's changed heart is when he takes his $24,000 boat savings and pays some of his in-laws' medical bills.
In more recent years, our marriages are fighting the battle of mobility.
Couples are moving every few years in order to meet job demands and keep up with society's expectations. The more we move the less connected we feel with each other, with friends and with the local church. The mindset "we'll only be here a few years then we'll move on" works against fostering meaningful relationships and getting involved in a church and leads to superficial living superficial.
Our current deacon chairman is Chad Warbington. A couple of years ago Chad and his wife Suzanna faced the mobility challenge. They had struggled with his desire for career advancement and their desire as a family for a stable home. As Chad strived for promotions, the hierarchy in his company pushed him to pick up his young family and move. Chad and Suzanna knew they didn't want to move, but it seemed they would be unable to live in one location and still achieve his career goals.
While delayed in the St. Louis airport during a business trip, Chad picked up a copy of the New York Times. The front-page article was entitled, "The Five-Bedroom, Six-Figure Rootless Life." Chad was gripped by the following: "They have traded a home in one place for a job that could be anyplace. Relo(cated) children do not know a hometown; their parents do not know where their funerals will be. There is little in the way of small-town ties or big-city amenities-grandparents and cousins, longtime neighbors, vibrant boulevards, homegrown shops-that let roots sink in deep." (New York Times, by Peter T. Kolborn, June 1, 2005.)
During this same time, another individual in Albany was selling his local business. As Chad and Suzanna talked and prayed about the situation and sought counsel from godly men, doors began to open. In addition, pressures began to escalate with Chad's company, and a timeline was created for his career move. Chad walked away from his job at a major industry to purchase a privately-owned business. God has faithfully provided everything they've needed to be successful in this new endeavor.
Chad is now home almost every night for dinner. Suzanna and his children are very involved in his business, and they often travel with him on out-of-town trips. He now has the freedom to attend school events like field day and music presentations and rarely misses activities and events in the lives of his kids. "We have an overwhelming peace just knowing where our kids will go to school, where we will go to church and that we are close to family," says Chad. I'm grateful for the many couples within our church who are modeling biblical priorities.
One way to fireproof your marriage is to maintain the biblical order.
One of the dangers I see in marriages is the roles of the husband and wife are often reversed or abused. The familiar words of Ephesians chapter five go unheeded or misinterpreted. "Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her..." (vv. 22-25)
While the Bible teaches equality between men and women regarding personhood and importance, it also teaches a divine order of authority for the family. This order places man as the one primarily responsible to God for the family. The man is a reflection of how Christ loves His church. In other words, the husband is to picture Christ in the home. Unfortunately I don't see that often.
Headship is not a title, it's a responsibility.
Dr. Charles Sell, in his book Achieving the Impossible: Intimate Marriage, writes, "Our homes need leadership. A power vacuum, not a power struggle, exists in most of them. The modern husband may be more apt to abdicate than abuse his position. Women are forced into taking responsibility they often don't want." (Portland: Multnomah Press, 1982, page 163.)
As a pastor, I've also seen husbands who think their wives are nothing more than cooks and clothes washers. They boss their wives around and seem to think submit is the only word in the Bible. That can easily result in an abusive situation where the man acts more like a dictator. "Wives submit" does not mean husbands dominate. God did not create Eve from Adam's feet to be trampled upon, nor from his head to lord over him. He made her from Adam's side, the nearest place to his heart, to be his equal.
The dictator is not a role model for the husband.
The silent, "do as you are told" slave is not the biblical model for a wife. It's not the responsibility of the wife to boost her husband's ego. It's not the calling of the man to keep the woman in her place. Healthy marriages model mutual submission. A husband is to nourish and strengthen his wife as a leader among equals, and both are to submit to the Lord. As Christ leads and loves the church, so the husband is to lead and love his wife. I've never met a woman with a husband who loved her the way Christ loves the church who had a problem with the idea of loving submission.
One reason roles get reversed is some men are wimps. They fail to lead in word or deed. They think they are "the man," but they aren't man enough to be the spiritual leader in their homes. These men also fail to be role models for their children. They can teach their kids to play, but can't teach them to pray. Some husbands neglect their responsibilities by spending their spare time hunting, fishing or playing ball, while others are couch potatoes. Many use the excuse of being too tired to help because of a long day at work. What do they think their wives have been doing all day? They reply, "I bring home the bacon. It's her responsibility to run the house, feed the kids, and be the spiritual role model in the family."
In his commentary on Ephesians, Warren Wiersbe writes, "The trouble is that many homes are not governed by God's Word-even homes where the members are professing Christians-and the consequences are tragic. . . . Too many marriages end in the divorce court, and nobody knows how many husbands and wives are emotionally divorced even though they share the same address. The poet William Cowper called the home ‘the only bliss of Paradise that hast survived the Fall,' but too many homes are an outpost of hell instead of a parcel of paradise." (The Bible Exposition Commentary, Chariot Victor Publishing and imprint of Cook Communication Ministries, 1989. Accessed via PC Study Bible.)
Peter, writing to the first-century church, dealt with the issue of husbands and wives. When you read 1 Peter chapter three the great apostle is not saying that wives were slaves. Rather, he wanted the wives who had unbelieving husbands to act in a way that would keep harmony in the home and be a witness to their unbelieving husbands. Although submission is taught in at least four books in the New Testament, it is a misunderstood subject. It is the one subject the world likes to nail us on. However, knowing that most marriages crash and burn because of failure to live by biblical principles, attacking, ignoring, misrepresenting or misinterpreting submission is not the solution to the problem.
For a marriage to be God's best there has to be one leader. God's call for the wife to submit does not mean blind obedience or inferiority. For Christians submission must be mutual. Paul wrote, "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Eph 5:21 NIV). James Dobson writes, "A man said, ‘I don't understand my wife. She has everything she could want-a dishwasher, a new dryer, a nice house. I've been faithful and I don't drink. But she's miserable. I can't figure out why.' His love-starved wife would have traded everything for a single expression of genuine tenderness from her unromantic husband. Appliances do not build self-esteem; being somebody's sweetheart most certainly does." (Life Application Commentary: 1 Peter, Livingstone Corporation, produced with permission of Tyndale House Publishers, 1997. Accessed via PC Study Bible.)
How about it, husbands? Are you considerate of your wife? Do you love her as Christ loves the church? As husbands we're commanded to live with our wives in an understanding way (see 1 Peter 3:7). That means I'm to know my wife intimately-her temperament, her likes and dislikes, her personality, her gifts and talents. If I am going to fireproof my home, I need to know my wife better than I know myself. I must understand that my wife may be weaker physically, but she's still my life partner. I'm called by God to protect her, honor her and help her in any way I can.
Terri and I have been married over thirty years. Like all couples, we've had difficult seasons. I can tell you that ninety-nine percent of them were my fault. I wasn't being sensitive, I wasn't communicating, or I was self-absorbed. I can also tell you, through thick and thin, she's been my best friend. I'd rather be with her than anyone else on the planet. I respect her opinions, and I seek her advice. I don't always like what she tells me because she's honest, but she's honest because she loves me.
One more thought. Peter talks about being the right kind of husband so that our prayers aren't hindered (1 Peter 3:7). I doubt if most couples, especially men, think that way. This verse is incredibly clear on how we treat our wives. The text reveals that Peter is specifically talking to the men. A right relationship with God depends on being right with others. I can't expect God to bless me, use me or answer my prayers if I'm not treating my wife they way He instructs me to.
- Let's change the culture!
- Let's love one another the way Christ loved us.
- Let's make a commitment to build godly homes.
Let's model a Christian marriage in front of our lost friends and family.
Here are a few suggestions:
- Take your wife out on a date regularly. Plan it, prepare for it and court her the way you did when you were dating.
- Watch your personal attractiveness. Once you are married, it doesn't mean you can let yourself go. Take care of yourself. Anything that was important while you were dating should still be important.
- Continue to be courteous. Open the door for your wife. Say thanks when she does something for you. Write unexpected notes. Give flowers for no specific reason other than "just because."
- Be understanding of personal interest. Let him play golf. Let her go shopping.
- Never criticize your spouse in public.
- Don't go to sleep angry. Remember, nobody wins an argument...it's not a competition.
- Start a family campaign of thoughtfulness and kindness. Pray every day that you can model the fruit of the Spirit in your home.
- Turn off the TV. Guys, turn off the sports channel and have a conversation. Ladies, turn off the soap operas and quit expecting your husband to be the hunk of the year. Television plants unrealistic expectations in our minds, steals time we could be spending with one another and clutters our mind with an unbiblical view of life, love and marriage.
- Turn control of your finances over to the Lord.
- Pray together that you can put down roots and have stability in your home.