Men and Women After God's Own Heart: The Fellowship of the Ring: Will I Still Love Hime When His Hair Falls Out?

Sermon by Derek Thomas on August 11, 2002

Hebrews 12:1-2


Hebrews 12:1-2
Will I Still Love Him When His Hair Falls Out?

If you’re visiting with us this evening, we are in a series
of sermons on Marriage and Family, and we’ve been looking at some fairly
sensitive issues on marriage, the home, family, children, and the like. Turn
with me tonight to Hebrews chapter 12:

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses
surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so
easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before
us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy
set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the
right hand of the throne of God.”

Amen. May God bless to us the reading of His holy and
inerrant word. Let’s pray together.

Our Father in heaven, as we bow this evening in Your
presence as a company of Your people, and in particular this evening as
families, as husbands, as wives and children; as those who are called upon to
reflect something of the beauty and glory of Jesus in our human relationships,
we ask for Your blessing; we ask for Your presence. We ask, O Lord, that You
would help us and we look into this passage, and as we think especially about
marriage and its continuance, and we ask it for Jesus’ sake, Amen.

Last week we were addressing what was perhaps the
young, and I’m glad that one’s over, and move on to the more mature. Now, how
can you tell if you’re one of these to whom I’m referring? Well, if you’re arms
are too short to hold your reading material, it’s probably for you. If, by the
time you get your spouse’s attention, you’ve forgotten what it is you’re going
to say, then this message is probably for you. If you’re exercise regimen isn’t
doing you anything anymore, it’s probably for you.

My theme is “Growing Old Gracefully,” and “Growing
Old in Marriage Gracefully.” I’ve been reading books again, books with titles
like this: Add Life to Your Years by Ted Engstrom. It’s a book which
advertises real stories that reveal the amazing lives of people from 60-90 who
are finishing strong. Steve Farrar’s book, Finishing Strong, which I
know some of you have read; Bob Buford’s book Game Plan, winning
strategies for the second half of your life, and he also has a book he wrote
earlier, Half TimeThe Second Half of MarriageLove Must Be Tough, and perhaps the sanest one of
all, Wayne Mack’s Strengthening Your Marriage. I’ve been reading some
wonderful stuff this summer.

Now let me turn to this familiar Scripture of Hebrews
12, and let me say that I certainly want to do justice to the exegesis of this
passage. I want us to see what this passage has to teach us, but I want to move
very quickly from that to see what this passage has to teach us about marriage
and about finishing strong in marriage.

The book of Hebrews, as you’re well aware, is a book
written to Jewish Christians who were undergoing ill treatment from fellow
Jews. It’s a letter which is urging the people of God to endure, to endure
patiently, to persevere, to keep on keeping on, persevering amidst obstacles–
that’s the theme of the book of Hebrews. Now, it’s about a lot more than that,
but that will do for now.

I. The
Christian life, and marriage in particular, is a long distance race.
That where I want to go now, with marriage in mind,
persevering amidst obstacles, keeping on going, enduring. I’m going to make
three statements, the first is this: the Christian life, and this includes
marriage, is a long distance race. Now, one look at me and you’ll know I’ve
never run a long distance race in my life. And, I will be absolutely honest and
say, I have no desire to. But the Christian life, and marriage in particular,
is a long distance race; it is a race that is set before us, the writer says.
And the point of the book of Hebrews is to say that the Christian life isn’t the
100 meter sprint or dash, but rather it’s more like the marathon. It’s a race
in which you have to endure what people tell me is called “the wall,” a point at
which every cell in your body is telling you to stop. It’s a pain barrier that
you have to get through in order to get to the finishing line. It’s a physical
and psychological barrier. When everything around you and everything inside of
you is saying, “Stop!” the writer of Hebrews says, “Realize this is a long
distance race, you’re in it for the long haul.” The Christian life is like the
Duracell advertisement, “It keeps on going.” And in fact, for Christian
marriages, they ought to keep on going when others have stopped.

Now consider with me what can happen. A couple
called Nancy and Joe, and I’m quoting them, “Our twin daughters were the spark
plugs that kept our family lively. But when they left for college they took
their energy and vitality with them. Everything changed. It was so quite. Our
marriage was stagnant, we had little in common, few things to talk about. It’s
not that either of us intentionally ignored the other, but with the demands of
two very active and social children over the years, we drifted apart.” That’s
not an uncommon story. In fact, for those of you 40-somethings, and
50-somethings, that’s all too close to home.

I was reading Bob Buford’s story this week; it’s a
fascinating story. He has some very interesting things and useful things to say
to those who are, I think, highly successful, whatever that means. People who
have made beaucous of money, I think is what he means. A midlife crisis
is when you’ve bet the whole store on the first half of your life. And that has
a grain of truth in it that is worthy of pondering for our purposes this
evening.

Note the theological principle of Hebrews 12, the
necessity of endurance. The word endurance has two senses. It has an
active and a passive sense. In the passive sense it is sometimes rendered
patience
, and in the active sometimes perseverance. The idea in the
word that’s used here is what Americans call stickability, and what I think back
home they would have called stick-to-itiveness, but whatever, the point is that
the Christian life and marriage in particular, requires the most intense effort
and exertion on our part. It’s where our Calvinism can sometimes fool us into
thinking that because we proclaim God as sovereign; we have nothing to do. And,
on the contrary, we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling,
because God works in us, both to will and to do of His good pleasure. How much
effort do we put into the Christian life? 100%. How much effort do we put into
living the Christian life in our marriages? 100%. Full exertion, the utmost
concentration, is what the author of Hebrews is advocating here to these
Christians under pressure and under trial. And that, he tells us, will require
self denial on our part.

Two things are mentioned: sin, of course, needs to be
denied; the sin that so easily besets us or the sin that clings to us so
closely, and, not only sin, but things that are legitimate in themselves but
actually hinder us in the process of running this long distance race. Try
running even a long distance race in walking boots, and you’ll get the idea that
the writer of Hebrews is saying here. There are things that may not be sinful,
but they are a hindrance to your perseverance. They take your eyes away from
the goal, so whether it’s sin which clings to us, or those things which hinder
us in the race, we are to deny ourselves of them.

Now, let me apply that to marriage. Marriage is a
long distance race. Marriage is until death us do part. It’s not, until I find
someone more attractive and trade them in, like a new car. When your wife has
born you that fifteenth child, and she isn’t the 120 pound nymphet that you
married, and you hire in your office a secretary which reminds you of what she
may once have looked like; marriage, men, is for the long haul. Marriage is a
long-distance race.

What might be that sin that so easily clings to us;
that we are to get rid of in order to run this race? Let me mention two
possibilities. Let me mention two habits that can so easily form a part of our
marriages especially when we are reaching that 40-something or 50-something. The
first is a selfishness about communication. It happens, I think, something like
this. For years, for the first half of your life, you marry, you have children,
and you learn to communicate to your spouse through your children. Now that the
children are gone, the silence is deafening; and you’ve grown apart and you’ve
forgotten how to communicate lovingly to your spouse. And in its place has come
the besetting sin of sulking, of self-pity, of moodiness, expecting your spouse
to be a clairvoyant who can read your mind even before you’ve walked into the
room. And perhaps you men deal with this by staying late at the office. You’ve
become a workaholic and you may well once have justified being a workaholic
because you were trying to climb the social ladder. And now you are justifying
it because you just don’t want to go home because you have forgotten how to
communicate. It’s a besetting sin that must be dealt with.

A second one–an unrealism about expectations. You
know, living in the south is a burden. Let me explain to you what I mean, and
I’d better explain quickly. It’s all these manners that you have; they can be a
burden to you. So to invite someone to lunch requires a maid service. And
husbands, here I go again to the men, sometimes your expectations can be unreal,
and sometimes your expectations go far beyond what is fair of your spouse. Maybe
you walk into other people’s homes and they are like magazines, and when you
come into your home, you want to see exactly the same. And very often there is
an unreality about our expectations; there’s a besetting sin that needs to be
dealt with. And it often comes at the midpoint when children leave home and all
you have is each other again. The Christian life, and marriage in particular, is
a long-distance race.

II. The Christian life, and
marriage in particular, includes a measure of opposition.
The second thing I want us to see is that the Christian life
and marriage in particular, includes a measure of opposition. That’s, of course,
the context of Hebrews. That’s, of course, the main thrust of the Epistle to the
Hebrews. Don’t be surprised when the trouble comes, don’t be surprised at the
hostility, don’t be surprised when trouble and trial strikes. And when that
strikes not just in your individual lives but it strikes in your home and in
your families and in the things that are most precious to you. Don’t be
surprised by that. The specifics of the Epistle to the Hebrews is that we are to
expect, as Christians, to endure hardships and conflicts and difficulties.

Now it’s a well-worn path that I won’t go down this
evening and we were treading it this morning in James when Ligon was taking us
through the first chapter of James–the reality of trials and difficulties in
the Christian life. The point here is that opposition and difficulty is not only
a fact that we need to be aware of but it is a positively dangerous thing that
we need to be wary of.

Now let me bring out two things that the writer of
Hebrews brings out here, and I want to apply them to marriage. The first, and if
you have your Bibles, look at verse 5. You’ve forgotten the exhortation that
addresses your sons and now he quotes, “My son, do not regard lightly the
discipline of the Lord nor be weary (or your translation may have fainting or
lose heart) there is the possibility as we endure trials and difficulties and
tensions of fainting, of losing heart, and of growing weary. That is what he
describes in verse 12, “the drooping hands and weak knees” phenomenon. And he’s
not describing old people, you understand, he’s describing the psychological and
emotional reaction that can come in the wake of trials and difficulties. You can
nurse your sorrows instead of working to overcome them, and a kind of spiritual
depression and lethargy can come and inactivity, a sense of hopelessness. And in
marriage an overwhelming sense that the spark has disappeared. The coexistence
of two people who have become, to all intents and purposes, strangers–that’s
what he’s warning us about. There is the possibility of growing weary; there is
the possibility of fainting; there is the possibility of weak knees and drooping
hands. Isn’t the Bible so terribly realistic?

Is this where you are tonight in your marriage, in
your relationship to your spouse? Facing tensions, difficulties, obstacles, and
you are weary and your spirit is drooping and you are at the point of fainting?

Now, there is a word of grace for you, there’s a word
of help for you, there’s a word of exhortation for you too. Here’s the
possibility. Here’s the reality that can sometimes face us.

But there’s a second thing he warns us of, in verse
15, something which he calls the root of bitterness. “See to it that no one
fails to see the grace of God, that no root of bitterness springs up.” Why do
marriages, in particular, grow bitter? And they do. Why do elderly people
sometimes get bitter? And they do. Because they nurse the belief that life’s
providence has been unfair to them. It’s like kudzu. Do you know what that can
do to you? It can strangle the life force out of your soul. If you nurse
bitterness, if you nurse anger–maybe your marriage isn’t what you thought it was
going to be the day you married. Maybe all those dreams and ambitions that you
had many of which were wrong in the first place, maybe they were never filled.
Maybe you didn’t climb the social ladder that your friend did, maybe you don’t
earn as much as your friend does, maybe you nurse the root of bitterness in your
soul that life and providence and yes, do you hear what you’re saying, that God
himself hasn’t treated you the way you think you should have been. Marriages
will experience trouble because the Christian life experiences trouble. Just as
a Christian will experience trials and tribulations and tensions, so they come
in marriages. I don’t need to tell you that, but you need to recognize those
bitter responses that have worn you down and you’ve become like a lemon–wrinkly
and bitter, because you have failed and are failing to commit yourself to the
one to whom once you said, “I want to grow old with you.” Do you remember the
day you said that? You need to let them go. You need to let those things go. You
need to learn to forgive those expectations of the past which were never
fulfilled. We need a biblical realism about the dynamism of a marriage and how,
in the midst of a marriage, tensions and difficulties may often come which is
part and parcel of the way God is molding and shaping and fashioning us so that
we may become like his son Jesus Christ; it is the evidence, Hebrew 12 tells us,
that God loves us that we are being treated as His sons, that He is determined
to rid us of those besetting sins.

III. The Christian life, and
marriage in particular, is to be lived looking to Jesus.
But there’s a third thing that I want us to see here. That the
Christian life, and marriage in particular, is to be lived looking to Jesus.
Now, he says, several things here about Jesus. He says, in verse 4, something
about the intensity and uniqueness of the sufferings of Jesus. He goes on to
tell us that Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. He is the
trailblazer, He is the one who goes before us, paving the way for the rest, with
whom He is in union, to follow in His wake. He was tempted and tested in every
way. He endured, seeing the prospect of future glory before Him, for the joy
that was set before Him, He endured the cross, and has sat down at the right
hand of the majesty on high.

Now, there are two things that will do for a
marriage. Looking to Jesus will do two things. Looking to Jesus as He is
described here in Hebrews 12 will do two things. First of all, it will provide
the answer to the question, “Who is in control?” When you find yourself in the
midst of immense pressure and immense tension and yes, immense frustration
perhaps, the answer to the question, “Who is in control?” is “Jesus.” Jesus in
control of my life. He is the one who has blazed a way through to heaven itself
and is sitting at God’s right hand having endured through every trial and
temptation of this life. And there is no trial, and there is no temptation, and
there is no difficulty, not in your marriage, not in anybody else’s marriage,
that He is not in control of, that He does not have the power to resolve,
because He’s king, I tell you, because He is Lord, I tell you, because He sits
on the very throne of the universe, I tell you. And in the midst of, perhaps,
very, very real problems in which you may find yourselves this evening, and
you’re crying out, “Is there anybody there to hear me in my difficulties?” can
you hear the answer, “I am here.” Jesus is here, and He’s sitting upon His
throne in heaven. In every trouble, in every difficulty, in every
disappointment, through every hurt, Jesus is Lord and King.

But it provides us with something else. Looking to
Jesus according to the pattern that is laid down for us here in Hebrews 12,
looking to Jesus provides us with the pattern for relating in Christian
discipleship to our spouse. And that pattern is always, always the pattern of
self denial. Jesus reached the right hand of God through the pattern of self
denial. In the language of Philippians 2, “He emptied Himself.” He counted
Himself of no reputation. He did not stand upon His dignity.

Now, what does that say to us in marriage? It says
to us that the way to relate to each other in marriage is always a Christ like
way. It is always the way of self denial. It is never the way of “me first.”
It is never the way of standing upon our own dignity, but considering the
dignity of our spouse and of our partner. He put you first, He put me first,
and how dare we in our marriages insist that it’s got to be my way, it’s got to
be my way! You know, when you’re tempted to sulk, and men can sulk as well as
women. Oh yes they can. They do it in different ways, but they can sulk and
pout too. When you do that, when you are tempted to do that, you are putting
yourself first. When you’re spending too much time away from home, making more
money than is good for you, you’re putting yourself first. It’s time to look to
Jesus, that’s what I’m saying. Never quit giving yourselves away. What did you
do on your wedding day? What did you do when you stood with your wife or
husband on the steps, maybe it was here, maybe it was in this very room. For
many of you I’m sure it was, right there. You were giving yourself away. You
were saying to your partner, “I want to grow old with you. I want you to fill
my vision. I want to give my life for you.” Be a friend to your spouse. And
if you’re going to survive, and if I’m going to survive, and right where this
sermon is — I may not have known what I was talking about last week, but I do
this week — from tomorrow I’m going to be married to an older woman. Right at
this very point, that’s where we are. Be a friend to your spouse.

I came across this saying this week, it’s been in my
head ever since. You’ve probably heard it, “To the world you may be just one
person, but to one person, you may just be the world.” How are you going to
ensure that you will live out the second half of your marriage to the glory of
God, in a God-glorifying way? You know, I’m making some assumptions of course.
I’m assuming that at 50, I’ve got a second half, and I may be dead next week.
None of us knows. Absolutely none of us knows how long we’ve got. And the Lord
Almighty could call us in an instant, in an instant, we may already be in the
second half and approaching the finishing line, and we just never knew it.

So, how are we going to insure, that in this long
distance race, that is encountered by men, full of difficulties and tensions,
when two sinners have to live with each other for all their lives, how are you
going to insure that you live that second half to the glory of God? By looking
to Jesus. By looking to Jesus. You know, those wonderful words of Psalm 92,
“The righteous flourish like the palm tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon,
and are planted in the house of the Lord, they flourish in the courts of our
God, they still bear fruit in old age, they are ever full of sap and green.”
That’s what you want to be.

Isn’t it wonderful to see in this congregation,
examples of, oh, let’s not beat around the bush here and talk about mature
people, I’m talking about old people now. If I was going to be fired, I would
have been fired a long time before this sermon tonight, but I’m talking about
old people, I’m talking about people who are still bearing fruit in old age, and
don’t you sometime pass them by and whisper to yourself, “I want to be just like
that. Lord, help me in my marriage to be just like that couple.” You more
mature men and women, you have such a responsibility to fire an enthusiasm in
the younger marriages of this congregation, to help and pray and exhort and love
them, so that they might finish strong, like you’re finishing strong. But it’s
not self effort. It’s looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our
faith. Every day, every day, that’s my prayer, “Lord, help me to finish this
race without stumbling.” May God help us to do it, for His name sake. Let’s
pray together.

Our Father in heaven, we come to you tonight
because we are very conscious of our weakness and our sin and our failures, and
it would be all too easy to leave the sanctuary this evening depressed and glum
and downhearted, with yet another hammer blow upon our hearts that we are
sinners, but You are God, and we look to You and we look to our Savior and we
pray, Lord Jesus, help us, enable us, give us conviction, give us zeal, give us
enthusiasm, help us to overcome our frailties, help us to love our spouses, as
Jesus loved the Church, and hear us Lord, because for Jesus sake we ask it,
Amen.

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