Pre-Marriage Pre-Requisites, Part 2
About the Guest
What makes a marriage stick? On today's broadcast, pastor Tom Elliff identifies five prerequisites that he believes every engaged couple should be able to conform to in order to insure a successful marriage later on.
Tom ElliffTom Elliff served as the International Mission Board's Senior Vice President for Spiritual Nurture and Church Relations. In addition to his work with IMB, Tom pastored for forty-two years, during which time he served as the president of the SBC Pastors Conference and two terms as president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Blessed with four children and twenty-three grandchildren, Tom and his wife, Jeannie are also frequent speakers at conferences and on radio programs addressing issues re...more
What makes a marriage stick?
Pre-Marriage Pre-Requisites, Part 2
Tom: The scriptural role model for the husband is Jesus. He is the groom – "My God shall supply all your need according to his riches and glory by Christ Jesus," the Scripture says in Philippians 4:19. And so the husband is to be the provider. Men do what they have to do. Marriage is not just so you can live together while you try to find out who you are. Marriage has a distinct purpose in the plan of God.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, May 22nd. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Here is a tough question – if you're about to get married, are you sure you're both mature enough to begin a life together?
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us. The guest we have on the program today, I've not told this story until today. In fact, I've debated whether or not I should tell it. We have actually, Dennis, worked in radio together before – this guest and I.
Dennis: I know this story, and …
Bob: He used to host his own call-in talk show from a station in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where I was employed. Sunday nights you could call in and talk to our guest, and the name of the program? Well, let's let him say it. What was the name of the program?
Tom: "Let Me Talk to That Preacher."
Bob: That was it – a radio call-in show, "Let Me Talk to That Preacher."
Dennis: And how did it do?
Tom: Oh, it was great, it was great. We monopolized the airwaves on Sunday nights.
Dennis: Well, that's the voice of Tom Elliff. Tom, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Tom: Thank you, Dennis, Bob.
Dennis: You know, as I think about your ministry and the firmness with which Tom counsels engaged couples and those who are looking forward to getting married, he is not a wishy-washy pastor. And I was thinking of this verse, Tom, to describe what you aren't, okay? This is in Jeremiah, chapter 5, verses 30 and 31 – "An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land. The prophets prophecy falsely, and the priests rule on their own authority, and my people love it so. But what will you do at the end of it?" In other words, will you be able to escape judgment.
You've been told what you wanted to hear, okay, you did it, you embraced it, but now you're under the judgment of God, and what you talked about yesterday on the broadcast as you counseled young couples looking forward to marriage, Tom, is you gave them the tougher route. You challenged them spiritually from this book not on your own authority but on the authority of Scripture as we talked about the first two of five prerequisites that a couple needs to work through before they get married.
Tom: It's like a friend of mine said, "Well, Tom, if they meet those prerequisites, sure they're going to stay married forever." I said, "Yeah, that's right, that's what we're after here." That's exactly right.
Dennis: You mentioned yesterday on the broadcast you've had hundreds of couples marry and only two of them have gotten unmarried …
Tom: … to my knowledge. Somebody may call in, I hope not.
Dennis: And – I hope not, too – but of those two couples who got divorced, you found out later that both of them had lied about these five prerequisites …
Tom: By their own admission – one of the parties came to me and told me.
Dennis: Yes, as they went through the pre-marriage counseling.
Bob: And the prerequisites we talked about yesterday were that a person must have an active, vital walk with Christ …
Tom: Both bride and groom.
Bob: Both be believers and must be intent on attending the same church after they are married.
Bob: And then the second prerequisite is that they must be scripturally free to marry, and we talked extensively yesterday about what that means. In fact, you've got a position paper that we've made available to our listeners that explains who is and who isn't scripturally free, right?
Tom: Exactly, not everybody who wants to get married is free to marry. Unfortunately, our society thinks that tearing up a document in a courtroom means that God somehow destroys documents in heaven. That's not so, and that's the reason the Bible says that while God has a great heart of compassion who go through divorce, He hates putting away, He hates the whole issue of divorce.
Dennis: And I've got to stop at this point before we move to numbers 3, 4, and 5. This list is not merely for single people and for engaged people, it's also for pastors, it's for parents, it's for anyone who cares about a friend who is getting married. These are, really, to empower a believer to step into another person's life and say, "You know what? I think you may benefit going over these five prerequisites before you marry this person."
Tom: Exactly. As a matter of fact, we ask that they settle these issues before they begin our three-and-a-half month pre-marriage counseling course.
Dennis: And, over the years, how many have you failed to marry because of these five prerequisites? Do you suppose it's 100?
Tom: I have no idea. I'm sure at least that many. I mean, on two occasions I have not married the daughters of deacons in the church I was pasturing, because one of the four parents had some reservations about the timing, and in both those instances it was vindicated.
As a matter of fact, in one instance, the couple ran away and got married, had it annulled in seven days. I was glad I was not in that, and on the other occasion, they did as we had agreed, they postponed their marriage. In the meantime, they fell out of love with each other, met two other people, are very happily married to them now, and every time I see them, they say, "Thank the Lord we put that off. Look at my kids, they wouldn't be here if we hadn't done that."
Dennis: Okay, we've talked about the first two of the five. What's prerequisite number 3?
Tom: Prerequisite number 3 is that you have parental blessing and encouragement not just agreement. And this is so very, very important. I mean, if you love your intended, she loves you, but her parents don't love you or your parents don't love hers, then you've got a problem, and in order to settle that issue, we require a meeting with the parents of both the bride and the groom.
That gets real interesting sometimes, Dennis, when we have parents and stepparents, but we've had many dads come to know Christ moreso than moms. We've had a mom or two come to know Christ in that meeting, but I have a little dog-and-pony show that I give them about cutting the apron strings without cutting the heartstrings.
I talk to them about why their children want their blessing, and then I ask the parents to come in the room with the children and the children, one at a time, goes down the entire roll of those folks who are there and starts by saying, "Dad, I want to tell you, first of all, what you have meant to me. These are all the things that you've given me. Mom, I want to tell you, this" – it's always a meeting with tears.
And then he turns to the parents of his intended or she to his parents, and it's a wonderful meeting. We get on our knees and pray then that God would bless this union.
Dennis: This becomes very practical in my life because Ashley tried to marry a young man when she was in college, and for some reasons I won't go into here, Barbara and I did not feel like it was the right relationship for Ashley. We did not feel like this was a good thing for her.
And, I'll tell you, a few things I have ever done, I felt like I was risking losing my daughter, but I felt like, as one who is responsible for her life, I felt obligated and a burden to step into her life, and Barbara and I did, together, and we told her, "We're firing a silver bullet. You need to know this is a big deal, but we have major reservations. We prayed about it, we sought our own heart, we sought our own convictions about this, we've even sought outside counsel from other Christian mentors and folks at various life stages ahead of us as a couple, and we step in to warn you this is not right."
You know what? Today Ashley thanks us for having done that. But, I'll tell you what, it was not welcomed at that point. She was dead set on marrying this young man.
Tom: Interestingly enough, we had a similar situation with our daughter except for this face – this young man and his parents are wonderful people and friends of ours, and the relationship was absolutely by the book, even an engagement. And we love these folks to this very day, but somewhere from down deep within us there developed a reservation.
And at the same time, God was developing a reservation in their lies. Now, let me tell you, you know, there has been one shower already toward this thing, and our daughter came down one day, and she said, "Are you not eating, Daddy?" And I said, "No," and she said, "Well, I'm not, either." And we began to talk about this, and we said, "You know, something? A broken engagement is a whole lot better than a broken heart and a broken marriage."
Dennis: Were you fasting on behalf of your daughter at that point?
Tom: Yes, at that time, yes.
Dennis: And she was, too?
Tom: And she was as well. Neither of us knew the other was doing it, and we sat and say, "Well, hey, look, you know, if you're afraid that you're going to embarrass us, listen, we are for you."
And, you know, this young man's parents are wonderful, and he – just the epitome of godliness, a deacon in our church. And it was a God thing. You know, parents who say that shouldn't happen – I remember John MacArthur telling about a young lady was on her way to mail her wedding invitations and couldn't bring herself to do it and drove around with them in the trunk of her car for a couple of days; finally told her parents, and they broke off the engagement. He said, "I'm glad, because now she's my wife."
So parents need to stay involved in this thing, and we ask for absolute encouragement and blessing on the part of all the parents.
Bob: Not a grudging acceptance of what the kids are headed to do?
Tom: No, no, because kids can talk their parents into anything these days. You know, they can threaten them. I remember, we called a lady, the mother of one of our guys one time, long distance, and he walked over to the speakerphone, she couldn't be there, she was out in New Jersey, and he said, "Mom, just because I'm getting married doesn't mean I won't come to you for counsel." She said, "Dennis, the fact that you're getting married, you get my counsel whether you come to me or not." We want them to be involved.
Bob: What do you say to the kids who say, "But my dad's not a believer, my dad – he's a bitter, mean old man, and he doesn't want me to marry anybody."
Tom: Oh, listen, this is the best part of this whole story. So often when we encourage them to bring their parents in, and they hear, out of the mouth of their own children, "Dad, it's because of what God is doing in my heart that I want to seek your permission and your blessing on this thing." I can't tell you the number of dads we've had come to know Christ through the pre-marriage counseling.
Dennis: How about that? Well, this next prerequisite is pretty controversial.
Tom: It's the biggie, it's the one I'm criticized the most for on the front end, it's the one I am thanked the most for on the back end, and it is absolutely scriptural.
Dennis: And some of our listeners better …
Tom: Buckle your seatbelt.
Dennis: That's right, you better tighten the seatbelt, you may not – well …
Bob: You may flinch a little.
Dennis: Yes, go ahead.
Tom: Well, under the title of "Vocational Focus," we made the commitment that we would not marry couples in situations where the wife had to work outside the home in order for them to begin or continue their lives together.
Bob: So are you saying that if this young lady is a schoolteacher or a nurse or a doctor, for that matter, a lawyer, that in order to get married in your church, she's got to quit her job?
Tom: Well, yes, that's, I guess, what we have said. We have said that if your being married requires your working outside the home, you need to reconsider. I could talk about this – I know I can just see red flags going up, and bells and whistles and smoke coming out of people's ears and, you know, you're driving to work, and you're going to work right now so you can keep your kids in Christian school, and you think I'm just a real idiot for saying this, but let me just say again, there is something terribly wrong in the families of our nation – terribly wrong.
And the fact that this piece of advice flies in the face of contemporary society ought to tell you something. Most everything God says flies in the face of contemporary society.
Dennis: You know, I talked to a listener to our broadcast the other day. She has, with her husband, six children, and she's a doctor. And on the basis of listening to counsel very similar what you've just given, Tom, she resigned as a doctor. She was a bright medical student, her friends, her peers, cannot still, to this day, believe what she has done, especially when she comes walking in with a covey full of children hanging all over her.
But she says, to this day, it is one of the smartest things she has ever done in her life.
Tom: Good for her.
Bob: What would you say to the young couple that says, "Okay, we don't have to have her income. We can get by on mine." She plans to come home as soon as we have kids but, in the interim, she really feels called to what she is doing, and so can't we just let her work until we have kids?
Tom: Yes, this is not going to be a popularity contest for me, so I'm just going to tell you what I think. I think that's the worst of all possible scenarios – to work until the kids come – for several reasons. Number one, you end up having the least money when you need the most money. You're going to be quick to hurry up and send the kids to a daycare center so you can get off to work.
Number two, that child then becomes your reason for staying at home. That's wrong. The child needs to be born into a home that's already focused and centered and has a schedule and a routine, not into a home where, all of a sudden, people are trying to decide, "Hey, this is the only kind of life and being alone and nobody's cleaning up behind and nobody's complimenting me on my figure, and it's not easy and telling me what a good job I'm doing, my husband's gone."
Hey, listen, some of these issues need to be settled before the child ever shows up. So I just say the best option here is that the husband be the provider in the home.
Bob, it shouldn't be two people with two careers under one roof. It's two people becoming one flesh with a mutual goal. Think of the struggles these families have where you say, "Well, let's take a vacation here." "No, I can't do it. My company won't let me off then." "Well, listen, I planned for us to go to a FamilyLife retreat this weekend." "I'm sorry, our company has a retreat that weekend, and you're going to have to take care of the kids that weekend."
Wait a minute, what is important? The family is important, that's what. That's the only thing you're going to leave as a legacy in this world. The company that hired you, you know, when you pass off the scene, they'll have given you a gold watch, but your kids keep living.
Dennis: You actually have a son in seminary.
Dennis: Now, how has that worked?
Tom: His wife is a college graduate, they join hand in hand – he is also associated pastor of a church, he is the provider for the home, and they minister together in that church. My son-in-law and my daughter do the same thing. He is also on the staff of a church going to another seminary. They minister together. They have two children, and they work together in the ministry.
Dennis: And what would you have done if your son and your daughter-in-law said, "Daddy, we appreciate that, but she's going to help put me through school?"
Tom: I would not have married them, but they knew that going in, because we've talked about this in the beginning when they were young.
Dennis: It was no surprise.
Bob: The implications here go beyond couples who are considering marriage. There are lots of mamas who are driving to work right now …
Tom: And their heart is broken, and they're upset with me, but I would encourage them to realize this – that God will enable you to do whatever it is His will for you to do. And I know some of you are just screaming out, "But I would love to stay home, but we're way over our heads in debt."
Bob: "My husband won't let me, shouldn't I be submissive to him?"
Tom: I think you should make an appeal to him. I think you should say, "Look, if I stay at home, if I take the money you bring home and make it go further than it's going, you can take the car that I drive, the uniforms I wear, the daycare money that we are spending, take that, do whatever, I will help you, I'll join with you, I'll pray for your success," I believe that's the answer.
Dennis: Well, I would imagine there are some people kind of twisting their heads right now and saying "Those are hard statements." But, you know, I guess the question I want to ask all of our listeners is in light of the divorce statistics, the statistics of marriages breaking because of immorality, it may take some hard things, and you may not even agree with Tom. But, you know, it doesn't matter if you agree with him or not, what matters is what are your beliefs? What do you want for? And how are you hammering out your covenant, your convictions, before God? Because that's who is responsible, before God, it's you. It's not me.
And, Tom, I'm looking at the click, and I've got to get to this fifth one, because it is really important. What's the fifth prerequisite?
Tom: Well, the fifth prerequisite has to do with proper timing, and that's when you're bringing out the best in each other. Couples come to us sometimes and blush, "We want to get married." "Well, are you sleeping around a little bit?" "Yes, that's why we need to hurry up and get married." I say, "Then that's the last thing you need to do right now. The person that God has for you is going to make you more holy not less holy, more in love with Jesus not less in love with Jesus, a more effective worker, a better student, better with his parents and her parents not less.
The very fact that you're frustrated and angry and upset and violating every commandment of God means you ought not to get married. You ought to back up, grow up, deepen your relationship with God before you ever consider being married, because if you bring out the worst in each other when you're dating, you're really going to bring out the worst in each other when you marry." Blow the whistle.
Dennis: I'll tell you, I couldn't agree more. If there is compromise in courtship, where is the trust going to be there after the covenant is established? That covenant is not some magical binding relational agreement. It's an accountability before God that you better be experiencing both before and after it's established.
Tom: Dennis, sex before marriage, promiscuity before marriage, is a revelation of your real value system. It says in spite of all that I say about how much I love you and how much I love God and how much I'm going to serve Him, the bottom line, the thing that motivates me more than anything else is this – I get what I want. Even if you have to be guilty before God, even if I have to defile the temple of God when the Scripture says "Whosoever defiles the temple of God, him shall God destroy." I am willing for you to do that so I can have a few minutes of pleasure – a terrible revelation of a terrible value system.
Dennis: And one that you don't want to begin a marriage with that being the basis. You want to begin a marriage with trust.
Tom: It just says I can't be trusted.
Dennis: Yes, and you want to trust when that covenant is established.
Bob: You know, some of our listeners are wondering – do you do any weddings? Anybody getting married at your church?
Tom: I'm going back from here to do a wedding, as a matter of fact, and, by the way, the mother of the groom came to know Christ through our marriage counseling.
Dennis: Yes, but, you know, we just laughed about that. I just want to stop there and say this is the role of the church in the culture – not to bend to the cultural standard but to stand strong and stand firm and give the culture something to look at. Even if you don't agree with it, you still have got to say, "Thank God there's a man, there's a church, there's a body of believers who hold to convictions and are willing to ask other people and challenge other people to live by those standards as well."
Bob: You know, we've tried to challenge some couples to some standards, too, in the conferences that we host, our Weekend to Remember conferences. We have a couple of sessions there where we get together with engaged couples, and we talk pretty straight to them about how they should approach their wedding day and their marriage with appropriate biblical thinking.
And we also encourage them to get copies of the Preparing for Marriage workbooks that we've put together. These have been used by tens of thousands of couples over the last few years. Some of these couples have used it as part of their official premarital counseling with their pastor, some have had a mentor couple take them through this material, and some have just done it on their own.
But we have the Preparing for Marriage workbook available in our FamilyLife Resource Center and any of our listeners who would like more information about the Weekend to Remember conferences, when they're coming to a city near where you live, or about the Preparing for Marriage workbooks and getting a couples pack so that the two of you can go through this material together, go online at FamilyLife.com, that's our website. And if you click the red button that says "Go" in the middle of the screen, that will take you to an area of the site where there is more information about today's program and the resources that are available from us here at FamilyLife Today.
Again, the website is FamilyLife.com, click the red button that says "Go" in the middle of the home page, and you can order resources from us at that point or call 1-800-358-6329, that's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and we'll be happy to make arrangements to have resources sent out to you or answer any questions you might have about an upcoming conference.
Speaking of the conference, one of the things that we've done for years at the Weekend to Remember is on Sunday morning we have the men and the women in separate areas of the ballroom, and we talk to the guys about being husbands and dads; we talk to the ladies about what it means to be a wife and a mom and not long ago when you were speaking at one of these conferences, Dennis, we had a film crew there, and they videotaped you presenting the material on what it means to be a godly dad.
This month we're making a DVD of that message available to any of our listeners who can help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today this month with a donation of any amount. As you may remember, there is a special matching gift opportunity that is being made available this month. We are hoping to receive enough donations from FamilyLife Today listeners to take full advantage of a $475,000 matching gift, and we've already heard from some of our listeners, but we want to encourage you to help us finish strong this month and, hopefully, we'll be able to meet the match. I don't know if we're already there yet or not, I haven't seen the final figures.
But when you make a donation this month not only will it be matched dollar for dollar, but you can also request a copy of this DVD where Dennis talks straight about being a dad.
If you're making your donation online at FamilyLife.com, when you come to the keycode box, type the word "dads" in there – d-a-d-s – and we'll know to send you a copy of the DVD. If you call 1-800-FLTODAY and make your donation over the phone just mention that you'd like the DVD from Dennis, and we'll send it out to you. Again, it's our way of saying thank you for your support and thanks for helping us take full advantage of this special matching gift opportunity during the month of May. Dennis?
Dennis: Well, it's been our privilege to talk to Tom Elliff today about prerequisites for marriage.
Bob: And you can understand why people called in that radio show and said, "Let me talk to that preacher," can't you? After what he's talked about today?
Dennis: You know what? I think we could start another one at the end of this broadcast.
Bob: We could send him over to our team and let him answer some of the phones here.
Dennis: I think there are some people who want to talk to him right now.
Bob: Let me talk to that preacher!
Dennis: I can just say, Tom, I can appreciate you, as a man, and I hope you'll come back and join us again on the broadcast sometime.
Tom: Thanks, Dennis and Bob, God bless you, and there's always that disclaimer, you know, the views do not necessarily represent the sponsor.
Bob: Tomorrow I hope our listeners can be back with us – Elizabeth Marquardt is going to join us. We're going to talk about a very serious subject, we're going to talk about how the definition of what it means to be a parent is changing around the world. That's coming up tomorrow, I hope our listeners can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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