Pastor Greg Laurie of Harvest Christian Fellowship in California offered tips for a healthy, biblical marriage in a recent message titled "Marriage 101," the third session in his "#RelationshipGoals" series.
The pastor, who has been married to his wife Cathe for 44 years, began by stating that while there are "biblical allowances" for divorce, most divorces today "could've been avoided." In fact, he argued that the reason most marriages fall apart boils down to two issues: selfishness and communication breakdown.
"I go into a marriage saying, 'That person has to fulfill me, that person has to meet my needs, in fact, I'm going to fix that person,'" he said. "Never marry someone you think you're gonna fix, because they're probably going to get worse ... Marriage isn't so much about finding the right person as it is being the right person."
Hollywood and the culture today have "little to nothing to say" when it comes to healthy marriages, Laurie said, referencing the high divorce rate among celebrities. In fact, many movies and TV shows "make a joke out of something sacred," he added, urging listeners to "strike out altogether" the idea of living together before marriage, as studies show that couples who do so "have a higher divorce rate."
"I wish that we could strike the word 'divorce' from our vocabularies," he said. "We throw it around way too casually ... don't even go there."
While a rising number of Americans divorce due to "irreconcilable differences," the pastor argued that there's actually "great freedom" in marriage, because "what you have is an incredible mobility, a freedom to do what the Lord would lead you do to."
Still, Laurie encouraged single people to remember that while God has handpicked someone for them, they first must find their contentment in Jesus Christ.
"There is no perfect man or perfect girl, just a lot of imperfect people populating this thing we call marriage," he said.
In the Bible, God provides a user's manual on how to have a successful relationship, Laurie contended, adding that marriage is ultimately about each side doing their part.
"This is marriage 101," he said, reading Ephesians 5:31-33: "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery — but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband."
Living by these verses, Laurie said, would "transform your marriage."
"Men need to love their wife as Jesus loves His church, putting her needs above his own," the pastor said. "Wives, respect your husband. Should you not love him? Yes, but in particular it says respect. Women need love, men need respect."
Putting the needs of others before your own "changes the dynamic of a marriage," Laurie said, adding that "two operative words" in marriage are "leave and cleave."
"When you get married, you're still a son or a daughter to your parents," he said. "But now, if you're a woman, you're a wife, and if you're a man, you're a husband, and a new family has begun. Your highest allegiance is to God first and then to your spouse."
"If you're not in perfect harmony with your spouse, your marriage can literally break down," he warned. "If you don't love your wife as you ought to, your prayers will be hindered. We need to alter those other relationships."
While sex is a significant part of marriage, Laurie emphasized that friendship between a couple is of equal importance.
"They should be your best friend," he said. "It's leaving other relationships and it's cleaving. It's not like you're stuck together, but you're holding on to each other in life. This is the relationship God calls us all to live."
Relationships need maintenance, the pastor emphasized: "A marriage needs constant effort, and the moment you begin to neglect it, you're going to see problems develop."
Laurie closed his message by asking attendees: "Do you have a relationship with God?"
"You're looking for God, and there's a hole in your heart you're trying to fill with people, and you're trying to fill it with things, and you're trying to fill it maybe with drugs or sex or success or even with religion. When it's all said and done, who you're really looking for is Jesus. You need Him in your life and you need Him to forgive you, and then start that relationship with Him."
"Of all of the illustrations God could've given us to show His love for humanity and to show how people who believe love Him, He chose marriage," he concluded. "That's why it's so important to keep our marriages together, because it's a powerful witness to a lost world, but it's also a perfect illustration."