The Blessing of a Believing Spouse
July 23, 2008
This is the story of Sarah’s faith. It is the story of one woman who together with her husband believed God and received a very great reward. It is also a story about the enormous blessing of having a believing spouse.
If man has a wife who believes in Jesus, he is greatly blessed, and if a wife has a husband who believes, she is greatly blessed. And when the two of them together both love the Lord Jesus Christ, that marriage is doubly blessed.
The spiritual condition of your spouse matters greatly. Where there is shared faith in Jesus Christ, the foundation is laid for a marriage that can last a lifetime. And where both partners are believers, they can face the inevitable trials of life with a resolve born of shared commitment to the same eternal values. That is why it is matters so greatly that Christian young people seek to meet, date and marry other young people who share their faith in the Lord. This is one area that you cannot leave to chance.
Where there is shared faith in Jesus Christ, the foundation is laid for a marriage that can last a lifetime.
Occasionally I am asked how Marlene and I met. The short version goes like this. We both attended the same Christian college in Chattanooga, Tennessee. One day I asked my roommate about a girl he had been dating. How had they met? He told me that he had been praying, “Lord, please give me a pure girl to date.” That night before going to sleep, I prayed the same prayer. I remember praying it once and that was it. I prayed it and forgot about it.
About three months later, I began to notice this cute, vivacious, very attractive girl around campus. I not only noticed her, I saw that other guys noticed her also. After a little investigation, I learned that she was the secretary of the Music Department at the college. Now I had no reason ever to go by her office because I wasn’t involved in any of the musical groups and didn’t take any music courses. But somehow or other, I started finding ways to go by her office and make small talk. I had one talent and only one. I could make her laugh. That wasn’t hard because she had a beautiful smile and laughed easily so day after day, I found any excuse I could to go by her office and say hello. We struck up a bit of a friendship but didn’t start dating immediately. The great turning point came one Monday night when I finished teaching a Word of Life Bible Club at a local church and got back to the campus about 8:30 PM, in time to catch the second half of a basketball game at the gymnasium. When I walked inside, the place was packed. Scanning the bleachers, I saw her. And in the sovereign, predestined plan of God (I’m convinced of this), the row to her right was filled but no one was sitting to her left. I walked up and tried out my best line. “Anyone sitting here?”
The rest is history. Sort of.
We started dating a few weeks later. That spring we became more serious. That summer we were apart. I broke up with her when we got back to school (that’s another story), but when I realized I was in love with her, I asked her to get back together, and she said yes. Sometime in our senior year, I took her home to meet my parents, who loved her immediately. In April we were engaged, in May we graduated from college, in June we told my parents we wanted to get married in August. Mom gasped, Dad smiled, and they rallied to the cause. Two months later we were married on a hot Thursday night in Phoenix, Arizona. We honeymooned by driving to Dallas where I started seminary the following Tuesday.
Next month we celebrate our 34th wedding anniversary.
I have never doubted—in fact have always known—that God gave me a wife in answer to that prayer.
Sometime during that year when we became very serious in our relationship, I remembered the prayer I prayed one night in the dorm: “Lord, give me a pure girl to date.” I prayed it one time and only only one time and then forgot about it. But God honored that little bit of faith. I have never doubted—in fact have always known—that God gave me a wife in answer to that prayer.
This sermon is not about Marlene. It’s about Sarah. But I can’t write about Sarah’s faith without reflecting on the faith of my own wife. What Sarah was to Abraham—his indispensable companion and friend—Marlene has been to me. And I can testify to the vast blessing of having a believing spouse. It has changed the whole course of my life—and very much for the better.
Hebrews 11:11-12 illustrates the blessing of a believing spouse. In two short verses the writer extols the faith of a woman who lived 4000 years ago. Her story is told in detail in Genesis 12-23. Our text singles out three aspects of her faith as worthy of special attention.
I. It was a Personal Faith.
Verse 11 says that “by faith even Sarah herself” (HCSB). In the Greek there is a word that emphasizes not just that Sarah believed, but that it was Sarah herself—personally and individually—who believed. That may seem like a small point, but it is actually huge when you consider that Abraham is considered the father of faith. In fact, we call him “Father Abraham” because from him came the nation of Israel, and he became the father of faith for all those who believe in Jesus. Galatians 3 makes this argument in great detail to show that Abraham was the father of both a physical lineage and a spiritual lineage. The Bible has a great deal to say about Abraham’s faith and much less to say about Sarah’s faith. But here it is said very plainly that Sarah herself also believed. She didn’t—and couldn’t—live off the faith of her husband. In order for God’s plan to go forward, both Abraham and Sarah together must believe the promise.
God has no grandchildren.
No wife can live off her husband’s faith, and no husband can live off his wife’s faith. Neither can the children live off the faith of their parents. God has no grandchildren. It is never enough to say, “I am related to a believer.” But what about you personally? Have you ever trusted Christ as Lord and Savior? No one goes to heaven because you know someone who is saved. Salvation must ultimately become very personal.
Sarah believed God. She didn’t trust in Abraham’s faith. She had her own faith that was real and genuine.
Is your faith personal or it is merely “borrowed” from a spouse or a family member or from someone you know who knows the Lord? Heaven belongs to those who know Jesus, not to those who know someone who knows Jesus. As long as Christ is outside of us, all that he has done for the human race is of no value to us. It is not enough to say, “I attend Shady Grove Baptist Church” or “I love to sing Christian music” or even “Pastor Ray baptized me personally.” It’s not enough to say, “I believe that there was a person named Jesus who lived and died 2000 years ago.” But is he dwelling in you? Does he live in you? We experience Christ in us only as we commit ourselves to him as Lord and Savior.
II. It was a Powerful Faith.
“By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised” (v. 11).
I love the way verse 11 rather delicately handles the problem Abraham and Sarah faced.
Sarah was “past the age.”
That’s a nice way of saying she was 90 years old. And that of course is why Sarah laughed when she angelic visitors told Abraham (who was 100 years old) that Sarah would get pregnant and give birth to a son (Genesis 18:9-15). Lest we miss the magnitude of this miracle, the Bible spells out the problem several times:
Sarah was barren (Genesis 11:30).
Sarah had borne Abraham no children (Genesis 16:1).
Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years (Genesis 18:11).
Sarah had passed the age of childbearing (Genesis 18:11).
Sarah was a “worn-out woman” (Genesis 18:12).
Abraham was old (Genesis 18:12).
Sarah was old (Genesis 18:13).
There was no reason for Abraham or Sarah to hope for children (Romans 4:18).
Abraham thought his body was as good as dead (Romans 4:19).
Sarah’s womb was also dead (Romans 4:19).
Sarah was long past childbearing age (Hebrews 11:11).
Abraham was as good as dead (Hebrews 11:12).
These verses are in the Bible to remind us of the utter hopelessness of their situation. It seemed impossible when God first gave the promise when Abraham was 75 and Sarah was 65. Now a quarter-century later, the situation was beyond hopeless.
Before going on, let me point out one other fact from this verse that is not apparent from the English translation. When the text says Sarah “received power to conceive,” that’s a paraphrase of the Greek text, which literally says that she “received power to throw down seed.” But the “seed” comes from the man, not from the woman. How, then, can this be applied to Sarah? That fact is one reason that some translations (such as the NIV) apply verse 11 to Abraham, not Sarah. But the word behind “throw down” means to lay a foundation, such as the foundation of a house. If you go back to Genesis, God makes it clear over and over again that he is calling Abraham and Sarah to become the founders of a vast nation. By putting the matter this way, the writer of Hebrews elevates Sarah to a level equal with Abraham. Together they became the founders of a great nation. Even though the Bible focuses more on Abraham’s faith, in Hebrews 11:11 we discover that Sarah’s faith was equally as great as Abraham’s, and she deserves equal credit.
Sarah’s faith was equally as great as Abraham’s, and she deserves equal credit.
So here we learn something about the true nature of faith, and we learn about God’s involvement in the most intimate moments of life. In some way that we can’t understand (because it was a miracle), God touched the physical bodies of Abraham and Sarah and gave them the ability to procreate. This came after decades of trying and finally giving up hope altogether. It is as if God says, “I will wait until it is so utterly impossible that no one will believe it, and then I will make it happen.”
I find it very encouraging that Sarah is included in the great line of faith because if you read Genesis, she doesn’t always appear in the best light. After all, she was the one who suggested to Abraham that he have a child with Hagar, her handmaid (Genesis 16). We all know what a disaster that was. And she laughed when she heard the angelic messengers tell Abraham that she was going to have a child and then she lied about her laughter (Genesis 18:12-15). But in the end she believed God and gave birth to Isaac when she was 90 years old. Her faith shines brighter than her doubts.
III. It was a Prolific Faith.
“Therefore from one man, and ï»¿him as good as dead, were born descendants ï»¿as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore” (v. 12).
Did you notice how easily the text moves from Sarah back to Abraham? She was the focus of verse 11 and now he is mentioned as the father of innumerable descendants. But this should not surprise us since in a good marriage, the husband and wife share equally in the triumphs, joys and sorrows.
Together they waited for years.
Together they foolishly sought a shortcut.
Together they doubted what God said.
Together they saw their own weakness.
Together they believed God.
Together they had a son.
Together they founded a vast nation.
Together they became examples of faith.
Together they show up in Hebrews 11.
That’s what marriage is—it’s “together.” A man and a woman, side by side, on a journey through life, sometimes victorious, sometimes struggling, sometimes laughing, sometimes crying, sometimes disagreeing, sometimes winning, sometimes losing, sometimes talking, sometimes silent, sometimes making huge plans, sometimes scrambling to make ends meet. In the course of a lifetime, a married couple will go through the whole range of human emotions. There will be seasons of struggle, times of dryness, and occasions when they wonder why they ever got married in the first place. When children come, they will not always agree on how to raise them. There will be hard days and happy nights for every husband and wife. But where there is love and respect, and a commitment that cannot be broken by the winds of adversity, they will face life as Abraham and Sarah did—”together.”
In the course of a lifetime, a married couple will go through the whole range of human emotions.
God knew what he was doing when he said that it is not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). Very few of us enjoy being alone over the long haul. For most of us, life is meant to be enjoyed together. And it is made all the sweeter when a couple can look back and say, “It wasn’t always easy, and sometimes it was very hard indeed, but by God’s grace, we have made the journey together.”
She Made the Book!
And when God writes their story in Hebrews 11, he makes sure that Sarah gets equal billing with Abraham. It’s true that Abraham gets more space, but she made the Book!
Husbands, take notice.
Make sure your wife is included in every victory.
Abraham couldn’t make a child by himself. He needed Sarah in order to produce Isaac. What if God had worked a miracle in Abraham but not in Sarah? What if she had said, “No thanks. I’m too old. I don’t want to be changing diapers when I’m 90″? In order to fulfill the promise, God had to work several miracles. First, he had to touch their old, tired, worn-out bodies and make them able to reproduce. Second, he had to touch their hearts so that they would have faith to believe the first miracle had taken place.
Abraham couldn’t make a child by himself. He needed Sarah in order to produce Isaac.
Give Sarah her due.
Praise the wife who stands by her husband.
Who shares his dreams.
Who listens to his stories.
Who laughs at his jokes.
Who believes in him even when he messes up.
Who bites her tongue when he says something dumb.
Who learns with him how to make a home.
Who loves to cook what he loves to eat.
Who waits patiently for his phone call.
Who looks forward to seeing him when he come home from work.
Who knows how to manage his changing moods.
Who knows what to say to make him smile.
Who looks for ways to encourage him when he wants to quit.
Who prays for him every day.
Who encourages him to stay on his diet.
Who speaks well of him to others.
Who still thinks he is cute and funny after all these years.
Who gets angry sometimes but refuses to give up.
Who puts up with his annoying habits.
Who says, “How are you, Babe?” when he calls on the phone.
Who cries when they watch mushy movies together.
Who knows what he is going to say before he says it.
Who learns to love football.
Who never gives up even when giving up would be easy.
Yes, give Sarah her due. And give due praise to all the daughters of Sarah across the years. 1 Peter 3:6 even uses that phrase—”daughters of Sarah”—for the wives who trust in God. That passage applies Sarah’s godly example to wives everywhere:
Cultivate inner beauty, the gentle, gracious kind that God delights in. The holy women of old were beautiful before God that way, and were good, loyal wives to their husbands. Sarah, for instance, taking care of Abraham, would address him as “my dear husband.” You’ll be true daughters of Sarah if you do the same, unanxious and unintimidated (I Peter 3:4-6 MSG).
Sarah was “beautiful before God.” And so are all her “daughters” who trust God the same way she did.
Sarah was “beautiful before God.” And so are all her “daughters” who trust God the same way she did.
This sort of beauty isn’t developed overnight. Sarah was far from perfect, a fact made very clear from the account in Genesis where she laughed at God because his promise made no sense. On the other hand, Abraham lied about Sarah not being his wife—twice! You can read about it in Genesis 12 and 20. And they both foolishly tried to take a shortcut with the Hagar-Ishmael affair. We don’t need to turn them into plastic saints or pretend they had no struggles. Still, for all their weaknesses, they both lived by faith in God. And they made the Book! That’s huge. It means that God looked beyond their faults and saw that deep down, they truly believed in him.
Sarah Never Saw Her Own Legacy
There is a further point to be made from verse 12 with its talk about descendants more numerous than the stars in the skies or the sand on the seashore. We tend to read that verse and think how amazing it is that an old man and an old woman would have such prolific faith. That from such an unlikely beginning would come such a staggering result. And of course, that’s a very true point, and it is part of the biblical record. From Abraham and Sarah came the whole nation of Israel (and other nations as well). If you count it up, that would be millions of people over the last 4000 years. But the New Testament expands that to include the spiritual sons of Abraham—that is, the true believers in Jesus. Well, if you’re going to include those who shared his same faith in God, then the numbers reach into the hundreds of millions. But it even goes beyond that. If you include all the self-professed Christians in the world, from every background and every nation and every denomination, the current number is 2.1 billion—and it’s growing every day. And that’s amazing. But the most amazing thing is that Sarah ultimately brought forth the Lord Jesus Christ. Matthew 1:1 calls Jesus the “son of Abraham,” but he was equally the “son of Sarah,” who at first doubted and then believed because she “considered him faithful who had promised” (v. 11). We ought to be very grateful for her faith because her faith brought our Savior to the world.
But there is another side to all this. Sarah didn’t live to see the ultimate end of her faith. Genesis 23:1 says that she was 127 years old when she died, meaning that she lived for 37 years after Isaac was born. But she didn’t live long enough to meet Isaac’s wife Rebekah. She never met her grandsons Jacob and Esau. And she never knew about her many great-grandchildren or the tribes of Israel that would emerge from the unruly sons of Jacob. All of that was hidden to her because she only lived long enough to experience the great miracle of Isaac’s birth and then to see him grow up. She would not see the descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky or the sand on the seashore.
Rarely will any of us see the full results of what we lived for.</h6 class=”pullquote”>That, too, is part of the life of faith. When verse 12 emphasizes the vast results of her faith, it is pointing out that rarely will any of us see the full results of what we lived for. At this moment, as I write these words, I am 55 years old. We have three sons. Today Josh and Leah celebrate their second anniversary. Next Monday we celebrate Mark and Vanessa’s first anniversary. While I was working on this sermon, I stopped to call Marlene because I’m on the road speaking at Cannon Beach Conference Center in Oregon. She told me that she had talked with Mark and Vanessa when they returned home from a house-hunting trip in Dallas. Josh and Leah left Dallas yesterday. Josh starts Dallas Seminary this fall. Mark hopes to start in January. Over the weekend they found places to stay and both couples will move to Dallas in two weeks. Over the weekend I talked to Nick in Birmingham and we discussed his future plans. Once again our family is on the move. We can’t seem to stay settled anywhere for too long. That’s not a complaint—just an observation. After all the moving Marlene and I have done over the years, we can hardly complain about our sons moving here and there. We are happy to see them moving on and making their own way in the world, even if that means our family is only together once or twice a year. So far this year our family has been together exactly one evening. That happened two weeks ago, just before I left on my current ministry trip to Michigan, Oregon and Pennsylvania. Even though it was the middle of July, we took our Christmas card pictures that evening because we can’t be sure when we’ll be together again. Like all parents, we wonder what the future will hold . Some parents are given long life and good health to see their children’s children. Psalm 128:6 (NLT) says, “May you live to enjoy your grandchildren.” Somewhere I read a paraphrase that always touches my heart, “May you live to see your grandchildren playing at your feet.” What a happy thought that is.
But there are no guarantees. My father never knew his grandchildren. I may or may not be blessed that way. And in any case, I won’t live for hundreds of years to see what God will bring forth from the faith of our family. Marlene and I have started something together that will go on without us. That thought brings me great joy because it means that God’s faithfulness to my children and someday to my grandchildren doesn’t depend on my personal presence. By God’s grace, what starts with us will continue for many generations to come.
So it was for Sarah and Abraham.
So it is for all the people of faith.
Together we start a legacy of faith.
But what we start, God will continue.
And after we are gone, God will finish the work.
Together we start a legacy of faith. But what we start, God will continue.</h6 class=”pullquote”>This is the true blessing of a believing spouse. Abraham and Sarah together believed God, together weathered the storms of life, together stumbled and fell and then got up again, together walked with God, together lived in tents in the Promised Land, together raised Isaac, and together they were buried in the same place.
All this by faith—together!
I have written this sermon primarily from the standpoint of marriage, but the truth applies to all of us—married or single. Faith is the only currency accepted in the Bank of Heaven. All transactions occur by faith. This is the legacy we must leave—that we lived and died by faith. It is a legacy that is within the reach of all of us. Faith is not limited to a certain group. It is not defined by your income, your marital status, your culture, your age, your sex, your background, your language, or any of the ways we divide the human race.
Faith is the great divider. By your life, you may influence the next Abraham, the next Sarah, the next David, the next Daniel, the next Esther. Your faith may light a fire for God that will burn long after you are gone.
God may arrange things so that your faith bears vast fruit in the years to come. Your legacy will be most clearly seen after you have gone to heaven. Sarah never lived to see the world-changing impact of her faith in God, but we still remember her 4000 years later and honor her example.
May the Holy Spirit take the truth of the Word and enlarge your faith to believe God for great things now and in the future. Amen.