Several months ago, a young engaged couple asked my wife, Margaret, and me if we would do “pre-marital counselling” with them. We told them that we didn’t really do “counselling”, but that we would love to spend more time with them in a discipling relationship. We would meet together, talk about life and God and Scripture together, and get to know one another better. Since a big part of their life was their upcoming marriage, that would be a big part of our conversation. We also explained that we didn’t see discipleship as a course that lasted a few weeks. So, we were offering to enter into a life-long relationship with them.
They were excited about the idea, so we began to spend more time together. As we had told them, we talked alot about the marriage relationship – that is, the relationship between husband and wife – but we primarily talked about the marriage relationship in the context of a “loving God and loving others relationship”. Since we spend more time with our spouses and children, they should recognize and receive the most demonstrable love from us. Spouses should also be the first to recognize that we consider them as more important than ourselves.
Unfortunately, spouses are also usually the first to notice our sin, our selfishness, our hopelessness, our discouragement, our pain, our struggles. Spouses usually take the brunt of our bad moods and anger and bitterness. We talked about how important forgiveness and grace and mercy are to any relationship, especially the marriage relationship. And, much of the time, these discussions were held around the table, or in the living room following a meal. We were living and growing in our own relationships, not just talking about relationships.
During the weeks and months before they were married, we introduced them to some other couples. They were able to hear even more stories of introductions, dating, romance, failures, forgiveness, etc. It was amazing to hear how God had worked through so many difficult situations, and whether the couples had been married just a few years or many years, how God was continuing to use husbands and wives to disciple one another and to help one another mature in Christ even as they matured in their own relationships. One of the keys that kept popping up was grace, including forgiveness and mercy. Every husband and every wife admitted that they failed their spouse from time to time. Every husband and every wife admitted that there were times when they wanted to drop everything and run away. And, every husband and every wife confessed that it was only the love and grace of God that kept two sinners together in spite of their sinfulness.
We met with them just before they were married, spent a few minutes talking, and then played games together – Apples to Apples, mostly – one of our family’s favorite games. We talked again about how we saw our relationship with this couple as a continue, discipling relationship. We also encouraged them form relationships with other people – both those who were more mature than them, and with those who were less mature than them. We talked about the importance of opening their home and building relationships in the context of hospitality. We encouraged them to start inviting others to their home soon after they were married.
Last week, only a few weeks after their marriage, the young husband sent me a text message: “Would you and your family like to come to our house for dinner on Wednesday night?” How exciting! Not only did we get to spend time with this young couple and see how God was continuing to work in their lives and to continue building our relationship with them, we saw how they were following what we taught them with both our words and our actions. They were practicing hospitality!
As we were preparing to leave after a night with a wonderful dinner, encouraging conversation, and fun games, they asked us to sign their “journal”. As I opened the “journal” to write about our gratitude for the evening, I noticed that were not the first people that they had invited to their home. Even more exciting! They were not just offering hospitality to us in response to our own hospitality toward them, they were now modelling hospitality to others and building relationships with others!
As we continue to learn what it means to disciple people and to be disciples beyond the classroom and into sharing lives together, and as we continue to see the “fruit” of this type of relational discipleship, I’m finally beginning to understand John’s words: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 4 ESV).