Christian couples wonder how to have a lasting Christ centered marriage. Read this chapter from Your Marriage God’s Way to find out!
Table of Contents
A few years ago, Katie and I faced the biggest crisis of our marriage. I started pastoring Woodland Christian Church when it was small, but within three years the congregation tripled in size. I admit that before I became a pastor, I was unaware of how much work is involved in shepherding a church of even a few hundred people. I had been an Army officer, a supervisor at a distribution center for a major retail chain, and an elementary school teacher. But none of those occupations approached the amount of mental and emotional energy and sheer hard work pastoring entails!
Almost all my waking hours were packed with studying, teaching, counseling, making phone calls, sending emails, attending meetings, addressing administrative responsibilities, and tending to benevolence issues. When I was at home, where I should have been an engaged father and husband, I did not have much left for my family mentally, emotionally, or physically.
Although I was failing as a husband and father, I was able to convince myself I was still pleasing the Lord. I compartmentalized my life by saying, “I am a Christian first. I am a spouse second. I am a parent third. I am an employee fourth.” Instead, I should have said, “I am a Christian spouse. I am a Christian parent. I am a Christian employee.” The danger of seeing ourselves as Christian servants first and spouses second is we can find ourselves believing the lie I bought into at the time: “If I can be a good pastor, I can please God even though I am not the best husband.”
The truth is that I was a poor husband, and I should have recognized that meant I was not pleasing the Lord.
YOUR MARRIAGE REFLECTS YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH CHRIST
The reason we cannot please the Lord while failing as a husband or wife is that our Christianity is directly related to the way we treat our spouses. Our marriages are outpourings of our relationships with Christ:
- In Matthew 7:16, Jesus asked, “Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles?”
- In James 3:11-12, the apostle James asked, “Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs?”
The point of these verses is that we reveal our Christianity by the way we live. As Jesus clarified: “You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16). And right living—or right fruit—can only be produced through a strong relationship with Christ.
Because our relationships with our spouses are our most important earthly relationship, what we are as spouses reflects what we are as Christians. Later, we will discuss this in greater depth as we look at the Christ centered marriage passage in Ephesians 5:21-33, but for now, let’s look at the two key commands in Scripture that give us God’s own standard for marriage:
- Ephesians 5:25—“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her.”
- Ephesians 5:22—“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.”
Because these commands are from the Lord, our obedience to them affects the kind of relationship we have with Christ. Think of it this way: There is no such thing as a spiritually mature man who does not love his wife. Nor a spiritually mature woman who does not submit to her husband:
- A husband cannot love Christ without loving his wife.
- A wife cannot submit to Christ without submitting to her husband.
A husband loves and cherishes his wife not because she is perfect or because she treats him the way he wants to be treated. He loves and cherishes his wife because he loves Christ. Likewise, a wife submits to her husband not because he is a wonderful spiritual leader or because he loves her the way she wants to be loved. She submits to her husband because she wants to submit to Christ.
A husband’s love and a wife’s submission are not tests of their obedience to their spouses. They are tests of their obedience to the Lord. This might sound discouraging, but it should be encouraging. When a husband knows his love and a wife knows her submission are acts of obedience to Christ, showing that love and submission can be that much easier.
Yes, there will be times when a husband does not want to love his wife and a wife does not want to submit to her husband. In those moments, husbands and wives can tell themselves, “I am called to do this out of my love for Christ. I want to submit to His commands because of what He has done for me.”
JESUS DESERVES YOUR OBEDIENCE
I would never try to convince a husband that his wife is worthy of his love, or try to convince a wife that her husband is worthy of her submission. The fact is, no spouse is worthy. But Christ is worthy of a husband’s love and a wife’s submission. He deserves our obedience. It is important to understand this principle before we examine God’s instructions for husbands and wives because this gives us the necessary motivation to obey.
The obvious questions, then, are, How can a husband love his wife just as Christ loved the church? And, How can a wife submit to her husband as unto the Lord?
TRUST THE HOLY SPIRIT TO HELP YOU HAVE A CHRIST CENTERED MARRIAGE
Unfortunately, when it comes to fulfilling our roles in a Christ centered marriage, we often feel alone. God’s standard for husbands and wives is so high that we ask, “How can I ever obey these commands?”
Two words summarize what goes through people’s minds as they consider God’s commands to husbands and wives: intimidating and overwhelming. As a husband, it is intimidating to think of being to your wife what Christ is to the church. As a wife, it is overwhelming to think of submitting to your husband as you should to the Lord. If you are not intimidated or overwhelmed, you do not understand what is expected of you. If you had to obey God’s commands in your own strength, you would not only feel overwhelmed or intimidated, but completely hopeless.
But thankfully, because of the power of the gospel at work in our lives and a promise Jesus made to us, we can feel hopeful. Jesus told His disciples, “I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever” (John 14:16). If you have repented of your sins and put your faith in Christ, then you are a Christian and the Holy Spirit lives in you. You are not alone! The Holy Spirit will empower you to do what God has commanded you to do.
The first half of Ephesians 5 is about living in the Spirit, and the second half is about husbands and wives. This is fitting because if there is any area of the Christian life in which the Holy Spirit’s help is necessary, it is marriage. In Ephesians 5:18, the apostle Paul states, “Do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit.” It might sound odd to compare drunkenness with being filled with the Spirit, but the parallel that Paul is making has to do with influence. People who drive when they are drunk are “driving under the influence.” Just as alcohol has the potential to influence, so does the Holy Spirit.
The New Testament Greek word translated “be filled” is pleroo, which means “keep on being filled” or “stay filled” with the Spirit. Paul is talking about a practice that should be ongoing in our lives as believers. We need to allow—and trust—the Holy Spirit to influence us as husbands and wives. The following verses include promises from God’s Word—promises that God will enable us to do what He has called us to do. As you read them, consider how they apply to marriage:
- “God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8).
- “It is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).
- “What is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead…” (Ephesians 1:19-20).
- “May the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead…make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ” (Hebrews 13:20-21).
When we become discouraged in our marriages, these are the truths we need to remember. God is the one working in and through us to accomplish every good work. He makes this possible through the incomparably great power that raised Jesus from the dead. God wants us to be equipped to do what He has called us to do, and of all that God wants from us, what could be more important than the way we handle our relationship with our spouse?
Your Christ centered marriage gives you the opportunity to reflect Christ and the church to others. Does God want Christ and the church to have a great relationship? Absolutely! Does God want the world to witness Christian marriages that wonderfully represent Christ’s relationship with the church? Without a doubt! God has given us His indwelling Spirit to help make that happen. It is as if God has said, “The standard I have set for husbands and wives is high, but you do not have to fulfill it alone. I would not command you to do something without also giving you the resources that enable you to obey.”
We Cannot Just Sit Back
Let’s bring some balance to this discussion by understanding a key distinction: For God to say, “I will help you” is different than Him saying, “I will do everything.” The Holy Spirit helps us, but we need to remember that He does not do it all for us. We still have responsibilities. The Holy Spirit is not going to supernaturally take control of a marriage when the individuals involved are not committed to putting forth the necessary effort to do what God has called them to do.
The apostle Paul reveals this fact in Ephesians 2:10: “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” God prepared good works for us, but we must “walk in them.” We do not want to miss out on what God desires to do in a Christ centered marriage because we are being lazy or selfish. Consider the responsibilities placed on our shoulders elsewhere in the New Testament:
- “Let us walk properly…Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts” (Romans 13:13-14).
- “Put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; [bear] with one another, and [forgive] one another…Put on love, which is the bond of perfection” (Colossians 3:12-14).
Note the calling we are given: walk, put on, make no provision for, bear with, and forgive. What does this look like in practical terms? How does the Holy Spirit’s help work in conjunction with our free will? Here are some examples.
Husband, you plop down on the sofa next to your wife without showing any affection for her, but perhaps the Holy Spirit has been compelling you to be more affectionate. So, the next time you sit next to your wife, put your arm around her.
Maybe the Holy Spirit has also been leading you to be a better listener. Instead of simply hearing your wife speak, pay attention to her and verbally affirm what she says. You may find it helpful to respond by paraphrasing her words back to her and validating her sentiments. If your wife is not used to you doing this, she will notice and appreciate the extra effort.
Wife, you are riding in the car with your husband you notice the light indicating “low fuel” comes on. You may find yourself repeatedly “reminding” him the car needs fuel until he pulls into a gas station. Though he does not like this, you think it beats running out of gas. Lately, however, you’ve sensed the Holy Spirit leading you to trust your husband, so this time you simply mention it once, and trust your husband to follow through without any further reminders. This may pleasantly surprise him. He might even say, “Thank you for not repeatedly telling me to pull over.”
In each case, the spouse would do well to express his or her appreciation for the changed behavior. These are only simple examples of how we might sense the Holy Spirit at work within us. You’ll see more examples as you continue your way through this book. Ultimately, we want to be submissive and receptive to the Spirit’s guidance.
The Encouraging Balance
Consider this encouraging verse that ties together the truths that (1) God enables us and (2) we are called to carry out our responsibilities: “To this end I also labor, striving according to [God’s] working which works in me mightily” (Colossians 1:29). Here, the apostle describes how we are to work side by side with God to accomplish His will. When it comes to a Christ centered marriage, we should seek to work side by side with God in everything that we do. We are to labor to be the husbands and wives God wants us to be, and we can be encouraged by the truth that while we are laboring, God also works mightily in us.
We are frequently tempted to think the key to a healthier Christ centered marriage is to work harder in our own wisdom and power. If we roll up our sleeves and give our best effort, surely things will improve, right? No. Many people have experienced ongoing frustration in their marriage after taking this approach. Instead, we must remember that if we’re Christians, the power of the gospel is at work in our lives and marriages. With God’s help—with the Spirit’s enablement— we can enjoy the Christ centered marriage He desires for us!