Podcast: Play in new window | Download
Do you want to know how to have a Christ-centered marriage? Part of the answer is in Ephesians 5:18, which says to “be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Read or listen to this chapter from Your Marriage God’s Way to learn how to have a lasting Christ centered marriage.
Table of Contents
- Your Marriage Reflects your Relationship with Christ
- Jesus Deserves Your Obedience
- Trust the Holy Spirit to Help You have a Christ-Centered Marriage
The text in this post is from Your Marriage God’s Way, and the audio is from the accompanying audiobook. I am praying God uses the book and workbook to strengthen marriages and exalt Christ.
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.
A Holy-Spirit Filled Marriage
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 Might It Look Like for the Holy Spirit to Help Us?
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 When Striving to Have a Christ Centered Marriage
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!
This makes a lot of sense. A lot of changes I need to make. Finding it hard when my marriage is not what it should be because of the sin I committed and have repented off and doing my best to get right with God and that He would heal and restore my marriage and that trust and love would be rebuilt
Thank you for reading and commenting. I appreciate your humility. We all have lots of changes we need to make.
Have you asked your wife to forgive you for the sins you’re referring to?
I will pray God heals and strengthens your marriage!
One thing that married couples must do is trust each other. It seems to me that couples must go through each other’s cell phones and Facebook pages to determine if the husband or the wife is cheating on him or her. But the bottom line is God won’t bless you with someone who will cheat on you. He will bless you with a spouse who will be dedicated to you and love you eternally. So rely on God to bless you with a faithful spouse so you can forever find happiness in your life.
Nice to hear from you. Thanks for reading and commenting.
So are you saying if people marry someone who cheats on them and that means they were disobedient and marrying that person, because it wasn’t someone that God blessed them with? I’m not sure I agree with that if that is what you are saying.
•A husband cannot love Christ without loving his wife.
•A wife cannot submit to Christ without submitting to her husband.
At first I questioned these 2 statements when I read this in your book Marriage God’s Way. After reading further I saw what you were trying to say. The reason I struggled with it at first because I felt like it could of been worded
“A Husband cannot love his wife until he loves Christ”
“A wife cannot submit to her husband until she submits to Christ”
Thank you for going into more detail and clarifying that because of our relationship with Christ is why we love our wife and the wife submits to her husband.
I am really looking forward to reading the rest of the book. Thank you for writing it….I pray that God transforms many marriages through it.
Thank you for reading Marriage God’s Way, reading this post, and sharing your thoughts!
I like what you wrote and agree with it, but I think our thoughts make two different (but equally valid) points. I was trying to say, “If you don’t love/submit to your spouse, you’re showing you don’t love/submit to Christ.” It sounds like you’re saying, “Only by loving/submitting to Christ, can a spouse love/submit to his/her spouse.”
Does this sound accurate? If that’s what you’re trying to say, I do agree with that too. I tried to make the point you’re making in the section discussing the Holy Spirit helping us. In other words, we can only love/submit to our spouse with the Holy Spirit’s help, which is to say, with a relationship with Christ.
God bless you and I am praying God uses the book powerfully in your life! Thank you for your prayers for it to transform marriages. That is my repeated prayer too, and I’m blessed to have you join me in it! Please let me know your thoughts when you’re finished reading!
Great insight. It is difficult to love others sometimes, and our significant others are the people who know exactly how to make us upset with them, when we know we’re doing it out of our love for Christ when they are difficult to love it totally shifts our perspective.
Thank you for reading and commenting. Yes, in counseling I don’t encourage people to treat their spouse well because of their wonderful feelings toward their spouse. As you said, at that time they’re upset with their spouse. They have to draw on another relationship and that’s their relationship with Christ.
This is such a great topic to cover. I’m sorry to hear that you have gone through the imbalance in your marriage but love that you talk about it, because so many of us go through it and need to re-evaluate our priorities. Even when we are doing things for Christ, we still need to uphold the covenant of marriage and show love and respect to our spouse.
Thanks for reading and commenting.
Yes, it’s easy to have this imbalance in ministry especially, because it seems like ministry is such a good thing. Easy to allow it to compete with marriage and children as a result.
I have heard the saying that our marriage is our first ministry. It is the very ministry God called us into. You are very much right when you said this reflects our relationship with Christ. I also love the discussion section… I adjective that will describe my marriage. You know I will be a little curious to know how my wife will describe our marriage! And that is very key. Great post. Thanks Scott.
Thanks for the further feedback on the discussion section. Guess I’ll keep doing that!
I’m glad this will produce some good conversations with your wife.
Thank you for reading and commenting!
I love this. In my Biblical Womanhood class at seminary we have been talking a lot about how our marriages are to be a reflection of the relationship with Christ and there are several young girls who are just starting out in a dating/courtship relationship. I think if we can work to instill that principle in our youth now it will hopefully make their journey into marriage just a tad bit smoother. Thanks for sharing!
The insight about being a Christian spouse, Christian parent, etc. is life-changing. I agree- it’s so easy to think I’m okay with God because I’m doing his work…even if I’m not necessarily doing a great job in my other roles.
I will add that this is a little disheartening when one spouse is trying to be Christlike and the other isn’t. Even in those cases, God gives us clear direction on how to treat our spouses, but it’s really hard to do so!
Wonderful—glad you found that life-changing!
Yes, you nailed it in your second sentence.
You’re right about that disheartening situation. I have seen that before and as a pastor providing counseling it is truly difficult to give the person the encouragement s/he needs.
Thanks for reading and commenting!
Thank you for so honestly sharing from your life. Yes, our marriages do reflect our relationship with Christ. A Christian marriage should also be a picture to the world of God’s relationship to his church. I love your questions for discussion!
Thank you for reading and commenting.
I’m glad you liked the discussion questions. You’re the second person to mention them, so I’ll be sure to keep including them. I was hoping for feedback regarding people’s thoughts, so this is helpful!
Wow. Great food for thought! The questions you asked are very thought provoking. I am thinking about how I would describe my marriage. Thankfully I have a great one, but there is always room for improvement!
You can see what I just wrote to Kathleen—thank you for the feedback on the questions.
Glad your marriage is healthy and strong!