I would like to ask all those married Christians out there, “How is your marriage?”
If you answer this question with a resounding thumbs-up, then you might want to check out a different blog, because you are probably doing these things already. If, on the other hand, you hesitate before answering, then you may want to read on. And if you shouted at your screen something to the effect, “It's a disaster!” then definitely read this.
You may be asking with what authority do I speak on the issue of Christian marriage. I could say that my specialization in pastoral counseling lends me some validity, and, I suppose it does. But I think the real reason I can speak with some authority is that I have been happily married to my wonderful wife for over a quarter of a century. Married life is a powerful teacher when it comes to marriage. If we are willing to learn the lessons it teaches.
To understand the dynamics of having a successful Christian marriage, you must first realize that a marriage is one fallen sinner joined with another fallen sinner. Yes, you are saved by grace. Yes, you are a new creation. But you still bear the sin nature. You will carry the remnants of that sin nature until you die, or Christ returns. Also, you must recognize that the Bible is the only true guide to faith and practice. This includes the practice of maintaining a healthy marriage. You must also see that a growing, strong Christian marriage takes the work of three individuals: the husband, the wife, and the Holy Spirit working in and through both partners.
Here are four helps that may help push your marriage relationship back from the brink and onto more solid ground. Oh, and just so you know; none of them are easy. But almost anything worthwhile ever is.
You must be friends
“A friend loves at all times.” Proverbs 17:17a. This is a statement, not a command or directive. A true friend loves at all times, even when the focus of their affection is not being lovable. It is so easy to fall into wrong thinking that says, “If she would only show me love (or respect, or courtesy, or whatever), then I would show her love (or respect, or courtesy, or whatever).
This pattern of thought is very pro-selfishness and not very pro-godliness. In order to strengthen your marriage, you must love your spouse – all the time. Even when sometimes you do not especially like them. On occasion, I really mess up in my relationship with my wife. When I do, she can be very unhappy with me, perhaps even downright not like me, but I never doubt her love for me. Even when we are “at outs” with one another, I always know that beyond all the anger, resentment, or frustration we are generating, there is a deep-seated, enduring, eternal love between us.
Many people base their marriage on physical passion or emotional high. Those feelings come and go, and, when they go, many people say they have “fallen out of love.” When that happens they begin to look for a way out. A marriage that incorporates passion and emotion with a solid base of friendship, and deep love, doesn’t have the same result. A friend loves at all times, so it is really tough for friends to “fall out” of love with each other.
You must serve one another
Some of you will balk at the idea of serving. This is likely due to the modern ideas concerning servitude. You may be saying, “I’m not going to serve him; he doesn’t serve me!” or “I’m not her slave.” If this is your thought process, then you really need to take a look at what the Bible has to say about serving others.
Serving others is found throughout the New Testament. Jesus, the Suffering Servant, spends loads of time addressing our need to serve. It is seen in the letters written by Paul. In fact, you can find ideas about serving throughout the Bible.
It is really one of the bases for Christian living. Our problem, once again, is that we are fallen people living among fallen people. We are selfish, plain and simple. In Matthew 20:24-28 Jesus tells how the Gentile rulers lord their power over others, but He says, “It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Notice He says, “servant,” “slave,” that is how we are to act toward our marriage partner. Most of us want to follow the pattern of the Gentiles. “You serve me; you take care of my needs.” Jesus flips the pattern and says, “Serve others.”
Of course, in a Christian marriage, this works best when both husband and wife are practicing this principle. If I am seeking to serve my wife and she is seeking to serve me, then we will have to go to the third party in our marriage, the Holy Spirit, to see how best to serve. Our natural selves don’t even know how best to serve others. Ecclesiastes 4:12 says that a “threefold cord is not easily broken.” In other words, if you take three cords and weave them together, you have a strong rope. Imagine if the Holy Spirit (one cord), your spouse (the second cord), and you (the final cord) were woven together in service and love. Would your marriage be better? Okay, so you make the first move. Serve your spouse.
You must protect your marriage
There are many ways to protect your marriage, but I am only going to address two.
The first is to have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels (2 Timothy 2:23). Yes, I know that this is Paul addressing the church, but, last I checked, if you are in a Christian marriage, then you folks are part of the church.
So many arguments, fights, frustrations, disagreements, and spats in marriage are about foolish, ignorant things. Ask yourself, Will this matter in five years? If you say, Yes, then DISCUSS it. Don’t argue. If you say, No, give each other a hug and go grab some cookies and tea.
We often get entrenched in battles that are just silly. At the time, they seem so important, but if you could only look at them through the lens of truth, you would see how utterly foolish many of the so-called important arguments are. If you are thinking about what is best for your spouse and your marriage, many items of contention become non-issues. When we seek to put the other person first that begins to get rid of our self-focus and “fighting for our rights.”
Secondly, get anything out of your life that is damaging to your marriage. It could be pornography, or an inappropriate relationship. Those are the killers that everyone thinks about. If these are part of the problem, then seek help at ending those destructive elements infecting your marriage. I am also talking about things that seem more benign, but, nevertheless, sicken Christian marriages.
Take a look at your priorities.
God is to be your first priority. Your next priority is your marriage. If you are putting your children above your marriage, you have the wrong priority. If you are letting sports or work take priority, you have it wrong. If you let social media or entertainment or even the church hold a higher priority than your marriage, you must rearrange the priorities.
Your loyalty to God is first and paramount, but He did not say that the two would become one flesh for nothing. Making your marriage a lower priority than it needs to be by placing other things or people above it can be incredible damaging.
You must pray together
James 5:16 says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” This verse is talking about how we are to pray in the church, and, as I stated earlier, if you are a Christian married to a Christian, then, you guessed it, you are part of the church.
When problems enter a marriage, many couples find that they stop praying together. I’m not sure of the cause/effect relationship here, but I will tell you one thing, real honest confession and prayer with your spouse strengthens your marriage. No doubt about it. It is hard to continue to be angry about something that you both are placing before God through prayer.
Notice James says that the prayer of a righteous person has great power. That is where confession comes into play. When we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). When we are right before God our prayers have power. Husband and wife can then experience God’s redemptive power at work in their marriage.
The family that prays together truly does stay together.
A happy, godly Christian marriage is the foundation for so many good things. It is a legacy to leave your children as well as a present source of joy, comfort, and hope for your family, your church and your community.
Remember, there is nothing wrong with seeking professional help from your pastor or a Christian counselor. Just make sure that any advice you get is grounded in the Scriptures. Even very strong marriages need Godly counsel.
A God-honoring Christian marriage can be the most fulfilling human relationship encountered here on earth. The marriage relationship is even used as an analogy for the relationship between Jesus Christ and the church. And, I believe, it is the bedrock for a healthy society.
I pray that you will be committed to the hard work of reclaiming your marriage. It is too important to do otherwise.