Many of us are getting our houses and vehicles ready for winter weather, and so why not our marriages? It’s easy to fall into ruts and habits that just seem normal when in fact they are wearing on us and harming our families in ways we do not realize. Likewise, many poor habits leave us incredibly vulnerable when trials and difficulties hit. The question is not whether you will face trials, the only question is when. Will your marriage be ready when the storms come?
The Texts: “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him. Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them” (Col. 3:17-19).
“Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered. Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing” (1 Pet. 3:7-9).
Fellowship with One Another
John says that if we walk in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin (1 Jn. 1:7). This is not a magical thing, as John proceeds to explain that this has everything to do with regularly confessing our sins (1 Jn. 1:9). The flip side of this is regularly forgiving those who confess their sins to us (Mt. 18:21-22, Lk. 17:4). This is the secret of all Christian fellowship in general and Christian marriage in particular. Doing everything in the name of the Lord Jesus and walking in such a way as to inherit a blessing are ways of describing Christian fellowship. Doing everyone thing in the name of the Lord Jesus means doing everything in the name of your Savior. You need a savior because you are sinner, and you need to do everything in His name because everything you do needs saving. Being a Christian doesn’t mean you don’t sin anymore. Being a Christian means you know what to do about sin. The difference between a clean house and messy house is that in the clean house they pick up. Confession of sin and forgiveness is like taking out the trash and doing the dishes. It’s what you do. For Christians to act shocked and befuddled when sin happens is like being surprised when the two year old drops a meat ball on the floor. That’s just what two year olds do. And remember, there’s no sin so bad that you can’t make it worse by denying it, trying to hide it, making excuses about it, lying about it or blustering or blaming for it. Just confess it and forgive it quickly. Take out the trash. And remember, practice makes perfect (or permanent). So what are you practicing?
Fellowship with God & One Another
Confession and forgiveness flow from fellowship with God (Eph. 4:32) and therefore they are prerequisites for enjoying fellowship with God: “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift” (Mt. 5:23-24). You cannot come into church to fellowship with God while being out of fellowship with other believers, especially your spouse. Paul says that when there are divisions within the church, whatever we’re doing with the bread and wine, it is not the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:18-20). Better to be 15 minutes late and actually participate in church than to arrive on-time to only pretend to. This is why Peter warns husbands to honor their wives that their prayers be not hindered (1 Pet. 3:7). It may be that Peter is saying that harsh husbands won’t know how to pray, but it seems more likely that Peter is saying that God will only listen to a man as well as he listens to his wife. The same principle should apply to any sort of fellowship gathering. Don’t pretend fellowship with others while being out of fellowship yourselves. Better to have your guests wait in the living room awkwardly for five minutes while you put things right than to lie and pretend you are sharing Christian fellowship with them.
Fellowship & Difference
Understand deep in your bones the difference between being out of fellowship and not having the exact same opinion about everything immediately. You must not go to bed angry at your spouse (or anyone for that matter) (Eph. 4:26), but sometimes you really do need to go to bed and get a full night’s sleep before you’ll be able to think and communicate your various convictions about which math curriculum is the most Reformed. You must be striving for likemindedness, but do not be threatened by differences of opinion or perspective. The glory of heterosexuality is the glory of difference. Some of our differences are sexual, some are personality, others are cultural or experiential. But marriage is signing up to live with someone different from you. This is a blessing if received in faith and obedience. So do not be threatened or alarmed at different perspectives. And at the same time, do not excuse lack of fellowship by claiming you just have very different personalities. Know the difference. Husbands, honor your wives. Honor their opinions. Listen to their input. And wives, recognize that you signed up to follow this man’s lead. You must give your input respectfully and then, like Trumpkin, know the difference between giving counsel and taking orders.
Marriage should be full of sweet fellowship. Review the descriptions of Christian fellowship surrounding some of the particular commands for husbands and wives (Col. 3:12-14, 1 Pet. 3:8-9). A Christian marriage must not be characterized by bickering, arguing, raised voices, eye rolling, biting words, sarcasm, or frustration. A Christian marriage is singled out to represent Christ and His Bride (Eph. 5). It is to be characterized by mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forbearing, forgiveness, love, like-mindedness, compassion, courtesy, and blessing. And if you say, well, we don’t argue in public (but your home is frequently a place of argument), that’s what we call hypocrisy. Your children can see the difference, and you are telling lies to them. You are telling lies about what matters, about what God sees, about what marriage is like. Not a few kids grow up in so-called Christian homes and want nothing to do with that sort of thing by the time they leave. A Christian marriage is becoming something of a rarity (much to our shame). But a Christian marriage should be one of the most striking things for the world to see: two different people who are strong and intelligent who deeply respect one another and love being with one another.
What You Signed Up For
Husbands, you signed up to learn how to love one woman well. This is what you are commanded to do. In order to do this you must be a student of your wife. This implies that you don’t understand her, and yet you must begin to. And very closely related to this, you must not grow bitter at her or resent her weaknesses but rather you must honor her, think highly of her, and speak graciously to her. The model for this kind of love is Jesus, and this means that studying your wife does not mean giving her everything she asks for. If Jesus gave us everything we asked for, we’d all be doomed. In this is love, not that we knew what we needed, but that God knew what we needed and sent His Son for our sins. Husbands, you must love your wives like that with joy.
Wives, your task is to submit to your own husbands and to let them love you like Christ loves the Church. Your temptation is to resent their faltering attempts to love you, rather than respecting the great difficulty it is to actually love you biblically. Recognize that there’s more than a little Hollywood in your hearts that you need to get rid of. While a real man imitating the real love of Christ is certainly courteous, it’s also deeply offensive to many modern sensibilities. Do not look sideways at Hollywood or the other men or marriages. Look to Christ, look to His word, and then look at your man and respect him in the Lord. The Lord gave you that man, and despite his weaknesses and sin, he is the one God has instructed to love you. Respect that. Honor that. And submit to him in the Lord with joy.
All of this is only possible if you have fellowship with God and the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses you from all sin. If you have been set free to do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, living that you might inherit blessing, all of this comes as grace. And remember that if you have not been confessing/forgiving sin, and there’s a big mess that needs picking up, even that was paid for by the blood of Jesus. So what do you do? You walk into the messy room and pick up the thing right in front of you, in the name of the Lord Jesus. And then the next thing. And if you do it in the name of the Lord Jesus, you are doing it in the name of your Savior, who died for that mess. And you can do all that He calls you to, in His name.
New e-book Death by Baptism available here.