Today we’re beginning our series called Hope Lives. We’ll be talking about how our hope in Jesus can transform several areas of life. This week, we start off by talking about hope for our marriages and four biblical practices of love and service to enrich our marriages. While God created marriage to be a powerful, even transformative experience, for many, it’s not. Nevertheless, God’s ready and willing to give fresh hope to those who are married as well as those who hope to get married so we can live out God’s call in our life.

Read Ephesians 5.21–33.

If we’re not careful, we can easily miss the purpose of marriage or focus on what we personally believe marriage is supposed to be. Unfortunately, many perceptions of what marriage should be are off-base or incomplete. The traditional view of marriage is more like a business proposal: you marry for financial stability and to secure your place in the world. The modern view of marriage is that you get married for love and for individual fulfillment. The biblical purpose of marriage, though, is something different than either of these.

What God has in mind for marriage is actually better and more beautiful than either stability or personal happiness. In Ephesians 5.31, Paul tells us that marriage is supposed to be a picture of the relationship God wants to have with us and that marriage is a reenactment of the gospel. Jesus gave up everything He could on the cross so that sin and failure could no longer prevent us from being the people God created us to be. In marriage, we have the opportunity to partner with another person in the work God’s doing in their lives. We can be effective partners through implementing these four practices of a marriage that is a reenactment of the gospel.

Question: How can you love and serve your spouse in a way that brings out their full potential in Christ?

1. Extend unconditional acceptance.

Read Romans 15.17.

One of the most powerful things we can practice in a marriage is to extend unconditional acceptance. This means no matter what our spouse does or doesn’t do, we commit to accept them no matter what, because Christ has committed to extend that love and acceptance to us. One of the most important things we can do to experience transformation is by bringing the dark places in our life to the light. When we have a kind of atmosphere in our family and marriage that’s committed to extending unconditional acceptance, it gives us the freedom and security to feel safe to share our sins, name our fears, and confess our shortcomings.

Question: What steps do you need to take today to create a culture of unconditional acceptance in your marriage and family?

2. Affirm each other’s strengths and gifts.

Read 2 Timothy 1.5–6.

Timothy was dealing with some powerful insecurities, but notice what Paul’s doing here: he’s affirming Timothy’s strengths and gifts. Many times, when someone comes in from the outside to point out our gifts and strengths, our confidence increases and we end up living into the potential they see in us.

It’s not always easy. There are times when we feel cold and frustrated in our marriage and all we can see are our spouse’s weaknesses. These are the times that we most need to affirm one another. When we take the time to be proactive in naming our spouse’s strengths and potential, we not only have the opportunity to join in on the work Christ is doing in their lives, but we ourselves are matured by our desire to give affirmation.

Question: Can you remember a time when someone affirmed you in your potential as well as put you down? How did both of those experiences make you feel?

3. Name growth areas.

Read Ephesians 4.15.

In the Bible, “speaking the truth in love” means being willing to say the hard things with a spirit of love and gentleness. Our spouses are in the best position to help us grow because they’re willing to say what most other people aren’t and they see us in a way no one else does. When we’re willing to name growth areas for our spouse and receive their words of truth spoken in love as well, it’s incredibly transformative in our relationship and personal growth.

Question: When you speak the truth, do you mainly do it in love or does it come from a place of conflict? What does it look like to speak the truth in love?

4. Give custom encouragement.

Read 1 Thessalonians 5.11.

Sometimes, even when we know our areas of strength and weakness, our biggest difficulty of living into our potential and calling is when we feel discouragement in our heart. When the heart is depleted, it’s hard to believe in our potential. The single best thing we can do for one another in our marriage is giving custom encouragement: encouragement that’s tailored to and suited for a specific individual.

We tend to encourage other people how we want to be encouraged, but each person receives love, affirmation, and encouragement differently. There’s a lot of different ways to encourage people, and we need to find what our spouse is most encouraged by: words of affirmation, acts of service, gifts, physical touch, or quality time. In marriage, the best thing we can do for one another is to ask and learn how our spouse is best encouraged, because an encouraged heart is a heart that can live into their potential in Christ.

Question: How does your spouse best receive affirmation?

Living out God’s vision for marriage isn’t always an easy thing to do. These can seem like lofty ideas of what a marriage could and should be, but we can feel like it’s not humanly possible to live them out. But the good news is that we don’t have to rely on our own human strength to do it; we have the power of the Holy Spirit.

Our ability to reenact the Gospel through our marriage is based on both partners’ commitment to walk with God. When a husband and wife are both committed to spiritual growth and intimacy with God, transformation is possible. Studying and praying together, and a commitment to sitting before God together makes all of these practices possible.

Being intimate with God has just as much importance for someone who’s single as it does for those who are married. Don’t look to people for a kind of happiness that only God can bring. If you only look at them that way, no one will ever be able to live up to your expectations.

If you want to prepare for marriage, the best thing you can do is to develop your relationship with God.

Question: Are you looking to people to make you happy? How can you begin to shift your perspective to be more focused on God and the Holy Spirit?