The Bible describes marriage as a great mystery. It’s so mysterious, in fact, that our society has moved far away from God’s original design for it, creating painful consequences. Christian marriages have often followed suit. Change can only come from getting back to the original design for marriage, in which its full benefits can be realized. God has a better way.
- Read Ephesians 5.18, 21—33.
There are four fundamental truths about marriage that will lead us to its proper definition.
- Marriage is God’s idea. It’s His design, therefore nobody else knows best how to see it flourish.
- Marriage is a picture of the Gospel. The Gospel of Jesus and marriage explain one another. Marriage success can only be experienced to the degree to which it reflects God’s self-giving, sacrificial and unconditional love through Christ.
- Service and self-sacrifice are a prerequisite for a flourishing marriage. Self-centeredness is the ever-present enemy of every marriage.
- Conquering self-centeredness is impossible without the power of the Holy Spirit filling our lives. Human love will never be enough to sustain a marriage covenant.
QUESTION: How do the Gospel of Jesus and marriage explain one another? Why does God set a standard for marriage that we cannot attain on our own? What is God communicating to us through the establishment of the marriage covenant?
In our culture, marriage has become nothing more than a contract. God designed it as a covenant. In light of the above fundamental truths, we must define a marriage covenant as an irrevocable commitment of unconditional love toward an imperfect person. In a contract, we protect our rights and limit our responsibilities. In a covenant, conversely, we give up rights and embrace responsibilities. The principles of a covenant relationship should apply to all of our relationships.
QUESTION: How is a covenant different from a contract? What models do we have as a church for walking out our marriages according to a covenant standard? What models do you have in your own personal life? How can people with no earthly model of this standard walk it out for themselves?
Genesis 2.24–25 says, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” The first marriage was a relationship distinguished by its absence of self-centeredness (they became one unit), self-protection (they were naked), and shame (they felt none).
In order for marriage to reach its God-designed fulfillment, we must give up three key rights.
1. WE MUST GIVE UP THE RIGHT TO PRIORITY.
For our marriage to thrive, we must give up the right to be first. We can look at the model of Christ and the church— the way Jesus loved us—to understand how our marriage relationship should look. “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6.33). What makes our relationship with Christ thrive is exactly what makes a marriage relationship thrive: God wants priority, and so does our spouse. Our marriage must be a priority above our career goals, our hobbies, our friends, our relatives and even our kids.
2. WE MUST GIVE UP THE RIGHT TO OWNERSHIP.
This means that we give up the right to retain anything we have and give our spouse the right to co-own and co-administer everything in our life. To experience “heaven on earth” in our marriage, we must get rid of the contract mentality.
Our money, time, possessions, energy, relationships, and even our body must go from “mine” to “ours”. Read 1 Corinthians 7.4. Te secret to this principle in marriage is not in what we demand, but rather in what we give away.
3. WE MUST GIVE UP THE RIGHT TO PRIVACY.
This means that we give our spouse free and unhindered access to every part of our life. As we just read in Genesis 2.25, Adam and Eve were naked together, meaning, they hid nothing from each other. Living without shame is a byproduct of living without secrets. God designed marriage to be a place where there is freedom to share everything (to be naked) without the fear of retribution, being ignored, or being judged. It is supposed to be a place where we are accepted, covered, protected and, when needed, restored.
QUESTION: What could potentially be produced in someone through a long-term relational experience of acceptance without retribution, disrespect and judgment? What is the potential result of the opposite experience?
In order for marriage to reach its God-designed fulfillment, we must also embrace important responsibilities.
1. WE MUST EMBRACE THE RESPONSIBILITY TO LOVE UNCONDITIONALLY.
This is the kind of love that is poured out on imperfect people when they least deserve it, like in Romans 5.8. “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Unconditional love says: “I assume the responsibility to love you according to the standard of Christ’s love for me.” When somebody is at their worst, that is when they need to be loved the most. God is so grieved by divorce because it often means we focus on ourselves and abandon people at their worst, when they most needed real love. To love unconditionally, we need the power of the Holy Spirit.
QUESTION: Why do people who are at their worst need to be loved the most? Which party stands to gain: the lover or the loved? How?
2. WE MUST EMBRACE THE RESPONSIBILITY TO HONOR RESPECTFULLY.
We live in a culture that often devalues people and therefore disrespects them in many ways. When someone in the drivethru window gets our order wrong, how do we treat them? There is a certain way to handle fine china. We wash it, treat it, store it, and display it in its own particular way, and in doing so, we’ve set it apart as something special. We’ve made it “holy”, to use its biblical term. This is the way husbands are to treat their wives (1 Peter 3.7). Wives may consider Sarah, the wife of Abraham. Read 1 Peter 3.5—6. Abraham was not necessarily an exemplary husband throughout his life. Yet Sarah honored God by demonstrating honor to him, even when he did not deserve it.
3. WE MUST EMBRACE THE RESPONSIBILITY TO SUBMIT MUTUALLY.
In God’s design for marriage, submission is not something you demand from your spouse. It is something you give to your spouse (Ephesians 5.21). This requires humility. The secret to having a great marriage is an attitude of humility that says, “You are more important to me than I am to myself.” But we can’t do this without the power of the Holy Spirit living inside of us. The best thing you can ever do for your marriage is to make Jesus your top priority. Give Him your whole life. Hide nothing from Him. Love Him the way He loves you. Seek to honor Him in every way. Submit to Him completely. This is how a covenant relationship works. Anything less than that is just religion.