“Marriage Isn't That Different”Categories: Meditations
Through the years, I’ve noticed that when churches offer meetings, Bible classes, and seminars on marriage, they tend to be a species unto themselves. Much of the time, the presenter will offer a few passages at the beginning as “cover” and proceed to spend the rest of his time working through the advice of various marriage gurus under the guise of “application”.
This is not necessarily bad. In Ecclesiastes 12:9-11, the Preacher commends the study and examination even of human wisdom. God is the Author of wisdom, and nothing that is truly wise can be very far from Him. However, there is still a vast difference between the words of men and the word of God. Presentations on marriage that are 5 percent Bible and 95 percent human application put an awfully long tail on an awfully small kite!
In addition to not being ideal, this kind of analysis is not necessary. For some reason, brethren seem to think that only New-Testament texts that contain the words “husband” and “wife” are about marriage. The underlying logic, I suppose, must be that marriage is so different from the other areas of our lives that only passages that explicitly mention marriage are applicable to it.
I think this is exactly wrong. In order to be true disciples of Christ, we must be disciples first in every relationship of our lives: as brethren, as workers, as parents, and, yes, as spouses. In marriages where both spouses are Christians, marriage problems are always discipleship problems. Always. Conversely, if I want to be the best husband I can be, I first must strive to be the best disciple I can be.
Take, for instance, the husband’s role as head of the family. Certainly, that role is defined by the texts in 1 Corinthians 11 and Ephesians 5 that specifically address it, but it also is defined by everything that the Bible has to say about leadership. The husband’s role is much more like the role of the father, the employer, and the elder than it is different. If this were not so, how could the Scriptures hold up Christ, an unmarried man, as the perfect example for every man who is married? Every godly leader, husbands included, first must learn servant-leadership from Him.
I would never in a million years criticize a congregation for studying Ephesians 5:22-33. However, that study ought to begin at least with Ephesians 5:18. Contextually, loving our wives and submitting to our husbands are every bit as much expressions of being filled with the Spirit as singing praises to God is.
Love and submission don’t instantaneously spring up in our marriages like mushrooms in a flowerbed. Instead, they must originate from a heart that we have diligently filled with God. Cheap fixes don’t work. If we want our marriages to improve, we have to do the hard work of seeking God first.
However, Ephesians 5:18 is no place to stop. We ought to consider the first part of Ephesians 5 and ask how godly speech and walking in the light should appear in our marriages. Now there’s an application worth making!
We ought to go back to Ephesians 4 and forward to Ephesians 6. Is the new self that we have put on evident in our marriages? Do we employ the whole armor of God in warding off the devil’s assaults on our marriages? For that matter, how does Paul’s great account of the grace of God in Ephesians 1-3 shape our understanding of our responsibilities in marriage? Those who have been forgiven so much ought to be ready to forgive, for one thing!
Indeed, every spiritual principle and precept in the New Testament can be applied usefully to our marriages. There are many wonderful lessons here that we too often overlook because the Bible passage doesn’t say “marriage” and that book on the shelf over there does.
There’s little harm in The Five Love Languages or any other such book, nor do I think brethren should shun marriage seminars and marriage counselors. However, if we’re getting more of our instruction on marriage from them than from the word of God, we’re making a grave mistake.