Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Defining a Christian Marriage

What's the hardest thing about developing and nurturing a distinctively Christian marriage? If you had to take inventory of your marriage today, would you rate its Christian characteristics as strong, good, average, or poor?

How do we even define a Christian marriage? How is it different from a secular marriage?

Some might say the difference has to do with the husband's leading and the wife's submitting, since these concepts are scriptural marriage teachings. But truthfully, leading and submitting are ideals that take decades of work in marriages, depending on the modeling a person had growing up. I don't know how strongly these would define a first-generation Christian marriage, or even the average Christian marriage.

Let's suppose you're in a first-generation Christian marriage, having grown up with secular parents, or parents who didn't follow scriptural models. What should you aim for, with few concrete Biblical mandates to go by?

The Bible gives us a picture of sacrificial love in 1 Corinthians 13, and in Ephesians 5:22-33 we learn that a wife is to submit to her husband as to the Lord, and a husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. These are classic marriage passages, but they don't come with examples. They fall far short of providing a vivid picture.

I think it's a good idea to pray these scriptures over our marriages. The Holy Spirit can mold us and direct us in ways the passages cannot. The Spirit makes the passages come to life, so to speak. He is with us in the nitty-gritty details if our hearts are teachable. God wants us to ask for wisdom and the Holy Spirit is faithful to provide it.

Never are we left alone.

Still, I think it's beneficial to think of marriage not in terms of our behavior primarily, but in terms of the purpose for our union. If we can't identify purpose, we'll have a harder time navigating the everyday landscape of our marriage.

The Bible, when taken as a whole, teaches that it's not about us. Everything we do is for God's glory, whether it be our marriage, our child-rearing, our jobs, our friendships...even our free time. So marriage is not a way to get our needs met. The primary purpose is to glorify God, not to stifle loneliness, have hot meals served every night, have steady sex, or be gifted with new jewelry every Valentine's Day.

Psalm 34:3: “Oh, magnify the Lord with me and let us exalt His name together!”

Marriage perks are nice and they may happen, but they aren't the purpose and they shouldn't be the primary focus. As Psalm 34:3 teaches, focus on how you as a couple can magnify the Lord.

Some marriages are plagued by frequent travel, some by excessive life stress, some by inadequate support. A myriad of things come along that prevent marriage from meeting our needs, and the survivors are those who don't look for what they can get out of it, but what they can put into it.

When we shift our focus in this way we don't have a laundry list of things we'd like to change about our spouse. Instead, we have a list of ways we can bless our spouse, for the glory of God.

Christ died for us while we were still sinners. He didn't wait for us to perform in some expected way before blessing us, and we must love our spouse in this same way--radically, undeservedly, graciously.

A Christian marriage then, 1) has a distinctive purpose (to glorify God),  2) has a sacrificial love.

Homework #1 : In your prayer or blessing journal, jot down 2 or 3 specific ways you can bless your spouse this week. It may seem like you don't have time for such a "game", especially if you have small children or many children. But do jot something down anyway, and pray that the Holy Spirit gives you the energy and drive to bless your spouse this week.

Make this a habit and you'll not only win over your husband, but you'll magnify the Lord as well. It all starts with one partner deciding to make the first sacrificial moves, with no promise of returned blessing.

Homework #2 : Pray the Ephesians 5:22-33 scriptures over your marriage so you can submit and respect, and your husband can love and lead. Without our prayers in this direction, I don't believe we will see progress in these areas. Women are not natural submitters anymore than husbands are natural lovers and leaders. We need the Holy Spirit to realize these ideals in our marriages. Pray also that you and your husband will pray together frequently. Don't nag your husband about this, just pray about it--prayer is the single most effective marriage counselor.

So pray, pray, and pray again.

And love, love, and love again.

In four weeks, rate your marriage for its Christian characteristics again. Is your primary purpose--which should be to glorify the Lord--strong, good, average, or poor? Is your sacrificial love strong, good, average, or poor? I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

When our own children grow up, we want them to have a vivid picture of what a Christian marriage looks like. We want the marriage scriptures to come alive in our homes. What better wedding gift can we give our children, and how better can we glorify God?

What is one way you can bless your husband this week, friend? (Besides the obvious, which we won't list here :).

I will make my husband a pineapple-upside down cake, which is his favorite. And I will try harder to have dinner ready and the table completely set precisely at 7PM, which is when he walks in from work. When you're schooling four kids, it's tough to get afternoon chores and dishes done in time to start cooking from scratch early. Dinner is sometimes not ready to eat until 7:20, and he comes in mighty hungry. But I can do this, for the glory of God.

Welcome Home Wednesdays


Tesha Papik said...

Lol I think all husbands would say the obvious:) Great post I love your Scriptures and your homework assignments! I could bless my husband by disciplining the children to stay in their room for a time when he comes home. He needs some time to unwind and they are often rowdy and unruly. The time change has helped because now they can play outside!

Christine said...

It is helpful when they can play outside during late afternoon chores, though that depends on which neighbor kids are over. Sometimes, it's anything but relaxing when they're outside! :) Love to you today!

Kay said...

Such an excellent post!!! Thank you for your grounding it in Scripture and the practical how-to's. I also appreciate your point that not all marriages are generationally grounded in Scripture.