I am a counselor. Most of my days are filled with praying for and providing resources to people in deep emotional and relational pain. There is no lack of pain. People struggle to find peace in their relationships. This is true among Christians as well as people who do not have Christian faith. I do think that the application of Christian truths and realities can help in a Christian marriage. Here are some thoughts about how.
First of all, the husband and wife have to recognize that their most eternal relationship is as brother and sister in Christ. They both have had their sins forgiven by Messiah/Christ Jesus at the cross where in Christ’s suffering for their sins they were freed of all condemnation for their moral evil. In the resurrection of Messiah Jesus they were provided assurance that their sins were forgiven. The Holy Spirit has given them a new spiritual birth and with that the gift of faith and repentance so that they now trust in only the Messiah Jesus to be their source of absolute truth, the payment of their sins, and the director of their lives. They have forsaken depending on their self righteousness and now depend on Christ Jesus to be their righteousness before God. They have been adopted by God not because they earned it or deserved it but because God chose them to be part of HIS forever family. They will spend eternity together with God the Father as brother and sister in the family of Christ Jesus. They are in an eternal relationship designed by God for HIS glory and their good. Messiah Jesus has said that Christians should love one another even as Christ Jesus has loved them. This means unconditionally and sacrificially. The outside culture that does not share Christian faith is to be able to look into relationships between Christians and believe that we are the disciples of Messiah Jesus because we reflect HIS type of love to each other. The Christian marriage is the smallest “church” and the foundation stone for a healthy, happy, and holy Christian community. When a Christian husband and a Christian wife fail to demonstrate love for each other as brother and sister in Christ they are failing to live out their discipleship to Messiah Jesus. All abuse and destructive conflict in a Christian marriage is a failure of spirituality and of following Christ. It is important for Christian couples to see this spiritual connection and not just think about their discipleship beings something that takes place at church or on Sunday. The real need is to take their Christian faith and live in in loving fellowship with each other (John 13:33,34).
Now this will only matter to people who are more than “culture Christians” whose faith is just part of a social identity and does not reflect a deep conviction. But for those who are “converted Christians” who see their faith as a significant and vital part of their lives and identity then this is an essential way to look at their relationship. If most Christian couples simply treated each other the ways we are called to treat every person in the Church then their marriage would become more loving, kind, forgiving, happier, and holier. For instance;
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
(Eph 4:31-32 ESV)
Here we are told that Christians should not allow past hurts and offenses to put us into a deep state of bitter hatred for each other. We are told that self righteous condemnation and expressions of uncontrolled self centered anger should not be part of our expression of emotions and words with others. We are not to emotionally and uncontrollably vomit on the a person in an argument. When we speak of another person we must not speak about them in an evil way and say things about them that no one but God could know, such things as what they are thinking or the motivations they had for doing different things. We will not make false and unprovable accusations against them even in our own self talk to ourselves. We will not say unloving words or do unloving actions towards them motivated by self righteous outrage. Instead we will seek to be easy going, considerate, understanding, and supportive. We will have sensitivity towards their woundedness, weakness, and even wickedness.
We will demonstrate patience and long suffering in the relationship. We will have an attitude of forgiveness, mercy, and grace towards them. Our motivation in this is primarily we will be striving to imitate the love God had for us in forgiving us in the sacrifice of the Messiah Jesus. Our hope is to show a watching world an example of redemptive love. We are not loving the person directly but loving them through Christ Jesus and for the sake of Christ Jesus. Our hope is that God will be glorified in when we treat them as God has treated us in Christ Jesus. Now this is to be part of how we as Christians are to treat all others who are Christians as a demonstration of God’s love before a watching and doubting culture.
Now this standard of conduct is suppose to be for every Christian in every relationship they have. They are to act this way with every brother and sister in the church. That has to begin at home. We have to begin by striving to show show our spouse, who is our brother or sister in Christ this type of love in our daily interaction with each other. If we are not striving to do this in our marriage then we are saying to the culture that we are not the disciples of the Messiah Jesus. We are denying that we are Christians. Now if we don’t believe that our spouse is a Christian then we are still called upon to demonstrate God’s love to them because Christ Jesus has said we are to “love our enemies” and “bless those who curse us.”‘ There is not escape. We will discover a great deal about the depth and consistency of our spirituality in how we treat our spouse. To the degree we accept them even as God has accepted us in Christ Jesus to that degree we will demonstrate the attitude and spirit of the Messiah Jesus in our relationship and demonstrate Christ like love before a doubting society. To the degree we allow anger, bitterness, and destructive argument to dominate our relationship then we promote doubt in the reality of the Christian message and of our profession of faith. So the married couple must first decide to treat each other like brother and sister in Christ as the foundation of a civil, kind, and grace filled relationships. If both the husband and the wife are striving to do this then it cannot but help their marriage.
The real problem is that the marriage is not creating a lack of spirituality in our lives it is demonstrating what is really our inner state. Marriage cannot take from us our spirituality but they can test it. If we become bitter and hateful in our relationship with our spouse it is just demonstrating that the love of Christ has not yet come to fully dominate our hearts (Romans 5:1-8). The first step in improving our marriages is to improve our spirituality. We must become more in love with God the Father and Christ the Son before we will be able to love our spouse more effectively. Our experience has to be one in which we are truly filled with the Holy Spirit before we will be able to act in a spiritual manner with our spouse. Our lack of spirituality is not the fault of our spouse but our own fault for not seeking the face of God and reminding ourselves of the great love the Father has for us. A real spirituality will manifest itself in a real godly love for our spouse that is demonstrated by practical actions and words.
The Christian couple needs to witness together of their Christian faith, spend time learning Christian doctrine together in the home, share with each other the “God events” in their lives, focus their attention on the mercy of God found in Christ Jesus and remind each other of salvation by grace alone, and spend time in prayer together. As the “smallest church” they are to demonstrate all the spiritual disciplines found in the beginning society of Messiah Jesus in Acts 2:42. This needs to be part of their lifestyle. Part of their rule of marriage. A regular part of their very existence.
Now this “marriage spirituality” need to be but an expression of personal spirituality in which their is a real experience of the presence of the living Christ in personal meditation in the scripture, the doing of good deeds in the name and for the glory of Christ, prayer, and fasting. Reading through Matthew chapters five thru seven will give a good summary of what needs to be part of a personal “rule of life” for both the husband and the spouse. People living by such a personal “rule of life” honestly before the face of God will be those who bring to the marriage relationship a spiritual character and competence that will be very helpful in resolving conflicts in marriage. Without such a “true spirituality” then the Christian couple will not be anymore successful than secular couples in resolving conflicts.
Now if we do not know how to live the Christian life well we will not be able to live the Christian marriage well. Each person must individually seek to improve their experience and the reality of their spirituality before God. As they do this then their marriage will improve. To the degree that they fail to do this their marriage will fail to demonstrate the love of God in Messiah Jesus for sinners.
I would highly recommend the book “True Spirituality” by Dr. Francis Schaffer as good place to begin to deepen our spiritual lives. Only by improving our spirituality as Christians can we really hope to see lasting results improving our marriages. Without Christ Jesus’ presence in our marriages we can do nothing of any value (John 15:1-8). While we may find techniques which can provide practical help in showing love only the Holy Spirit can actually pour God’s love into our hearts which will make those techniques effective and lasting. I would also recommend the book “Sacred Marriage” by Gary Thomas as one that demonstrates clearly the relationship between our spirituality and our relationship in marriage.
So take a step back out of all the emotions and conflicts in your marriage and stop for a moment before the face of the God who loves you more than you can imagine. Recognize that your spouse is God’s beloved adopted child. God is in love with your spouse today in Christ Jesus. You need to treat your spouse as God’s child. God is the ultimate FATHER-IN-LAW. Your marriage belongs to God. You are called to manage it for HIM. It is to be a “kingdom marriage” that demonstrates the redemptive love of Christ Jesus on the earth. So seek the Lord and the filling of the Spirit. Ask your spouse to do the same. Spend some time praying through your problems together. Be two broken and bewildered children before the face of their Heavenly Father. Out of that time of prayer and fasting then perhaps the Lord of mercy will give you the wisdom you need to find some answers to the conflicts and allow you to be tenderhearted and kind with each other until you do.
Practice your Christian faith and the gifts of the Spirit at home. It may just revolutionize your marriage.