A few years ago I learned the important lesson that marriage is a reflection of our relationship with Christ. Katie and I faced the biggest crisis of our marriage. I started pastoring Woodland Christian Church when it was fairly small. Within three years the congregation had tripled in size. I admit that before I became a pastor, I was completely unaware of how much work is actually involved in shepherding a church of even a few hundred people. I had been an Army officer, a supervisor at a distribution center for Target, and an elementary school teacher. But none of those occupations approached the amount of mental and emotional energy and sheer hard work pastoring entails!
We had no secretary or associate pastor at the time. Almost all of my waking hours were packed with studying, teaching, counseling, making phone calls, sending e-mails, meeting with people, addressing administrative responsibilities, and tending to benevolence issues. When I was home, I should have been an engaged father and husband. Unfortunately, I did not have much left for my family emotionally, mentally, or physically.
Although I was failing as a husband and father, I was able to convince myself I was still pleasing the Lord. I compartmentalized my life by saying, “I am a Christian first, a spouse second, a parent third, and an employee fourth.” Instead, I should have said, “I am a Christian spouse, a Christian parent, a Christian employee.” The danger of seeing ourselves as a Christian first and a spouse second is we can find ourselves believing the lie I bought into at the time: “If I can be a good pastor, I can please God even though I am not the best husband.” The truth is that I was a poor husband, and I should have recognized that meant I was not pleasing the Lord.
The reason we cannot please the Lord while failing as a spouse is marriage is a reflection of our relationship with Christ
Our marriages are outpourings of our relationships with Christ. This means our Christianity is directly related to the way we treat our spouses. We treat our spouses the way we do because of our relationships with Christ.
- In Matthew 7:16b, Jesus asked: “Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles?”
- In James 3:12, the apostle James asked: “Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs?”
The point of these verses is that we reveal our Christianity by the way we live. As Jesus clarified: “You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16a).
Since our relationships with our spouses are our most important earthly relationship, what we are in our marriage is a reflection of our relationship with Christ. Two commands give us the standard for marriage:
- Ephesians 5:25—Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her.
- Ephesians 5:22—Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.
Since the Lord gave us these commands, our obedience to them reflects our relationship with Christ. This is why there is no such thing as a spiritually mature man who does not love his wife nor a spiritually mature woman who does not submit to her husband:
- A husband cannot love Christ without loving his wife.
- A wife cannot submit to Christ without submitting to her husband.
A husband is to love and cherish his wife not because she is perfect, or because she treats him the way he wants to be treated. A husband loves and cherishes his wife because he loves Christ. Likewise, a wife submits to her husband not because he is a wonderful spiritual leader, or because he loves her the way she wants to be loved. A wife submits to her husband because she wants to submit to Christ.
A husband’s love and a wife’s submission is not a test of their obedience to their spouses—it is a test of their obedience to the Lord.
This might sound discouraging, but it should actually be encouraging. When a husband knows his love and a wife knows her submission is an act of obedience to Christ, it can be that much easier. There will be times when a husband does not want to love his wife and a wife does not want to submit to her husband. In those moments husbands and wives can tell themselves: “I am doing this out of my love for Christ. I am submitting to the Lord, because of what He has done for me.”
I would never try to convince a husband that his wife is worthy of his love, or try to convince a wife that her husband is worthy of her submission. The fact is, their spouses are not. But Christ is worthy of a husband’s love and a wife’s submission. It is important to understand this principle before we examine God’s instructions for husbands and wives because this will give us the necessary motivation to obey.
The obvious questions, then, are: How can a husband love his wife just as Christ loved the church? How can a wife submit to her husband as unto the Lord? That will be the topic of my next post!
Discussion questions for husbands and wives
- Husband: Do you see your love for your wife as a reflection of your love for Christ? Why or why not?
- Wife: Do you see your submission to your husband as a reflection of your submission to Christ? Why or why not?
- What are common excuses people give for not obeying these commands?
- Which of these excuses do you tend to use?
- Consider marriage is a reflection of our relationship with Christ. What three adjectives would you use to describe your marriage? Are these the same adjectives you want to describe your relationship with Christ? If not, what changes do you need to make?