Unfortunately, when it comes to marriage we often feel alone. God’s standard for husbands and wives is so high that we ask, “Who is going to help me obey these commands? What about the marriage problems we face?” The answer is the Holy Spirit will help you! Two words that summarize what it is like thinking about being the husbands and wives God commands us to be are “intimidating” and “overwhelming.”
- As a husband, it is intimidating to think of being to your wife what Christ is to the church. If you are not intimidated by it, you do not understand what is expected of you.
- As a wife, it is overwhelming to think of submitting to your husband as you should to the Lord. If we had to obey God’s commands on our own, we should feel not only overwhelmed or intimidated but completely hopeless. Because of a promise Jesus made us, though, we can feel hopeful.
Jesus told His disciples, “I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever” (John 14:16). If you have embraced the gospel, then the Holy Spirit lives in you. You are not alone! The Holy Spirit will help you do what God has commanded you to do.
The first half of Ephesians 5 is about living in the Spirit, and the second half is about marriage. This is fitting because if there is any area of the Christian life in which the Holy Spirit’s help is necessary, it is marriage. In Ephesians 5:18, the apostle Paul states:
Do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit.
It might sound odd to compare drunkenness with being filled with the Spirit, but we can sum up Paul’s point with the word “influence.” People who are driving drunk are “driving under the influence.” Just as alcohol has the potential to influence, so does the Holy Spirit.
The Greek word for “be filled” is pleroo, which means “keep on being filled” or “stay filled” with the Spirit. Paul is talking about something that should be ongoing in the lives of believers. Christians need to allow—and trust—the Holy Spirit to influence them as husbands and wives. The following verses are promises from God’s Word. As you read them, consider how they apply to your marriage:
- 2 Corinthians 9:8—God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.
- Philippians 2:13—It is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
- Ephesians 1:19–20—The exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead.
- Hebrews 13:20–21—May the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ.
Wouldn’t God want us to have strong marriages?
God gives us what we need to obey His commands. He is the One working in and through us to accomplish every good work. He makes this possible through the incomparably great power that raised Jesus from the dead. God wants us to be equipped to do what He has called us to do, and of all God wants from us, what could be more important than our relationships with our spouses?
Marriage is a reflection of Christ and the church. Does God want Christ and the church to have a great relationship? Absolutely! Does God want the world to witness Christian marriages that wonderfully represent Christ’s relationship with the church? Without a doubt! God has given us His indwelling Spirit to help make that happen.
When we become discouraged in our marriages, these are the truths that we need to remember. It is as if God has said, “The standard I have set for husbands and wives is high, but you do not have to do this alone. My Holy Spirit will help you. I would not command you to do something without also giving you what is necessary to obey.”
Help the Holy Spirit while He helps you!
Some balance is needed. “I will help you” is very different from “I will do everything.” The Holy Spirit helps us, but we still have responsibilities. We still must resist temptation. The Holy Spirit is not going to supernaturally take control of a marriage when the individuals involved are not committed to putting forth the necessary effort. So help the Holy Spirit while he helps you!
The apostle Paul reveals the relationship in Ephesians 2:10: “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” God prepared good works for us, but we have to “walk in them.” We do not want to miss out on what God wants to do in our marriage because we are being lazy or selfish. Consider the responsibilities placed on our shoulders elsewhere in the New Testament:
- Romans 13:13–14—Let us walk properly . . . Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.
- Colossians 3:12–14—Put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; [bear] with one another, and [forgive] one another . . . Put on love, which is the bond of perfection.
Note the calling we are given to walk, put on, make no provision for, bear with, and forgive.
How do we help the Holy Spirit while He helps us?
What does this look like in practical terms? How does the Holy Spirit’s help work with our free will? Here are some examples.
- Husband, you normally plop yourself down on the couch next to your wife, but the Holy Spirit has been compelling you to be more affectionate. So the next time you sit next to your wife, you put your arm around her. The Holy Spirit has also been leading you to be a better listener. Instead of simply hearing your wife speak, this time you nod and verbally affirm what she says. Perhaps even paraphrase her words to validate her sentiments. Since she is not used to this, your wife will notice and appreciate the extra effort.
- Wife, you are riding in the car with your husband when you notice the low fuel light come on. Normally you point this out and “remind” him until he pulls into a gas station. Though he does not like this, you think it beats running out of gas. Lately, however, the Holy Spirit has been directing you to trust your husband, so this time you simply mention it and let it go. He pulls into a station, and since you have had a habit of telling him what to do, he notices the difference and is pleasantly surprised. Maybe at the pump he even says, “Thank you for not repeatedly telling me to pull over!”
In each case, the spouse would do well to verbalize his or her appreciation for the changed behavior.
These are only simple examples of how the Holy Spirit works with us. Look for other ways in your daily life with your spouse! Be submissive and receptive to the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Consider this encouraging verse that ties these thoughts together: “To this end I labor, according to [God’s] working which works mightily in me” (Colossians 1:29).
The apostle Paul was discussing working side by side with God to accomplish His work. Similarly, we should see ourselves working side by side with God in our marriages. Yes, we labor to be the husbands and wives He wants us to be. But what an encouragement that while we are laboring, He also “works mightily in” us.
Discussion questions and activities for husbands and wives
- Read John 14:16, 26, and 16:7. What three areas of your marriage most need the Holy Spirit’s help?
- Read 2 Corinthians 9:8 and Philippians 2:13:
- What “good works” do you recognize in your marriage?
- Which works are you more naturally inclined toward, and therefore they are easier for you?
- Which works, or areas of your marriage, do you find to be more difficult, and therefore they:
- Require more of God’s grace to abound toward you as 2 Corinthians 9:8 says?
- Require more of God’s work in you as Philippians 2:13 says?
- Read Ephesians 1:18–20 and Hebrews 13:20–21:
- Using the language of these verses, what parts of your marriage seem dead and in need of resurrection? These could be your financial situation, intimacy, communication, or unity in parenting.
- When considering the power discussed in these verses, what encouragement can you take away for these “dead” areas of your relationship?
- Read Romans 13:13-14. List three ways you are “making provision” for your flesh.
- Write down the above verses on index cards or sticky notes. Post them in places where you will see them frequently, such as a mirror, dashboard, a lampstand beside your bed, the hood over your stove, or inside your iPad cover. When you see them, pray for God to show you how you can change your marriage, through changing yourself—enabled and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
- Provide three practical examples of how the Holy Spirit might compel you to treat your spouse better.
- Since it’s so important to verbalize your appreciation for your spouse’s changed behavior, provide three examples of ways your spouse has tried to change.