Most of my days counseling are filled with praying for and providing resources to people in deep emotional and relational pain. There is no lack of pain and struggle. However, the application of Christian truths will renew a Christian marriage.
The concepts below are for spouses who are safe from violence in the home. In case of violence, we strongly recommend refuge elsewhere and professional help before returning to the home.
Brothers and sisters in Christ
First, the husband and wife have to recognize that their most eternal relationship is as brother and sister in Christ. In the death and resurrection of Christ, their sins were forgiven, and they were freed of all condemnation for their failings. Only Christ is their source of absolute truth, who said Christians should love one another even as He has loved them, unconditionally and sacrificially (John 13:34). The outside culture should be able to see that we are disciples of Messiah Jesus because we reflect His love for each other. All abuse and destructive conflict is failure to follow Christ. Christian marriage is the “smallest church” and foundational for a healthy, happy and holy Christian community.
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:31-32 NLT)
Here we are told not to allow past hurts and offenses to put us into a state of bitterness for each other. Condemnation and uncontrolled anger should not be part of our expression of emotions and words toward others in an argument, and is only motivated by self-righteous outrage. We must not speak about another person in an evil way and say things about them that no one but God could know, such as what they are thinking or the motivations they had for doing things. We must not make false or improvable accusations against them even in our minds. Instead, we should seek to be easygoing, considerate, understanding, and supportive. We need to have sensitivity toward their woundedness, weakness, and even wickedness.
This standard of conduct is for every Christian relationship, and should begin at home. Even if we don’t believe that our spouse is a Christian, we are still to show God’s love to them because Christ Jesus said to “love our enemies” and “bless those who curse us.” There is no excuse. We will discover a great deal about the depth and consistency of our own spirituality in how we treat our spouse. Marriage cannot take our spirituality from us but it can test it. Our lack of spirituality is not the fault of our spouse but our own fault. To the degree we accept our spouse as God has accepted us, we will demonstrate the spirit of Jesus in our relationship. To the degree we allow anger, bitterness, and destructive arguments to dominate our relationship, we then promote others’ doubt in the reality of the Christian message and of our profession of faith.
If we do not know how to live the Christian life well, we will not be able to live the Christian marriage well. Reading through Matthew chapters five through seven will give a good summary for a personal “rule of life.” Husbands and wives bringing such a “rule of life” to their relationship also bring spiritual character and competence that will be very helpful in resolving conflicts in their marriage. Without “true spirituality” the Christian couple will not be anymore successful than secular couples in resolving conflicts.
I highly recommend the books True Spirituality by Dr. Francis Schaffer, and Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas as resources to deepen our spiritual lives and make that spiritual connection with healthier marriages. Without Christ Jesus’ presence in our marriages, we can do nothing of any value (John 15:1-8). While we may find techniques and practical help in showing love, only the Holy Spirit can actually pour God’s love into our hearts and make those techniques effective and lasting.
Take a step back out of all the emotions and conflicts in your marriage. Recognize that your spouse is God’s beloved adopted child. Manage your relationship as a “kingdom marriage” that demonstrates the redemptive love of Christ Jesus on the earth. Pray through your problems together, as two broken and bewildered children seeking wisdom, until you find the answers to any conflicts and the mercy to be tenderhearted and kind with each other.
Dr. Wise is the executive director of Living Water Christian Counseling, senior pastor of First Church West, and host of Ask the Counselor Tuesdays at noon on GraceNetRadio.com. Living Water Christian Counseling can be reached at 954-452-4407.