“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35 NIV).
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).
I have been counseling people since 1972. I began counseling married couples in 1982.
Most of these couples have been people who professed faith in Christ Jesus. They sang in choirs, served on deacon boards and went on mission trips. They would have said that they loved Jesus; they just could not stand their spouse.
Somehow, the spirituality of Sunday found little expression in the home.
For the most part these couples did not pray together, avoided reading scripture together and failed to worship together in their home. In fact, outside mealtimes when a short prayer might be said, one would hardly know that the couples were disciples of Jesus at all in how they lived their married life together.
If these spiritual exercises were in the home, these Christian activities could be followed by emotional, verbal, religious and even physical abuse. There was a form of religion, but it lacked all power to bring love to the home. Hypocrisy was a way of life.
Somehow, the couples had forgotten that their most basic and eternal relationship is not in their marriage but in a God-ordained spiritual friendship in which they have been chosen by God to be the smallest church and have the most intimate Christian fellowship possible.
These couples failed to define their relationship as first “in Christ” as disciples involved in a spiritual friendship of sharing, serving and caring for each other for the sake of Christ. This relationship is eternal and more fundamental than even their marriage.
Human marriage is till “death do us part”; while our relationship with each other as spiritual friends is forever. Most Christian couples have never developed a spiritual friendship, and this weakens their ability to have a gospel centered marriage.
“Friendships begun in this world will be taken up again, never to be broken,” said Dr. Francis de Sales.
What do I mean by spiritual friendship?
In spiritual friendship, the two people are cooperatively responding to Jesus’ call by loving Him and loving each other because Christ Jesus commanded them to show His love to each other. They love each other for the sake of Christ Jesus. This is to them the highest good of human life, to follow Jesus Christ. They encourage and sustain each other in answering Jesus’ call by seeking to provide caring and compassionate service towards each other for the sake of Christ. They find the power to have such love for each other in abiding in the presence and promises of Christ Jesus. (John 15:1-8)
Now this focus on friendship as the most important part of a healthy marriage is supported by scientific study as well.
John Gottman, a University of Washington psychology professor has found through scientific research that “… the simple truth that happy marriages are based on deep friendship. By this I mean a mutual respect and enjoyment for each other’s company.” (The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert by John Gottman PhD and Nan Silver)
So, before you define your spouse as a husband or wife, define them as your spiritual friend given to you as a gift by Christ Jesus. Jesus has asked you to love this person by laying down your life even as Christ laid down His life for you.
Paul encourages this gospel centered lifestyle when he writes:
“Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God” (Romans 15:7).
“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, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:31-32).
Before you love your spouse as a marriage partner, love them as a fellow disciple.
Jesus has given the culture around us the right to determine if we are his disciples by how we demonstrate His love towards each other in our marriage. They will either see the love of Christ in our relationship or have the right to determine that despite our church attendance and activities we don’t really follow Jesus.
“The church is to be a loving church in a dying culture. How, then, is the dying culture going to consider us? Jesus says, ‘By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.’ In the midst of the world, in the midst of our present dying culture, Jesus is giving a right to the world. Upon his authority he gives the world the right to judge whether you and I are born-again Christians on the basis of our observable love toward all Christians.(This includes our spouse) ”(Schaeffer, Francis A.. The Mark of the Christian (IVP Classics) (p. 22). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.}
Because of this, let us now aim at becoming spiritual friends with our spouse and making our marriages gospel centered. It will be the best decision we could ever make.
Dr. Norman Wise is the Executive Director of Living Water Christian Counseling and host of “Ask the Counselor” on GraceNetRadio.com. Living Water can be reached at 954-726-2303.