by Tim Goddard
This spring, I had the opportunity to lead a Community Group focused on marriage. Making use of both Pastor Brent’s “Discipleship Coaching” resources and the Meaning of Marriage Bible Study by Tim and Kathy Keller, we spent about 14 weeks exploring what it means to be like Christ in our marriages, and working in very specific ways to become more like Christ in that context.
What I learned through that process could fill far more than a blog post, but I wanted to share the underlying theme that I saw over the course of the group. This theme emerged from the other group members, scripture, the study resources, and my own experiences as I worked to put God’s word into practice in my relationship with my wife.
The theme I found was a relatively simple one:
Christian life in marriage is not fundamentally different from Christian life outside of marriage.
All the instructions in Scripture about how we should interact with other people are just as true within our marriages as they are anywhere else. When we look to the Bible to guide our behavior and decisions in our marriages, we can’t just go to the “marriage parts.” Rather, we have to look to the totality of scripture for guidance. The same wonderful, terrible, impossible call of Christ that holds true in all our other relationships is equally true in my marriage.
Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t unique aspects to marriage (Sex! Kids! Joint checking accounts!), and the Bible does tackle many of these directly. But the fundamental precept of the Christian life, loving others as Christ loves them, undergirds them all.
In some ways, this makes life easier—we don’t need to compartmentalize the different expressions of our spiritual life in the way it sometimes feels like we do. Marriage, friendship, parenthood, and every other situation answer to the same basic principle: love others as Christ loves us. The strength that Christ offers me to do His will is available just as much in my marriage as anywhere else, and those things that make me a better Christian will also make me a better husband. (And if you are not married, the principle is just as applicable to friendships family, work relationships, dating relationships, etc.)
In other ways, the idea that married love is supposed to imitate Christ’s love makes life harder—we are called to lay down our desires, preferences and comfort not just for people we interact with sporadically, but for the woman with whom we share home, family, meals, bed and life.
But that brings up more good news—presumably, we married our wives because we already loved them enough to commit to this, at least in theory. Marriage serves as an extremely concentrated form of our overall Christian lives, giving us an opportunity to “practice” sacrificial love on a daily basis, and to do so in an environment where there is, hopefully, sufficient grace and love on both sides to buffer you both from inevitable failures.
What does this look like? It looks like putting someone else first, every day, and being Christ to her, so that I can be more like Him. This makes marriage is both participation in the life and love of Christ, and preparation for it, a rigorous training ground for living as Christ did in the broader context of the rest of our lives. And the nature of marriage gives this some intensely practical implications.
The next time you are tempted (as we all are!) to treat your wife badly—whether through neglect, rudeness, impatience or simply taking her for granted—consider two things. First, in that moment, you have an opportunity to act out the incarnational living you are called to by your Savior and the Creator of the universe, and to embody that Savior and Creator within yourself. (Heavy!) Second, in doing so—by doing something as simple as treating well the woman you already cherish and adore—you are putting in place a pattern for yourself, and modeling for yourself the behavior that Christ himself modeled for all of us, the life that shines like a star and by its presence calls unbelievers to glorify God.