I spoke recently for the first time ever at a wedding and it got me thinking about marriage. I add a disclaimer that I’m no expert on marriage. I’m in fact a beginner, having been married only for a short three years, hence the title of this blog post.
The most commonly referred-to passage in the Bible on marriage must be Ephesians 5. Here, Paul established an incredibly high standard for both husbands and wives.
The men love it whenever Ephesians 5:22 is read in church, ‘Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.’ Ephesians 5:25 then continues, ‘Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her’ and we cower at that command. A husband is required to love his wife and deny himself for her. How hard it is to put that into practice daily!
Marriage can be viewed through idealistic or fatalistic lenses. The idealist sees marriage as a means to fulfil fantasies, needs, personal satisfaction, and happiness. The fatalist doesn’t believe in marriage due to failures seen and the resulting fear. Both perspectives are self-centred.
The assumption is that, if we choose the right person, our marriage will be happy and healthy. While choosing our spouse is a momentous decision, we never fully know the person we say our vows to on our wedding day – we just think we do.
Moreover, marriage is such a major transition in our lives that we almost always change after entering it, for better or worse. Some of us realise to our horror of horrors that the person we thought we knew before marriage is not the same person now.
It’s not that we’ve made the wrong choice. Rather, we’ve to learn how to love and care for the person that we don’t fully know to whom we find ourselves married.
Very few things in life expose our sense of ineptitude than marriage. We’re naturally inclined to shrink back, given our sense of inadequacy. But what if Ephesians 5 was written because the finished work of the Cross enables us to be empowered by grace, filled with the Spirit, and thus attain God’s heart for our marriage?
Power freely given us through Christ at the new birth is the same power that helps attain a healthy, joyful marriage. Emotions alone can’t help us respond to God’s vision for marriage in confidence. We need an understanding of the finished work of the Cross.
God’s grace empowers us to do what seems impossible. Faith understands that, with God, ‘All things are possible’. We can receive the grace of God and say a confident “yes” to God’s heart for marriages, rather than shrinking back in fear and unbelief.
The higher the Biblical standard, the more confident we can be that the Lord will empower us to reach it. The Spirit of God does not command us without helping us to live it out.
Nothing forces us to repent more deeply and profoundly than the realisation that we’re hurting the one we love the most. More than delivering us out of our former state into a new relationship with God, the Gospel has the power to change our mindsets, emotions, and desires in a powerful way that enables us to love differently and deeply. The Gospel is far more powerful than we realise.
The marital exhortation in Ephesians 5 starts in verse 1 and not 5:22.
Ephesians 5:1 – be imitators of God
Ephesians 5:3-7 – not partaking in sin
Ephesians 5:8-14 – walk as children of light
Ephesians 5:15-16 – walk circumspectly not as fools but as wise
These instructions are not specific to marriage, but are essential for every aspect of life. Ephesians 5:17-21 show four practices essential to healthy relationships:
1. Ephesians 5:18 – ‘And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit’.
We know that drunkenness has torn marriages apart. We’re told to avoid indulging in what cannot satisfy, but be filled with God’s Spirit.
2. Ephesians 5:19 – ‘Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord’.
Scripture’s truths are to invade and permeate our conversations. The atmosphere of worship moves and tenderises our hearts. It’s harder to be impatient with our spouse and children when our hearts are moved by the presence of God in worship.
3. Ephesians 5:20 – ‘Giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ’.
The love of Jesus, the riches of His grace and mercy bring us to a place of constant gratitude, rather than entitlement and sense of what we ‘deserve’.
4. Ephesians 5:21 – ‘Submitting to one another in the fear of God’.
When we understand how extravagantly Jesus loves and values others around us, we consider them ‘better than ourselves’ in humility.
I’m so glad that we can yield to the finished work of our Lord Jesus on the Cross, the grace of God and the work of Christlikeness in our lives in our journey to become better spouses and parents.
Pastor Sng Peh Han