REFLECTING CHRIST IN MARRIAGE
Enjoying the beautiful design
The Garden of Eden was gorgeous and marriage was perfect – and then sin entered the world. We might think the opening verses of Genesis would be the last time we see the true beauty of marriage but thousands of years later in the New Testament (and many places in between), God’s Word continues to gives us rich gems to help us build strong, fulfilling marriages and understand their purpose.
A simple thing like spending time at home together in the Word of God is a blessing to your faith and marriage.
“Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.”
God chose the precious gift of marriage to reflect the intimate love He has for us, but like His perfect creation, it is marred by sin. Rather than a reflection of God’s perfect love for His Bride (the church), we often times struggle in our marriages. The pressures of life pull at marriage partners and the demands family life can compound problems even more. So how do you build a marriage that can stand strong against the raging storms that come with a vengeance? It’s like building a house. It’s a long, complicated project that demands time, energy and resources if you want it to be built well. And it’s done best when we listen to the Lord’s encouragement to strengthen our marriages and be on guard against the attacks of Satan and our sinful flesh.
When you enter a beautiful, well-built home, you know that the builder used quality materials and utilized quality workmanship. The trim fits perfectly, the windows aren’t drafty, and the drawers glide smoothly. The foundation feels secure and the rafters are solid. The builder selected high grade lumber and took his time to build it right. So, what does the Lord use in building marriages? Quality materials and quality workmanship.
Quality materials. Did you laugh? Are you thinking about your husband and chuckling at the thought of describing him as “quality material”? You don’t have to be married very long to realize that your husband is far from perfect. But did you think about yourself? Are you “quality material”? No, you aren’t great stuff all the time either. It isn’t any wonder that there are frustrated people in marriages – because we’re all sinful, selfish people by nature. We often get stuck seeing each other with our tainted, human eyes. We see each other’s sins and failures. We see the ugliness and flaws in one another; and if you keep that focus, you won’t have a strong marriage because your building materials are sub--standard.
So what’s the solution? Different materials? No, our hope for a good marriage isn’t found in finding the perfect man, or trying harder to be the perfect wife by keeping an immaculate house, pursuing a perfect body shape or maintaining countless commitments at church. Hope is found in the perfect Savior that died for our sins. He is the one that has made us “quality material.” His precious blood was shed to cover your flaws, and your husband’s. His righteous life will stand strong in your stead, and with His eyes, we can see one another as He see us, redeemed children of God.
When you look at your husband, see him as Christ does, precious, purposeful and perfect! And when you look in the mirror, you should see the same thing, “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3)!
Equipped with God’s view of our husbands and ourselves we are reminded of and encouraged by His marvelous grace! Treat each other accordingly, with kindness and love; speak to one another with that focus in mind, with gentleness and respect. Forgive each other and be patient with one another because you are handling priceless building materials! As you’re working to build your marriage, appreciate the value of what you’re working with, remembering that “you were bought at a price” (1 Corinthians 6:20). You don’t trash a beautiful, well built home; you take care of it and appreciate it. You invest in the upkeep and make the sacrifices to keep it strong because you value it and know it will appreciate over time. How much more can that be true of your marriage! Because Christ loved us first, we love and forgive one another. Because Christ made us holy and beautiful, we can respond in love toward Him and one another. Because we depend on the righteousness He won for us, we can also see our husbands as redeemed and precious! Keeping that view of your spouse will go a long way in building a great marriage.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, You have redeemed me and made me Your precious daughter. Thank you for your gifts of grace, forgiveness and perfect love. Allow me to bask in those gifts and let them permeate every part of my life. Strengthen me through Your Word to be the wife you desire me to be, that I could honor you in my life and marriage. Strengthen our marriage to be a reflection of Your perfect love—the radiance of grace and commitment that you have shown to us. Give me Your eyes to see others as precious souls for which you died; and give me Your heart to love in response to the intimate love you have poured out on me. Forgive me when I fail Lord. In my stumbling and sin call me to account and drive me to the cross. Find me there, comfort me with your salvation and guide me on the path of righteousness so that everything I do brings glory to Your name and light to a dark world. You are my Savior and my God, whom I love and proclaim. Amen.
"The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband."
1 Corinthians 7:3
A glimpse at 1 Corinthians 7:3
Conversations about sex can be uncomfortable. Even among Christians, we wonder what should be said. “Less is better” seems to be the advice that many follow. But in the private corner of our heart there is a longing to understand the God pleasing fullness of sexuality in Christian marriage. We desire all its riches, but over time we face a host of insurmountable struggles that attack us at a very personal level. Intimacy can grow cold or loveless and we’re haunted by inadequacy. We have misperceptions, unspoken hurts and guilt. Our own flesh and a sinful world keep us from the beautiful life and delightful gifts God has given to married couples.
Then we read our text, “The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband.” At first glance it seems Paul isn’t doing us any huge favors here when he simply states that we have a “duty” to one another. He is talking about sex as if it were like keeping up with dishes or laundry. It’s your duty, so… not exactly how we want to describe our sex life. But God is teaching us something here as he speaks of the responsibility we have to one another. In sharp contrast to the familiar message we love hearing, an individual’s desire to be sexually satisfied is not the foundation of a healthy sexual relationship. It is sensitivity to the needs of the other that blesses the sexual expression of Christian spouses. Listen to Paul describe this “duty” and note where the responsibility lies! The husband has a responsibility to fulfill his wife’s sexual needs and the wife is called by God in marriage to meets the sexual needs of her husband. It is a desire to meet the needs of the other in an expression of love that draws a man and wife together.
And where is love? Isn’t it passionate love that drives a husband and wife to each other’s arms? Yes, but Paul is making it very clear that self-centered erotic love isn’t the foundation of their union. The love that a husband and wife share does create sexual desire, but the focus of that passion is to delight the other person and show love, not to seek personal satisfaction. The marriage bed is a place where love seeks the good and fulfillment of the other. Loving intimacy is entwined with sexual desire, and such desires and personal needs are not wrong or sinful. This is part of the beautiful design given in the perfect Garden of Eden! But Scripture is pointing us to see the loving, giving essence of sex in marriage. It doesn’t look like one-night stands glorified as steamy sex between strangers driven by their own desire. Marital love is much deeper, more fulfilling and strengthens the relationship according to God’s design. Love, trust and commitment enrich marital intimacy and find their fullest expression as one flesh. When God calls husbands and wives to faithfulness, he is not short-changing them. The gift of sexuality in marriage is not second-rate; it is rich and shines with beauty like a gem in the perfect setting.
Does marital intimacy for Christians always seem so perfect, selfless and loving? No, it does not. Sometimes it might seem like a duty, but hopefully that is rare. Don’t be surprised that even in the life of a Christian, life in a sinful world diminishes what the Lord gave as a holy and precious gift. It’s okay to be honest that life, marriage and intimacy aren’t perfect; God calls us to work at these things! This can be a reminder of his good gifts and the holy, selfless love he wants us to reflect in our marriages. The Lord is giving us a descriptive picture of how our intimacy seeks to bless each other. But lest we get caught up in all the grace-filled images of marriage, at its core this is a command of God that we are required to keep.
God’s demand is that we love each other perfectly and consider the needs of each other before our own, even in the bedroom. We know all too well how hard it is to make marriage and intimacy work and it is no surprise that we cannot do all that is required of us. Sometimes it feels like we can barely do any part of it. This is the weight of sin and the work of God’s law. When we see those failures we don’t just need to forgive each other, we look to Christ who forgives all our sins – who forgives all our sexual sins and failures – and we embrace his righteousness as we seek to move forward. This is the work of the gospel, peace and forgiveness in Christ that flows over to one another. He alone empowers us to do good in all our duties. So we do love one another. We do try to set aside our own needs and serve one another in Christ-like love. We live in the strength of the gospel to the glory of God, even in the bedroom.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, the gift of marriage and its many blessings come from your loving hand. Thank you for these gifts which enrich our home and strengthen our relationship. Continue to work your love in our hearts that we may grow in grace and our understanding of your plan for marriage and sexuality. Give us an extra measure of selfless love in our intimacy as we strive to set our own needs aside and look to serve one another. Thank you for the grace that forgives us and spurs us on to forgive one another when we fail. Don’t let us lose heart in our journey and sustain us when we face overwhelming despair. Bring us your love and mercy every day as we look to honor you in our marriage and reflect your love to the world. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
For Further Reading: 1 Corinthians 7
"Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command."
1 Corinthians 7:5-6
A glimpse at 1 Corinthians 7:5-6
There are times in marriage that a Christian couple may refrain from intimacy. When Paul addresses that topic here he seems to indicate that the couple may agree on this while they give their full attention to a spiritual focus. Perhaps they want to spend extra time in prayer or bible study and they choose to set aside their intimacy as husband and wife in an effort to grow spiritually. Think of it much like the more familiar practice of fasting, where people set aside food to devote themselves to a spiritual focus. That is the idea Paul is addressing here.
However, fasting and sexual abstinence in marriage are not as familiar today and we may just skip over this verse as if it has nothing to say to us. Our spiritual growth plans don’t include abstinence in marriage so we move on to the next thought. But there are times that married couples abstain from intimacy for other reasons and perhaps Paul’s warning should be given some attention.
There are many situations that may impact a couple’s intimacy. If married couples have a new baby, they set intimacy aside for a time; or one partner may be a military member who is stationed away from the family. There are times of depression, illness, chemotherapy, or caring for a loved one with a prolonged illness. Menopause and aging may change the frequency that a couple is intimate. And to be honest sometimes the days and weeks or even months just go by for no specific reason. To these situations Paul’s words of advice ring loud and clear. “Come together again so that Satan will not tempt you.” God knows that those times may exist in a marriage but he warns that you not let them extend longer than necessary because you may be putting yourself in danger of temptation. It may take a new mother a while before she is interested or able to be intimate, and business trips or military deployments aren’t shortened for lonely spouses. One who is depressed or chronically ill may not be able to engage in sexual activity but their healthy spouse may have desires that need to be considered. Schedules are off, timing is wrong, body clocks don’t match, and time goes by. It happens—but it is your responsibility as husband and wife to keep the time in check.
Paul’s words draw us to see that while sometimes these situations cannot be helped, they should be as brief as possible. Our attention is also drawn to see the realistic truth that marriages without intimacy can be a red flag because they put people at risk of temptation. Yes, there are times it happens and couples need to be patient and understanding; they need to talk about it, and share their thoughts, struggles and possible solutions. They need to be mindful and open about the fact that God’s plan for marriage does include intimacy. If couples face longer periods without intimacy God wants us to exercise caution so that we don’t fall into temptation.
If left unchecked a spouse may be weak in fighting temptation and overlook or excuse sexual sins. Pornography calls out with its vulgar taunting. One might be tempted to find gratification for sexual desires outside the blessing of marriage. The danger here cannot be overstated. Sexual needs and desires are not easily set aside. The door to sexual temptation flings wide open with little more than a glance. It is a quick enticing moment that snares men as godly as David and as wise as Solomon. It snares godly women who are looking for love or longing for a tender relationship. Satan plants the seed that you have unbearable needs and desires that must be fulfilled; he wants you to focus on your needs and forget about God. The Lord’s way out of temptation is for husbands and wives to cling to Christ’s strength. Focus on and emulate his selfless love that looks to the good of the other. Talk about those needs and address them as a couple; get counseling or talk to your pastor. Don’t let time go by without recognizing the importance of sexual intimacy in marriage. Don’t let Satan have a foothold when one spouse is unable or struggling and the other is frustrated. Talk, pray for wisdom, and be sensitive to one another in discussing solutions.
God doesn’t establish a specific number of days or a set period of time because every couple is different and every situation is unique. There is no simple solution that will apply to everything couples encounter. But God does call husbands and wives to be wise; and to be warned; this is nothing to play with or ignore. If intimacy gets moved to the bottom of the priority list for a time, make sure the priority list gets a healthy review fairly soon. When there is failure and weakness remember the grace of Christ and his perfect forgiveness! Be patient, loving and understanding; just don’t be foolish because your flesh is very weak.
The situation Paul describes might not ring true to what you intend for your marriage but his words are the truth of God. The Lord loves marriage and gave it as a gift to husbands and wives. His instruction and encouragement is found throughout the pages of Scripture and we would do well to take these words to heart. Heed the warning, embrace the design, and trust his help and forgiveness. He wants your marriage to succeed; and our faithful Lord will bless you to that end.
Prayer: Jesus, you are the lover of our souls and the giver of good gifts. Thank you for the gift of marriage and intimacy that brings delight and strengthens love. In your great wisdom you have brought this truth to light that we must not allow thoughtless periods of abstinence in our marriage. When the situation is difficult and intimacy must be set aside, give us patience in dealing with one another; and keep us faithful to our vows. Grant us the openness to talk about our situation and find solutions that please you and keep us close. And Lord for those times that we are careless with your gift, we pray for forgiveness and awareness. Help us see Satan as a roaring lion seeking to devour us and destroy our marriage. Grant us peace in knowing that your love and good gifts protect us and keep us close to you and one another. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.”
1 Peter 3:3-6
Do you know any beautiful women with amazing, deep faith? Sarah, the wife of Abraham, was a woman like that. The Old Testament book of Genesis records her life of faith, and attests that she was “a very beautiful woman.” (Genesis 12:14)
But it is Peter’s epistle 2,000 years later that directly speaks of her as someone to emulate. She was a remarkably beautiful woman, but God wants us to see her faith and hope! He inspired Moses to share her story with us: barrenness, the maidservant catastrophe, “she’s my sister” disasters, and a husband who was tested by God in a way we cannot imagine. Scripture records so much of Sarah’s life that we can see her as a sister in faith, rather than an ancient woman we can’t relate to. As we dwell on Sarah’s struggles, failures and blessings, we see a mighty God with saving grace.
And now God calls us to listen carefully as he uses Peter’s words to tie together Sarah’s hope, beauty and submission to her husband. Scripture is teaching us how they fit together.
Sarah trusted the LORD for righteousness and forgiveness. God was her hope and strength, giving her inner peace and a countenance of dignity. Peter calls that “the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.” Then, without skipping a beat, we hear of her submission flowing from a heart of faith. Do you see the connection? Sarah didn’t trust that Abraham would always make the right decision—she trusted the Lord. She understood that God would lead their family through Abraham (and he did!), but her confidence was in God’s faithfulness and power, not a flawless husband. The pattern of sinful human failure and God’s saving grace reflects our need for a Savior and God’s plan of salvation in Christ. Repeatedly, Sarah and Abraham both failed God, and they failed each other with great heartache and ugly consequences. But it wasn’t Abraham’s leadership or Sarah’s obedience that got them through hardship—it was the grace of God and his patient forgiveness.
God blessed Sarah as she followed her husband, and he calls us to do the same. Not because any of us can live out God’s calling perfectly, and not because our obedience is what makes our marriages or relationships work, but because our submission flows from a heart that trusts God above all things.
Finally, God tells us not to give way to fear. Women understand that concept. We understand fear as we follow leadership in a world of sin. We wrestle with insensitive leadership and our own vulnerability. We fear the outcome of decisions that seem incredibly wrong to us. We’re afraid that our dreams and gifts won’t be valued or supported by those who lead. We fear the intense pain of being unloved or feeling trapped and helpless. We know real fear—and God understands that.
So he speaks to us: “Don’t give way to fear.” Like Sarah, we put our hope in God. We are her daughters when we go through hardship and difficulty. We are her sisters when we look beyond what is seen, to what is unseen. We are adorned with beauty when we trust that God will work all things for our good. Be beautiful and don’t be afraid.
You are beautiful because God makes you his own through the Gospel and washes you with his Word. His perfect love will drive out your fear and his Sacraments will keep you strong. Let your faith and hope overflow with a quiet assurance as you trust him in all things. And that beauty will never fade.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, when I look at beautiful, strong women of faith I am reminded of my own sin. I look at your plans for my life and relationships, and I see utter failure. The truth of your Word shows me what a hopeless sinner I am and bares the truth about judgment and eternity.
[You may add your confession of sins.]
But you have extended your hand of grace and brought forgiveness to me through Christ! Thank you for washing me clean and making me yours through his tremendous sacrifice. Your forgiveness renews me every day with hope and an unfading spirit of love. Thank you for planting faith in my heart and making me a new creation that wants to honor you.
[You may add your thanks for blessings of forgiveness.]
Thank you for the example and encouragement of women in Scripture who walked in grace with dignity. Keep me in the Word to strengthen my faith and fan into flame a desire to live for you. Teach me your ways that I may reflect your grace, righteousness and forgiveness to others. Lead me to show respect in a way that draws people to you.
[You may add your personal requests and petition for godly living.]
I pray this in Jesus’ name, for his glory. Amen.
For Further Reading: Genesis 11:27-Chapter 23
It is not good to be alone and a Christian marriage is an exceptional gift! Thank you for the companionship of my wife and the many joys we share in our marriage…
[thank Him for your blessings]
Yet we still have struggles, Lord. We fail one another, causing hurt and frustration; we sin against you as we sin against one another. Comfort us with the promises of your gospel, remind us that your forgiveness is full and free. Grant us a rich measure of your Word that heals the pain and strengthens us to bear the hardships of this life…
[tell Him what weighs on your heart]
Use your Word and Sacraments to build our faith and make our marriage a reflection of your love to the world. As a husband, help me to model your selfless, sacrificial love. Deepen our understanding of you that we may be
motivated by your grace to love one another richly and grow in our marriage…
[pray about areas that need work]
Lord, you are the rock of our faith and our strong fortress. Surround us with your strength that we may live for your glory. Amen.
“Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.”
Quality workmanship takes hard work, knowledge, and high standards. But who has extra energy, or time to develop better interpersonal skills? And who needs another reminder of the law’s demand for perfection? Take heart! God doesn’t give you the gift of marriage (complete with quality materials!) and then leave you to do it on your own. He is here to strengthen and guide you as you labor to build a strong marriage!
Where do you find the energy to work at your marriage? “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh. 8:10)! That doesn’t mean you are an inexhaustible bundle of energy. It means you are motivated and encouraged by God’s love! It means Christ is the foundation of your life, and the source of all you do. It means that when you’re not motivated by the progress you see in your marriage, you keep at it, “as if you were serving the Lord” (Eph. 6:7) because you are!
When you are overwhelmed and frustrated with your marriage, you run into the arms of your Savior and remember that He is the only one who can ever love you perfectly (Jeremiah 31:3). When you feel like you just can’t do it alone, He reminds you that you are not alone (Matthew 28:20). When you just don’t feel like doing it at all, He reminds you of His sacrificial love which restores the joy of your salvation (Psalm 51:12). The joy of marriage and the love of a husband are incredible blessings, but they are not your source of strength; they bring wonderful delight, but they are not the fountain of life. Christ is. By seeking God first, in His Word, you will be better equipped to love your husband with renewed strength and wisdom.
How can you deepen your knowledge and insight as you build a strong marriage? God’s Word is always the start, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Ps. 111:10). With His wisdom, you can be sensitive to your husband’s need for respect, and work to honestly and openly express respect for him publically and privately. Not because he has earned or deserves it, but because God tenderly speaks to your heart that it is what he needs; because God asks you to respect your husband as an expression of your love for Him. With the strength from His Word you will be able to forgive seventy times seven, even when you’ve really, really been hurt. You forgive because you know how freely and completely Christ forgave you, not because your husband finally apologized. You will also be able to apologize and admit your faults without excuses and justification because you are no longer a slave to sin. With His love, you’ll be motivated to do the little things: a kind word, a supportive smile, or a re--heated dinner plate after a late meeting, even if he forgets to say, “Thanks.” You love because Christ loved you first, not because your husband is always lovable.
Finally, what are the high standards to keep in mind? “Be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 11:44). God’s standards are unattainably high! So why is it that we sometimes feel the need to make the standard even higher? We often times feel (or internally create) pressure to be a perfect wife with a perfect marriage! Marriage can begin to feel like one more unattainable standard to pursue rather than the encouragement it is meant to be. Marriage can seem like a burden instead of a blessing.
When you’re discouraged and feel like you aren’t the perfectly happy wife, you need to look at your Savior. You need to remember that everything you are supposed to be as a wife, a mother, a church member, a housekeeper, cook, and chauffer has been fulfilled by our perfectly obedient Savior. He lived a perfect life on your behalf. And after He lived a perfect, obedient life, He gave it up to pay for your failures. Remember the suffering He bore to give you His righteousness. You are free from the yoke of slavery and the burden of sin, free from the law and all life’s demands. Let your heart and mind rest on the laurels of your Savior and release you from the pressure to do and be more than you ever could. He invites you, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:29--30). He says it; we need to take Him at His Word and believe it.
Marriage isn’t easy but it is a gift from the Lord and He will bless it. It is worth every ounce of effort you put into it, especially when Satan and your sinful flesh are working to tear it apart. Cherish the priceless materials He’s given you to build it strong. Depend on His powerful Word to energize and teach you, and always, most importantly, let it bring you to the loving arms of your Savior for forgiveness and His perfect love.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, You are my joy and greatest delight. Help me to always treasure the precious relationship we share. Remind me of its cost, Lord – the priceless blood of Your Son – and keep me humble and thankful for Your grace. But let that beautiful message also draw me to you and motivate me in all I do. Let Your salvation be my true source of joy and strength as I live for you. Encourage me to be a loving wife even when I don’t want to. Give me a longing for Your Word that I can be found daily seeking You in Scripture. Daily, Lord! Don’t let me become complacent or forgetful but put the desire in my heart to be at Your feet learning and growing in the knowledge of grace and wisdom. Teach me Father! Open my eyes to the insights and riches of your Word, to understand how to be a wife that honors You. And when I am reminded of all you want me to be, don’t let me suffer long in the discouragement of my sinful flesh. By Your soothing Word show me how it is finished, calm my burdened heart with the unchanging truth of Your vicarious atonement. My heart is Yours Jesus, Not because I give it to you but because You have purchased it. What grace and mercy I have! Accept my love in grateful thanks. Amen.
"The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife."
1 Corinthians 7:4
A glimpse at 1 Corinthians 7:4
The beauty of marital intimacy doesn’t shine very brightly in this unfamiliar passage and we wince, imagining this is about a power struggle. Our flesh will see an excuse for selfishness and our renewed heart simply doesn’t understand. What place do these words have in the setting of a Christian marriage? Do they really apply? Maybe that’s not the right question because these words are from our Savior who knows more about yielding rights than we could ever imagine; so perhaps we should listen. The Lord is calling husbands and wives to look at the needs and desires of each other and yield their rights out of love. He is also making it clear that each belongs to the other and both made a promise to live as one flesh. Sexual intimacy is not a manipulative bargaining tool or spiteful move in a power play. There is no withholding sex to prove a point or get pay back. It is part of marriage—to fulfill needs, draw couples together and build love, a very special love.
You see, the love God has given us for life and marriage affects every part of our lives, including our intimacy. The Greek word for this love is “agape” and we see it most clearly when Christ laid down his life to earn our salvation. It is self-sacrificing love that looks for the benefit of the other. It is love that asks, “What can I give? How can I bless you?” It longs to see the other person grow and thrive. This beautiful, self-sacrificing love influences the sexual intimacy between a man and wife by compelling them to put the needs of the other before their own needs. Each is willing to yield to the other in love, ’s design for sexuality in marriage. A wife will yield to her husband. A husband will yield to his wife. Personal rights are set aside as each serves the other. Christians reflect Christ in their marriage with this love and it is radiant in their intimacy as well. Each understands the important part that sexuality plays in their Christian marriage and the responsibility they have to one another.
It is a perfect design—but living it is much more difficult than understanding it. The reality is, this is really, really hard. The daily life of a Christian is often spent working hard in or out of the home. It is unrealistic to think that after a long day of work the powerful desire for sexual intimacy can simply be set aside as one considers the needs of their spouse. The husband may face a thousand sexual temptations in a day: glances, flirtatious laughs, suggestive comments and unsought images that focus his thinking on one thing. The wife may face a thousand temptations in a day as men appreciate her work, make comments about her femininity, or show interest in who she is as a person. Perhaps the wife is home all day with children who absorb every ounce of her energy and share more than enough physical contact but not a bit of meaningful conversation.
Paul doesn’t address the daily collision of needs at 9pm. The husband does have sexual needs. He comes home to his wife and wants to want her—this is his faith in action! Marriage is the place that God has given for sexual intimacy. But even now, he is called to set aside those needs to think about his wife. It is an incredible concept, that the powerful motion of love can not only pause, but defer to the needs of another. And the wife has needs too, which are often a bit more complex. She may have sexual desires but they are buried under a list of more tangible needs, like help in the kitchen or time to talk about her day. She may recognize her husband’s sexual needs but what about her exhaustion? Now whose needs are more important? Who yields? The Lord answers by giving husbands and wives the directive to consider the needs of the other and yield. Conflicting needs will call each of us to be self-sacrificing in our love. Compromise, consideration, and communication are all so important, especially in times of exhaustion and hurt. Sighs of frustration and emotional isolation don’t resolve conflict. Spouses cannot guess or assume they understand each other’s needs. Talk about it and listen to one another! Speak in love to find a way through it.
A husband can come to see how his help in the kitchen communicates love to his wife and makes her yielding a joy. A wife will begin to understand the importance of her husband’s needs and speak the language of love he longs to hear. Each yields to the other and the bedroom is a continuation of selfless love. It all starts with Christ in each heart as we are washed clean and filled with agape love. Forgiven and empowered with the gospel, we live according to his calling and find new strength and joy every day. Yes, there will be hardship, failures and hurts, but they have all been covered by the blood of Christ. It is God’s love that spurs us on to love one another. Live in his peace, be blessed by his love.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, you are the perfect example of selfless love that blesses others. The sacrifice you made brought us that love as it covered our sins and gave us peace with God. We want to live in that love but it is so hard. How do we give when we feel like we can’t give any more? How do we yield when there are so many reasons not to? Call us to hear your voice and follow, for we know that your words are true and give us the strength we need. Forgive us for the many times we fail. Continue to teach us, remind us, and bless us so that we may honor you in our marriage and intimacy, and in all we do. In Jesus name, Amen.
"This is my command: Love each other."
Jesus spoke these words to his disciples just hours before his death on the cross. As he speaks them to me today, I am filled with eagerness to keep his command. Then discouragement washes over me. Jesus’ words convict me of my failures: impatience with my husband, anger toward my beautiful child, irritation with fellow believers, avoidance of others who need my love. How can I possibly show true love, Christ-like love, in every circumstance, to everyone whom God has placed in my life?
Yet Jesus did not give this command without also making it possible for me—and for you—to fulfill it. Jesus spoke these words during his last Passover meal with his disciples, the night before his crucifixion. After having loved perfectly everyone he encountered throughout his life, he was about to show the world the extent of his love. He would be taking on himself all our failures to love, and paying for those sins on the cross. Now, through faith in Jesus, God sees in us not the failures, but rather Jesus’ track record of perfect love. What a tremendous gift! Yet God gives us even more. We can love as Christ commanded, because we have the gift of God himself inside us, powerfully and wonderfully at work in our hearts.
Jesus’ last conversation with his disciples assured both them and us that God, the source of our power to love, lives and works inside each believer. Jesus taught the disciples about the believer’s intimate connection with all three Persons of the Trinity. Earlier in John 15, Jesus used the word picture of branches growing from a main vine to describe the connection of believers to himself. While the individual branch stays connected to the main vine, it naturally will bear fruit. We as branches will bear fruit—not by our own power, but by the power flowing to us from the main vine, Jesus. This includes the fruit of Christ-like love! In fact, we will bear “much fruit” (vs. 5). Sisters, let us remember our intimate connection with our Savior, draw in the nourishment of the Word and sacraments, and joyfully anticipate the fruit that we are promised will develop in time.
Jesus also assured the disciples that he would send the Holy Spirit—the Counselor and Encourager. He told the disciples that the Holy Spirit “lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:17). This promise was fulfilled for the disciples at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit transformed the disciples from loveless deserters of Christ into bold lovers of God, distinguished from the rest of the world by their sacrificial love for one another and for those who hated them. Jesus’ promise is fulfilled for us today, sisters in Christ. As we study the Word, the Holy Spirit comes to us and transforms us into bold lovers of Christ and of everyone God places in our lives.
Jesus’ words provide even more encouragement. Jesus promised that he and the Father “will come to [the believer] and make our home with him” (John 14:23). God does not stop by briefly to give us a little boost when he sees we are running on fumes. He has taken up permanent residence inside us! God’s power is ours, every day, in every situation we face. It never runs out. It never fails. As Paul told believers in Philippians 2:13: “for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” Be encouraged, dear sisters! When we feel we have no strength and cannot manufacture a loving thought, let alone act accordingly, let us remember who resides in us. The almighty Creator of the universe even now is creating in us the desire to love others as Christ loved us. The Provider of everything necessary for the world’s welfare even now is producing through us the acts of love that serve the needs of those around us.
Yes, we can love as Christ loved us. We can fulfill Jesus’ final command before his death on the cross. The power for such constant, complete, and sacrificial love resides in us, because our God resides in us. Jesus assured his disciples of this truth in so many beautiful ways. Sisters, with boldness, with joy, with the power of our almighty, triune God working in us, let us love each other!
Prayer: Dear Jesus, I confess to you my failures to love. I thank and praise you for your work of paying for all those failures, and loving perfectly in my place. I trust your promise that the Father will give me anything I ask in your name. I now pray for greater and greater Christ-like love in all my relationships. Work in me to bear more and more fruit, to your glory. In your saving name, I confidently pray. Amen.
For Further Reading: John 15:1-17
"Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything."
One woman’s journey to an understanding of submission
We got married young. Perhaps I’m just getting older, but in retrospect, we were very young. Because we started young, we’ve been blessed with many years of companionship and love, but there were some draw backs as well. Like most young couples, we were head over heels in love when we started our marriage, but it wasn’t easy. We struggled with misunderstandings, selfishness and immaturity but God helped us grow on our journey together. How gracious God is when He forgives our continual failures and keeps teaching and strengthening us through His Word. That is how He helped me learn His beautiful design of submission in marriage: slowly, through many failures and with much forgiveness.
When we got married we were also very young in our faith. We believed God’s Word was true, we just didn’t understand it very well. We often talked about the Lord in our lives and wanted His plan for our marriage, yet I was trying to make His plan fit my own ideas. We had read the section in Ephesians about submission and it seemed a little awkward but I could deal with it. I figured anytime my husband agreed with me, I would very openly and lovingly submit. I could make that fit with Scripture, so it seemed like a good plan and I patted myself on the back. When situations arose where we didn’t agree, well, that created a problem. As we struggled to resolve our conflicts I knew in my heart that my attitude wasn’t right. Something wasn’t fitting together the way it should.
There were other times, I’m ashamed to admit, that I was manipulative because I knew I wouldn’t get my way. I offered to pay bills because I was better at details but in my heart I had selfish motives. I wanted to do it my way and I used the excuse that I was more gifted at those things. Yeah. That was my idea of godly submission—do it when it fits your agenda, and if it doesn’t, then buck the system and manipulate things so you get your way. Sorry to disappoint you, I’m just being honest about how I’ve struggled against God’s design for marriage.
But God loved me too much to let me keep that mindset. Through His Word He continued to nudge my conscience with a desire to grow and really understand what He was saying. We read and read, but I still struggled to understand how to live a life of submission the way He wanted. One day I buckled, threw in the towel and decided to go all out on the submission concept (I am at times prone to extremes). I would be the quiet, passive wife I thought God wanted me to be, and then some. There were all kinds of changes. My husband started paying the bills because he should be the head of the house—and what else could that possibly mean? When there was a discussion, it was pretty one sided as I smiled and said, “yes, dear.” My husband knew I had lots of things going on in my head and asked what I was thinking. “Nothing, really” didn’t satisfy him or me. It drove us both crazy and he struggled finding time to pay the bills. I hated feeling like a door mat and resented thinking I needed to act like one. I would cry on my bed at night, “If you don’t want me to use my brain, then why did you make me this way!” Recognize the pattern of blame? I could tell my husband wasn’t happy either because I wasn’t being myself. He missed the openness of our communication and the closeness that came as we shared our thoughts and feelings. Thankfully that stage didn’t last very long!
So what was left? I did it—and I didn’t do it—and neither worked. What on earth could God want from me as a wife? How could I follow His Word with actions that flowed from my heart? His name is Jesus. The journey takes me to the same place, the foot of the cross in need of forgiveness. I was still trying to make God’s plan fit my brain and He was still willing to forgive me and encourage me through His Word. So I admitted I was doing it wrong (again) and that I didn’t really understand. My husband and I both prayed that God would help us learn and grow into a better understanding of His plan for our marriage.
Was there a magic moment? No, there wasn’t. There were still tears and failures but there were also insights and moments of understanding. There continued to be forgiveness and encouragement. I began to see that having a quiet and submissive spirit wasn’t a belittled participation in our marriage but an attitude of respect in my heart as a specially designed helper. As the Word of God continued to reshape my thinking and renew my heart, things became clearer. All the little verses of Scripture began to come together. I saw how important it was to respect my husband, and not make him feel like he had to earn that respect. Scripture affirmed that I did have gifts to bring into our marriage and they were unique and different than my husband’s. We agreed that my abilities are geared better toward paying bills, but we make our financial decisions together, and I don’t carry that burden alone or manipulate it.
I do remember a huge step when we discussed a decision and didn’t see things the same way. After a long talk and time in prayer, my husband made a decision that I didn’t think was right. As it turned out, things didn’t go as he had hoped and it didn’t work out very well. It was a moment of vulnerability for both of us. “I told you so!” crossed my mind but not my lips. He had listened so lovingly and labored so prayerfully over the decision, all I could do was give him my respect, support, and love. And then I really saw how beautifully God’s design worked.
I must admit he made it so much easier because his headship of our home is so loving and Christ-like. He makes sacrifices for me as a wife, which motivates me to love and respect him, which turns his heart to love me even more. Rather than focusing on the failures we see in each other (because they are there), we focus on the love of Christ and try to see each other through His eyes. Sin loves to throw a wrench in that beautiful cycle but we both know where to go with our sins and failures. We’ve both realized that we need to do what is right in God’s eyes, even when we think the other person doesn’t deserve it—because we usually don’t. Whether that means forgiveness, love, or submission, Christ is at the heart of our actions. My love for my husband isn’t perfect, and sometimes it doesn’t motivate me to make the right decisions. But God’s love for me is perfect, so as I look to His forgiveness and find His strength in the Word, He guides and teaches me. Then in His kindness, He blesses those choices with peace and joy in our relationship.
God’s design works. Really. I am a just one of many creative, idea-driven, energetic women who have been blessed by God’s design. My personality hasn’t changed, my heart has. I still think deeply and express myself passionately but I am free from the constraint of getting my own way. We talk openly about things and agree about almost everything. But because of Christ there are times I yield my rights out of loving respect for God and my husband. I can long for the greater good, not my own. My peace runs deeper than you could imagine and I love being a woman of God—with all the blessings and gifts He has given me, including a quiet and submissive heart.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for your patient love that pursues me when I make a mess of things. You forgive me over and over; you gently teach and correct me. You are the Good Shepherd that guides me in paths of righteousness for your name’s sake. Keep your Word in front of me and help me to understand it more clearly. Shape my thinking and actions to reflect you with purity and grace that my marriage and life may please you. In His Holy name, Amen.
Your perfect and holy plan for Christian marriage is a wonderful gift and blessing. Thank you for the many good things you have given our marriage…
[thank Him for your blessings]
But life in this sinful world is hard. None of us live the way we should and we often hurt the people we love the most. Forgive our sins and in the freedom of grace move us to forgive one another. Help me to put at rest the pain from these sins…
[tell Him what weighs on your heart]
You sent the Holy Spirit as the Counselor who would guide and strengthen us through the Word. Give us a full measure of your Spirit that we may love you first and then love one another. Teach us about you so, with renewed faith, we may understand one another better and reflect your love to the world. Be the center of our lives and marriage and help us grow…
[pray about areas that need work]
Thank you Lord for always listening and loving us. Your grace and forgiveness bring us life and breath every day. Amen.