Love, Marriage... and How to Get Better...
Almost fifteen years ago I looked into the beautiful, tear-filled eyes of my bride and vowed before God and man, to love her no matter what, excited about our new life together. As I look back on the commitment I made that day, believing that our young love was so strong, I’m amused at how weak that love was compared to what it is now. In the same fifteen years that our love has grown deeper I’ve seen other marriages wither, whimper, and die. Why is it that some marriages grow in love and intimacy while others go the opposite direct? . Obviously, a lot of different factors are involved in successful and unsuccessful marriages, but I want to look at one passage as a helpful guiding principle to continue to make your marriage thrive.
Some commentators have titled Ephesians 4:17-5:2 “The New Life,” and I think that is a good fit given the lens we will view these verses through. Although this section of verses is generally applicable to all Christians, let’s look at them in light of the “new life together” commitment of marriage.
In verses 17- 21 Paul is appealing to his readers to realize there is a difference between Gentiles (those who do not have a relationship with God) and them (those who do have a relationship with God). He tells his readers that because of the Gentiles chosen ignorance and hardening of hearts they have turned away from God. This should serve as a warning not just to our relationship with God, but also to our relationship with our spouses. Selfishness and ignorance builds up walls that will eventually cut us off from those relationships. Marriages usually don’t turn sour in an hour, but slowly, as problems are ignored, and selfishness is allowed to linger, hearts gradually become hardened to reconciliation. The encouragement is that if you have Jesus in your life you should be able to notice selfishness and sin, you should not be blind to those things, and you should seek the Holy Spirit’s critique on selfish and sinful behaviors.
Use Paul’s words as an opportunity to reflect on how your heart is doing with ignorance and hardness to your spouse.
-Is the way you interact with your spouse defined by selfishness?
-Is your heart hardened to your spouse in anyway?
-Are their things that you are ignorant to that are hurting your relationship?
In the next set of verses Paul tells the Ephesians, “put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (22-24). The interesting thing about what Paul says here is the commands to “put off your old self” and “put on the new self” is placed as bookends of the infinitive verb statement “to be renewed in the spirit of your minds.” What this means is that Paul is describing what has already happened in the life of every believer. So, another way to read it would be “Put off your old self…because you have been renewed in the spirit of your minds… put on the new self.” Yes, there are actions to take, but the action is based on the renewal that you already have. In other words, “You are a different person because of what you have received from Christ. Live in that knowledge.” As you interact with your spouse, as you struggle, fight, and disagree there will be a tendency for your old, selfish ways to manifest themselves, but remember, God has transformed you with His Spirit, to be like Him in righteousness and holiness. Remember that, “and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
With that in mind, reflect on these questions:
-How can you remember, especially in times of frustration, that God has renewed your mind to be like Him?
-What do you need to do, on a regular basis to put off your old self and put on your new self of true righteousness and holiness?
Verses 25- 32 go on to describe “old self: tendencies and “new self” living. The lists given are not comprehensive and go beyond just the context of marriage but let’s look at a few that have a direct impact on marriages. Put away falsehood. Do not let the sun go down on your anger. Let no corrupt talk come out of your mouths, but only what is good for building up. Put away ALL bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander and malice. Be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving. I don’t think any of these need explanations, but I do think I needs to point out that these things are not “relationship advice,” as if you can take what you want and leave what you don’t. These are “relationship commands” that all believers are told to engage in (or not engage in).
-When do you find yourself putting on the old self with your spouse? Why is that?
-What can you do to put on the new self in those times?
-Be brave and ask your spouse to answer the same question about you and work to make a plan of how you can each help one another put on the new self.
Lastly, the start of chapter five begins with an encapsulating reminder of what a marriage should look like and where we should derive our motivation for the new self, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
-What do you need to do to move your marriage to more completely reflect God’s amazing love?
Marriage is a lot of work. It means daily taking off the old self and putting on the new self. It means seeking God’s strength to be the spouse you’ve committed to be. It means allowing the Holy Spirit to critique you away from your old self tendencies. It means sacrifice. It means forgiving and asking for forgiveness. It means tears, frustration, refinement, anger and pain… BUT with a commitment to helping each other put on the new self, a desire to love Jesus and grow together, it can mean laughter, joy, memories you never imagined you’d share, inside jokes, deeper intimacy, being in awe of your spouse, and great comfort. It can mean looking back fifteen years, at what you thought was a deep, passionate love of newlyweds and realizing how shallow that love was compared to the love you now have… I love you Amy!