A Grace-Based Marriage

Two gold rings - reflected candlesIs your marriage based on works or on grace? Let’s be real, shall we? You are married to a sinful person. Your partner is not only imperfect, but they can be self-centered, lazy, forgetful, vindictive, make poor decisions, and well, fill in the blank. Now let’s get more real. You’re not the picture of perfection either, are you? For some reason, that seems far less of a concern because your spouse is worse, or at least, “causes” these…imperfections to come out in you.

Throughout the Scriptures, there are several common and related themes mentioned in the Old Testament and New Testament alike. First, we (believers in Christ) are the Bride of Christ and He is the Bridegroom. Second, our marriages are a reflection of the greater marriage between Christ and the Church. Third, our relationship with God is characterized or built upon grace and not upon works. Therefore, if our marriages are to reflect the greater marriage, than our marriages must also be built upon grace, and not upon works.
How do we have a marriage that reflects God’s grace and not upon works? Let me offer one question to ask yourself:

Do you have expectations for your spouse?  Are you focusing on what your spouse is doing or not doing?  If so, you are focusing on their works.  You set up standards for them (law of works) and your attention is drawn to whether they met them or not.  If they fail, they will be punished (by you) based on their failure (being yelled at, dirty look, no sex, etc.).

Then, is it wrong to have expectations for your spouse?  No, not necessarily.  Obviously, it is appropriate to have certain expectations for your spouse.  For example, you should expect them to be faithful, to treat you with kindness and respect, to love you, etc.  However, there are standards and expectations that may be placed so high that they become idols in your heart.  In these situations, you become high king or queen of the home and your spouse becomes your subject that must meet your expectations.  Your focus then is placed from yourself and then onto them and their actions.

Instead of focusing on what they are doing or not doing (and whether they meet your standards/law), focus on 1) how gracious God is to you by forgiving your sins (or you not measuring up to His standards); 2) ask His help to love your spouse as He loves you (not based on your actions); and 3) give your spouse the grace (the unmerited favor) He has given you.  Unmerited favor is just that – favor, mercy, or love that is not based on what they have done, but on who they are (at minimum, being created in His image or being a child of God).  Though you may find this difficult to do, seek the Help of His Wonderful Counselor.

May the God of grace empower you to do as He wills through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Respect in A Godly Marriage

In the 1970’s, Aretha Franklin topped the charts with the song RESPECT.  The popular lyrics, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me” were popularly sung all throughout the country.  According to Wikipedia, this song was used for the feminist movement demanding respect from men.  The original author of this song, Otis Redding, did not intend this song to be used for the feminist movement, but instead was a plea to a woman (hopefully his wife), to give  him respect.  Check out the original lyrics:

What you want baby I got / What you need you know I got it / All I’m askin’ is for a little respect  /  Then you come home Baby when you come home / Respect
I’m out to give you all my money / But all I’m askin in return honey / Is to give me my proper respect

In a survey done with men, the question was asked:  “Would you rather feel alone and unloved or inadequate and disrespected?”  74% said they would rather feel alone and unloved while 26% said they would rather feel inadequate and disrespected.*  3 out of 4 men desire to be respected by their wives.  This should not astound us as we look at Scripture.  After all, wives are instructed by Paul to respect their husbands Eph 5:22-24, 33.  But in such studies, we begin to understand why such instructions were given; because men strongly desire the respect of their wives (often this is given willingly through submission).

So what does it mean to respect your husbands?  To understand this, we need to again look at the greater marriage between the bride (the church) and bridegroom (Christ).  How does the bride show honor and reverence to Christ?

1) The Bride gives praise to the bridegroom:  Ladies, your husbands desire your praise (for you to lift him up).  So often, words spoken to husbands are words of correction (correcting what he does wrong to how you want it done), criticism, and carelessness, often with the intent on creating him into the image of how you want him to be.  The Bride cannot change the Bridegroom.  You can influence him to act, but you cannot change him. Tell him that you are proud of him and in the man that he has become and is becoming.  You can give praise to him in private and in front of the kids and in public.  Don’t be shy about it.

2)  The Bride believes in the Bridegroom:  Though our belief in Christ is for salvation from our sins, believing in your husbands is having faith in him…faith that he will do the right thing, do a good job, make the right decisions, etc. and then following them (this is the submission part).  Now your husband may make some poor decisions, however, your faith in him shows that you are with him no matter what.  It is demonstrating confidence in him and in being a team and it is this confidence in him that means just as much as his love does to you.  Do not argue with his decisions or question his knowledge.  You may gently influence and bring in a few things worth considering, but arguing and trying to get him to do what you want demonstrates that you do not believe in him….thus, disrespect.

3) The Bride communicates with the Bridegroom in honor:  When we speak to Christ, we generally do so with respect and honor, considering who He is and what he has done for us.  Similarly, as you communicate to your husbands, be mindful of bitterness, tones, words expressed, etc.  Don’t just expect your husbands to know what you want as he is not all-knowing as God.  Even though Christ knows what you need, he still requests us to ask for what you need.  Unlike Christ, however, your husband may not know what you need.  Please ask him anyway.  If you don’t ask, you won’t receive.  One thing that is important to communicate is thanksgiving.  Thanking him for his hard work, for doing what he can to provide for the family, for fixing things, for whatever he does for you and for the family.  Giving thanks is a form of giving honor and respect.

Respect goes a long way in a man.  If you wish to motivate him, to touch his heart, to impact him significantly, it is in the form of respect.  Think about all the ways that you honor Christ and go, honor your husband in similar ways and see what happens.  Paul does not instruct wives to give respect only when they are getting love, he instructs respect to be given. Period.  It is not conditional as to how or if  he loves you (as the husbands command to love is not based on whether respect id given or not).  No matter if your marriage is great or struggling, you won’t regret committing to giving respect your husband.

This portion was taken from the Marriage Seminar: Building a Godly Marriage.  For more information about this seminar from Foundations Christian Counseling Services, please call Fred Jacoby at 570-402-5088.

*Survey found in For Women Only, by Shaunti Feldhahn (p. 22-23).  Another helpful resource is Love & Respect by Dr. Eggerichs

Mawage. Mawage is what bwings us together…today…

These past two Sundays I had the pleasure of speaking at Cornerstone Church on marriage.  As I was planning it, I was so tempted to open with “Mawage.  Mawage is what bwings us together today,” the line made famous by the Princess Bride.  Unfortunately, there are some who might not have appreciated my impersonation of the priest in a classic movie.

Among the many issues facing marriage today, there is an issue that is greater than all the other issues combined.  It is the issue that brings all of the other issues to the surface.  Unless it is addressed, marriages will struggle significantly.  No, it is not stinky feet or bad morning breath, it is simply this: the love of self.  I want what I want and you need to give it to me.  If you don’t, I will let you know by complaining, nagging, making side comments, sarcasm, yelling, or various forms of punishment.  Sounds kinda childish, yes, but it is how we are, thanks to our sinful natures.

We would not see it as childish, because our wants are much more….well, adult.  Our wants have now matured to the adult things, like love, acceptance, value/worth, and respect.  So, it’s OK to complain, nag, be sarcastic, yell or punish when we don’t get our way…..because these things really matter whereas childish wants (like toys, gumballs and candy) are insignificant.  Right?

Well, these adult things are important (love, respect, value/worth, etc.), but like in children, they have been moved from the important category to the must have category, or the must have NOW! category and you must give it to me.   Too often we hope to find our worth, security, and value in our spouses and when they do or say something that threatens our expectation of them, then there’s punishment.  We are, like the song says, “Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places.”

Well, it’s really not a bad thing to look for love from our spouses, after all, shouldn’t spouses love each other?  The problems come when that love (or respect) defines who I am.  My worth.  My identity.  When it gets to that level, it becomes an idol that addresses our insecurity.  Other people’s emotions or thoughts of us should never give us worth as individuals.  Only God can do that.

Well, instead of love, maybe the demands are for other things…like peace, rest, sex, respect, etc.  None of these things are bad in and of themselves, but when they become idols in our hearts (a desire turns into a demand), then the focus is on me getting what I want, and others needing to give it to us.  Basically, other people become our servants who are supposed to do our bidding.  Not a good idea for marriage.  For husbands being obedient to Scripture, God (through Paul) calls us (Eph 5) to be servants, not to look for servants in our spouses (and children).  For wives being obedient to Scripture, He calls them (also Eph 5) to be respectful in submission as unto the Lord.  Notice that in both of these statements, Paul does not tell the wives to be sure to get your husbands to love you…make sure they do or else you are free to disrespect, complain, nag, criticize, or divorce them.   Notice that Paul does not tell husbands to withhold love from their wives if they are not respecting them or to try to get them to respect you by working more, being the strong silent type or by flexing your vocal cords in unloving ways.

No, Paul is addressing each spouse as to where their focus must be.  Not on the “me” – regarding the things that would make you happy and full, but on the “me” (as to what I must do & not on what I must get) and about the other’s relational needs.  This often leads to the other person responding in excellent ways.

Though mawage is what bwings us together, love of self is what can tear us apart.  So, let us be secure through Christ, so that we may be free to give love and respect without demanding anything in return…Though we must consider our own interest, let us not focus on what we don’t have, but what we are called to do.  Love God.  Love others.