Our life group went to see Overcomer this week. (It’s a really uplifting movie by the way! You should see it.) Although the movie is not about Christian marriage per se, two of the central characters are Christians who are husband and wife. As the storyline has the characters face challenges and oppostion the audience gets a glimpse of the producers’ concept of Christian marriage, a glance at how this fictional couple interacts and how they handle their family and the stuff of life. Scenes that touched the heart and drew out the tissues. We all left the theater declaring it a great evening out.
But that was not the end of my evening. The 7:15 movie start time got me home way past bedtime for my 58-year-old body. As I was settling in for the night, a random question popped up on my phone. A sweet younger mom who had been at the movie asked, “Is that what a Christian marriage really looks like or is that just Hollywood fluff?” Woah! A valid question, but difficult to answer in a quick text. I told her I’d have to think on it a bit and get back to her. I still haven’t answered. It’s been a couple of days. I guess I’m trying to process it here.
As I viewed the movie, I had identified with the married couple. I laughed at the little mistakes they made that hit too close to home and teared up over the tender moments I could relate to. I identified with that Christian couple on screen. But was it realistic? Or was it more an ideal of what we hope to be as spouses but rarely live up to? Did it project a healthy view of marriage for this younger generation, many of whom haven’t grown up in a home with both parents and therefore don’t have first hand observations of what a Christain marriage is supposed to look like? Or was it sugar-coated and overly idealistic? I won’t make a judgment on that.
But focusing on real life becuase of my friend’s text, I realized something. More important for me than the movie’s depiction of the marriages of believers was my recognition that I was now the “older woman” of Titus 2:3-5, and I was failing in my God-given role to teach the younger women what I’ve spent my whole married life struggling to learn on my own. Wouldn’t my pain and wisdom learned through the montains and valleys of married life be made somehow more worthwhile if other people benefitted from it without having to go through those same tough mistakes themselves?
What does a real Christian marriage look like?
I realize that this topic cannot be conquered in one short blog, but perhaps this will be a first in an ongoing look at strengthening marriages and families. It surely goes hand-in-hand with the idea of homebuilding and constructing our lives on the principles of God’s Word that we have been discussing this year. For today, let’s touch on a couple of the more important “looks” of a Christian marriage.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Philippians 2:3-8
I struggle with this verse in my interactions with society in general as I guess we all do. Could I be selfless and let that other person have my parking spot at the mall? Could I rejoice with a co-worker who got the promotion I wanted? Could I let go of my one-upmanship tendancies when hanging out with my girlfriends and bragging about what our 18-month-olds are doing, or not doing? Could I let the other person break in line or cut into traffic without it igniting my anger or road rage? Yep, those times are difficult to learn to lay down our self-will.
But those things paled in comparison to learning to lay down my selfish will to my husband! These verses destroy me because they relfect to me the sinful, self-serving wife I really am! I’m more concerned with what he didn’t do than with my own failures. I speak angrily and harshly to him, worse than I would ever speak to my friends. I want my way in the household, and often berrate him for NOT doing it my way. Instead of being a humble partner in life, I come at him as bossy and controlling. I must say that in the middle of an argument with my husband I rarely even consider having the mind of Christ. And to humble myself to the point of death for my “Sweetie”! No thank you! Not when I’m in my selfish frame of mind. Now when I’m in my loving mood I might say I’d do anything for him, but that’s a lie. Because when I’m living in my selfish, fleshly state I won’t give an inch!
I truly believe I could spend my whole life working on trying to live out just these 6 verses in my relationship with my husband and never conquer it. I’m to do nothing towards my husband out of selfish ambition or conceit! Nothing! Do I humble myself and value him above myself? Do I put his interests before my own? What a generous way of relating! Do I have the mindset of Jesus when I interact with my husband? Do I serve my husband as Christ served the world, humbly and gently, laying down my life for his?
It takes this selflessness to be able to love unconditionally, and it takes unconditional love to be able to be truly selfless.
Our notion of love in American society is often based on movies, books, or Disney fairytales. Outside of the Christian community there is a lack of understanding of what love truly is. Romantic love hyped by Hollwood is seen as true love. Sex is viewed as love. Rarely in modern secular society do you see the idea of laying down your will and your life as a crucial component of real love. Conversely, you often hear, “I just don’t love him anymore; he’s not meeting my needs.”
When it comes to modern examples of agape love (God’s true, genuine love) we have few to none. People want to be served not to serve, we want things our way, we love others as long as they do what is desired, and we get angry when others dissppoint or let us down. To have a healthy marriage based on unconditional love we have to go against the flow of society and grasp the teachings of Jesus that seem so contrary to life these days. Ideals that tell us the least will be the greatest, the last will be first, a leader must be the servant of all, to save our life we must lose it, and a man must lay down that life for those he says he loves. A thriving marriage must become an incubator of this kind of authentic, agape love.
We must first, as two autonomous individuals, each choose to love well. We must work on it, practice it, and pray for more of it. As we grow individually in this respect, we will also begin to live that unconditional love out to others: our children, our extended family, friends, acquaintances, and those who have wounded us, our enemies. When we each allow God to work in our hearts to make us love more unconditionally, we will see our marriage becoming a sweet reflection of the sacrificial love of Christ, and it will be a testimony to the world around us and will draw others to Our Savior. The world is looking and longing for that unconditional love of Christ. We as His image-bearers must be vigilant about the picture we are painting of God the Father and His great love for humanity.
Check out what Ephesian 5 has to say about love and marriage:
1 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality,… 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord…. 15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, … 21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ…. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. … 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. Ephesians 5 NIV
- Imitate Christ.
- Walk in love.
- Give your self up as a sacrifice to God.
- Be light, not darkness.
- Please the Lord.
- Be careful how you live.
- Be wise.
- Make the most of every opportunity.
- Submit to one another.
- Love each other.
- Respect each other.
These things cannot humanly be done. But a heart fully given to Christ is filled with His Holy Spirit and thereby made able to conquer the unwilling flesh.
I challenge each of us this week to love our spouse unconditionally and walk selflessly, putting the interests of our spouse ahead of our own self-interest. It won’t be easy. It won’t be fun. The cross wasn’t easy. It wasn’t fun. As we follow in Jesus’ humble servanthood and self-sacrifice, we will be a light in a dark world and an encouragement and role model for those younger women needing to see how Christian marriage works. We will become a living picture of Christ. In today’s cultural lingo, let’s be the icon, the avatar, the meme, or the GIF that diplays a glimpse of Christ for all to see.