The romance of a wedding can sweep the bride, groom, and their witnesses into a flurry of hopeful emotion, but with divorce rates still near 50% in the U.S. (though markedly better for committed Christians), it is clear emotion does not sustain a marriage. Love, emotion, or mutual benefit are all choices before a couple as they choose what to build the foundation of their relationship with. But for a Christian couple, the choice should be obvious—build on the cornerstone of Christ.
To the Christian, marriage is an earthly representation of the mysterious relationship that Christ has made with his bride, the church. While it is possible for an individual’s actions in a marriage to be for and inspired by Christ, it is not possible for a marriage to be based on Christ unless both sides are seeking him together. Even in relationships where both spouses are Christians, it does not guarantee the marriage is built on or aims to honor Christ, so here are ten signs that can help couples assess and discern if their foundation is constructed on love for the savior or self.
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1. Together, They Live in the Light of Eternity
Francis Chan reminds believers in You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity to not waste their marriage by only looking and loving one another but to remember that our greatest love will return and make all things right. Chan says, “This is the mistake a lot of couples make. They spend a lot of time looking at themselves and each other but very little time staring at God. When this is the focus, they naturally begin to structure every aspect of their lives around the few years they have with each other on earth, rather than the millions they will spend in His presence. Or away from His presence. These people live as though they are not dying. They live as though the King is not returning.”
2. Spiritual Thoughts and Revelations Are Shared
My husband and I have spent years providing premarital counseling, and whenever we approach the idea of a shared spiritual life we often need to clarify that this does not mean a couple needs to sit down for Bible study together each day. If they do and that works for them, then that’s great! But seeking Christ together doesn’t always mean doing copious amounts of spiritual activity together. Praying together, reading together, sharing godly podcasts with each other, or just routinely discussing what God is teaching you are all healthy habits, but the end goal is to help the other know Jesus more. This means living on mission together and building a family that is looking to glorify our marvelous God as a united front.
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3. Both Are on Guard
When two who have become one recognize there is more to this life than what’s visible, they also become aware of the spiritual battle raging around them at all times. While believers need not fear the lies and schemes of the enemy, they must remain on guard for the tactics that might be used against them. This war is on multiple fronts: Satan seeks to destroy marriages; the world sells the lie that if you are not happy it might be better to stop fighting and retreat away from one another; your own flesh will even desire to create a kingdom for itself where no one else’s opinion is higher!
A marriage built on Christ includes two individuals who pray for one another, fight temptation together, and are willing to shine light into the darkness of the other when the shadows threaten to overtake their partner. In a Christ-centered marriage no one gets left behind to fight alone, both members of the covenant take up their spiritual armor (Ephesians 6) and ready themselves for whatever battle may come next. “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13).
4. They Know How to Rumble
Couples will experience a wide array of disagreements, including couples committed to Christ. You will have moments where your unity is threatened by your own desires. A small squabble does not mean that a couple is far from the Lord, but are often a symptom, like a scrape on your skin that is now bright red—something needing attention. When a fight is looming, the Christ-rooted couple will remember James’ sage advice, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:19-20).
When both members of a marriage desire righteousness more than being right, they stay calm in a crisis; and when one is weak the other can share their strength. Proverbs 15:8 similarly counsels, “A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel.”
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5. Filled with Forgiveness
In a fallen world forgiveness is essential for any lasting relationship; for a marriage, it will likely need to be a daily occurrence. Of all the things that mark a union as belonging to Jesus, forgiveness may be the biggest indicator since it is the one thing that a self-ruled heart at home in this world can always find reasons to avoid. The counsel from Ephesians 4:31-32 is taken to heart, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you."
Even spiritually mature marriages need to keep watch over the habits they develop, intentionally and unintentionally. Couples often make silent agreements to let certain sins, patterns, or weaknesses take root in their marriage, especially when it allows for accommodating another’s sin/pattern/weakness. “You don’t mention my drinking, and I won’t call out your porn viewing.”
The problem with this is an undisciplined marriage’s faulty foundations eventually are exposed. Intimacy was laid on an altar of a false peace that stayed silent, and instead destroyed the potential for true intimacy. A godly marriage does the work needed to remain right before God and each other. This isn’t easy but God warned and encouraged us, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11)
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7. Life-giving Communication
“The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” (Proverbs 18:21)
You cannot have a healthy marriage without healthy communication, but healthy communication does not mean there is always agreement. In fact, it means that tough conversations are had, even when both partners would probably prefer to avoid them. As Ephesians 4:29 teaches, we are to commit to “not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” We have to ask ourselves: does it benefit our spouse to listen to us? This is not about whether you think your words are benefiting your spouse; it is humbly asking, “Is what you communicate to your spouse actually building them up and life-giving to them?”
8. Both Partners Are Willing to Give 100%
There is a lie that has permeated our culture that marriages are a 50/50 bargain. As long as the wife gives 50% and the husband gives 50% marriage will move along swimmingly. Well, it’s a nice idea in theory, but in practice, it creates a tit for tat economy in a relationship that will always call its members to love at 100%. Remember, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (1 John 3:16). Jesus also teaches, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).
There will be days where your husband or wife won’t be able to offer you anything and it will be those days they need you most. Will you demand your 50% that day or an IOU that says they will return the favor when needed, or will you be there for your partner in sickness, health, plenty, and in want? A 50/50 relationship depends on the other broken human to make it work, but a 100/100 is living a life that loves for the sake of Christ. Remember, we are here to serve, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others….” (1 Peter 4:10)
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9. Ephesians 5 Is Cherished as Wisdom, Not a Weapon
Ephesians 5 is a classic text to turn to when seeking biblical wisdom about marriage. However, it also has a tendency to unsettle those who do not understand that the word of God can be trusted with all areas of life. Truths like, “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy,… In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” (Ephesians 5:24-28)
This passage refuses to tiptoe around words like submission and sacrifice. It says sacrifice and submission are how you get to be a part of the great dance reflecting the relationship between Christ and the church. It is a divine design and those who have a marriage dedicated to Jesus have done the hard work these words require to find the great beauty in an Ephesians 5 marriage. As Tim Keller says in The Meaning of Marriage, “the tender, serving authority of a husband’s headship and the strong, gracious gift of a wife’s submission restore us to who we were meant to be at creation.”
10. Differences Are Celebrated
At the beginning of a relationship, opposites may attract, but at some point, those differences that once seemed irresistible feel more like irritations. A couple committed to Christ will remember that neither of them is perfect and that the divergent parts of their personalities are providential. In What Did You Expect?: Redeeming The Realities Of Marriage, Paul David Tripp points out that, “One way God establishes beauty is by putting things that are different next to each other. Isn’t this exactly what God does in marriage? He puts very different people next to each other. This is how he establishes the beauty of a marriage. The moon would not be so striking if it hung in a white sky; in the same way, the striking beauty of a marriage is when two very different people learn to celebrate and benefit from their differences and to be protected from their weaknesses by being sheltered by the other’s strength.”
What a privilege it is to live in a marriage that reflects a living God to a dying world. A marriage built on Christ does not forget what it is about, who it is for, and is always pointing at the Savior of the world, the perfect groom—Jesus.
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Originally published Thursday, 19 November 2020.