Whether you are preparing for marriage or seeking greater fullness in your existing marriage, this series gives you insights and practical strategies to help you make that happen.
A critical principle in marriage is that you focus on what brings nourishment to your marriage while diligently working to remove anything that siphons life from it. As westerners, we tend to hold tightly to the right to be right. If we think we are right, we believe that it gives us the right to correct others we believe are wrong. Some go so far as to think that the one who holds the right stick can use it to beat up everyone having a differing opinion. When we pick up our right stick to bring correction to others, we may feel like we are championing truth and righteousness, but it is nothing more than our self-righteous desire to control others and feel better about ourselves at grave cost to others. So much destruction comes through this doorway. We must be an attentive watchman over our marriage.
The right-wrong paradigm, or more simply put, being right has no place in marriage. To make this point clearer, let’s replace the words right and wrong in this context. Scripture doesn’t speak about right and wrong nearly as much as it speaks of life and death. Our interactions in marriage always make deposits into either the life bucket or the death bucket. We must be vigilant to continually examine in which our words and actions are making deposits. We need to be always filling up the life bucket while bringing immediate, evident repentance and course change whenever we find ourselves depositing death; otherwise, the marriage is in trouble.
Whenever we think we are right and believe that gives us the right to prove our spouse wrong, we may win the fight but lose the marriage – one argument at a time. Please make no mistake about it; when we bring right-wrong into marriage, we make a substantial deposit into the death bucket, no matter the subject or outcome. I recall a memory from childhood in which my father and mother were having a knock-down-drag-out fight over whether a particular downtown street was one-way or two-way. As I tried to drown out their prolonged efforts to out-yell one another, I thought to myself, who cares who is right or wrong – it doesn’t matter at all. What did matter to me was that the whole experience felt like they were opening a doorway to death and pumping its toxic poisons into our home.
When we said yes to Jesus, we gave up the right to be right. We yield all of our perceived rightness over to His true rightness and His righteousness. When we spoke I Do to our spouse (or will say it), we gave up the right to ever be right again. Indeed, there will be times in which we need to address biblical principles in our marriage. We need a mutual understanding and agreement on what God reveals to be the truth through His written word so we can embrace those foundational principles in our home and marriage. If we cannot get there by ourselves, we may need to involve mature mentors, teachers, and spiritual fathers and mothers to get there.
What I am addressing here pertains to the daily marriage interchanges where someone believes themselves to be right and the other wrong. Often, in response to my sharing something with my wife, she offers a differing opinion. Even after years of God graciously fathering and breaking me, I occasionally find myself desiring to defend my perspective. It usually takes no more than a moment to come to my senses and realize that I hold my charge of being the one who guards over her heart far above any desire to be correct. But, that heart posture didn’t come easily to me in any way, shape, or form. It only developed through the painful process of God breaking my pride and self-strength so that the character of Christ forms in me.
Naturally, we want healthy communication flowing in our marriage where we work out differences of opinion in healthy dialogue so that both parties feel understood and accepted. Yet, there is a line we can unknowingly cross where some trivial matter gets elevated above cherishing and honoring one another. We must be watchful that we do not cross such lines to win a meaningless argument at the cost of our marriage. A fight is never won in marriage; laying down arms is the only winning move.
Whenever either spouse digs in their heels and stands their ground on some point, it causes a drastic shift in the marriage posture. The healthy posture in marriage is where you and your spouse walk side-by-side in forward momentum. As you encounter obstacles and challenges, you are positioned as combined forces to overcome a common enemy. “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. Furthermore, if two lies down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.” (Ecc 4:9-12 NASB)
A dug-in heal pivots the marriage posture from side-by-side to facing off against one another. This brings forward momentum to an abrupt stop. Now, instead of facing a common enemy together, their energies are divided against one another. In this posture, they are dividing their house against itself, and as Jesus warns, a house divided against itself cannot stand (Mt 12:22-28). They perceive their spouse as the enemy, and the only victor in this posture is the enemy. Every word spoken and every action taken from this face-to-face posture will drain trust and tenderness from the marriage reserves. It takes intentional time and effort to fill the trust tank and careless moments to empty it dry.
The marriage covenant ensures that spouses are never enemies. If perceptions shift to this perspective, the enemy has won. He has divided his enemy and gotten them to turn on one another, where they are poised for his devouring. The moment a couple faces off against one another, they must take the low road of humility and repentance.
Consider, for example, that Jim comes home after a long day at work. Following dinner, Pam says she did the dishes last, and its Jim’s turn. Jim clearly remembers having done it last and is confident he could prove this to be the case if he pushes it far enough. Many low roads could be taken here, and the consequences of each carry its penalties. The question is, what is the higher road Jim could take? What is the highest value in the situation, and how does Jim guard it against lesser ones?
Jim could say that he thought he did it last, but he is glad to take care of it in such a way that Pam does not feel threatened or shamed but loved and supported. There is always the possibility that Jim could mean well by this approach, but it could still feel like a hurtful jab to Pam. So long as Jim is attentive to Pam’s heart and knows how to check on her heart condition when it is all said and done to ensure she feels loved and honored, all is good.
Yet, there is an even higher road here where Jim does not need to be right. He has been set free from the elevation of self, and his pride holds no power over him. This is the safest place where the marriage covenant is guarded as the highest value, and nothing else is given equal footing. Ultimately, rightness is at odds with loving, honoring, and cherishing. One must yield to the others. Jim’s winning play is to so watch over the health of his marriage that his pride is shot down before it can do any damage.
The ability to make these kinds of selfless, costly choices in a marriage relationship does not come about naturally to any of us. Such a heart posture goes against the grain of human nature. If we assume this posture and accomplish these things through self-strength, we are only setting ourselves up for failure. Consider, for example, that Jim wants to do the right thing here, and he knows that means just letting go of a potentially contentious issue. Yet, he decides that he will accomplish this by keeping his mouth shut and trying to let it go. All Jim is doing here is internalizing his lack and deficiency (bottling it up on the inside where it is left to fester). Eventually, that internal pressure has to go somewhere, which is not a healthy way to live life.
The standard to which God calls us cannot be fulfilled by human strength. We possess no life within us apart from what God deposits. If we want to bring life into our marriage, it does not come from within ourselves. At all times and in all things, we go to the Lord and ask Him to deposit in us what we need for our own lives and what is required in order to nourish our marriage covenants. This becomes clear when we see God’s standard for marriage, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her,” (Eph 5:25 NASB).
God wants us to love our spouse as Jesus loved the Church and gave His life up for her. But let’s be real here. We are all a bunch of screwed up people trying to get through life without messing up anyone else’s life as much as we have our own. We cannot get there by sucking up our natural human instincts and trying harder through our self-strength. Neither can we fake our way through it. Authenticity and transparency are foundational to marriage, and that begins with us being honest with ourselves about where we are and how far we fall short of where we want and need to be.
The only way we can sustain this kind of investment in a healthy, flourishing marriage is by doing what Jesus did. “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8 NASB)
We become healthy enough to love another person in marriage like Jesus loved the Church only by humbling ourselves and dying to ourselves like Jesus. There can be no real spiritual advancement apart from a more significant measure of dying to self so that the character of Christ can be more deeply formed in us. This means that we give up the right ever to be right again. When we see that being right is within our grasp, instead of reaching for it, just like Jesus, we reach instead for humility and brokenness. This is how we bring life into a situation.
This sets us free from serving all the demands of self (pride, self-protection, self-exaltation, self-importance through domineering others, etc.). We stop being addicted to servicing our needs to be comfortable, right and esteemed so that we can become a servant to all. Marriage is a catalyst well suited for conforming us into the image and likeness of Christ. As two people almost entirely devoid of interpersonal barriers engage in close intimate communion without shame, every deficiency within us is exposed and laid bare. We get pressed against a wall where death-to-self is the only healthy way forward.
Jesus was so free from enslavement to self that when every respected authority falsely and very publicly accused Him of blasphemous charges, He did not need to respond. When you know who you are and what God says is true about you, you are set free from being concerned with what anyone thinks. Being right stops tugging at your heart when you know where you stand in God’s heart.
If you are not learning to die more to self every day of your marriage, you are entirely missing the point of why God gave you so rich a covenant of sanctification. Marriage is not meant to refine you; it is meant to cause you to die to every form of self so that the resurrection life of Jesus can more fully manifest in you.
If the Lord is speaking to you about realigning your heart in this direction, consider praying one of the following prayers as a good launching point into a deeper conversation with the Lord about bringing these principles to bear in your life. Choose which option best fits you below:
I see that You are calling me to a higher standard and I say yes! I also say that I know that apart from You I have no ability to fulfill these things within myself. So, I yield to You both the desire to walk these things out as well as the strength to take every step along the way. I give You permission to do that in my life.
You know my heart’s desire is to get married and so I submit myself to this process of dying to myself so that You can mold me in conformity with the image and character of Jesus. Free me from myself so that Christ can manifest Himself more fully through me. Make me ready for marriage by becoming someone who gives my life away. I ask You to do this same work in my future spouse’s life too.
Help me choose to lay down my life and die to self in ways I have never known possible before. Show me how to make this transition and lead me through every part of that process.
I give You permission to help me die to self so that I may live a Fuller expression of the resurrection life of Jesus Christ my savior. I confess my need for the character of Christ to be more fully formed within me. I submit to Your sovereign hand at work in the daily circumstances of my line to do just that.
In all these things I commit myself fully and wholeheartedly to Your kirsch over my life.
In Jesus’s name, I pray, Amen.”
I see that You are calling me to a higher standard, and I say yes! I also say that apart from You I cannot fulfill these things within myself. So, I yield to You both the desire to walk these things out and the strength to take every step along the way. I give You permission to do that in my life.
I confess that I have not been the kind of person my spouse needs me to be. My deficiencies have negatively impacted their life and our marriage. I repent and declare that my life is all Yours. Take me and do that good work in me that I can truly live out of the resurrection life of Jesus. Bring healing, reconciliation, and restoration into my marriage once again. Please help us, save us, and breathe life back into the darkness.
Please help me choose to lay down my life and die to self in ways I have never known possible before. Please show me how to make this transition and lead me through every part of that process.
I give You permission to help me die to self so that I may live a Fuller expression of the resurrection life of Jesus Christ, my savior. I confess my need for the character of Christ to be more fully formed within me. I submit to Your sovereign hand at work in the daily circumstances of my line to do just that.
In all these things, I commit myself fully and wholeheartedly to Your kirsch over my life.
In Jesus’s name, I pray, Amen.”
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