by Grady King –
The greatest gift husbands and wives can give each other is to grow in Christ. No human being can fully meet the needs of another human being. On our best day, we still fall short. This is why growing up in Christ—which is tantamount to doing what is in the best interest of the other is the helpful and hopeful way to live God’s intention.
Marriage is God’s idea. He joins. Humans separate. Marriage is work and this is not the dominant cultural value. Divorce comes way too easily. And us church people do not fair much better, statistically. Certainly the church needs to be a place of hope, refuge, forgiveness and care for marriages and the divorced. God does hate covenant breaking (divorce) but loves divorced people.
How are things going at “church?” It is a question I often asked church leaders. Invariably one of the responses is, “We have several marriages in trouble.” The church leader then asked, “What do we do?” Quick fixes to long term issues seldom work. Being joined together is not only a ceremony, rather a journey of self and the other. Marriage dynamics are complex and the forces influencing marriage are legion—family of origin, friends, personality, expectations, and emotional maturity, just to name a few. Leaving and cleaving is an intentional choice and over time becomes many choices in the trenches of doing life together.
Often, by the time a church leader tries to come alongside of a couple, it is too late. The emotional dynamics are set in stone and no amount of instruction, guilt, shame, or lecturing, changes the reality. In an effort to support and/or rescue marriages, many a church offers seminars, retreats, classes and/or small groups designed to strengthen marriage.
Can a bad marriage improve? Can people change? Is there hope? Yes. No. Maybe.
The resources for help and hope, however, are not found in sociological research with a few verses of Scripture added in for a Bible class on marriage. Neither, is a strictly psychological strategy focused on the individual a quick solution. Spiritual growth is marriage 101.
Ironically, marriage is discussed in Scripture very little. Marriage is culturally assumed and the few texts we do have in the New Testament, in particular about marriage is part of a greater discussion about spiritual identity; of being “in Christ” (Eph. 5.21f; Col 3.18f). Even in 1 Peter 3.1-7 the discussion about wives and husbands relationship (i.e., submission, honor, authority) is about living in a counter cultural way because of one’s identity in Christ. 1 Corinthians 7.1f is Paul answering their questions about marriage ethics, and singleness with an emphasis on mutuality in light of God’s calling, singleness as a gift, Lordship and the stress of the times.
So, want to strengthen your marriage? Grow in Christ. Focus on your own spiritual growth. Manage yourself well looking to follow Jesus Christ to the cross. Some people want a marriage to work without working. Some people want a resurrected marriage without the cross.
When church leaders focus on spiritual identity and growth, marriage is helped and given hope.