Marriage isn’t really about marriage.
No really. It isn’t. At least not in the best and eternal sense. And that’s the reason why marriage is so sacred. It’s because marriage is more than a means of companionship; it’s more than a means of procreation; it’s more than a means of mutual satisfaction. Marriage is God’s chosen instrument to be the walking, talking, living illustration of the gospel. In Ephesians 5, after giving instruction to wives regarding submission and instruction to husbands about self-sacrificial love, Paul lets us on on the real deal about marriage:
This mystery is profound, but I am talking about Christ and the church (Eph. 5:32).
That’s right, husbands and wives. God instituted marriage as a display of the gospel. It’s primarily so that we might look to husbands and say, “Oh, I get it. That’s a shadow of how Jesus loves His church,” and so that we might look at wives and say, “Oh, I see. This is what it looks like to submit to Christ out of love and trust.”
It is a weighty thing indeed to consider that God has chosen us, as husbands and wives, to be the visual representation of the gospel in the way that we relate to each other. And yet there are many patterns we might fall into as husbands and wives that distort this picture of the gospel. Here are three such patterns:
1. The pattern of paybacks.
Our sense of entitlement runs very deep. One of the places it becomes apparent is in marriage when we insist, either consciously or subconsciously, on a system of paybacks. Here’s how it works:
You do something kind for your spouse. Maybe you make their lunch along with yours to take to work. Or maybe you offer to stay alone with the kids so they can go to a movie. Or maybe you just pick up the dish duty one night after dinner. But then you hold onto that thing you’ve done for another like a card to be played. You have served them, and you have the expectation that they will follow suite; after all, they owe you now. Your spouse might not even know you have this expectation, and you might not even tell them, but you still hold onto the card. And the longer you hold onto it, the more bitter your entitlement turns.
How antithetical to the gospel! For in the gospel we have a Savior who did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many. And He does this service, even unto death, not because of our merit but because of grace. This grace does not demand a payback, for then it would cease to be grace.
2. The pattern of criticism.
You know how it goes – there are a bunch of married folks out to dinner or at a party together, and you talk about your marriages. So far so good. But then someone cracks a joke at the expense of their spouse. Maybe it’s about the way they eat, or how they sleep, or something they said in private. And everyone laughs.
Or perhaps the conversation is slowing, and you speed it up a little bit by sharing some bit of criticism regarding your spouse with the others who are there. Then others share and soon the party becomes gossip at the expense of the husbands or wives who aren’t present. Once again, the entertainment for the group comes at the expense of your spouse.
When you are married, you naturally become the keeper of secrets for your spouse. You are the one who knows what makes them the most insecure, what hurts them the most deeply, and what fears they still harbor. This is a good thing – you should be the holder of these secrets. But the trust with which you hold them is fragile, and when we start using this information in order to criticize our spouse, we are betraying that trust.
Jesus does not do this with His bride. He is the keeper of all the secrets – even those we don’t know ourselves. And yet amazingly, He does not hold these things against us, much less use them to benefit Himself in some way. In marriage as a picture of the gospel, we should be our spouse’s biggest cheerleaders, perhaps most especially when we are in public.
3. The pattern of assumption.
It is so easy to assume in marriage. After you’ve been married for a while, you can easily begin to operate like this. You assume what your spouse will say, so you don’t ask her a question. You assume how your spouse is feeling, so you don’t invite him to share it. You assume that your spouse knows you love her, so you don’t feel the need to demonstrate it in big and small ways. Soon your entire life becomes one, big assumption.
The gospel is so gloriously unlike this. Open the pages of God’s Word and you see God telling and demonstrating His love over and over again. Look to the birds of the sky and the flowers of the field and you see God demonstrating His care for you over and over again. Pray and believe that Jesus is interceding for you at the right hand of God over and over again. It’s not that Jesus is continuing to learn things about His bride; He is not, for He already knows all. And yet even knowing all there is to know He never drifts into this pattern of assumption in which He is, at best, just a little tired of these people to whom He is hitched.
The gospel is the walking, talking illustration of the gospel. Be careful, married Christians, to make sure that it’s a clear picture. Be aware of what can quickly become distorted, and take your stand against it.