During your early years of marriage, you will discover that developing a good marriage is a lot like cultivating a garden (recall Tim Keller’s talk on “Cultivating a Healthy Marriage”). A garden takes a lot of work and it costs more than you figured, it is messier than you anticipated, and it requires greater determination than you expected to reap the rewards (adapted from a quote from Chuck Swindle). It is so important during these days to establish good habits and patterns of relating to one another.
This is why Colossians 3:12-17 teaches you to go daily to the wardrobe of the Spirit and ask Him to empower you to do that which is humanly impossible: To truly, fervently and faithfully love each other from the heart. Apart from the Spirit, most couples are prone to use one another to meet their own needs rather than focusing on meeting the needs of their spouse.
Verse 12 says: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience…” This verse uses a clothing metaphor to describe the Christ-like life.
To put on Christ is to clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience and love. These virtues are good moral habits that take time to develop. We don’t naturally become this type of person. It takes intentionality and work. These virtues also have a corresponding vice that can undo everything you hold dear about your relationship. For this reason, I focus first on the one vice that causes more divorces than anything else: Pride.
The first virtue to which I want to draw your attention is HUMILITY. Humility is God’s blessed gift of self-forgetfulness. It is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. This Spirit-empowered virtue will arrest the biggest problem in all of our marriages – our own selfishness. At every stage in your life going forward, humility will be your greatest friend, and pride, the corresponding vice, will be your greatest enemy.
Proud people are insecure people who find fault easily and are quick to criticize. Much of your strife and discord in marriage will be the result of unchecked pride in your hearts. Proverbs 13:10 teaches us: “By pride comes nothing but strife, but wisdom is with those who seek counsel.” The challenge in dealing with pride is this: You can see pride easily in another person’s life and miss it entirely in your own.
Pride destroys your ability to truly love one another. C.S. Lewis calls pride “spiritual cancer.” One of the best short chapters to read on pride and humility is from Lewis’ book entitled Mere Christianity. The chapter is called “The Great Sin.”
“Pride is the essential vice, the utmost evil, the great sin…
It has served as the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began.
It was through pride that the devil became the devil.
As long as you are proud you cannot know God.
A proud man is always looking down on things and people;
and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.
Pride is a spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love…”
On the contrary, humble people look out of themselves in order to focus on the gifts and graces of others. Here is the best way I know to cultivate the virtue of humility:
Actively look for ways that God is at work in each other’s life. Make it your practice to observe how the Holy Spirit is evidencing His fruit and His gifts in each other’s life. This means that you work at actively praising, encouraging, and thanking each other for the ways that you see the Lord at work in each other’s lives.
To be specific: What is your spouse more aware of – evidences of grace that you’ve noticed in him or is he more aware of all the areas where you think he needs to grow and change? How about you? Pray and ask the Lord to show you specific things in your spouse’s life that you believe are evidences of God’s grace in his/her life and praise him/her for it.
So many couples find fault with each other and are constantly nitpicking. Refuse to do this. It will create distance between you and will turn a loving, intimate marriage into a cold and clinical one. Refuse to speak to one another in any way that cuts each other down, but speak words of grace that build each other up.
One Scripture that crystallizes what humility looks like is Philippians 2:1-8. Here is a paraphrase from The Message that portrays true humility:
If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ,
if his love has made any difference in your life,
if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you,
if you have a heart, if you care—
then do me a favor:
Agree with each other,
love each other,
be deep-spirited friends.
Don’t push your way to the front;
don’t sweet-talk your way to the top.
Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead.
Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage.
Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.
Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself.
He had equal status with God
but didn’t think so much of himself
that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what.
Not at all.
When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave,
became human! Having become human, he stayed human.
It was an incredibly humbling process.
He didn’t claim special privileges.
Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life
and then died a selfless, obedient death—
and the worst kind of death at that: a crucifixion.
The one who always knew the light of His Father’s presence humbled himself to live in poverty and die a criminal’s death to rescue us from our proud hearts, proud looks and proud lives.
The only sure way to be rescued from our natural tendency towards pride is to contemplate the cross of your Savior. This is the only thing that will continue to free you from the spiritual cancer of pride. The world will tell you to assert yourself, look out for yourself, believe in yourself. However, Jesus tells you, “if any man would follow me, let him deny himself and die to himself and come follow Me.”
I leave you with two beautiful quotes on this subject.
“Stand at the foot of the cross, and count the drops of blood by which you have been cleansed;
see the thorned crown; mark his scourged shoulders, still gushing with crimsoned stripes;
see his hands and feet given up to the rough iron, and his whole self to mockery and scorn;
see the bitterness, and the pangs, and the throes of inward grief, showing themselves in his outward frame; hear the horrifying shriek, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
And if you do not lie prostrate on the ground before that cross, you have never seen it:
if you are not humbled to the dust by this picture, you do not know him.”
“There is only one thing I know of that crushes me to the ground and humiliates me to the dust,
and that is to look at the Son of God, and especially contemplate the cross.
Nothing else can do it. When I see that I am a sinner…
that nothing but the Son of God on the cross can save me, I’m humbled to the dust…
Nothing but the cross can give us this spirit of humility.”
God our heavenly Father, you alone are God Most High.
Yet we contend regularly for supremacy with You.
Forgive us for all the times we have found fault with each other,
for all the ways that we have opted for control rather than truly loving one another.
Grant us grace today to put on the wardrobe of the Spirit
so that we might forget about ourselves and our needs
in order to truly love and serve each other
So work in our hearts that You progressively free us
from the boastful pride of life that we might live as
Your servant-hearted followers.
For we pray in the name of the only One
who had the right to assert Himself
yet He humbled Himself to serve and save us,
Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.