Cultivating a Healthy Marriage: Clothed with Love

“And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:14).

Love is that piece of clothing in your spiritual wardrobe that will hold your entire marriage relationship together. It serves sort of like a safety belt for your marriage and also every other relationship.

God’s Design for Passages Like This

In a text like this, I think it is important to remember and embrace God’s design when He commands us in His Word to do something like love one another.  The Lord desires to first humble us with the love that He requires of us so that we will receive the love that He offers us.

So, at the outset, we acknowledge that the fuel and energy for truly loving one another is to embrace His love for us. It is important to personalize passages like these: “He has loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3). “We know love by this: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us” (1John 3:16). When you experience the security of His love, it frees you to truly love one another.

What is true, agape love?

Agape is the Greek word for a God-like love. Here is the best definition that I have after my own years of study of this:

Agape love is
a commitment of the will
to sacrificially serve the interests and needs of your spouse
in spite of your changing moods and circumstances.

On your wedding day, you made a covenant with God and one another that you would love each other until death parts you. You can only fulfill your vow as you remember and rejoice in how much the Lord loves you. This definition reminds you that sometimes you will not feel very loving towards one another. True love is not so much a feeling but an action… a commitment of the will.

When you don’t feel a lot of love for one another, the best thing you can do is to force yourself to do a loving deed for your spouse. My experience has been that the feelings of love are like a caboose on a train. They always follow the deeds of love (the engine of any relationship). This is very counter-intuitive. When people lose that loving feeling, they don’t do anything because they say their heart just isn’t in it. This is why some of your friends’ marriages will end in divorce. You can avoid this landmine by disciplining yourself to do loving deeds of service for each other and you will recover that loving feeling, but if you do nothing, your hearts will tend to grow cold and callous. You will just take one another for granted and go through the motions. All of us face this marital temptation.

Secondly, this definition of true love reminds us that loving another person always involves a sacrifice. Remember Jesus’ words to his followers: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:13-14). His love for us involved the greatest of sacrifices… He died the death we should have died.

Your love for one another will involve making sacrifices. Both of you modeled this sacrificial, servant-hearted love to mom and me in hosting us in your home and feeding us. It took time and money to do this. You could have done so many other things and probably needed to do so, but you took time with us. Make sure to do this with one another.

According to Colossians 3:14, this love enables you to live in harmony. The text says that love “binds everything together in perfect (complete) harmony.” As you experience the Lord’s love for you, your marriage will become more harmonious and less competitive and strife-filled. The thesaurus adds these words as descriptors of “harmonious:”  Friendly, amicable, cordial, amiable, easy, peaceful, peaceable, cooperative; sympathetic, united, attuned, in tune, of one mind, and seeing eye to eye. This type of marriage relationship takes time to develop.

This doesn’t mean that you will not have arguments and conflicts. This same love will empower and enable you to forgive the sins and complaints you have against one another (Colossians 3:14). Because Christ has covered your sins, you are to cover each other. You forgive the small provocations of one another because He has forgiven you all of your provocations against Him.

Let me conclude by encouraging you both to do something that I ask every couple with whom we do premarital counseling: To spend a little time thinking about and developing A LOVE PLAN for your marriage. All of us spend time thinking about purchases that we want to make, how to make and pay for home improvements, etc. Yet, very few couples take time to develop an intentional plan for how they will practically love each other.

What do I mean by a love plan? Very simply, ask and answer this one question: What is it that will make my wife feel loved? What is it that will make my husband feel loved? Now, you should not do this in a vacuum. You should talk with one another about what it is that communicates love to each other. Initially, I would not make a list longer than three things.

Below is an example of what one husband decided to do in order to become more intentional about loving his wife:

1) Make time to enjoy activities with her during the day on weekends: we do not get to see each other much during the week due to work, and it is not uncommon that the weekends are our only time together. I know how significant time together is for her and how meaningful a few extra hours a week can be.

2) Show appreciation: often my wife listens to my issues and offers advice, telling me how proud she is. I know how far an unexpected show of appreciation can go. It is important that she knows how proud I am of her successes, especially endeavors independent from our relationship such as work and athletic accomplishments.

3) Entertain her: it is easy to become complacent and forget how fortunate I am to have such a great spouse in life. By showing her attention and striving to make her laugh, I hope to make her feel important and valued.

When you fail at loving your spouse.Don’t make excuses. Don’t blame and shame, but run to the cross and find there again the love that will not let you go! When your spouse fails at loving you well, remember that “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8; Proverbs 10:12).

Cultivating a Healthy Marriage – Clothed with Humility

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.”
Lewis writes:
“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.
Charles Spurgeon:
“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.”
Martin Lloyd-Jones:
“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.”
 
Prayer:
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.

Wise Words on Loving the Right Woman Well

Desire after forbidden enjoyments naturally springs
from dissatisfaction with the blessings in possession.
Where contentment is not found at home
— drinking out of our own cistern
— it will be sought for, however vainly, abroad.
Marital love is chief among the earthly goods
in mercy granted by God to his fallen and rebellious creatures.
Enjoy then with thankfulness your own,
and desire not your neighbor’s well.

— Charles Bridges, Anglican Pastor (1794-1869 AD)

Rejoice in the wife of your youth.
Regard her as the special gift of your Father’s hand.
Cherish her with gentleness and purity.
Whatsoever interrupts the strictest harmony
in this delicate relationship opens the door to imminent temptation.
Tender, well-regulated, domestic affection
is the best defense against the vagrant desires of unlawful passion.

— Bridges

It is highly important to see physical intimacy in marriage as God-given…
for history confirms
that when marriage is viewed chiefly as a business arrangement,
not only is God’s bounty misunderstood,
but human passion seeks other outlets (cf. Proverbs 5:20).

— Derek Kidner, Cambridge Professor

What Marriage Is

Peter Marshall

Peter Marshall

Marriage is not a federation of two sovereign states.

It is a union – domestic, social, spiritual, physical.

It is a fusion of two hearts – the union of two lives –

The coming together of two tributaries, which, after being joined in marriage,

will flow in the same channel, in the same direction…

carrying the same burdens of responsibility and obligation.

— Peter Marshall

Pray to Love Your Wife Well or Else

you will give yourself to suicidal pleasures that will destroy your life and unravel your family… Hear these challenging words of an old Puritan preacher by the name of Thomas Watson who explains the significance of Proverbs 5:15-21:

thomas watson

“It is not having a wife, but loving a wife, that makes a man live chastely. He who loves his wife, whom Solomon calls his fountain, will not go abroad to drink of muddy, poisoned waters. Pure conjugal love is a gift of God, and comes from heaven; but like the vestal fire, it must be cherished, that it go not out. He who loves not his wife is the likeliest person to embrace the bosom of a stranger.”

Jim Elliot – God Made Woman for Man

resized_Jim_elliotIn an interesting passage in The Journals of Jim Elliot [446-447], amidst his account of missionary activity, gospel witness, some new converts, and his burgeoning romance with Elizabeth, we find this:

“June 13: I am clean mad for a woman this afternoon. At times this sheer physical need is the strongest argument for marriage that I know, stronger than love or social adjustment or anything. When God saw that it was not good for a man to be alone, He saw something that is terribly obvious, and He did not meet the need by making a second man!”

Life-Giving Implications of the Seventh Commandment

Friends, have you been intimate or have you allowed your mind to indulge in desires of intimacy with anyone to whom you are not married? If so, you are sinning against the Lord. The best course of action is to repent and forsake your sin (Proverbs 28:13). Seek out a confidant/counselor who will tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear.

Pray and ask the Lord to unveil Jesus’ beauty to you as your beloved bridegroom. If you do not experience the beauty and wonder of His love, you’ll give your heart to other loves that will end up breaking your heart. The old preachers called this “the expulsive power of a new affection.” No one can just stop lusting or committing adultery. You must replace your disordered love with a new love, a new affection, and a new desire for the Lord and His pleasure and favor. Pray through Psalm 27:4 – One thing have I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.”

No one is beyond committing physical adultery. All of us have committed spiritual adultery against the Lord and against our spouses with our lustful thoughts.

May the Lord give all of us who are married today the grace to heed this word on regulating our marriages. So much pain could be averted with a determined resolved to delight to do what God commands!

What is it that the words “you shall not commit adultery” call us to face?

“First, that sex is for marriage, and for marriage only;      second, that marriage must be seen as a relationship of lifelong fidelity; third, that other people’s marriages must not be interfered with by sexual intrusion. One mark of true maturity is to grasp these principles, and live by them.”

— J.I. Packer, Growing in Christ