Stubborn Love: Reflecting the Gospel By Keeping Your Marriage Covenant

This post originally appeared at The Master’s Seminary Blog and was then featured at Challies.com.

It happened again just the other day. My wife and I were shocked to hear of yet another Christian couple we knew and loved who were getting divorced. I felt sick for several minutes, thinking about the aftermath for years and decades to come.

It’s almost as if Christians are getting used to our marriages mimicking marriages in the world. We think of divorce like a car crash: unpleasant, destructive, but something that just invariably happens now and then. However, the effects of divorce on the couple, their children, and their families are worse than any car wreck. Divorce not only affects the family, but it is devastating to our commission to reflect the gospel to the world.

On the flip side, a couple who keeps their wedding vows “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part…” can have a huge impact for Christ.

I recently officiated a memorial service for a woman who had been fighting Alzheimer’s. The last years of her life were extremely difficult and she rarely recognized her husband. Yet week after week he faithfully drove four hours just to see her. On his last visit, she cradled his face in her hands and told him, “I love you.” At the memorial service, the impact their marriage of 58 years had for the gospel was tangible—including their stubborn love for each other through thick and thin.

There are two biblical truths that can help us to understand why God calls us to reflect the gospel by keeping our marriage covenant: 1) Satan hates your marriage. 2) Jesus will never leave his bride.

SATAN HATES YOUR MARRIAGE

If we understand that we have an enemy, and that enemy is not our spouse, it can make all the difference in the world. Satan has hated marriage from the beginning, just as he hates all of God’s good creation.

When God created Eve and then ushered her as the first bride to Adam, the Scriptures say this: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” (Gen 2:24-25)

But Satan wasted no time in tempting them to sin, ultimately creating a rift between them so giant that only Jesus could heal it. Right after God created marital bliss, we are introduced to the great enemy of marriage. “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.” (Gen 3:1) In the following verses, we see the immediate results of Satan’s temptation. Eve tempts her husband to sin. And Adam blames both God and his wife for his sin, rather than taking responsibility for it.

Satan continues to hate marriage because it was created by God to reflect the relationship between Christ and His bride, the church. (Eph 5:31-32) When we give up on our marriages, when we are unfaithful to our covenants through infidelity or pornography, when we stop fighting for our marriages with a holy stubbornness that says, “No matter what, I will not let you go,” we are allowing Satan to win. More than that, we are reflecting his evil desires for our marriage rather than reflecting the love of the One who came to destroy the work of the devil.

JESUS WILL NEVER LEAVE HIS BRIDE

Although Satan hates your marriage, the glorious truth is that Jesus will never leave His bride. Sally Lloyd-Jones described God’s covenant love as His “never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love.” When Jesus came to earth as God in the flesh, He put skin on this kind of unconditional love. He showed us in action what love looks like. When we display Jesus’ love for us in the New Covenant of the gospel by keeping our marriage covenant, we show His love to the world and reflect the gospel.

Jesus will never leave His bride. Followers of Jesus shouldn’t either.

Yet, Jesus does more than provide a supreme example of stubborn love for His bride. Part of the good news of the gospel is that believers are given the power to act righteously. Because of Christ’s death and resurrection, we can lean into Jesus today to give us the strength to follow Him in giving His kind of covenant love to our spouse.

I remember hearing the testimony of a young couple who had been on the brink of divorce. The husband had struggled with anger their whole marriage and the wife had committed adultery. After he and his wife had separated, the husband repented and turned back to the Lord. In an attempt to reconcile, he looked at her one day and said, “Do you believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sins and rose from the dead?”

“Yes,” his wife replied, “I do believe that.”

He responded, “And do you really believe that God could raise a dead man back to life and not breathe new life back into our marriage?” They began going to church together and then biblical counseling soon after, and were restored.

If Satan seems to have the upper hand in your marriage right now, and if you are weary of trying to love your spouse in your own strength, the gospel has a better word for you.

Sing this prayer to Jesus today as you seek to reflect His faithful love to your spouse:
O love that will not let me go, 
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow, 
May richer, fuller be
.”

A Reminder as School Begins…The Husband and Father’s Responsibilities: A Quote from Jonathan Edwards

As school is now in full swing, I want to share this Jonathan Edwards quote that is a timely thought on a husband’s and father’s responsibilities (moms, don’t miss the second part of the quote regarding raising your children!).

…the person in your house that claims your first and nearest attention, is, undoubtedly, your wife; seeing you are to love her, even as Christ hath loved the Church. . . . Next to your wife are your children; immortal spirits whom God hath, for a time, entrusted to your care, that you may train them up in all holiness, and fit them for the enjoyment of God in eternity. This is a glorious and important trust; seeing one soul is of more value than all the world beside. Every child, therefore, you are to watch over with the utmost care, that, when you are called to give an account of each to the Father of spirits, you may give your accounts with joy and not with grief.
Jonathan Edwards

[HT: Family Ministry Today]

I recently met a man at a car wash who saw my young children in my car and told me, “Love your wife.  Don’t forget to love your wife.  It is best for your children, best for her, and best for you.”  This was a 2-minute interaction that we had, but with tears in his eyes he shared that he lost his influence with his children as well as most of his monthly paycheck because he did not love his wife.  Both Jonathan Edwards (knowingly) and the man at the car wash (unknowingly) are echoing the theme of Ephesians 5:25 & 6:4.

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her … Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

Calling All Husbands

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“Is marriage really hard?” the young man asked me with big eyes when he found out I had been married for over 8 years.  He was engaged and had friends telling him to not get married because it was too hard.  This has played out not once but 3 times, and not in a pastor’s office but at my register in the cell phone store I work at.  The fact that a man would ask a stranger selling him a phone about marriage shows me how much some men want to make marriage work even though the culture tells them it won’t.

As a Christian, God has laid out clear principles in His Word that He expects you to live out in your own marriage. It’s not just a matter of making your marriage work or making it better, but also a matter of obedience. Of course, when you follow God’s commands, then you invite God’s blessing on your marriage as well. These are all areas that I have had to change and grow a lot in over the last several years in particular. I always see a new way to apply these principles in my marriage now every time that I consider them. Just like you, I have further to go and I am excited for what God has for my marriage as I continue to love, lead, and learn my wife more like Christ loves the church. There are other biblical roles of a husband such as provider (1 Tim. 5:8) and protector, but for now this should be enough to evaluate in your own life and marriage.

1) Lover (Eph. 5:25-33). As a husband, you are called to love your wife in a deeper and more unconditional way than you ever thought possible…as Christ loves the church. This is a life-long pursuit of pursuing the Lord and your wife as you learn to live out the Gospel in your marriage. What are some of the ways that Christ loves the church?

  • He loves her unconditionally.
  • He died for her…there is nothing that God can call you to do for your wife that is too much!
  • He forgives her sin.
  • He covers her sin (He doesn’t hold a grudge).
  • He’s her advocate.
  • He protects her.
  • He provides for her needs.
  • He knows her needs, her strengths, her weaknesses, and He acts on her behalf.
  • He sanctifies her.
  • He has time for her.
  • He understands her–He was incarnational (even as God He experienced what man experiences daily, and now He can sympathize with our weaknesses).

2) Leader (Eph. 5:22-23).  Have you ever ridden a tandem bike?  You both pedal but only one can direct the bike by using the handle bars. You are both putting out energy and working together, but one has to take the responsibility for choosing the path that the bike will head down. If you are a husband, God has put you at the handle bars: “For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church…” (Eph. 5:22a). Have you ever thought of what it would be like to be under your leadership within your marriage relationship? As husbands, we will answer to God for how we have led our wives.
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3) Learner (1 Peter 3:7). One of the exciting aspects of marriage is learning our wives for the rest of our lives. In fact, God says that if you don’t live with her in an understanding way and show her honor, then your prayers will be hindered. Marriage is dynamic. You are both constantly changing. Ask God to help you understand how to serve your wife today. What would bring her joy (even something as simple as doing the dishes because she is especially tired tonight)? What is a special way you can encourage her in her walk with the Lord? God says that she is a “weaker vessel,” but as husbands we often treat our wives as Tupperware rather than as a rare vase that is worth millions.

Remember, you can live out these things as a husband, which brings God glory, is best for your wife, and is best for you (Eph. 5:28-31). But you must be saved and walking with the Lord to be able to do this, by the power of the Holy Spirit changing you (Eph. 5:18).

Oh, in case you’re wondering, I did give an answer to the question, “Is marriage really hard?” I told them with a huge smile, “It is, but it is more than worth it.” Praise God that He has not left us wondering what our job as a husband is. He has given us both the commands and the resources to be able to love, lead, and learn our wives with joy.