Aun Quek Chin—Singapore
Editor’s note: The first two installments of this series focused on understanding God’s will and purpose in instituting marriage, as well as His principles for marital union and how these impact our relationship with Him. In this final part, we will look at how we must diligently strive to grow and mature together with our spouse.
God instituted marriage to perpetuate life, as well as to provide an environment in which a man and a woman can grow and mature together. Before marriage, we are primarily concerned about our own feelings and happiness; but after marriage, we learn to consider the feelings and needs of our spouse, in all matters major and trivial. Through mutual care and giving way, couples can grow together and sustain strong marriages.
But he who is married cares about the things of the world—how he may please his wife. There is a difference between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman cares about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she who is married cares about the things of the world—how she may please her husband. (1 Cor 7:33–34)
According to the apostle Paul, before marriage, it is as though we are betrothed to the Lord. He will come one day to take us to dwell with Him in His eternal kingdom. Before His coming, we busy ourselves over His matters and show our love for His church. We take the initiative to support our weak brethren and participate in different ministries. In church, we do not behave like strangers who just pop in and out for visits, or guests who are quick to complain but do nothing to help. Instead, we step up quickly to resolve problems. These actions demonstrate our sense of responsibility towards our beloved Lord.
After marriage, although we should still be dedicated to our church duties, some of our time and energy will be channelled into our Christian duty of caring for our spouse and raising a God-fearing family. Paul noted that for the husband, “[H]e who is married cares about the things of the world—how he may please his wife.” Similarly, for the wife, “[S]he who is married cares about the things of the world—how she may please her husband.” In short, marriage entails a mutual responsibility to love and please our spouse.
Marital problems arise when this principle is forgotten—when couples start pointing the finger at each other, accusing the other of not showing love. Very often, they have not asked whether they themselves have shown love. They fail to realize that reciprocity is key to a successful marriage.
The decision to begin a marital relationship must be based on mutual love. Of course, there may be some who enjoy the attention of courtship; they just want to be cherished without giving the same in return. Such one-sided relationships are not healthy, and will lead to unhappiness and suffering. A person who just wants to receive but not give love is not ready for any relationship, let alone marriage.
Marriages, like gardens, must be tended in order for beautiful blooms to grow. It is possible that, over time, initially loving relationships become one-sided. For example, some may take their spouses for granted, others may become more self-centered. They expect to receive their spouse’s love, forgetting to reciprocate. Another scenario is when both parties harbor expectations of the other but neither is willing to take the first step. Disappointment and resentment over the other party’s lack of care, concern and love will create a fissure in their relationship, which may widen into a gulf. Both parties must take the first step to rekindle the spark of marital love within their marriage.
Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her. (Eph 5:24–25)
Paul sets out the model relationship. Christ loved and gave His life for His church. This is the sacrificial love husbands must give their wives. On the wife’s part, love entails submission to her husband: sacrificing her will. Such love should be shown not once but consistently, and in all areas. None of us is perfect but God wants us to diligently learn and manifest such a spirit of sacrifice and submission. If a husband and wife—two people who have become one body—cannot love each other, how can they love others?
Love is more than murmuring sweet nothings and giving gifts. While these are expressions of love, they do not capture its true significance. Love is more than feelings and passion. Once upon a time, your wife may have been the pretty young lady, or your husband, the handsome knight. But as time passes, when your young wife’s cute chatter seems to have become your aging wife’s nagging, or your young husband’s admirable decisiveness seems to have become a cantankerous old man’s stubbornness, will our love for our spouse remain unchanged?
As a couple, we would have experienced love at an emotional level in the early days, when there was much passion. But as we grow up and grow old together, we discover that love is also about sacrifice, and that we have much to learn in regards to bearing with each other and forgiving each other.
Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Cor 13:4–8)
This is the essence of God’s love. Our Lord Jesus wants us to love others as He has loved us. This type of love has to be learned. Meeting the high standard of divine love requires effort, but when we put it into action, we will appreciate its preciousness. Many waters cannot quench this type of love, because its flames are not ignited by passion or desire, but by the fire that is at the altar of God. Feelings can diminish, but God’s love never fails.
Husbands and wives must understand God’s will and establish their love upon Him. In this way, their love will grow over the years, and they will enjoy its sweetness (1 Cor 13:13).
GOD’S NATURAL ORDER
At creation, the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him” (Gen 2:18). Creation was a process transforming imperfection to perfection. This was especially true when God created a woman to help man. What would cause marriage, a good God-established institution, to turn bad? One reason is the failure of both parties to heed the word of God. For example, if one is egotistical and the other wants control, and both demand to have their own way, then there will be turbulent times ahead. A loving couple will develop into bitter enemies. In public, they may attack each other covertly; in private, they have no need to be subtle. Cold wars and snide comments are par for the course. To avoid such battles, we need to obey the word of God and return to the original state that God intended for man and woman. When order is reinstated, there will be peace and tranquillity.
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. (Eph 5:22–23)
This is the order established by God. In the church, the Lord Jesus Christ is the head, and we, as members, are expected to submit to Him. At home, the husband is the head, and the wife is expected to submit to him. This is God’s will. Some may think it unfair—since God has joined man and woman together, should there not be perfect equality? However, being the head in a relationship does not mean authority but responsibility. When problems arise, the husband is the one with the ultimate responsibility to deal with them. The wife’s role is to be his helper (Gen 2:18): to share her opinions, and to offer advice and support, but not to undermine or overrule him.
Arguments are inevitable in any marriage. They should be managed carefully so that they are not protracted, as this gives a foothold to the devil (Eph 4:26–27). Mishandled, they may spiral out of control, leading to physical violence or the call for divorce. In business, when partners disagree, they can go their separate ways; but not in a marriage.
There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword,
But the tongue of the wise promotes health. (Prov 12:18)
Words can either wound and cause death, or they can heal the soul. It is up to us. In our marriage, will our words stir up hurt or love? If we recall the days when we were deeply in love, we would think nothing of telling our loved one how much we adore them. But after our wedding, why do we find it so hard to say, “I love you,” “thank you,” and “you look so beautiful (or handsome).” And when things go wrong, why do we not say, “‘I know it’s been hard for you,” or “sorry, it was my fault”? These are simple words, which are like honey to the hearer. We should not be grudging with kind words; they will only enhance our relationship.
It is easy to say hurtful words in the heat of the moment. As spouses who have lived together for a long time, we know which buttons to press. However, it is worth remembering that arguments can escalate to the point of no return. The lesson is that when we are angry, it is better to keep quiet. Angry words are often irrational, and the hearer will remember them. You cannot take your words back. Indeed, when we are angry, this is the time to exercise self-control.
More importantly, we must learn to forgive. When we are in the right, we are always tempted to gloat and penalize. But remember all the times that our spouse has forgiven us when we were in the wrong. It is now our turn to forgive. True love does not keep a record of wrongs.
The wedding ceremony is the beginning of a new life together with our beloved. For a beautiful wedding to develop into a wonderful marriage, we must have a new mindset. Life is no longer about expecting love, but about giving it. Before marriage, we would have been showered with love from our parents and relatives. After marriage, it is our turn to give love. In the past, we may not have had much responsibility, but now we must be prepared to shoulder great responsibilities. Previously, we may have expected things from others, or we gave conditionally, but now there is someone in our life to whom we should give willingly and unconditionally.
Many parents give to their children without conditions, even if it means tightening their belts. This type of love comes from maturity and has the power to touch the heart of others. When God created man, He gave us the gift of love, embedding it in our nature. We thus have the ability to dispense and to receive love—a balance that cannot be lacking in a couple’s life. Let us rekindle the love we once have, and allow it to flourish unto maturity. As marriage is instituted by God, let no man separate.