Discipleship Through Your Marriage
~By: Sylvia Reynolds-Blakely~
Ephesians 5:21: Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
I have been married for over 31 years now to the same wonderful man. However, I have not always been the same wonderful woman he married that overcast day in September. We have been through our share of ups and downs, which include: deaths of close loved ones, a failed pregnancy, college degrees, surrogate parenthood, salvation decision and rededication, separation, COVID-19 quarantine, and lots, LOTS more.
Along the way, dreams have been fulfilled and dreams have been deferred and dashed. And for two people who did not have marriage on their minds when they first met, we have managed to survive the storms of life remarkably well, but only by the immeasurable grace of a Merciful Father. We are both convinced that all we’ve been through is for the glory of God. That’s why I am willing to share our story with the prayer that someone reading this maintains their hope in the sacredness and mystery of marriage.
So many people marvel at the duration of our marriage, not fully aware of the bumps and bruises along that journey. Yes, we smile like newlyweds now, but we have both shed rivers of tears through the years. There is so much more to marriage than simply staying the course. And, truthfully, the ‘trial and error’ way we went about it may have been the worst approach ever! Neither of us knew the God-designed purpose or plan for our union at the start. Yes, we had brief marriage counseling sessions, but in all honesty, it was limited and designed to find out whether or not we were compatible and not necessarily if we were mature -- BIG difference!
So, we simply muddled along; loving one minute and bruising and injuring the next until we came to understand the weight and responsibility of turning to God for the answers. That turning just happened recently. Why so oblivious, stubborn, and prideful? Basic disobedience to the call to live for Him first and us second is what Holy Spirit is diagnosing now. We lacked an understanding of what Marriage on the Rock author Jimmy Evans calls the 4 P’s of marriage: Priority, Pursuit, Possession, and Purity, which he gleaned from Genesis 2:24-25.
We hadn’t a CLUE what God’s design for marriage was. I vaguely knew that my husband should love me, and I should respect him as Paul instructs in Ephesians 5:33, but that was about it. We left too much to our feelings and not enough to our faith. I am sure this is a common mistake, given the current divorce rate amongst Christian couples (not to mention those who are separated). We didn’t know what discipleship looked like in the context of marriage because we were not walking in the God-given knowledge about a true marital union.
Somewhere along the line I began to want to reinvest in our marriage and to build it from the foundation up (at least from my side of things). I began to take a class on marriage from the wife's perspective. I’ll never forget an older woman named Mary, who glowed with the love of Christ, pulling me aside and sharing with me 1 Peter 3:1-2 and his exhortation for the wife to model the type of faith walk that could lead an unbelieving husband to Christ without a word:
Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. 1 Peter 3:1-2 NIV
I held on tightly to that scripture because I knew that if my husband and I stood any chance of a long lasting marriage, he would need to come to Christ. And a year or so later, that is exactly what happened. But, because no one in our small town knew my husband and I had been separated for almost six years prior to moving there, we did not know who to talk with or how to counsel ourselves toward the healthy marriage we’d never actually experienced. We didn’t know how to turn to Christian-based marriage resources. We thought if we just worked at it ourselves then it would be okay. And that’s just what we got -- an okay marriage. We worked, we took care of others, but we didn’t invest the time with God to put what we almost tore apart back together the right way.
I am writing this because I have recently encountered so many women in ministry who are dealing with marital woes, and I want them to know there is hope for your marriage the MINUTE Holy Spirit steps into the mix! Here is what we know now -- keep in mind we are learning more daily:
There is a proper order of relationships within a marriage. Our personal relationship with God has to come first, and our relationship as man and wife has to come second. Everyone and everything else falls in line after that. Priorities may SEEM fluid, but they fundamentally shouldn’t be. Everything should be done in discussion with your spouse and in prayer together to Holy Spirit.
Follow God’s example and walk in the way of love (Ephesians 5:1-2), offering your love union as a sacrifice unto God. Marriage is ALL about sacrifice, which is “the act of giving up something that you want to keep especially in order to get or do something else or to help someone” (Merriam-Webster dictionary). Selfish people need not apply for marriage -- it will not turn out well! Your spouse may FEEL like the thorn in your flesh, but that’s just a fake out. What’s really needling you is some unresolved business you have with yourself, like feelings of unworthiness, anxiety, or fear. You will love your spouse with the same fervor or indifference that you love yourself, so prayerfully work on your issues before you present your bodies as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1).
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21). That inherently means that both husband and wife have to revere Christ (regard with respect tinged with awe). Believe it or not, when my husband and I reconciled, it was because he revered Christ before he’d even been born again. Many would argue that my husband and I were not equally yoked (meaning we both weren’t believers) when we met and married. However, my being a believer did not keep me from sinning against God, and his being a non-believer (at the time) did not mean he didn’t recognize the sovereignty of God. Now that we both have a working relationship with Christ, it is much easier to submit to one another because we both have the same desire to not grieve God. Please catch this!
Respect the profound mystery that is your marriage. Your marriage adds to the body of Christ! Fully read Ephesians 5:28-32, especially verse 30. The man leaves his family, unites with his wife, and together they become one flesh as members of the body of Christ. So, your union is not just about the two of you and your families; it is about what your union brings to the body of Christ and therefore the work of the Kingdom. This makes it seem a bit less mysterious and more tangible in that you MUST recognize that as a married couple, you are to work in concert to build up the Kingdom. This is not just the wife’s ministry or the husband's ministry, but the couple’s ministry. What that looks like will be unique for each couple, just as each body part is unique, but we can fulfill our mission once we know we have a unique calling on our marriage.
If you have never asked God, as a couple, what that calling is on your marriage, get busy with that right away! You’re wasting precious time if you don’t, and it’s possible that you will put yourself on a hamster wheel of unfruitful individual ministry. It would be like grafting together a plum and an apricot tree at the base and still expecting the new tree to bear plums and apricots. Nope; you are going to get a plumcot, which is a new and unique fruit with its own properties. Put that new fruit to good use to help other couples searching for what you’ve finally discovered! Nothing you do for Christ is just for you; it is for the building up of the body.
In summary, make sure you set “self” aside, prioritize correctly, and get busy with couple’s Kingdom work. May God richly bless your efforts!