I am convinced that most Christian marital discord is rooted in personal spiritual problems. In other words, the underlying reason for most of the disharmony we observe in Christian marriages today is spiritual disorder in one or more of the persons involved.
We have learned that marriage is a divine institution—that God made man and woman to complete and fulfill each other. When a redeemed man and a redeemed woman join themselves to each other in mutual love and trust, God joins them into a single entity. He expects them to be one in purpose, in motivation, in interests, in understanding, and in sympathies. What we often see in practice, however, is anything but oneness. Many Christian homes are characterized by disunity, arguing, screaming, and pouting. Everyone in the family seems to be pulling in opposite directions, and the result is chaos. Harmony will never be achieved until everyone learns to pull in the same direction! This is true spiritual adjustment.
It’s always easier to learn about those aspects of marriage which apply to the other partner. Women frequently enjoy discussing the husband’s responsibility to love his wife. Husbands often enjoy emphasizing the woman’s role of submission. But neither the husband nor the wife can fulfill his or her role in marriage without the supernatural power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. And we cannot have the Holy Spirit unless we have received Jesus Christ as our personal Savior from sin!
Most of us want to be the husbands or wives that we ought to be. But we simply cannot become such in our own strength. The Apostle Paul declared, “I know I am rotten through and through so far as my old sinful nature is concerned.”24 We face tremendous physical, emotional, and mental adjustments in marriage. The relationship is burdened with divergent backgrounds, differences of opinion, and daily misunderstandings. Two egos, each selfish and sinful, seek individual satisfaction and well-being. The odds against marital bliss seem almost insurmountable! However, the odds can be overcome by supernatural help. The indwelling Holy Spirit longs to help us. Let’s find out how to receive His power!
The Apostle Paul divides the human race into three major categories. The first category he labels the “natural” or “soulish” man.25 His human spirit has never been made alive toward God. He is spiritually dead;26 he needs to be saved.27 His life is dominated by his “flesh” his sinful nature. It is this nature which accounts for all of his weaknesses, such as the anger and jealousy which produce so much turmoil in marriage.
The second group Paul labels the “spiritual” man.28 This kind of person has received Jesus Christ as his Savior and has allowed the indwelling Holy Spirit to fill his life. He is a mature, stable, and spiritually strong person.
The third category is the “carnal” or “fleshly” man.”29 This person is a Christian, but his sin nature (“the flesh”) seems to control him much of the time, producing the same selfishness, anger, worry, jealousy, bitterness, and resentment that he had before he met the Lord.
Now imagine two flesh-dominated lives trying to become perfectly united in daily living! The attempt is futile; each person merely succeeds in partially satisfying his own selfish desires. It matters little whether both parties are unsaved, or both are carnal Christians, or one is unsaved and the other is saved but carnal. The result is much the same in every case.
Even if one of the two parties is controlled by the Holy Spirit, perfect oneness is still impossible to attain. This marriage will be happier than in the previous case, because at least one partner is manifesting the love of Christ. But the potential for perfect harmony is absent. No sinful ego has the same aspiration, the same motivation, or the same power as the Spirit-dominated life. The two partners will continue to cherish two diametrically opposed sets of goals and values.
Perfect unity comes only when the Holy Spirit fully controls both lives and draws them together into unity and harmony. Because the Holy Spirit is a real Person, He can establish goals, direct motives, develop attitudes, and assist actions. Because He is God, He exercises all the power required to achieve His goals. Because He is a Spirit, He indwells two partners simultaneously and unites them in heart. There is no way for a husband and wife to enjoy perfect oneness apart from the Spirit-controlled life.
Look at it another way. The Apostle Paul wrote, “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”30 The word “walk” in this verse is a military term used in secular Greek literature to describe rows of soldiers marching in step. If every soldier watches his commanding officer and keeps in step with him, then he will also be in step with every other soldier. Similarly, if a husband and wife both stay in step with the Holy Spirit they will also be in step with each other. It cannot be otherwise.
Look at it still another way. A geometrical axiom states that all objects close to a given object are also close to each other. Apply that axiom to marriage, and you discover that as two people draw close to the Lord they also become close to each other! The believer is a three-part being composed of spirit, soul, and body. The spirit communes with God. The soul is the personality—intellect, emotions, and will. The body possesses five senses through which it experiences various sensations. Oneness in marriage requires unity in spirit, soul, and body. Many Christian couples have worked hard at establishing oneness of body through sex and oneness of soul through personality interaction, but have tragically neglected the most important unity of all—that of their spirits! They seldom pray together. They rarely share the Word of God with each other. They hardly ever discuss mutual spiritual matters. The Lord is simply not a real part of their relationship with each other. As a result the two partners suffer alienation from each other at the highest plane of their human makeup. This disunity of spirit then disrupts the harmony of soul and body as well. It is God’s will that we yield our spirits totally to Him. Then He will grant harmony of body and soul as well.
It is significant that the major biblical instruction about the Spirit-filled life is found in a context dealing with marriage.31 It begins, “And be not drunk with wine, in which is excess, but be filled with the Spirit.” Just as a person who is filled with wine is controlled by that wine, so a Christian who is filled with the Spirit is controlled by the Spirit. The verses that follow enumerate four characteristics of Spirit-filled Christians.
1) Speaking to yourselves in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.32
2) Singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.33
3) Giving thanks always for all things.34
4) Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.35
This last characteristic describes an attitude of gracious humility and mutual respect. With this mutual submission Paul begins the most extensive discussion of the husband-wife relationship to be found anywhere in the New Testament. None of us can fulfill our divinely revealed responsibilities until we are controlled and empowered by the Holy Spirit of God. There is really no point in reading on and learning what God the Holy Spirit wants to do in our lives unless we are willing to let Him provide the necessary power. When we do allow Him to express His life through us we will not only become worshipful, thankful, and humble, but the ninefold fruit of the Spirit will be evidenced in our lives: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and self-control.36 Dissension is impossible when these are radiating from our lives!
If the filling of the Spirit is the primary issue in a Christian marriage, we need to know how the Holy Spirit can fill us. Here are some suggestions.
(1) Examine your life in the light of God’s Word.37 When problems occur in our marriages, the first thing we usually do is to pick at the faults in our mates. As Christ put it, we try to get the splinters out of their eyes while ignoring the logs in our own. Jesus said, “Hypocrite! First get rid of the board. Then you can see to help your brother.”38 If we are honest we will find that we are far from guiltless. We may discover such sins as anger, resentment, bitterness, unkindness, pride, unforgiveness, coldness, selfishness, jealousy, worry, covetousness, and lust. Any one of these can produce untold discord in the home! When we react angrily to the display of these sins in our mates, we ourselves are sinning and are compounding the problem still further.
(2) Confess your sins to God.39 Having discovered our sins, we must promptly acknowledge them by name to God and confess our full responsibility for their appearance. We cannot excuse our outbursts by pointing to our mates’ provocations. We are volitional creatures; we can choose to trust God for victory over these outbursts if we wish to. First John 1:9 assures us that God will freely forgive us the moment we confess our sins to Him. When we honestly admit to ourselves and to God that our sin is really sin, many of our marital problems start getting solved immediately!
(3) Yield every area of your life to God.40 God wants us to make ourselves wholly available to Him, to give ourselves to him with no strings attached. Some people seem to be afraid to commit their lives to God; they fear He might make some unreasonable demand or try to harm them in some way. We sometimes find it so hard to believe that God’s way is perfect—that He never makes mistakes.41 We desperately need to commit our lives totally to Christ. Only then can we become filled and controlled by the Holy Spirit. If we refuse to relinquish our wills to Him, it will shrivel our entire personality, making us unbearable to live with and destroying the potential for perfect marital harmony. Let’s get our marriages on the right footing; let’s do it God’s way!
Countless Christians have already discovered that their seemingly hopeless marriages were transformed into beautiful harmony when they yielded their lives unreservedly to Christ. Some have discovered this secret only after long battles and bitter heartaches. Why not obey God’s Word right now and avoid all the heartaches? The improvement in your marriage can begin today!
(4) The Spirit-filled Christian finds such joy and satisfaction in his yielded relationship with the Spirit of God that he wants to maintain it continually. He does so by constantly acknowledging the Holy Spirit’s indwelling power. He talks with the Lord regularly. He hears the voice of God speaking in the Bible. He cultivates fellowship with other believers. He leans on the Lord for strength to conquer sin. This kind of a relationship is called “abiding in Christ.”42 Without the Savior we can do nothing—not even get along with our spouses!43 But through Him we can do everything, even to the point of making our homes all that He wants them to be!44