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11. Dangers That Damage Your Marriage (Ephesians 5:15-17)

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January 7, 2018

No one sets out deliberately to damage his or her marriage. We all want happy, satisfying marriages. But because we live in an evil world that subtly influences us more than we realize, many sincere Christian couples drift into a number of dangers that damage or sometimes destroy their marriages. While no marriage is perfect, when believers avoid the world’s ways and apply the wisdom of God’s Word in their marriages, their marriages will be healthy.

Keep in mind that the main goal of marriage is not our happiness, but rather God’s glory. Our marriages are a picture of Christ and His bride, the church (Eph. 5:32). We are to display to the world (and even to the angelic hosts, Eph. 3:10!) the faithful, holy love that Christ has for His church. And, as John Piper has often pointed out, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” And thus every Christian marriage must aim at being a God-glorifying marriage.

In the paragraph before he gives explicit commands to wives and husbands, Paul gives these general commands (Eph. 5:15-17): “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” I’m not going to explain these verses in detail (for that, see my sermon, “Walking Wisely,” in the Ephesians series), but rather I’m going to apply them to marriage in a general way:

Because we live in evil times, avoid the world’s dangers and apply God’s wisdom to your marriage.

1. This evil world presents many dangers that will damage your marriage if you are not careful.

Some of these dangers are more deadly than others. If you fall into more than one, the damage is multiplied. Here are a “dirty dozen” worldly dangers that will damage your marriage:

1) Poor communication will damage your marriage.

Poor communication is one of the most prevalent causes of marital problems. It can take many different forms. In Ephesians 4:15, Paul says, “but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ.” As the head, Christ is to be the Lord of all our communication. Before you speak, ask yourself, “Will my words be pleasing to the Lord Jesus Christ?” And, “Are my words both truthful and loving, with the aim of building up my mate in Christ?” To blast your mate because “that’s just how I feel,” may be truthful, but it’s not loving. To be dishonest about how you feel or not to say anything to avoid conflict may seem loving, but it’s not truthful, and will lead to long term distance in the relationship. For sake of time, I can’t say more here, but on the church website is a one-page resource, “Some Biblical Principles for Communication.”

2) Anger and abusive speech will damage your marriage.

Sinful anger is always destructive to healthy relationships. James 1:19-20 cautions, “But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” Paul commands (Eph. 4:29), “Let no unwholesome [lit. ‘rotten’] word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” Then he adds (Eph. 4:31), “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor [yelling] and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” Proverbs 15:1 states, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

All of those verses assume that you are able to control your anger if you choose to obey God. So the excuse, “I just have a short fuse,” won’t cut it! In the first “counseling” scene in the Bible, the Lord asks Cain (Gen. 4:6), “Why are you angry?” The Lord was not wondering about the answer to that question! He wanted Cain to examine his heart about the root cause of his anger. The root cause of all anger is selfishness: “I want my way and I didn’t get my way!” When we get angry we’re not in submission to the sovereignty of God, who is in charge of all the frustrating and trying circumstances that come into our lives. In marriage, partners use anger to try to intimidate and control their mates. But it always creates distance in relationships and it is always destructive!

3) Bitterness and a lack of forgiveness will damage your marriage.

After commanding (Eph. 4:31), “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor [yelling] and slander be put away from you, along with all malice,” Paul adds (Eph. 4:32), “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” The antidote to bitterness and anger is forgiveness. Over the years, married couples will invariably wrong one other. If they do not deal with those wrongs God’s way, it slowly builds a dividing wall of resentment and bitterness.

Thus it’s important to keep short accounts with your mate. If you lost your temper and yelled at her, don’t say, “I’m sorry that I yelled at you, but your stubbornness makes me angry!” That is to blame her for your sin. Don’t even say, “I’m sorry that I yelled at you.” That may be true and she’s probably sorry, too. Saying that you feel sorry expresses how you feel, but it doesn’t accept responsibility for your sin. The proper way to deal with your sin is to say, “God has convicted me of my sinful anger and I’ve asked His forgiveness. I will try to work to overcome that sin. I’m asking you, ‘Will you forgive me?’” As Christians, we don’t have the option not to forgive someone who asks forgiveness (Matt. 6:14-15; 18:21-35). By saying, “I forgive you,” the relationship can be restored.

4) Sexual immorality (beginning on the thought level) will damage your marriage.

I emphasize, beginning on the thought level, because Jesus said that all immorality begins in the heart (Mark 7:21-23; Matt. 5:27-28). This means, guys, that if you’re secretly lusting after women other than your wife or you’re looking at pornography, you’re sabotaging your marriage. You’re on the slippery slope that leads to physical immorality. And, more seriously, Jesus said that if you don’t take radical measures to cut mental lust out of your life (pluck out your eye, cut off your hand), you’re headed for hell (Matt. 5:29-30)! I wouldn’t have put it so strongly, but Jesus did!

Although Christian scholars differ, my understanding (of Matt. 5:31-32; 19:3-9) is that God permits divorce in cases of physical sexual immorality outside of marriage (not in cases of mental adultery, as some counselors assert). But, God’s best is always forgiveness and restoration of the marriage. In the Old Testament, God often accuses His people Israel of spiritual adultery against Him. But over and over He offers forgiveness if they will repent and return to Him. Only after repeated adulteries does He finally divorce them (Jer. 3:6-10). Since the aim of marriage is to glorify God, I believe that forgiveness and restoration of the marriage brings more glory to God than ending the marriage. It’s never easy and it takes time, but it is God’s best.

5) Alcohol and drug abuse will damage your marriage.

I have seen Christian homes torn apart by alcohol and drug abuse. Many argue that alcoholism and drug addiction are diseases. That is partly, but not totally, correct. Both forms of abuse are sins, but they also have a physiological aspect. Once a person is addicted to a substance, his body craves it and he often will lie, steal, or worse to get that substance. To deny that alcohol and drug abuse are sins is wrong, because it absolves the person of responsibility for his actions. But no one ever became addicted to alcohol or drugs without choosing to take the first drink or first hit of a drug. The Bible condemns drunkenness as a sinful deed of the flesh (Gal. 5:21). Acknowledging it to be sin is the first step to deliverance from it, since God is in the business of giving His people victory over sin.

Although the Bible allows drinking alcoholic beverages in moderation, it can be dangerous. If you turn to alcohol to relieve stress or escape from your problems, you’re sinning, because you’re not trusting the Lord for these things. Turning to alcohol or drugs is a sin that will damage your marriage.

6) Selfishness will damage your marriage.

Selfishness takes many forms. As I said, selfishness is the root cause of anger. A selfish husband insists that he is right and he won’t listen to or yield to any other views. He does not think about his wife’s needs or how she may feel, but only thinks about his needs and how he feels. He will buy whatever he wants for himself, but deny his wife the same privilege. He will spend time with his friends when he feels like it, but not let his wife spend time with her friends, because he wants her to be available to meet his needs. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Life in the Spirit, in Marriage, Home & Work [Baker], p. 211) states,

The real cause of failure, ultimately, in marriage is always self, and the various manifestations of self. Of course that is the cause of trouble everywhere and in every realm. Self and selfishness are the greatest disrupting forces in the world.

Jesus said that to follow Him we must deny self and put it to death on a daily basis (Luke 9:23): “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” The second greatest commandment (Matt. 22:39) is that I love my neighbor as much as I do in fact love myself. My wife is my closest “neighbor.” To love her requires killing my selfishness every day.

7) Competition instead of cooperation will damage your marriage.

Many Christian couples are vying for dominance and power in their marriage. It often comes through in the way they exchange barbed comments or use humor to try to put one another down. If you were to confront them, they’d protest, “We’re just joking!” But competition, whether in marriage or in the church, goes against the truth that we are members of one another and our aim should be to build up one another (Eph. 5:28-30). If your arm is competing against the rest of your body, you’ve got a big problem. The members of your body should cooperate for their common good, not compete.

Before we got married, I told Marla that I did not want us to smash cake in each other’s faces at our wedding, because that shows disrespect and it would start us off competing against one another. In the early days of our marriage, if she was upset with me about something, I would remind her, “I’m on your side and I want what’s best for you. If I wronged you, I want to correct it. But we’re on the same team. We’ve got to work together.” In an argument or disagreement, your aim should not be to win, unless an important doctrinal or moral issue is at stake. Your aim should be to glorify the Lord by learning to cooperate as a couple.

8) Financial irresponsibility will damage your marriage.

I have read that disagreements over money are a major cause of divorce. Sometimes a freewheeling, impulsive spender will marry a cheapskate who won’t buy anything that isn’t on sale, in a thrift store, or absolutely necessary. As the famous understatement goes, “Houston, we’ve got a problem!” A couple like that will have to work overtime to live together in harmony. The starting place is to study what God’s Word says about financial stewardship. (Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University is a good starting point.)

This problem is made worse if couples are competing, not cooperating. They get into a spending war: “You bought yourself that new motorcycle that we couldn’t afford, so I’m going to Hawaii with my friends!” As the bills and the credit card interest skyrocket, tension in the marriage increases to the explosion level. You don’t need that tension! The solution is to manage your money according to the principles in God’s Word. Begin by working out a plan to get out of debt and then live within your means.

9) Mismanaging your time will damage your marriage.

Paul says that if we’re wise, we’ll make the most of our time. But it’s easy to fall into the workaholic trap, where you neglect your family. Or, many families get overloaded with too many activities. Or a husband and wife are going in different directions and not spending enough time together.

A frequent marital pattern is that early in the marriage, the husband pours himself into his career, putting in the necessary hours to succeed. He rationalizes his long days or frequent business trips by saying, “If I don’t do this, I’ll get passed over for the promotion or even fired.” Meanwhile, the couple has several children, so the wife’s time is focused on rearing them. If she’s also working in an outside job, she hardly has any spare time. So the busy couple drifts apart in their relationship.

Meanwhile, the devil brings along an attractive, interesting young woman at work who, unlike the overwhelmed wife at home, gives the husband attention and affirmation. Or, if the wife is working, a man at work fills a need that her overworked husband no longer is meeting. He is kind, caring, and has time to listen to her. He seems so understanding. Whether with the husband or the wife, it’s a setup for marital unfaithfulness. At its root is mismanaging your time so that your marriage relationship takes a back seat to other things. A ninth danger is related to this:

10) Wrong expectations and goals will damage your marriage.

Many couples enter marriage with unstated expectations. If a man’s expectation is that his wife stay home, keep house, and care for the children, but her expectation is to have a successful career, conflict is ahead! If a wife expects that her new husband will make a pile of money so that they can move up in the world and enjoy the good life, but his expectation is to live simply and give the rest to missions, a train wreck is in the making!

The solution is to talk about expectations and mutually to establish biblical goals for your marriage. Putting career success over marital success is a wrong goal. Living to impress others by getting a bigger and nicer house, newer and more expensive cars, or accumulating more stuff, is a wrong goal. Paul warns (1 Tim. 6:7-10):

For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

Rather than seeking after all the stuff that pagans seek, Jesus stated what our goal should be (Matt. 6:33): “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Every couple needs to talk about and work out what that looks like in terms of time management and financial management. It’s not a once for life discussion. Seeking first God’s kingdom and righteousness will look different at different phases of marriage. But that should be a couple’s overarching goal at every phase.

11) Worldliness will damage your marriage.

To be worldly is to adopt the world’s values, goals, and ways as opposed to the values, goals, and ways of God’s Word. Worldliness seeps into the cracks of your life when you’re not looking, so be on guard! The world says, “Marriage is to make you happy. If your marriage is not making you happy, you should divorce and go find someone else who will make you happy.” God says, “Your lifelong marriage is to bring Me glory by reflecting the relationship between Christ and the church.”

The world says, “The roles of men and women in marriage are up for grabs. It doesn’t matter who does what as long as you agree upon it.” The Bible says, “Husbands are to provide loving leadership; wives are to submit respectfully to their husbands.” The world says, “Stand up for your rights!” The Bible says, “Regard the other person’s needs and interests above your own” (Phil. 2:3-8). The world says, “Accumulating more stuff will make you happy!” Jesus said (Matt. 16:26), “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” Finally,

12) Drifting from the Lord will damage your marriage.

I often point out at weddings that marriage is like a triangle with God at the top and the couple at both lower corners. As the couple both move closer to the Lord, they grow closer to one another. Or, if they go in the opposite direction, they grow more distant from one another. As each partner grows in the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), they will grow closer to one another, since all of those qualities have a relational dimension: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” On the other hand, the deeds of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21), which include immorality, strife, jealousy, anger, and drunkenness, damage and destroy loving relationships. So guard your walk with the Lord! The antidote to all these dangers is found in God’s Word:

2. God’s Word gives us the wisdom we need to avoid these worldly dangers.

To refresh Paul’s commands (Eph. 5:15-17), “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”

To be careful how you walk, you must avoid the dangers that damage your marriage. Where do we find wisdom? Proverbs 2:6: “For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.” He has revealed His wisdom, knowledge, and understanding in His Word (Ps. 119). The will of the Lord is that you and your family please and glorify Him in all things (1 Cor. 10:31; Eph. 5:10). His will is that you grow to love Him more deeply as you get to know Him better through His Word (Matt. 22:37). His will is that you glorify Him by your holiness, beginning on the thought level (1 Pet. 1:15-16; Mark 7:7-23). His will is that you grow in love for others, even as He has loved you (Eph. 5:1-2; Phil. 1:9). His will is that you treat others even as you want them to treat you (Matt. 7:12). Your marriage and family are the proving ground for His will to be displayed.


Here’s a main action point: If you’re not spending consistent time in God’s Word, begin there. There are many online plans for reading through the Bible in a year. Or, read through the New Testament several times this year. As you read, ask God to reveal Himself to you and to help you apply the Word in your family.

A second action point: Sit down with your spouse and evaluate your marriage by these twelve dangers. Hopefully, no one will score twelve out of twelve that need attention! Pick the one or two that need the most help and begin there. Then move on to the next most needy. Keep in mind that the main goal of marriage is not your happiness, but rather God’s glory.

In the preface to his book, When Sinners Say, “I Do” ([Shepherd Press], p. 16), Dave Harvey cites the Puritan pastor, Thomas Watson: “Till sin be bitter, Christ will not be sweet.” Harvey applies this to marriage (italics his): “When sin becomes bitter, marriage becomes sweet.” He then points out how the gospel is central for a sweet marriage. If you’ve not come to the cross as a sinner and by faith received new life in Christ and His righteousness, that’s your main need! The Christian life begins and continues with repentance from sin. When you trust in Christ as Savior and Lord, He gives you the Holy Spirit to produce His fruit in you. He enables you to avoid the world’s dangers and apply God’s wisdom to your marriage, to His glory!

Application Questions

  1. Go through the list of twelve worldly dangers and prioritize those that apply to your marriage. Discuss with your spouse.
  2. How can an impulsive person who lives by his feelings develop self-discipline? What steps should he take?
  3. How can we discern the harmful aspects of our culture from the harmless? How can we be in the world, but not of it?
  4. How can a couple who have opposite financial mindsets live in harmony? Where should they begin?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2018, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Marriage

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