Developing The Spiritual Union In Marriage
Below are several areas to consider with your fiancé/spouse within the topic of Developing Spiritual Union in Marriage. The subject matter and Scriptures should serve as a starting point but it is not meant to be exhaustive.
SCRIPTURAL DIRECTION AND BIBLICAL PRINCIPLES
Marriage, as defined in Scripture, is God’s plan and His idea.
Even prior to sin entering the world, God recognized and designed marriage to meet needs of men and women. (Gen. 2:18-25)
God’s image is revealed through both masculinity and femininity.
When God leads a husband and wife together, He is allowing them to see and reflect His image in a way unique to marriage. (Gen. 1:26-27)
When God joins two people together in marriage, they are able to do more together than they could each do alone.
With the help of the Holy Spirit, a Christian husband and wife blend their lives together. This allows them to strengthen and help each other in ways that glorify God. (Ecc. 4:9-12)
Marriage is designed by God to reveal His glory to those who receive it as His gift.
When husband and wife join together as one and establish a covenant between themselves and God, they are developing a spiritual union. (Eph. 5:30-32)
When the Word is read, spoken, and discussed in marriage, its power becomes evident.
When a husband and wife share openly with each other on spiritual matters, it bonds them together and helps them keep God’s Word as the basis for their marriage. (Deut. 6:4-9)
Marriage allows an opportunity for service.
When husbands and wives work together to serve others, the spiritual union is strengthened and helps the couple to maintain proper priorities in life. (Acts 18:26)
The husband and the wife need to continue to grow in their individual spiritual lives in addition to growing together spiritually as a couple.
Helping one another to stay firmly grounded in Truth is a way that husbands and wives bless each other. (Prov. 27:17, Col. 3:16)
Times of challenge and struggle in life provide couples with the opportunity to draw closer to God and to each other.
While Satan would like to use the stresses of life to harm your relationship, God can use difficult life circumstances to help you grow. (James 1:2-4)
The stress and fast pace of life make it easier for couples to become distracted from their focus on Christ and the importance of maintaining their marriage relationship.
Married couples need to make an intentional decision together to keep Christ at the center of their lives. (Josh. 24:15)
A couple’s love relationship symbolizes the relationship between Christ and the Church.
Therefore, He is glorified when couples express their love for each other. Couples need to see their physical union as an act of spiritual worship and obedience to God. (Eph. 5:31-32)
Christ as the Head of the spiritual union.
God desires that there be order in marriages and families. First, we must remember this order was God’s idea. (1 Cor. 11:3) Second, it is important that God’s order be respected. As our creator, He knows how we are designed and under what conditions we will function best. Couples cannot violate God’s order and then expect things in their marriage to always go well. Third, Christ is the ultimate head of the union – not the man or the woman. This concept is important because husbands should never feel they are “the boss.” Rather, as Ephesians 5:21 instructs, both husbands and wives should be, “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.” Therefore, mutual submission must be practiced to represent the Gospel in marriage. If Christian men are going to be effective husbands, they must first submit themselves fully to Christ. When husbands do this, their wives will find it much easier to respect and submit to them. Conversely, wives must be careful to not try to take the leadership role away from their husbands.
Your spiritual life.
At times people ask each other the question, “How is your spiritual life?” This question means different things to different people. For example, some people think of their spiritual lives as the time they spend doing their daily Bible reading and prayers. However, your devotional time does not constitute your entire spiritual life. God wants us to live for Him in all areas of our lives. While quiet time with Him is essential and should not be minimized, no less important is being prayerful and connected with God when you are at work or in the home.
We should let our whole life reflect Christ and see each opportunity (and challenge) as an occasion to glorify Him and know Him better. The Apostle Paul expresses well the goal of our spiritual life, “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.” (Phil. 3:10) If our hearts and minds are Christ-centered, then our relationship with Him will impact all areas of our lives, including work, home, relationships, devotional time, priorities, and so on.
Threats to spiritual oneness.
One of the ways to strengthen spiritual oneness is to work together to recognize and deal with things that threaten it. These threats will vary over time as life circumstances change. In addition, not all of the threats to spiritual oneness are sinful or wrong in themselves. For example, while children are a blessing from the Lord, many couples find it more difficult to find time and energy to connect spiritually during the child-raising years.
Each couple is encouraged to prayerfully consider and discuss the following list of threats to spiritual oneness as well as other issues, activities, and life experiences which may harm their spiritual connection.
- The husband and/or wife not giving proper priority to their individual walk(s) with the Lord.
- Thinking you will spend more time on spiritual things “when things slow down.”
- Fear of being open with each other about spiritual things.
- Not working through differences in your convictions and beliefs.
- Not working on overcoming differences in your gender, personality, or how your families-of-origin dealt with communication about spiritual things.
- Not dealing with conflict and anger effectively in the marriage.
- The husband misusing his spiritual role in the home by either “being the boss” or through neglecting his role.
- The wife misusing her spiritual role in the home by either being unsupportive of the husband’s role or by trying to take the lead.
- Allowing apathy or self-interest to be a barrier when seeking spiritual oneness.
- Becoming too busy to be able to maintain proper spiritual priorities in your marriage and family.
Viewing marriage as a covenant.
Marriage is not merely a contract or an agreement between two people that lasts only as long as each party fulfills their responsibilities. Unfortunately, sometimes couples play this “50-50 game.” That is, “I’ll do my part if you do yours.”
Marriage is much more than a contract; it is a two-way promise called a covenant. It is not only a covenant with our spouse, it is a covenant with God to fulfill our role as a spouse. Marriage was set up by God to be an earthly representation of the intimate relationship amongst the Trinity and God’s unconditional commitment to His redeemed. Recognizing the significance of the marital covenant is an important part of building the spiritual union.
Promoting spiritual oneness by understanding each other’s backgrounds.
Spiritual oneness grows when couples understand the effect of each other’s family-of-origins and other differences (e.g., gender differences, personalities, life experiences) on the development of their spiritual union. Your individual family backgrounds helped to lay the groundwork for how you view spirituality in your marriage. For example, some individuals want to recreate what happened in their families while they were growing up, while others want to do the exact opposite of what they saw. You need to become aware of and openly discuss your differences and expectations in these areas.
Sometimes when dealing with differences in backgrounds, couples start from the position of seeing things as matters of “right and wrong.” For example, while these words may never be spoken directly, a spouse’s actions and attitudes may say, “The way my family did it was right. How your family handled it was wrong.” While these feelings may be natural, they can also lead to misunderstandings and hurt feelings. It is much better to start from the perspective of trying to appreciate and learn from one another’s differences. The scripture below can help you to have a Christ-like attitude in dealing with differences.
Colossians 3:12-15, “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.”
Some practical suggestions for dealing with differences in your backgrounds include:
- Listen to each other carefully for the purpose of understanding each other well.
- Be flexible with each other.
- Be willing to learn from your spouse.
- Honor one another as children of God; equal before God, but with different complementary roles.
- Learn to distinguish between important issues which should be addressed and the many lesser differences which simply make life interesting.
Below are some examples of gender, personality, and family differences that many couples must work through. Each couple is encouraged to prayerfully consider and discuss these issues and any others that may be applicable to their situation.
- Having differing levels of comfort when discussing spiritual issues and sharing thoughts.
- Having differing degrees of comfort in praying out loud.
- Having differing styles of reading and studying the Bible.
- Having differing convictions about some issues.
- Comparing your spouse to your mom/dad in a way that is critical of your spouse. Note: Some problems related to spiritual oneness may actually be issues with gender differences, communication problems, incorrect attitudes, etc. For example, simply because a husband does not get everything he wants does not mean the wife is not being submissive.
The significance of commitment.
Just as marriage involves a commitment to one’s spouse, it also involves a commitment to following God’s instruction. Developing the spiritual union means living out God’s Word in practical ways. That is, when husbands and wives look for ways to mutually love, respect and submit to one another, they are drawn together in a stronger union. This enhances the strengths they individually bring to the marriage bond and encourages them to live overcoming lives.
Commitment to obedience (I Peter 1:13-16).
- Demonstrate submission to those whom God has placed over you.
- Live under subjection to Christ’s authority. The husband is responsible to Christ for his family. The wife is responsible to Christ to submit to her husband. The children are responsible to obey their parents.
Commitment to service. (Heb. 10:24)
- Develop and share a mutual sense of mission and service.
- Support your local church and church activities together.
Commitment to development and use of spiritual gifts. (Eph. 4:11-12)
- Recognize the value of all parts of the Body of Christ.
- Help each other identify, develop, and use the spiritual gifts that God has entrusted to both of you.
- Encourage each other to overcome barriers to using spiritual gifts (e.g., fear of failure).
Commitment to good stewardship. (Matt. 25:14-30)
- The pursuit of wealth, status, and personal enjoyment should not outweigh the pursuit of holiness, knowing God more deeply, and service to others.
- Make tithing of your resources and giving of your time and talents a regular practice in your marriage.
Commitment to forgiveness. (Luke 11:4a)
- Marriage will allow many opportunities to practice ongoing forgiveness. Forbearing one another and practicing forgiveness (Colossians 3:13) with one another is a way of admitting that you each are human beings who make mistakes and need grace from each other.
Commitment to prayer. (1 Th. 5:17)
- Praying together is a way to build intimacy as husband and wife draw closer to one another and to God.
- Prayer can be incorporated into the marriage in a variety of ways individually, as a couple, and as a family.
Commitment to raise children in a godly way. (Prov. 22:6)
- Both husband and wife have a responsibility to provide for children spiritually.
- Model Christ-likeness in both words and actions.
- Your lifestyle and priorities in life should point your children toward Christ.
Developing and encouraging appropriate spiritual roles.
Complementary spiritual roles (leadership and submission) were designed by God to exist together and to reinforce each other. They can only be adequately lived out when they exist together. For example, submission implies the existence of a leader who does not contradict or attempt to override Christ’s leadership. The husband and wife must each strive to live out their spiritual role in the marriage so that the spiritual union can develop.
- Discover practical ways to dwell with your wife according to knowledge and with understanding (1 Peter 3:7).
- Recognize the submission involved in loving your wife as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25).
- Remember the leadership role in the home has more to do with lovingly taking responsibility (i.e., servant-leadership like Christ modeled to us) than being “in charge” and having the last word (John 13:4-17).
- Serve as a daily prayer warrior for your family.
- Pray out loud with your family at least one time per day.
- Understand spiritual leadership as both an attitude/mindset and a set of actions. Remember your wife and family have a great need to feel cherished by and connected to you. If you are not being understanding of your wife’s emotional needs, your spiritual effectiveness will be diminished. (I Peter 3:7)
- Understand the husband as the spiritual head sets the standard for his family’s spirituality. However, this does not mean the husband is more spiritual than the wife.
- Realize just because you are the husband does not automatically mean you are functioning as a leader.
- Considering your wife’s input in decisions is a practical way to love your wife and to practice mutual submission (Ephesians 5:21).
- Look for practical ways to submit to your husband as the spiritual head as you submit to Christ as the Head of the Church.
- Remember your husband has a great need for respect and honor from you.
- Be aware your attempts to be “helpful” to him may be interpreted as criticism. When you share your thoughts and ideas, do so in a loving way. Identify your husband’s comfort with being a leader. If he is insecure or passive in his role as the spiritual leader, be sure to compliment him and provide him with positive feedback when you see him trying.
- Find ways to live out the role as a helper that is suitable (Genesis 2:18). It is a privilege for you to be able to complement (i.e., balance, supplement, strengthen) your husband’s role.
- Don’t underestimate the power of prayer in your marriage. Your role as a prayer partner in the marriage can be just as vital and effective as that of your husband.
Discovering what works best for you as a couple.
As a given, each husband and wife are encouraged to be reading the Word (Psalm 1:1-2), constant in prayer (1 Thessalonians 5:17), consistent in attending church (Hebrews 10:25), and devoted to serving the Lord and others (Matthew 5:16). While most couples understand the importance of regular spiritual activities like these, figuring out how to regularly practice them together can be difficult.
NOTE: Each couple is encouraged to find what works best for them as a couple. Not all couples will (or should) do this the same. As long as the right “ingredients” are being used, each couple has latitude to find the right “recipe.”
For further information, including couple questions and exercises, please see the full document.
For Further Information:
Like a Tree Planted by the Water
This is a 12 week prayer journal for your marriage. Every week begins with a few conceptual seeds related to your marriage that are rooted in Scripture and can branch out into multiple areas of your life. Some of the areas covered include agape love, forgiveness, commitment, thankfulness, and unity. [Christian PREP, Inc.]
Author: Gary Thomas
This 299-page book shows how your marriage can help you deepen your relationship with God. Includes discussion questions for couples and small groups.