November 20, 2017

The Marriage Saver

Gary Thomas — 

There is one thing that could save you thousands of dollars in marital counseling.

It can turn a frustrating marriage into a delightful one.

It can turn a barren marriage into a fruitful one.

It can turn a hurtful marriage into an encouraging one.

Indeed, if we will more earnestly pursue this one spiritual truth every aspect of marriage will flourish. Wherever we lack this spiritual dimension, every aspect of marriage will suffer.

If you believe the Bible and if you trust in the wisdom of the Christian classics, it is impossible for us to truly love our spouse (or anyone else) without humility. If you want to pursue intimacy, if you want to pursue deeper relationships, joy, and peace, you must pursue humility.

What is humility?

In his book Called to Be Saints Gordon Smith summarizes the early Christian Fathers’ view of humility with three ideas. I’ve been a devoted reader of the classics for about three decades now, and from that perspective, I believe Smith nails it:

1. “I am not the center of the universe.”

Let’s be honest: don’t most marital arguments turn on precisely this axis: “Do things my way, do what pleases me, and we’ll be fine?” The problem is, whenever you have a relationship of two or more people, eventually that philosophy is going to be impossible to fulfill. If we think of our comfort and our desires as dictating how others should treat us or as the axis around which the family or marriage should revolve, our marriages will suffer dramatically.

Humility makes two individuals becoming one possible. Two arrogant people cannot have an intimate marriage.

2. Complete dependence on God for the grace to live the Christian life.

I wrote in A Lifelong Love that the high call to love our spouse so extravagantly all but forces us to be ever dependent on God’s Holy Spirit. It’s a display of God’s brilliance: I’m going to call you to something so humanly impossible (loving my wife like Christ loves the church!) that you will be forced to depend on me every day.

Without worship, my heart closes off. When I don’t receive God’s love, I can’t pass on God’s love. Without listening to God, I talk myself into selfishness, resentment, and bitterness. The Holy Spirit talks me into service, love, and encouragement. To have a truly glorious marriage, we have to recognize God must be at the center of our individual lives.

It isn’t just stupid to think we can be “good Christians” on our own strength: it is blasphemous. The Holy Spirit isn’t just the ribbon on an otherwise elaborately wrapped present, put there almost as an afterthought; He is the present. Without Him, there is nothing.

3. Proper ordering of the affections

Gordon Smith writes, “The greatest threat to our capacity to love, whether to love God or to love others, is our misguided desires, longings, and aspirations…And when our affections or passions are disordered, we are blinded; we are not free. Freedom, including the freedom to love the other, can come only with the ordering of the affections.”

Some spouses think that because they want something, their spouse is obligated to provide it. This can be true in the bedroom, the kitchen, or the living room. But if we accept that we have disordered affections that blind us, then we realize the fulfillment of a disordered affection will ruin us. Pride says, “If I want it, give it to me.” Love says, “I will do only what is spiritually healthy for you and I want you to offer only what is spiritually healthy for me.” If your spouse desires something that is destructive or unbiblical, offering it is not an act of love, it’s an act of hatred.

So, as a spouse, humility means I understand that I live with disordered affections. Christian growth is largely about learning to desire what God wants me to desire. Desire is a good thing, pleasure is a wonderful thing, but humility reminds me that sometimes I can desire the wrong things. My desires alone must not dictate what my spouse is obligated to do. I have to surrender my desires to God’s will and God’s law.

Adopting the attitude that our affections need to be reordered on its own would dispel eighty percent of marital disagreements.

So, do you want a better marriage? Do you want to feel closer to your spouse? Do you want your marriage to reflect God’s reality and glory? Then chase after an ancient spiritual virtue: Humility.

This blog is not written for women in abusive marriages. The advice offered in these posts will challenge both husbands and wives, but the advice could be counter-productive if it is applied in an abusive relationship.

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16 responses to The Marriage Saver

  1. Thank you. Great insight and explanation.

  2. So true! And I loved the disclaimer, VERY good and concise in this very confused/confusing arena!
    Thank you Gary!

  3. Very very well written and sound wisdom

  4. Ditto on the thanks for the disclaimer! Had I read this three years ago, I would be once again awash in guilt and shame and continue to subject myself and my children to abuse. Now I know the truth.

  5. Another beautiful piece! I will try to apply all you’ve written when I get married in the next few weeks!

  6. This hit me like a ton of bricks. Especially the part about not making God the center. I do find myself more resentful toward others or bitter about certain things. And how can I expect my marriage to not suffer at all if we stop keeping God the center? Definitely need to work on this.

    This definitely sums up a lot of doomed marriages. They think they should be happy all the time and when they aren’t, they bail. Then the cycle repeats with someone else. I wish everyone could realize this and divorce would not be so common. Thank you for your insight.

  7. Challenging and true, Gary! Thank you for your writing ministry. May God continue to bless you in this calling!

    Thank you also for the disclaimer at the top of your blog. “…He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

  8. The erosion of marriage in our culture could be summed up with that one phrase: “If I want it, I should have it.” It’s like the mantra of American life, and it came straight from the pit.

  9. Humility often seems like be the one who is not getting the best end of the deal. But the joy of fulfilling someone’s wishes is greater than getting your wish fulfilled.

  10. Thank you Lord Jesus for equipping Gary as you have. Continue to use him to share these truths, Your truths. Continue to use Gary to be your voice, encouraging, challenging and equipping men and women to live lives that bring honour and glory to you Lord. Continue to use Gary to to speak truth to men and women so that their marriages can be ALL that you designed them to be and as a result, point a hurting world to you Lord Jesus. Amen.

    • Amen! Indeed….these posts are of great encouragement to me as a soon to be bride!

    • Scott, this was SUCH an encouragement. You don’t know the back story of what I’m facing and hearing, but I believe God led you to write these words, so I’m praising Him and thanking you for your faithfulness in responding. Bless you brother!

  11. Thank you so much for the disclaimer at the beginning of the blog. Finally, counselors are realizing the state of those in abusive relationships and how they may be impacted by their advice. What an encouragement!

  12. This article really spoke volumes to me – this is the struggle I have in my marriage- both of us have disordered affections. Thank you for the insight and wisdom to remind us that the way out of this place is humility- not based on feelings and desires, (which can be deceiving) but on the word and making the decision to make necessary corrections. Our words come from what we feel, and if the feelings are negative, that’s what we receive. I’m reminded to put God first at all times and all these desires will come. Every day I pray that my thoughts line up with the Word, and that my affections are ordered properly.

  13. I so appreciate your insight on the basics of relationships. Thanks again for reminding us of what real Christianity looks like in action.