Is it possible an ancient book could offer wisdom to make your marriage happier and stronger here on, say, an average day — even with your fights about the credit card, the phone that keeps dinging with texts, maybe even a modern-day porn problem?
Billions throughout every generation and countless cultures have found the Bible a refuge and anchor not just for morality and truth but for poignant and startlingly relevant insight. More than any other book, the Bible teaches broken humans how to love well and create fulfilling, forgiving, weatherproof relationships.
How could the Bible turn your relationship on its head?
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Following His creation of the world, God commissions Adam to name the animals — which arrive in pairs. In this parade, it becomes clear to Adam that, in contrast, he has no suitable companion, no life partner.
God responds to Adam’s felt need by creating an equal, worthy partner, an intimate ally.
In marriage, God intends a man and a woman to bond together and create, and doggedly hold to, a new family, superseding relationships with mother, father and children.
In ancient Israel, it was legal for a husband to divorce his wife if he found any “indecency in her” (Deuteronomy 24:1). This could lead to a man divorcing his wife for almost any reason, leaving women in that time financially destitute without land and a way to survive.
Jesus exposed this injustice for what it was. He reminded people that divorce was never God’s desire and only exists because of human beings’ failure to be just and loving: “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so” (Matthew 19:8, NIV).
A healthy marriage possesses a robust “Team Us” quality, creating lives more than the sum of their parts. A good marriage is a holy partnership.
Making Jesus Christ the “third cord” of your relationship supernaturally strengthens it.
In 1 Corinthians 7, the apostle Paul argues that while singleness is good and allows a person to devote more time to God and others, it’s not meant for everyone.
Sexual passion outside of marriage is misdirected and inevitably destructive. But within marriage? Sexual desire, passion and romance are healthy, natural and a gift directly from God, replaying your unity: “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love” (Proverbs 5:18-19, ESV).
In ancient Israel, a seal signified possession. The beloved in this poetic passage wants his lover to immovably, tenaciously own his heart.
Solomon’s beloved expresses her ardent desire for physical affection and sex. In the entirety of this book of the Bible, God reinforces his approval and good creation of passionate love and sex within marriage. He loves it when a husband and wife are holistically intimate, when they are “naked and unashamed” (Genesis 2:25).
In the Song of Solomon, both Solomon and his bride repeat their enthusiasm for each other’s hearts and bodies. Here Solomon revels in his wife’s attractiveness. Her eyes remind him of peaceful rest after a storm (compare with Genesis 8:8-11).
In this famous passage describing authentic love, the apostle Paul teaches that love is the greatest gift and highest mark of spiritual maturity and character.
Love isn’t a cheap word flung out without action and commitment. It’s a way of being. “You complete me” and all the tingly butterflies alone can’t meet the extensive, daily challenge of love’s demand, express the beauty of love’s perspective, or display the faithful tenderness of love’s all-in embrace.
True love requires virtuous, each-for-the-other actions from the dishwasher to the diagnosis, the candlelit dinner to the carpool.
Not all love between a husband and wife is rose petals (trust us: there’s a lot of laundry and car maintenance, too). And most of the Bible’s teaching on love deals with non-romantic forms of love. We can glean truth from passages about friendship and the affection between brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, and friends.
It’s healthy and constructive for any couple to invest in developing and maintaining friendship and companionship.
“God is love” means love is essential to God. Wherever you see real love, it’s a seed of who He is.
As Father, Son and Holy Spirit, God is three persons in a loving relationship. Through believing in Jesus, God brings people into a loving relationship, transforming their character and experience of life through His Holy Spirit.
The love of a healthy Christian marriage springs from the genuine love they first encounter in the Trinity. Their relationship spells out the fervent commitment, perpetual companionship and self-sacrificial care God pours over humanity through Jesus.
God’s Spirit lives within those who believe God — who allow Him the position of Master in their lives (Romans 8:9,14; 1 Corinthians 6:19; Ephesians 1:13-14).
How can you tell if you and your marriage are tuning in to the voice and influence of that Spirit?
These verses offer nine key clues. God’s Spirit transforms our relationships into something wholly other than what the rest of the world’s relationships look like. He changes our conflicts, our anxieties, our passions, our parenting and our lives into vibrant virtue.
None of us long for homes (or relationships) of arrogance, harshness and impatience. Each of these makes it hard to thrive and support each other.
But being married to someone who’s humble, tender and patient? Who loves peace and army-crawls toward togetherness? That’s character worthy of Jesus’ sacrifice for us, His own humility and gentleness and patience with us. (“Bearing with one another in love” = persevering in love even through the hard, even the ugly.)
This kind of character yields a more weatherproof relationship, eager for peace and continued connection.
In the churches at Philippi, pride and selfish ambition among leaders meant less effective work for God (Philippians 2:19-23, 4:2-3). To be united in a ministry and mission, God’s people have to work out their personal differences, subverting conceit and self-centered drive with humility and consideration.
You see the parallels, right? A husband and wife, too, must learn to live with each other and work together toward common goals for God’s purposes (see Matthew 6:33).
If you’re looking for a God-honoring marriage, it’s critical to consider your spouse’s needs and nix every shred of self-importance.
Even if you and your spouse are compassionate, kind, gentle and patient, you’ll still blow it. You’ll still need forgiveness.
See, forgiveness doesn’t deny that a person needs to change. It’s not okay to be harsh, critical or inconsiderate. But releasing our anger and resentment — effectively canceling a spouse’s debt (while maintaining accountability) — can help you move forward together toward empathy, humility and unconditional love.
As Christians, we are a forgiven people. Love contributes toward genuine peace because it graciously forgives as opposed to living in denial, making excuses, dwelling on injustice or meting out paybacks. Though some acts in marriage (like abuse or adultery) warrant separation, love chooses to lift shame and mutually work toward solutions.
Love can overcome most struggles in a marriage (“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” [Romans 12:21, ESV]). It can cultivate heartfelt change, compassion and forgiveness.
In the ancient Greco-Roman world, it was common for men to engage in sexual activity outside of marriage. Monogamy was not the norm. Some Greek philosophers “even thought marriage burdensome but sexual release necessary.”1 Let’s just say their society did not have a high view of marriage.
But God’s values effortlessly trump cultural models. For Christians, marriage between a husband and wife warrants respect, dignity and the honor of ceaseless commitment.
The Bible describes the bond between spouses as “one flesh.” It’s a comprehensive connection so close that it’s almost as if a husband and wife share one body. To betray that pledge of faithfulness through adultery destroys trust, crushes love and sours a marriage.
Further, the wisdom of Proverbs exposes the foolishness of adultery: The adulterer destroys themself in the process.
In the ancient world, patriarchal societies were the norm. Men governed, owned land, waged war and held most of the power.
As a result, women were imminently vulnerable: less rights, a harder life and dependent on men for safety and well-being. In this society, men had a responsibility to provide, protect and care for their wives, daughters and sisters from a society that could exploit them. In that world, wives were the “weaker partner.”
While some modern societies carry less patriarchy than in the ancient world, it’s still true that women are often more vulnerable. A husband is to respect and love his more vulnerable wife — not expect his relationship with God to go well if he allows or contributes to the harm and exploitation of women, especially his own wife.
In the ancient world, a wife usually managed her husband’s affairs, involving herself in the family business. A wife of good character brought honor to her husband, but a wife’s vices brought shame upon her husband. In the ancient world and in some cultures today, shame and honor was shared among family members.
In a marriage today, honor and shame is often shared. It’s common for a husband to credit his greatest achievements to the love and support of his wife, and vice versa — because they’re a team.
Supporting spouses, like a crown, pull each other, and others’ attention, toward what’s honorable.
Greco-Roman society, like Greco-Roman epic tales, lauded power, dominance, heroism, honor, glory and war. These values built empires through bloodshed and violence. The very act of crucifixion reflected Rome’s commitment to power and order at the cost of public humiliation and torture.
Christian marriages reflect different values than society’s power structure. For a husband’s role, Paul uses Christ as an example through the metaphor of a slave who was responsible to wash his master — and through talking about Christ’s own sacrifice for His cherished bride (His church), whose feet He also washed (John 13:1-17). Husbands are to love their wives with a greater love than the love expected of slaves and to wash them with that which is greater than water, the Word of God.
In this context, a wife was to love and submit to her husband’s sacrificial service. This kind of submission was not a submission to violence, exploitation, abuse or power (see Psalm 5:6, 11:5; Proverbs 6:16-19, etc.). It was a submission to husband’s love, care, service and provision.
God is cheering your marriage on to a more life-giving relationship of wholeness. Want resources that can help?
1 Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), Heb 13:4.
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