Martin Luther said that God established three essential institutions: marriage, the ministry of the Word, and the state. Luther went on to say that "both in chronological order and in significance, the home precedes both the ministry of the Word of God and the state." And yet, many people today try to demote marriage to a human invention. But the Scripture tells us that marriage was created by God.
Imagine your marriage as a three-legged stool, and the three legs are selflessness, forgiveness, and communication. Without one of the legs, the stool will fall down. A good marriage needs all three components to be well-balanced and strong.
We live in a self-centered world, and this focus on self is destroying marriages. The concept of "looking out for number one" is creating divisions between husbands and wives. But Pal tells us, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves" (Philippians 2:3).
Immaturity and selfishness tell us to focus on our own desires, comfort and self-protection, but maturity leads us to focus on our spouse's needs. Maturity is the key to selflessness.
Selfless love manifests itself in graciousness. It focuses on the other person's thoughts, feelings, and needs. A selfless love makes sacrifices without keeping a running tally of who has contributed the most in the marriage. It puts aside selfish stubbornness for a willingness to yield to each other.
Sometimes forgiveness is hard, especially when we allow little annoyances to build up over time. But the Bible tells us, "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as Christ God forgave you" (Ephesians 5:31-32).
In Matthew 18, Jesus told Peter that we are to forgive each other not merely seven times, but seven times 70. In other words, we are to forgive so often that we lose count.
So, how can we forgive that readily? First, begin by forgiving the things that seem insignificant, but mount up over time — the irritating habits and the annoying characteristics. This will require daily discipline.
Second, "...take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5). Focus on Christ in your relationship, not keeping score.
Third, maintain your identity in Christ. Our old sinful nature is filled with resentment, bitterness, and unforgiveness. But through Christ, we are able to offer mercy and forgiveness to the one who has wronged us.
Problems of selfishness and unforgiveness may seem apparent in a relationship. But there are also enemies which creep into a marriage like a choking vine. Busy schedules, apathy, and even exhaustion can lead to a breakdown in communication.
How many hours —or minutes — did you spend this week engaged in conversation or activity with your spouse that did not revolve around working on the family budget, talking about the children or watching TV?
Many of the larger problems in marriage stem from poor communication. This stems from not making the time for our spouse, letting the children come before the marriage relationship, and from a fear of conflict. But good conversations will involve a positive exchange, allowing for growth in a relationship.
Maintaining the components of the three-legged stool is not easy. We will always be competing against our sinful, selfish nature. We will always be seeking God's strength to forgive. And we will often struggle to find balance between our calendars and our marriage. But with Christ at the center of our marriages, we can maintain a stable, three-legged stool and discover the blessings of marriage.
Excerpted from My Journal, a monthly devotional magazine from Leading The Way with Dr. Michael Youssef.
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