By Michelle S. Lazurek, Crosswalk.com
As Christians, we are commanded in Scripture to marry people who hold similar beliefs and values when it comes to Jesus. Paul warns people not to be yoked with unbelievers: "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?" (2 Corinthians 6:19.)
But even under the best circumstances, it can be hard to display Christlike character all the time to your spouse simply because they see you at your best and also your worst. Since marriage is the earthly parallel of the relationship between Christ and his bride, the church, we have every day an opportunity to display the gospel to our spouse in our marriage. Here are four ways to display the gospel in your marriage:
Although there are many ways to display the gospel to your spouse, perhaps the most apparent way is when we can forgive the other no matter what the offense. It can be as small as not doing the daily chores even when they've promised you, or it could be a colossal offense such as a sinful action committed against the other. No matter what the crime, Jesus calls us to forgive. When we forgive our spouse, we let them off the hook for their offense by not bringing it up to them anymore. But we, as the forgiver, receive the bigger reward by being set free from the offense.
Make no mistake: forgiveness is easier said than done. Churches often preach forgiveness as a one-and-done experience. This means that we can simply say we forgive and move on. However, sometimes we bury the unprocessed emotions, wounds, and grief associated with the offense. When we have not processed these emotions and wounds properly, it causes us to build up resentment against our spouse. We may not be aware of this pent-up anger until we explode at the slightest transgression. The next time you explode unexpectedly at your spouse for the smallest infraction, ask yourself, "is there something behind this then I'm expressing that I have not processed correctly?" If you are still unsure, take time during your quiet time to ask the Lord about this. The Lord never wants us to live in bondage but only in freedom. When the Lord reveals unprocessed pain through an experience, ask the Lord to forgive you for not forgiving your spouse. Ask him – with the help of the Holy Spirit—to forgive your spouse the same way you've been forgiven. When you choose to forgive your spouse of their offense, both you and your spouse feel relief. You allow each other to walk in freedom and display Christ's likeness to everyone you meet.
2. Accepting Each Other As We Are
Marriage is one of the most difficult relationships to maintain. Good marriages take time, energy and emotional investment. Because spouses know each other intimately, they are aware of their strengths and weaknesses. But the great thing is that each spouse doesn't have to put on a false self to impress the other. Each spouse vows to accept the other for who they are. Each spouse can be free to be themselves around the other.
However, Christ loves us enough not to keep us stuck in bad behavior or old ways of thinking. He loves us enough to allow us to walk in peace and freedom through the renewal of our minds and the transformation of our hearts. Our spouses help us do that because they know us the best. It is easy in church or at work to pretend you are someone you are not. But when you are in front of your spouse, they know you well enough to know whether you are being your true self. God unites two people in holy matrimony so they can bring to light the areas of their lives that need transformation. When each spouse can trust the other enough to allow the other to speak in their lives and have hard conversations, both spouses can experience the renewal of their minds and enjoy spiritual growth because of the other's presence in their lives.
3. Display the Gifts of the Spirit to Each Other
Galatians 5 is a great passage to describe the traits of the Holy Spirit. As Christians, we have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. Therefore, we have the opportunity each day to display the traits of the Holy Spirit in our lives: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law." These traits can be displayed in little ways. For example, instead of blowing up at your spouse for leaving a messy kitchen or not cleaning up after themselves after making a meal, you can display self-control and kindness by cleaning up after them. When your spouse makes a disparaging remark, instead of snapping back with a snarky comment, speak to them privately about the issue and display gentleness when you correct them. God gives us opportunities to display the gifts of the Spirit each day to everyone. But it is especially powerful when we show it to the people we live in close proximity with every day. These acts of kindness and love demonstrate the Holy Spirit's presence in our lives. The other spouse can further display love by acknowledging these acts and demonstrating their appreciation for these traits displayed in their lives.
Throughout the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, no person experiences life alone. Genesis 2:18 speaks to loneliness: The Lord God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him." Whether it's the disciples going out into the towns to do the work of Jesus, the members of the early church, or the people of the Old Testament, everyone has at least one person in their lives to do life with. Even God himself exists in three persons. We are not meant to do this life alone. We need community. Marriage is meant to satisfy that communal bond. But as with any relationship, spending time with each other takes work. Take a hard look at your marriage and analyze how much time you're actually spending with each other. If most of the time is spent in the car taking kids from one activity to the other, it's not quality time. Take a moment and plan some date nights together so you can spend quality time together. On one date night, do something only one spouse will love. On the next date night, switch so the other spouse can do an activity they love.
Marriage is one of the most difficult relationships we have in our lives. Yet, Jesus uses this as an opportunity for us to display the gospel to each other in our marriage. By spending quality time together, forgiving each other, and accepting each other as we are, we declare the gospel in more ways than we realize.