Category Archives: Marriage

Should I Tell My Spouse About My Struggles With Sexual Sin?

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“Should I tell my wife?”

Daniel leaned back with no interest in the meal before him. He’d looked at racy pictures again and the weight of conviction was inescapable. He had confessed his sin to God and to me, but should he confess it to her?

What would you tell Daniel?

SEVEN PRINCIPLES

Because every couple is different, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Some couples are totally transparent with each other, while others find it best to allow accountability to be handled by trusted friends. Regardless of where you land on the spectrum, it is important for husbands and wives to develop a plan to help each other fight sexual temptation.

What follows are seven principles to help you and your spouse wade through this sensitive area together.

1. Help each other make it to heaven.

“Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Hebrews 3:13

My chief calling as a husband is to help my wife love Jesus more. My wife has the same responsibility toward me. In fact, I would suggest that the most weighty and wonderful responsibilities in marriage is to help our spouse make it to heaven. One of the ways to make this happen is by doing whatever we can to help them fight off temptation, including sexual temptation (Heb. 12:1-2; James 5:19-20). We are to be each other’s greatest allies in the journey toward the heavenly city (Rev. 21-22).

Satan will oppose your efforts with all he’s got, but you must not lose sight of this fact: your greatest responsibility as a couple is to help each other home by leaning upon the strength of your Savior. Let the mantra of our marriages be the same as the psalmist, “Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together” (Psalm 34:3). This will be painful at times, but it is eternally worth it.

2. Cultivate an atmosphere of intimate trust.

“The heart of her husband trusts in her…” Proverbs 31:11

After God brought Adam and Eve together in the first marriage, we are told, “the man and his wife were both naked and unashamed” (Gen. 2:25). They had nothing to cover up in those days. There were no deleted search histories in Eden. There were no shameful compromises or weeping wounds from unfaithfulness.

Intimacy and trust are still possible outside of Eden, but they don’t happen by accident. They must be cultivated. As 1 John 1:7 promises, “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another…” There is no better way to deepen trust in marriage than walking honestly and openly together.

Do you hide things from your spouse?

I believe there should be no secrets in marriage. Surprises? Yes. Secrets? No.

Wisdom and discernment is certainly needed on this point. For instance, it is unwise to share every thought that comes in your head or every conflict you have at work or the details of other people’s lives that have been shared with you. We aren’t talking about those kinds of issues. This is a challenge to not intentionally hide sins from your spouse. Death and deceit breed in the darkness. A husband and wife should always be honest with each other about the condition of their souls.

If our goal is to build trust, it probably seems counter-productive to reveal trust-breaking sins. But the fact is, nothing builds trust like seeing your spouse trying to delight in God more than anything else. Honesty and humble transparency, over time, produce intimate trust in your marriage. Walk in the light together.

3. Consider the Basics of Accountability.

“Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another…” James 5:16

At some level, husband and wives should be each other’s accountability partners. Confessing sin to each other should be a normal part of your life together. Because each couple is different, you need to have a conversation about what this will look like in your own marriage.

Here are a few basic ideas:

Talk. If you’ve never had a conversation with your spouse about your struggles with sexual sin, you should have one. Your spouse needs to know to whom they are married. I strongly encourage you to allow your pastor to help you think through how to have this difficult initial discussion.

Plan. Husbands and wives should work together to make an accountability plan (see #4 below). Because your body is not your own (Gen. 2:24; 1 Cor. 7:4) they have the right and responsibility to talk through this with you. Husbands should lead by taking the initiative in this discussion (Eph. 5:22-25) and wives should give husbands the much-needed help they require (Gen. 2:18). Regardless of which spouse is struggling, you need to help each other. Again, it may be wise to involve a pastor or other mature Christian friends in this process.

Ask. Part of the plan should be that your spouse reserves the right to ask you at any time how you are doing in your fight against temptation—and expect to get an honest answer from you.

I would also suggest that you should always have at least one other person, of the same sex, to whom you are accountable, not just about sexual sin. Sin thrives in the darkness. Making regular and honest confession to another believer is one of your best defenses against sin’s power. To learn more about confessing sin to others read this.

4. Agree on Your Approach to Accountability.

I have spoken to dozens of people about this subject and every couple does things differently. What follows are two categories on the opposite ends of the accountability spectrum.

Some couples are very open about sexual temptations. Some couples agree it is best to tell each other when they feel tempted, if they find someone else attractive, if they compromise at all on the internet, if they give into self-gratification, and just about everything else. Couples who take this approach say that complete transparency helps both of them to stay honest and vigilant in the battle against sin.

If you lean toward this option,

  • Make sure your motives are good. Sometimes seeing the pain that our sin inflicts on the ones we love can be a deterrent to sin, but don’t use your spouse just to unload your guilt and make you feel better.
  • Don’t expect your spouse to respond well to your sin. Your confession may devastate them. Don’t get all self-righteous because you’re being vulnerable. You’ve sinned against them. Don’t get defensive when they ask questions. Nothing ruins a confession like making excuses. Give them a chance to grieve, process, and go to God. Give them permission to talk to a trusted friend about what has happened if they need to.
  • If you’ve agreed to a plan, honor it. If you’ve sinned in a way your spouse would expect you to tell them, follow through with being honest. It will be tempting to find a way out and rationalize a million excuses why you don’t need to tell them (I won’t do it again, I don’t want to hurt them, and so on).
  • Be willing to switch your plan if it seems wise. Insecurities can flourish in unexpected and unnecessary ways in these conversations. I have godly friends who have tried going with the “total transparency” option and found it to be way too much for their spouses to handle. There is no shame in making changes to the plan if necessary.
  • If your spouse confesses sin to you, you will be tempted to be most worried about how the sin affects you. It is normal to be hurt by sin, but ask God to help you be even more concerned about the way your spouse has strayed from him. None of us can do this perfectly, but plead with God to keep your heart postured in that direction.

Some couples don’t talk about this area in detail unless a certain level of sin occurs. Some couples agree it is best for their spouse to confess struggles with lust to a mutually trusted Christian friend, not to them. They humbly realize they would be too hurt by their spouse’s straying heart or that they feel the struggle is too foreign to them to be able to know how to help them.

If you lean toward this option,

  • Have an agreed-upon type of sin at which you agree to talk to your spouse. Purity is a heart issue (Matt. 5:28, 15:19), but it is fine for couples to set agreed-upon conversational mile markers. This may be habitually looking at porn, giving in to masturbation, or crossing certain lines with someone of the opposite sex. Pray for God to give you wisdom in this discussion.
  • Don’t use this approach as a deceptive cover for your sin. Romans 13:14 says “make no provision for the flesh to gratify its lusts.” The well-trusted accountability partner should know what these mile markers are and be willing to inform the spouse if sin were to ever get out of control.
  • Don’t avoid the discussion just because it hurts. As one wife said to me, “out of love for him, I would want to be a part of the solution, but it would be really difficult.” That’s a good perspective. Growing in holiness and helping others to do the same is hard and painful work. It is humble to know your limitations, but it is also humble to accept your responsibilities. Pray for God to give you wisdom to know the balance.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to this subject. Some spouses will be able to hear about your struggle, be hurt by it, but recover in the grace of God. Others will be devastated by the fact that you’d even be tempted, even if you didn’t yield to the temptation. We need to live with our spouses in an understanding way and be willing to humbly and graciously build a plan together (1 Pet. 3:7).

5. Ask Each Other Important Questions

As you begin this process together, here are a few questions to help you begin the conversation.

  • How are we helping each other love God more? How can we do this better?
  • How can I help you fight against temptation? Who else can help you?
  • Do you fear talking to me about these things? How can we make our marriage a safe place to have these talks?
  • Do you have any sins in your life that no one knows about?

For many of us, having this kind of conversation can be terrifying. Some of us don’t want to know what our spouse is struggling with, and some of us don’t want our spouse to know what we’re struggling with. But because God’s glory and the salvation of souls are at stake (Heb. 3:12-14), we must be willing to have tough conversations.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I talked through this article with a couple of close friends. God used that discussion to help them pray and discuss how they could better serve each other in this area. They said the conversation was difficult at times, but in the end God used it to draw them closer than they had been before.

If you want to do this, but don’t know how, I’d encourage you to share this article with your pastor or another mature Christian couple and ask them to help you begin this journey together.

6. Go Make Love

“Do not deprive one another…come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you…” 1 Corinthians 7:5

Much could be said here, but believe this: making love should be a priority in your marriage. God has given sexual intimacy for many reasons, one of which is to help each other fight against sexual sin. Husbands and wives need to be committed to regularly engaging in sexual intimacy.

Some of you may be tempted to feel like a mere outlet for your spouse’s physical desries. Guard your heart from this distortion. As my wife told a friend, “As a wife, you have the great responsibility of protecting your marriage by serving your husband through sex. It’s one of God’s divinely ordained means to help his heart not be as easily tempted by lust. Sex is sometimes a sweet dying to self.” The same truth goes for husbands. Serve your wife through sexual intimacy, through non-sexual affection, and through regular, intentional, attentive conversations. God can use that to help guard her heart from wandering.

For some of you, this encouragement to make love to your spouse brings up a slew of painful emotions. Maybe you have been sinned against gravely by your spouse and the thought of giving yourself to them intimately is almost inconceivable. Maybe you’re facing physiological problems that hinder you from being able to make love. Maybe it’s one of countless other reasons that make sex with your spouse difficult.

If you and your spouse are one of the many who feel this way, please don’t give up. Prayerfully plan and begin working through these issues with your pastor, a gospel-centered counselor, or capable doctor. Be patient with each other in this process and trust that the Lord is able to do more than you can imagine (Eph. 3:20-21).

7. Keep the Gospel Central in Your Marriage.

Husbands and wives sin against each other every day. This is part of marriage in a fallen world. But there is something unique about sexual sin that seems to hurt in a distinctly deep way. And even if they haven’t sinned but are being tempted to do so, the sting of knowing that your beloved’s heart is being tempted to stray can be painful.

So if your spouse comes to you with the weight of sinning against you and the Lord on their back, it will be difficult, but remember that Galatians 6:2 says we are to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Lead them to the cross where they, and you, will both be refreshed and restored by the Lord who daily bears our burdens (Ps. 55:22, 68:19). Plead with the Lord to cover your pain with his grace and you do all you can to cover your spouse’s shame with the truths of the gospel.

Remind each other that the Jesus who spoke severely about sexual sin (Matt. 5:28-30) is the same Jesus who died for those sins and rose victorious over them (Rom. 4:25). He is patient with sinners of all sorts, and promises forgiveness for all who turn from their sin and follow after him (Acts 3:19; 1 John 1:8-9). He promises to intercede for us and provide grace in our time of need (Heb. 4:14-16) while also providing power to help us war against our unrelenting foe (Rom. 8:13; Gal. 5:17).

Moments like these are where the gospel feels most real and most needed. They are also when the power of the gospel can most transform your marriage. God will help you forgive and work through the process of restoration. So don’t lose heart with each other, or with yourself. God’s grace is sufficient, even for what you and your spouse face.

Help each other to heaven. Talk about these things. Cultivate intimate trust. Make a plan. Make love. Cast yourselves upon the grace of God. And do this all with your hope fixed on the glory that is to be revealed. We will be home with Jesus soon, so help each other toward that Day.

For Further Consideration

  • Heath Lambert’s excellent book Finally Free (ch. 5) discusses how spouses should talk about sexual sin.
  • Remember that temptation is not sin. This article by Kevin DeYoung may be helpful to read together.
  • Dr. Russell Moore answers a man who asks if should confess an affair that happened years ago.
  • Considering marrying someone who struggles with porn? Read Heath Lambert’s article and listen to John Piper’s advice first.
  • John Piper also addresses whether your spouse’s struggle with porn is worthy of divorce.
  • What should you do if your spouse confesses that they have committed adultery or is living a secret life of sin? A good article by John MacArthur helps you think through forgiveness, but you must involve the elders of your church in this discussion.

Author’s Note: Thank you to my wife, Zach Schlegel, Jason Seville, Shai Linne, Brian Davis, and the many other brothers and sisters who helped me think through this important topic.

This article was originally published for 9Marks.

Helping Your Spouse To Heaven

Helping Each Other To Heaven

 

“Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Hebrews 3:13

God designed the church to be a community of people who actively and intentionally help each other to heaven. And I’d like to suggest that in marriage, God does a very similar work.

When God brings a Christian man and woman together as husband and wife, He provides them with one of the most potentially potent discipling partners on the planet. Your spouse knows you like no one else does and together you can serve each other’s deepest spiritual needs—including helping each other persevere in love for Jesus, until death do you part.

In fact, I’d like to propose that one of the the primary purposes of a Christian marriage is to glorify God by helping each other to heaven.

What follows are four observations from Hebrews 3:13 that apply to the way husbands and wives should strive to help each other persevere in faith until the end.

 

#1 – Encourage each other.

The word “exhort” shows up 109 times in the New Testament. Depending on how it’s used, the word can be translated “to speak words of encouragement,” “to invite,” “to beg,” “to urge,” “to persuade,” “to plead,” and “to implore.”

The heart behind this word is one of passion in which one person is doing all they can to help another person do something important. In the context of marriage, it is a call for the couple to inspire each other toward Christ. Husbands are to speak words of encouragement to lift their wife’s heart to find strength in God. Wives invite their husbands to come to the banquet table of grace by reminding them of promise in God’s Word. Together, couples are to urge each other on toward heaven.

While this type of encouragement is wonderful, I suspect we can also recognize the potential difficulty in it. My flesh resists people exhorting me and imploring me. I’m prone toward being defensive and irritated, especially toward those who are closest to me. And if I’m honest, I’m often fearful to challenge and encourage my wife because I don’t want to come across as nagging or judgmental.

But God knows that we need this kind of help from each other and that is why He calls us to fight through all our sinful excuses to engage in it.

In what ways do you think your spouse needs encouragement to more fully rely upon God?

What ways could you spouse help you? Have you shared this with them?

What kinds of fears do you feel when you think about giving and receiving exhortations with your spouse?

How are you openly warring against cowardliness and defensiveness in your marriage?

 

#2 – Encourage each other daily.

In Hebrews 3:13 the command to “exhort” shows up as a present, active, imperative verb. That means it’s something we’re commanded to be doing in a consistent way. We could literally translate the command “you are to keep on encouraging each other every day.” Date nights are great for your marriage, but daily encouragements are better.

God calls husbands to consistently invite their wives to not lose heart after an exhausting day. The Lord commands wives to relentlessly plead with their husbands to fight their insecurities by clinging to God’s Word. Husbands and wives are exhorted by God to daily exhort each other to strive through dark seasons of doubt and despair.

What a wonderful portrait of how Christians are called to enduringly love each other!

Again, this is where our sinful nature will rear its ugly head and call this kind of persistent love an annoying intrusion. Do not believe this lie. God initiates love with us each day (1 John 4:19; Lamentations 3:23) and never takes a day off from showing us His faithful commitment to us (Psalm 136:1; Jeremiah 31:3).

Jesus has shown us a relentless love, and He has called Christian husbands and wives to show that same kind of love to one another (John 13:34, 15:12; Ephesians 5:22, 25, 28, 33).

While there is no formula that works for every couple, here’s a few ideas of how to encourage each other daily toward heaven.

  1. Go to bed at the same time and close your evening by praying together.
  2. Get on the same Bible reading schedule and share one thing each day that you saw from the reading. This won’t work for everyone, but try it for a week or a month and see how it goes.
  3. Memorize verses or portions of the Bible together. By doing this you will both be meditating on the same scripture and can share insights from that text to situations you are facing.
  4. Share with your spouse the promises from God’s Word that most edify your soul. Set up a plan of how they can approach you and use them when you are in need of this kind of encouragement.

 

#3 – Encourage each other daily to protect your hearts from sin.

The context of Hebrews 3-4 is essential to understanding the urgency of encouragement. Here, the author is exhorting the church to not harden their hearts against God like the Exodus generation who faltered in faith and fell under His judgment (Psalm 95:6-11). To ensure this doesn’t happen to us, God commands His people to provide daily exhortations to each other reminding them of hope that lies before them.

In the context of marriage, Christian husbands and wives are commanded by God to exhort each other to not fall prey to sin’s deceitful offerings. Satan is daily seeking to lure us away from God, so we must daily be exhorting each other to remain faithful to God. This kind of regular encouragement is one of God’s prescribed antidotes to the satanic poison that leads to apostasy.

Do you know how your spouse is currently being tempted to harden their heart against God (Hebrews 3:12, 3:15)?

What plan do you and your spouse have in place to help each other war against the sin that so dangerously hinders our progress toward our heavenly home (Hebrews 4:11)?

How are your regularly calling each other toward the throne of grace to gain help in your times of need (Hebrews 4:14-16)?

Talking to our spouse about how we are being tempted can be tricky for many couples. For some, there is a fear of being exposed, while others wisely know their spouses’ God-given limitations when it comes to hearing about certain sins. I would however strongly encourage couples to find a way to talk about their battles with sin in a way that works for them.

For a help in considering how to discuss temptations with your spouse, consider the principles in the article “Should I Tell My Spouse About My Struggles with Sexual Purity?”

 

#4 – Encourage each other daily to protect your hearts from sin, until death do you part.

Our text challenges us to “Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today.” There is a day when “today” will turn into “the day” we will see the Lord’s face (Hebrews 10:25). But between now and then, husband and wives are to help each other strive forward in faith.

As Christians, our marriages are commitments that last until death separates us. Because of this, we must take the long view and encourage each other despite all our differences and difficulties. Marriage is not easy because it is a union of two sinners, but the grace of God is sufficient to help us make it home.

The day is coming soon when we will see the Lord Jesus, our hope will be realized and we will forever thank Him for the way He used others, including our spouses, to help us persevere and see Him face to face.

Oh what a day that will be—come Lord Jesus, come!

 

A Few Final Action Steps:

  1. Encourage your spouse to read this article and set up a time to discuss its implications in your marriage.
  2. Humbly share the hopes and fears you have about encouraging and challenging each other in your walks with God. Don’t give into the temptation to hide from your spouse—that is exactly what sin wants you to do.
  3. Prayerfully select another couple from your local church that can help you grow as a couple. Encourage them to read this article and talk openly about things the Lord challenges you with.

 

May the Lord give you and your spouse grace as you help each other toward heaven.

Love Awaits – We Wait for Jesus, Jesus Waits for Us

Bride pathway (pretty)

I often have the honor of performing wedding ceremonies. These celebrations are sweet to me for many reasons, but in particular, because I get to witness couples enjoy the fulfillment of love’s anticipation. They have planned for, prayed about, and waited for this day.

A few minutes before the ceremony beings, I pull the groom aside and share an important reminder with him. I look him in the eyes and say, “what’s about to happen is one of God’s great gifts to you. Your bride is about to walk down that isle. She’s coming for you. Fix your eyes on her and drink deeply of this moment. She is God’s answer to your prayers. Enjoy this moment.”

After we take our places, we wait for the bride to make her entrance. As the congregation stands and the doors open, I look at the bride—but then I always take a peek at the groom.

In those moments there is a child-like joy that radiates from his (sometimes sobbing) face. Love has awaited this moment. She is radiant, coming to him. He is readied, receiving her. This scene is a picture of love anticipated and love realized.

What happens in those moments is also a small foreshadowing of what will one day happen when the church, the bride of Christ (Revelation 21:2, 22:9-11), and Jesus, the bridegroom (Isaiah 54:5; Ephesians 5:25), are united together at the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:6-9).

We Wait for Jesus

In Hebrews 9:27-28 we read of the church’s anticipation, “as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him.”

Christians are a people of eager expectation. We serve and love those around us, but we do it with an eye turned toward heaven—waiting, longing, hoping that today might be the day our beloved Lord comes to complete our salvation (Luke 12:35-43; Romans 13:11; 1 Peter 1:5).

We believe that Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Because of that, we have forsaken our idols to follow the true God and now “wait for His Son from heaven” (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10). We are those who no longer love the fleeting pleasures of sin, but rather are “those who love His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8; cf. Philippians 3:20). We “live…godly lives…waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:12-13; cf. 2 Peter 3:11-14). 

In the New Testament’s 260 chapters, Christ’s return is spoken of over 300 times. The hope of His return ought color our every thought. Our hearts ache and when we hear Jesus say “surely I am coming soon” we say “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20).

But we are not the only ones who are awaiting our beloved. Jesus is waiting as well.

Jesus Waits for Us

Just a few verses after considering our waiting for Jesus, Hebrews 10:12-13 tells us “when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until His enemies should be made a footstool for His feet.”

What is Jesus doing right now? He’s interceding on our behalf (Hebrews 4:14-16, 7:25; 1 John 2:1), He’s preparing a place for us to dwell with Him forever (John 14:1-3), and He is awaiting the command of the Father to come and get His bride (Matthew 24:36; Acts 1:7; 1 Thessalonians 4:16).

On that day, Jesus will leave His throne in heaven and return to earth. He will afflict those who have oppressed His bride (Psalm 103:6; 146:5-9). He will strike down those who have persecuted His beloved (Psalm 31:14-19; Matthew 5:11-12). He will put those who have set themselves against His rule underneath His feet (Revelation 19:11-16).

And then, we will be with Him forevermore.

He will take us to be with Him and we will be “called sought out” and “My delight is in her” (Isaiah 62:1-12). He will “rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by His love; He will exult over you with loud singing” (Zephaniah 3:17; Isaiah 62:5; Jeremiah 32:41).

And what will we do?

Isaiah 25:9 tells us that “It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him, that He might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for Him; let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation.”

Oh what a day that will be—when the Father will send the Son to usher His Spirit-indwelt bride to experience the bliss of eternal Trinitarian love. We will thank Him forever (Psalm 52:9) and rejoice forever about His steadfast love toward us (Isaiah 65:17-18).

While We Are Waiting

A bride and groom spend much time, money, and energy preparing for the day when they will become husband and wife. In the same way, we should be preparing for the day when our Lord will come for us.

1 John 2:28-3:3 says “little children, abide in him, so that when He appears we may have confidence and not shrink from Him in shame at his coming…Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see him as He is. And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as He is pure.”

When our hope is set upon the return of our Savior, it has a purifying affect on our hearts.

Sin seems ludicrous when Jesus is seen as lovely.

Persecution seems endurable when Jesus is seen as valuable.

Loving this world seems foolish when Jesus is seen as fulfilling.

As the early 1900’s songwriter said,

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,

Look full in His wonderful face,

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,

In the light of His glory and grace.

Let us be a people who long to see Jesus above everything else. And let us draw strength and encouragement from knowing that He longs to be with us as well.

 

Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

 

Let your soul be encouraged by this version of Come, Lord Jesus, Come by Shai Linne featuring Joint Heirs.

The Purpose and Privileges of Marriage

Steph and Scott Hands

 

1 Corinthians 10:31 “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

 

The Purpose of Marriage

1 Corinthians 10:31 tells us that whether we eat or drink or whatever we do—including getting married and staying married, we are to do it all to glory of God. To glorify God means we do things in such a way that we put His greatness on display for all to see. In marriage, husbands and wives do this by speaking, serving, struggling, and persevering in a way that makes much of God.

That’s the purpose of your marriage, of my marriage, and of every marriage ever since the first marriage in the Garden of Eden.

In the opening chapters of Genesis we discover that God created our world, and called it “good.” It was a wonderful place in which God’s beauty, creativity, and glorious goodness was put on display. Into this world God placed a man (named Adam) and a woman (named Eve) whom He brought together as the first husband and wife (Genesis 2:24).

Their marriage was unique because it was perfect. Adam was the perfect husband and Eve was the perfect wife. They lived together in a perfect world. Sin had not stung in that land yet. Selfishness wasn’t even a possibility. Their hearts produced nothing but love for God and love for each other. There were no barriers between them. They “were both naked and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25).

In the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve enjoyed the perfect marriage. Shame had not scarred them. Fears were nowhere to be found. Insecurities were non-existent. There were no regretful words. No conflicts. No bitterness. No baggage. They knew nothing but perfect love. Complete freedom. Total trust. They were two perfect people in a perfect world.

Obeying God came intuitively, and so did serving each other. Their most routine thought was, “I get to serve you and bring you happiness.” This selfless response fulfilled their purpose of giving God glory in their marriage. And as they loved and enjoyed God, He blessed their marriage with abounding privileges.

 

The Privileges of Marriage

In His goodness, God created life and marriage with countless ways to enjoy each other. These “privileges” of marriage came naturally in the Garden of Eden as they glorified God and served one another.

Conversations flowed effortlessly and encouragement abounded. They always felt understood and affirmed by their spouse. They experienced acceptance and security in their love for each other. They were lovers, best friends, and partners in worship.

They had no reason to distrust the other person. Transparency was instinctive and there were no secrets to hide. They never had snide remarks or hurtful words reverberating in their memories. Sexual intimacy was always fulfilling and was void of disappointment or shame. Adam led Eve in doing God’s will with bold tenderness while Eve submitted to Adam with contentment and joy.

All they knew was perfect, unhindered, untainted love. This is how marriage was supposed to be.

 

The Problem in Marriage

Adam and Eve’s innocent bliss did not last forever. They sinned against God and against one another (Genesis 3:1-12). In response, God sent Adam and Eve out from the Garden of Eden to live in a world marred by the curse of their own sin. And this is where we find ourselves today.

We’re no longer perfect people in a perfect world. We’re sinful people in a fallen world. And while we still enjoy many evidences of God’s love in this life and in marriage, there’s no escaping the effects of sin. Every bit of strife and struggle in marriage can be traced back to that scene where we traded God’s glory for sin’s empty promise of a better life.

While we feel this sin everywhere, we feel it uniquely in marriage. Marriage has been evicted from a sinless home enjoyed by two perfect people, and has settled in a house where two sinners are haunted by their sin. Marriage now bends and threatens to break under the pressures of work, family, ministry, and countless other things.

But the chief way we’re affected by sin is that purpose and privilege get twisted in our hearts. Outside of Eden our natural bent is now to seek the privileges of marriage as its purpose. We take the good things God has designed for us to enjoy and put them in His place. The focus of marriage becomes attaining privileges, rather than enjoying the privilege Giver.

Where did our romance go? Why doesn’t he listen to me any more? What do I have to do to get some honor and respect around here? Shouldn’t she want to spend time with me? Why do I feel so alone? Does sexual intimacy have to be so mechanical? Where’s the passion? Why don’t we have anything to talk about any more? Why are we so distant?

When privileges are wanting, we know it, even if we can’t put our emptiness into words.

And when our spouse doesn’t deliver the privileges as we’ve come to expect, our sinful heart gets hijacked with frustration. We get angry. We say and do things that hurt each other. We become bitter. We get distant. We grow cold.

It’s important to point out here that the swap of purpose and privilege also shows up in “good” marriages. Oftentimes couples that get along more easily can settle into the comfort of enjoying a life of privileges together. They enjoy each other’s companionship in such a way that they coast into a self-sustaining pattern that ultimately leaves them spiritually dry.

The scary thing about “good” marriages that delight supremely in privileges is that their unattended affections for God die a slow, unnoticeable death. This death will show itself in difficult times, or even more terrifyingly, won’t be exposed until the last day when we give account of ourselves before God Almighty.

The problem of purpose swapping is something we all face, in some form or fashion. We’re all tempted to make privileges supreme and exalt them as idols in our hearts.

And what happens to God in all this? He’s often still in the picture, but rather than being enthroned front and center, He becomes part of the supporting cast, a privilege, if you will. The One who can make your marriage better. The One who can fix things so you can enjoy your privileges again. He becomes a servant of our happiness rather than the source of it.

This is why marriages dissolve into divorce or into spiritual wastelands. No marriage fades because God receives too much glory in it. Marriages fade because glory is neglected and redirected to empty cisterns that hold no water (Jeremiah 2:13).

While there is no escape from the presence of sin, there is a promise that gives hope to sinners…

 

The Promise for Marriage

Though we have sinned against God and stand under His condemnation, He still delights in extending mercy to unworthy rebels (Ezekiel 18:32; Micah 7:18). He has graciously provided His Son Jesus to rescue us from sin and to reconcile us to Himself—and to each other (2 Corinthians 5:18).

Jesus did this by living a perfect life of obedience to God (Hebrews 7:26) in which He gave the Father glory in everything He did (John 17:4). Jesus then willingly went to the cross to receive the judgment we deserved for all the times we traded God for idols (2 Corinthians 5:21). After three days, God raised Jesus from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:3-5) and He now intercedes for us (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25) until the day He will return to judge the world (Matthew 25:31-46; Acts 17:30-31).

The good news of the Gospel is that all who turn from their sin and trust in Jesus will be forgiven and reconciled to God (Mark 1:15; 1 John 1:8-9).

And what is equally amazing is that God doesn’t stop giving grace once we start following Jesus. That’s good news because Christians never graduate from being weak, broken, sinners in need of His grace. The good news of the Gospel is that in marriage, there is help for us as we struggle to keep purpose and privilege in their proper place (Hebrews 4:14-16).

And it is in this struggle, outside of Eden, that imperfect husbands and imperfect wives fulfill their purpose of bringing God glory. We do this by looking to the heavens and saying “You are our strength” and “You are our hope” (Psalm 18:1-2, 28:7, 39:7, 71:5, 73:26). God is glorified when our weakness is led by the hand of faith to call upon Him to be our strength (2 Corinthians 12:9).

We learn to do this in days when privileges are sparse and when they abound because we believe that one day soon we will be together in that Land where we shall struggle no more. Until then, may God help us look  to Him and trust that He will supply all we need to have marriages that bring Him glory.

 

 

My wife and I host a monthly Honeymooners Group (young marrieds) in our home. This is a summary of the lesson our group discussed for July (you can read June’s here). A special thanks to Paul Polk, the friend and brother who taught us this all important lesson during our pre-marital counseling. Below are a few suggestions to help you consider how to make the most out of this lesson over the next month.  

  • Memorize 1 Corinthians 10:31
  • Discuss ways your marriage brings glory to God. Use this as a time to praise God and encourage each other for His grace in your life.
  • List out many of the privileges you’ve seen God give in your marriage. Thank Him for giving you these gifts to enjoy.
  • Take time to discuss what privileges you find yourself most tempted to make into idols. How have you seen this happen in your own hearts? What can you do to guard each other’s hearts from this temptation?
  • Take time to reflect on how God’s grace in the Gospel encourages you to fight sin and pursue giving Him glory.
  • Look up the Psalms listed above and use them as a guide to pray for God to be your strength and hope in marriage.