The Apostle Paul specifically categorizes marital issues as part of the “worries of life.” That’s why he urges believers to consider singleness: “But those who get married will have many troubles in this life. I want to save you from that” (1 Corinthians 7:28).
As much as I love marriage, Paul warns me that along with its many benefits marriage brings a huge potential temptation: I can get so weighted down with marital issues that I forget about Christ’s work on this earth and His coming return.
A New Mindset
What kind of mindset does this call us to?
We must care more about what God thinks about us than what our spouse or children think about us. We must care more about hearing, “Well done my good and faithful servant” from our Heavenly Father than “You’re the best father/mother/husband/wife” from a family member.
I don’t like pitting these against each other, because I think part of the “well done” from God will be loving our spouse and children sacrificially and even extravagantly, but our motivation to love must come from above, not from any relationship on earth. And only God gets to determine how well and obediently we have loved. A gaslighting spouse or parent may try to shame you for the very thing that makes Heaven give you a standing ovation.
As much as we love marriage and family, we can’t forget that Jesus absolutely refuses any believer the option of making an idol out of family life: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:25-27). The word “hate” here is a comparison word—there must not be any competition at all when it comes to focus, motivation, and allegiance being set on Heaven rather than on earth.
The failure to grasp this point, by the way, is what made When to Walk Away: Finding Freedom from Toxic People so necessary for me to write. In some sectors, human relationships, especially marriage, are put above a person’s service and allegiance to God in such a way that a spouse virtually replaces God in importance and focus. That is directly contrary to Scripture.
We can embrace this warning about the worries of life with boldness because putting God first will make us better spouses, not neglectful spouses. The difference is that our motivation for being a better spouse will flow from being loved, affirmed, and empowered by a perfect God who has great compassion for us. You’ll particularly find this helpful if you are married to a selfish spouse, a neglectful spouse, a distant spouse, or a lazy spouse.
So what do we do in response? Instead of thinking life will only get better when our spouse gets in line (a form of codependency or even co-addiction), we double down on the divine relationship. As Paul writes in Ephesians 5:14: “Get up, sleeper, and rise up from the dead, and the Messiah will shine on you.” Give the first thoughts and first efforts every morning and every night to your relationship with God. Pray something like this, “Shine on me, God, so I am not dead to your presence. I don’t want to live my days like a spiritually intoxicated person who doesn’t even realize what’s going on.”
Christian obedience means we continually struggle against letting the worries of life drown out the purpose of life. If your life is right with God in worship, service and prayer, you can sustain a less desirable marriage while laying the groundwork for a better marriage. Friends, this brings tremendous joy! God’s Kingdom is moving forward gloriously. When I read and hear of lives being changed as people encounter Christ, I can’t stop worshipping. Marriage becomes an additional delight, not the substance of my hope and joy.
If you don’t win this battle against the worries of life and you find yourself in a less than pleasing marriage, you are setting yourself up for a life of negativity or a life of addiction as you seek to escape the pain. A good and healthy marriage can help you fight both negativity and addiction, but a good and healthy marriage requires two individuals willing and able to pursue the same thing. A spiritually prosperous life, on the other hand, requires one willing human and an already eager, overwhelmingly generous, capable, and powerful God. Your odds are pretty favorable in that regard. You can have a spiritually prosperous life if you want it, regardless of the state of your marriage.
Here’s the surprising takeaway of Christ’s contrary words: some of you might actually improve your marriage by thinking less about your relationship with your spouse and more about your relationship with God.
This article originally appeared here.