How to Damage Your Marriage
The steps needed to restore a declining relationship–part 1
A long time ago, the Saturday Evening Post carried an article entitled, The Seven Ages of the Married Cold. It revealed the reactions of a husband to his wife’s colds during their first seven years of marriage–it went like this. The first year—”Sugar Dumpling, I am really worried about my baby girl. You’ve got a bad sniffle and there’s no telling about these things with all this strep going around. I’m putting you in the hospital this afternoon for a general check-up and a good rest. I know the food is lousy, but I will be bringing your meals in from the Cheesecake factory. I’ve already got it all arranged with the floor superintendent.”
The second year–“Listen darling, I don’t like the sound of that cough. I’ve called Doctor Pleasant and asked him to rush over here. Now you go to bed like a good girl, please, just for Papa.” The third year–“Maybe you’d better lie down honey–nothing like a little rest when you feel lousy. I’ll bring you something. Have you got any canned soup?” The fourth year–“Now look dear, be sensible. After you have fed the kids, washed the dishes and finished the floors, you’d better lie down.”
The fifth year– “Have you taken some aspirin or something yet?” The sixth year–“For Pete’s sake, stop sneezing, will you! Are you trying to give me pneumonia?” The seventh year–“I wish you’d just gargle or something, instead of sitting around all evening barking like a seal.” Every friendship can experience deterioration and decline. Relationships can grow cold—even our relationship with Christ.
When this happens to some, it reveals who we are. Like those hearts described as soils by Jesus in Matthew 13, when affliction or persecution hit, they walk away from Christ. Or those filled with worry or the deceitfulness of riches turn away from Christ. A few appear hot, but then show they are unsaved by living lukewarm. But for others, it demonstrates a decline in faithfulness and a lessening of heart. Like Timothy, who Paul charged in 2 Timothy 1:6, “For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.” Like a fire, Timothy, stir up the coals of your giftedness, of your life, so you grow hot for Christ.
And one of the strongest warnings of all was the church of Ephesus–strong in doctrine, discerning in truth, but John warns them in Revelation 2:4, “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” Thankfully, John continues and describes the cure–three crucial steps in verse 5. “Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and  repent and  do the deeds you did at first.”
#1 Remember when you on fire–your passion for Christ, evangelism, giving, serving, loving others. #2 Repent of where you are right now–stop being indifferent, stop delaying, and change directions. How? #3 By doing the deeds you did at first. Start living the way you did when you were on fire. Simply, remember, repent and Repeat. These warnings are nothing new. Hosea 13:6 warns of living complacent. Joel 2:12 warns of phony repentance. And Zephaniah 1:12 warns of becoming stagnant of heart.
Is your relationship with Christ committed or complacent? Is your heart stagnant or pursuing Christ? Are you enjoying a genuine relationship, a commitment to obey, a dedication to service, a passion to love Christ? That is the starting place for every Christian marriage. As a Christian, if your relationship with Christ is cold and complacent, then so will be your marriage. What’s true for your relationship with Christ is true for your relationship with your spouse.
One of the difficulties in preaching God’s Word on marriage is, as you sit here, we can’t tell what’s really going on in your marriage. Which ‘G’ are you–Great, just Good, or Gory! It’s funny. A woman marries a man expecting he will change, but he doesn’t. A man marries a woman expecting that she won’t change, and she does. Are you at the end of your rope? Jean and I always compromise. I admit I’m wrong, and she agrees with me. But when your wife says, “It’s not PMS–it’s you! It’s time to get help.”
And the very church that lost their first love, Ephesus, has a letter in the New Testament which can restore our walk with Christ and heal a damaged marriage. Turn to Ephesians 5. After a lot of prayer and discussion with my fellow elders, we will take a small break from Galatians to teach God’s Word on marriage for four weeks. This is for widows, singles, divorced and marrieds. This is for anyone 1) who has a friend, 2) cares about people, and 3) wants to honor Christ in their relationships.
Christian marriage teaches us how we are to treat others. Marriage is an expression of friendship and relationship. And next to Christ, marriage is the central relationship, the one that dramatically affects the family, the Church and is a major part of our witness in this world. Too many believers drift in their marriages. They damage their friendship. And we need to understand how that happens so we can prevent it. If you are one who says, “My wife and I were happy for twenty years, then we met!”–you need some help. Let’s read aloud this familiar passage, Ephesians 5:22 to 33, then discover the principles found in the context of this letter for undoing the damage we cause in our marriages.
“Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. 24But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. 25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. 28So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, 30because we are members of His body. 31For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. 32This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. 33Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband” (Ephesians 5:22 to 33).
You cannot live Ephesians 5:22 to 33 without obeying the truths of Ephesians chapters 1 through 6. You can’t take marriage out of the context of the Christian life or the Church. You can’t rip this passage out of this letter–so to understand it, we have to first understand what Paul has taught thus far, especially as it affects marriage, friendship and relationships. Marriage is God’s plan. It is between one male and one female for life, under the promise of an unbreakable vow to God in front of witness and sealed by the oneness of sexual intimacy.
Turn to Ephesians 1 and look at God’s clear declaration in Ephesians 1:5. “He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will.” Verse 9, “the mystery of His will.” Verse 11, “the counsel of His will” and this sovereign will must accomplish His glory. Ephesians 1:6, “to the praise of the glory of His grace.” Verse 12, “to the praise of His glory.” Verse 14, “to the praise of His glory.” God has a sovereign will, and His plan will accomplish His glory. Everything in life is to the glory of God–amen? First Corinthians 10:31, “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Your life is to be for the glory of God. Your eating and your marriage are for His glory—chapter 1. You damage your marriage when you live . . .
Chapter 1 IGNORING God’s Sovereign purpose for your marriage
Your marriage is for Him, not for you–for His glory, not your preference. Your marriage is not for your spouse, but it is for God. To show Him off, to put Christ on display. There’s great blessing when marriage is lived for God’s glory, but great damage when marriage ignores God’s glory. God designed marriage for His glory and God made you for His glory. God gave you your spouse for His glory and your marriage still exists for God’s glory.
You say, “Chris, my spouse is really difficult to live with.” They are difficult so you can glorify God in an even greater way. Your marriage is not for your happiness, but for His holiness. Your marriage is not so you feel great, but so God is seen as great. Your marriage is not merely for sex–it is for the Savior to be shown. Your marriage is not merely to fulfill your promises, but display Christ’s promises. To damage your marriage, continue in marriage thinking you deserve happiness and your spouse is present to be your main source of happiness, or security, or fun.
You might be shocked by what your spouse is like now that you are married. But remember what Jesus said in Matthew 19:6, “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” God is the one who put you both together. God is the one who chose that man and selected that woman. He wanted you to be husband and wife, married for His glory.
Ever had a tough professor? The toughest ones were the ones I loved the most—Dr. Mac, Dr. Mueller, Dr. Kirk taught me the most. I grew, I changed, they impacted me. The struggle itself caused me to grow and glorify God. It’s the same in marriage–the tougher the spouse, greater glory can be displayed. But if you ignore God’s sovereign purpose, you’ll do damage to your marriage. You damage your marriage when you live . . .
Chapter 2 MINIMIZING your sinfulness and your desperate need for God’s grace
Again, before Paul teaches on marriage in chapter 5, he has already taught the Ephesians their desperate need for true salvation in chapter 2. Read verses 1 to 5. “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)” Ephesians 2:1 to 5).
In order to enjoy a relationship with God in chapter 2, and a biblical marriage in chapter 5, you must first be transformed–from dead to alive, resurrected. You were dead in your sins, totally conformed to this fallen world, completely in agreement with Satan, totally fleshed out in sin with a corrupt nature which can do nothing but rebel against God’s will. Because of that, you can’t and won’t enjoy God’s perfect design for marriage unless husband and wife are both transformed by salvation in Christ.
You were dead and you must be made alive. If you’ve not been born again, then you can’t live the Christian life nor will you enjoy the real blessing of marriage. You will not be in tune with each other until you’re in Christ together. But once saved, if you truly are in Christ, then you know what a sinner you are and how much you need Christ’s grace every single day.
Couples that don’t talk to, deal with, think about, engage with their spouse without a huge awareness of their own sinfulness do damage to their marriage. You must realize, even when you are right, there is much of you that’s still wrong until Heaven. You have to recall how messed up you really were, are, and will be until Heaven. You have to remind yourself that unless it is God’s Word you’re speaking and living by, anything else outside that filter–anything you might say or do is not fully the truth. You must not minimize your sinfulness and your need for God’s grace.
You can’t start thinking you can trust yourself. Remember Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.” Say it! Don’t start thinking you understand yourself or understand your spouse fully. You need a heavy dose of humility, dependence, and brokenness to make marriage work–to the glory of God.
If you’re the husband who takes both your wife’s hands when you tell her something important, but the real reason is so she won’t hit you—this is for you. You do damage to your marriage when you think you’re right and she’s wrong, or you think you understand, but she doesn’t. You see the problem, but they are blind. Do not minimize your capacity for sin and your desperate need for God’s grace.
Now, innocent mistakes will be made. I accidentally handed my wife a glue-stick instead of a ChapStick, and she still isn’t talking to me. You need God’s grace to be saved and you need God’s grace to live every day. And you need to speak by, live by and be humbled by God’s grace daily for your marriage to work God’s way–for His glory and for your good. You damage your marriage when you live . . .
Chapter 3 OVERLOOKING the incredible LOVE of GOD to fill your life
You can’t live Ephesians chapter 5 on marriage, unless you are living Ephesians chapter 3. This chapter is about how Jew and Gentile are one in Christ. And friends, if Jew and Gentile can be one in Christ, then so can a wife and husband. In fact, chapter 3 celebrates how the riches of God’s glory will strengthen you and His love will satisfy your greatest need, fill your deepest hole, resolve your most difficult past, brave your harshest trial and soothe your deepest disappointment. Couples do damage to their marriages when they look to their spouse to meet their deepest needs. Couples hurt their marriages with expectations of their mates that only God can fill. What does Paul teach God will do for a Christian?
Read Ephesians 3:16 to 19 slowly, because it is so rich. “That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, 17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.”
You say, “Chris, why don’t I experience that?” Because you’re not pursuing Christ first. You don’t pray, study the Word, fellowship with the saints, disciple or wait for the Lord to fill you with His fullness. You don’t meditate on His love to the point where you experience His love. You’re not depending on Him to be your satisfaction, you are not looking to Christ first–so you look for and expect that deep love, fullness and strength to come from a spouse, a friend group or something else. And when you don’t get it, you react to them in such a way as to damage your relationship.
If someone ate candy every day, and that’s all they ate, they’d never appreciate the incredible taste of a steak or sandwich or burrito or moussaka or Thai chicken or shish kabob. Plus they’d also grow unhealthy. Couples do damage to their marriage by looking for candy from their spouse, when what they need is meat from God, the substance of love, fullness and strength. The source of happiness, joy and love is not your spouse–it is God Himself. To live is Christ, not Chris. To live is Jesus, not Jean. To live is the Savior, not your spouse. To live is the Messiah, not your mate. The source of love you crave, the meaty love, the deep love, the perfect love–comes from the perfect One alone. You damage your marriage when you live . . .
Chapter 4 AVOIDING your inter-connectiveness to the church family
You’re not complete in yourself, you need the community of the church. You don’t have all the spiritual gifts–you need to be equipped, taught, exhorted, confronted and loved. You also need to exercise your giftedness, serve, give, and fellowship with other Christians. You were never meant to be a solo saint, a lone-ranger Christian, but to be interconnected to a local church. You were saved to be a part of a community. Men need men, women need women, couples need couples, families need families in order to be all that Christ wants us to be.
Ephesians 5 on marriage was written to a church community described in Ephesians 4. You can’t live out Ephesians 5 unless you are living out Ephesians 4, which teaches about the importance of functioning in the local church. Read these selected verses. Verse 1, “Walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. . . . 11And He gave …some as pastors and teachers, 12for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ . . . 15we are to grow up in all aspects into Him . . . 16according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”
Husband/wife–each one of you needs to be immersed in the local church in order for Ephesians 5 on marriage to work the way God designed. You and I have a desperate need for wisdom on how to love our spouse–how to be the husband or wife God wants us to be. We get that wisdom from God’s Word and we discover how to implement God’s Word through people in the church.
Could the Bible be more clear? Titus 2:3 to 4, “Older women likewise are to 4 . . . encourage [or train] the young women [to do what?] to love their husbands.” You need training, encouragement and discipleship from the church body in our marriages. One of the biggest damaging mistakes a couple makes is couples who don’t serve in the church, don’t have any real, ongoing fellowship, (only random drive-bys), don’t receive any personal investment into their lives and receive no guidance into their marriage from the church body. I just proved that the people of your local church are to personally impact/influence your marriage–what will you do? Leave chapter 5 for next week and look at how you damage your marriage when you live . . .
Chapter 6 ELEVATING your children over your marriage
Notice an obvious truth–marriage is clearly taught in chapter 5:22 to 33, followed by three verses on children, then one verse on fathers who are responsible for parenting those children in 6:4. What does Paul teach dads? Ephesians 6:4, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Marriage is before parenting. Your marriage and your home are damaged when couples love their children more than they love each other.
There is also damage when fathers do not take the lead in parenting, but leave it to their wives. Remember, parenting is not educating your children, parenting is discipling your children. Paul puts the responsibility for discipling/parenting children directly on fathers. In Ephesians 6:4, Paul is not talking to parents–Paul uses “parents” in verse 1, and Paul is not talking to mothers and fathers, Paul uses those terms in verse 2.
The Bible commands fathers to disciple your children–to take the lead with discipline and instruction, correction and content, waking and wisdom. Damage is done when husbands are passive and moms are aggressive. Damage is done when couples won’t let go of their children–to leave and cleave. Damage is done when wives love their kids more than they love their husband. Damage is done when husband or wife live for themselves, for each other, or for their kids–but not for Christ first. They are family first above Christ first.
Damage is done when parents don’t enjoy their children and have fun as a family. Damage is done when you criticize or complain about your spouse in front of the kids. Damage is done when you’re on the phone when your spouse or kids are talking to you. Your marriage and your home are damaged when couples love their children more than they love each other. We need to stop doing damage to our marriages by . . .
Chapter 1 IGNORING God’s sovereign purpose for your marriage
Chapter 2 MINIMIZING your sinfulness and your desperate need for God’s grace
Chapter 3 OVERLOOKING the incredible love of God to fill your life
Chapter 4 AVOIDING your inter-connectiveness to the church family
Chapter 6 ELEVATING your children over your marriage
But how do I make this happen? And what about chapter 5? Come back next week.
A Godly marriage will not work biblically if you ignore the commands of the New Testament
You can’t live Ephesians 5 without pursuing Ephesians 1 to 6. And you can’t be in God’s will in your marriage if you are continually dissing, avoiding, ignoring, or disobeying the basic commands of the New Testament. You are commanded to make disciples, which includes teaching them to “obey all that I have commanded you.” You are to use your gifts in ministry, fellowship with over 40 one-anothers, give sacrificially, share the Gospel, pray for the saints, etc.
Then in marriage you are to cherish your spouse, practice oneness–meaning shared finances, shared hobbies, shared hearts, deep listening, and regular physical intimacy. Plus, you are called to serve Christ, show Christ and share Christ as a believer and as a couple. Damage occurs if you don’t follow Christ through regular obedience to His Word. Not perfect, but progressive–not exactness, but also not exclusive. Christ-like marriage can only be lived out in the context of following Christ as your master.
To experience Christ’s power, grace and love in marriage, you submit to Christ as Lord. Your marriage is like an old watch with 25 little gears. Each gear is like a command of Scripture. If you remain intentionally disobedient to any obvious command of the New Testament, then like a gear, it will stop functioning and eventually the entire watch will be damaged–it will not work. You will not enjoy the blessings of Christ in marriage when the rest of your life is disobedient to the Scripture, or even merely ignoring His Word in any area. When we follow Christ in marriage, it means we follow Christ in everything.
B Godly marriage will not work biblically when a spouse WAITS for their mate to obey the Bible
First Peter 3:1 to 7 says do not wait for them to obey–you obey God’s Word. “In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives . . . 7You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way.” You serve Christ as God and Master–therefore you obey Christ first in all things. Never wait to obey Christ, especially if you have a difficult spouse. Show them what it is like to be born again, to follow Christ, and know His power and blessing.
C Godly marriage will not work biblically when Christ is not first over FAMILY
Revelation 2:4, “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” Matthew 6:33, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Luke 9:23, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” You cannot be empowered by the Spirit in your marriage, unless Christ is first in your heart and life.
Jesus is the one who designed marriage. Christ alone can make marriage work, but it won’t happen unless you are following Him over your kids, your parents, your friends, your family. You must submit to His will in order for you to see His work in your marriage. You can’t love people more than Christ, for Christ to glorify himself in and through your marriage.
D Godly marriage will not work biblically unless you follow God’s Word as a MAP
The Bible needs to be talked about, prayed over, applied, used for decisions, and submitted to in order for your marriage to experience what Christ promises–the grace of life. The screaming couple needs to make progress in communicating biblically. The in-debt couple needs to follow God’s Word on finances. The distant couple needs to obey God’s truth on affectionate talk. The Word of God must be your guide, your answer and your map in marriage.
E Godly marriage will not work biblically unless you are in Christ
Everyone is dead in sin, unless Christ makes you alive. Are you internally transformed? Christ took your sin punishment on the cross and resurrected to give you a new life. Do you have a new nature that hates sin, and a new heart that wants to obey? Then turn to Christ–cry out to Him to open your heart and give you faith to believe what Christ did for you and repentance from sin.