One of the great scriptural principles in ethics is the one about not kidding yourself. This is particularly important for marriage, for reasons I hope to explain shortly.
Here is Paul’s way of putting it:
“For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith” (Rom. 12:3).
Because we are sinners with an egoistic center, we are all prone to do this anyway. No one ever needs to take lessons in elementary self-delusion. And because we live in a world that is busy marketing its lies to millions of such egoistic sinners, and because lies are subject to fashion, like neckties and skirts, we are all of us susceptible to the popular falsehoods of the day.
And we really are susceptible to them. It is astonishing how much a profound lack of self-awareness can take completely over, and so—when we try to resist temptations—we are resisting in a way that is actually capitulating to the real temptation. And because men and women are different, they are tempted differently, and they tell themselves different lies.
A woman thinks she is resisting the temptation of withdrawing into silence when she needs to be resisting the temptation of being far too vocal with her criticism. A man thinks he is exercising servant leadership when the only thing he is actually serving is his own desire to avoid confrontations. When we tell ourselves lies, we dress them up in flattering ways.
The corrective, Paul says, needs to be the “measure of faith.” And a couple chapters before this he said that faith “cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). The corrective is therefore an objective word from God, coming from outside our misled selves, coming therefore from the infallible Word of God, the Scriptures. We love to flatter ourselves in ways that the Scriptures do not do.
We require a mirror that will show us accurately what we are doing in our relationship with our spouse, and our spouse is not to be that mirror for us.
“For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed” (James 1:23–25).
What I am saying is that this marriage, if it is to be successful, must be a marriage of the Book. You must love and respect one another, and you do that by relating to your wife, or to your husband directly. But if you want to check on how you are doing in that relating, you don’t look to them, and you don’t look at the world, and you don’t look into your own heart. Rather, you hold the Word up, and you look at your relationship to your spouse as it is reflected there. The Scriptures are not just a compendium of divine information. The Word is light, it is food, it is conviction, it is a perfect mirror, and it is living wisdom. There is no better way to see the back of your own head.
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Rom. 12:1–2).
The verses right prior to the passage that says not to think of yourself “more highly than you ought” gives you the prerequisites. We are to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, as an ongoing act of worship. If we are to live out as living sacrifices, this means that we are called to live on the altar. Everything that holds us is an altar. We are on the altar in our car, seated at the dinner table, while walking on the sidewalk, and while sleeping in our beds.
This surrender means that God’s Word is shaping us, which excludes the alternative of the world shaping us, or pressing us into its mold.
Just a few verses down, we see what it looks like in action. This is a word to all Christians everywhere, but it should be obvious that marriage is a prime location for attitudes such as this.
“Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another” (Rom. 12:9–10).
Husbands and wives can love each other without faking it. Together they can detest the iniquities that are destroying marriages all around us, and which are at the same time destroying civilization. We can together find what is good, and embrace it with a bear hug. The home will be suffused with kind affection, with warm brotherly love, and both husband and wife will honor the other above themselves. It is hard to imagine a better gift to give to a child than a home like that to grow up in.
Eric, as you take up the role of being a husband, make sure to deal with the obvious tasks first. You are called in the first instance to protect and to provide, and so that where you should begin. In order to do both of those, you will need to work hard, and in order to work hard, you will need to be hard. But note that you are to be hard for your wife, which is not the same thing as being hard on your wife.
Micaiah, you too should begin with the obvious tasks that God has assigned to wives. As you build your home together, your lives together, your family together, your task is to glorify what is done. This does not mean, as some slanderers have it, that the Bible makes women merely ornamental. A better illustration would be that Eric builds your home as the rough carpenter, and you are the finish carpenter. He makes your home secure, you make your home habitable.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, amen.