So often when we come to Paul’s discourse on marriage in Ephesians 5, the primary questions we are bringing to the text are related to who has the authority and power in a marriage relationship, who leads and who follows, who has the final say in decisions or disagreements, and so on. We tend to focus more on the distinctions and differences in Paul’s instructions to the spouses than anything else.
And while it would be naive to conclude that Paul has nothing to contribute to finding some kind of answer to these questions, it would be much more naive, and dare I say detrimental, to conclude that these are the primary questions he has in mind when writing these exhortations to the Ephesian believers.
Paul’s main point is not to make sure the church got the authority/power structure right, and he surely is not advocating that their marriages align with the contemporary cultural values of Roman society by elevating men to a level of superiority unattainable by women.
Instead, Paul radically inserts a mysterious, upside-down teaching on marriage that challenges and combats both the cultural values in the earthly realm and the offensive forces of evil in the spiritual realm.
He urges both husbands and wives to elevate their spouses above themselves. Paul envisions a mutually loving and submissive relationship in which both husbands and wives prioritize the other’s needs and desires above their own. This demonstrates the unity and oneness that was at the heart of marriage from the very beginning (see Gen. 2:24). In doing so, Christian couples fully display the amazing reality that Christ has become one with His Church. He has loved His bride to the point of death, and the end result has been a union beyond our wildest dreams.
Christian marriages are to be a constant reenactment of the glorious mystery of the Gospel.
However, as Paul eventually addresses in the next chapter, this self-sacrificial posture wages war in the spiritual realm and requires believers to ready themselves for the hostile schemes of the devil.
Satan will not sit idly by and watch Christian marriages represent the love of Christ well. His primary scheme is to divide us and, unfortunately, he is craftier than we give him credit for.
As Paul reminded the Ephesian church, we also need to remind ourselves that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood.” Satan wants us to think that our spouse is an obstacle getting in the way of what we truly desire. He wants us to prioritize our own needs, interests, and aspirations above theirs. He wants us to forget and forsake our vows to faithfully love, care, and sacrifice for our spouse for the rest of our lives. He will do whatever it takes to see another picture of Christ and the Church crumble to pieces.
The question we need to ask ourselves is – will we be ready when the spiritual forces of evil make their attacks on our marriages? On that day, will our marriages be ready to stand against the schemes of the devil?
Here are some specific suggestions, three defense mechanisms, to ready your marriage for the battle ahead:
1. Get Help. Given how countercultural our union is to the world and how offensive it is to Satan himself, we would be naive to think we can do this alone. We need others who see and know our relationship and can help strengthen our marriages. Maybe getting help for your marriage means…
- finally saying ‘yes’ to meeting with a licensed counselor or Marriage & Family Therapist.
- meeting with a spiritual leader in the church for pastoral counseling, prayer, and guidance.
- finding some Marriage Mentors for you and your spouse – older couples who have faithfully endured longer than you have, who you can meet with and receive time-tested wisdom from.
- surrounding yourself with friends who know you and your marriage well and who will care for you in your low moments, celebrate with you in your high moments, and pray for and support you everywhere else in between.
Whatever it looks like for your marriage, please get help.
This is by no means a sign of weakness. It is a sign of tremendous strength and wisdom to take active steps to stand against the schemes of the devil. Guard and buffer your marriage by surrounding yourselves with truth speakers, prayer warriors, accountability partners, and caring friends who want to see your relationship live up to the high calling of Ephesians 5.
2. Evaluate Your Priorities – both individually and as a couple.
- Individually, each spouse should sit down and chart out the way in which he/she spends time. How much time is dedicated to my own desires, interests, or goals and how much is dedicated to my spouse’s? This will reveal areas in which you can better love and care for your spouse more than yourself.
- As a couple, both spouses should sit down and chart out their time spent together. Recall Paul’s reminder that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood,” and evaluate how you are spiritually girding your marriage.
As you divide up your activities spent together, do you notice that the majority of your time is mainly focused on the temporal and physical?
Is it a lot of frantic busyness, running from one task or responsibility to the next with some TV-watching thrown in just to decompress?
Or are there intentional things you do as a couple that attend to the spiritual aspects of your relationship?
Do you pray together? Study God’s Word together? Fellowship with other believers together? Worship together? Serve together? Have conversations about spiritual matters together?
Maybe start by committing to regularly do one or more of those things together and ask the Holy Spirit to empower and strengthen you to stand against the schemes of the devil.
3. Ask Dangerous Questions. Be vulnerable and consider asking the following questions to your spouse and a trusted friend.
Three questions to ask your spouse:
- Do you feel like you are growing and flourishing as a result of being married to me?
- Is there anything that I don’t do that you wish I would do? (Or anything I do that you wish I would stop doing?)
- In what ways do my actions, words, habits, or tendencies communicate to you that I prioritize my own interests instead of yours?
Three questions to ask a friend:
- Does our marriage reveal the love of Jesus? (When you look at our marriage, do you see the Ephesians 5 picture of Christ and the church?)
- Are there ways that my actions, words, habits, or tendencies communicate to you that I am a higher priority in my life than my spouse?
- What are things you notice that we as a couple need to work on? Or just me as a husband/wife?
May God bless your efforts to strengthen and defend your marriages against the schemes of the evil one.
PS: If there are specific ways I can be praying for you, please let me know!