Ephesians 5 is one of the most difficult passages for most married people to take in. We can read it and nod our heads and say, “That’s so nice!” but then walk away with absolutely no way to apply it. In fact, Ephesians 5 often causes our old Adam to well up in the worst of ways, pointing fingers at ways our spouse fails us daily or, in worst cases, ending marriages in the heartache and trauma of devaluing and abuse. So we avoid it. We avoid reading it; we avoid discussing it; and we hope and pray that our pastor doesn’t preach about it on Sunday.
But Ephesians 5 has all we need to know to have a marriage that thrives. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not talking about a marriage that’s any easier than your neighbors’, or a marriage that’s “happier” or more “successful.” I’m talking about a marriage that’s fulfilling through the hard work and effort of each spouse. A marriage guided by the Spirit, struggling in the day-to-day, and finding joy in the journey together.
Ephesians 5 presents two ingredients: 1) husbands love your wives, and 2) wives respect your husbands. Easier said than done. God intends each person to contribute, but He gave us the Holy Spirit, and a lot of love and grace and forgiveness to fill in the gaps where we live as sinner and saint. So, let’s agree to discuss it. Let’s digest even a tiny bit of what love and respect might look like in this small space of the Internet.
- Assume the best in your spouse. This underlies everything in your marriage. Do you believe that your spouse has your best interests in mind? Do you believe God has your best interest in mind? We trust in God because He is God and He is perfect. We also trust in Him because we know Him and know that He has our best interest in mind. Who is our next closest relationship? Who do we know so deeply that we have committed a lifetime to getting to know every tiny piece of him or her? Our spouse. When frustration and hurt begin to well up in an argument or circumstance we can put the best perspective on what our spouse is saying and doing because we believe in this person as a complete partner in the relationship, as someone with our best interest in mind.
- Talk nicely. It sounds simplistic, but the tongue really gets us into so much trouble. The Bible addresses this over and over. We tend to reserve our patient tongues, our reserved tongues for those outside of our home, and let the wagging and lashing flow where we are most comfortable. The problem is that this leaves our spouse feeling undervalued and disrespected, unloved. God created the second chance, the rephrase, to show care and concern for those closest to us.
- When you agree to disagree, he gets to decide. Ack! This is where Ephesians 5 starts to poke at us—where we start to avoid it. There are certainly troublesome exceptions to this, when our spouse would ask us to dishonor God, or when abuse is a very real factor in the marriage. But most of us reading this are not in that reality and avoidance isn’t working. I have seen my husband and my marriage change and grow and flourish under the Gospel of God’s design. I am a terrible submitter. I am a teeth-gritted, lips-pursed, feet-dragging submitter. But every time I watch my husband thrive in the ability to make a decision for his family, it becomes a little bit easier. I become a little bit more aware of how deeply he loves our children and me. I am no longer robbed of the man he can be, when I give up plowing through with the idea I want. And, wow! does it go even better when he’s gentle and kind and compassionate with the decision making!
Husbands loving their wives. Wives respecting their husbands. Christ doing all of it in us, showing a weary world through our little marriage just who He really is. It’s not easy, but He’s always worth it.
Deaconess Heidi Goehmann, MSW, LSW, serves as deaconess to ministry wives for Grace Place Wellness Ministries.