THE MARRIAGE ABCS
Copyright © Ufuomaee
“For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy” (1 Corinthians 7:14).
When I originally did my study on the seventh chapter of Corinthians in 2012, this verse really stuck out to me. I don’t know how I could express my thought better, so I feel a need to quote what I wrote then:
Now Paul makes a remarkable statement that is not repeated anywhere else in any other form. He says that by virtue of the anointing and grace on the believing spouse, their significant other is sanctified (made clean), and so their children will be clean also. Everywhere else, we are taught that it is a personal relationship, that our faith cannot save anyone but ourselves. And even still, we are warned repeatedly of the dangers of such unholy unions (consider Solomon, brought to nought by his many affiliations). By this proclamation, Paul illustrates the exceeding grace God provides in our weakness when we believe (2 Cor 12:9). Because it is harder to keep the faith living in the midst of unbelievers, God has poured out even more grace – to overflowing – to the household of a believer, who converts in the midst of opposition (risking all, their spouse and children) to follow Him. So, though they lose it by forsaking it for God, they gain it back by its sanctification. This grace was not available before Jesus (John 1:17).
Paul isn’t saying that there is greater grace available to Believers who go against godly wisdom to marry unbelievers! These have made their bed of coals, and have only the assurance of torment (Isaiah 50:11). This greater grace is given for those who, in the midst of opposition from their unbelieving spouse, with the fear of rejection, believe in Jesus and choose to honour Him with their lives. Actually I was wrong about the originality of this sentiment. Paul’s response to the Jailer to “…believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31) also seems to convey this message of grace.
This week, we are looking at the grace that is available to believers in marriage, what it means to be gracious, and why we must be as gracious as God, if we are going to make it until death do us part! The first thing we need to know is that there is already GRACE from God to handle the gift of marriage to His glory. Even if we were unbelievers when we married, our marriage is blessed as we’ve already seen in B for Blessed to Bless, because it is a tool of God to teach the world about His great love. Even if you had no clue what love is before you married…if you are to succeed in marriage, you must certainly learn what love is; and in this process God ministers to all people.
However, God adds grace to His children to be victorious in this mission! And to those who come to Him, while already married, He gives them greater grace to stand, and to be a light unto their spouses and children. They don’t have to forsake their marriages, because they now believe in God. They can see themselves as His ministers in their marriage, who love their unbelieving spouse with the passion that they were loved by God, while still in unbelief. Now they too, can have the great expectation laid on God that their marriage will succeed, because His grace is sufficient for them in their weakness (2 Cor 12:9) and His love conquers all (1 Cor 13:8)!
Now that God has given grace enough for both circumstances (two believers in marriage; a believer and an unbelieving spouse), we ought to also use the grace available to us and generously pass on the grace to our spouse. One would expect that a marriage between two believers would be easier and free from strife, and that both would be gracious, having little to disagree on. But there is a problem of complacency that besets the affluent, which can also arise in marriage with two believers.
We tend to be more presumptuous of other believers, entitled and even judgmental, because they should know better! We may forget how much grace we have received from God, and how much we are reliant on Him just to make it through a day. Like Jesus said, those who have been forgiven little, love little… (Luke 7:47). But it’s not truly that you have been forgiven little, it is simply that you lose sight of (or don’t even realise) how much you have been (and continue to be) forgiven.
Those who are faced with the reality of sin and human weakness constantly, acknowledge the grace of God in their lives and, are far more gracious to others. It is easier for them to reason that they know not what they do…when offences arise. So, it is possible that in a household with only one believer, the believer would be more gracious to their unbelieving spouse, because they are constantly reminded of the grace they enjoy in Christ. This also is the grace of God, so that the unbeliever may come to know His love through their spouse.
Because a marriage is blessed does not guarantee its success. The addition of grace will help us to persevere and to do what is needful to make our marriage work…but it also doesn’t guarantee its success. We must choose to utilise the grace given and give grace as generously as we have received it from God, and His grace will continue to be poured out on our marriage and enable us to be victorious in this vocation. If we are ungracious to our spouse, we work against God and we work against ourselves.
So what does it mean to be gracious? What does graciousness look like, and what is it not? The best model for grace is God Himself! He has shown us what grace is, and what grace is not, and we ought to imitate Him, if we want to excel in marriage.
- Grace is Forgiving. When people think about grace, they usually first think of forgiveness. And yes, a gracious person is a forgiving person! But forgiveness is simply one of the traits of a gracious person. A gracious person does not only forgive, but forgives continually…and doesn’t keep record of wrongs. They are also prone to forget offences, because they never dwell on them. They cast them out quickly, because being wise, they know that meditating on wrongs suffered can only bear bad fruit (anger and bitterness being chief).
- Grace is Understanding. Those who are gracious are also self-aware. They know that they are not faultless themselves, and they appreciate the struggles we all face in the flesh and the empowerment the Holy Spirit gives to overcome sin. So they are understanding of others who fall or struggle with sin, and rather than judge or accuse them, they stoop down to pick them up, and wash them clean and encourage and inspire them to good works! They are not petty, and know when to make an issue of something, and when to let a matter go. They are not easily offended. They are not contentious, like those who think they know it all and are the enforcers of righteousness.
- Grace is Emphasizing. Gracious people easily emphasize with the sufferings of others and are compassionate. They make room for the weakness of others, putting themselves in their position so as to make a righteous judgment. They are not critical, but look for ways to uplift and enlighten the paths of those in darkness with godly wisdom. They choose their words carefully, knowing the power of words to build up or to tear down. They are patient, long suffering and hopeful, trusting that God works out all things to the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28).
- Grace is Empowering. Gracious people love to celebrate others, so they are always looking for opportunity to help others to shine! They are kind and not envious of others. They are generous with complements and praise, knowing that praise does more to encourage good behaviour than rebuke. They are also preemptive, and so they are careful not to lay offences or stumbling blocks in the way of others, so that they are more likely to overcome natural and unforeseen obstacles and grow spiritually. They are self-less, as they continue to see themselves as a tool in God’s hands to bless others.
- Grace is Humbling. Ultimately, those who are gracious are humble. Through their gracious acts, they are continually humbled, as they are continually aware of the spiritual battle for the souls of men, and the many things that hinder people from coming to God and growing in His grace. They are very reliant on God to continue to be gracious, and not to become complacent or self-righteous about all their goodness. The more humble they are, the more gracious they will be. And they will continue to grow in grace and humility.
Reading the above, would you consider yourself to be gracious? Would your spouse consider you to be gracious? What about your family and friends and colleagues? Grace emits into every aspect of our lives, as we are becoming more like God each day we abide in grace and give grace to others. If those close to you don’t see you as gracious, it is likely that you are not. You need to come to a renewed awareness of how much you have been forgiven, so that you will begin to love that much! Remember the new commandment: “As I have loved you, love one another” (John 13:34).
While we all need to make more effort to be gracious, we need to be careful not to abuse grace. Grace is abused when we see it as a license to sin or we excuse sin in others, without seeking to address it in a loving way. Grace is not afraid of confrontation, but it is empowered of God and guided by God to challenge sin and correct offenders in love. Being gracious doesn’t mean everyone is our friend either, it just means that “…if it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rom 12:18). You won’t be liked or loved by everyone for being gracious! Just look at our shining example in Jesus Christ!
Offences are sure to come in your marriage, whether knowingly or unknowingly, accidental or incidental. You will have disagreements, big, small and petty. But it takes only one gracious person to change the outcome of any interference. One gracious person can end an argument. One gracious person can restore a fallen spouse. One gracious person can influence the other to grow and walk in love.
Contrary to popular opinion, it doesn’t take two people to make a marriage work. You don’t have to give up on your marriage because you are putting in more than you are getting out. If you are married to an unbeliever, or your ‘Christian’ spouse is acting like an unbeliever, don’t give up on your marriage thinking that it is hopeless. God has given grace enough. Trust Him and draw your strength from Him, because He is with you. Remember, as long as the unbeliever is willing to abide in the marriage, there is grace enough (1 Cor 7:12-16) and hope that they will be saved (or restored) and the marriage will survive.
However, a far better marriage, with a greater likelihood of success, is where both are working together for the good of their union, building on a foundation of love. A sweet and beautiful marriage is one where both partners are as gracious as each other, and striving to be as gracious as God. Such a marriage is possible when each makes a commitment and a daily decision to walk in the grace that God has abundantly provided for their blessed union.
Don’t bank on your spouse being the gracious one. Don’t wait to give tit for tat. Don’t expect them to meet you half-way. Choose to be the gracious one yourself, and give 100%, and who knows if you won’t soon be enjoying the sweetest marriage ever known to man!
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