Guarding Your Heart for a Godly Marriage (Part 1: Selflessness)
Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. (Prov 4:23, ESV)
Marriage is a blessing, a gift of God to humanity (Prov 18:22). An ideal marriage can provide companionship, children, structure, purpose, and thousands of occasions to lean on God’s grace. Most importantly, marriage is an opportunity for a husband to model Christ’s example of loving, sacrificial leadership, and for a wife to model the church’s ideal of respectful, faith-filled submission (Eph 5:22-33). Godly Christians in a marriage relationship enjoy these blessings.
However, several Christian adults do not currently have the blessing of a marriage relationship. In some cases this is due to divorce or bereavement. But increasingly in our culture, young adults remain unmarried for several years. In 1960 the average groom was almost 23, and the average bride a few months over 20. In 2011, the average groom was 29 years old and the average bride was 26 and a half.
This is a series of posts for Christian young adults who are not yet married, but desire to marry. Perhaps you are not yet married because you are relatively young. Perhaps you are trying to get through school before marriage. Perhaps you are waiting until you are established in life and in your career. Perhaps you are eager for marriage, but you simply haven’t found the right spouse. Whatever the reason for your singleness – I want to encourage you to use your single years to prepare in advance for the marriage into which God may lead you. Marriage is a blessing, but it is also complex and it is hard work! The more you guard your heart now from the sins that threaten a marriage, the more God-honoring you’ll be as a husband or wife in the future. And even if you never end up getting married, you’ll grow in your walk with Christ as a result of applying these truths to your life.
In this post, we’ll discuss guarding your heart from selfishness. Next time we’ll discuss guarding your heart from impurity. After that we’ll discuss guarding your heart from the wrong potential spouse. Finally, we’ll discuss guarding your heart from discontent.
Marriage is a continual stream of opportunities to say “no” to your own desires. Unless you become willing to put to death many of your preferences, your opinions, your tastes, your schedule, and your expectations – your marriage is doomed to fail.
Marriage is not about getting what you want. Marriage is about God exposing your sin and making you more like Christ. Marriage is about dying to yourself and allowing God to resurrect a new and better life than you had planned and expected.
1. Prepare for commitment.
Marriage is a covenant. At the marriage altar, two believers make promises before God and witnesses “for better or for worse…till death.” As you envision your future marriage, your mind naturally anticipates the “for better” aspects. And there will likely be several wonderful moments that you will enjoy! But don’t forget that there will inevitably be some “for worse” moments as well: health challenges, financial struggles, personality clashes, in-law dynamics, job pressures, a rebellious child. Your deepest sins and fears will eventually be exposed in marriage – and so will your spouse’s. When you covenant with someone else in marriage, “for better or for worse,” you are promising to selflessly commit to work for your spouse’s good no matter what life may bring. This is a weighty matter! Psalm 15:4 describes the man who knows the Lord as one “who swears to his own hurt and does not change.”
How can you prepare for commitment as a not-yet-married Christian? First, commit to fellowship and service in your local church. Show up every Sunday, on time, ready and eager to bless those around you. Join a small group and show up every week, on time, ready to contribute. Join a ministry team and show up to your obligations every time, on time, ready to work hard. The local church is a fantastic context to practice commitment, especially when things are less than ideal. And even if you never marry, you’ll still be glorifying God and making an impact on your brothers and sisters in Christ.
Second, commit to bless and serve your family. You likely have grandparents who are still alive, a mother and father, siblings, cousins, even nephews and nieces. Perhaps you still live with your parents and siblings. As you transition into adulthood it can be easy to despise these relationship as you “spread your wings” and move on to “bigger and better things.” But according to Scripture, neglecting parents and grandparents is shameful, a matter of “denying the faith” and behaving “worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim 5:8; cf. v 4). You won’t be a good spouse if you are not a good child and a good sibling. Don’t wait until marriage to learn family commitment.
2. Prepare to pour your life out for others.
Being a good spouse is one of the most selfless things you can do. Being a good parent requires even more selflessness. When you start a family, you are no longer focused on developing yourself alone. Your desire should be to help your spouse to the max and to help your children to the max. Marriage and parenting leave very little spare time for you to pursue your own interests. That’s a good thing! It is far more rewarding to pour out your life for others. In the words of Jesus, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
You don’t have to wait until you’re married with children; you can practice pouring out your life for others now! Inconvenience yourself to come alongside a struggling friend. Visit an elderly church member in the hospital. Write a letter to a discouraged mom. Buy lunch for a homeless man. Drive a high schooler to apply for jobs at all the fast-food places in town. It’s not a bad thing to have some “me” time to develop your own interests and skills. However, don’t let your own interests take up 100% of your spare time and money. If you do, family life will be a nasty shock!
If you tend to be a “control freak,” pray for grace to change your ways. Organizing your life is a good thing, but family life is often unpredictable. Position yourself to be inconvenienced by unanticipated needs of others. Don’t wait until marriage to pour out your life for others.
3. Prepare for your sin to be exposed and confronted.
We men enjoy having our egos stroked. This is one of the primary charms of dating/courting – typically a girlfriend is eager to praise you and affirm your abilities. But when it comes to a lifetime of committed marriage, you’ll need to check your ego at the door. All your sins, fears, insecurities, idols, and weaknesses will be exposed in marriage. And guess who will be in the best position to observe these sins and point them out to you? Your spouse. An insecure man will take offense as his wife’s feedback, becoming defensive and treating her as the problem rather than his sin. Feedback from your spouse may also be hard to receive because you have the best view of her sins! But a man who desires to grow in sanctification will see his wife’s constructive criticism as God’s grace in his life. Better to have your sin confronted by one who loves you than to be flattered by one who doesn’t care about your spiritual growth. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (Prov 27:6). So, how do you react when someone points out your sins and weaknesses? Don’t wait until marriage to learn humility and teachability.
4. Prepare to be conformed to the image of Christ, who laid down his life for others.
Selflessness is not merely a pragmatic strategy for a long and happy marriage. It is a Biblical command. “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil 2:3-4). This is a high ideal, impossible to accomplish with mere human strength. Happily, the apostle Paul goes on to explain that this selfless mindset is “yours in Christ Jesus” (v. 5). Jesus was the ultimate example of selflessness. He left the glory and honor of heaven (v. 6) and poured himself out for us by coming to this earth as a human servant (v. 7). His servant-like humility took him all the way to an excruciating, humiliating death (v. 8). This is why He deserves our highest praise and our heartfelt submission (v. 9-11).
The selfless way of life that I’ve been describing today may sound miserable to you. But the road of Christlike selflessness draws us close to the Lord in dependence on His grace, and ends in glory.
There is joy in selflessness! Learn it young and you will be blessed, whether or not you ever marry.
For further growth:
Read Philippians 2:1-11 each day this week.
Write out a plan to grow in selflessness as an unmarried individual. How will you pour out your life for someone else this week? How should you advance in your commitment to your church and your family?