There’s a little boy named George who will turn four years old this month. He was likely the most photographed baby in the world, and started his education in January of 2016, when he was not yet three years old. You can be sure he will receive loads of instruction about proper protocol and manners because when you are third in line to succeed Queen Elizabeth II, you’re expected to act in a certain way.
Every Christian actually has a similar call—acting worthy of our calling—and when we apply this attitude to marriage, our relationship with our spouse will take on a newer and deeper meaning.
In Ephesians 4:1-3 Paul writes:
“Therefore I… beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. 2 Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. 3 Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.” (NLT)
What if we “re-purposed” just one phrase? “I…beg you to build a marriage worthy of your calling. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.”
As a Christian couple you are called to more than just figuring out the best way things work for you and your spouse. You have been enlisted in the most glorious work ever known—the advancement of God’s own Kingdom. This calls you to pursue a certain dignity, to look at your marriage in a certain light, because you are engaged in such an important work and calling.
According to Paul, it’s not about which fork to use or how to conduct ourselves during state dinners. Instead, it’s about pursuing a certain character. To have a marriage worthy of our calling, we need to be humble and gentle. That means we are not attacking each other, we are not harsh with each other, we don’t control each other or lose our temper with each other. We are servants, mutually caring for each other. That’s what best models our calling, because that’s what most reveals the character of Christ.
It’s worth pointing out that Paul wrote to a Greek world that despised humility, yet he extols it. Humility is showcased by Jesus, so it must be showcased by us as we seek to proclaim Jesus to the world. Pride kills relationship, pride devastates a marriage. Pride is unworthy of our calling to proclaim a Savior who “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant…” (Phil. 2:6)
Is the way we act in marriage best described by “humble”? If not, we’re not building a marriage “worthy of our calling.”
We are also to be “patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.” We’ve read James 3:2 (“We all stumble in many ways”) so we know our partner will falter at times. But because of the love that is within us by God’s Holy Spirit, we make allowances for each other rather than judge each other. We show the world that Christian couples treat sin with grace in a manner much different than what you see in the world. “Making allowance” means we are sensitive and encouraging about each other’s weaknesses and idiosyncrasies, the quirkiness of our natures that sometimes needs to be accommodated. We do this with joy and a good spirit. God created our spouse, so it is a joy to worship Him by celebrating this unique expression of His creative genius.
Also note—this is so key—that, because of our calling, we make every effort to keep ourselves united in the Spirit. We are called to a ministry of reconciliation—God reconciling the world to Himself, us demonstrating that by being reconciled to each other—so we fight, we labor, we strive, we give everything we’ve got as we depend on the Spirit’s empowerment to keep ourselves united in the Spirit.
So what does this mean? I am dedicated to the perseveration of my marriage’s unity. Not just for my happiness and my children’s security, but because of my calling in Christ. I will guard my marriage, feed my marriage, work through issues, confront when necessary when something is threatening our unity, forgive with eagerness to preserve our unity, be gentle so that no bitterness erupts attacking our unity, demonstrate patience, refuse to replay past episodes and assault my marriage’s unity, and certainly remain vigilant so that I never let my heart be stolen by anyone else. If I ever have an affair, it is an assault on my calling as much as it is an assault on my marriage. It undercuts my reason for being, my very ministry. The very thought should horrify me, causing me to build wide boundaries and to seek safeguards such as accountability and transparency.
So many people seek to build a “happy” marriage. That’s fine. I’m into happiness and God is into happiness. But even more, I want to build a marriage that is “worthy of my calling.” What about you?
Gary Thomas, GaryThomas.com
My book A Lifelong Love: How to Have Lasting Intimacy, Friendship and Purpose in Your Marriage is focused on helping couples build a marriage “worthy of our calling.” This post was adapted from that book.