Mutual biblical responsibilities of Christian married couples are never to be ignored if they are to enjoy the marital bliss that God has promised (Psalm 128). Here is a continuation of this topic that I began sharing with you last Lord’s Day.
- A forgiving, restoring attitude to the other: Offences and deep hurts can occur in marital relationships. If resentment occurs (which undoubtedly will), one should avoid going to sleep in displeasure – “let not the sun go down upon your wrath” (Eph. 4:26). God’s Word teaches us not to entertain bitterness against each other, but always to extend tenderness and mercy to forgive and reconcile. If matters are not handled with understanding and compassion, quarrelling and brawling will ensue, and the house will be full of malice and disquiet. Though admonishing each other is necessary, it should be done with wisdom, gentleness and prayer. If there are provocations from the other, be mindful to avoid rudeness and retaliation. Do not engage in fault-finding, nagging, harassment, threatening; never lay violent hands on each other. If the other behaves badly, show patience and forbearance so that the misbehaving person may not wax worse. “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Eph. 4:31-32). God’s Word forbids vindictiveness and retaliation (Rom. 12:17-19). We should also refrain from slandering each other before others.
Swinnock, a Puritan preacher, said, “[T]o procure a quiet life, the husband must be deaf, and the wife blind. Sure it is, the man must not bear to declare it abroad, nor the wife sees to say it among her gossips whatever is amiss at home if they would live in peace.” A rift between a husband and wife is half-settled when it is kept within the house, with prayers and dedication to resolve the contention lovingly. But when it is announced publicly in the ears of others, it will be like a rotten, septic sore that is hard to be cured. Christian couples must, at all costs, refrain from hardening their hearts against each other, leading to retribution, separation and divorce. Christ, our Lord, did reprimand the hard-hearted conduct that led to the dissolution of marriages (Matt. 19:8; Mk. 10:5-9). Just as God expected the prophet Hosea to show mercy and restorative love to his adulterous wife, which was to be a picture of God’s patience and reinstating love towards His disobedient people, there must be a willingness to forbear and forgive. Spiritually strong and mature persons would be tolerant and enduring in their spousal relationship, showing divine kindness and forgiveness to each other (Gal. 6:1; Prov. 16:32; Rom. 12:21; 1 Pet. 3:9).
- A prayerful nourishing of each other: The husband and wife, “being heirs together of the grace of life”, are exhorted to maintain their attitudes towards each other in such a way “that your prayers be not hindered” (1 Peter 3:7b). If husband and wife live together without mutual respect and affection, their united prayer will be cut off. Living in a house with conflicts, jealousies, bickering and altercations is detrimental to the spirit of prayer. God expects all believing spouses to conduct themselves with honourable attitudes towards each other so that their prayers together will not be hindered. Christian couples must be diligent in praying together and for each other. They must seek the Lord’s guidance, provisions and protection. They must yield in prayer to do God’s will as His servants. God must be sought, trusted and obeyed. “Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it… It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows” (Psalm 127:1-2a). Without God’s help and blessings, their labour to build up their families is in vain.
Praying to God that you may prosper and succeed in your individual roles and duties to each other, and in collective labour for Him within and without the house, is necessary. Prayer and labour must go together so that you may flourish in God’s purposes. To labour in the house and not pray, would be a life without God and His blessings. May it never be a case of “ye have not, because ye ask not” (James 4:2b). Pray at God’s mercy seat for each other’s spiritual progress, steadfastness and triumph over all temptations and trials. Pray also that you will be a blessing to the other and, together, a blessing to the rest of the family and to God’s people everywhere.
- A commitment to show benevolence to each other: “Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife to the husband” (1 Corinthians 7.3). What precisely is “due benevolence”? The word ‘due’ literally refers to a payment of the debt due or an obligation of duty that is due. What debt (or duty) does the husband and wife owe to each other? Benevolence! [Some modern English versions of the Bible omit this word. The Greek word for “benevolence” (εὔνοια) is specifically mentioned in the Textus Receptus (Majority Text) of the Greek New Testament]. “Benevolence” is deep-felt love towards the other in action through kind deeds. Due benevolence is a debt of goodwill or kindness in action.
Christian husbands and wives must know their biblical debts or duties, and readily and joyfully render them to each other. Both husband and wife should focus on their own God-given duties to the other. The mutual duties of the married couple are far more than engaging in a sexual relationship; they also entail a mutual rendering of loving concern, submission, reverence, care, meekness, forgiveness, etc. It is a two-way debt. None should leave his or her spouse to care for himself or herself. God has given every married individual the duty of loving and caring for the spouse. They have a mutual debt to encourage, correct, comfort, provide for, guide and protect each other. In these days, far too little help flows from one towards the other. More and more understanding, awareness, companionship and support should be extended to each other. Many married couples spend their time and energy pursuing fortune, fitness and fame. Their sentiments are not sufficiently directed to each other as taught by Scripture concerning the building up of each other and of their relationship in the Lord. Misspent emotions and energy render them incapable of genuine love and powerless to pay due benevolence to each other. Thus, many marriages are deprived of marital joys, harmony and peace. Ask yourself, “Do I make my wife or my husband happy?” This is an essential part of the benevolence which is due. “Do I do my part to make my family life peaceable, enjoyable and pleasant?” “Do I provide companionship and friendship that are sanctifying, pleasing and uplifting to my spouse?”
May all Christian husbands and wives cultivate a divine sense of duty to the other whom He has provided for them to love and cherish. Let there be mutual appreciation and never-failing fondness and courtesy. With unceasing acts of sacred love and kindness towards each other, let us strengthen our marital union for the glory of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.