There are literally thousands of books on Christian marriage. I’ve read some of them. There are witty ones, serious ones, legalistic ones, traditional ones, devotional ones, subversive ones. All of them claim to be rooted in biblical foundations and guidelines – and throw in plenty of Bible verses to back up their case – but I reckon most of them are in fact based on the author’s blueprint for their own successful marriage, which doesn’t necessarily translate well into another’s unique and entirely different marriage. Even the devil quoted scripture at Jesus; you can highlight certain verses to back up many a point of view.
Stereotypes often abound. Stated advice and solutions for problems usually reflect what works for them. Some of it appears to be bragging about their fantastic sex life – no mention of Driscoll here, ahem. Many texts focus on the “S” word (submission), and their interpretation of it, above everything else. And some of these books may well be helpful to many readers. We’re always looking for solutions, it seems.
Christians often have a way of over-complicating things, where Christ tended to simplify – for example, when he summed up the whole law as loving God and loving one’s neighbour. The Pharisees, meanwhile, loved to pile on loads of rules and regulations; lots of little extra commandments to adhere to, in order to appear holy.
We don’t have Pharisees now. But we do have an awful lot of writers and authors, and I know, I’m guilty too. Christians use words like “complementarian” or “egalitarian” to convince readers what marriage should look like. These words aren’t found in the Bible but have been used frequently to prescribe what I call ‘the marriage rules’.
In contrast, I like to imagine how Christ might describe the rules if a complementarian and an egalitarian were to come to him begging for the correct way to conduct a relationship, seeking to validate their stance on relationship roles.
I imagine he might reply, in his typically understated way, something like: “Be kind; serve one another; love God; the rest is negotiable.” Or perhaps he would respond with a question: “What kind of spouse would you like to have? Be that person.”
Jesus never married, but imagine for a moment that he had. What kind of husband would Jesus have been?
His actions throughout the gospels suggest that he wouldn’t have thought twice about washing his wife’s dirty-sandalled feet; would have been more than happy to cook her breakfast on the beach; would be totally willing to lay down his life for her, willing to pray for her, to show compassion to her – radical enough to eschew cultural expectations of her. No hints here of a “get back into the kitchen” rhetoric.
And yes, in his unique position, willing to show her the way to God the Father.
You eliminate dominance in a relationship if both are servant-hearted, willing to lay down their rights or desires for one another.
You eliminate the need for one bullish decision maker if you are kind. A kind person would never say: “This is what we’re going to do,” preferring: “I feel we should do this, what do you think?”
You eliminate meanness and abuse if both partners show gentleness, love and patience. There’s no gender difference in regard to the fruits of the Spirit. You exemplify Christ’s compassion.
You maximise joy and satisfaction if both are willing to demonstrate kindness and mutual submission to one another.
I don’t think God intended to create cookie-cutter Christian relationships. It shouldn’t surprise us that each marriage will develop its own unique style, within the safety-net of kindness, sacrificial love and godliness. Each style possesses the scope to honour God and reflect the relationship between Christ and the Church. We need to look less to high profile authors for guidance in marriage and relationships and more to the author who designed marriage.
So, what do Christian relationships look like? In a nutshell, they’re committed – in a marriage – they’re forged through vows before God, reflecting the merging of two personalities who are willing to put their spouse before themselves.
And that’s it. There’s no room for selfishness in Christian relationships. There’s simply a requirement to love and to be Christ-like. The rest tends to work itself out within the framework of that. A lot of the ‘rules’ we subsequently come across are superfluous to the Maker’s requirements.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t read books on marriage and relationships. Take what’s helpful, and ditch the rest.
So let’s keep it simple. Here are my new marriage rules: work on being a good friend to the person you once vowed to spend the rest of your life with, and show respect for your partner, not contempt. The rest is negotiable.