I heard the story once about a couple that had a great marriage for many years. They were asked, “what do you think helps you all have such a great marriage?” Without hesitation, the husband said, “We take two vacations a year. I go in the spring and she goes in the fall!”
Marriage is hard because it is made up of two selfish people often seeking their own desires which are in conflict with the desires of their spouse. Encouraging one another in the pursuit of holiness often requires calling out sin in our lives. Nowhere is this more difficult than in the marriage relationship. That’s probably why we tend to avoid these discussions or handle them poorly when we do engage.
Regardless of the difficulty, God has given us the blessings of marriage in order to show forth an example of His relationship with the church. He has given us the responsibility of helping one another grow in Christlikeness, specifically husbands in Ephesians 5. The call to grow together in holiness is not one that we can brush off lightly and it is one that must be approached with great care.
Below are just a few reminders from Scripture to guide us as we engage with one another in this journey toward spiritual holiness.
For the sharpener:
Be willing to speak up.
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. (ESV)
When we see sin rearing its ugly head in our spouse, it is our duty, not only as spouses but as fellow believers to engage one another in order to reconcile our relationship but more importantly their relationship with God. God has not called us to silence, but rather to action.
Be Biblical in your confrontation.
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. (ESV)
First, make sure what you are confronting your spouse is actual sin and not just something that you don’t like. As we evaluate what needs to be addressed, we must guard against pursuing our personal comfort by leaning solely on the Word and what God calls sin (transgression in the above passage).
Second, confront with an attitude of humility and care (gentleness), not judgment and piety. It’s easy for us to look down our nose when others sin as if we were not once dead as well. The one who rebukes gently and humbly has a greater chance at a successful resolution.
Be praying for your spouse.
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. (ESV)
How often we forget this vital step. We think that we can push our mates to change through constant nagging or confrontation when in reality, it is the Holy Spirit Who changes us.
For the sharpened:
Be open to confrontation.
Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life, but he who rejects reproof leads others astray. (ESV)
There are many passages we could turn to about listening to instruction. However, this one I think has a huge impact on the marriage relationship, notably the negative response. “He who rejects reproof leads others astray.”
When we are not open to hearing about our faults and desire to change, we can lead our spouses and potentially our whole family down a path of horrible consequences, simply because we are not willing to listen.
Be honest about where you are spiritually.
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (ESV)
While I believe the verses above are dealing more in context with those who claim to be believers but are not, I think the statements made are applicable to this discussion as well. We often have a better view of ourselves and in many ways deceive ourselves into thinking we are more spiritual than we are.
We have blind spots and sins that we may not even realize in our lives. We are all sinners and as such we must be willing to look long and hard into the mirror of God’s Word as our spouse engages us in these conversations.
1 Corinthians 10:12 reminds us to guard against thinking we have it all together because it is then that we are most assured to fall, just as the many examples we see in Scripture. When your spouse engages, don’t go on the defensive, but rather join the attack on the sin in your life!
Be thankful for your spouse’s willingness to speak the truth.
Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it. Yet my prayer is continually against their evil deeds. (ESV)
Here in the middle of prayer against his enemies, the Psalmist makes a clear declaration that though he hates the deeds of the wicked, he welcomes the rebuke of the righteous. Can that be said about us? Are you thankful when your spouse is willing to take the time to lovingly confront you regarding sin in your life? If so, let them know.
There are many other Scriptures regarding the importance of rebuke and how it is done. I encourage you to take the time and study them out for yourself in order to be better prepared for this awkward, yet necessary part of growing together in holiness.