“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Colossians 3:23-24, ESV)
Growing up in church and hearing Scripture all my life, I did not realize these words come just below this familiar passage:
“Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.” (Colossians 3:18-22, ESV)
As a child, I can remember Mom telling me to do my work – cleaning, schoolwork, and all other efforts – as though I was doing it for the Lord. But, when I consider the Biblical mandate to work heartily, I have not always paired that concept with my marriage. Sure, cooking and cleaning are work, and I should worship God through the care of my home; but, there is marital work which has nothing to do with mopping, dusting, or cleaning toilets.
This work often goes unnoticed. In fact, many would not characterize it as work. This work involves resolving a conflict when you would rather go to bed and ignore the problem. This work includes actively pushing down negative comments and choosing to speak life when you are angry. It is hard work to hold in your frustrated screams after viewing the new and “improved” household budget your spouse wants to implement. Keeping a marriage and home running is laborious, and much of the work is mental and emotional.
Is Sacrificial Love Work? What About Submission?
To me, submitting is hard work. It does not come naturally to me, and I often feel my heart pushing against it. Submitting to Eric’s authority requires me to battle actively against my sinful nature.
In my heart, choosing to embrace my role in this marriage is tiring, and at times, strenuous. Though I like having Eric around for decision-making and problem-solving, I do not always like that he is Biblically sanctioned by God to lead our family. I am far more comfortable thinking of us as a 50/50 partnership with equal say in all situations. I just do not want half of the responsibility. ~wink~
Still, I read the same Bible he does, and there is no Scriptural way around it – the truth is the truth – I am called to submit to this man. Thankfully, he is told to love and care for me, but the fallen woman in me still wants to rule over him sometimes (Genesis 3:16). Digging ditches would not make me as tired as battling against my sin nature.
Though he does not always share his thoughts on the subject, I believe Eric has worked hard at bridling his tongue, choosing to love me when I am prickly and unpleasant, and providing for me when he would rather look out for his needs first.
As a young person, marriage seemed like a float down the river – occasional bumps, but mostly fun and romantic. In reality, it is a lot more like climbing a mountain. Each day you have to decide to keep pulling yourself up – and, some days, you have to carry your partner too. Some stretches are enjoyable while others are grueling; but, no matter how rough the climb, there is a reward at the top if you do not quit.
Love and Respect
In his amazing book Love and Respect, Emerson Eggerichs talks about the Rewarded Cycle. In the Rewarded Cycle, women show their husbands respect regardless of how much love they have received from them; whereas, men show their wives love regardless of how respectful they have been.
When your woman is disrespecting you, it is the most difficult time to show love; and, when your husband is treating you with disdain, it is hard to respond respectfully. When I show Eric respect after he has been unloving to me, I am thankful for the opportunity to serve God at that moment – to obey Him in the heat of adversity. Respecting Eric is simple when he is a sweet cuddle bug and not as easy when he is hyper-focused on something or in a bad mood.
Similarly, when Eric remains calm and loving in the face of my disrespectful phrases or glances, he honors God by his obedience to Ephesians 5. Treating each other well does not flex any muscles when everyone is happy; but, we glorify God when we choose to be loving and respectful in the tough times.
There are occasions when I am so mad at Eric I cannot think of one earthly reason to treat him with respect. My flesh wants to take over and find some way to cut him down to size. It is in those moments that I am thankful to have a Heavenly reason to continue honoring him as my husband. At times, you will not have a good reason to shower your partner with kindness. All conditions will be right for a showdown. You will think of wonderful zingers to throw at him. Ideas for how to shut her nagging mouth will bubble below the surface. In those times, we have to choose – even grunt, push, or pull – to smother the damaging responses and honor our Heavenly Father by loving and respecting our spouse – especially when he or she does not deserve it.
And that is just it. We do not deserve it. Every kind word, back rub, and sweet smile we receive is an act of grace. When I remember all the good Eric had lavished on me when I did not deserve it, it cuts through the wrath in my heart.
The Best Work You Can Do: Pray for Each Other
Miss Betty once said, “Heather, when churches advertise a visiting evangelist or a concert, the pews are often full; but, when they call a prayer service, it is typically under-attended. Fewer people come to prayer meetings because prayer is hard work.” Prayer requires focus. It requires stamina. Prayer is emotional; it takes time and energy, and the fruits are not always evident – especially not to our immediate-gratification driven society.
We are going to work in our marriages no matter what, but if we pour our energy into praying for each other, much of the other work will take care of itself. Prayer affects our attitudes and how we treat others. When I pray for Eric, I am not as quick to mistreat him. When I do not mistreat him, there are fewer conflicts, and fewer conflicts equal less work!
Praying for each other will not make everything in your marriage perfect, but it will change you. As you become more like Christ, you will battle less with unconditional respect and unconditional love; they will come more naturally to you. So, work smarter, not harder – pray more!
The work we do in our marriages is an act of worship to God. What a blessing to know our struggles serve a greater purpose. When we obey Him, we worship Him!
Have you ever considered that the work you do in your future marriage would bring glory to God?