I came into marriage thinking that between Song of Songs and the “marriage passages” of the New Testament epistles, we were fully equipped to tackle anything married life threw at us. I was excited to awaken the desires the daughters of Jerusalem had told us to keep a tight rein on until the time was right (Song of Songs 8:4). And when we weren’t in the bedroom, I expected the rest of our time to go along fairly agreeably with him loving me and me respecting him. If we got stuck in a decision, he would decide.
It was a terrible shock, then, to find myself with my face sobbing into my pillow a few weeks into our marriage, the front door still shaking from where my new husband had slammed it. I was trying to respect. He was trying to love. And yet we were stuck. How were a husband and wife to navigate loving one another in the muck and mundane of everyday details? Song of Songs didn’t seem to be particularly helpful in this instance. I poured through the pages of scripture, and found help in a surprising place: not in the “husband and wife” instructions of Colossians 3, but just a few paragraphs before in the everyday instruction to the family of God.
Addressing the entire gathered family of believers, the apostle Paul wrote these words:
Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. — Colossians 3:12-14 NIV)
In all our marriage prep and excitement about husband and wife roles and privileges, it turned out we’d lost sight of two important things about one another: we’d forgotten to love one another as neighbors, and we’d forgotten to love one another as siblings.
My Spouse Is My Neighbor
When thinking through our expectations of marriage, remember that we must love our spouse as a neighbor, which is to say we must love them as ourselves (Mark 12:31). The call to love my husband is not a separate category of love; it is a relationally specific application of the greatest commandments. The ways in which I love my neighbors in offering hospitality, friendliness, and care when they need it are all ways I can and should love my spouse.
This can be harder than it sounds. Yet it’s a good reminder. How often do we not behave better in public than we do at home: losing patience with our loved ones in the car and yet offering kindness moments later at church? “But home is where we should be able to be ourselves, and just let it all hang out,” we might argue. But our true selves — even at home, especially at home — should not have to deal with our least redeemed selves wallowing in our worst behavior.
In marriage, we are committing to be a lifelong neighbor to our spouse, and the ways of civility, everyday courtesy, and kindness go a long way towards keeping love kindled.
My Spouse Is My Sibling
In addition to loving our spouse as a neighbor, we need to love them as a sibling. Scripture encourages us to treat all other believers as fellow children in God’s family, and our spouse deserves no less. As the “beloved children” of God, Ephesians 5:1 warns us against vices and vitriol and commends the pursuit of wisdom, good time management, and the fruits of a Spirit-filled life. These are to be the hallmarks of every Christian life, which includes every Christian marriage.
“That’s God’s beloved son you are talking about,” my friend warned me one afternoon, cutting me off mid-rant as I vented about something my beloved had done. She stunned me into silence. In all my complaining to God (and anyone who would listen), I’d been indignant at how my husband was treating me… a daughter of God! I felt ignored, sidelined, and angry. My friend’s words brought much-needed perspective: the man I was lambasting was not only my husband but a son of God himself… and how dare I speak of him that way! Would I have said these things about him to his mother or father? No. As much as his parents are aware of his weaknesses, they love him and are proud of him and are always hopeful for his growth and flourishing. They would not gang up on him or shame him. And neither would God.
God is our spouse’s parent, and the Father’s demeanor towards our spouses is one of love, instruction, and sometimes discipline; but never shaming and judgment (Hebrews 12:6). It helps me sometimes to think of marital disagreements as sibling squabbles, with God our Father as a parent. Do I expect Him to take sides? Or is He more likely to be grieved that His son and daughter are hurting, and long for both of us to grow into deeper maturity, exercising patience and long-suffering toward each other? These are certainly the things I hope for when my children fight.
Knowing that marriage means our spouse is both our neighbor and our sibling does some deep work to train us in the ways of kindness and consistency. It is wonderful to know our spouses are our friends and our lovers, but our spouses need more than our best behavior on date night or special occasions. There’s the everyday lived-in love that is required from siblings and neighbors — kindness on all our ordinary Monday mornings — that God calls us to remember. Especially with our spouses, who are our closest neighbors and siblings of them all.
Written for Faith.Full by Bronwyn Lea, author of Beyond Awkward Side Hugs.
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How is sheltering in place going? If you’re married, remember that this won’t last forever and it’s the perfect time to practice treating our spouses with compassion and kindness, remember that they are our spiritual siblings and our closest neighbor. Come share your thoughts with us on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Laurie McClure, Faith.Full