6 Ways Christian Marriage Advice Leaves Christ Out

by | Jan 10, 2022 | Uncategorized | 17 comments

How Christian Marriage Advice Leaves Christ Out
Merchandise is Here!

The overarching question I have for my life is a simple one:

How can I live out the kingdom of God and make Jesus take up more space? How can we make Jesus more evident in this world?

That is the job of every believer.

On the podcast last week, though, Scott Coley was talking about how too often Christians “proof text” to make the Bible say what they want it to, rather than approaching the Bible with humility, and letting it teach us what it should.

In few spheres of the Christian life is this more evident than when it comes to marriage.

We have built whole doctrines of marriage on single verses, while often missing the bigger picture of Scripture.

That’s what “proof texting” does.

This month I want to talk about how to put “Christ” back in Christian marriage, and I believe it starts with our attitude when it comes to how we think about what the Bible teaches about marriage.

Some people look at obscure, hard to understand marriage passages and use their interpretations of these to inform how they see the rest of Scripture, and some people use the whole story of Scripture to inform how they understand obscure, difficult passages.

 

I’m definitely in the second camp. The Bible tells a story of what God wants and what God is like, and that story should be consistent. Therefore, if the way that we think we should interpret a verse violates what we know God is like, that’s a sign that our interpretation is likely off.

The problem is that most denominations formed over people’s interpretations of obscure verses. That is often their identity; it’s what distinguishes them from other Christians. And so these obscure verses take on tremendous importance, and somehow in the midst of all of that Jesus is lost.

We run into a unique problem with this in marriage because the Bible only talks about marriage specifically in a few places, and does so using words that are not easily translated into English, or that have different connotations in the Greek than what their English translation would suggest.

When we’re trying to figure out gender roles and marriage, then, we look at these few verses and we create huge doctrines out of them that take on tremendous, oversized importance, and I fear in the process we often miss the forest for the trees.

I’d like to suggest we go back to first principles: God wants us to seek first the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33), and that includes with our marriages.

The key question to ask when it comes to marriage, then, is how does my marriage play a part in bringing the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:10)? Our marriages should reflect the kingdom of God and should share characteristics of God’s priorities for the kingdom of God.

Jesus tells us what it looks like when the kingdom of God comes in Luke 4:18-19:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Luke 4:18-19

The point of the kingdom of God coming is right relationships with God and each other which involves an end to injustice. That’s God’s plan for the whole world. Now let’s look at a few things we know about how that plan will play out:

1. Relationships will be about serving, not about power and authority

And what will interpersonal relationships look like? He tells us this in Matthew 20:25-28:

 

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Matthew 20:25-28

Relationships in the kingdom should never be about who has power over another person, or who has authority, but instead we should all be endeavouring to serve one another.

2. The point of our lives is to be transformed into the likeness of Jesus

In Romans 8:29, we’re told that God’s purpose for us is that we look more and more like Jesus. And what does Jesus look like? In Philippians 2:1-11, we’re shown the picture of someone who gives up everything to serve. Again–life is about humility and servanthood.

Any advice which, if followed, would regularly result in someone being encouraged or enabled to look less like Jesus is not of Jesus.

Are you GOOD or are you NICE?

Because the difference matters!

God calls us to be GOOD, yet too often we’re busy being nice. And sometimes, in marriage, that can actually cause problems to be even more entrenched.

What if there’s a better way?

3. We’re transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is given to all believers, regardless of gender, class, or race. The Holy Spirit gives gifts that we are to exercise. There are no artificial divisions in the kingdom of God based on race, gender, or class (Galatians 3:28).

4. We are to follow Jesus, listen to Jesus, and obey Jesus

In John 10, we’re told that His sheep hear His voice and follow Him. Over and over and over again in Scripture, too many times to count, we are told to follow God and obey Him and seek Him.

Any doctrine that tells someone to follow a human being first, and only follow God if we think that human being is sinning, is not of Jesus. Life is not all about “not sinning”; it’s more often being part of what God is doing on earth and following His will. His will is not just that we don’t sin, but rather that we be part of the bigger story. When we are told that we can’t hear directly from God, and so we have to have someone else mediate–well, that contravenes 1 Timothy 2:5 exactly:

For there is one God, there is also one mediator between God and humankind,
Christ Jesus, himself human,

1 Timothy 2:5

Jesus is our mediator with God, and we need no other. In fact, if we try to follow another, God will ask us, “why did you not follow me?” Any interpretation of submission, then, which tells women NOT to follow Jesus is not of Jesus.

5. When Christians are together, there should be unity in the Spirit

God tells us that unity is a sign that the Spirit is with us. God tells us that we are to seek the Lord when we are trying to make decisions. Therefore, if there is disunity, the answer is to seek the Lord more (as the apostles and disciples did numerous times) rather than have one person unilaterally decide. Why? Because the aim is always to put the Lord at the top, and to ensure that we are doing the Lord’s will, and not man’s.

6. In everything, seeking God is the main aim of life

Our Christian life is lived out with God at the centre. The point of life is seeking God and obeying God and listening to God and hearing God. He is our aim.

These six things are all intrinsic parts of what life in Christ looks like.

They are not hard to interpret. They are EVERYWHERE in the New Testament especially, but also in the Old. Jesus Himself taught them all. None of them is debatable.

When we look at passages that are harder to understand, then, we must never violate the things that we DO know about the kingdom of God.

We need to keep the main story as the main story. Anything else is secondary.

I often get people asking me what I think headship means, or how I interpret Genesis 3:16, and I certainly have some opinions (I think Marg Mowczko and Bruce Fleming and Cynthia Westfall have all thought of these things more than I have and have better answers), but to be honest I’m not that worried about it. I know that any interpretation of these verses cannot violate what we know for certain about the kingdom of God. When we try to put interpretations of these verses ahead of what we know about the kingdom of God, then we are no longer putting Christ and his kingdom at the head. We are missing the main story, and distorting the main story. And when we do that, we miss the boat.

Restoring Christ in Christian marriages means putting arguments about the marriage verses aside and concentrating on what we do know about Jesus.

We can never go wrong if we focus on what we know for sure and for certain. The fact that so many people have allowed obscure doctrines to colour what we know for certain, and even supplant what we should know for certain, is a sign that we are not really following Jesus. That is how we go off track.

Jesus wants a relationship with every single believer. He wants us all transformed into His likeness, which involves serving others and humility. He wants the kingdom of God to come to earth, which involves righting injustices and having right relationships with others. Let’s make all of this evident in our marriages, and the disputes we have over interpretations of obscure verses will diminish as we simply focus on Jesus.

 

6 Ways Christian Marriage Advice Leaves Christ Out

Putting Christ Back in Christian Marriage Series

  • Putting Christ Back in Christian Marriage Introductory Podcast
  • How Christ Was Pushed Out of Christian Marriages
  • Why There’s More to Christian Marriage Than Just 5 Passages
  • What to do when Christian Marriage advice, if followed, would make you look less like Christ
  • Do We Need to Jump out of the Boiling Water? How Advice for Christian Men Got So Off Track

Plus please see my book 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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17 Comments

  1. Kelly Games

    Excellent article Sheila! Makes so much sense.

    Regarding Jesus being the mediator between myself and God, that was the largest issue I had being raised in the Roman Catholic Church. That I had to confess my sins weekly to the Priest, and the priest would give me my penance to atone for my sins that week.

    Say 10 ‘Hail Mary’s & 15 ‘Our Father’ prayers and you are then forgiven. God already KNOWS what sins I’ve committed. After all, God is omniscient. So then WHY do I have to confess my sins to a middleman, aka the Priest?

    Reply
  2. just being real

    This definitely makes sense. One thought though . . . Your headline makes it sound as if you are against “Christian Marriage Advice”. I think you are very much for good Christian Marriage Advice. You give good Christian Marriage Advice. Perhaps it would be better titled something like, ‘6 Ways Some “Christian Marriage Advice” Leaves Christ Out’. I know you feel like you are battling the whole Christian Marriage culture right now. It is obviously very difficult and you have become a lightning rod in this valiant effort. It will be awesome when most “Christian Marriage Advice” is centered in Christ, so, in the mean time, let’s not give the title of “Christian Marriage Advice” to those that are not publishing Christian Marriage Advice founded in Christ. They may put it up as Christian Marriage Advice, but it’s not. It’s something else, not Christian.

    Reply
    • EOF

      Given that almost all advice touted as “Christian” really isn’t, the title is perfect.

      Reply
  3. EOF

    I love this post so much! I’ve always wondered why, if authority and women’s subordination is so important, did Jesus not ever once mention it any of the gospels? If it’s such a big deal, he’d have at least brought it up, wouldn’t he? Wouldn’t he have treated women like they were less than? Yet there isn’t a single example of doing that.

    Reply
    • Laura

      I’ve pointed this out to people about Jesus never bringing that issue up, so why do we? They could not come up with an answer. The look on their faces were priceless!

      Reply
  4. Nessie

    Love this post and looking forward to the others in this series! I was thinking recently how I am having some of the best changes in how I approach the Bible from this page, and how I wish you could be my “Sunday School teacher!” I grew up with rules and expectations, as I’m sure many others have. To view the Bible through the big picture of God’s love is, sadly, a radical idea compared to past experience. We often lose the forest for the trees of isolated scriptures.

    I’m curious to know yours and others’ thoughts on a teaching I’ve been told repeatedly ad nauseum… that I need to always put my husband/marriage ahead of my kids, as prioritizing my marriage is the best thing I can do to influence my kid(s). I have many reservations on this. Obviously, my relationship has a big impact on my kid, but I can only really decide my side of that equation… I’m not referencing truly terrible/dangerous marriages like described on lifesavingdivorce’s page, fwiw. How would you best describe the right balance between prioritizing marriage/spouse and your child and raising him/her up in God’s ways? Perhaps you have already touched on this in past posts that I have missed. If so, I apologize, and also if this is too off-topic.

    Reply
    • CMT

      “Always put my husband/marriage ahead of my kids” I have heard versions of this a lot too. I have pretty mixed feelings about it. As a working parent of three kids under 10, I understand the problem this advice is trying to address. Life gets really busy and if we aren’t careful, maintaining our marriages can fall by the wayside. I get that. But I’ve often seen this framed in a way that assumes wives are responsible for the marriage in a way that husbands aren’t, or implies that a husband is in competition with his own kids for their mom’s affection. That’s screwed up. I don’t see it as “I have to prioritize my husband over our kids” but “My husband and I work together to make sure everyone in the family is loved and has their needs met.”

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        This is really true! Often the problem could be solved with husbands also being more involved with the children, rather than telling the mom to be less involved. She’s responsible for both.

        Reply
      • Nessie

        CMT- I really like this: “My husband and I work together to make sure everyone in the family is loved and has their needs met,” and think I strive for that, but it takes two… to which Sheila’s answer helps, too.

        I think it struck me as off so much because it definitely came across as let’s make sure the husband gets the sex he wants and never hold him accountable or talk about his faults, due to the people I knew that really pushed that message.

        I also feel it kind of smacks in the face of single parents… like implying they are doing it wrong because they aren’t in a married relationship in which to prioritize a spouse so the kids are somehow wrongly over-prioritized. And that doesn’t sit well with me either. Single parents bust some serious tail that the rest of us can’t understand!

        Thanks for sharing, everyone! 🙂

        Reply
    • Belinda

      As a single mom hoping to marry again some day, this concept has been a mental burr under my saddle at times. The conclusion I’ve come to at this point is “priority is triaged.” By which I mean, who has the most pressing need? Bandaids vs stitches, you know? I already do this between my kids, kids vs work, friends, family, etc. Extending that to “husband and kids” seems, to me, to be appropriate.

      Reply
    • Anon

      I never get why it needs to be an either/or. If both spouses are pulling their weight in the relationship, then they will be able to make time for each other AND their kids. I wonder sometimes if the advice is because so many parents put their kids above everything and dance attendance on them – I know mothers (and it usually is mothers) who are running themselves ragged making lunches and getting schoolbooks together for kids right up until the kids go off to uni. I don’t think the answer is to get the husband to do this – the answer is to tell the kids either they do it or it doesn’t get done!

      Reply
  5. Mara R

    Matthew 20:25-28

    I once brought this verse up to a person concerning his obsession over who was the boss of whom in marriage. He didn’t skip a beat. He let me know that this verse didn’t apply to marriage. It applied to the relationship of the disciples to each other and to other relationships outside marriage.

    This was an online discussion. Which was a good thing. Otherwise that guy would have seen me giving him the most incredulous look.

    Reply
    • CMT

      Wow. What a perfect example of this thinking: “ Some people look at obscure, hard to understand marriage passages and use their interpretations of these to inform how they see the rest of Scripture.” Isn’t the marriage of two Christians a relationship between disciples of Jesus? Talk about missing the forest for the trees.

      Reply
  6. Cat

    This is absolutely spot on, perfect, everything I’ve been saying when people want to become the ‘leader’ rather than a leader within a group of equals (Ie eldership) and for marriage etc .. Reading this is like reading a printout of my brain!

    Reply
  7. Laura

    The #1 point is spot on true and a big problem in marriage ministries. It’s hard to convince those who strongly believe in that doctrine to realize how unhealthy it is. When we put one person in authority over another (job situations and parenting do NOT count here), aren’t we putting the authority person in the place of God? It sounds like it to me. Like I’ve heard it said on social media many times, “Equality for the privileged becomes oppression to them.” When one party is used to having that authority, they don’t want to give it up. Maybe that’s why I like being single, because I don’t have to worry about being “subordinate” to someone else’s “authority” like all these marriage teachings in the church have taught.

    Reply

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