How do Christian married people treat each other in their marriage? What is the rule of conduct for them? Do they judge how they shall behave toward their spouse on the basis of how their spouse behaves toward them? Do they say, “Well, if that’s the way he is, I’ll be this way”? Or, “Well, when she does this, then I’ll think about showing some consideration”? No! The Bible says that that is the thinking of the proud flesh. The rule of conduct for Christian married people, as well as for all Christians, is that new and blessed way revealed in the Holy Scriptures. The apostle Paul captures it in these words in Colossians 3:13: “Even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.”
The rule of conduct in Christian marriage is that the measure of God’s grace to me in Christ must also be the measure of my grace and kindness shown to my spouse. Or put it this way: I must consciously mirror the grace that God has shown to me in Christ to my spouse.
And if you ask, “Why exactly is that for marriage?” then the answer of the Bible is that marriage has been designed by God intentionally to be the picture of Christ and the church. Marriage is the model. Marriage is the showcase. Marriage is the mirror. Marriage is the demonstration in this present world of what it means that Christ and the church are bound together in an eternal, faithful covenant of love and grace. In order to display what that means, God has given marriage. Marriage is to be a picture of Christ and the church. And because that is so, the foundation of marriage and the standard of conduct of all marriage in Christ’s name is that we are to treat each other even as Christ has treated us.
Now I was saying that the apostle Paul, in Colossians 3:12 and 13, gives this rule of conduct both to married people and to all Christians: “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.” The apostle Paul is saying to us that when we know God’s forgiving grace to us personally, then we will also follow a certain ‘dress code,’ we will be anxious and desirous that there be a certain inward spiritual dress that we will put on. He says, “Put on therefore, as the elect of God…bowels of mercies.” What he says is very beautiful. The words of this passage could well be used for a wedding meditation. He says, “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.” Anyone who is married can immediately sense the relevance of that passage to married life.
In effect, the apostle Paul is saying to us that the first question you need to ask is: Who am I? Before you get dressed inwardly, before you decide what you are going to put on, what things you are going to display in your life, you need to ask the question: Who am I by the grace of God? What moral, spiritual attitudes ought I to be displaying, based upon who I am in Jesus Christ. So he says, “Put on.” And he tells us what we need to put on: bowels of mercies, kindness, etc. But before he gets to what we have to put on, that spiritual wardrobe, he says: “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved.” In other words, before I tell you what to put on, first I need to tell you who you are. First look in the mirror and see who you are by the grace of God—the elect of God, holy and beloved. Remember who you are.
Three glorious identities must be before us before we go to the spiritual wardrobe and pick out what we are going to display or what we are going to put on.
We must remember, first, that by God’s grace we are the elect of God, or the chosen of God. “Put on therefore, as the elect of God.” That is a thrilling, humbling doctrine. We are God’s elect. This election, according to the Scriptures, took place before the foundation of the world, when God chose us, out of mere grace, to belong to Jesus Christ. The apostle put it this way in Ephesians 1: “According as he hath chosen us in him [in Christ] before the foundation of the world [before God laid the foundation of the world, or before He created, that is, before time was], that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.” Solely by God’s pre-choice and free grace, not based upon anything in us! Simply because God would be gracious He elected those whom He would save in Jesus Christ.
The apostle Paul goes on to teach us in Romans 9 that this election was before we were born or before we had done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election would stand, not of works, but of God who would call. Out of mere grace God chose His children.
The apostle Paul treasured this. He saw this as the only source and spring of salvation. He treasured it so that, you might remember, he goes on to say in Romans 8: “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?” The wonder of being invincibly loved by God, eternally loved of God, graciously loved of God—Oh, what a thrilling and what a humbling doctrine!
The apostle says, “Put on as the elect of God, holy and beloved.” The word “holy” is a word in the Bible that refers to something that is separated from the common and dedicated to the special service of God. It is something that is set apart for God. The Scriptures teach that God chose us, He elected us, for a purpose. We read just a moment ago, in Ephesians 1:4, that He chose us in Christ “that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.” According to His eternal love, He pulls us out of the world, out of the pit of sin. He works in our hearts the new life of Jesus Christ, so that we might be set aside for His use. Listen to what Peter says in I Peter 2:9: “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
So, it was not that we were first good and then God chose us out of the mob of sinners. No, God called us out of His free grace. God made us holy. God cleansed us in Christ in order that then we might be holy in Christ.
Then he says, “Put on, as elect of God, holy and beloved.” Loved of God. God, the Maker of the universe, the eternal and the perfect, glorious, beautiful God, has loved us merely out of His grace. He willed to draw us unto Himself. He so loved us that He gave His only begotten Son that we should not perish but have everlasting life.
Now, husband and wife, all of us, we must see this; we must savor this; we must get our life from this; we must place our hope in this. By the mercy of God we are the chosen, the holy, the loved of God. And since that is who we are, or who we have become by God’s mercy, on the basis of that, get dressed. On the basis of that, put on bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering, forbearance, forgiveness. In other words, how does a chosen, holy, loved child of God adorn himself? What inward, spiritual dress does he put on? How does he want to appear from his life?
The apostle says that that dress can be divided into three wonderful groups, all three possessing an inward and an outward.
The first is: bowels of mercies and kindness. That is, the inward thing will be the bowels of mercy, and the external will be kindness. Bowels refer to one’s intestines or, literally, ‘guts’ of mercy. Bowels is where we feel our emotions. We say, “We feel it in our guts, in our stomach.” It means to be moved by the mercy of God—God’s great compassion for miserable sinners. There is something stirring in you. It is not just a notion floating in your head. It is the mercy of God to me, filling me also with mercy, so that it comes out in kindness. When you know the mercy of God, it will be reflected in a life of kindness. That is how you will treat people. Especially when you are shunned or when you are hurt, you will be kind. Kindness in the marriage, in the home. The feeling of mercy and kindness toward your wife or toward your husband.
Is it not strange that we can treat people civilly almost anywhere else but not at home? The Word of God is: “Husbands, sink your roots, by faith, into the forgiving grace of Christ. Become more and more a merciful person. Express that in deeds of kindness. Battle that unmerciful, sinful person inside of you who wants to get your hands around the neck of your wife. Deal with her in kindness.” And wives, “Sink your roots into the mercies of Jesus Christ. Fight that anger, fight that critical attitude, fight resentment, and show forth kindness.”
The next group is: humility of mind (that is the inward) and meekness (that is the outward). Inward humility of mind expressed in meekness. Humility of mind is, literally, lowliness of mind. It is the right concept of ourselves, so that we are not stuck on ourselves or full of ourselves or proud. And when we are lowly of mind, then we will express that in meekness, which counts the other better than ourselves and wants the other to be advanced and sees ourselves as a servant of them. That is meekness. That is what happens when we are lowly in Christ.
We are talking here of a miracle. This is an absolute miracle of grace. This is impossible—to be meek, for us to get low, to esteem someone better than ourselves, to want them to be exalted above ourselves! We do not want that according to our sinful flesh. Even in those who are in Jesus Christ, that sinful flesh rages. This is not easy. We say, “Well, let him have it. Look what he did to me. I’ll give her a piece of my mind! How dare he….” Sink your roots into the gospel of the grace of Christ. And if you are behaving in the manner I just mentioned, out of that proud, resentful way, repent! You need to have a right mind about you, a lowly mind, knowing the mercies of Christ expressed in all meekness.
Then, finally, the apostle says, “Longsuffering, forbearing one another and forgiving one another.” Longsuffering is patience. It means that if you have a short fuse, you must get on your knees and pray for a really long fuse. James says in chapter 1 of his epistle that we must be slow to anger, quick to listen, slow to speak. Anger is a marriage-killer. Where does anger come from in your marriage? What are the roots of rage? You say, “I’m so angry, I see red. I could kill!” Anger is rooted in unbelief and in pride. It is rooted in not embracing and treasuring the gospel of Jesus Christ that I, by grace, am now chosen, holy and loved of God, and forgiven. And it is sinful pride.
Jesus spoke, in a parable, of a man who was forgiven a great debt and went out and was angry with his brother who owed him a little trifle. The man grabbed his brother by the throat and cried out: “Pay me what thou owest!” Why was he so angry? You say, “Well, this is a guy who obviously needs anger management classes. He’s got issues.” No, the Lord says that his anger was based in this: He did not know what it was to be forgiven. He was proud before God. That was the basis of his anger. He was proud before God.
The apostle says to us today, “Christ has forgiven you. You are the holy and the beloved of God.” That solves a thousand issues in your marriage and in your family or among your teenagers and with parents. No, those issues that I say are solved are not issues that just fade and go away or that all of a sudden are gone. It means that every day you need to go back to the cross and hear the word of the cross of Jesus Christ. It certainly means that you and your wife (husband) and family all need to go to church your whole life long, twice on the Lord’s Day, and sit under the gospel of the grace of God and the cross. But it means that every day, under the gospel, under the cross, your problems become less complicated. And to the degree that you distance your heart from the cross, to that degree your wife pays (or your husband pays) in your marriage. And your marriage experiences strife and hurt and anger and resentment and you hurt each other. Why? Because you have allowed your heart, as a child of God, to be distant from the message of the cross.
Under the cross, two children of God live together and glorious things can happen. We begin to behave toward each other like Christ.
The apostle emphasizes that, in a Christ-like behavior in marriage, we will forbear one another. Forbear is to endure. That certainly does not sound very romantic. You have to endure your wife and you have to forbear your husband. Well, remember, first of all, that it is something that Christ does all the time. In Luke 9:41, talking to His disciples, Jesus says, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you and suffer you [forbear you]?” How long shall I put up with this? Forbearing is a grace that we will not need in heaven because we will be perfect. But it is a grace that we need now, and we need lots of it, because we sin repeatedly. Enduring, forbearing one another. That is, stick in there, bear those sins, bear those slights in kindness and in meekness, even as Christ to you.
You say that this does not sound very romantic? Do you remember what the definition of love is according to God’s Word (I Cor. 13)? Look it up! You will find this description of love: Bears all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Love never faileth. Forbearing one another and forgiving one another even as Christ hath forgiven you. The word means “graciously give.”
Someone wrongs you, someone hurts you, someone disappoints you. He is in your debt. You say, “I’ll make him pay. I’ll get the last word. I’ll mope and get my way and, oh, he’ll pay for that (or she will pay for that!).” Do you listen to yourself sometimes? Listen to yourself. What are you saying? Where would you be today if Christ ever spoke to you that way? This is like Christ; this is the purpose of your marriage; this models Christ and the church: that you and I say, “I will not treat my spouse badly because of their sins and annoying habits. I won’t do that. But I will treat them on the basis of what Christ has done for me.”
And then I will forbear, which means, yes, those sins and habits really bother me. But those sins and habits are not bigger than what I have done and what Christ has done for me on the cross.
When you get married, you do not know what it will be like in ten, twenty, or thirty years. Our fathers crafted wedding vows that face reality. They crafted their vows with their face to reality. This is the vow: “To have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer or for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish till death us do part. And, thereto, I pledge you my faithfulness.” How can anyone vow that? This is how. Beneath the shadow of the cross. Under the grace of God, knowing that we are chosen, holy, and beloved of God. When we know that we are forgiven by Christ, then out of that experience of His perfect love we are ready to vow in undying love for our spouse.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for Thy Word, and we pray for its blessing upon our spirits. Make our hearts receptive to Thy Word. In Jesus’ name, Amen.