Temptations Common to Marriage

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Pastor, Los Angeles, California

I love everything about Christ-centered weddings. I love the love songs, the festive decorations, the contagious smiles, the time-honored traditions. I love the theology that marriage pictures and the miracle God performs by joining a man and a woman together as one. And I hate divorce. I hate all the damage it leaves in its wake. I hate how sin attacks what God has blessed and all that Satan does to undermine these vows.

So, when my wife and I start premarital counseling with a couple, I tell them that we will seem like good cop and bad cop. My wife openly expresses her joy to the engaged couple, while I keep a poker face over the six meetings, deliberately poking holes to see if their relationship is sufficiently built on the solid foundation of Christ.

Too often, couples stumble into marriage blinded to the problems in front of them because they look at their relationship through the distortion of rose-colored glasses. Then, shortly after the honeymoon (if it takes that long), the glasses fall off, and the couple becomes overwhelmed by what feel like painful, “irreconcilable” issues. Equally sad and tragic are the marriages that make it through earlier years only to yield to feelings of loneliness, resentment, or indifference, and then the couple gives up on the marriage in their later years.

I don’t know where you are relationally, but I’m writing to encourage couples married or about to be: if you and your spouse love Christ, your marriage can survive and thrive. So, for the purpose of thriving in your covenant, I’ll share three common challenges that all marriages between sinners face, holding up Christ as the only reliable solution for each.

1. Remember who the real enemy is.

If your marriage often feels more like a battleground than a bed of roses, you’re not crazy. In the Christian movie War Room, an elderly wise patron, Ms. Clara, tells a young wife struggling in her marriage, “You’re fighting the wrong enemy.” Oh, if every Christian couple took full heed of this danger! Satan studied Adam, and developed a specific and tailored plan — and what did he do? He went after Adam’s bride. He deceived Eve in his successful attack on their union (Genesis 3:1–6; Revelation 12:9). The Bible warns us that his war plan against marriage has not changed.

Before the apostle Paul tells Christian husbands and wives what he expects of them in Ephesians 5, he writes three whole chapters to ground us in the abundant grace that is ours in Christ. That grace is the means by which couples can make our marriages reflect Christ and his love for the church (Ephesians 5:22–31). Without regularly walking in the gospel of Ephesians 1–3 together, marriage easily becomes marred in fights centered around felt needs and grievances.

Then, in Ephesians 6, Paul tells believers why we need all the blessings from chapters 1–3: Satan and his horde of demons are still waging war against us (Ephesians 6:10–12), just as they did against Adam and Eve. You are at war with Satan, and your marriage is the battleground.

What’s the prescription? Remember that your spouse is not your enemy. How often do we turn our weapons against each other and unleash our anger there? That’s how Satan slowly builds a beachhead to launch his attacks against marriage (Ephesians 4:26–27). Our Lord taught us that a house divided against itself can’t stand. Satan’s strategy is to use friendly fire — spouses attacking each other — to defeat our marriages.

It’s imperative, then, for couples to learn how to engage in spiritual (not spousal) warfare. And spiritual wars can be won only with spiritual weapons. So, put on the whole armor of God, all the gracious gifts God has given you in Christ. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

2. Reject any voices who reject God.

Satan spoke through the serpent to confront Eve with a choice: believe what God had said, or accept what she was hearing now. She chose to believe the serpent’s lie. She believed that she could step out from God’s authority and decide for herself what was right and wrong. As Satan led, Eve followed, and as Eve led, Adam followed. The order of creation was turned upside down, with God at the bottom. And lest we think we would have fared better, this is always how sin works in a marriage — yes, even our sin.

God has not called the husband to lead because he is superior to his wife (he’s not). A husband must lead because God intentionally made the man to lead and his wife to help (Genesis 2:18). God looked at that kind of marriage, and he saw that “it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). Satan saw the same dynamics, and he hated them, so he came to overturn them. He sought to make the wife the head; the head, the helper; and God, the enemy. And, again, he’s whispering the same lies today. He wants women to chafe under the idea of submission and for men to run from the calling of headship.

What’s the prescription? Again, notice how Paul weaves the marriage story in Ephesians. Wives are called to submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22–24), and husbands are called to sacrificially love and serve their wives the way Christ loved the church (verses 25–30). This kind of marriage is possible only when wives and husbands are filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). Elsewhere, Paul adds that believers are filled with the Holy Spirit when we are filled with God’s word (Colossians 3:16).

So, regularly read God’s word, on your own and as a couple, and follow what you read by faith. And know that when you hear a voice that contradicts God’s word — in society, in your circles of relationships, in your own sinful mind — you hear the enemy’s voice (1 Timothy 4:1). Satan stirs the zeitgeist of societies to rebel against God’s ways (Ephesians 2:2–3). When I counsel struggling couples, I make sure I ask questions like these: What has your time in God’s word been like? How consistently are you attending Bible study and adult Sunday school? Not surprisingly, couples struggling in their marriages usually aren’t consistently listening by faith to the word of God.

3. Resist the urge to idolize marriage.

So far, I’ve only mentioned Eve’s failure in the fall, so let me shift to the principal one responsible for the fall: Adam. Where was he?

The indictment God raised against him was that he “listened to the voice of [his] wife” (Genesis 3:17). What could be sinful about Adam listening to his wife? We know that God gives a wife to help her husband, and he assumes the man will listen well to her counsel. The book of Proverbs personifies wisdom as a woman whom a man should embrace and listen to. It climaxes with a man finding a wife whose wise words are immensely helpful to him (Proverbs 31:26). However, preferring anyone or anything to God (or against his will) is to make that person or thing an idol.

We don’t know much about the first woman, Eve, but Moses makes at least one thing about her clear: her husband delighted in her (Genesis 2:23). The serpent, then, seems to have used the man’s delight against him. Satan used her to get him to choose her over God. And if we let him, he’ll do the same in our marriages today. How often couples sin to try to get what they want from each other (James 4:1–2)! Anytime you are willing to sin to get something (or to sin because you don’t get something), you have an idol.

What’s the prescription? If you are sinning in your marriage, follow that pattern to the idol and repent of it. God blessed couples to enjoy each other in marriage, but we’re never to allow our delight in marriage to supplant our desire for God. Whether your spouse gives you much or little, true contentment will never come from him. It can’t. So, stop telling yourself that. If your spouse could satisfy your soul, why would we need the bread of life and the fountain of living water (John 6:35; 7:37–38)?

Embrace the secret to contentment (in marriage and in all of life): that you won’t find contentment in getting what your flesh wants, but in being satisfied in what God has given you in Christ (Philippians 4:12–13).

Greater Than Our Challenges

Sadly, because of sin and the consequences of sin, we’ll have to face more challenges than these in our marriages. The fall robbed us of shalom with God, with our spouse, and with the world. The hope for our marital challenges is the last and better Adam, Christ. God, who knows the end from the beginning, promised in Genesis 3:15 that he would send another man who would subdue the serpent and restore God’s righteous reign over our rebellious creation. Through his death and resurrection, that man is reconciling all things back to God. He is the hope for your marriage, and his name is Jesus.

No, he has not lifted the curse from creation yet. So, none of us has a struggle-free marriage. However, he has overcome sin and Satan for us. He is Immanuel — God with us — and he is all the grace we need to overcome the challenges common to our marriages.

(@pastorbscott) pastors Community of Faith Bible Church in the Los Angeles area. He cherishes his devoted wife, Naomi, and his six children. It is his consuming desire to be used by God to strengthen the urban church, and he believes this objective will be best met by building families and developing a ministry upon the teaching of the word of God.