In the past a wealthy man would build a castle to protect his possessions and his people. Today we build high fences to keep thieves out and our precious things in. Yet most of us spend very little time thinking about how to protect our most important human relationship.
Marriage costs a lot of time and money, and it can have eternal consequences. If it fails, it costs even more! When a marriage breaks up, not only the couple are hurt, but their children, their families, their friends, even their church suffers.
So is there a biblical framework for protecting our marriages?
Marriage is used as a metaphor for the relationship between humankind (or the church) and God. Jesus says the first and greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, . . . with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). This commandment protects our relationship with God and provides a template for the kind of self-sacrificial love—the attitude of honor, respect, and mutual admiration—that protects marriages and helps them thrive and prosper.
Protect Your Heart
The heart is the seat of human emotions (not just a four-chambered pump that forces blood around our bodies). Protecting our hearts means informing our emotions.
I’ve heard many people say they love their spouse, but they’ve fallen out of love. They are, in fact, allowing emotions and chemicals to cloud their judgment. Affairs don’t start with sex—they start with emotional attachments to someone other than a spouse.
But emotions can be controlled. A sign of maturity and growth is to set up boundaries around our hearts. We mustn’t share intimate thoughts and feelings with someone to whom we are not married, especially in one-on-one settings.
On the flip side, we should share all our emotions, our inner thoughts and experiences, with our spouse. Make a commitment today to be completely open with your significant other.
Protect Your Mind
The mind is the seat of our thoughts. Jesus showed us that thoughts and intentions are important when He spoke about anger being murder and lust being adultery. Sin originates in our thoughts, and our thoughts often begin with our eyes.
Where is our focus? I heard a statistic recently that 100 percent of boys by the age of 11 have been exposed to pornography. Porn is everywhere, and it can cause lots of damage to relationships. Marriage partners addicted to porn often find their spouses dull and unsatisfying. They entertain fantasies above enjoying the real thing.
I’ve managed to steer clear of online pornography, but my eyes and my thoughts can still betray me. Sometimes the shopping center in summer, or the beach, is the hardest place to be. I have to discipline myself to “bounce my eyes.”
But more than just trying to stifle and supress bad thoughts, we have to train our thoughts on our spouses. How often do we focus on good memories? Do we think of all the good things we’ve done, or all the blessings we’ve been given? It’s easy to fall into patterns of negative thinking. We have to allow our minds to develop admiration and fondness for our spouses. Think positively of them, and our interactions will grow more positive. We have to train our minds and our eyes to focus on our spouses.
Protect Your Soul
One of the best ways to protect a marriage is to cultivate spiritual oneness. That means having the same beliefs and practice as our spouses. The wise man said, “Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Eccl. 4:12).
In other words, being together as a couple gives us strength. When God is the third cord in our relationships, He is invested in our success. Our relationships bring Him glory when He is its foundation and basis. How? Spouses may have differences of opinion, culture, and family origin. In fact, after being married awhile, they may find that nearly everything is different. But if both chase after God, they’re both heading in the same direction. Devotion to God means devotion to each other.
Paul wrote that in Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). Our identities, our dreams, and our purposes will all be challenged unless they are found in Christ. So we protect our souls by choosing to bury them firmly in God and to let Him protect our marriages.
Make time to pray with each other; read the Word together. Have spiritual conversations to understand what you both think and feel about world events, things that happen in your family and in your lives. Consult God on big family decisions. Seek wisdom from His Word, prayer, mentors, pastors, and friends who journey with Him as well, so that you can determine the best thing for your marriage and His purpose.
Protect Your Strength
Strength is found in our hands and arms. A person’s strength is often revealed in their actions. This means proximity and placement. Keep a safe physical distance from members of the opposite sex. If it can be helped, try not to go anywhere alone or be private with anyone who is not your spouse. Don’t use your actions to be flirtatious. In the appropriate cultural context, a handshake, even a hug, is fine; but be attentive to respectful engagement. Protect your marriage by making some rules about physical space.
Use your strength to serve your spouse instead. Prioritize spending time with them. Massage them, do chores, cook for them, and make them gifts with your own hands. Use your strength to serve your spouse and you will find your love grow and deepen.
Setting physical boundaries around what is and isn’t acceptable is a good idea. Talk to each other. Find out what makes your spouse uncomfortable. You may need to stop it.
God gives us guidelines to protect our relationship with Him. The marriage relationship reflects His image. If we set boundaries around our emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical lives, we are protecting our relationships for ourselves, for our children, and for all those who come into contact with us.
Jarrod Stackelroth is editor of the South Pacific Adventist Record. He lives in Wahroonga, New South Wales, Australia.