Putting God first in marriage
As followers of Jesus, we are called to love God first, and then love one another as much as we love ourselves. The same can be said for marriage. Loving and honouring God always come first. Yet many idols can come in the way of following that precedent, including our marriage ideals, our own spouses, generational family patterns, children, household possessions, and even our parents or in-laws.
Mark 12:30-31 ESV And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
The only Marriage that is eternal
First, let us keep in mind that marriage and all family relationships, while important, will only last a few decades on this earth. There is no such thing as marriage in heaven. This means that there are also no spouses, parents, children, or ancestral ties in heaven. We will all be equal and answerable to God alone.
Matthew 22:30 ESV For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.
When Jesus comes back to rule the earth, the global body of believers will be as His Bride united with Him after a wedding banquet in heaven. We will all be forever wedded to Him in an eternal covenant of love. In other words, the only marriage that is eternal is with Jesus.
Revelation 19:7-8 ESV Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
The thought of being married to Jesus may seem strange, but when we examine His passionate love for us, His faithfulness, His desire for our good, and His ultimate sacrifice for us, we can see a picture of the perfect spouse. He takes up responsibility for us and even prepares us for the Wedding day.
Isaiah 62:5 ESV … as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.
Ephesians 5:25-27 ESV Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
If we, as the church, are to qualify as a legitimate Bride of Jesus Christ, we cannot put other another human being’s agenda above God’s will, no matter how beloved they are. In His intense love over us, God jealously watches over our primary relationship with Him. We grieve Him when we put other people, whom He created, above Him. In God’s eyes, this is the same as committing adultery against Him with people far less worthy and far less perfect than He is.
Deuteronomy 32:16 ESV They stirred him to jealousy with strange gods; with abominations they provoked him to anger
Jeremiah 3:20 NLT But you have been unfaithful to me, you people of Israel! You have been like a faithless wife who leaves her husband. I, the Lord, have spoken.”.
James 4:4-5 ESV You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?
None of our family members have ever died for our sakes but Jesus has. This is why Jesus calls for a devotion to Him that is greater than that to our spouses, children, parents, and even ourselves – that it can look as if we hate each one by comparison.
Luke 14:26-27 NLT “If you want to be my disciple, you must, by comparison, hate everyone else—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple.
Disqualification from the Marriage Feast in heaven
We are integrally linked to our spouses and families through strong biological, social, and emotional connections.
Thus, it is also easier for us to be persuaded into following their ways and customs. Such persuasions can tempt us to forego our first devotion to God and make our spouses or marriages the true “rulers” or “gods” of our hearts i.e. our idols.
This was such a serious offence in the days before Jesus, that we had to put our family members to death immediately, according to God’s Law at the time.
Deuteronomy 13:6,8-10 ESV “If … your son or your daughter or the wife you embrace or your friend who is as your own soul entices you secretly, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods,’ which neither you nor your fathers have known… you shall not yield to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him, nor shall you conceal him. But you shall kill him. Your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. You shall stone him to death with stones, because he sought to draw you away from the Lord your God…
Today, we are under the grace of God, paid through the blood of Jesus. He holds off His judgment so that we can repent in Jesus’ name and set our relationship with Him first, before He comes back to claim those who have stayed faithful to Him as His Bride and to judge and condemn the unfaithful.
Jesus will decide if we qualify to be His Bride or not – as shown in His parable of the ten virgins. All ten virgins were due to be married to their future husband, but five of them are shut out from their own wedding banquet with Him. For why, please see Cleansing ourselves to qualify for heaven
Every relationship is built on commitment, time, affection, and love. It would be a mistake to only focus on our earthly relationships, and neglect our eternal one. We must remain true to Jesus until the end. Otherwise, we may hear Jesus say, “I do not know you,” like He replied to the five who were too late.
Hebrews 3:14 NLT For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ.
Matthew 25:1-2,10-12 ESV “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise… And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’
1 Corinthians 9:25-27,10:14 ESV Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.. my beloved, flee from idolatry.
Our role as husband or wife
The first aspect of putting God first as husband and wife is to obey His instructions for marriage. This is an unbreakable commitment between a man and a woman to grow into one and remain committed to one another. Marriage is not only to be sealed with physical intimacy but also with emotional unity and loyalty. We are commanded to never give up on our spouses, never lose faith, always be hopeful, and endure together through every circumstance, just as God has demonstrated in His love towards us.
Matthew 19:4-6 NLT “Haven’t you read the Scriptures?” Jesus replied. “They record that from the beginning ‘God made them male and female.’” And he said, “‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.’ Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.”
Hebrews 13:4 NLT Give honor to marriage, and remain faithful to one another in marriage. God will surely judge people who are immoral and those who commit adultery.
1 Corinthians 13:7 NLT Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
God’s Word outlines some of the roles of a husband and a wife as follows.
1. The role of a husband
1 Timothy 3:4-7 describes an exemplary husband and father who fulfills the following roles:
1 Timothy 3:2-4,7 NLT So a church leader must be a man whose life is above reproach. He must be faithful to his wife. He must exercise self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation. He must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must be able to teach. He must not be a heavy drinker or be violent. He must be gentle, not quarrelsome, and not love money. He must manage his own family well, having children who respect and obey him. Also, people outside the church must speak well of him so that he will not be disgraced and fall into the devil’s trap.
- Actively takes on the role of spiritual head of his family | 1 Corinthians 11:3 ESV But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.
- Sees his wife as an equal heir of God’s gift of new life | 1 Peter 3:7 ESV Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.
- Has only one wife and is loyal to her | 1 Timothy 3:12 ESV … be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well.
- Loves her as he loves himself | Ephesians 5:28 ESV In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
- Detaches from his parents, physically and emotionally, and becomes “one flesh” with his wife in terms of identity, emotions and sexual intimacy | Ephesians 5:31 ESV “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
- Cares for his wife’s physical, emotional, mental, social, and spiritual well-being | Ephesians 5:29 ESV For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church,
- Is considerate to his wife and honours her | 1 Peter 3:7 ESV Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.
- Is gentle with and not harsh with his wife | Colossians 3:19 ESV Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.
- Provides for the needs of their household | 1 Timothy 5:8 ESV But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
- Will not withhold sexual intimacy from his wife | 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 ESV The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights … the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
- Will honour God and not subject his wife to unnatural sexual acts | Hebrews 13:4 ESV Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.
- Actively takes the lead in raising his children to follow God, rather than leave it to others | Ephesians 6:4 ESV Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
2. The role of a wife
Proverbs 31:10-30 describes an exemplary wife and mother who fulfills the following roles:
Proverbs 31:10-11,25-27,30 NLT Who can find a virtuous and capable wife? She is more precious than rubies. Her husband can trust her, and she will greatly enrich his life. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life. She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future. When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instructions with kindness. She carefully watches everything in her household and suffers nothing from laziness. Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised.
- Reveres God first, and does her husband good, not harm | Proverbs 31:10-12,30 ESV An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life. Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
- Submits to her husband | Ephesians 5:22-24 ESV Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
- Shows her husband respect and honour | Ephesians 5:33 ESV However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
- Wins her husband’s admiration with her godly conduct | 1 Peter 3:1-2 ESV Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct.
- Demonstrates a gentle and quiet spirit, and is not overly preoccupied with her appearance | 1 Peter 3:3-4 ESV Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.
- Does good, does not fear anything | 1 Peter 3:5-6 ESV For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.
- Lovingly builds up people in her household | Proverbs 14:1 ESV The wisest of women builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down.
- Is sober minded and dignified, not a slanderer who puts down her husband, her children, her relatives or her in-laws | 1 Timothy 3:11 ESV Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things.
- Will not withhold sexual intimacy from her husband | 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 ESV The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does… Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
For more, also see God’s will for marriage, divorce, and remarriage
Avoiding idolatry in marriage
God is the ultimate authority over every family on this earth. We will all have to answer to Him one day – even for all of the careless words we have ever spoken.
Ephesians 3:14-19 ESV For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Matthew 12:36 ESV I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
God is love, but He is also just and holy. Therefore, He will not let anyone off for judging, gossiping, condemning, abusing, hurting, manipulating, or misleading someone else. The Lord of lords and King of kings will ensure that everyone receives justice, especially those from broken families. God will judge us by the way we have followed His commandments and loved one another.
Deuteronomy 10:17-18 NLT “For the Lord your God is the God of gods and Lord of lords. He is the great God, the mighty and awesome God, who shows no partiality and cannot be bribed. He ensures that orphans and widows receive justice…
John 13:34-35 NLT A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
When we obey God’s Word and remain faithful to Him, our families are also blessed for a thousand generations. He will love us, bless us, and multiply our families.
Deuteronomy 7:9-13 Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face. You shall therefore be careful to do the commandment and the statutes and the rules that I command you today. “And because you listen to these rules and keep and do them, the Lord your God will keep with you the covenant and the steadfast love that he swore to your fathers. He will love you, bless you, and multiply you…
If we place our own desires and ideals above following God’s commandments, however, we will head down a destructive path – that will not only affect us, but our children and future generations as well. Therefore, it is crucial that we recalibrate our ideas about marriage according to God’s Word. He will preside over our marriages and guide us to generational blessings if we obey Him.
Proverbs 4:23 NLT Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.
1. Our own ideas about an ideal marriage
“I would like my marriage to turn out a certain way (according to my preferences).”
Truth: Such an idea places undue pressure on our spouse and sets us up for disappointment. No two people will ever have the same ideas about marriage. Neither will either one of us have all the wisdom, understanding and knowledge needed for a good marriage. Thankfully for us, the Holy Spirit is the perfect marriage advisor. He will guide us when we ask Him for wisdom together.
Isaiah 11:2 ESV And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
James 1:5 ESV If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
“I want to raise my family the way I was.”
Truth: We all learn many good things from our birth families that we may want to apply to our own marriages. Yet no two couples, family units, or circumstances are alike. It would be wiser to follow God’s principles and wisdom, which will stand the test of time, rather than human ideas which tend to be circumstantial and limited.
Isaiah 55:8-9 ESV For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thought
Proverbs 19:21 ESV Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.
“Everyone in this family should listen to me.”
Truth: Such a statement will turn us into the “god” and idol of our families. Our spouse and family will only feel controlled and oppressed, rather than loved. No human being can ever know everything and no one is above God. Instead, we should encourage everyone to follow Him instead.
Ephesians 5:1-2 NLT Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.
2. Our own ideas about an ideal spouse
“Why can’t he/she behave more like me?”
Truth: We feel connected with those we share many things in common, so we naturally desire those we love to share our preferences and perspectives as well. Yet God created us to take up different parts of God’s global body. To try to mould anyone to become more like us amounts to idolatry, where we become the idol. Instead, let us honour who God has made us to be, including our individual strengths and weaknesses, and recognise that we each have a part to play in His Kingdom.
1 Corinthians 12:12,14,17-18 ESV For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.
“Why can’t he/she behave more like dad/mum?”
Truth: As children, we all had a tendency to look up to our parents, especially if they were good role models. Yet even the best human examples cannot replace Jesus. Only Jesus demonstrated His great love for us by dying on the cross for us. We need to be careful not to idolise our parents. Jesus has warned that this may disqualify us from being worthy of Him.
John 15:13 ESV Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
Matthew 10:37 NLT “If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine.
“Why can’t he/she be like other husbands/wives I have seen?”
Truth: We can learn from other couples, but need to be cautious not to envy others and thereby, sin against God. The Tenth Commandment instructs us not to covet someone else’s spouse.
Exodus 20:17 ESV “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”
“A wife must submit to her husband.”
Truth: Ephesians 5:22 is often quoted out of context to mean that wives are the only ones who submit to their spouses in a marriage. Ephesians 5:21 also says, “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” While the roles of a husband and wife may differ, submission, respect, and love are to be mutual. Wives cannot blindly idolise their husbands at the expense of their own relationships with God.
Ephesians 5:21-24 NLT And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything.
“I must keep my spouse happy.”
Truth: Such a desire can lead us to seek our spouses’ happiness, rather than to seek God’s pleasure. With such a belief, we will inadvertently “mute” our own beliefs and emotions, lose our voice (and identity), fail to speak up for what’s right, and avoid correcting the sins of our spouse. By doing so, we sin against God, and also sin against our spouse because we fail to love them as we love ourselves. We need to also love ourselves. We are to be on equal footing.
1 Corinthians 7:32-35 ESV I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.
4. Our own ideas about raising children
“I must do whatever I can to ensure that my children have the best material start in life.”
Truth: We live in a competitive, materialistic world that is built on the worldly (and unloving) doctrine of “survival of the fittest.” This can instill anxiety about our children’s futures and tempt us to push our children to perform according to worldly standards. This will invariably embitter and discourage our children, leading to emotional problems later as adults. One of the best investments we can make for our children is to teach them the Word of God and listen to their hearts’ desires.
Colossians 3:21 NIV Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.
Deuteronomy 6:6-7 ESV And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.
“My children must not make me lose face.”
Truth: Sadly, a parent with this inner vow will inadvertently turn their offspring into “projects” to fulfill their own desires. Moreover, our fear of “losing face” or shame will invariably also instill a sense of shame into our children. When a parent makes child-raising about their personal or family honour, children will invariably feel unloved and fail to flourish emotionally. As believers, our highest goal is for our children to be transformed into the image of Christ, day by day.
Proverbs 29:23 ESV One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.
Romans 8:29 NLT For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
“I won’t make the same mistakes my parents did raising me.”
Truth: Raising children can trigger old insecurities and painful feelings from our own childhoods, particularly from our parent wounds. We may have even vowed to never be like our father or mother, without knowing that this will blind to our own sins and self-righteousness, a form of idolatry. Not wanting to be like our parents does not make us become more like Jesus. In fact, we have turned our parents into our “anti-idols” by making them our new family’s benchmarks.
Matthew 7:1-2 ESV “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.
5. Our own ideas about an ideal home or household
“I will give my family the best home and possessions.”
Through social influences, we may feel compelled to have the perfect home with all the “must-have” items – just like other people. As a consequence, we fail to see that a household can be materially rich but spiritually poor. Jesus Himself warned us that a rich life does not comprise having an abundance of possessions, but in a right relationship with Him, filled with His love, hope, peace, and joy; things that come from the Holy Spirit and that money cannot buy.
Mark 8:36 ESV For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?
Luke 12:15 ESV And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
1 John 2:15-17 ESV Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
“I must reserve money for my personal household needs.”
All believers are called to provide for our relatives and members of our households. At the same time, we should not neglect the welfare of the “household of God.” It is a privilege to help build God’s Kingdom on earth and make disciples, and if we see a fellow believer in need, to not turn a blind eye.
1 Timothy 5:8 ESV But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
1 Timothy 3:14-15 ESV I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.
Matthew 28:18-20 ESV And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
“My spouse needs to respect and listen to my parents / in-laws’ desires or advice.”
In Asian countries with strong family and ancestral traditions, a married couple may still be expected to answer to their parents. This is not God’s will for us. We are to honour our parents, but we are not called to obey them. Once we are married, we are to detach from our parents, both physically and emotionally, and give all our devotion to God, spouse, and children. Many unnecessary family conflicts will be avoided in this way.
Genesis 2:24 ESV Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
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