A couple of months ago, two new friends of ours asked Margaret and me if we would do pre-marital counseling for them. We started meeting with them a couple of weeks ago. It has been a blessing to get to know them more and to encourage them as they prepare to be married.
I don’t treat “pre-marital” counseling much differently that other opportunities of discipleship. My desire is to help them grow in maturity in Christ. As this happens, their relationship with one another will also grow and mature.
The last time we met, we talked about the sanctifying nature of marriage. Actually, they brought this up. They can already see how God is using their relationship with one another to grow them spiritually.
Before two followers of Jesus Christ are married – before they are husband and wife – they are brother and sister in Christ. Thus, the foundational relationship for a marriage is the relationship between believers. Also, since this brother and sister in Christ is spending so much time together, it is by nature a discipling relationship. Of course, it may not be a positive discipling relationship, but it is a discipling relationship nonetheless.
So, marriage is based on a discipling relationship. The husband and wife should encourage one another and help one another grow toward maturity in Christ. Since the two spend so much time together, and since they know one another better than anyone else, and since they are probably more open and honest with one another than with anyone else, marriage is also the most important discipling relationship.
While it is important for this discipling relationship to include activities such as prayer and reading Scripture together, there is much more involved in this. In fact, if a couple (or any two or more people) only pray and read Scripture together, I would not call that a discipling relationship. Instead, in a discipling relationship the people help one another follow Jesus Christ, recognizing that the other person is not perfect, accepting and loving them as they are, and helping them grow through the trials and struggles of life.
I think it helps a marriage to recognize that the two people are in this type of discipling relationship. When we read Scripture as it defines how believers should interact with one another, we should also recognize that this describes how a married couple should interact with one another as well. For example, consider this important passage from Philippians:
Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4 ESV)
While Paul writes this in general to followers of Christ in Philippi, it is especially applicable to a husband and wife in their interaction with one another. In fact, I think it is impossible to understand a husband’s role in a marriage or a wife’s role in a marriage without first recognizing these and other basic responsibilities that one believer has toward another believer.
As I look back over the time that Margaret and I have been married, I can see that Margaret has been my primary discipler throughout that time. I have learned more about God and life from her than from anyone else – and that includes pastors, preachers, and teachers. Why? Because I am with her every day. I see my own faults and weaknesses and sins most clearly in my relationship with her. I learn from her words and examples more than from anyone else.
And, perhaps most importantly, God expresses his love for me through Margaret than through anyone else on earth – in other words, Margaret is the channel through which God most demonstrates his love for me. This does not mean that Margaret is perfect, or that her demonstration of God’s love is on the same level as Christ’s demonstration of God’s love. But, God’s love is real and clear and intimate – and our relationship has been the best reflection of that love.
Have you thought about your relationship with your spouse as a discipling relationship? Have you thought about your spouse as your discipler? What insights can you add to this discussion?