There’s a bumper sticker that says, “Marriage is finding that one special someone you can annoy for the rest of your life.”
That’s funny, in a too-close-to-home kind of way, but it falls a little short of the picture of marriage that we see in Scripture.

But if you change just one word, you won’t be far from the biblical mark: “Marriage is finding that one special someone you can serve for the rest of your life.”

A key biblical text addressing the nature of marriage is found in Ephesians 5, which begins in verse 21 with this radical statement: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

God has the audacity to tell a bunch of “me first” folks like us to sacrifice for our spouses. He tells us to put their needs above our own and dares us to treat the other as the more important member of the pair.

The motto of a healthy marriage is “you before me.” The husband seeks to make the needs, preferences and goals of his wife more important than his own. The wife makes the same sacrifice for her husband.

To paraphrase President Kennedy, “Ask not what your spouse can do for you. Ask what you can do for your spouse.”

Here are five concrete commitments we can make to our spouses in order to live out the principle of mutual submission:

  • I will serve you in tangible ways even when it is not convenient for me.

What if you chose to do a job that is usually on their list without being asked? That doesn’t come naturally. I’d rather sit on the couch than wash dishes 10 times out of 10. But if my spouse comes before me, I ought to head for the sink.

  • I will listen and not just wait for my turn to talk.

In a typical marriage conversation, when one person is talking, the other is often not listening. Rather, they are simply waiting for the other person to stop talking so they can start.

Too often we don’t listen, and even if we hear the words, we don’t hear the heart behind the words. Listening is a profound act of love. If my spouse comes before me, I will listen.

  • I will spend time with you doing something you enjoy without complaining about it.

If your spouse likes to shop and you don’t, head for the mall. If your spouse likes to hike and you don’t, head for the great outdoors.

If you are really brave, you can even try some submission of the remote control. If my spouse comes before me, my leisure time choices will reflect that priority.

  • I will criticize you less and compliment you more.

Our normal course of action is to give our spouse some help in becoming aware of their many flaws. We know them well enough to know what kind of verbal venom will be most lethal.

But if my spouse comes before me, I will speak words that help and heal.

  • I will forgive you rather than holding a grudge.

You have a problem: You are married to a deeply flawed person. Of course, your spouse suffers from the same affliction.

The normal course of action is to keep a long list of offenses stored up that you can drag out whenever you want.

But the loving course of action is to choose not to hold their mistakes and missteps against them. If my spouse comes first, I will forgive.

I’m convinced that the Ephesians 5:21 command to submit is the hardest thing to do in marriage, and the most important thing.

If we get this one thing right, 99 percent of everything else falls into place. If we get away from this and both start looking out for number one, we are headed for all kinds of conflict.

We tend to approach marriage (and life, in general) selfishly. In a typical marriage, everybody is looking out for number one. He takes care of himself, and she takes care of herself.

But in a biblical marriage, as an expression of his love for Christ, he takes care of her. And as an expression of her love for Christ, she takes care of him.

You before me. This is what it means to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

Blake McKinney is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Lee’s Summit, Mo., and is the author of “Refresh: A Moment with God in the Middle of Your Day.” He and his wife, Gayla, write a marriage blog, and you can follow him on Twitter @JBlakeMcKinney.

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