My marital vows were all lovey-dovey and just a little fancy, but they boiled down to five basic words: “I will always love you.” But how I demonstrate and express that love is something we’re both learning every day. Sometimes it takes a conversation with each other for us both to figure out what we each need to feel loved and respected. Sometimes it’s something as simple as, “Please keep the cupboard doors closed,” or “Please stop wearing those awful pants in public!”
The list is ever growing, but it’s also increasingly easier to fulfill the more we understand, love, and respect each other. We do the things naturally and gladly. We want to do the things that make each other happy. My wife’s needs and desires are practically written on my heart. They’re now a part of me, and likewise with her. It’s getting to the point where it’s easy as breathing. However, if I were to summarize our relationship into a basic set of reciprocal rules or steps to help the marriage work, I’d list them as the following:
- She, as my wife, takes precedence over everyone and everything else in this world. She takes precedence over my own parents, my career, and even any future children (our children’s most influential lesson on relationships will come from their parents’ marriage).
- It is my responsibly to protect rule number 1. I am to be diligent in protecting our relationship. I must not allow work to wrestle priority away from my marriage. I must not allow my extended family’s issues eclipse my marriage. We selflessly seek each other’s interests.
- It is my responsibility to protect her name and public image. My actions, words, and even thoughts about my wife ought to uplift her as a woman and also make it evident that I take our marriage seriously. If I claim to be happily married, but my behaviour (public or private) suggests otherwise, our marriage will only suffer.
- Specific significant dates are important to her and thus ought to be important to me. I show respect and love towards her by remembering and celebrating dates like our anniversary, her birthday, and even holidays. It’s also important to make time to be with each other. Time to sit and simply enjoy each other’s company. It’s those moments that we grow with each other.
- It is critical that I respect her family, that she respects my family, that I respect my own family, and that she respects her own family. This strengthens our familial community and will also demonstrate to our future children how to respect us and all others.
- Her life is to be protected, but so is her mental and emotional health. If my words and actions are injurious, cause her to feel as though her life is unimportant, or, worse yet, cause her to wish she were not alive, it is as though I have killed her!
- There is no other woman for me. My mind is loyal to her, my eyes are loyal to her, and my body is loyal to her. I must not even look at a woman lustfully.
- I will work hard for her and our family we build. Everything we possess will be gained honestly and with hard work. I will also respect the property (and that includes the body) of my wife.
- We are honest with each other in all things and at all times. Even withholding truth but not technically telling a lie is a lie.
- We strive to humble ourselves to be content with our life. We are a family. We have each other. There is nothing in this world that can provide happiness and fulfillment other than each other. We are grateful.
None of the above guarantees a perfect marriage. You can work hard to accomplish the list in its entirety and still have an unsuccessful marriage. In fact, we both sometimes fall short on several points in that list, but we approach each other with humility, apologize, and work together to improve each other–she doesn’t want to hurt me, and I certainly don’t want to hurt her. We’re not perfect, so we work together to get better.
God often compares his relationship with us to a marriage:
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.Ephesians 5:31-32, 35
Also Israel as a faithless wife, the entire book of the Song of Solomon, and Christ referring to himself as a groom are only a handful of the times where marriage is used as a metaphor for Christ and his followers.
So just as my wife and I are learning how to best demonstrate our respect and love for each other, you and I are learning how to best demonstrate our respect and love for God. It takes time. It takes learning. It takes saying sorry and the effort to grow when you fall short. God’s top 10 ways (Ex. 20) to demonstrate our respect and love for him are actually pretty similar:
- Just one God. Me.
- Protect that. Don’t allow other things to become a “god” in your life. Not people, not work, not religion. Nothing comes between you and I.
- Don’t claim to believe in me and that you follow me but allow your thoughts, behaviour, and speech to demonstrate otherwise.
- You’ve got six days to do your thing, but the seventh day is our anniversary where we celebrate the fact that I created this world just for you and I that I also created you (Ex 20:11), and because I saved you from sin and death by my death on the cross (De 5:15). This day is important to me because it represents everything I have done and continue to do for you.
- Respect your parents. Your entire family depends on that. Your children depend on that.
- Respect life and respect the hearts of people. (Mat 5:21-22)
- Don’t hurt people by cheating on them or causing others to cheat on their partners. Be careful where your thoughts go when you see someone whom you find attractive (Mat 5:27-28).
- Work for all that you have. Take nothing that isn’t yours. Respect people–their person and their property.
- Be honest. Be truthful. If you see a wrong being done, step up to defend the falsely accused. Defend those who cannot defend themselves. Defend those who do not have a voice in society.
- Be grateful. Even if what you have is little, be grateful for what you have.
Jesus summarized the first four of these laws when he said,
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”Luke 10:27
Paul summarized those two laws further when he said,
“whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.”Romans 13:8
Jesus’ 10 Commandments are love. Love is the law. God is love. The law is God.
I don’t have to follow my 10 steps to a successful marriage. I want to. They’re not a burden. They’re a joy. I don’t keep our Marital 10 Commandments in a bid to persuade my wife to love me or to prove that I love her. I keep them because I already love my wife. They’re a natural response to something preexisting. It’s bright outside because the sun is already up.
Jesus said something similar:
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”John 14:15
By saying, “If you love me,” he’s implying that your love for him is already there. It’s preexisting.
Following His 10 steps to a successful relationship–a successful marriage–with Him isn’t a burden; it’s a joy. It’s not because I have to but because I want to. In fact, God even promised that He would help us want to respect and love Him by actually writing His Law directly on our hearts:
“For this is the agreement that I will make with my children, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”Hebrews 8:10
He promises our relationship with Him is easy:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 3For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”Matthew 11:28-30
Jesus’ “marital” vows to us are the same as my marital vows to my wife: “I will always love you.” I want to continually grow and learn how to show my respect and love for Him because He showed His love and respect for me by dying for me. My obedience or observance of the law is the natural response of a heart grateful for what He has done.