The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (Gal. 5:22-23 KJV). Let’s see how the nine-fold fruit of the Spirit can be used to strengthen the marriage relationship between two believers in Christ.
Here are expressions sometimes spoken by married persons: “I wish my husband would try to understand me.” “My wife just isn’t meeting my needs.” “What am I getting out of this marriage?”
John 3:16 doesn’t say, “God loved the world so that He could get love in return.” Rather it says that “He gave!” If we give to our mate with the idea of getting something in return, we may often be disappointed. We may come to the point of saying, “Forget it. I’ll never try to give him/her anything again.” But this isn’t love; this isn’t the way God has loved us.
True love is giving, giving, giving, and giving some more. How much did Christ love us? How much did He give? “Walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and has given Himself for us an offering … to God” (Eph. 5:2).
Here are some characteristics of love: Love is giving; it is self-sacrificial (Jn. 3:16; Eph. 5:2). Love is unconditional, not dependent upon the good behavior of its object (Rom. 5:6-10). Love is not selfish; it is not self-centered (1 Cor. 13:4-5). Love is not easily provoked; it does not nurse grudges (1 Cor. 13:5). Love is enduring (1 Cor. 13:7).
In a recent study of 750 couples with marital difficulties, the most commonly reported problem was a partner who was in love with himself or herself. The second most common problem reported by these couples was indifference on the part of one of the partners. Both of these problems, selfishness and indifference, are opposites of that love which is a fruit of the Spirit.
Husbands: Do you love your wives? Wives: Do you love your husbands? Really? Do you love your partner sacrificially, just as Christ loved the Church? Are you willing to give up some or all of your own interests, time, friends, hobbies, and/or pleasures in order to bring your partner the greatest pleasure and happiness? Have you ever tried to find out what things make your partner happy? If you knew that he/she disliked some activity you enjoyed, would you give it up, or greatly cut back on it, in order to spend time doing the things your spouse likes?
You may ask, “What if I am the only one who gives? What if my partner receives what I give without giving anything in return?” First, you may need to become more aware and appreciative of the love your partner does show you. But even if you can’t find evidence of loving or giving by your partner, you have the glorious privilege of loving and giving as Christ did: He died for the ungodly, for sinners, and His enemies (Rom. 5:6-10).
Be encouraged to persist in this activity of true love: “Be not weary in well doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Gal. 6:9). I have no doubt that God has prepared special rewards for those who are content to give and give and give without receiving anything in return.
Joy And Peace
“The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh. 8:10). “Let the peace of God rule in your hearts” (Col. 3:15). If both husband and wife are experiencing the “joy of the Lord” and “the peace of God” in their daily lives, it will be easier for them to create an atmosphere in their marriage in which they can be intimate with each other – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. They both will feel totally comfortable in each other’s presence, and will be free to share their ideas, opinions, fears, concerns, and innermost thoughts and feelings with each other without fear of being rejected, put down, preached at, or ridiculed. They will feel free to admit their failures without fear of their partner’s criticism or displeasure. They will feel free to talk about their successes without being rebuked by their partner for being proud and boastful.
Joy is having the sense of God’s grace and presence in the midst of trying circumstances (Acts 16:25; Phil. 4:4). The Greek word for joy (chara) is related to the words for grace (charis) and thanksgiving (eucharistia). Thus, a sense of God’s grace and favor toward us will bring joy to our hearts, and that joy in turn will overflow from our hearts in thanksgiving. When this joy is in the marriage relationship, there will also be frequent expressions of thanks and appreciation by the husband and wife to each other.
Peace is freedom from worry and fear about what might happen, but usually doesn’t (Phil. 4:6-7). As we allow the Holy Spirit to minister His fruit of joy and peace in our lives, we will be freed-up to reach out more to our marriage partner, our children, and others around us.
“We have been married for 15 years and my partner still does such and such” complains the other. If you are tempted to think or say something like this, put yourself in God’s place. How long have you been a child of God? How long has He been trying to get you to change certain habits or attitudes?
Thus, longsuffering means patiently adapting to each other’s habits and idiosyncrasies without trying to change the other into your own image. “With longsuffering, forbearing one another in love” (Eph. 4:2) means “long-tempered,” that is, the opposite of “short-tempered.” It involves praying for, rather than preaching to, one’s partner.
Gentleness Or Kindness
“Be kind, or gentle, to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:31-32). “Take My yoke upon you … for My yoke is easy (or gentle) and My burden is light” (Mt. 11:29-30). The opposite of gentleness is being controlling or domineering – wanting to be king of the hill, having everything my way, with my opinions the only ones that count, and my decisions being the best ones.
Notice in Ephesians 4:32 that gentleness leads to forgiveness. Husbands and wives should not hold grudges: “Love … keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Cor. 13:5). But you may say, ”You don’t know how much my wife/husband has sinned against me.” But neither do you have more than the slightest idea of how much you have sinned against God. He has forgiven you fully and freely, and you are to forgive your spouse in the same way and to the same degree (Eph. 4:32).
Goodness in the New Testament denotes helpfulness. Christ’s parable of the good Samaritan exemplifies this quality. “Honey, what can I do to help you?” should always take priority over, “Honey, get me my slippers and the newspaper.” The Lord said, “He who is greatest among you, let him be as … he who serves” (Lk. 22:26).
Our faith does not end with trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ for our salvation. “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). “Your faith grows exceedingly” (2 Th. 1:3). Our entire lives as Christians should be characterized by the exercise of faith, that is, trust and dependence upon the Lord. Just as we received Christ into our lives by faith and have the blessed confidence that we are saved and bound for heaven, so with equal confidence we are to entrust Him with every matter of our daily lives, to count upon His guidance and supply for our every need.
If husband and wife are both living and walking by faith and dependence upon the Lord every day, this means that every decision will be referred to the Lord, seeking guidance to know and do His perfect will. How much marital conflict would be avoided in this way. Instead of the husband and wife arguing over what each would prefer to do, both would honestly dedicate themselves to finding out what the Lord wants them to do.
Meekness involves giving up our own rights, not taking vengeance or retaliating if our partner says or does something that hurts us (Num. 12:3,13; 1 Sam. 25:32-34). For example, if your partner goes on a spending spree, instead of responding by going on a spree of your own, do your best to help your family weather the financial storm created by your spouse’s indiscretion. Christ, our example, says, “I am meek and lowly in heart” (Mt. 11:29). He also says, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth … Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who despitefully use you and persecute you” (Mt. 5:5,44). To this Peter adds, “A meek and quiet spirit … is in the sight of God of great price” (1 Pet. 3:4).
A meek person is a confessing person. King David did some terrible things in his life. But in Psalms 32 and 51 he is preeminently a man of confession. Thus, in spite of his sins, God could call David “A man after Mine own heart” (Acts 13:22). Readiness to confess our offending words and behaviors to our partner is a crucial ingredient for a strong marriage.
Temperance Or Self-Control
What part of the body is most likely to get out of control? James 3 tells us it is the tongue: “The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity … it defiles the whole body … The tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.”
There is a little saying we used to recite as children: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” In reality, however, the wounds administered by the tongue often hurt far more and longer than physical wounds. This is so often the case in the marriage relationship. “The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly” (Prov. 26:22). “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18:21).
The U.S. News & World Report (Feb. 21, ’94) reported on a long-term study of married couples to identify the factors that predict divorce. The most significant factor during both early and later years of marriage was the frequency of insults and putdowns hurled at each other.
May the Holy Spirit help each married couple to control their tongues, to choose their words carefully, and to use their powers of speech to build up, rather than tear down the marriage. May we learn these lessons from Solomon: “A soft answer turns away wrath … A word spoken in due season, how good it is!” (Prov. 15:1,23).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Paul Canner is the editor of Words Of Truth. This article from its January-February ’96 issue, is used by permission.
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA.