Marriage is a precious gift from God and was designed in the Garden of Eden to be a blessing to men and women. But it can turn into a burden quick when a husband and a wife are not in it together and on the same page. You can tell something isn't right in a marriage when the husband and wife are constantly picking at each other or avoiding each other. God designed marriage to grow us, please us and glorify Himself, but why is it that so many marriages are poisoned and miserable?
I believe that often times marriages become like this because of two main problems: a lack of love and a growing bitterness towards their spouse. Recently in mentoring, I have been going over Col 3:19 which commands:
Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.
Now this command is given to the husbands so its all their fault right? Obviously no. In Titus 2:4 the older women of the church are told to teach the younger women how to love their husbands. Love doesn't come naturally. Many times throughout scripture the word for love is αγαπη (agape) which speaks of a love like God has a sacrificial love for the benefit of the cherished object expecting nothing in return.We naturally are focused on ourselves. I mean most of our day is filled with thinking about the work we have to do, worrying about feeding ourselves and keeping ourselves safe. Selfishness kills marriage. The only solution is love: affectionate, erotic and sacrificial love are all found as necessary in marriage.
Symptoms of bitterness
But when love leaves, anger and bitterness seem to take its place. You can tell a bitter person from the way they act towards their spouse. When you see generalizations, "You always do that" or "you never do this" some level of bitterness is festering inside. Generalizations come from keeping track of wrongs done to you. 1 Corinthians 13 says that love thinks no evil which basically means it doesn't keep track of all the evil done to it.
Gossip can also show a bitter heart. Gossip could be designed to do a couple different things. It could be a desire to get someone else to sympathize with you and be on your side. You want them to have this same anger in their heart towards this person. Gossip could also be just an attack on the other person. You are trying to tear them down in everyone else's minds.
Ascribing False motives can also be the result of bitterness as well. Because of the anger inside our hearts, we reinterprets everything they do. It clouds our vision and we only see evil.
A Lack of change in our own lives and rejecting advice- these two are related though slightly. When we don't exhibit any change in our own lives, it is usually because we are looking at all the faults of others and don't see any in ourselves. This can lead to rejecting advice when others tell us of a change we need to make.
What is bitterness
Bitterness is the poison to our marriages. It flows into every interaction, thought, feeling and kills everything it touches. But how is it that we become so bitter? Anger, anger allowed to rot creates a gangrene in our soul called bitterness.
When it comes to anger in marriage, it is pretty much unavoidable. Eph 4:26 says
Be ye angry and sin not, let not the sun go down upon your wrath
While we acknowledge anger as inevitable, it is what you do with it that makes a difference. Here we are told to sin not. Don't let anger become sin. How does anger become sin? In this passage by letting the sun go down upon our anger. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received relating to marriage was not to go to bed angry at one another. When anger rolls over to the next day, it rots. It has had all that time to roll around in your head and become a pattern of anger in you mind.
What is the result of bitterness
The very next verse tells us what happens when we allow anger to sit and rot in our minds:
Neither give place to the devil
When we allow anger to fester inside of us and become bitterness, we are allowing Satan a foothold in our lives. Luke and I discussed whether a Christian can become possessed by the devil in our podcast that will be posted soon. Just to give you a summary, this is not that; however, when we allow bitterness into our lives we allow Satan to build a fortress or stronghold in our lives and we surrender control of that aspect to him.
2 Cor 10:3-6 is a pivotal passage dealing with this topic. The battles that we face as believers are not "fleshly". You can't take a gun and go shoot the devil; our battles are spiritual. So are our weapons. Study Ephesians 6 for a better understanding of the armor God has given us. According to 2 Cor 10: 4 our weapons are mighty to pull down stronghold. Strongholds are ingrained patterns of thought that stand in opposition to God. When we allow anger to roll around in our heads, it becomes a stronghold or an addictive thought. Strongholds are not so easily defeated. You don't normally go down the aisle one day, ask for forgiveness and it magically goes away. Though they are hard to defeat, we have all the mighty weapons we need through God's Spirit and God's word.
So how do we defeat these strongholds in our lives. 2 Cor 10: 5-6 gives the answer. We are to cast down imaginations. What are imaginations? They are thoughts. So we cast them down. We remove them from their elevated idolatrous position in our lives. After that we "bring captive every thought to the obedience of Christ. We force them to comply to God and His word. The battle against bitterness is a spiritual battle in the mind.
Going back to Ephesians 4, we see three principles that we need to defeat strongholds such as bitterness in our lives: Repent, Resist, and Renew. Repentance is essentially a change of mind or attitude towards our sin. A putting off of the thoughts that are erecting these stronghold in our lives. You will not find victory until you agree with God that these thoughts are sin. You might be thinking, "He will never change" or "I deserve better" or "He never does anything right." You have to change you mind and attitude toward these things and realize that God is able to change your spouse, God will give you what you deserve and God always makes all things right in His time.
Resistance is key because the devil will continue to fight for that ground. Negative thoughts toward your spouse don't usually magically go away. You have to make a choice to keep on fighting and not give in. James 4:7 Resist the devil and he will flee from you.
Renewing your mind is the final and most important step. In Ephesians 4, we are told to put off, repent, of these thoughts but we are also told to put on other thoughts. Replace the negative thoughts you have toward your spouse with God's thoughts. Memorize scripture and practice meditating on the Bible. When wrong thoughts come into your mind, say "No" and then think God's thoughts on that matter.
Now this isn't the power of positive thinking. This process must be empowered by the Spirit and will only be successful if our minds are filled with Christ and His word. A failure to do this results in grieving the Spirit according to vs 30. Take some time and think about the way you feel and think about your spouse. If there is a consistent battle with wrong thoughts about them, it is time to do battle and remember, you have everything you need through the power of His Spirit in you.