Focus on the Family

Does Your Spouse See Jesus in You?

by Matthew J. White

It's 5:21 in the morning, and the alarm goes off. I roll over and hit the snooze button in hopes of just nine more minutes of sleep before the day begins. At 5:24, my two-year-old quietly – his version of quietly, anyway – enters the room and approaches the bed. I pretend to still be asleep so he'll walk to the other side and crawl in with Anne (Failure #1).

Once in bed, Ian, our youngest son, starts in with his two-year-old version of whispering. I roll over and pull the covers tight to subtly tell Anne and Ian to keep it down (Failure #2). After a few minutes in that position, I realize he's not going to be quiet or lay still – which both of us have asked him to do several times. I groggily slither out of bed and head for the closet to get dressed so I can take Ian downstairs.

When I get downstairs, I pull out some muffins and milk for Ian and then head to the basement to watch whatever is on TV at 5:30 a.m. so I can lie down for a few more minutes. I decide I'll get Anne's coffee in a little bit (Failure #3).

In just seven minutes, I've failed to show my wife love in the same way Jesus loves me! It may seem harsh to beat myself up like this, right? Wrong! If I was really intentional about loving my wife like Jesus loves me, I would have 1) hopped out of bed to try and catch Ian before he woke Anne; 2) taken him into the closet with me while I got dressed, so not to bother his mom; and 3) started the coffee and made Anne a cup so it was waiting when she got up to get in the shower.

Did you see yourself in my situation? If you don't have kids or it's been some time since you were there, you can make up another circumstance. This same mentality, where it's much easier to do the selfish thing, can creep into every part of your day. But, Jesus has set an example for us to follow. And, the first place he wants us to put this into place is in our marriage. The Bible very specifically compares Christ's relationship with the church directly to the relationship between husband and wife. And as we examine the characteristics of Jesus, we discover exactly what we must do so our spouse will see Christ in us.

It's not just about being unselfish. If you really want your spouse to see Jesus in you, you have to genuinely put into practice an attitude of becoming more like Christ in everything you do. This is not a simple, one-time event; it is an everyday struggle. It's not easy to act like Jesus in every situation. In fact, it's notably difficult. We live in a world where it's much easier to do what feels good or take the easy way out. But, becoming more like Jesus involves sacrificial love; it takes a servant's heart; it means forgiving when it's not easy to forgive; and it takes a concerted effort toward humility and self-forgetfulness!

Sacrificial Love

"Love" can be defined in many ways. Christ's love for us is an unconditional love, and this is the love we are to seek in marriage.

by Matthew J. White

In my book, Married to Jesus, I tell the story of my love for Blue Bell® ice cream. "The best ice cream in the country" isn't sold up here in Ohio; so I long for our trips back to Dallas to visit my parents or when we drive down south to connect with my brothers in the Carolinas or Anne's sister in Tennessee. If you've ever tasted Blue Bell, then you know exactly what I'm talking about when I say, "I love that ice cream!"

But, what does loving ice cream have to do with marriage? It makes the point that "love" can take on many forms. I can love ice cream, or I can love my dog. I can love music and love the Cleveland Cavaliers. Love, then, can have different meanings depending on the situation or context.

Agape Love

The kind of love I want to discuss is the love that Christ has for us – the love that we're supposed to show our spouse every day. If, as Paul said in Ephesians 5:1-2, we are to "be imitators…and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God," what does that look like for me in my marriage and you in yours?

When Anne was pregnant with our first child, she had a rather awkward craving one night. I can't remember if there was something in particular that sparked the desire, but we were sitting on the couch one evening when, all of a sudden, she said she wanted a turkey salad. Now, we're not just talking about any old turkey salad; this had to be a turkey salad from Subway®. And, it had to have shredded lettuce. In fact, she told me that if the first Subway I went to didn't have shredded lettuce for some reason, then I'd have to find one that did! So, I hopped in the car in search of a shredded lettuce turkey salad from Subway.

Subway was not necessarily close to our house, so it was a bit of a task to respond to this request. I want to believe this was a very small example of what Jesus meant when he said, "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13, NIV) Now, certainly, I wasn't laying down my life for my wife – I just went to get her a salad. But, by sacrificing my time and putting myself aside, I was showing love to her and hopefully giving her a glimpse of Christ in me.

Christ's love for me goes beyond my love for ice cream, sports or even friends and family. His love is a giving love. It is a sacrificing and selfless love. It is a love that shows itself in action. Romans 5:8 says, "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Jesus loves us, not because we are attractive or share some interest with Him, but simply because He loves us. So, He made the ultimate sacrifice, giving up everything – all his glory, His life – to serve us.

The Greek word for this sacrificial love is agape. I like this definition of agape love:

"Unconditional love that is always giving and impossible to take or be a taker. It devotes total commitment to seek your highest best no matter how anyone may respond. This form of love is totally selfless and does not change whether the love given is returned or not."1

Jesus doesn't expect anything in return. He loves me when I speak to Him daily, spend time in His Word and help an elderly person cross the street. But, He also loves me when I respond with a harsh tone to my kids, yell at the person who cut me off and don't feel like going to church on Sunday morning. His love is unconditional and is there even when I screw up.

No Keeping Score

So, let's go back to the Subway story for one more minute. Envision this: I say to Anne tomorrow, "Remember that time ten years ago when I went to Subway to get you that shredded lettuce turkey salad? Why don't you run up to McDonald's® and pick me up a cheeseburger, just so we're even?" That sounds kind of silly, doesn't it? But, we live with that mentality in our marriage every day.

"I did the dishes, so you should bathe the kids."
"You got to go out with your friends last weekend, so tonight is my turn."
"Since you bought that outfit, I went ahead and got the tickets to the game."

Sacrificial, unconditional, agape love doesn't keep score. It doesn't matter how your spouse responds; if you want to love like Jesus loves, you have to put yourself aside. In a sermon entitled "What is Christian Marriage," Coty Pinckney said, "Agape is a love that gives, a love that does not demand or hold onto rights, but has the good of the other at heart. This is the love we need to work on in our marriage in order for our spouse to feel like he or she is married to Jesus."2

2Pinckney, Coty. What is Christian Marriage? (sermon) Community Bible Church: Williamstown, MA, 1997.

Serving With the Right Attitude

Serving your spouse should be considered an opportunity and conducted with joy. Jesus was the perfect example of serving with the right attitude.

by Matthew J. White

Imagine you're sitting down to watch the debut of a new sitcom called "Married to Jesus." (Roll with me for a minute, here.) You're excited because it's been the talk of all the entertainment news shows for weeks. There has been a ton of build up, but the details of the show have managed to be kept hidden. What you do know is that it's not about Jesus of Nazareth, but a modern-day guy named Jesus who lives in the suburbs of Cincinnati with his wife and four children. The story line is basically this: What if all the characteristics of Jesus Christ were present in a family man from Cincinnati?

The opening scene goes something like this:

(It's the middle of the night; Jesus and his wife, Sally, are sleeping. You get a glimpse of the clock that reads 3:14 AM.)

"Mom! Mom!" A scared 3-year-old calls from down the hall. "Mom! The monsters are getting me!"

Mom jumps up at the sound, but Jesus is already halfway out of the room and down the hall. He takes a few minutes to comfort their youngest son, gets him some water and then settles him back in for the night. Jesus returns to the bedroom to a groggy, "Thank you" from Sally.

(Camera fades; opens to a shot looking out the kitchen window to a cold, rainy Cincinnati morning.)

"Honey, I completely forgot!" exclaims Sally. "I need you to pick up the kids after school; get John to indoor soccer, Susan to band practice and Charlie to Sam's house, and grab the little one from daycare. I am so sorry I didn't tell you that I had a conference downtown this afternoon."

"I'll have to move a few things around, but that shouldn't be a problem," responds Jesus. They finish the morning routine, get everyone out to school and get themselves to work.

(Following a commercial break, you find Jesus at work; he's a carpet salesman at the big carpet chain in town. As the camera pans down to Jesus' desk, it passes the clock showing the time as 2:53 PM.)

"Bob, I can't believe what you're telling me," Jesus says over the phone. "They want how much carpet, and how soon?" You notice Jesus glancing at the clock as he continues his conversation. "Okay. Let me get this straight: They need 30,000 square feet of carpet – installed – by this Friday? And they are willing to pay whatever it takes to make this happen? Am I hearing this correctly? And, they want me to be out there this afternoon to close the deal?"

Jesus looks up at the clock again, but not in a nervous or stressful manner. He seems very aware of the time and the dire circumstances. "Bob," Jesus begins again. "This sounds like a great opportunity, but I made a commitment to my wife that I would pick up the kids this afternoon. I have to leave here in just a few minutes to get to the school on time. I know we can get this done, even if we wait until tomorrow morning to sign all the paperwork. Can you let them know this, and please apologize for the inconvenience?" You can hear Bob shouting on the other end, obviously furious at Jesus' response. "Bob, I promise I'll take care of everything. I will personally call the customer on my way to get the kids to ensure he understands that we will make this happen by Friday."

Are you getting the picture here? It may not compare to the Seinfeld classics, comically speaking, but you'd get the sense that this Jesus guy is alright. As the debut continues, and in episode after episode, you see that in every situation, Jesus is more than willing to help out around the house. He gladly plays with the kids when Sally has to take care of some errands. He skips the game with the guys to paint the bathroom. And, he never considers not doing these things an option. He enjoys serving his wife every chance he gets.

And this is where it hits us! I can honestly say that I see myself doing many of these things. I help around the house. I help out with the kids. I take care of the yard work. I bring Anne coffee in the mornings. I join in the vacuuming and wiping down the floors. But, when it comes down to it, do I really do it with a joyful attitude? Do I look at it as an opportunity to show Anne a little bit of Jesus in me? Or do I grunt a little under my breath as I empty the dishwasher for the seventeenth time in three days!

One of the books I most enjoy is The Life You've Always Wanted, by John Ortberg. Through his book, I was given a revelation about Jesus and His life of serving that I had never considered. Ortberg says, "When Jesus came as a servant, he was not disguising who God is. He was revealing who God is."1

What an awesome statement! Jesus didn't come as a child and a carpenter's son and live a life of serving to hide the fact the He was the son of God. He showed Himself in this way so that He could reveal the true nature of God.

In order to become more like Christ, we must not consider ourselves above anyone, especially our spouse. Instead, the opposite is true. We should be searching for ways to serve our spouse. Every day presents us with opportunities to serve. Seek those out and serve with joy!

1Ortberg, John. The Life You've Always Wanted. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997, 2002.

Forgiving When It's Not Easy

The Bible tells us to forgive unconditionally, but it doesn't say we are to forget immediately. Sometimes it takes time to rebuild the trust that's been lost.

by Matthew J. White

One Bible story that stuck with me ever since I was a kid is the story about Peter asking Jesus how many times he should forgive someone who has sinned against him. Jesus first replies with what would seem to be an absurd number of times – "seventy times seven" – and then He follows with a parable about forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-35).

Hearing this story as a child, I thought, "Man, 490 times? That's a lot of forgiving!" But, that's the point, isn't it? We are to never stop forgiving. And Jesus makes the point very clear that unless we forgive others, our Father in heaven will not forgive us. (Matthew 6:14-15, Mark 11:25)

Forgiving the Unforgiveable

But, you may be thinking, "What if my spouse does something unforgiveable?" Jesus never said forgiving would be easy. But, He did say that we need to forgive, over and over again. There was no caveat that said to forgive only when the other person deserves it or to forgive if they ask for forgiveness. Matthew 6:15 says, "If you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." This is serious business.

Unfortunately, I can speak from experience in this area. I was on the receiving end of forgiveness. For many years, I struggled with pornography. This was something that began as a teenager and had progressed into a full-fledged addiction that was present even before Anne and I were married. Yet, it was something I kept hidden from my wife and everyone else. It wasn't until just a few years ago that I shared my sin and addiction with Anne, after much personal pain and confession to God. It also meant I needed to come to terms with some issues of my past.

But, as that heavy weight was lifted off my shoulders, it became a tremendous burden for Anne. For so long, I had lied to her. I had hidden something from her. I had pretended to be something I wasn't. I was hypocritical. With every right, Anne felt betrayed. How could she trust me? How sad did this make her feel? She was disappointed. She was angry. She was hurt.

At this point, Anne could have chosen to walk out on me, and with every right, I think. I certainly didn't "deserve" to be forgiven. But, neither do any of us deserve God's forgiveness. He doesn't forgive us because we deserve it. He forgives us because He loves us; and that's exactly why Anne was able to forgive me.

Forgiveness vs. Forget-ness

Now, that doesn't mean she just swept it under the rug and said, "Thanks for letting me know. Just don't let it happen again." Forgiveness does not mean "forget-ness." Being forgiven does not mean that your spouse will just forget about whatever it was that required the act of forgiving. Depending on the situation, it may require a time of healing, a time of rebuilding that trust you once had.

In his book The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren says:

Many people are reluctant to show mercy because they don't understand the difference between trust and forgiveness. Forgiveness is letting go of the past. Trust has to do with future behavior.

Forgiveness must be immediate, whether or not a person asks for it. Trust must be rebuilt over time. Trust requires a track record. If someone hurts you repeatedly, you are commanded by God to forgive them instantly, but you are not expected to trust them immediately, and you are not expected to continue allowing them to hurt you.1

This doesn't mean that you can hold on to this like a trump card and play it every chance you get. "Remember that time when … ?" That goes totally against Jesus' point of "seventy times seven." Just remember, God has forgiven you more times than you will ever have the opportunity to forgive someone else.

In my case, I understand that even today I am still rebuilding the trust that was lost due to my lack of honesty. But, I also know that Anne has truly forgiven me. It wasn't easy for her, but I am thankful that she has taken God's Word to heart by forgiving me in this … and all the other stupid things I do every day that require forgiveness.

Many couples enter into marriage with false or unrealistic expectations. Some believe that marriage will solve their problems. Some do not understand that strong and growing marriages are a result of hard work.

1Warren, Rick. The Purpose Driven Life. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002

Humility and Self-Forgetfulness

While humility is not often praised in society today, it is a characteristic that Christ displayed at every turn. Marriage offers the perfect testing grounds for humility.

by Matthew J. White

What comes to mind when you hear the word "humility?" When used outside of the context of the Bible, humility usually refers to a quality in someone who we might consider weak or lowly. A quick look at some synonyms reveals words like meek, modest, submissive, unassuming and humble. These are not necessarily characteristics that are pushed in society today, but certainly ones that Jesus pursued and that we should too.

Would you consider yourself to be a humble person? Although we know that being humble is the right thing to do, it is difficult to put into practice. When I do well in a presentation at work, I want to let people know it went well. When your child wins the championship, you want to tell people about it. We even start the sentence with words like, "I don't want to sound like I'm bragging, but…"

Tattooed for Christ

A perfect example: I recently got a tattoo on my arm. (I won't go into the details, but it was a birthday present to myself.) I decided to get a Bible verse instead of just a design of some kind. My reason for doing this is so that if people see the tattoo and don't know what it means, they will ask me what the verse says, which may lead into further conversation. The verse I chose for my tattoo was Philippians 4:13, which is "I can do everything through him who gives me strength."

The irony here is this: I'm telling all my friends that the reason I got a tattoo that's "biblical" is so I can have the opportunity to share my faith. Is it possible, however, that I made this "great Christian decision" just so I can brag to people that I made that decision? Are you following me? I'd like to think that I did it for the right reason. But, did I?

I've heard it said before that the moment we realize we're being humble, we're not any more. So, I've now come to realize that we can't look at humility the way the world sees it. Instead, if we look at humility from a Godly perspective, it sounds something like this:

"Humility means understanding who God is and who we are in light of him."1

How does it feel to look at yourself from that point of view? When I first heard this definition of humility, it truly resonated with me. The apostle Peter gives great supporting content to this definition when he says:

But all of you, leaders and followers alike, are to be down to earth with each other, for God has had it with the proud, but takes delight in just plain people.

So be content with who you are, and don't put on airs. God's strong hand is on you; he'll promote you at the right time. Live carefree before God; he is most careful with you. (1 Peter 5:5-7, The Message) 2

Do you consider yourself "down to earth?" Would your friends describe you as "plain people?" Would your spouse say that you "put on airs" or that you live "carefree before God?" When we understand who God is and who we are in light of Him, it becomes more evident that we are nothing without Him! If we start to look at daily activities and situations from this perspective, it will change the way we think, act and speak.


John Ortberg, in The Life You've Always Wanted, says, "Humility has to do with submitted willingness. It involves a healthy self-forgetfulness." In marriage, that is key! "Self-forgetfulness" is quite possibly the most valuable word in marriage. And, at the same time, it is indeed one of the most difficult to implement. But, when a marriage consists of a husband and wife whose ultimate goal is to do whatever it takes to please God and please the other person, that marriage will succeed.

Christ, who was the only one with every right to be arrogant and prideful, chose to humble Himself:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! (Phil. 2:5-8, NIV)

Jesus Christ has set the perfect example for us to follow – in life and in marriage. Becoming more like Christ in your marriage will not happen overnight. It will take persistence. It will take perseverance. It will take flexibility. And, most of all, it will take love: a love that shows your spouse that you are more concerned with his or her needs and desires than your own; a love that serves without an attitude; a love that forgives unconditionally.

And in the end, that kind of love will have revealed a glimpse of Jesus to your spouse. They will have seen Jesus in you.

1Heim, Toben & Joanne. Community. Colorado Springs: Nav Press, 2001.
2Ortberg, John. The Life You've Always Wanted. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997, 2002.

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