“Gary, I really need a new purse. Mind if we go check those out?” my wife, Lisa, said.
I saw the clearance sign and said, “Sure. No problem.”
I had never shopped for purses before. There was a colossal ignorance in my life about this somewhat secretive practice among women.
As one who has traveled more than 1.3 million miles on one airline, I buy several suitcases a year. I’ve learned that the more expensive brands don’t hold up much better than the “normal” brands. Typically, I’ll walk out of the store with a 28-inch suitcase for 100 bucks. So when I walked up to a table of clearance purses, all of which could hold about one-tenth of what I could fit in my suitcase, I was naturally thinking they might cost one-tenth the price.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. Six hundred bucks! Fifteen hundred bucks! Eight hundred bucks! On clearance.
Lisa didn’t pay those prices, though we did pay more than I would for a suitcase.
The shopping adventure with my wife taught me that purses are seen as valuable, however, in part because they cost so much. Some women wouldn’t be caught without a purse that is “worthy” of their station in life. I’ve got my own occasional indulgences (running gear), so I’m not going to get into that. Even more than we want a purse or piece of clothing that is worthy of our calling in life, I’d like us to talk about building a marriage that is worthy of our calling.
Striving to be gentle and humble
Consider Ephesians 4:1-3:
I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
What if we focused just one phrase of this passage to make it read like this:
I urge you to build a marriage worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
The notion of building a marriage “worthy of our calling” recognizes that we have been enlisted in the most glorious work ever known: the advancement of God’s kingdom, what I call the “magnificent obsession.” This gives not only a certain dignity to our marriage but also something to aim for. Happiness is a wonderful thing and an understandable goal, but a magnificent obsession is even bigger (not at war with our happiness, just bigger). Wanting to build a marriage worthy of our calling motivates us to work on creating a certain kind of marriage dedicated to a very particular purpose.
To have a marriage worthy of our calling, we need to be, according to Paul’s words in Ephesians 4, humble and gentle. Pause for a moment here: How did Jesus describe himself in Matthew 11:29? Keep in mind that Jesus almost never used virtues to describe himself, preferring instead to use images (the Light of the World, the gate, the Good Shepherd and so forth). In the one instance where Jesus did use virtues, He said, “I am gentle and lowly in heart.” Many translations say, “gentle and humble in heart.”
So, creating a marriage worthy of our calling means creating a marriage where the character of Jesus is displayed for all to see. More than we should seek to build the kind of marriage we want, we should seek to build the kind of marriage that serves our calling. That means building a marriage in which we are gentle with our spouse, because Jesus is gentle with His church. We are to be humble, because Jesus was humble.
Serving with mutual care
Without this instruction, we might never aspire to gentleness or humility. We may prefer compatibility or security or even something as wonderful as laughter. There is nothing wrong with these things, but there is something seriously wrong with a lack of gentleness and humility. Yet not once have I ever gotten an email or an office visit from a couple asking me, “How can we be more gentle and humble in our relationship?”
So marriages that aspire to be worthy of our calling are marriages in which we do not act or speak harshly with each other. We do not “lord” things over one another, swallowing each other up with our own expectations or dreams. We are servants, mutually caring for each other. That’s what best models our calling. When people see the way we treat each other, they are reminded of Jesus.
When Paul wrote these words to a Greek audience, he knew that the culture despised humility, yet he extolled it for this reason: Jesus showcased humility, so we must showcase humility as we seek to proclaim Jesus to the world. Pride kills relationship and devastates a marriage. Pride is unworthy of our calling to proclaim a Savior who “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:7).
Do you see the difference? Instead of trying to build a marriage I want, a magnificent obsession leads me to seek to build the kind of marriage that reveals Jesus to the world.
This article was adapted from A Lifelong Love: What if marriage is about more than just staying together? by Gary Thomas.