Lately, my fiancee, Shannon, and I have been having conversations on that great, nebulous, enigmatic subject of personal expectations for each other. Exciting, eh?
We’re less than three months away from our wedding now, so we’re eagerly looking forward to starting life together as husband and wife. A part of doing life together in such a sacred marital bond is the desire to please the other person — to dress in what they like us to dress in, to fix our hair a certain way, to lose or gain weight… you know the drill. Because we love each other and want to sacrifice ourselves for one another, Shannon and I are asking each other questions to see how we can put on our best for the other person.
You see, just as in other covenants, in marriage there is obligation. The husband is obligated to his wife and the wife to her husband. There are desires and expectations (realistic, I hope!) that serve to bond each to the other, and those factors should, in a godly context, both humble and encourage each other as we give up many of our own desires and wants in order to serve another.
Obligation. That word has taken up a negative context in our present society, hasn’t it?
We are obligated to pay our bills and our taxes. If we have a job, we’re obligated to show up for certain hours and perform certain duties. We’re obligated to tell our kids to not do drugs and our spouses that we love them even if we don’t feel like it. Obligation… who wants it?
I do. And you who are called by Christ’s Name should desire it as well. Why? Because living life in this world obligated to serving God doesn’t have to be a chore but can, instead, be a great joy. After one conversation with Shannon last week I spent some time in reflection when a Scripture came to my mind.
Read and consider Paul’s words to the church in Rome. After making the point that legal marriage is only “till death,” upon which point the legal obligation of the surviving partner ends, he says,
“Therefore, my brothers, you also were put to death in relation to the law through the crucified body of the Messiah, so that you may belong to another — to Him who was raised from the dead — that we may bear fruit for God. For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions operated through the law in every part of us and bore fruit for death. But now we have been released from the law, since we have died to what held us, so that we may serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old letter of the law (Romans 7:4-6 HCSB).”
You see, when you become a Christian — when you first place your faith in Jesus and accept His sacrifice for your sin — you cease to be bound to keep a physical law of do’s and dont’s in order to be considered righteous and, thus, worthy of salvation (we all fail, btw). We also cease to be bound to a spiritual death sentence in order to pay for our sins. Instead, we inherit eternal life with God.
Basically, we are released from a negative, unwanted obligation to obey our sin nature to do bad and to perform good works in order to be good. But our obligation doesn’t end with our salvation. Paul writes that we belong to another now — to the One who saved us. It’s a part of our whole divine rescue from “the domain of darkness and …into the kingdom of the Son He loves (Col. 1:13).” Anyone who has been taken from somewhere has to be taken to somewhere.
Paul writes that we are now freely obligated to follow God so that we might bear fruit for Him. It is a new way of obligation, not like the old negative way. The old letter of the law, as Paul puts it, was to do and receive for doing. But we are obligated so that we might serve in “the new way of the Spirit.” What is the new way? Paul wrote in the chapter before, “…since you have been liberated from sin and have become enslaved to God, you have your fruit, which results in sanctification (Romans 6:22).” When we serve God while yielded to the Holy Spirit inside of us, we grow more and more like our Savior, Jesus. We are sanctified (made more holy) and we bless those around us.
What does a life of bearing fruit in obligation to God look like? If the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness… etc (Gal 6), then this is the fruit we will bear! What is so negative about peace, patience, goodness kindness, etc? Indeed, it is a much better obligation than sin and death!
Shannon and I are working on becoming better at personal obligation to each other, something we will practice in full once we are married. We recognize that once we’re married we no longer will belong only to ourselves but instead we belong to another person — a person we love and who loves us. It is both scary (I love myself far more than I should) and exciting (I want to make her happy).
But the result of serving each other and sacrificing our egos for one another should be a stronger marriage and a happier and holier home. Our obligation to each other is not unlike that which our Savior undertook for us: “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).” Salvation aside, we now serve one another because Christ served us, freed us from our obligation to sin, and gave us His grace to live a life now obligated to serving God in joy and freedom.