Before I was married I wanted to be the best husband and father that I could be. So I read lots of books on marriage and parenting. I learned a lot and gleaned truths that have anchored our home to this day.
One of those foundations is that a healthy marriage is to be Christ-centered. But understanding that and making it happen can be challenging. It’s possible to know and practice biblical principles and not be Christ-centered.
On our way to having a Christ-centered relationship we tend to make the means the end. At some point the marriage becomes principle-centered rather than Christ-centered. While being principle-centered has advantages, it is not the same as having a marriage built around a personal relationship with God.
Being principle-centered focuses on learning and applying specific content relative to a subject; being Christ-centered focuses on the dynamic of a personal relationship with God.
God gave us principles to guide us, but they are not to substitute for our personal walk with Him. They protect and enhance our relationship with God; following them proves our love, but it is possible to follow them and not love Christ.
Most Christians begin their life as believers totally Christ-centered, but over time, if not guarded, the relationship becomes subservient to a lifestyle. Being a Christian is then defined by following a prescribed lifestyle absent a dynamic personal communication with the Lord. This is a dangerous place to be in our personal lives and in our marriage.
Having a principle-centered marriage, even if they’re Bible principles, is not enough. We are to love Christ and out of the overflow of that relationship comes motivation to follow the principles. It is our love for Christ that is the fire in our heart to obey Him and follow His Word.
At the hub of every marriage should be the Lord Jesus Christ. Some believers make Christ a part of their marriage, but He is not at the core. It is Christ, through His Spirit, Who gives us the power to consistently and joyfully follow God’s commands and principles in our relationships.
Depending on which type of marriage you have, principle-centered or Christ-centered, will determine the quality of your marriage and environment of your home.
In my own life this is a struggle – drifting toward following principles without investing in my walk with Christ. It’s easy to coast on a learned lifestyle. I have to consciously surrender my heart to the Lord each day and rest in Him. My natural tendency is to go back to auto pilot, living by principle and a memorized lifestyle.
One of the first evidences of drifting from God is when one becomes principle-centered and neglects a walk with Christ. Living a moral lifestyle while not having Christ as the center is not what God intended.
God spoke to a church that had drifted away from Him with their heart and He uses a marriage metaphor to confront them. The church at Ephesus was one of the greatest churches in the world. Yet, they had sound doctrine, knew the truth and practiced it, but something was missing. If it can happen to them, it can happen to us.
“Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.” (Revelation 2:4)
Though they were busy, committed and orthodox in their beliefs, they had left their heart out of it all. They had “left (their) first love”.
First love refers to that which is fresh, dynamic, and enthusiastic. The relationship is given priority over all other things. When actions take the place of heartfelt affection we lose the joy of living and serving.
The same thing happens to a family. A husband or father can be faithful, committed and have integrity, but be absent love. A wife can know her role and be consistent in fulfilling it, but if Christ is not at the center of her life she is empty, joyless – just going through the motions.
When we live this way over time we lose our sense of gratitude and wonder. A relationship that used to be fresh and meaningful is now stale and indifferent.
Our love for each other is to be growing, not stagnant. Principles alone don’t cause our love to develop and mature. Only Christ can do that.
God never intended for a Christian’s life to be oriented around principles. It won’t bring satisfaction to your heart. It won’t work in your marriage either. Here are some reasons why:
- The purpose of our creation isn’t to live a life of dry obedience to God. We were designed to know God and to walk with Him personally. Until we discover that purpose and live that way daily we will live a restless life. When a marriage is composed of a couple that is restless there is no joy or fulfillment. No matter how “right” or principle-centered it is.
- Principles don’t motivate over the long haul, only Christ can do that. It’s easy to substitute knowing about God with knowing God. God gave us truths in the Bible that show how the marriage relationship works, but alone they won’t provide the fuel to practice them.
- Applying principles (and commandments) is not the ultimate pathway to express our love for the Lord. We honor the Lord by obeying Him and walking in His ways, but knowing and implementing principles is not the objective, loving Christ is. The Bible says of itself, “…the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart…” (II Tim. 1:5)
- Following principles can be a substitute for loving Christ. Christ is truth incarnate (John 14:6; John 1:14); so to know the truth will help us to know Him better. This doesn’t deny His personality, though, and reduce Him to an impersonal force. God has mind (He knows), emotion (He feels), and will (He chooses) and is to be loved for His Person, Who He is. Principles can be static.
- We must learn God’s Word to discover Who He is. My point is not that we are to abandon or minimize Bible reading or study. Not at all. We learn about God’s character and His actions from the book He has given to us, the Word of God. I’m cautioning against the tendency to use it as a means to merely govern and direct behavior while neglecting a relationship with God. The Pharisees did this and lacked love for God and people. It’s easy to do.
- Learning principles is attractive to those that enjoy learning. People that are attracted to study and seek a deeper knowledge of God sometimes equate knowing about God with knowing God. They aren’t the same. Knowledge without application leads to pride (I Corinthians 8:1) which destroys relationships. The application of truth is to prove our love for the Lord and help us to know Him better.
A strong marriage doesn’t confuse the difference in being principle-centered and Christ-centered. It’s a subtle difference, but one that will keep you from enjoying the relationship with each other God intended.
Many years ago Paula and I were attending a pastor’s conference and were listening to Adrian Rogers speak. At the close of his message he gave a short story that I have never forgotten. Here’s what he shared.
A boy prince from India was visiting the Queen of England and at the conclusion of his visit he presented her with a beautiful and expensive diamond as a gift from his country.
Decades passed and he returned to visit the Queen again. Before he left he asked her if she remembered the diamond he had given to her. She replied that she had and he asked if he might see it.
She thought, He’s going to ask for it to be returned because he was so young when he presented it to me.
Her assistants went and procured the diamond. He looked at it carefully and slowly turned it, examining it’s incredible beauty.
When he finished he looked at the Queen, still holding the diamond, and said, “I gave this stone to you when I was but a boy. Today I realize it’s value and I want to give it to you again as a man”. And he returned it to her.
Adrian Rogers concluded his message, “Many of you have given your life to the Lord when you were young, but you ought to give it to Him again as an adult, as you understand how precious it is, to honor the Lord even more”.
My heart was deeply touched. I had been saved as a boy when I was nine years old and surrendered my life to do whatever He wanted me to do when I was seventeen. Now, I was forty-two and with tears streaming down my face, Paula and I knelt in the altar that night and surrendered our lives fresh to Him again. I was mindful of His faithfulness and how good He had been to my family and me.
I have remembered that story through the years and bowed my head again and yielded my heart afresh to the Lord. I love the Lord more than anything in the world.
That’s what it means to be Christ-centered. It isn’t about living a formulaic life solely based on obeying principles and commands.
Certainly we are to obey God and to practice the principles He has given in His Word – many of which apply to marriage and the home. However, one can do those things and still not be Christ-centered.
The most simple meaning of having a marriage with Christ at the hub is loving Him with all of our hearts.