Preparing Your Marriage to Thrive – Part Two: Softening the Hard Places – A Couple’s Bible Study

All of us want our marriages to thrive. But a thriving marriage doesn’t just happen. It takes preparation. And the best place to find what that preparation requires is in God’s Word. This Couple’s Bible Study looks at one of Jesus’ parables—the Parable of the Sower—to learn what it takes to make sure our marriage is in the best condition to be successful, enjoyable, and honoring to God. You can read this parable in the three synoptic Gospels—Matthew 13:1-9Mark 4:1-9Luke 8:4-8.

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In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus refers to various types of soil the farmer finds as he tries to sow his seed. Each type of soil produces a different result. Last week we learned the soil represents our hearts–where our thoughts and actions are derived from in biblical terms. We also discussed the need to prepare the soil of our hearts so God’s seed–His Word (Mark 4:14)–can have the greatest impact possible on our lives and marriages.

This parable has often been used to encourage us who are believers in Christ of the need to spread the truth of God’s word to others through evangelism. That is certainly true. But the parable also applies to those of us who are Christ-followers to each prepare our own hearts.

This week we want to look at the first type of soil in more detail. Jesus calls it “the path.”

He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: ‘Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.’”Mark 4:2-4

The Hard Places

The path is that area between the rows of plants where the farmer walks to plant, fertilize, water, and weed his crop. Because this soil is not watered or otherwise tended, but only walked upon, it becomes hard. Though some seed may fall on this path as the farmer walks along tossing his seed, it cannot get through the hard-packed soil to germinate and grow. This solid soil represents the heart that has grown hard, and therefore the Word of God does not penetrate it. And the seed gets eaten up by birds instead.

Jesus tells us what this represents in Mark 4:15: “Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them.” These people may be unbelievers who have no interest in the Gospel, who don’t believe they need God, or don’t believe in Him at all. So their hearts are hard, and the Gospel message cannot get in.

hard path

But these people could also be we Christians who have hardened our hearts–to God, His Spirit, and His Word. We are saved, and we have the Holy Spirit living in us, but the work of the flesh instead of the fruit of the Spirit is characterizing our lives too greatly. (See Galatians 5:16-26 for an explanation of this.) We are therefore self-centered and hard-hearted.

What does this look like in marriage? Instead of showing God’s love to our spouse, we are only concerned with having our own needs met. We “love” our husband or wife when they make us feel loved–usually by doing what we want them to do.

Or perhaps something has led us to be indifferent to the Holy Spirit’s leading. Maybe something bad has happened in our lives, and we blame God and are angry at Him. All my life, I have heard people say something like, “God is big enough to handle my anger at Him.” It’s true. God is big enough to handle anything…He’s God. But it will definitely hurt our relationship with Him. And it will definitely have an impact on our marriages.

Paul writes in Ephesians 4:25-32:

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. ‘In your anger do not sin’ Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Bold mine.)

Paul makes it clear when we have unconfessed sin in our lives, such as the ones he lists in these verses, we grieve the Holy Spirit. We bring Him pain. Since He and God the Father are one, when we grieve the Holy Spirit, we grieve God, and He will not work fully in our lives.

Paul also instructs us in 1 Thessalonians 5:19: “Do not quench the Spirit.”

And in 1 Peter 3:7, Peter writes: “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” (Bold mine.)

Sin in our lives will harden our hearts. We will not lose our salvation if we have genuinely given our lives to Christ. But we can grieve the Holy Spirit and keep Him from working fully in our lives. When unconfessed sin is present, our prayers will be hindered.

So if we do not have the Holy Spirit because we are not followers of Christ or if the Holy Spirit is not working fully in our lives, God’s Word cannot get into the soil of our hearts. And, therefore, it won’t have the impact on our marriages God wants it to have.

When our hearts are hard toward God’s Word, we will ignore it, not understand it, misuse it, deny it, or just plain disobey it. The result will be disastrous for our relationship with God, and with our husband or wife.

When our hearts are hard toward God's Word, we will ignore it, not understand it, misuse it, deny it, or just plain disobey it. The result will be disastrous. | Simply One in Marriage.

Recall what Jesus said in explaining the meaning of the parable: As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them” (Mark 4:15). Satan’s main purpose in our lives and marriages is revealed to us by Jesus in John 10:10: “The thief [Satan] comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

Satan will do everything he can to keep us from planting God’s Word into the soil of our hearts so he can destroy our lives…and our marriages.  

Softening Our Hearts

Jesus’ first and greatest concern is people—you and me. Look back at the setting that led Jesus to teach this parable: “Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said…” (Mark 4:1-2).

Jesus’ greatest concern is the soil. His concern is always for us. This is observed later in Mark’s Gospel when Jesus and His disciples try to get away by themselves to rest and refresh themselves after long days of ministry. Look at what happens in Mark 6:33-34: “But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.”

Jesus longs for the hardened soil of our hearts to be plowed, loosened up, and prepared to receive the seed of His truth, so we can have blessed lives and blessed marriages.

If you have never received Jesus as your Savior, the impact God’s Word will have on your life is limited. He loves you and wants to give you so much more. Only in receiving God’s gift of salvation and His Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ will He teach you more of His truth. Only then will His Word begin to transform your life into everything God created you to be. If you would like to know more about how to do this, please read Meet Jesus. Your willingness to seek Him and your openness to what He has to say could be the beginning of an amazing life beyond what you could ever imagine.

If you are a believer in Christ, you have the Holy Spirit living in you. By reading God’s Word and praying regularly He will teach you how to live for Him. He will show you how to be the husband or wife He wants you to be. He will instruct you how to have a marriage that will thrive–one that will bring glory to Him and joy to you.

God promises us what the result will be when we turn to Him: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (Ezekiel 36:25-27).

Jesus is longing to share more blessings with us than we could ever dream. But we have to be open to hear Him speaking to us through His Word. Is your heart hard and closed, or is it well-prepared to receive all He has for you?

Questions for Discussion

        • Ask God to speak to you both about how this teaching applies to you and your marriage. Discuss this together.
        • Is there anything in your life right now that is causing your heart to be hardened toward God and/or your spouse? Ask God to reveal this to you. If He reveals something, ask Him to forgive you and help you to overcome this. Ask your husband or wife to forgive you. If your husband or wife confesses to you, and asks for your forgiveness, grant it. Remember these three promises/commands (of many) from God’s Word.
          “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” – 1 John 1:9
          “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” – Colossians 3:13

          “So watch yourselves. If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” – Luke 17:3-4

           

        • Is there any other sin in your life right now that you have not confessed to God? Don’t try to hide it. God sees and knows everything. You harm yourself when you do that. Remember that you quench and grieve the Holy Spirit, and keep Him from working fully in your life and marriage when you have unconfessed sin in your life. Confess your sins to God and each other, and enjoy His forgiveness and the blessings that go with it.
          “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” – James 5:16

           

        • Commit to the Lord and each other to pray for and with each other, so the soil of your hearts will be well prepared to receive the seed of His Word. Commit to study His Word so that the seed of His Word will be planted in your hearts. Commit to pray that the Lord will take that planted seed and cause it to produce fruit in your lives and marriage.

Next week we will continue our study of this parable and how it relates to our marriages by discussing the second type of soil Jesus mentions–the “rocky places.”

Until then, may God bless you in all His wonderful ways,
David

Other posts in the PREPARING YOUR MARRIAGE TO THRIVE series:
Part 1–The Importance of Your Heart’s Condition
Part 3–Breaking Through the Rocky Places
Part 4–Removing the Thorns
Part 5–Cultivating the Good Things

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Header photo by Paul Jarvis via Unsplash (CC0), cropped/text added.
Path photo 1 credit: Sunlit Path via photopin (license – CC BY 2.0), cropped.
Path photo 2 credit: Sharky via pixabay (CC0), cropped/text added.

Are you making life harder than it has to be? Do you wonder why marriage has to be so hard? This Couple's Bible Study helps you see those hard places in your heart that need to be softened to make your marriage thrive. | Simply One in Marriage.

 

About David Penley

A devoted husband and father, former pastor and seminary professor, who longs to grow closer to the likeness of Christ each day and share God's love and truth with everyone.