Do you ever look at your marriage and wonder what you’re getting right and what you’re getting wrong? Some things may be obvious. But like the seven churches of Asia in Revelation, we need the truth of God’s Word to help us see how we’re really doing.
Last week we began our search to find wisdom for our marriage through God’s messages to “the seven churches in the province of Asia” (Revelation 1:4). These letters are Jesus’ words to the churches, as He revealed them to the apostle John. We begin this week with God’s message to the church at Ephesus.
The Letter to the Church at Ephesus
As with each church Christ addresses in this book, He speaks to “the angel of the church.” Many agree this angel is the pastor–God’s chosen leader for the church. It is he who will share the message with the congregation and lead them to follow it.
Ephesians 5:25-27 says: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”
One of the purposes God has for our marriage is to represent the relationship He has with His Church. Therefore, husbands–as leaders of the family–are like the angel that Christ speaks to in this letter. They are responsible to share these truths with their wives and set the example by living them out.
Shine His Light Together
Revelation 1:20 tells about the seven stars and the seven golden lampstands mentioned in each of the letters to the churches. The seven stars are the angels of the churches and the lampstands are the churches themselves. Stars and lampstands are made to shine light into the darkness. And these churches are to reflect the light of Christ.
John 8:12 says: “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’”
As believers, we are part of Christ’s Church. We belong to Him, and His light is in us. He tells us in Matthew 5:14: “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.” Therefore, He says to: “…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
As a couple, our marriage must reflect the light of Christ and glorify God. We are told in Revelation 2:1 that Christ walks among us–as a church and as a couple. Jesus also tells us this is true anytime His people are gathered together: “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20).
Because we belong to Christ, He is with us—in life and in marriage. And we must serve Him together.
Communicate with Love
Jesus begins with a word of praise to the Ephesian Christians for what they were doing well. This is a good example for us to follow in all of life, including our marriage.
When we have something difficult to talk with our husband or wife about, we must not jump right in and confront them. First, we must pray and ask God’s help. Only then will we be able to communicate with love.
We should begin any difficult conversation as Jesus did. To recall the good things about our spouse and our marriage will help us approach the conversation with the right attitude—one seeking redemption and full of grace. The goal being to help our spouse and our relationship, not hurt them or win a battle. A stronger marriage relationship should always be the desired outcome.
Jesus commends the Ephesians for four things they were doing well. They are things we can do together as husband and wife to make our marriage stronger and keep it improving.
The first two go hand-in-hand, and are found in v.2: “your hard work and your perseverance.”
The word translated “hard work” here is “kopos.” It means extremely strenuous labor that can lead to great weariness.
A strong godly marriage takes hard work. It requires going against the tide of our culture that encourages us to seek what is best for ourselves first. It means to swim against the stream of society’s self-centered teachings, and instead put first what is best for our spouse.
When we follow God’s teaching to love with selfless, “agape” love, we will not love with the “me-first” love of our world. And this requires incredible perseverance.
Never Give Up
The word translated “perseverance” is from the Greek word “hupomone.” It means to be patient, to stand strong, to bear up under, and to endure whatever comes our way. It is the very word Paul uses in describing “agape” love when he writes in 1 Corinthians 13:7 that it “always perseveres.”
This is the love God calls us to have for our spouse. He says: “Husbands, love [agape] your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). We can love like this only because as believers the Holy Spirit lives in us and gives us the ability to do so. Galatians 5:22 says one of the fruits of the Spirit is love [agape].
We must ask God to grow this love in us and let it shine from us toward others–beginning with our spouse.
Faithfully Endure Hardship for Christ’s Sake
Because of their love for God, the Ephesian believers were commended because they “persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary” (v.3). It is exactly what Paul encouraged the Galatian church to do: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).
Continuing to do good and follow God’s ways when the hard times come is difficult. We will be tempted to grow weary and give up. But for the honor and glory of our Lord, we must press on and stay strong in our faith and trust His plan.
Let us be encouraged by the example of the Ephesians and make this a prayer for our marriage.
Stay Faithful to the Teachings of God’s Word
Paul has one more word of commendation for the church at Ephesus. They have not let the false teaching of their society lead them away from God’s truth.
Jesus says to them in Revelation 2:2: “I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.”
The particular false people Jesus mentions are found in Revelation 2:6: “But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” While we cannot state for certain what heresy the Nicolaitans taught, we know it was bad enough for Jesus to commend the Ephesian Christians for not following it. It is believed by many scholars that one of the heresies they taught was that sexual relations outside of marriage were allowed by God. But whatever they taught, we know it was against God’s truth.
Like the Ephesian Christians, we must make certain we stay faithful to the teachings of God’s Word, no matter what our culture says. As a couple, we must strive constantly to follow God’s ways. We read in Hebrews 10:24: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”
Even with those in the church, we must carefully examine what they say in light of God’s Word. This is true of the messages we hear from the pulpit also. We must beware if they are not “correctly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Jesus warned His followers: “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (Matthew 7:15).
Paul writes in 1 Timothy 4:1-2: “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 2 Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.”
Learning God’s Word and staying faithful to follow it will protect us from going astray, as it did the Ephesian Christians.
Keep the Love You Had at First
For all the Ephesian church did well, they still fell short. And while Jesus commended them for what they did right, He did not fail to also address their sin.
In Revelation 2:4-5a, He says to them: “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. 5 Consider how far you have fallen!” This is a strong rebuke. And it is also a strong warning for us as married couples.
The “love you had at first” refers to their initial zeal to worship, please, and obey Christ. In the beginning, they lived as Jesus taught willingly and gladly because they loved Him so much. They were a wonderful example of what Jesus said in John 14:15: “If you love me, keep my commands.”
However, as time went on, even though they still kept the commandments, their motivation was no longer love—it was ritual. They did it out of a sense of duty, not out of passion for Christ.
God knows our hearts and our true motivations. He doesn’t want us to follow and serve Him out of a sense of duty, but because we love Him passionately and desire to please Him. We must keep the love we had at first.
Paul wrote of this compelling love in 2 Corinthians 5:14: “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.”
In marriage counseling, I have heard so many people say something like, “I just don’t love her anymore.” “I’ve fallen out of love with him.” That the “love they had at first” is gone.
This “love they had at first” almost always includes intense feelings. But feelings dissipate. They come and go. That is why God calls us to love each other with agape love—the love with which He loves us.
Agape love does not come and go because it is not based on feelings. It is doing what is best for the other person no matter how we feel.
We can only keep this type of love for God and for each other by keeping our relationship with Him strong. We do this by following God’s command in James 1:22: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”
Out of love for God, we must study His Word and then, with His power, put it into practice—as individuals and together as a couple.
If we keep our relationship with God strong, then our love for Him will grow ever stronger. And if our love for God is strong, then our love for each other will be strong and grow. As we put God first, He will make our marriage strong and vibrant.
Examine Your Heart
Like the Ephesians, as followers of Christ we are probably doing some things well and falling short in others. It is important for us to examine our own hearts and see what we are missing.
Revelation 2:5 says: “Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.”
Are you loving Christ with your whole heart? Are you following His commands out of devotion to Him or with a sense of duty? How is this reflected in the way you love your spouse?
Seek Forgiveness Where You’ve Failed
When we see areas where we fall short, we must seek forgiveness. We are told in 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
When we receive His forgiveness, then we are set free to receive His guidance and blessings in our marriage.
Acts 3:19 says: “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.”
But if we do not do this, Revelation 2:5 warns: “If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.”
Removing the lampstand for the church at Ephesus meant the removal of their source of power to be God’s instrument. This source of power is the Holy Spirit.
Jesus promised to give the Holy Spirit to us in John 14:16-17: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth.” Jesus also assures us in Acts 1:8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.”
When we accept Jesus as our Savior, He gives us the power to understand and obey God’s Word. And we have the power to love as He loves through the Holy Spirit living in us. (If you don’t know Jesus as your Savior, please read Meet Jesus.)
But we are also warned that unconfessed sin will keep the Holy Spirit from working fully in us and through us. His Spirit will not leave us, but our continued sin will block His power from our lives.
We are told in 1 Thessalonians 5:19: “Do not quench the Spirit.” And Paul warned in Ephesians 4:30: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” Both passages are in the midst of Paul’s teachings on how to live a life that pleases God.
We must repent of our sinful ways and confess them to God, so the power of His Holy Spirit can do His mighty work in our lives and in our marriage. His power is our only hope.
Hear and Follow to be Victorious
To have the beautiful marriage God desires for us, we must learn from the message God gave the church at Ephesus: “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 2:7).
If we hear the Holy Spirit speak to us through His Word, then we will receive Jesus’ promises in our marriage. As we also read in Revelation 2:7: “To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.”
A victorious marriage begins with love. God’s love for us…and our love and devotion for Him. It is only with His love and power that we can love each other fully and become one.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
♦ Read this week’s teaching, and discuss together what God is saying to you.
♦ Do you have open and honest discussions with each other? Do you talk even about the difficult issues? Is your purpose when you do so to grow in your relationship with Christ and each other?
We have two tools on this website to help you with this. They are totally free for you to download and use. They are 15 Biblical Principles for Good Communication in Marriage (pdf) and CONFLICT – How to Deal with It God’s Way.
♦ Are you growing in your love for Christ and for each other? Is your love for each other agape–selfless–love? Or do you love yourself first?
Remember Jesus’ response to the question about God’s greatest commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39). Jesus tells us that we already love ourselves. We must love God and our neighbor–and spouse–as much or more than we already love ourselves.
♦ We are constantly being bombarded with unbiblical teachings in our world. This includes ideas about marriage. Are you doing all you can to protect yourselves from falling for the lies of Satan being presented by our world? Do you study and obey God’s Word individually and together? Do you attend a church where God’s Word is carefully taught? Encourage each other in this.
Do you stay away from things that might lead you astray from God’s truth? This includes what TV and movies you watch, what you read, what you look at on the internet, etc.
Do you follow God’s instruction in Philippians 4:8? “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
♦ Are you doing everything you can to follow God’s Word and keep that love you had at first for God and each other growing?
If not, then ask God’s forgiveness. Repent by committing to each other and to God that you will start doing so. If you are already doing everything you can, commit to God and each other that you will continue doing so.
♦ Close your time in prayer. Ask God to help you with the things you have discussed and the commitments you have made.
Next week, we will learn what Christ has to teach us about our marriage through His words to the church at Smyrna.
Until then, may God bless you and your marriage in all His wonderful ways,