Humility might just be the great sign of genuine Christianity, and the key to marriage.
Though no one – Christians included – is exempt from battling the monster of pride, it is impossible to be a real follower of Jesus without that pride being crippled to some degree by the power of the cross. The very act of conversion is an experience of being humbled by God. We hear the gospel and realize that we have sinned against a holy God. By grace we realize that this is part of who we are because of the fall of mankind; sin flows from our heart! We begin to understand that this disease has touched us to the core, affecting and tainting every part of us. Thus, the Holy Spirit humbles us. But in the next moment he raises us, showing us the great love of God for sinners displayed at the cross! We see Jesus taking our sin and bearing it for us, paying for it with his blood, and we are filled with humble, joyful faith. We get it. We believe, and we praise God for grace, which for the first time, seems truly amazing.
From that moment, we begin a walk with God and a process of becoming more like Jesus, by his powerful work in us. This process is sometimes two steps forward and one step back, but there is progress. We begin to see the fruit of the Spirit popping out in our lives. And with us every step of the way (but in varying measures) is the humility Christ etched into our soul the day we met him. This is illustrated by God’s dealing with Jacob in the Old Testament. When Jacob was touched by God, he limped for the rest of his life (Gen 32:30-31). God transformed him from a deceiver named Jacob into a growing servant of God named Israel. Humility, then, is a mark of genuine discipleship, and pride is its very opposite.
The self-righteous religious leaders of Israel needed Jesus just as much as the prostitutes and drunkards who were flocking to him; they just didn’t see their need, blinded as they were by pride. It is only those who perceive they are sick who call for the doctor. And those who have been forgiven much will love much, according to Jesus (Luke 7:47). Followers of Christ, therefore, must view ourselves through the lens of humility, considering others as more important than we are. This is how we follow the self-emptying example of Jesus (Phil 2:3-8). As we live day by day with an awareness of our sinfulness, and the great grace we have received from God, the gospel will radically transform our relationships; all of them! We will love others because we have been loved by God (Eph 5:2). We will forgive others as God in Christ forgave us, with humble, tender hearts (Eph 4:32).
One specific relationship that will be greatly affected by our continued growth in humility is the marriage relationship. Humility (and his friends, thankfulness, kindness and gentleness) is crucial to a good marriage. In fact, the instructions for husbands and wives in Scripture are actually expressions of humility toward God and your spouse! The roles God assigns to husbands and wives are the overflow of hearts that have been humbled by God. We see this in Peter’s words for husbands and wives (1 Peter 3:1-7).
Peter calls wives to act towards their husbands with the humility they have received from meeting God. For the wife, this is expressed through biblical submission. Biblical submission is never about inferiority. It does not imply that her husband is wiser, more knowledgeable, or closer to God (as verse seven of this passage will make clear). Rather, biblical submission is one equal choosing to submit to the other equal for a higher purpose. Christ, though equal to the Father, voluntarily submitted to him in order to fulfill his role. This is the pattern for wives, and it is impossible without humility. A wife looks beyond her husband to the Lord, and offers her voluntary submission as worship to God. Pride will be the constant hindrance to a wife’s biblical submission.
This humility is further seen as Peter calls wives to focus on inward, spiritual beauty, rather than what is outward and physical. Specifically, Peter refers to a “gentle and quiet spirit,” which is precious to God (v 3-4). A woman who is at peace with God, trusting him wholly, exudes this “imperishable beauty” from within.
Finally, Peter gives the example of Sarah and the Old Testament saints who displayed this beautiful humility in marriage because they “hoped in God” (v5). A wife whose heart has been touched by God will limp like Jacob. Her humble, inward beauty will radiate from her like a sunrise. She will not fear (v6), or continually butt heads with her husband, fighting for control, for she is looking to what is greater. Her eyes are on her Lord, and she seeks for his glory to be displayed through her marriage. So, like Christ, she voluntarily submits to her equal in quiet trust and humble worship.
Peter’s instructions for husbands are also all about humility. Men are called to approach their wives with sensitivity, understanding and consideration of their needs. They must live with their wives with “knowledge.” Schreiner thinks this is knowledge of how God wants them to treat their wives; knowledge of God’s will. It could also refer to knowledge of his wife’s specific needs. Either way, God requires husbands to put thought into their treatment of their wives.
Specifically, husbands are commanded to show honor to their wife (this is unique in Greco-Roman literature, according to Schreiner!). They honor their wife, because she is “the weaker vessel” (v7). This is not an insult (it is in the context of honoring them), and most likely refers to the fact that, in general, men are physically stronger than women. God, then, calls husbands to use their strengths to serve and honor their wives, rather than to abuse or mistreat them. God requires men to act in a gentle, humble, loving way to their wives, giving them honor and consideration. This is the outflow of a heart that has been touched by God.
Peter affirms the equality of husbands and wives in his last words on the subject, telling husbands that their wives are “heirs with you of the grace of life” (v7). This means that men and women stand as equals before the cross. This destroys pride, and encourages humility. A man who rejects this humble approach to his wife will not be blessed by God (“so that your prayers may not be hindered” – v7). God will not listen to a man who is not humble toward his wife.
The limp of Jacob must be seen in the way husbands and wives relate to each other. Our conversion to Christ makes a difference. Pride kills relationships, but a heart that has seen its sinfulness and God’s great grace will overflow in life-giving, marriage-building, joy-bringing, spouse-honoring humility, to the glory of God!
Are you acting in humility towards your spouse? Is there any area where God is calling you to humble yourself toward him/her? If you are failing in this area, receive God’s grace! Repent, and look now to the one who humbled himself for us at the cross. Touched by his humility, we are now free and enabled to show humility to others, including our spouse.
For his glory in the marriage!
Reference: (1, 2 Peter, Jude, The New American Commentary, Volume 37, by Thomas R. Schreiner. © 2003. B&H Publishing Group.)