It is marriage season. A few days ago I attended my third wedding in as many weeks and next week it will make four in a row. The rest of the summer is busy with weddings too, that’s just how it goes. As I’ve been thinking about weddings and marriage, I’ve had the opportunity to think quite a bit about the concept of dying to self. Let me explain.
I believe that marriage is in a sense a microcosm of the Christian life. If you are unable to live out the Gospel within your marriage, you will certainly not live it out elsewhere. For those who are not married, I think the way you treat your family (parents, siblings) is a similar context and tells you a lot about your own heart.
Husbands are called to be willing to lay down their lives for their wives (Ephesians 5:25). All Christians are called to lay down their lives for their brothers and sisters (1 John 3). Husbands are called to nourish their wives (Ephesians 5:29); all Christians are called to edify the rest of the Body (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:7; Romans 14:19). Husbands and wives are to be one (Genesis 2, etc.); Christ’s desire for the church in general is that we will all be one (John 17). You get the picture.
In marriage, husbands and wives must learn to die to themselves in order to live for each other. Selflessness, I say to the couples I counsel, is the key word. Why? Because selflessness is an essential aspect of love. When we are told that Jesus laid down His life or that He “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant (Phil. 2:7),” we are talking about the selfless, sacrificial work of the Bridegroom for His bride. Remember Ephesians 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” It is His love that caused Him to “give himself up for her.” So we have to ask, does our love act that way? What does our love look like?
When I put my wife first, seek her good, sacrifice my comforts to bless her and serve her, she thrives and so does our marriage. She, in turn, builds me up, honors me, serves me and supports me. When I am selfish in marriage, seek my own, demand that she sacrifice for my good, not only am I never satisfied, neither is she. We struggle, fight, and hurt each other. In other words, when I seek my own, I lose. When I sacrifice, I, and my family, thrive.
Interestingly, the beginning of the Christian life, in general, includes this very same concept: dying to self in order to truly live. When Jesus was speaking to His disciples and preparing them for His departure, He made it clear to them: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matthew 16:24-25).”
Real life always begins when we die to ourselves and follow Him. It is only in following Him that we experience His abiding presence, are engaged in His kingdom, and are filled with the joy of having overcome sin and death. When we let go of our desire to be sovereign and humbly submit to the Lord, then, and only then, will we begin to live the life we were meant to live.