Years ago, when I was a single college student and a young follower of Christ, I traveled with some buddies to Southern California. One of my friends knew a family in Pasadena who offered us a place to stay.
I will never forget walking into this home in Pasadena. Almost immediately I noticed that there was just something different in the atmosphere.
I had never met these people before, but within 20 minutes I felt like I‘d known them all my life. They displayed genuine hospitality, care, love, and graciousness that I had never seen in a home before.
In 2 Corinthians 2:14-15 we read, “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” That’s what I could smell in that house—the fragrance of Christ in the lives of these people who had been transformed by Him. I’ve never forgotten what it was like to walk into that kind of environment.
Now the question for us is: What does it smell like in our homes? If folks walked into our houses, would the fragrance of Christ be present? Do people look at our marriages and see and smell the aroma of Christ?
I believe there are two factors that give a marriage the fragrance of Christ—that make it distinctively Christian. And both are impossible without the transforming grace of God.
1. A uniquely Christian marriage has a different kind of purpose.
When asked why they get married, most people will say something like, “Well, we’re just in love.” But behind that statement are a number of other reasons for marriage:
- They’ve dated long enough, and marriage is the next step.
- They want sex without guilt.
- They are adults, and marriage is what’s expected.
- There are economic benefits from combining incomes into one household.
- They want someone to take care of them.
- They are lonely, and need the companionship.
- Their biological clock is ticking, and they figure it’s time to start a family.
- They want to escape a bad situation—abusive parents, pregnancy, etc.
At the heart of most of these reasons for marriage is the big me. People are getting married for self-centered reasons, not God-centered purposes. That describes me as well.
In fact, that‘s the universal human condition. We are self-centered; and so our self-centered tendency, carried into marriage, creates two self-centered people trying to negotiate enough good out of this deal so that they can co-exist.
A higher purpose
But there’s another, higher purpose for marriage that is stated well in Psalm 34:3: “Oh, magnify the Lord with me and let us exalt His name together!” A friend of mine actually used that verse when he proposed. I think he saw beyond his own natural selfishness to a greater goal for his life.
When you focus your marriage on exalting and glorifying God together, your relationship will become a vehicle through which people can smell the aroma of Christ. It will be a demonstration of the gospel to the world—you will show God’s grace, His compassion, His forgiveness.
Now, is there companionship that comes along with it? Yes. Is there love and intimacy that comes into the deal? Yes, and I‘m glad for these things. But when you magnify the Lord together you will both say, “This isn‘t about us. This is about putting the gospel on display to a watching world.”
When you truly understand that purpose, it changes everything. I like how Paul Tripp puts it: “We were made to live upward and outward, but most of us live inward. When we can quit living inward and start living upward and outward, life changes.” When our marriage can be about upward and outward, things change.
2. A uniquely Christian marriage has a different kind of love.
What does this distinctively different kind of love look like? Well, again, it starts with being God-centered instead of self-centered. It’s upward and outward instead of being inward.
To be more specific, Christian love is self-sacrificing, not self-serving love. In Philippians 2:1-4 Paul writes:
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
That kind of love is different than what the world knows. It is patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, not arrogant, not rude, not insisting on its own way, not irritable or resentful, not rejoicing in wrongdoing, but instead rejoicing in the truth, bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things, enduring all things (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).
Another way that our love should be distinct is that it should be a forgiving love, not a hard-hearted love. Ephesians 4:26-27 tells us, “ Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.”
How many of you would say, “What I really want for my life is to be in a concerted partnership with the devil”? But that’s what you’re doing when you hang on to anger, resentment, and bitterness.
And then read verse 32 in Ephesians 4: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
Controlled by the Spirit
A third way our love should be different is that it should be controlled by the Spirit and not by the flesh. You can’t do this in your own power. Regard your spouse as more important than yourself? Forgive your spouse just as God has forgiven you? Love your spouse by showing patience, kindness, and not insisting on your own way? Try doing this consistently in the flesh for more than a day or so.
The only way we can have a different kind of love—and purpose—in marriage is to experience a true transformation in our lives. Here are the words that always come back to me as I think about the gospel and what God has done for us in Christ: He took those of us who were weighed down by sin and took the weight off. He forgave us and freed us. As we walk in that forgiveness and freedom day by day, He is transforming us more and more into the image of His Son. And in the process He gives us a hope that we never knew before we were saved by Christ.
These two unique aspects of a Christian marriage—a different purpose and a different love—are something we cannot manufacture by ourselves. They are impossible apart from the transforming grace of God in our lives. And when we experience this transformation, the world will notice something very different in our relationships.
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