Perhaps this is a false dichotomy. I don't think so. When it comes to a primary worldview that shapes how we see things and how we behave day in and day out–the continuum between self-orientation and Gospel-submission means everything. Most of us move along that continuum moment to moment. On my good days, for instance, it's easy for me to live out Ephesians 5:21, "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." On my lesser days, I'm most interested in my felt needs.
Last night at New Vintage Church, I preached about the distinctions between a Gospel-centered and needs-centered marriage based on Ephesians 5:21-6:4. It seems to me we have reached a point in our society where the message of marriage based on submission to Christ has become a prophetic voice from the wilderness rather than an echo of a familiar voice–even in the church. I'm certainly not against acquiring marriage skills or seeking to meet the felt needs of one's spouse. However, what genuinely runs point in a marriage makes all the difference.
Below I have included an excerpt from my manuscript from last night. I don't read my manuscript, so it came out slightly differently last night–but nearly the same as below. I would love to hear your thoughts. The series we're in is called Better: Everday Gospel. The idea is showing how the core gospel collides with everyday life, exposing fake "betters" and offering God's best (Gospel). This excerpt is from an application section of the sermon talking about how the needs-based approach in the hands of people who don't have the Gospel at the center of life still comes up short…and even contributes to the spiritual immaturity of each spouse:
Many of my "needs aren’t actually needs. They are appetites of my flesh that need discipline. Our spouse, by supposedly “meeting those needs,” may in fact be contribute to our continued spiritual immaturity. For instance, I’ve heard many guys express a need for “time with the guys.” Their wives, wanting them to bless them with time with the guys, simply allow their husbands to spend virtually no time at home—especially during the young child years. In so doing, they are contributing to the extended adolescence of their husband and retarding the process of maturation into a more godly man. Other wives may have husbands who contribute to their immaturity by allowing them to brow-beat them verbally and daily into idols created in the image of the husband that meets all of their felt needs—rather than, as God’s man and her Brother in Christ, calling her to righteous speech and her high calling as God’s woman for the sake of the Gospel and abundance of their marriage.
Not every "need" we have is a need. Not every act of meeting those "needs" helps us grow in Christ or ultimately leads to abundance in marriage. Until our deepest need is Christ and His "well done," our needs are but splendidly-dressed idols. If you want a strong, abundant marriage–Jesus can't be Vice-President. He must be Lord.
The husband, if loving His wife as Christ loved the church, will seek first to serve Christ by loving His wife above his own needs. A godly wife will honor, respect, and serve the husband as unto Christ. Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ has always led to better marriages than doing for one another out of reverence for one another’s “needs.”
What about my wife’s needs? Well, because I am called to love her as Christ loved the church and seek to present her as a holy bride before Christ (Ephesians 5:25-26), I don’t reinforce things that harm her spiritually. But, I pour myself out for her as Christ poured himself out for the church. By serving her for Christ’s sake her “needs” are met, she experiences God’s love through me—the one God joined together with her. However, she is not the center of my life. God is. Our children are not the center of our marriage. God is. Our marriage is not the center of our lives—God is.
From my own experience as a married man and minister, I believe one of our biggest obstacles in keeping Christians marriages strong is an overemphasis on needs and technique rather than on Christ as Lord and foundation for all of life. If the foundation is wrong, all the romance and skills in the world won't work. Skills are good. Meeting needs is good. Gospel is better. These aren't mutually exclusive, but neither are they the same. Let's start with the Gospel and move from there to technique, needs, and romance.
Question: What primary issues do you see in marriages today? In what way can the Gospel shine into those issues?