Question: "What should be different about a Christian marriage?"
Answer: The primary difference between a Christian marriage and a non-Christian marriage is that Christ is the center of the marriage. When two people are united in Christ, their goal is to grow in Christlikeness throughout the life of the marriage. Non-Christians may have many goals for their marriage, but Christlikeness is not one of them. This is not to say that all Christians, when they marry, immediately begin to work toward this goal. Many young Christians don’t even realize this actually is the goal, but the presence of the Holy Spirit within each of them works with them, maturing each one so that the goal of Christlikeness becomes increasingly clear to them. When both partners make becoming more like Christ their individual goal, a strong, vibrant Christian marriage begins to take shape.
A Christian marriage begins with the understanding that the Bible gives a clear description of the roles of husband and wife—found primarily in Ephesians 5—and a commitment to fulfilling those roles. The husband is to assume leadership in the home (Ephesians 5:23-26). This leadership should not be dictatorial, condescending, or patronizing to the wife, but should be in accordance with the example of Christ leading the church. Christ loved the church (His people) with compassion, mercy, forgiveness, respect, and selflessness. In this same way husbands are to love their wives.
Wives are to submit to their husbands “as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22), not because they are to be subservient to them, but because both husband and wife are to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21) and because there is to be an authority structure within the home, with Christ at the head (Ephesians 5:23-24). Respect is a key element of the desire to submit; wives must respect their husbands as husbands are to love their wives (Ephesians 5:33). Mutual love, respect, and submission are the cornerstone of a Christian marriage. Built upon these three principles, both husband and wife will grow in Christlikeness, growing together, not apart, as each matures in godliness.
Another key component in a Christian marriage is selflessness, as described in Philippians 2:3-4. The principle of humility outlined in these verses is crucial to a strong Christian marriage. Both husband and wife must consider their partner’s needs before their own, which requires a selflessness that is only possible by the power of the Holy Spirit who indwells them. Humility and selflessness do not come naturally to the fallen human nature. They are traits only the Spirit of God can produce, nurture, and perfect in us. That’s why strong Christian marriages are characterized by the spiritual disciplines—Bible study, Scripture memory, prayer, and meditation on the things of God. When both partners practice these disciplines, each is strengthened and matured, which naturally strengthens and matures the marriage.