Protocols for Managing Christian Martial Relationships

Some years ago we were on vacation in Florida and attended Sunday worship at a church of our denomination that was pastored by one of my former students. We arrived little early (I was not sure of the location and I don’t like to be late). As we walked into the narthex the pastor greeted us. After a brief visit he asked, “Would you be willing to teach Sunday School today?” I agreed and he suggested I teach a class of mostly young medical professionals. So, I found a quiet corner, prayed and sought the direction of the Holy Spirit. I taught a class earlier in the year on the Apostle Paul’s one another commands. As I prayed the thought occurred to me that we could do a brief overview in this class of medical professionals picking up on a word with which they were very familiar. Thus, out of that experience grew a series of lessons in which we look at these one another passages as God’s Protocols for Christian Marriage Relationships.

This introductory blog will be the first in a series of fifteen essays that develop this concept. This first essay will develop the rationale. Those that follow will explicate the application of Paul’s instruction one passage at a time.

I began that Sunday School class in this manner. “I would like to suggest this morning that God provides a set of protocols for human relationships in a manner similar to the medical profession’s use of protocols for the treatment of disease. We all are infected with the disease of sin. By his substitionary atonement death on the cross followed by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ provided an effective remedy for all who by grace receive the free gift of salvation (Eph 2:8-9). However, though we become a new creation at the moment that free gift is accepted (II Cor 5:17) and we are no longer slaves to sin (Rom 6:1-7) [that is we are now able not to sin at any given moment], we are nonetheless engaged in a spiritual warfare that continues throughout life (I John 1:8).

I would conclude that the more intimate a relationship the more intensely these protocols must be followed in order to sustain a harmony. These protocols are presented in the New Testament as the manner in which believers in the body of Christ should treat one another. These protocols apply to all Christians in all relationships. Since marriage is the most intimate of all relationships, it follows that these protocols must be meticulously followed in marriage. The following is a brief account of two couples from my college years. They demonstrate the contrast of couples who live and don’t live by these protocols in their relationships.

Jim and Jane met their senior year in college. During the first week of the fall semester they were providentially thrust together and talked for an hour and a half. Later that day Jim asked a friend if he knew Jane. The friend responded positively and indicated that he was thinking about dating her. Jim beat him to the punch and asked her to attend church with him the next Sunday. She accepted. After church he walked her home. Later that afternoon they worked together in a service project. While working together, Jim asked if she would like to join him for dinner. Again she agreed.

Jim quickly learned her class schedule and showed up to walk her to the next class or back to the dorm. Spending time together several occasions each day, they quickly found themselves anticipating the next meeting. At Christmas they each spent time visiting with the other’s family. During that year of courtship, they had one incident in which Jim felt hurt. They talked it out the next day. Though they were on lean budgets, they did find ways of doing nice things for each other. They encouraged each other. When Jim wanted to take on another leadership responsibility, Jane confronted him with the lack of wisdom in doing so. He listened and thanked her. Within several months there was no hesitation to say, “I love you.” It was both a matter of commitment and a matter of feeling.

Tom and Susie began dating about the same time as Jim and Jane. Tom was majoring in business while Jim was a Bible major. The business department and the Bible department had a friendly rivalry. Tom was the business department’s poster boy for a business man who had his spiritual ducks in a row. He played key roles in spiritual campus leadership. However, as the school year rolled on, Jim picked up on the fact that Jane was “putting humpty-dumpy” back together, in the person of Susie, at least once a week. While Tom was leading Bible studies and providing leadership in other spiritual activities he was treating Susie disrespectfully (in today’s language, emotionally abusing her) and crushing her spirit.

Jim and Jane, by God’s grace, took seriously the practical implications of these protocols. Their marriage has thrived now for more than fifty years. Tom and Susie spent a miserable twenty or so years together and then divorced. The Bible speaks many to issues that influence whether or not we live out these protocols. For example in James 4:1-4 the writer identifies that the fact that much of the discord in human relationships, marriage, is the result of our demanding to have our own desires even at the expense of the other, our mate. A lifestyle that is self centered will certainly interdict the choice to live out these protocols which are other oriented. But, this series is not about these issues. It is about recognizing these protocols and by the inward power of the Holy Spirit choosing to exercise them.

Join me over the next fourteen weeks as we consider these protocols one by one.


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