Copyright © Rosemary Bardsley 2004

We have already looked at the command that we are to love our 'neighbour' and identified that our marriage partner is our closest neighbour. This command defines God's expectation of every human being. When we come to the New Testament, not only do we see this command reaffirmed by Jesus, but we also see a fine-tuning of its meaning for those who know the Lord Jesus.

  • He commanded those who follow him: 'Love one another' [John 13:34,35; 15:17]
  • The New Testament writers repeat this command to love our fellow Christians: [Romans 12:9-10; 13:8; 1 Thess 3:12; 4:9; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 3:11.23; 4:7,11,12; 2John 5]

But Jesus did not leave it there. He fine-tuned and defined the kind of love he expects of us even further:

  • 'Love one another as I have loved you' [John 13:34; 15:12]

This 'as I have loved you' encapsulates the whole of the Redemption, Regeneration, Reconciliation factor. Its significance for our marriages cannot be measured. If Jesus expects us to love other believers as he loved us , how much more does he expect us to love our marriage partners as he loved us ? This command allows us no room to love other believers but treat our marriage partner with contempt.

Here we confronted with the question: just how did Jesus love us? In what way, in what measure, with what conditions, with what qualifications? Because it is this same kind of love, this same extent of love that he commands of us. It is in this study that we will understand how we are to put into practice the implications of our Redemption, Regeneration and Reconciliation.


Jesus loves us with his eyes open. He knows, even better than we ourselves know, that we are sinners who sin. He doesn't wait for us to be perfect, or even to improve, before he loves us. He doesn't stop loving us, or change his love, when we fail.

Write out the phrases from the verses that describe our condition when Jesus loved us. Discuss the implications of this fact for your responsibility to love your marriage partner as Jesus loved you.
Word of phrase

Romans 5:6




Romans 5:8




Romans 5:10




Ephesians 2:4,5




People knew they were loved by Jesus. In fact the sinners knew it far better than the 'righteous'. The presence of sin did not cause change or alteration in Christ's love or in his expression of that love.

The challenge:
During the past week ... have you loved as Jesus loved you? Or ...

Have you changed your attitude to your partner because of something he/she did that offended you?




Have you been grumpy with your partner because you are angry about something?




Have you been hard to get on with because your partner did not agree with you about something?




Have you punished your partner by refusing sexual intercourse?




Have verbally misused your partner in a way you never would another Christian?




Have you deliberately generated guilt or shame in your partner?




Have you made it clear that you wish your partner would hurry up and become perfect?




DANGER ZONE: A 'yes' answer indicates a failure to love your marriage partner as Jesus loves you.


Paul has left us with two clear statements:

Ephesians 4:32 : 'Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.'

Colossians 3:13 : 'Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.'

If these two verses were obeyed in the context of marriage most of our difficulties in our marriages would be manageable and the rate of separation and divorce in Christian marriages would plummet. It is no use our excusing ourselves and saying these verses are not speaking about the marriage relationship. They are talking about how we should treat one another, including our marriage partner.

Discuss the information below. In the right hand column list personal notes on ways to love your partner with this kind of love ... this love that God loves us with.


The Greek word is 'chrestoi'. This is the word Jesus used in Matthew 11:30: 'my yoke is easy'. It means: gentle, benign, obliging, gracious, agreeable. It is the opposite to: hard, harsh, sharp, bitter.



Sometimes translated 'tender-hearted' the word 'eusplangnon' literally means 'good (or beautiful) bowels. [The Hebrews saw the bowels, not the heart, as the seat of emotion.] To be compassionate is to be moved towards the other person, from the depths of one's being, with a strong, good (beautiful), tender feeling towards them. Christ's feeling towards people in need was 'he was moved with compassion.'


'forgiving each other'


'forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another'

The verb used here is 'charizomai' which means to grant as a free, unconditional favour. It comes from the root 'charis' which means 'grace', which in turn is related to the word 'chairo', to rejoice or be full of joy. Thus, forgiving is graciously, joyfully, unconditionally choosing to not pay a person out for their offences against us. It is also to be on-going 'forgiv ing' – present and continuing.


'just as in Christ God forgave you'


'as the Lord forgave you'

God's once-for-all (the verb is in the Aorist Tense) forgiving my sin in and through the death of Christ is both the measure and the model of how he expects me to forgive others. It is without limit. It is without condition. It is permanent. It is comprehensive. No sin is beyond it. No sin is excluded by it. Indeed, forgiveness is something we possess, something we have [Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14]. The believer lives in the presence of God in a state of perpetual forgiveness.


'Bear with each other'

The word means to put up with, to endure patiently. This assumes that we are imperfect, that we are sinners who sin, that we will do things that annoy, frustrate, hurt or anger each other. This phrase forbids us to retaliate in any way when we are offended. [Note the previous verse – Col. 3:12 – it assumes that in living with each other we will need 'compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience' – things we would not need to be commanded if the other person was perfect!



Neither we nor our marriage partners are perfect. We are both sinners who sin. What are we supposed to do, how are we supposed to respond, in the presence of our partner's sins and weaknesses, including their struggles with the effects of the Sin Factor – their self-image problems, their inhibitions, their fears? Are we to condemn, to deride, to criticize, to act superior because we ourselves have 'victory' in a particular area where they don't, to barrage them with a tirade of insensitive tongue-bashing?

Jesus Christ carried our sins.

  • Even though it meant ridicule.
  • Even though it meant he was misunderstood.
  • Even though it meant public disgrace.
  • Even though it meant suffering.
  • Even though it meant separation from his Father.

Paul wrote:

Philippians 2:4ff: 'Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus ... who made himself nothing ... and ... humbled himself.'

Romans 15:1-3: 'We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbour for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”'

Galatians 6:1-2: 'Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.'

How would it help your relationship with your marriage partner, and how would it help you personally, if you knew that your marriage partner: [ See Additional Note #13]

Was not going to criticize, condemn or pay you out when you made a mistake or even sinned?


Was sympathetic and understanding of your weaknesses, and doing their best to help and encourage you?


Would not give you a bad time when you had embarrassed or let him/her down in public?



Was committed to never haul you over the coals because you were a 'bad Christian'?



Understood how you were struggling with the impacts of the Sin Factor, and would ease your burden in every way possible?


Accepted the fact that you are a sinner who sins, rather than expecting you to be perfect?



Write out a personal commitment to be to your marriage partner a partner who is fulfilling this law of Christ - this bearing your partner's burdens modelled on the sin-bearing, substitutionary death of Christ.





 D. SUBMITTING TO ONE ANOTHER [ See Additional Note #14]

We come now to Ephesians 5:15-33. Here we need to keep in mind that the husband-wife passage flows on directly from, and is an example of the kind of lifestyle commanded in, Ephesians 5:15-21 where we find a number of contrasts:

15 Be unwise Be careful and wise
17 Be foolish Understand what the will of the Lord is
18 Get drunk on wine Be filled with the Spirit

We then have (in the Greek) five present participles expressing what will happen in the lives of those who allow themselves to be controlled by God's Spirit day by day, moment by moment:

  • They will be speaking to each other in 'psalms, hymns and spiritual songs': in other words, they will be so impacted by God's truth that they can't stop talking about it.
  • They will be singing and making music in their hearts: that is, they will be filled and overflowing with a deep-set joy.
  • They always will be giving thanks to God for everything in the name of Jesus.
  • They will be submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ .

Note carefully that the 'submitting to one another' command is given to everyone . Paul goes on to describe how this 'submitting to one another' will express itself in the three most common inter-personal relationships. It is as if a husband has said to Paul: 'What does 'submitting to one another' mean for me?' and a wife has said 'What does it mean for me?' And a child, a parent, a boss and an employee all asked the same question. So we are each confronted with this question: what does it mean for me, as husband or a wife, to submit to my marriage partner out of reverence for Christ?

What does this reciprocal 'submitting' to each other mean in the practice for:

A wife in relation to her husband? [5:22-24,33]







A husband in relation to his wife [ 5:25-33]







Here the wife, out of reverence for Christ, jettisons her personal 'rights' in submission to the leadership role God has ordained for the husband; here the husband, out of reverence for Christ, jettisons his personal 'rights' in loving his wife as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. The degree to which each one is able to submit to the other in this way will be paralleled by a reduction of the difficulty the other finds in expressing the same submission.

We must be careful to use this passage in keeping with its original context, as an expression of the Redemption Factor, not as an expression of the Sin Factor. It is meant to help us to 'live a life worthy of our calling' [Eph 4:1], to 'no longer live like the Gentiles' [ 4:17], to 'live a life of love' [5:2], and to 'live as children of light' [5:8] – all expressions of the Redemption we have in Christ. This passage:

  • Is not telling the husband he must demand submission from his wife.
  • Is not telling the wife she must demand sacrificial, Christ-like love from her husband.
  • Is not authorising the husband to verbally, emotionally or physically abuse his wife.
  • Is not telling the wife she has to put up with such abuse from her husband.
  • Is not defining the husband as superior and the wife as inferior.
HOMEWORK TASK: During the week identify ways in which you can submit to one another in terms of Ephesians 5:15-33. Also look out for sinful perversions of these commands.