Service in Marriage: The Uncomfortable Command II

Last week (back before the flu came for a visit) we submitted this post which gave you the justification for humble service within a marriage. Today we’d like to finish up with some thoughts about how to change our thinking when it comes to serving your spouse.

If you’ve ever inwardly groaned when your spouse asks for help then you know how difficult it is to serve your mate out of sacrificial love. Or, If you’ve ever been guilty of something like looking at a sink full of dirty dishes and thinking “I wonder when she’s going to get to those?” or noticing that the oil in the car needs changing and thinking “He’d better take this to the dealership soon!” then you know how easy it is to overlook opportunities to serve. As much as we’d like it to be, sacrificial service just doesn’t become second nature. Rather, serving your spouse requires a daily resolution to follow Christ’s example by humbly serving those closest to you.

With that thought in mind, I want to look into Philippians 2. In it we are reminded of how Christ, who had every right as God to act as God, gave up this prerogatives and submitted to his Father. This submission takes him from exercising his rights as God to serving men as a man. Then, staggeringly, the humility of Christ leads him to the death that he died for people who hated him—for you and me (Phil 2:5–8).


This is glorious servanthood.  Our worshipful response to this astonishing display of humility and exaltation is absolutely warranted. Still, it is not uncommon for us to miss the true applicational point of Philippians 2. We listen, but become forgetful hearers. The passages says, quite clearly, “have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5). Thus, though we are quick to worship Christ with our lips, our heart-level motivations and consequent actions remain unaffected. We worship Christ as the exalted savior, but refuse to emulate him as the humbled man.

So what are the motivations of our hearts? We don’t have the mind of Christ, because we have instead another mind. We have a mind made up of selfish ambition and conceit (Phil 2:3) which causes us to look after ourselves first and, if they’re lucky, our spouses second (Phil 2:4).

“Selfish ambition” refers to a strong desire to do or to achieve something for yourself—for your comfort and ease, for your pleasure, for your consumption, for your advantage. Can you see how this will play out in your marriage and other close relationships? The antidote to this mindset is having instead a “strong desire” to do or to achieve something for another! (Phil 2:4)

“Conceit” refers to exaggerated self-evaluation. In other words, you look at yourself in a distorted mirror. You overplay your strengths and underplay your weaknesses. The antidote to conceit is humility. When comparisons are made, you are to count others as “better” than yourself. Why? For the same reason that Jesus did. Jesus counted us as worthy to be served because in doing so he would be serving God the Father who is supremely worthy to be served. There is no room for conceit in front of God, only humble service.

This lends itself to two general applications:

Wives, you should be servants to your husbands. But you are not called to serve because of all those passages that talk about submission. Rather, you are called to serve your husband because you are first a servant of Jesus Christ. And just as Jesus put the interests of the world over his own interests, you must put your husband’s interests over your own. Learn to be that strong helper (Gen 2:18) who comes alongside her husband, sees his needs, and joyfully (not grudgingly) seeks to serve him.

Husbands, you should be servants to your wives. Many of you, because of selfish ambition and conceit, have twisted the headship passages and have supposed them to mean something other than “servant leadership.” The headship of Christ is one that runs to protect and provide for his wife whatever the cost. You servanthood to her is the mode in which your leadership should be expressed. This is because you are servants of Jesus. Don’t let conceit reign in your hearts, rather count your wife as more significant than yourself.

Humble service will be uncomfortable. It will require the daily silencing of that selfish part of your heart that whispers, “You deserve better. You shouldn’t have to do this.”  But just as Christ chose to honor and glorify his father through 33 years of uncomfortable humanity we can chose to set aside our own wants and needs and lovingly serve others. We can learn to follow the example of our King, and became a servant.


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