Next year, my wife and I will celebrate ten years of marriage. During those ten years, my marriage has had the most influence in my walk with Christ. I don’t think that’s by accident; I think it’s part of God’s design. Marriage is a picture of the gospel. When Paul gives instructions to husbands and wives in Ephesians 5, he peels back the curtain and reveals the meaning behind marriage. “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32, ESV).

Marriage is about Jesus. Marriage is an illustration of the Bible’s story of “God choosing a wife for his Son—and, astonishingly, choosing wretched sinners like us to be that bride, and so to enjoy his marvellous grace. Our happy marriage to Christ is the goal of history; and every earthly marriage, whether as a beautiful comparison or an ugly contrast, is a powerful reminder of it.”[i]

Since marriage reveals Christ in this way, it ought to help married couples see and treasure Jesus more. We should be more mature Christians ten years after we say, “I do.” To say marriage is all about discipleship is an overstatement. To say that healthy marriages help husbands and wives follow Jesus is Biblical truth. As I’ve reflected on my marriage, I’ve seen four primary ways marriage has trained me to grow as a disciple of Jesus. 

Marriage Trains Us to Surrender to Jesus

In Colossians 2, Paul describes the Christian life as a walk under the Lordship of Jesus. “So then, just as you have received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to walk in him” (Colossians 2:6). Maturing disciples learn to surrender every area of life to Jesus. Marriage may be one place where the Lordship of Jesus cuts most against the grain of our culture. We are not free to decide the meaning of marriage or dictate what the relationship between husbands and wives must be. Since Jesus is Lord over all things, our marriage is under his good authority.

Paul applies the Lordship of Jesus to marriage in Colossians 3:18-19 saying, “Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and don’t be bitter toward them.” Even among many of my complementarian friends, submission and leadership in marriage is a messy topic. It comes with the baggage of being poorly applied to minimize wives as mere handmaidens to their “god-like” husbands. That’s not how Paul works out the husband-and-wife relationship.

In Ephesians 5, his conversation on marriage is part of a larger section about walking in Christ (Ephesians 4:1). Marriage is one of the many spheres of life he brings under the authority of Christ, calling them to do it as “pleasing to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:10). So, when Paul says, “Wives, submit, to your husbands as to the Lord” and “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her”, he is calling both spouses to surrender to Christ (Ephesians 5:22, 25). Wives submit to Christ in submitting to their husbands, and husbands submit to Christ in loving their wives with the same self-sacrificing and unending love of Christ. Marriage trains us to die to ourselves and delight in the Lordship and leadership of Jesus.

Marriage Trains Us to Be Co-Laborers in God’s Work.

When God created people, He gave them work to do. “God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth”” (Genesis 1:28). This work requires partnership. When Genesis 2 describes Eve’s creation, God describes her as a helper. “Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper corresponding to him”” (Genesis 2:18). Adam alone could never do the work God gives to humanity. He needed a partner, a co-laborer, to fulfill the God-given task. 

The concept of partnership is crucial for Christian maturity. God doesn’t hire independent contractors, rather, He calls believing communities to partner for the sake of the gospel. Paul’s desire to go to Spain required the partnership of the church in Rome: “But now I no longer have any work to do in these regions, and I have strongly desired for many years to come to you whenever I travel to Spain. For I hope to see you when I pass through and to be assisted by you for my journey there, once I have first enjoyed your company for a while” (Romans 15:23-24). 

While working with others is necessary, it won’t come naturally. Believing in the value of co-laboring and committing to gospel partnerships requires training. Marriage is not the only way to learn how to partner with others, but unlike anything else in my life, marriage has taught me the necessity and beauty of co-laboring for the gospel. Nothing has revealed my self-dependence like trying to raise children and maintaining a home together with my wife. God revealed my weaknesses many times and I’m sure He will again. I need those lessons to learn that I can’t be a “lone wolf”. In Christ, I am one of many co-laborers for Christ. 

Marriage Trains Us to Be Lifelong Learners

The family is a learning institution. We see this early in Genesis as God says of Abraham, “For I have chosen him so that he will command his children and his house after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just” (Genesis 18:19). God chose Abraham to train his family in what is good. Later in Deuteronomy, Moses instructs families, “These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them be a symbol on your forehead., Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your city gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9). They littered their homes with God’s Word to learn of His character. A family is a place of learning. The formation of godliness and the fortifications of faith begin at home.

The expectation of learning is not just for children, but for spouses as well. A bad application of this truth is placing husbands exclusively as teachers and wives exclusively as students (or research assistants). Husbands are called by God to be the shepherd leaders of their families. Leadership, though, does not mean being the expert with all the answers. Forcing your wife to attend your living room theology lectures is poor leadership. Husbands don’t lead by force, but by grace. There is nothing unbiblical or threatening in your marriage if your wife is more theologically sharp than you are. Praise God for such women. 

You can lead by making more space in her life to engage with the scriptures. Take the kids so she can join the mid-week Bible study at your church, or do the laundry so she can have 30 more minutes to read the Bible. You can lead by having theologically-rich conversations together. Ask her what God is teaching her and actually listen to what she says. Learn from her. Learn to understand your wife so that you can do all you can to nourish her by the Word of God (1 Peter 3:7; Ephesians 5:26). Marriage helps us follow Jesus because God made the family a learning institution. 

Marriage Trains Us to Count Others as More Significant than Ourselves

James and John asked Jesus something that made everyone else upset. They asked, “Allow us to sit at your right and at your left in your glory” (Mark 10:37). This angered the other disciples, but for the wrong reason. They wanted those seats. 

Jesus takes this opportunity to correct them and reveal a key to following Him. “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions act as tyrants over them. But it is not so among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you will be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you will be a slave to all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-45).

Following Jesus demands sacrificial service, not chasing greatness. The greatest are not people in high places with important titles, but people with humble hearts. People who share His heart and “do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). 

This humble, other-centered serving is key for a healthy marriage. God says, “This is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Marriage demands dying to self-serving pursuits of greatness and becoming one with another person. Marriage demands a joyful humility by putting the needs and happiness of our spouse ahead of ourselves. 

The mundane things in marriage train us to adopt the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:5), and live to serve, not to be served. Taking out the trash, buying new appliances, painting the basement, and cooking dinner are training grounds for putting someone else’s needs ahead of ourselves. I thought I was a selfless person before I got married. It only took a month or two to shatter my self-assessment. Marriage, by God’s grace, revealed selfishness which I couldn’t see and allowed me to confess and kill it. 

God will use your marriage to bring hidden sins to light. We should expect and treasure this because it is an act of love. “If we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). God uses marriage to expose hidden sin so that He can cleanse our heart and train us to reflect the character of Christ. Marriage trains us to count others as more significant than ourselves. 


Marriage is not necessary for discipleship. If it were, every Christian would need to get married, but that is not the case (1 Corinthians 7). Yet, for those who are married or will be married, their marriage is indispensable to their walk with Christ. 

The ways marriage has discipled me over the last ten years are not accidental. In His providence, God is using my marriage to grow me up in Christ. It has been an important training ground for sharpening my faith, killing my sin, and revealing the glories of Christ. 


[i] Richard Coekin, Ephesians for You, ed. Carl Laferton, God’s Word for You (The Good Book Company, 2015), 175.

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