First, let me say that knowing this verse won’t change your marriage. Even memorizing this verse won’t change your marriage. Using it like a club over your mate, definitely, won’t change your marriage … not even praying it will do it!
Don’t misunderstand me. I believe in praying the Scriptures and this verse (actually two verses to be more precise) would be a great passage to pray for your marriage and other relationships, but it can’t stop there.
And I believe it’s important to know the Word of God. The Scriptures were given by God, in part, to teach us how to have good relationships, beginning with our relationship with God Himself.
16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3.16-17, NASB)
It not only teaches us, but it reproves us … shows us where we’re going wrong, corrects us … shows us how to get it right, and trains us so we can make godly living a lifestyle.
I, also, believe this would be a great verse to share with your spouse as something the two of you could work on together, though, we need to be sure we’re taking the logs out of our own eyes before we try to tell someone else where they’re going wrong (Matt. 7.3-5).
I believe in memorizing Scripture. Psalm 119.11 says, “Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You.”
But James tells us that we must be doers of the Word if we want to be blessed in what we do.
22 But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. 25 But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does. (Jas. 1.22-25, NASB)
So what is this verse that has the potential to change your marriage forever?
3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (NIV)
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or vain conceit.” This speaks to our heart attitudes and motives.
Almost anyone can prefer another person for a season. If you don’t believe me, think back to your dating relationship with your spouse. Think about other people you know who are dating right now. When we’re dating we’re usually all about doing what the other person wants to do!
But what is our motive? It’s often because we’re trying to win the other person. We want him or her to think well of us, to want to be with us. Our motives are inherently selfish and once we have what we want, we continue living out of the same motivation…selfishness! Only now it looks different.
Many a wife has said, “What happened to the man I married?” Paul Tripp says, “This is the man you married. The one you dated, he was a fake!” And husbands can say the same thing.
It’s not that we intend to be a fake. It’s just the nature of most dating relationships, because we’re focused on getting what we want … the other person. Now that we have won him or her, there’s no longer the same incentive. So gradually, the woman who was willing to watch football or go camping, no longer wants to. The man who was willing to go shopping or to the theater now wants to stay home and watch TV.
¹ What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures (Jas. 4.1-3).
Where do our fights and quarrels come from? Our desires! It’s about what we want. We do what we do … we act like we act … because we want what we want!
That Nasty “P” Word
What about the next phrase? “Vain conceit.” Pride. How many of our actions and attitudes come out of a prideful heart?
It’s pride that makes us want to be right. Pride that makes us want the last word. Pride that makes us refuse to admit when we’re wrong and it, certainly, keeps us from apologizing and asking for forgiveness.
It’s pride that makes us believe we deserve to have our way and makes us fearful that if we give in, we’ll get taken advantage of.
The next phrase says, “Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.”
Someone is thinking, “Do you expect me to just be a doormat?!” The problem is, I didn’t write that verse, God did. And James warns us that we can either humble ourselves or God will humble us (Jas. 4.6-10).
Putting the Other Person First
Finally, “not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
This is the practical application-oriented part of this passage. God is calling us to quit being selfish and worrying about “what’s in it for me?” He wants us to let go of our pride and fear that we’ll get the short end of the stick. He wants us to get focused on loving our spouse as Christ loves us … to put him or her first!
What would your marriage look like if you always preferred your spouse? What would it look like if you quit trying to have your own way or to win every argument? What if you decided to take God at His Word and love your spouse radically?
23 Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. 24 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it (Lk. 9.23-24).
And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20.35).
What if the next time your spouse says, “Where do you want to have dinner?” you chose his or her favorite restaurant? What if you went shopping when you didn’t feel like it? Wives, what if you sat beside your husband while he watched the game even though you have a million things to do? What if you gave up on a Saturday what you really want to do?
Does it mean, your spouse will immediately get on board and prefer you, as well? Not always, but that doesn’t let us off the hook. We are called to live life God’s way no matter what our circumstances. God’s Word is not a book of divine suggestions. It’s God’s instructions for life.
We are called to sacrificial living, not just in our marriages, but in all of life, to prefer others as more important than ourselves, to overcome evil with good (Rom. 12.21), and to love as only God can enable us to love.
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