“‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they two shall become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”
Ephesians 5:31, 32
Spiritual Intimacy is all about having a strong commitment to Christ as the centerpiece of marriage (Ephesians 2:20). Together and individually, husband and wife actively pursue a deep relationship with Christ. With a shared faith and worldview, a couple can tackle challenges and seek God’s guidance together. In a thriving marriage, couples participate in spiritual practices together and their goal is to become more like Christ, both as individuals and as a couple.
To say this another way, the couples who have the best chance of going the distance in marriage are those who regard Jesus as Lord of their relationship and the unseen Ruler and Master of their home. Experts agree that this common spiritual commitment is a strong predictor of marital success and longevity.
Why should this be so? And what are some things you can do to shore up the spiritual foundations of your marriage? Answers to these questions fall into the following four categories:
The miracle of marriage
Male and female. Two in one. This, according to Scripture, is what marriage is all about. The union represented here may be one of the greatest miracles in all of creation. But it’s also something more. For in addition to everything else marriage means for a man and a woman, it has a deep spiritual significance – an eternal and cosmic significance, if you will. At the very highest level, it functions as an unparalleled working image of the seeking and saving Love of our Creator and Savior – the Love that compels Him to unite Himself to His people in a mystical bond of eternal fellowship and never-ending interpersonal give and take.
This is why the apostle Paul says that the mystery of marriage is, at its core, a picture of the relationship between Christ and His church (Ephesians 5:32). As we’ve seen elsewhere, the writers of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation consistently refer to the husband-wife relationship when they want to help us understand the dealings of God with man. Couples who grasp this idea and really believe it are able to approach their marriages from an entirely new perspective. They learn to view their relationship as a total partnership – a one-flesh union within which spouses cultivate intimacy and interpersonal communication at every level.
Note that this does not mean that “secular” or “spiritually mixed” marriages are “second-rate” in any way. Marriage is God’s gift to all mankind. Accordingly, a Buddhist or Muslim marriage is every bit as valid as a marriage between two Christians. Nevertheless, we are convinced that it is only “in Christ” that marriage can reach its full potential. What’s more, we would suggest that in a purely practical sense, marriages lacking this shared spiritual foundation are at a serious disadvantage. The absence of a common faith represents a serious gap in any couple’s relationship.
Just as it can be a struggle to build physical, emotional and relational intimacy in your marriage, many couples discover that it’s tough to be spiritually intimate with each other. The reasons for this are similar to the reasons why it’s difficult to build intimacy in other areas: limited time, a too-busy lifestyle, the demands of childrearing, career, and yes, even church. It’s hard to find just a few minutes for personal prayer and Bible reading on a regular basis, let alone take time to pray or study Scripture with your spouse!
The bottom line is that, just like cultivating romance with your beloved, fostering spiritual growth — both individually and in your marriage — takes discipline and intentionality. It won’t just “happen” automatically. This is what Paul had in mind when he urged Timothy, “Be diligent to present yourself approved of God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly diving the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15), and when he told the Thessalonians to “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
It may sound daunting, but in the final analysis it’s simply a question of inviting God into your everyday routine. As Brother Lawrence put it, “Our sanctification depends not on changing our works, but in doing that for Jesus’ sake that which commonly we do for our own” (The Practice of the Presence of God).
Diversity in unity
As we’ve been saying, marriage is about something more than two people living and getting along under the same roof. It’s supposed to be a reflection of the Love that guides and directs the motion of the entire universe – the Love of Christ, who came to “serve and give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Couples who share this understanding stand the best chance of experiencing the joys of marriage at their fullest.
This doesn’t mean, of course, that your spiritual journey has to be exactly the same as your spouse’s. Nor does it imply that the two of you will always prefer the same styles of worship or derive the same degree of benefit from different types of study or different forms of prayer. God has given to each individual a unique spiritual temperament, and we can’t hope to serve Him with integrity if we don’t remain true to ourselves. A healthy marriage is one in which spouses are free to affirm these differences and to learn from each other as they grow together towards the common goal of becoming more like Jesus. It’s a matter of learning to become one in Christ alone; “For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation” (Ephesians 2:14).
“Christian” vs. “Christ-centered”
This leads to one last thought. When we’re talking about spiritual intimacy, it’s crucial to make a distinction between a marriage that simply involves two Christians and a genuinely Christ-centered marriage. A Christ-centered marriage is a marriage in which both partners actively acknowledge the presence and the authority of Christ, and where Jesus makes an observable difference in their lives. It’s a three-cornered relationship that places God at the apex of the triangle. When this perspective isn’t present—when couples don’t express their shared faith in practical terms by praying together, studying Scripture together, worshiping together, and reaching out to others together in Jesus’ name—there can be no real intersection of two lives at the deepest level of the heart. Therefore, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17).
Questions for Discussion
- What are some practical steps we can take to cultivate spiritual intimacy at the heart of our marriage?
- Who is the one person in your life who has been most influential in shaping your view of God?
- What have you been learning during your times of personal prayer and Scripture reading? What have been some recent sermons that impacted you at church?
- How can I pray for you?