“When I engage in marriage counseling,” writes Ernie Baker, “I often say to the couple, ‘Good marriages do not just happen, they are made to happen.’ In other words, relationships require investment. What qualities should you invest in to make your relationship beautiful? We find the answer in Colossians 3:12–14:
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
Here the apostle exhorts us to put our faith into action by “putting on” eight Christlike character traits which should govern our relationship with one another, even when that relationship is under intense pressure. [We will consider the first four today and the next four tomorrow.]
Paul tells us that we need to be tenderhearted toward one another, just as God has been toward us. Matthew uses this word “compassion” to describe Jesus’s response to the crowds: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). Jesus was deeply moved by the needs of the people in a distressing situation. Are you compassionate toward your spouse? Or is the opposite true? The opposite of compassion is hardness, maybe showing condemnation instead of mercy, or being aloof, uncaring, rather than merciful. Do you see what this might do to your relationship? The situation you find yourselves in is already hard enough; do not make it worse by withdrawing from your spouse and becoming hardened toward him or her. It often helps me to be tender toward others if I ask myself how I would like to be treated if I were in a similar situation (see Matthew 7:12).
Next, Paul presents kindness, and this is how God relates to us in salvation. We deserved wrath for our sin, but he was kind instead. Paul elsewhere talks of “the immeasurable riches of [God’s] grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7). The opposite of kindness is harshness, maybe even meanness. What would you say is the climate of your home—kindness or harshness? If it is harshness, what is your responsibility in changing it? On the other hand, what could you do to show kindness?
Our Lord was lowly of mind. Instead of standing up for his rights, he was willing to be humbled. This word “humility,” however, captures more than humble actions; it is a disposition of putting others first. In Philippians 2, Paul describes Jesus’s humility beautifully: Though he was in the form of God, [Jesus] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant . . .(2:6–7)
In the verse directly before this, Paul instructs us to “have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (2:5). These characteristics define the spirit of a home. Will you be someone who stands up for his or her rights, or are you willing to put yourself second? If you are willing, because of your relationship with the Lord, to be a compassionate, kind, servant, your marriage will be more stable because of you. Consider this: it is hard to fight with this type of person! Is there a difficult task related to the care of your child or family member that you could carry out to show your desire to follow the Lord’s example of humble servanthood?
The original word in Greek that Paul uses here is sometimes translated “meekness” and is another characteristic of Jesus. The God of the universe was meek and gentle: what an amazing thought! Paul underlines this in 2 Corinthians 10:1 when he entreats his readers “by the meekness and gentleness of Christ.” The opposite of this beautiful character trait is an aggressive, domineering loudness that suppresses others, or unbridled strength. Are there ways this is coming out in your home? Consider this: When are you most tempted toward lack of gentleness? What could you do to respond differently?
Tomorrow, we will consider four more character traits.
[Excerpted from HELP! Disability Pressures Our Marriage by Ernie Baker.]