Faithlife Corporation

The Leaden Rule in Marriage

Notes & Transcripts


We are beginning this series on marriage with a short introductory series on why teaching on marriage frequently does no good at all. The first reason we considered was discontent, because discontented people are unteachable. The second stumbling block is our tendency to trust in the letter of the law, instead of trusting in the Spirit of God. This leads to death, even if the “law” concerned is made up of a great deal of good advice about marriage. And we now come to the third major hindrance, which is the temptation to “fix the other one first.”


Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets (Matt. 7: 12).


This fundamental orientation that the Lord requires of us is commonly called the Golden Rule. The Lord teaches that we should take whatever we desire to have done for us, and then to use that as the guide and standard for how we undertake to treat others. Moreover, He tells us that this is the law and the prophets—i.e. that this sums up what God requires of us in all our dealings with others.


Our problem is this. The husband knows what verses his wife ought to be heeding, and if we were to ask her, she would probably be able to point out the passages that he is neglecting. In short, we neglect the fundamental biblical demeanor of Christian living when it comes to marriage. In other words, a man needs to remember that his wife is his neighbor.  A wife needs to understand that her husband is her neighbor. To love our neighbor as ourselves is another summary of the law and the prophets (Matt. 22:38-40). To love our wife as we love ourselves is the apostle Paul’s profound application of this same basic principle to a man’s treatment of his wife (Eph. 5:28-29). Note that the general principle for all Christian demeanor does in fact apply to marriage. How could it not?

All of us are called to love our neighbor as ourselves. The responsibility all of us have as Christians to put the interests of the other person first is a universal responsibility. And this means a godly Christian man is of necessity going to be a godly Christian husband. A godly Christian woman is going to be a godly Christian wife. But when it comes to marriage, far too many Christians believe they have the right to be rude, thoughtless, tacky, bitter, demanding, or angry—as though marital closeness eradicated all responsibility to live as a civil human being. When called on this, we defend ourselves by saying that the other one is not obeying the Golden Rule. “She started it. He won’t listen.” But to point this out (and in some cases, even to see it) is a violation of the Golden Rule. The rule is not to “do unto others as you imagine they are doing unto you.”

Many marriages are in a bad way because an assumption is made that good marriages can somehow be separated from a basic godly demeanor throughout the course of our lives. And as long as this particular disobedience is there, the words of life in marriage will just bounce off all husbands and wives—like a ping pong ball off the forehead of a bronze statue.


Another problem is this. Rather than live in the high mountain air of the Golden Rule, mankind has sought out many devices. We alter the words of the Lord, with some of the alterations being just as true, although adjusted a tad lower. For example, there is a difference between “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and “Do not do unto others what you do not want done unto you.” The latter is just fine, and is biblical as far as it goes, but the former expression involves considerably more. You don’t want to be murdered, so don’t murder. But this, by itself, is a low bar.

Husbands Taking Trouble:

In this regard, C.S. Lewis once commented that men think that love means not giving trouble to others, while women think that it means taking trouble for others. In this difference, the women have the advantage—but even this can go off the rails. “So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church” (Eph. 5:28-29). Note what St. Paul is basically saying here. “Husbands, take trouble. Take time. Nourish. Cherish. Sacrifice. Die.” Too many husbands imitate a Christ who never took on flesh, who stayed in heaven, leaving us alone. But this is not what Christ did. The Lord Jesus took on flesh, and took trouble. 


If husbands underachieve here, wives frequently overachieve. Deep within every wife lurks the heart of a missionary and reformer. The basic orientation of wives is generally healthy; wives are geared to taking trouble for others, and this is the biblical definition of love. But the point of wisdom here is to learn where the brakes are. There is such a thing as excess here. Lewis also mentions women who lived for others—and you could tell who those others were by their hunted expression.


A godly marriage does not consist of this communication technique or that one. A godly marriage occurs when a man and a woman both die to themselves, and are raised to the life that seeks the best interest of the other in all things. This is the only kind of godly marriage there is. But in giving all away in this way, we discover that we receive all. We learn to give in order to receive, in order to be able to give some more. And we are married to someone who is doing the same thing.


Jesus taught us a wonderful way of living that has been called the Golden Rule.


Review Question:

What should we look at in the Bible?

            We should look to God, and not at the page.


Catechism Question:

What is the Golden Rule?

            Think about what we would like to get, and then give that away.

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