(Adapted from Different by Design by H. Dale Burke)
What is the element that’s so essential to the success of our marriage? Servanthood. Our model is Jesus Christ. By applying servant-love, husbands and wives can be freed to welcome the undiluted blessing of God on their marriage. Nowhere is the lofty desire to serve another person brought more quickly down to earth than in marriage. Nevertheless, the success of a marriage rests heavily on a couple’s ability to put this bit of wisdom into practice. The more intimate the relationship, the more important a servant-spirit becomes. As you read these verses, envision your marriage through this new paradigm for love –
“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil 2:3-4).
It is in the heart – the seat of our intellect, our feelings, and our will – that we invite the Lord of the universe to do that special work which will equip us to launch into a life of service to the one we love. When it comes to living in marriage, what husbands need in themselves and at the center of their marriage union is the heart of a servant. And, yes, the same holds true for wives.
No matter how the husband looks and acts in his role, he’ll only be effective if he has the heart of a servant. Likewise for the wife. A servant’s heart is the prime directive no matter what shape her roles and responsibilities take day by day. To be what God demands, spouses must first be servants. This requirement is at the core of both of their job descriptions. Your goal in serving is to meet the other person’s needs. To do that, you must first identify and understand those needs. Moreover, the servant-lover sees a need and simply does it. It consists of daily little acts that sweeten the relationship a little at a time.
Remember, Jesus the One who did not come to be served but to serve, is the example we need to follow (see Phil 2:5-11). Jesus Christ was both a real man and a servant, the model servant of all time. In His example, we can see that the word servant is not synonymous with terms like fake, wimp, insecure, indecisive, people pleaser, or victim.
To begin to serve, don’t focus first on behavior. Check the attitude that’s driving how you behave. The servant who honors God is real, genuine, authentic, and serving from the heart of humility.
Despite modern misconceptions, being a servant does not mean relegating yourself to a position of weakness. As a servant, you operate from a position of strength because you’re following the example of the all-powerful One who “existed in the form of God.” The best servants are those who know their strengths and know what they have to offer their spouses. The goal of a servant-husband or wife is to use whatever gifts, abilities, power, or position you possess to support and serve your spouse.
To serve well, a servant must be secure, not second-guessing, not perpetually wondering or worrying about what others are thinking. The secure husband can humbly serve his wife and not worry about what the world thinks of him. Likewise, the secure wife can respectfully follow the leadership of her husband even if her friends don’t understand or agree.
A lot of people think serving is analogous to being taken advantage of, that it’s a decision to become subservient to someone else. Serving is not about being taken; it’s about choosing to give. Servants like Jesus willingly suspend their rights, privileges, time, and agendas to meet their spouses’ needs. Unlike slaves, whose lives of servility are forced upon them, spouses who follow Jesus’ example make a deliberate decision to serve. And, in so doing, servants learn to make tough choices.
Too often we fail to serve our spouses because we don’t take the time to learn their language. The way men and women think and process things can be dramatically different. You need to enter your spouse’s world and learn about those differences. Become a student of your spouse.
A common concern voiced is that my husband/wife is “going to walk all over me. I will be just a doormat.” But serving Jesus’ way does not demand that you become a doormat. Jesus became a willing sacrifice. What’s even more remarkable is that He came obediently to serve, knowing that this outcome (death on the cross) awaited Him. By becoming a willing sacrifice, He secured victory for those He came to serve. Always remember – the difference between a victim and a servant is as pronounced as the contrast between a doormat and a sacrifice. The doormat is a loser, but the one who willingly lays down his life for another is a hero. When we as men and women choose to lay it all on the line to serve the one we love, God honors our sacrificial, servant-love.
When you try to be a servant in marriage, the question of motivation comes up. If I’m serving strictly to please my spouse, or if my motive in serving is simply to get my mate to serve me, I’m in trouble over the long haul. What happens if I give and don’t get back? Chances are better than even that pretty soon I’ll stop giving. If, on the other hand, my primary motive is to glorify God through the way I love and serve my spouse, then even if he/she doesn’t respond, I keep serving. I know my Father in heaven is pleased with how I’m treating my spouse. And if my greatest motivation is to please my God and Savior, then I can keep on serving, keep on loving, keep on giving, knowing that my reward may never come on this planet. My perseverance also boosts the likelihood that my spouse will eventually take notice and respond in kind.
Truthfully, we are to serve one another in the marriage relationship even to the point of radical sacrifice!