Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. (Matthew 12:25)
Early in our relationship, Steph and I passionately disagreed about many things. We disagreed about silly things like the best board games and the best foods. And we disagreed about important things like: is Jesus God? When we got married many of our disagreements remained. (Though not about who Jesus is, thankfully Steph came to faith early in our relationship!)
Frequently we hear a sentiment among Christians that we should live in unity. After all, Paul calls us to to be united in mind and thought (1 Corinthians 1:9-10). He says that the purpose of pastors and teachers is to help us attain unity in faith and knowledge (Ephesians 4:11-13). And, in marriage we’re told we are one flesh. When it comes to our disagreements, how do we live in unity? Can we live in unity while disagreeing on important things?
We know that the goal of marriage is to be united in Christ (Ephesians 5:31) - striving continually to grow in our walks with God while graciously encouraging our spouse to do the same. Men and women have different commands from the Lord to accomplish this. Men are called to love their wives as Christ loves the church. Women are called to submit to and respect their husbands. The differences don’t stop at the commands to husband and wife - each person is different, with a unique background, set of experiences, and preferences. We are called to be united in those, too; even more so between spouses.
Since we have great differences between one another and a divine call for unity, I want to take some time diving into this paradox and see what God is teaching us here. Let’s look at what it means to be unified.
Disagreement is Part of the Process
In this world, perfect unity always involves disagreement.
If you and your spouse agree fully on everything, something is wrong. One or both of you is lying to the other. In this life, there are trials and tribulations of all kinds, and among them is the struggle for unity. We are told “blessed are the peacemakers” specifically because conflict is a part of life (Matthew 5:9).
Looking at the passages above you may think that Paul is advocating for agreeing in all circumstances. But that’s not what he says elsewhere. In Romans 14 Paul argues again for unity but gives specific examples of disagreements.
First he talks about disagreeing over eating meat sacrificed to idols. Back in Paul’s day the cheap meat was leftovers of what had been sacrificed to idols. Those who said Believers shouldn’t eat it firmly believed that consuming it was taking part in the idolatrous worship of false gods. This is hard for us to wrap our heads around today, but it’s a sobering thought. They believed that your walk with God was in jeopardy for eating this tainted meat. Paul points out it’s ok to eat this meat (1 Corinthians 8) and this is not worth quarreling over (Romans 14:1).
For all of the seriousness and eternal weight to idol worship, Paul tells us that disagreeing on if eating idol meat is acceptable or not should not disrupt the unity of the body of Christ. So why do we allow petty disputes to disrupt our marriages? Why do we let our trivial opinions (like if the toilet seat should be left up or how to push toothpaste out of a tube) affect our emotions? Why do we get angry when things don’t go our way?
Perhaps one more example of Biblical disagreement will help bring answers to these questions. Remember Jesus’s prayer in the garden? Jesus was distraught over the Father’s plan for Him to die. He disagreed with the plan when he said “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me,” but he showed his desired to submit and have unity when he said “Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).
These examples show us that unity is a decision born out of disagreement. Unity is agreeing to move forward with a plan you don’t agree with. It is humbling yourself before another and thinking of them as more worthy than yourself (Philippians 2:5-8).
Marital Unity is a Sacrifice
Unity is giving up your desires for the sake of something better.
Men, this means as a leader you will need to give up your plans to go hang out with the guys so that you can do something more meaningful and hang out with your wife. It means learning her hobbies so that you can have intelligent conversations with her about the things she’s passionate about. It means listening to your wife and recognizing that God has given her a unique perspective and she can see things you can’t. It means setting aside what you want or think might be best and following the advice of your wife.
Women, unity means submitting to your husband even when you know he’s wrong. It means not saying “I told you so” even when you did. It means honoring his decisions and following his plans even when you know they’ll fail. It doesn’t mean, following them blindly or without objection. You are called to be his helper and tell him when you think his plan is subpar… If Jesus can say that to the Father, you too can say that to your husband. But, in your disagreement, remember - Jesus still walked toward that cross.
Spouses, unity requires your sacrifice. Not because you’re wrong. Not because your plan isn’t good. Not because your plan won’t be enjoyable. No, unity requires your sacrifice because it enables God’s greater plans to unfold in your life.
Marital Unity Takes Time
Steph and I disagree about a lot of things. We disagree on politics, we disagree on how best to clean the house, we disagree on how to prepare the kitchen for cooking. The list goes on and on. But if you know us, those disagreements do not (normally) show through. We’ve spent long hours debating important theological truths, politics, and mundane/boring life things. In debating these things, both of us have been able to adjust and improve our reasoning and positions on a great many topics. Sometimes one of us is able to sway the other to their side fully, other times one or both of us takes a few steps toward the other, and still others we both remain unmoved.
It has been a long process of wrestling intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally with each other, and by God’s grace I pray it will continue to be a long process of struggle and growth. Because through those difficulties, our love for God, and the work of the cross, we are able to live in unity through all of our disagreements. We both sacrifice some of our passions to keep us on the same page and moving forward toward the day when our Lord returns. We both strive to put Jesus at the forefront and set aside our preferences in light of bigger and better things.
Unity requires our sacrifice because it displays for all to see the perfect work of Jesus. Unity provides a platform for the Gospel to our kids, our family, our friends, and our neighbors. Unity is what we need for our marriage to truly glorify God and be worth celebrating.
What about you? Are your preferences really worth disunity?