(John 13:34; 1 John 4:20) As we’ve shared about God’s Covenant Order and what it means to love God, yourself and others we can move forward with this new or renewed understanding.

Here are three keys from the Greatest Commandments to building agape Kingdom relationships, especially marriage, according to His Word. As we build agape Kingdom marriages we then form loving families, which in turn strengthens the loving relationships that make up Christ’s Church. (Note how these principles all flow from our discipleship relationship with Christ):

KEY #1…Worship God alone and love Him with all you are! (Deuteronomy 6:4-5; Mark 12:29-30) If we do not spend time to get to know, worship and love Him, we will struggle in every other relationship, including marriage and family.

Submission is the 1st key that flows from this 1st and Greatest Commandment.  It is found in what we are called to do in honoring one another in relationships and particularly in marriage. Ephesians 5:21-25: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”

We must learn to first love and submit to God and, out of honor for Christ, we are called and can then submit to one another. Wives are commanded to submit to their husbands. This is not a command to the husband to make his wife submit. This is a command to the wife to willingly choose to submit to her husband because she’s already submitted to Christ and learned to love God with all she is.

Husbands are called to submit in love and relational servant-leadership, literally to submit or surrender his life for his wife just as Christ did for His Bride, The Church. Again, wives, this is not a command to you to make your husband love you. It is a command to husbands to be obedient to Christ in daily choosing to love our wife because we have first submitted to Christ and learned to love God with all we are.  Let us be imitators of Christ (Ephesians 5:1-2). Loving submission is the key!

I’ve mentioned before that many of these principles would be repeated and would take on deeper meaning as we learn and apply God’s Truth to the highest of human relationships in marriage so that we can build Godly families, and from these, the loving relationships that are His Church!

Years ago The Spirit revealed one of the most profound teachings and I have taught it faithfully ever since (I know I’m not alone in this but very few that I’ve shared it with have ever thought through this and applied it). It has changed countless husbands and, in the process, marriages (and wives) for His glory. Remember every marriage is intended to reflect His image and glorify Him and also, husbands, that we are the Christ figure in our marriage!

In my prayer and study, I was challenged to go beyond the obvious question, “Husbands, would you take a bullet (die) for your wife?” This is a question most pastors, Christian counselors, or marriage therapists ask reiterating to husbands the command for them “to love their wife and give up their life for her as Christ did the Church” (Ephesians 5:25). As I thought through this The Spirit took me to Philippians 2:5-8. I didn’t get it at first, but the more I prayed and meditated it became clear what He was prompting me to teach in line with His Word.

The Apostle Paul, who wrote both Ephesians and Philippians under the inspiration and guidance of The Holy Spirit, was giving instructions to husbands as to what it truly cost Christ to “lay down His life for His Bride.”

Our first love has to be our love for God. It is from His love for us, and our growing in our love for Him, that we can love all others, including ourselves, which leads to our second command and key to more fully understand this teaching.

Love Who You Are in Christ! (Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31)

What is true in every other relationship is even more impactful in marriage. As we mature in our love for God, loving Him with our whole life, He is able to reveal more and more to us who we are created, and recreated in Christ, to be. Only then can we learn to truly love who we are. This is the essence of, and reveals, our second key:

KEY #2…Humility

Philippians 2:3-8: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”

First of all, as we allow God to reveal who we are in Christ then we begin to form Christ’s Mind in us…that of Humility! The whole description of Christ shows a character of humility; and remember that humility is knowing and being confident and content of who we are in Christ so we can place others above ourselves.  Imagine what our marriages and all relationships would look like as we practice humility in Christ!

FOR HUSBANDS ONLY (but we all can learn from Christ’s example)

This Key of Humility applies to all of us, but husbands I don’t want to leave you hanging any longer. Now that we’ve read through what Christ did for His Bride (Philippians 2:5-8) we can understand and apply Paul’s teaching from Ephesians (5:23-29) more fully when it comes to “laying down our life for our wife” as mentioned in the first key.

Taking a bullet or going to the cross is easy, okay maybe not easy, especially if we know The Lord because we know we’re going to end up with Him. However, Christ did more than just give up His physical life. The passage above describes in detail that the first thing Jesus gave up was His lifestyle—all the glorious life He had with The Father in heaven.

Think about it. When Paul writes that we are to lay down our lives just as Christ did for His Bride, he fully understood that for marriages to be blessed and to reflect all that God intended, we husbands would need to lay down our lifestyles and place the needs and desires of our wife above our own. This has to hold true because had Jesus not surrendered His lifestyle in heaven first, then He could not have become fully God and fully man and His death on The Cross (what we always equate with “giving up our life for our wife”) would have meant nothing.

In order for Jesus’ life and death on earth to accomplish anything He first had to give up His lifestyle in heaven. I know it’s not easy, but it’s good because it is what He has called us to and He did nothing less than model it for us!  This is Humble Submission…the first 2 keys in Kingdom marriage!

Now we can begin to grasp what love truly is and how we can love our wife, family, and all others, which brings us to our third command and the key that it reveals…

Love Others As You Love Yourself! (Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31)

Are you beginning to see God’s design for loving relationships? As shared earlier, we can’t fully love others unless we have first begun to grow in our love for God and for ourselves. This should be paramount in how we make disciples. Teach and train first to love God, and love who we are in Christ so we can then love others and show them His love. As we humbly submit to Christ and others and place others before self, we are developing the same attitude and heart as Christ, allowing us to love others with the third key:

Key #3…Servant’s Heart – we see this when Jesus washes His disciples’ feet and then instructs them to do the same for others in John 13:12-17. “When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his robe and returned to his place. ‘Do you understand what I have done for you?’ he asked them. ‘You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.’”

This Kingdom Truth of Love and relational servant-authority (or leading) is the goal as to how we are to love and lead as He did, rather than conforming to how the world loves and leads.

Remember from our earlier devotionals on this text in John 13 that this in Christ’s Kingdom this is where love (v. 1), humility (v. 3), serving (vv. 4-5), authority (v. 12-13) and discipleship (vv. 14-17) come together. This is what Kingdom relationships are to look like…and the highest of those is Marriage.

“Christ’s idea is that we serve Him by being the servants of other men… He says that in His Kingdom he that is greatest shall be the servant of all. The real test of the saint is not preaching the gospel, but washing disciples’ feet, that is, doing the things that do not count in the actual estimate of men but count everything in the estimate of God.” — Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

Imagine once again what our marriages, families and churches would look like if we made disciples that loved God with their whole being and above everything else, loved who we are in Christ, so we could love one another as Christ loved us. Our marriage and family should be integral as His Church, not just going to Church!

This is Christ in us and through us, as we love others in His Covenant Order:

Marriage→ Spouse→Children/Family→His Church→The World.

Loving Service is Authority and Freedom (Matthew 20:25-28)

King Arthur is credited with saying, “In serving each other we become free.” This is not only one of the core principles of Camelot; it is truth for every disciple of Christ and in every marriage, family, and relationship as we build the currency of His Kingdom.

May He find us faithful as His disciples to love as He loved us and as He instructed us to love Him and others—this is how the world can see Who He is in and through us and come to know Him. May it begin in your marriage (and in mine) and may our families and churches be blessed as we live and love, as we are free and as we influence (Kingdom authority) others in His Truth, Grace and Love!

Real Life Application – Leading With a Humble Servant’s Heart

Matthew 20:25-28; Philippians 2:3-5; Ephesians 5:23-28; 1 Peter 5:5

I learned this early in our marriage and the simple lesson has impacted many others. Ami (my wife) came from a divorced family and, as is very common, there are deep issues of distrust. We discussed this often and we both prayed and worked diligently to be aware of the issues and circumstances that would trigger thoughts of distrust as well as those that would build trust.

About three years into our marriage, she called one evening as I was in my office late. I could hear the pain in her voice. You see my job was athletic director and head basketball coach with a small private Christian school that owned none of the fields, gyms, or facilities that we used to practice and compete. At any moment we could lose use of a facility and the schedule would need to be reworked. That meant making calls to the schools we were competing against, referees, and parents.

Most of the time I was given enough lead time to make the changes, but I would fairly often need to work late to have the schedule set for the next day.

That brings us back to Ami’s call. She explained what we’d talked about many times before, that whenever I didn’t show up at or near the appointed time, distrust would rear its ugly head. This happened too many times as I got caught up in getting things in order and failed to give her a call and let her know.

She said, “If you would just give me a call and let me know what’s going on and reassure me that all is well, it would help me a lot.”

Now, as I’ve shared this with many men and couples, the typical response in our pride as men is to think, “She’s just checking up on me and I don’t need another Momma! She just needs to trust me.” I have to admit that knowing I was doing nothing wrong or worthy of distrust, I entertained the same thoughts and response.

However, before I said anything, I said a quick prayer and in that moment The Holy Spirit simply prompted me to think, “Pride or humility? Your choice.”

I asked Ami what she needed and she said, “If you’d just call once or twice a day, especially if something happens and you know your schedule is going to change, that would help me so much.”

Simple, right? I either bow my back and tell her to get over it and trust me, or I do something to help her build more trust in me. The Holy Spirit’s prompting came to me again and it really was simple. Pride puts the burden on her and would continue to lead to distrust. Humility put the burden on me to do all I could to show her that she could trust me.

I began the next day and have not missed a day of calling or texting her in the 25+ years since. Distrust faded and trust became her default as God directed me to think of her above myself and I obeyed instead of giving into my pride. With that trust came an ever-growing peace in our marriage and family. Totally worth it!

I close this with what I share with every guy that I counsel on this: “You can choose to think, ‘I don’t need another Momma,’ (every one of them shares that thought in some way), or you can humbly do what’s best for your wife and marriage.

Love and Lordship…Food for Thought – Husbands, a brief few minutes touching base throughout the day will mean two to four hours of peace each evening that builds more and more over the course of your marriage as long as you are honest and trustworthy. Or you can choose to put the burden on her and watch the tension and distrust build each evening and throughout your marriage. Seems like a ‘no-brainer’ to me, but it’s your choice.”

Love and Lordship…Action Item(s)

  1. Read the Scriptures in this article. Ask The Holy Spirit to change your heart and teach you how to apply the 3 Keys of Agape Relationships.
  2. How are these 3 Keys to Agapeparamui Relationships evident in your life?
  3. Where do you need to grow in any or all of these 3 Keys in your relationships, especially in your marriage and family? 
  4. What’s holding you back?  Be brutally honest and then seek The Lord and His Spirit to make the changes needed.