My wife and I were stuck in a Danish parking garage, trying to figure out how to work the pay meter. The language was completely incomprehensible to us, and the buttons were yellow and blue. From living in the U.S., I could guess that a red button might mean “cancel” and a green button might mean “enter,” but yellow and blue? Thankfully, with our combined brainpower (and a few lucky guesses), we managed to escape.
Foreign travel, though relatively new to us, has deepened our bond as husband and wife, in that it has taught us to laugh together at our ignorance and pool our limited resources in an attempt to make sense of all that seems so strange. What so few realize is that from a biblical perspective, every Christian married couple lives in a foreign land, and understanding this can deepen marital friendship.
Do you know why the Pilgrims called themselves “pilgrims”? It’s not because they had made an overseas pilgrimage to the United States; it’s because they recognized this world was not their home: “For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come” (Heb. 13:14). What if we viewed marriage through this lens—as two friends traveling through a foreign land?
The Pilgrims lived, as we should, with this glorious truth in mind: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). What Paul is referring to here is called the “judgment seat of Christ,” a day that every Christian will face. This judgment does not determine whether or not we will spend eternity with God—that is safe and secure in the finished work of Jesus on the cross. The judgment seat of Christ is, rather, a proclamation of what we have done with God’s grace and provision in our lives.
That phrase “whether good or bad” could just as well be translated “whether good or worthless.” (There’s a different word Paul could have chosen if he had wanted to pinpoint “evil.”) We will be asked about our response to the powerful cleansing of God’s mercy: Did we sit on our hands and soak up God’s blessings while filling our days with worthless pursuits and selfish preoccupations? Or did we, like Paul, work with the understanding that we must give an account of our days to our heavenly Father?
To be a friend to my wife is to help her prepare for this glorious day—to want to see her rewarded in this life and also to receive eternal benefits. Most of us look at how to make our marriages more pleasant or more fulfilling right now; we want to be friends on earth. That’s fine, but Scripture urges us to set our sights much higher, because how we live out our marriages here can affect us in eternity. God is such a good Creator that earthly delights such as laughter, friendship, good meals, sexual intimacy, and conversation can almost tempt us to think, Life doesn’t get any better than this. But God says it does. Very much so!
That Conversation on That Day
It’s important to note that Paul said the Lord will reward us for whatever good we do, not for the good we receive. This understanding alone can revolutionize the way we face each day of marriage and how we maintain a friendship based on mutual service.
What if we viewed marriage as two friends traveling through a foreign land?
On the day that theologians call the judgment seat of Christ, God will have a conversation with each one of us. In the course of that conversation, we will look at what happened to us—including within our marriages—from an entirely different perspective, one that is virtually opposite to the way most of us view our marriages today. I will be rewarded not for how my wife loved me, but for how I loved my wife. God won’t ask me, “Gary, did Lisa know your love language and honor it? Did she respect you? Did she know your needs and strive to meet them?”
Instead, He will ask, “Gary, did you know Lisa’s love language, and were you generous with that knowledge? Did you understand her need for affection and acceptance and love, and lavish her with that? Did you seek to help her become all that I created her to be, or did you treat her as a servant designed to fulfill your own needs and desires?” And my eternity will be stamped by the answers I give.
If I am living for today, I consider it a good day when Lisa notices, appreciates, and serves me and makes my life more enjoyable. I lived for years with that as my definition of a “good day,” and our friendship suffered accordingly. Instead of thinking about whether I was being a good friend, I was obsessed with what she was doing (or failing to do) as my partner. Living for eternity, I now look at a “good day” as one in which I take advantage of the opportunity to appreciate Lisa, serve her, and make her life more enjoyable, because that’s what will please my God most.
When we live with an eye toward that day instead of always being so focused on this day, it changes everything. We begin looking for opportunities to love, serve, encourage, and appreciate instead of being obsessed with how well our needs are being met. And as we do this, our friendship will deepen.
Married couples who will embrace a life that remains mindful of the judgment seat of Christ and allow it to set their agenda for true friendship should adopt Hebrews 10:24 as their theme verse: “Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds.” What better gift could I give my wife—my best friend in Christ—than helping her do something for which she will be rewarded in heaven? What if I prayed for her, supported her, encouraged her, and offered suggestions so that she became more than she might have been capable of becoming on her own? Not only will she receive the blessing of obedience in this life, but I will also have helped her gain multiple blessings in the next.
So you see, living for that day is not some religious form of avoidance. It’s not about checking out of this earth. It’s about checking into what happens here with a new intensity as God’s redeeming work reveals itself through us.
The Last Day of Marriage
For two believers, the end of marriage on earth will precede the beginning of an eternal friendship. We will look back on our time as “pilgrims” in a whole new light.
If you nursed a spouse through dementia and were never thanked, not even once, don’t be surprised if, in heaven, you hear your loved one say, “You were so kind to me!” If you remained true despite your spouse’s limitations and struggles to grow, your husband or wife—once glorified—will extol your love. Your spouse who has been your best friend and with whom there were many seasons of laughter and tears will smile and say, “It was a good life, wasn’t it? And who would have known it could get so much better? I never thought I could love you more than I did then, but now you are even more beautiful to me.”
There is a day, friends, when this marriage stuff will come to an end, a day when God will look at how we have loved His son or His daughter, and we will be judged accordingly. For some of us, that will lead to many blessings. Remember, God is not stingy when it comes to repaying those who faithfully serve His children. And the news gets even better: Our true, eternal friendship, in which we are free from sin and all its effects, will have just begun. No longer will we be pilgrims traveling through a foreign land, but citizens of heaven, enjoying our inheritance together with Christ for eternity—a true friendship that will never end.