Years ago, I was replacing the clutch on my car. After removing the old clutch, I went to a high end transmission shop, where the guy at the counter explained that though they had the part, they did not have the alignment tool that normally comes with it. I had never replaced a clutch and had no idea how important the tool was, so I said “no problem” and was on my way. I discovered that it actually was a problem when I attempted to put the engine back into the car with the misaligned clutch. The engine simply would not fit the transmission. I tried several improvised fixes, but had no success. Finally, I pulled off the clutch and went back to the shop, where a different guy was now at the counter. He looked at the clutch and stated firmly that they didn’t sell the alignment tools separately and that the part was not returnable because I had attempted installation. After some arguing and effort, I realized I wasn’t going to make any progress. I then turned to the internet and discover that no one was selling my alignment tool. Finally, after days of working on the problem, I took the engine to the dealer and paid an hour’s worth of labor to a technician, who spent 3 minutes aligning my part. The little plastic alignment tool, that seemed so unimportant at the time, was vital to properly installing my clutch. Without the tool, the engine, which produces power, simply couldn’t connect to the transmission, which transfers power to the tires.
There is a similar problem in many marriages. Both members of the partnership have specific ideas as to how things ought to be, but struggle with making the ideal version in their head transfer into relationship reality. They want to communicate without arguing, agree on financial decisions, experience perfect harmony in their physical relationship, and find that spark of excitement that was present when they first started dating. The problem arises when the idea as to how marriage ought to be fails to translate into forward and harmonious movement in the relationship. This misalignment is a product of the fallen nature, which inclines us toward self-centeredness. If you take a look at Paul’s description of love in 1 Corinthians 13, you will find the antithesis of the sinful inclination of man. It’s natural for people to struggle with making their behavior match their convictions. Paul describes this struggle in Romans 7,
I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.
Our sinful flesh inclines us away from right and toward sin. It’s no coincidence that Paul talks about a perfect version of love in the context of spiritual gifts, because the love he describes is impossible for us to live out. It is a product of the Holy Spirit’s intervention.
One tool in the marital toolbox is similar to the one I was missing when the time arose for me to align my clutch. The great heart alignment tool available to believers is the intervention of the Spirit, aiding us toward Christlike action. As we submit our lives to Christ and learn to obey His teachings, the Holy Spirit produces new attitudes and behavior in our lives. If we simply try to obey a set of standards, apart from new life in Christ, we will find ourselves mired in legalism, which is ultimately impossible to maintain for the long haul. Ultimately, this will produce the same sort of results that my improvised alignment tools produced. The tool that was designed to fit my car is the only one that could successfully line up my engine and transmission.
The misalignment of heart and actions in the marital context is best illustrated by the responses of husbands to Paul’s teaching in Philippians 5:25-27
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.
When reading this passage with men, I find that they often get hung up on talk of wives obeying, which is addressed in the preceding verse. They complain that their wife doesn’t obey them, and they harbor resentment because of it. This is a product of a misalignment of heart with the heart of Christ, specifically because they aren’t looking at the passages that apply to them. They are only looking at what they are owed. Husbands bear the responsibility of loving their wives as Christ loved the church. This literally means that husbands should be willing to give everything for their wives and take on the role of servant. He ought to lead his family spiritually, not only in words, but also in action. The job of a husband is to align their attitude and behavior with that of Jesus. When she offends him, he forgives. He is patient, selfless, kind, and forgiving. When things are not as they ought to be, he guides through love and sacrifice. We do not see Christ demanding that He be served. The tool that helps us to align our hearts with his, and then our actions with our heart is the Holy Spirit. Prayer, confession, accountability, devotion to the Word, and obedience is our side of the equation. The Spirit convicts and changes us as we strive toward holiness. Without the Spirit, we simply cannot manage this on our own.