What Does the Bible Say About Selfishness in Marriage?
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What Does the Bible Say About Selfishness in Marriage?

Marriage is an incredible blessing from God, allowing a man and woman to come together in a sacred covenant relationship. However, for marriage to thrive, both spouses must consistently put the needs of their partner above their own. Selfishness is one of the biggest threats to a healthy marriage.

When either spouse consistently puts their own desires first, the marriage will suffer. As Christians, we are called to follow Jesus’ example of selfless love and service. Marriage provides many opportunities to demonstrate sacrificial love on a daily basis.

In this post, we’ll explore Bible verses about selfishness in marriage and how you can combat it in your own relationship. Recognizing selfish attitudes and actions is the first step to overcoming them through God’s power and grace.

Key Takeaways:

  • Selfishness destroys intimacy and oneness in marriage.
  • We must model Jesus’ sacrificial love for the church.
  • Husbands are called to sacrificial leadership like Christ.
  • Wives are called to respectful submission like the church.
  • We reap what we sow – selfishness breeds selfishness.
  • Combat selfishness by meeting your spouse’s needs first.
  • Prayerfully examine your heart and motivations.
  • Rely on the Holy Spirit to change you from within.

Selfishness Destroys Intimacy and Oneness

The Bible says that in marriage, “the two shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). This profound oneness goes far beyond the physical union. God designed marriage for a deep emotional, spiritual, and intellectual connection between husband and wife.

However, this type of intimacy is shattered when selfishness enters the marriage. The prophet Hosea speaks of this tragedy when he accuses faithless Israel of adultery:

“For your faithlessness will bring discipline upon you, and your adultery will bring correction to your marriage. Watch closely! I’m teaching you some important lessons about relationships. I want you to be exclusively mine just as I am exclusively yours” (Hosea 2:6-7 TPT).

When we are selfish, we divide the oneness of marriage. Our priorities shift from meeting our spouse’s needs to fulfilling our own desires. This “adulterates” the relationship by allowing other things to come between husband and wife.

According to the Bible, pursuing selfish gain actually destroys you:

“Selfish gain brings its own trouble, but in the end truth brings joy” (Proverbs 15:6).

While selfishness may seem appealing in the moment, it is actually a destructive force that ruins intimacy. A marriage plagued by selfish attitudes will become detached and cold over time.

Model Jesus’ Sacrificial Love

The antidote to selfishness in marriage is modeling Jesus’ sacrificial love. As Ephesians 5:25 says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Jesus willingly laid down His life out of love for His people. This posture of sacrifice should define marriage as well.

In Philippians 2, Paul commands believers to have the same mindset as Christ:

“Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too” (vv.3-4).

This type of humble, selfless living reflects Jesus. When both spouses embrace this, marriage becomes a beautiful picture of Christ’s love for the church.

Practically speaking, avoiding selfishness may mean sacrificing personal hobbies, career ambitions, or leisure habits to invest more time and energy in your marriage. It means considering your spouse first and foremost in decision making.

Dying to selfishness is challenging but so worthwhile. The joy and intimacy that bloom in a selfless marriage far surpass any temporary, individual gain.

Husbands Called to Selfless Leadership

The Bible offers specific instructions to husbands and wives on avoiding selfishness in marriage. For husbands, the primary call is to lead through selfless care and service. Scripture urges husbands:

“Love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…Husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself” (Ephesians 5:25,28).

This biblical model of leadership requires sacrifice and sensitivity. A selfish husband demands things on his terms and his timeline. He spends money and time on himself, leaving his wife feeling unimportant. But a selfless husband washes his wife in love by listening to her needs and doing thoughtful things for her, even when inconvenient.

1 Peter 3:7 offers this warning for husbands:

“Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.”

Selfish attitudes sabotage prayers, intimacy with God, and intimacy with your spouse. But selfless leadership earns you “great honor” as you serve your wife wholeheartedly (v.7).

Wives Called to Respectful Submission

Wives also must combat selfishness so it doesn’t poison marriage. The primary call for wives is to “submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22). Submission places your husband’s needs and desires before your own.

In Ephesians 5:33, respect is linked to submission:

“The wife must respect her husband.”

Offering sincere respect counteracts the selfish tendency to criticize or put down your husband when he doesn’t do exactly what you want.

1 Peter 3:1-2 offers wives this encouragement:

“Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.”

By yielding your rights and expectations, you create space for the Holy Spirit to work in your husband’s heart. Your respectful attitude can inspire reform without nagging or arguing.

It is not easy to submit to flawed human beings. But the church is called to submit to Christ’s imperfect bride – and Christ Himself models gentle, humble leadership. As we follow their examples, we receive God’s grace to overcome selfish inclinations.

You Reap What You Sow

Galatians 6:7 contains an important principle for marriage:

“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.”

Selfish attitudes and actions always lead to more selfishness. When a husband isolates himself at home or pours his energy into hobbies rather than his wife, he should not be surprised when she becomes cold and withdrawn. When a wife constantly nags and belittles her husband, she should expect him to retreat further.

But the reverse is also true: “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously” (2 Corinthians 9:6). A husband who patiently listens and affectionately serves his wife should reap closeness and gratitude in return. A wife who honors and builds up her husband should reap an open, loving, servant-hearted man.

You have the power to set the tone in your marriage through unselfish giving. Purpose to sow selflessness daily, no matter how your spouse responds. As Galatians 6:9 encourages:

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

In due time, your selfless sowing will transform your marriage for the better.

Combat Selfishness By Serving Your Spouse

The best way to overcome selfish desires is to actively pursue their opposite. Whenever you sense selfish inclinations rising up, take concrete steps to serve and bless your spouse instead.

  • Make your spouse coffee before work without being asked.
  • Greet them with a warm hug and kind words when they return home.
  • Turn off the TV and ask thoughtful questions about their day.
  • Research their favorite restaurant and suggest going there this weekend.
  • Give them the bigger piece of dessert.
  • Help fold the laundry without expecting praise.

These selfless acts express love in your spouse’s language. Start each day asking the Holy Spirit to show you little ways to place your spouse before yourself. Pray this verse from Philippians 2:3-4 over your marriage:

“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.”

Examine Your Heart and Motivations

Becoming aware of underlying selfish motives is crucial. We easily slip into selfishness without even noticing. That’s why Scripture urges us to carefully examine our hearts:

“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24)

Ask God to reveal any selfishness or pride causing you to neglect your spouse or put your wants first. Own up to the selfish attitudes He reveals through repentance.

Proverbs 21:2 cautions:

“All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the Lord.”

Talk to your spouse honestly about ways you may have acted selfishly and ask forgiveness. Remain humble and open to correction from your spouse as well.

Marriage brings two sinners under one roof – beware of justifying selfish actions or blaming your spouse. There is never an excuse for sin.

Rely on the Holy Spirit’s Power

Any lasting transformation away from selfishness must come from within. Moral effort and behavior modification will only take you so far. True change requires a complete heart makeover.

Fortunately, this is the Holy Spirit’s specialty! Paul reminds us:

“He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).

Only the Spirit can renew us from the inside out and empower us to overcome innate selfishness. As you yield your will and ways to God daily, the Spirit prunes away ungodly desires and bears His fruit of “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

Keep in step with the Spirit by praying, worshiping, studying the Bible, and fellowshipping with other believers. Stay closely connected to the Vine of Jesus Christ as your source of selfless love and grace. As Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).

When you fix your eyes on Jesus instead of your own interests, His empowering presence in you can transform even the most selfish spouse into a selfless lover. There is hope for every marriage!

In Summary

Selfishness suffocates oneness and intimacy in marriage. It must be counteracted through selfless, sacrificial love modeled after Jesus Christ. Wives are called to submit respectfully, while husbands lead through humble service like Christ. Combat selfishness through serving your spouse, examining your heart, and relying fully on the Holy Spirit. God is able to transform the most selfish inclinations through His inner working and empowering grace. Marital harmony and lifelong growth begin when two people commit to seeking their spouse’s gain above their own.

Pastor Duke Taber
Pastor Duke Taber

Pastor Duke Taber

All articles have been written or reviewed by Pastor Duke Taber.
Pastor Duke Taber is an alumnus of Life Pacific University and Multnomah Biblical Seminary.
He has been in pastoral ministry since 1988.
Today he is the owner and managing editor of 3 successful Christian websites that support missionaries around the world.
He is currently starting a brand new church in Mesquite NV called Mesquite Worship Center, a Non-Denominational Spirit Filled Christian church in Mesquite Nevada.