A Homework Assignment I Really Like

Recently I was teaching at a Biblical Counseling Training Conference on the basics of marriage, and I shared a Homework assignment that I really like to give married couples and those going through pre-marriage counseling.

It has something fun and challenging. It revolves around a Bible verse, promotes working together in a one-flesh way, and includes prayer both in thanksgiving and humble dependence asking for God’s help. It also helps provide structure for starting counseling and progressing in a focused way by identifying concrete areas that can be addressed. It can also lead to more homework assignments that can produce fruit of lasting change.

Here is the passage:

Colossians 1:17–18 –17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. 18 He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.

This passage is all about Christ, how He is the one who is above all, and how He is the one who holds all things together. So many couples need strengthening in their marriage and need to grow closer to each other in trust, communication, and intimacy. The only way for marriages to have strength for a lifetime and to endure significant trials is with Christ at the center. When you put Christ above your spouse, you put yourself in the best position to love your spouse well and with endurance and with the love of Christ that is controlling you and amplifying your love for others because of Christ’s great love for you.

The first part of the Homework is fun and a bit silly. It may need some buy in and you might need to practice. I call it memory tennis.

Memory tennis

This is where a couple memorizes God’s word together from the same translation of the Bible and they take turns saying each word of the Bible verse. So, one person says “Colossians”, the other says “1”, and the other says “17-18”, and they continue going back and forth saying, “He” – “is” – “before” – “all” – “things” and so on and so forth.

The idea is it will be awkward, cumbersome, and maybe even a little silly right away. It is good to get outside of your comfort zone, not think about yourself, but it also paints a picture that it takes some time and practice to weave two lives together, to be one flesh practically. And you have to think about the whole passage and consider your part and what is to come next so you get into a flow, where you are anticipating and listening to the other person and then responding with your part. There is some interesting imagery when two people take the time to learn to go back and forth in a controlled and flexible way with the word of God being what they are both focused on. Just like communication, intimacy, and problem solving, the idea is they will get better and better at this little exercise if they don’t give up. They will learn to be patient with each other and focus on helping each other in a way where the person and work of Christ is exalted. Not just in a verse being recited well, but by two lives functioning as one with the common goal of putting Christ above everything, even each other and especially oneself.

Now, you could simply have each couple memorize and mediate on the passage, but there is something fun and also relational in going back and forth together.

Now, that is just the beginning. So much of the Christian life starts with knowing what God says, remembering what God says, and then actually remembering what God says when it matters. Not just remembering it, but actually applying it in a real-life situation…and then seeking to do that again and again with endurance and with joy in the process of worshipping Christ.

So, the next step is to talk about real life. Real areas of your life. The next part of the Homework is to work together to create a list. That list is to be entitled, “How is Christ first in your marriage?”

How is Christ first in your marriage

You can assign all of this in one homework assignment, but there is also value of breaking it into separate pieces. This could be the second homework assignment after they memorize the verse together.

They are to focus on some positive ways they are applying that verse in their lives. Creating a list of ways they are putting Christ first is something to celebrate and be thankful for. Perhaps they are faithfully attending Church, tithing, reading the Bible together as a family before bed, caring for some needs of family members, or just being a blessing to neighbors. Those are all things to be thankful for and celebrate. They should each add things to one list and talk about areas they are pleasing the Lord, how thankful they are for God working in and through them, and how they are helping each other put Christ first.

Prayer of thanksgiving and continued increase

Then they should pray and thank God for each of the things on that list and confess that it is only by His grace working in and through them that they are able to honor Him in these areas. They should ask God to help them excel all the more and not neglect these areas. I think it is important each should pray, which is also promoting togetherness, going back and forth praying, thanking God for each area, and humbly asking Him to continue to bless their efforts in these areas.

This is an encouraging way to start, but we also need to talk about difficult things and areas that they need to grow and change. So, the next homework would be to make a list entitled, “How is Christ not first in your marriage?”

How is Christ not first in your marriage

We want to celebrate the good, but that is not how we are going to spend the majority of our time in counseling. We have things we need to work on and address. We will be constantly motivated by the goodness of God shown in the person and work of Jesus Christ, but there are areas in our lives and marriages where He is not first, He is not worshipped or honored. In order to repent and change we need to identify those areas; take responsibility for the ways we have fallen short and take ownership of the growth and change process.

So perhaps they do not serve in church on a regular basis. Maybe they are really busy with too many extracurricular activities and they don’t have time to really talk with their kids about their relationship with the Lord. Perhaps when there is conflict, they do not resolve it in a Christ-centered way that is humble and marked with repentance and forgiveness. There could be times they complain and gossip about family or co-workers. Perhaps some entertainment choices that do not honor the Lord, or maybe there are just some everyday things around the house that they have not put God first by working together and being a good steward. The next step is prayer together.

Prayer of dependence, confession and request for help

It is good for the couple to again pray for each item and specifically admit they have not honored God in these areas. In each area, thank the Lord for His grace and mercy shown in Christ. Ask for help with growth and change through the study of the word, the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and the community of the body. Ask for God’s grace and mercy to put Christ first in these areas.

The next step would be to prioritize this list.

Prioritize the list of ways Christ is not first

You can prioritize the list in various ways. You could arrange it in terms of what is the easiest thing you can address to put Christ first. Maybe it is read the Bible as a family and pray before bed, or plan to get to Church 10 minutes early instead of 10 minutes late. Or look to meet someone new every Sunday and talk at lunch about the new folks you welcomed and thank God for the opportunity to grow in building others up in the body of Christ. All of these are pretty low hanging fruit and they can lead to addressing harder things.

You could also arrange the list in terms of what areas are hindering your relationship with God and each other the most and address that area first. Perhaps you do not have a budget and your spending is out of control, and you eat out all the time and you argue about finances a lot. That may be the first thing that needs to be addressed as it is coming up in conflict on a regular basis. If there are a lot of items to address you might want to take the easiest first approach to make progress. If there are fewer items, and there is an item that is an issue every day or at least regularly through the week, it may be best to address that as you really will not be able to set that aside for very long before it needs to be addressed.

Next Homework

After you prioritize the list, you can then create a list of steps they can take for the first area to focus on. For example, if it is put God first in the way we handle our money. Step one could be to list out your monthly bills, income, and current assets and begin to construct a budget. Step two could be to start reading a chapter a week of a Christ-centered financial stewardship resource. Step 3 could be to report each week on ways you honored God in spending money and examples when you did not honor God with money decisions. Once you grew in that area with tangible examples you move on to the next.


This will take work, effort, and discipline, but Christ is worth it. He deserves to have first place in everything. So, we must be honest about all the areas in our lives and marriages that are not centered around Him and then we must work together to put Him first. The reality is, that approach is what is going to hold our marriages together. Not just for survival, but in a way that is marked with strength and joy, all to the praise of the name that is above every other name. Jesus the Christ, the one who is holding all things together, the one who is worthy of all praise.

Colossians 1:17–18 –17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. 18 He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Dustin Folden
Pastor Dustin Folden and his wife Trisha joined the Pastoral Staff in 2010. They have two children, Sawyer and Mackenna who absolutely love children’s ministries, mostly because of the singing and snacks. Pastor Folden shepherds the 9:30 worship service, oversees the Adult Bible Fellowship ministry, as well as serves in the Biblical Counseling Ministries.