04 May 2007

God's wisdom in marriage

by Dan Phillips

The unbelieving way to deal with God's Word says, in effect, "I believe X; God says Y; let's find ways to validate my view over against God's."

By contrast, the believer's thought process is the reverse: "God says Y, therefore it is true, good, and right, no matter what my traditional or natural inclination is. Let's see how."

Thus far the general. Now to the specific:

It is not natural — or, at least, not first-natural — for men to devote themselves to the love and service of one woman. It is not natural — or, at least, not first-natural — for women to devote themselves to loving respect and submission to one man. So God orders us to do what we may not want to do, gives us motivations, and warns us of the consequences of unbelieving disobedience. Our response reveals our real attitude towards His Word.

I have been musing lately on the wisdom of God's counsel, and wish to highlight just one aspect of it.

Let us envision a Christian wife whose husband actually is not devoting himself to Christlike love of her (contrast Ephesians 5:25-33). She has something to complain about! When he married her, he promised God that he would love her thus. He told her she could bet her earthly life on his promise. Yet he is breaking that promise, and sinning against God. He is not walking according to the Word. He is denying her something she deeply wants. This isn't a happy situation for her.

Now, none of this negates her responsibility to treat him with heartfelt respect and submission (1 Peter 3:1-6). But it does make it harder for her to be happy about being married to him, or to think of marriage as she otherwise might. Asked how her life is, she has reason to say that one large, significant area is awry. Also, the respectful submission God calls her to is more difficult to give joyfully.

But suppose her husband is pierced to the hard, humbles himself, repents, and devotes himself to showing her that love he promised.

Then it is all on her.

In one way, this was already true. Nobody has the right, or the power, to keep me from obeying, and nobody's behavior relieves me of that responsibility. Yet you'd have to be a robot to deny that others' behavior can make obedience more or less joyful (cf. Hebrews 13:17).

Now, however, if this formerly-unloved wife insists on being down, depressed, gloomy, grumpy, embittered, grudging, and otherwise unChristianly joyless, she can't cite her husband as an ongoing factor. Her heart stands exposed before God's Word.

But boy oh boy, does this one slice both ways! Consider the Christian husband.

The Bible has a lot to say about a man who has married a woman who has not brought her moods and temperament to the Cross. He's worse off than a man living in the corner of a roof, or in a desert land (Proverbs 21:9; 25:24). He has to labor on as if his very bones were rotten (Proverbs 12:4). His wife makes giving love difficult and less joyful, as her behavior more drives him away than draws him in (Proverbs 27:15). He may more feel wiles of the temptress who comes in to give him shows of respect and appreciation that his wife promised, but denies him (cf. Proverbs 7:21).

The Bible lays this out (and more besides) very graphically. But the Bible does not give the husband in such a marriage anything specific he can do about it. While many remedies for dealing with ungodly children are spelled out, and Peter says something to the wife about dealing with a sining husband (1 Peter 3:1), nothing directly applies to such a wife. I've seen virtually no pastor nor writer nor speaker address this, and what I have seen has not been very satisfactory.

So what does he do? Well, he's still obliged to everything to which he'd be obliged with a godly wife who is a pleasure and joy to love. He is still obliged to self-sacrificing, Christlike love, and service, and tender care, and monogamous devotion. His body is still hers. Her behavior has absolutely nothing in Heaven or Hell to do with his obligations, to which he is bound by God's word and his promise.

But would any be fool enough to suggest that loving such a woman is easy, or a joy?

No, he too has something legitimate to say about burdens and obstacles in his life. It is deucedly hard to press onward when you've got to watch for arrows from every direction, when the person in the most vital, key position as our ally is your most merciless, tireless, unsparing, unmanning unpleasable critic. You've got all the obligations, but few of the external enablements and incentives.

But suppose the Word pierces her heart, and she humbles herself before God, repents, and sincerely gives herself to do and be what God calls her to do and be, and to what she promised her husband that she would do and be?

Then it is all on him!

He has no pretense of a cover nor excuse for not heading off in the highest, most God-honoring direction for his life and family. He has no cop-out for not leading the family in devotions, and in godly sacrifice and service. It is all on him — where it should have been in the first place.

Do you see how each spouse's godliness suits God's purpose?

Now of course, the perversity of the human heart (Jeremiah 17:9) is such that I have to say, immediately, that a godly wife cannot make a man be godly, nor force him to face his own sin; nor can a godly husband exercise an irresistible influence on his wife. If you want to complain, you will. If you want to make excuses, you will. If you want to be discontented, you will. If you want to be a self-centered, whiny, malingering slug, you will. And so will I.

I've seen far too many books and sermons and essays that do not take this into consideration, so let me stress it one more time: there simply is no human behavior that is guaranteed to produce a godly response in another person. None. Zero. Cipher. Two minus two. To suggest otherwise is to fall into the barkingly inane folly of Job's friends. Nothing you can do can make your spouse do his or her God-given part.


But a godly spouse removes all pretense of valid excuses for his/her mate not facing his responsibilities before God. (S)he leaves that person naked before God, removing all distractions and dodges and misdirections from the central issue of that person's life. A grand myth is that it takes two to sin. It doesn't. But when two have been in some sort of sin, and one repents, he who remains may well see himself in all his personal culpability.

See how wise God is?
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! (Romans 11:33)
Dan Phillips's signature


Stefan Ewing said...

Thank you are addressing this topic. It seems that the Lord doesn't often save both spouses at once--my wife and I are going through exactly this transitional period right now. Why in his infinite wisdom and majesty does God do that? So that the one who is saved first can work to bring the other to redemption?

Before he saved me, I prayed for him to open her heart--instead, he brought *me* to *my* knees in repentance. At first I thought it was ironic and was despairing in the midst of my joy, but I trust the Lord, and the Holy Spirit has begun to show me that perhaps God was answering my prayer after all--just not at all in the way I expected!

David A. Carlson said...

Mawiage. Mawiage is wot bwings us togeder tooday. Mawiage, that bwessed awangment, that dweam wifin a dweam...

One of the best movies ever.

And the post aint bad either. Going directly to my daughter and future son in law.

Anonymous said...

Ooooh, David beat me to it! "Then wuv will fowwow you fowever and ever..." and "Have you the wing?" are priceless.

Wow, this is hard stuff. I praise God that He saw fit to save both my wife and I at the same time, through the same circumstances. But living that out, as you refer to here Dan, is not always easy. But it is obedient.


Rick Davis said...

Oh wow. It really excites me that I can be reading a theological blog and see the phrase "All Your Base are Belong to Us." It reminds me that it's okay for me to be Reformed and a nerd at the same time!

DJP said...

...so tweasure your wuv....

Joe said...

Dan that was.......nice.......

DJP said...

Don't make me come over there, Joe.

steve said...

That was truly an equal opportunity blogpost.

Seriously...it's great to see this spelled out so clearly. God's Word points directly to our own responsibility, and leaves no escape hatches (room for excuses that it's the other half's fault).

Norman said...

I assume you included a picture of Hilary because of her good example of sticking with her husband through thick and thin.
And I am not being sarcastic.
If it wasn't for that reason, you should be ashamed of yourself.

DJP said...

Thanks, Steve.

Additionally, I was trying to make this point, which I can put like this:

1. Regardless of what our spouse does, it is our responsibility to do our God-given role
2. If our spouse DOESN'T do his/her part, OUR Christlike attitude is likelier to help our spouse, than is our joining him/her in disobedience

I'll probably be searching for better, crisper ways to say that until the Lord comes or I die.

DJP said...

Norman, your opinion is noted. For my part, not thought much of.

But noted.

danny2 said...

i hesitate to mention a book ona blog with men far more discerning than myself, but i found eggerich's "love and respect" to be interesting with this.

he lays out for much of the book that a husband who loves his wife will make it easier for her to respect him...and vice versa.

finally, in about the last three chapters he deals with what to do if your spouse just will not respond. he lays out that your role in marriage is primarily about your obedience to God. they were probably his best chapters.

my wife and i thought it was a fair treatment of ephesians 5:32 and we've seen people benefit from the principle...i've just wondered before why he doesn't weave that point throughout his book, instead of saving it to the end.

excellent post, dan.

House and wealth are an inheritance from fathers, But a prudent wife is from the LORD.--proverbs 19:14

Matt said...

Nice post, Dan. Good to see this angle as it is often not addressed!

4given said...

This reminds me of my testimony. My husband persevered and was a steadfast example of Christ through the first 6 years with him being married to me, a wretched, self-centered unbeliever, as well as persevering through our tumultuous 16 month marriage separation. That is why I consider my husband my hero. God used my husband's testimony to chisel my stony heart and draw me to Himself.

Great post and to GOD be all the glory in your words here.

Coram Deo said...

djp: Soooo...I have to ask, what did your wife think of this post?

P.S. - The Princess Bride quotes are priceless!

P.S.S. - Was it just me or did anyone else feel that a pic of William Jefferson was blatantly missing from this post? The subject at hand all but demanded - nay screamed for - a pic of the other W!

Lee Shelton said...

Thanks for the post and the reminder.

DJP said...

Danny2—what I wrote in the article is what I've said, taught, written and preached for years and years.

But it's funny you mention Emerson Eggerichs. He just came to my attention a couple of weeks ago. I've heard maybe a couple of hours of his audiobook, and basically like what I hear. It'd be unfair to judge the whole until I hear it; there are some question-marks, things I'd say differently, issues I gather he addresses later. But his stress on the WHOLE teaching of Ephesians 5 is much-needed and salutary, as is his critique of the effects of feminism even on Christian teaching.

Rachael Starke said...

Usually, I find your posts the most nutritious and delicious of all the Pyro chefs. This one, however, was at first a little under-fired, until, that is, I noted your clarifying comment to Steve. It was crispy perfection. Not as delicious, given that it's never pleasant to have a lame excuse for my sin roasted so well, but still nourishing all the same.

Morris Brooks said...

Dead-on, Dan!

RonK said...


great post

Matthew Carroll said...

Thank you. This is good.

Kinda deflates His Needs, Her Needs.

Magpie said...

Thank you for this. Very well explained and supported...this is a real encouragement to me. I love how God's word always directs us back to righting the broken relationship between us and him, even when we think the problem is somewhere else. This is my first visit here, but I'll be back.