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I’m addressing wives here because many women do not understand the opportunity they have to disciple their husbands. It’s also true that some husbands do not realize the effectiveness of this means of grace, while other men resist fostering this kind of discipleship environment in their relationships. But when both husband and wife catch this vision, it will transform their marriage like nothing else.
Before my friends who have an admirable sufficiency of Scripture worldview get up in arms about my remarks about the Bible, let me clarify. God’s Word is sufficient for all matters regarding truth and godliness. We also have many practical books written by amazing men and women to help us mature into Christlikeness. My point here is not to downplay those incredible tools, but to speak to a different aspect of transformative grace—the unique wife of a unique man.
I have mentioned the word unique several times—on purpose—because that is the point that I want to bring to your attention. The Bible gives us guidelines, rules, principles, and much more to show us how we ought to live. What the Bible does not do is exegete the unique individual autobiographically. It can speak to seven billion people in specific and general transformative ways, but it will not get into the unique nook and crannies of a person’s life.
There is a long list of individuals and couples who have come to me after reading several books about their problems. There was nothing wrong with their books. Their tension was similar to the Ethiopian eunuch reading from the Book of Isaiah, who needed someone to apply it uniquely to him (Acts 8:32). If we did not need each other, there would not be such a heavy emphasis on the “one another” passages in the New Testament.
Though I have a sufficiency of Scripture worldview, I don’t believe in a kind of magic that says God’s Word is all you need to iron all the wrinkles out of your life. You can speak honestly about the Bible without downgrading it. The Bible is the most incredible tool you could have to help a person change. But a Stradivarius sitting in the corner of the room is just that if nobody will pick it up to demonstrate what it can do.
The Bible is the Stradivarius, and a husband needs a wife who knows how to play one. The retort could be, “Why doesn’t he do it himself?” That’s fair. He should, but my aim is not as apparent as that. I want to elevate and envision a wife’s value here, not talk as though she has no role or responsibility in complementing her husband (Genesis 2:18).
I’m aware that the Bible is a transformative tool in a man’s change toolbox, and he must step up and turn that wrench if he wants to be like Christ. But he has more resources than God’s Word and personal responsibility. His wife is in a unique position to come alongside him to help him to become the man of God that he should be (1 Timothy 3:16-17). This article is about her role, not what the Bible can do or what he should do.
Every spouse comes from the dinged and dented section of the grocery store. The only two spouses that entered into a covenant in a perfected state were Adam and Eve. Of course, that relationship went to pot, and the rest of us came from their brokenness (Romans 5:12). The key for each spouse is to understand their unique brokenness rather than general brokenness and how their unique dysfunctions relate to each other.
Sadly, too many spouses do not consider the effects of their unique fallenness. They hit the honeymoon trail with high expectations of how their marriage will be. In six days, six weeks, or six months, reality bites, and it’s at that point that a spouse has to realign their thinking biblically, rather than their preferred expectations. If they do not make this “sanctification realignment,” the disappointed spouse will compound the offending spouse’s pre-existing problems—the ones the partner brought into the marriage.
Some of those disappointed spouses never come to terms with what I’m saying, and the mere mention of them complicating their spouse’s pre-existing and ongoing condition tempts them to react harshly. I trust that the more rational mind understands this relational reality and realizes the biblical logic of what I’m saying. The process to this kind of marital breakdown happens in five steps:
Biff came from a dysfunctional childhood. His dad was an abuser. He learned the ropes early, which was to lay low and hope not to get hit, verbally or physically. Biff’s personality is also non-charismatic. Being passive is natural for him. After you add his dad’s abuse to a pre-existing disposition to hang back, you get an introverted, shy, and insecure adult who struggles with the fear of man (Proverbs 29:25).
Biff entered into marriage with this unique childhood template, which became the foundation for his marriage and child-rearing. He also brought into his covenant the habits of an insecure person, two of which were porn and anger. His porn use was an escape (relief) from the pressure of being backward, awkward, and shy. He was too scared to ask a girl on a date, so he took the easy way out through the false intimacy of solo-sex, which brought perverted comfort and relief, but also an addiction that twisted his view of an intimate, marital relationship.
His anger was his way of getting things done. He did not know how to have normal relationships, so he modeled his dad’s method for acquiring what he wanted: anger (James 4:1-3). Anger is the insecure person’s manipulative tactic to get something that he wants. Biff’s porn and anger were two powerful, dominating, and perverted ways of thinking about relationships, which affected his wife and children.
Mable came from the same dinged and dented section of the store, but I won’t get into her pre-marriage baggage. I will focus on the two options she has before her for discipling her husband, which are to accept or reject him. If she accepts her discipleship role, the first step is for Mable to transition from the dating season to the marriage stage. They had periods where they were not together during dating, making it easier for them to be “on” when they were together.
Biff could pump up himself to create an image for Mable to fall in love with while they were together. Then he would deflate into his real self when Mable was not around. Mable could overlook whatever threads that she saw dangling from Biff’s garment while dating. But once she “brought him home to stay,” there was no hiding the real Biff. He was passive, lazy, self-focused, disinterested, insecure, and occasionally angry, with a secret addiction.
It would take a fantastic amount of grace, discernment, and wisdom for Mable to know the difference between dating a dysfunctional guy and marrying one. Her gospel call is to “set aside” what she wants today while partnering with God to rebuild a broken man for a better future. Too many spouses miss this opportunity, whether it’s the husband or wife. It’s like their wedding day had no past, sorrow, or dysfunction. It’s an Adamic amnesia.
What we want in a spouse and what we get are always different. If a spouse does not have a rational view of the differences or a determination to work hard to close the gap, things will continually worsen. The cold reality, post-honeymoon, is for the brave and mature, not the unrealistic, idealistic, and needy. If Mable understands these things, she will see her husband as an empty love cup, who uses her to feel better about himself—a sobering truth like a cold towel across the face.
Rather than being offended and reactive, she will get to work, asking God to help her cooperate with Him to restore Biff into the man that he should be, the one he could not be in his past broken home. The blessedness of marriage is only comparable to the work you put into it. It does not sound fair, but sin never is. Biff is not hiding the ball any longer. Will Mable persevere? Will she be part of the Lord’s restoration team (Galatians 6:1-2)?
Mable now knows that she was dating Biff’s representative, not the real person. Rather than being the victim, who vicariously takes on his sin, she chooses to beg God for an attitude of forgiveness while asking Him to provide the wisdom and practical strength she needs to help him turn around. God loves lavishing His empowering grace on humble hearts (James 4:6). Mable resists being the victim and is ready to dig in to help her husband walk out repentance practically.
There are many things for Mable to do. As you already see, she is the best candidate to help Biff walk out repentance. How kind of the Lord for bringing her into Biff’s life to model and instruct him on what it means to be a Christian. Nobody has the insight or intimacy that Mable has with this unique man. She has the history, time, and opportunity. Biff’s mentors will be helpful, too, albeit supplemental.
With all these means of grace, she is leading this discipleship opportunity. In the next section, I will lay out a few practical thoughts for Mable. None of them will be like flipping a switch on or off. They are ideas that she must implement daily for many years. Biff is a habituated man; he has habits that have been in place for decades. Mable will need to help him unlearn these things while teaching him how to change.
Biff’s sanctification is not on Mable’s shoulders. How he relates to God and others is on him, not the responsibility of others. Don’t read this as though what you do or don’t do will be the cause of your spouse’s actions. I hope you see this as an opportunity to cooperate with the Lord in the restoration of a soul. Think of it like finding a broken-down car in the junkyard, and you get to work with the Master Mechanic to restore it. If spouses thought about their partners this way, it would transform many marriages.