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“However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband” (Ephesians 5:33).
Mable knocked on my counseling door; she was in tears. She just finished her weekly women’s Bible study. The deep dive into God’s Word was exhilarating, and the fellowship with her friends was refreshing. But Mable was in tears. Quizzically, I could not connect her tears with her “time with God” and friends. Then she asked, “Would you talk to my husband?” Seven syllables. It spoke volumes.
Mable spent a few hours each Tuesday at their church building, watching a video from a famous woman speaker on random Bible topics. At some point during her Bible study, Mable started thinking that something was missing in her life. What she perceived as right—her Bible study—was becoming an unpleasant reminder of something unsatisfying about her marriage.
She realized her Bible study and friends had subtly become her surrogate husband, mentor, friend, confidant. It was one of those moments of clarity. Mable was not saying her Bible study was unbiblical. No, not at all. However, it was becoming clear to her that this “fantastic weekly event” had morphed into a sub-biblical context that caused her to forget about her husband’s leadership role and the complementarian responsibilities that he has to help them pursue God together.
Biff was not leading Mable spiritually, particularly in the most crucial way a man should serve his wife: in her pursuit of God. Though Mable had no plans or biblical mandate to stop her Bible study, the Lord was gently pressing her consciousness to change the spiritual absence in their marriage. Studying the Bible with friends is not wrong. The problem Mable perceived was how the study was spurring her toward holiness, but it was in the context of her secondary relationships rather than her primary one—her husband.
She benefited from participating in the Bible study, but her good times with close friends highlighted her marital loneliness. Her spiritual maturation in secondary relationships exacerbated the dysfunction of her primary relationship. Thus, Mable stood in my office, crying. The Bible makes a clear case for a husband to love his wife how he loves himself and that the wife should respect her husband. These are not either/or callings, but both/and.
What better way can a man love his wife than by spiritually leading her? Why motivate her to pursue secondary relationships for primary care or make it difficult for her to respect her husband? Seeking supplemental discipleship contexts is smart and wise, but nothing should replace conjugal koinonia. Bible studies can complement a person’s spiritual growth just like a book, a weblog, or another friend, but the issue for Mable was not her supplemental contexts.
Mable’s problem was her husband’s disconnectedness from what the Lord was doing in her life. Her struggle is similar to parents who delegate the spiritual guidance of their children to the local church. Mable’s friends were more intimate with and knowledgeable of her than Biff was. Mable had a tear in her one-flesh union. Half of her one-flesh was spiritually thriving, while the other part was spiritually disconnected. If this were her physical body, she would be on her death bed.