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Mailbag – How does a married couple balance money issues? For example, one partner is generally the money saver while the other is the money spender. How does the saver overcome bitterness with the spender’s needs? The saver is experiencing guilt and shame with all the spending. Where is the balance?
Adam and Eve were different and unique individuals, and the Lord said that was a good thing. Being different is perfect, which is why you want to celebrate differences while leveraging them in your marriage rather than permitting personalities and other peculiarities to be a source of irritation that divides. This perspective is at the heart of what it means to be a complementarian.
A complementarian worldview means the husband and the wife represent two different people who come together to form a one-flesh union, with each person bringing unique gifts and strengths to the marriage. Between the two of them, they live in a “complementing lifestyle and process” that matures throughout their marriage.
The wise and humble couple realizes this opportunity as a gift from God that motivates them to appropriate His grace into their lives. As they do this, they experience the Lord doing transformative things in their marriage that neither one of them could do alone (Genesis 2:18).
But then there came the bad news: what God intended for our good (Genesis 50:20) and His glory was interrupted by sinful divisions and evil agendas. The sinning that I am talking about is not so much the sinfulness that we see in our world as the sin we see in ourselves. Though it is natural to look “out there somewhere” to talk about the evil in our society, the humble soldier for Christ will always begin by addressing his propensity to crave the wrong things (James 1:14-15).
No one but Christ can escape the curse and effects of Adam’s fall (Genesis 3:6). Thus, people will always have to deal with the problem with the evil that lurks in their hearts, hoping to take them captive (Galatians 6:1). There is no place more fertile and receptive to our sin problem than in a marriage.
Sin beckons all of us all of the time. But when two people choose to get married, they exacerbate their unique sin problems. When Lucia and I were dating, it was nearly conflict-free. I could walk away from her on a nightly basis because we were dating, and she was free from me, praise God.
But when we decided to tie the knot, we could no longer ignore the real truth about ourselves. It was only by the grace of God that we were able to see our differences as God’s kindness to us and something we could celebrate and enjoy. But it did not come easy or without many battles.
The problem I have described is not unique to you. All couples must engage their sinful personal loyalties to themselves as they live to serve each other. The unwise couple will choose to ignore the challenge, only to realize years later the mistake to resist humility while entertaining pride. By the time they come to address the issues in their marriage, the tentacles of sin will have so twisted and gnarled the union, that it will seem hopeless to press on.
The gospel, of course, debunks the notion that the marriage is kaput. The gospel informs us that there is no problem so significant that it cannot fix it. God chose to execute His one and only Son to restore us to Himself. The implication is clear: there is no problem more significant than our need for reconciliation to the Lord. But as you might surmise, the gospel is not just for marriages in trouble; it has many things to say about any relationship.
The wise person will be prudent and diligent about their problems and will consistently seek how to bring the gospel to bear on the never-ending maintenance needs in their marriage. With these things in mind, and before I move on, here are a few questions for you to ponder and practicalize about what you’ve read.
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. – Paul, 1 Timothy 1:15
Do you believe you are the foremost sinner that God ever saved? I’m serious. Do you? If you were the writer of 1 Timothy, instead of Paul, would you write the sacred text the way he wrote it? How you answer these questions will have a direct impact on how you relate to your spouse. These questions are foundational, gospel-centered questions that will shape how you view and interact in all of your relationships.
I’m not asking if you have committed the worst sins in the world or the most sins. I’m not suggesting that your sinfulness is consequentially more horrific than another person. I’m appealing to you to not look first at what others have committed but gaze at the cross and in light of what you see, how do you perceive yourself.
Key Idea – If you do not believe you are the foremost sinner that you know, you will have relational difficulties that will be difficult to resolve. If you embrace Paul’s perspective as your own, you are not only in good company with him, but you are in the best possible place to work through any relational difficulty. Let me share with you a few benefits of being the “biggest sinner in the room.”
Being the foremost sinner is not the total package as it pertains to Paul’s theology. It is only one aspect of his theology, but sadly, it is an oft-neglected part of his theological corpus. Everyone struggles with how Paul saw himself in light of the cross, especially when they turn the tables and apply his thoughts to themselves.
The typical reaction is something along the lines of, “Well, yes, but I don’t want to camp there,” as though I am asking you to “camp there.” I’m not. I’m asking you to embrace a more comprehensive view of the gospel, which includes a robust understanding of the doctrine of sin as it applies to you.
This case study about financial conflict must begin by applying God’s Word to the doctrine of sin as I have outlined. If they do not, they will have a difficult time working through their marriage money problems. Unfortunately, when most people work through their issues, they look for quick solutions to the behaviors while not realizing that their root issues stem from their deceptive hearts (Luke 6:45).
It is far easier to wallpaper a termite-infested home than tear it down and rebuild it. Without understanding your real motives, you may try to resolve your financial issues; it won’t work. Now that you have situated your hope in the transformative gospel, per the first section, let’s explore your heart agendas. Then we will move on to the behavioral problem with money.
With the gospel fixed as your hope and your heart humbled by the realization that you’re the foremost sinner, let’s look at the problem at hand. How would you solve this problem? The spender (husband) wants to buy a horse, and the saver (wife) is frustrated and angry about what he wants to do. Not so long ago, the husband purchased a time-share, and the wife was against it, and the wife is still mad with her husband.
There are two distinct things wrong with the original scenario at the top of this article: (1) spenders rarely have needs; (2) savers should not experience guilt. Ironically, the exact opposite should be true: (1) the husband should be experiencing guilt for spending; (2) the wife needs to be free from the guilt that she feels because of what he wants to do.
The issue here is that the husband wants to buy a big-ticket, discretionary item that there is no justifying need for them to purchase. It would be like me spending several thousand dollars on a motorcycle while my wife was dead-set against it. In such a case, it would be wrong to spend the money on the bike.
A motorcycle or horse does not qualify as a need. It would be exceptional to “need” those things. And it is sinful for this man to frame is cravings for these things as needs while his wife is against him doing so. I’m speaking about common sense, as well as biblical maturity. In this case study, the husband is foolish. He does not understand 1 Peter 3:7, and he is exalting his desires over the clear commands of Scripture to take care of his wife.
Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. – 1 Peter 3:7
According to Peter, to be out-of-sync with your wife is to be out-of-sync with God. I do wonder if the husband realizes the real needs in his life: (1) work on his relationship with God; (2) restore his relationship with his wife. A motorcycle or horse should never come between a husband and wife.
The bike and horse are secondary matters, though the Lord is using those things to identify a more significant problem in their marriage. The benefit of the motorcycle and the horse is that it’s revealing the exact condition of their marriage.
Perhaps there will be a day where the husband can have both of these things since it would not be sinful to have them. But today is not that day. He needs to understand that there are more in-depth problems in his marriage, and if he continues to press for his agenda, he may end up with a horse and no wife.