“Death and life are in the power of the tongue and those who love it will eat its fruits.” The wisdom of Proverbs teaches how a critical wife will eat the fruit of her words, good or bad. Her call to submission does not mean she can’t destroy her husband.
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Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. – James 1:19-20
James had a lot to say about the tongue. The third chapter of his letter is devoted to it, but before he went into that fuller treatment, he gave us some insight at the beginning of the message. He said that a person’s anger does not produce a valid lifestyle.
The Implication Is Clear: If you want someone to mature in Christ, anger is not the method to get him there. Mable wants Biff to be a more considerate husband. It’s a good desire. It’s the right desire, which makes it imperative for Mable to see her responsibility in Biff’s ongoing discipleship. She has a coequal responsibility in their one-flesh adventure.
His failures do not relieve Mable of her responsibility to lead by putting Christ on display in their home. We all know that no one is permitted to sin in response to someone’s sin. Though we see this regularly in today’s culture. Someone legitimately sins against an individual and the victim does something reprehensible in retaliation to the person who did it wrong to him.
We deplore and decry these things but too often we do similar things in our marriage. Maybe we don’t perceive them because marriage mishaps are not as consequentially devastating as our culture’s violent retaliation. In God’s eyes, He punished His Son for our lesser marital crimes.
How To Speak
Mable will have some serious and challenging heart work to do before she can be positioned to help her husband. Biff is sinning against her. She cannot spurn her responsibility because her body is rejecting her body. It’s a spiritual-marital disease.
Paul gave us two pieces of insight on how to cooperate with the Lord in the process of helping another person change (1 Corinthians 3:6). Mable will have to employ both of them:
- In Romans 2:4 Paul calls her to use the “encouragement method” to motivate him to change.
- In Ephesians 4:29 he appeals to her to use her tongue redemptively to build up her husband.
Being an encourager and edifier of a careless person is especially hard if the negligent person has been neglecting for years. And that is how it goes usually. Most of my marriage counseling on this level happens after the marriage has been deteriorating for a decade or more.
It is rare for a couple to ask for counseling after their first year or two of marriage because they want to tweak a few things they see going south. Most marriages muddle along until someone can’t take it any longer, but by that time they are at the grenade launching stage, not the soft answer stage.
Motive For Speech
Mable has a tough job. The marriage has gone the wrong direction for too long, and she needs to say something. The question is not should she “critique” her husband but how should she do it?
This opportunity is where she will have to move below the critiquing words to get to the heart of her critique. Jesus said our words are the secondary focus while the source of our words is the primary focus (Luke 6:45). Mable needs to examine her heart for Biff. She must heed James’ warning: the anger of a person does not produce the righteousness of God.
James gave insight on how to identify anger when he said that you find anger’s source in passions, desires, and coveting (James 4:1-2). This is where a person like Mable can be blinded to her approach to her husband. She can want him to change so badly that she forgets about how she approaches him. There is corruption in her good desire for a better marriage.
Some of our most destructive conversations can happen when we know we’re right. Mable is right: Biff needs to change. We see this in our culture. There are so many things that need to change, which can blind the victim to the wrongness of their methods used to bring change.
Friends Change Friends
Faithful are the wounds of a friend. – Proverbs 27:6
It is rare for adversaries to stop being adversaries. It can happen, but it’s rare. The most effective change occurs among friends. Right now, Mable is not Biff’s authentic friend. She is angry with him. If Mable does not perceive and change this, her words will not produce righteousness in him. It’s at this point where she must plant the gospel firmly in her mind. It would be easy for her to go into the “why me” mode.
Why should I be the one to change first when he has been such a jerk for so long?
It’s a valid question, but there is only one right answer: You are called to carry your cross, as you follow the example of Jesus. And, BTW, your sin put Him on the tree. He had to make the first move because you were incapable of moving (Ephesians 2:1).
Someone in this marriage will have to set aside their preferences for the greater good of the marriage (Philippians 2:5-6). To ask Biff to be mature when he has not shown any signs of maturity for a decade or more is unrealistic. It would be great if he all of a sudden got a clue but that rarely happens.
It didn’t happen with me. It didn’t happen to you. It probably won’t happen with Biff. It will be on Mable to make the first mature move in their marriage. She will have to be the Christlike leader. She will have to die first.
Let’s Make It Practical
Mable’s first call to action will be to take her heart to task regarding her affection for Biff. She will have to plead with God to give her affection for her annoying husband. She will have to let the gospel be her guide here: Jesus loved annoying Mable so much that He died for her (Romans 5:8).
As she is begging God to change her hurt heart, she will need to find a better place to begin helping Biff. More than likely, she will not be able to start with her most grave disappointment. Too often a spouse will bring up her biggest annoyance about the marriage. Usually, that is too much truth for the historically proven unchanging person to respond to so he can change.
It’s similar to debt reduction. It’s normally more effective to start with smaller debts before you tackle the larger ones. If Biff is immature and has a proven track record of not changing, bringing up his most challenging sin is probably a bad idea.
I’m not talking about sins like adultery or other devastating addictive behaviors. I’m talking about “over-look-able” things like passivity, poor communication habits, inability to prioritize Biff’s life, messiness, not considering you, lack of passion for Jesus, and fear motivated inhibitions.
Newly married couples often make this mistake: Now that they are married, they anticipate how the other spouse will be all they had dreamed. The boyfriend wooed her off her feet, and she floated down the aisle. That should be the beginning of the “happily ever after” storyline.
Back to Earth: Most of these marriages enter marriage without a sin plan, and as the little disappointments mount, they develop poor ways of dealing with them until they become Biff and Mable.
Biff did not stop being work-in-progress on his wedding day. Neither did Mable. After the marital dust settled, they should have seen their joint brokenness and their need for ongoing mutual care. It’s like the marital dust settled in their eyes and blinded them.
Mable will have to set aside–as much as she possibly can–what’s wrong with Biff. She will have to help him grow. These areas of growth must be reachable goals. She must be his caring cheerleader. Perhaps, with enough work, some of the more significant flaws in Biff’s life can change, in a few years.
She will have to guard against mapping her personality, gifts, strengths, and expectations over Biff’s capacities and demand he works through those things the way she has (1 Thessalonians 5:14). One of the worst mistakes a spouse can make is comparing her life with his life (2 Corinthians 10:12).
You cannot mandate the things you’ve overcome in a lifetime or the things you don’t struggle with on another person for emulation. We all battle differently. We’re all shaped differently. We all grow and change individually. And some people never transform.
Call to Action
Fallen people helping fallen people change can be a mess. The number one key to helping a fallen person mature in Christ is addressing your fallenness first. If you neglect this, you will become angry at the other person.
This method will disqualify you from cooperating with the Lord in producing righteousness in the person you long to see changed. The following questions are designed to help guide your heart and change your mind about how you disciple your husband.
- Do you have genuine affection for your spouse? If not, you must begin here.
- Are you able to set aside your wants while helping your spouse become a better person?
- How is the gospel affecting your heart regarding questions one and two?
- Where is the best place to begin with your spouse, even though it’s not the main thing you want him to change?
- Is your encouragement to him more obvious to him than your critique of him? If not, will you change this?
- Who is walking with you, as you spend the rest of your life discipling your husband?
Also published on Medium.