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Before my friends with 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 remarkable 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 what 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 eight billion people in specific and general transformative ways, but it will not get into the unique nook and crannies of a person’s life.
After reading several books about their problems, a long list of individuals and couples have come to me seeking help with 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; a husband needs a wife who can 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 not speaking to her as though she is incompetent.
I know that the Bible is a transformative tool in a man’s transformation toolbox, and he must step up and turn that wrench if he wants to be like Jesus. 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). Thus, I am speaking about her role, not what the Bible can or what he should do.
Every spouse comes from the dinged and dented section of the grocery store. Adam and Eve were the only two spouses that entered into a covenant in a perfect state. Of course, that relationship went to pot, and the rest of us came from their broken pots of clay (Romans 5:12; 2 Corinthians 4:7). 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 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 of 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: to lay low and hope not to get verbally or physically hit. 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 childrearing. 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 and 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 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 is to accept or reject him. If she assumes 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 authentic self when Mable was not around. While dating, Mable could overlook whatever threads she saw dangling from Biff’s garment. 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 the husband or wife. It’s like their wedding day had no past, sorrow, or dysfunction. It’s 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. Post-honeymoon, the cold reality 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 to the man he should be, the one he could not be because of past brokenness in the 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 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 to bring 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. Here are a few means to assist Mable with her unique man.
With these means of grace, she is leading this discipleship opportunity in their marriage. In the next section, I will explain a few more 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 patterns that have existed for decades, long before Mable met him. 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 think of 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 to restore a soul. Imagine finding a broken-down car in the junkyard and you get to work with a Master Mechanic to repair it. If spouses considered their partners this way, it would transform many marriages.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).