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There is always a smell of death to our most complicated questions because to walk well with God in His world, there is a call to die to ourselves (Mark 8:34). How could it be any other way? Living among the walking dead is not always complicated in some areas of our lives, but it can be pretty challenging in other situations, and when there is sin, there will be ancillary problems that need our utmost care. Most of the tight spots where dying to yourself is hard are in our most meaningful relationships.
Part of the problem will always be relationship inequity; everybody is in a different place. Each person has a unique way of seeing things and responding to them. For example, parenting is a testing ground where one child progresses well while the other does not. Marriage is another testing ground where being different can cause conflict. Thinking biblically about our differences while learning to respond like Jesus to those who are not like us is well worth our consideration.
Let me provide you with three ideas I told Mable and then I will add four other tips that I hoped would help her reflect Christ to Biff (1 Peter 3:1-2). I do not assume you are married or that your situation is like hers, so if it serves you, please change and adapt what you need to, so these concepts will aid you in your most vital relationships. Perhaps you are Biff, and it’s Mable who is stubborn or oblivious about the needs of the marriage. If that is the case, make those adjustments while asking God to provide you the wisdom and courage to be Jesus to her.
While I’m sure you’ve considered the condition of Biff’s soul, I would like you to consider why he did not ask you for forgiveness. Perhaps you live in a Christianized community, or you are part of a church. What do you think his lack of asking means? There can be a difference between doing Christian things and being a Christian (James 1:22; Philippians 2:12-13). If he is not a Christian, there is no way he can ask you for forgiveness that will be adequate, consistent, or transformative (1 Corinthians 2:14). To know you’ve sinned and to be motivated to remove your sin is a Spirit-led, Spirit-illuminated, and Spirit-empowered gift (John 16:13; 1 John 1:7-10).
Even a non-Christian can premeditate and act out choreographed responses that look like a believer if he has time to think, plan, and implement Christianized responses. He realizes the need to control his words, actions, and reputation. Thus, there are two crucial areas to consider when thinking about whether he is a Christian: those spontaneous moments in his life where he’s “caught by surprise,” and how he lives when nobody is looking.
During “surprise moments,” you must react quickly without considering how you might look to others. These unannounced instances do not matter to the Christian because he can keep in step with the Spirit and be under the Spirit’s management each moment of the day (Galatians 5:16). Nobody ever caught Jesus off guard. He was under the influence of the Spirit rather than fleshly desires (Romans 8:6). Secondly, there is a difference between our public and private lives. We are tempted to let down our guards when the world is not watching. There is no craving for favorable opinions or fears of rejection. We relax. We live in harmony with who we really are.
The Ethiopian in Philip’s day did not understand God’s Word (Acts 8:31). He needed guidance (John 17:17). The Bible speaks about the value of teachers (Ephesians 4:12-14; James 3:1), and Philip was one to this man. We can’t know what we don’t know. Maybe the light of the Spirit is turned on, but Biff does not know how to repent, or nobody ever taught him the importance of confession and forgiveness (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Practicing the skill of repentance is not universally understood within the Christian community.
For example, Christians regularly say unkind things to each other on social media while never returning to ask for forgiveness. Thirty minutes on any social media platform would support this claim. I have discovered that most Christian couples I have counseled do not know how to practice repentance. When I ask them to walk me through what repentance looks like in their marriages, nearly all return blank stares or stumble through some apology process with no redemptive force.
Fear of others is real (Proverbs 29:25). It is most acute around people we know best, those where the need for vulnerability is most sensitive. It is easier to be transparent and honest with strangers. People we may never see again are typically risk-free relationships. Online communities are like this, so a person can communicate more in a community like a social media platform than in in-person relationships. Shame, guilt, vulnerability, honesty, and transparency are part of the human complexity that needs constant mortification to have redemptive relationships (Romans 8:13).
Men may appear to have a tougher-looking facade, and they may know how to present hardness, aloofness, or having it all together, but we’re all weak clay jars (Genesis 2:7; 2 Corinthians 4:7). Eve did not get more shame, guilt, and fear than Adam. Sin came upon all people equally and without measure (Romans 3:23, 5:12). Adam has penetrated, permeated, and perplexed your husband’s inner person. It could be he knows what to do, but his high estimation of himself keeps him from lowering himself to a place where he can humbly ask for your forgiveness.
If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all (Romans 12:18).
I call Paul’s verse the 50 percent verse. He asks us to do everything we can and what is biblically expected regarding conflict resolution. You can’t do everything for your husband and should not, but you must do as much as it depends on you. Reaching out to others is one of those things that can be helpful when stuck in a relational conflict. Don’t hold back from seeking help. God did not intend our journey to be isolated (Genesis 2:18).
If you have followed Matthew’s template for restoring someone (Matthew 18:15-17) and he is not changing, pray about where you can find help. No wife is biblically bound to submit to a sinful husband in every way. God has not called you to be a doormat to him, nor has He called you to be his authority. You’re co-laborers, presumably spiritual brother and sister. Unbiblical submission or authority does not leave you without options. You may need to go outside his authority to find another biblical authority to help your marriage.
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 (1 Timothy 1:15).
A sober self-assessment of all the aspects of your life is essential when thinking about helping difficult people (Galatians 6:1-2). Paul never got over the fact of his total depravity. Though he did not wallow in his depravity by practicing a woe-is-me mindset, there was no inhibition in reminding himself of what he used to be. You hear this in his language to the Corinthians. He carried them in his heart as he continually thanked God for them.
Though they may have been the most difficult Christians in his life, you can feel his love for them. (Read 1 Corinthians 1:1-9.) That attitude is what you want for your husband. I know he has sinned against you, but there is a more significant issue in play—he put Christ on the cross, which is the ground-leveling truth, and so did you. The cross of Christ is the human equalizer where all of our badness (and our goodness—Isaiah 64:6) means nothing compared to what we did to Christ.
Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance (Romans 2:4)?
God gave us what we did not deserve. Rather than heaping wrath on our lives (Romans 1:18), He motivated us to change by His kindness. Mercy drew us out of darkness (Psalm 34:6). The Lord heaped riches upon riches on us, and He has not stopped since the first time we repented (Romans 10:9, 13). Paul gives us a short list of God’s riches that He used to help people change: kindness, forbearance, and patience. Read 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and Galatians 5:22-23 for a few more.
God desires to encourage us rather than critique us to the point of deflation. I have already made a case for identifying your husband’s problems and asked you to find outside help. The issue I have in view here is not finding fault in him but being a means of grace that encourages him toward change, which is why one of my earlier questions was about whether or not you’re for him. You should overlook his sin as much as you can.
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 2:24-25).
I have occasionally thought about what it would be like to have the ability to make people change, but I always come back to the wisdom in accepting my finitude. The power of repentance needs to rest in the hands of someone a bit more omniscient than I am. And more loving, too. At times I fail in knowledge and love. Though I’m okay with being unable to grant repentance, I struggle with submitting my expectations about others to God. Specifically, when I expect people to be a certain way and they do not meet my expectations, my response at that moment will tell you what controls me.
Whatever controls you will be your functional god. Jesus tied our hearts to our treasures in Matthew 6:21. One of the most effective ways to find out what your treasure is will come in the moments of your disappointments, especially your recurring ones. When a lack of change in someone conflicts with your desires for a better kind of response from them, you’ll have to decide what will have the most power over you. That kind of tug-o-war of the heart was going on with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:24).
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).