It’s okay to tell yourself the truth about your marriage.
This year, I want to focus on what healthy marriages look like. And one of the big things about healthy marriages is that they tell the truth. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He lives in truth and he embodies truth. When we tell the truth, we invite Jesus into the situation. We become vulnerable and authentic, and that gives Jesus room to act.
Now, truth needs to be tempered with grace, as in “speak the truth in love.” (Ephesians 4:15). Throughout Scripture, justice and mercy are often seen together (as in Micah 6:8).
But truth is still truth. You can’t truly forgive, for instance, until you confront the reality of what happened. You can’t build intimacy until you can be vulnerable with your spouse and tell them what you’re thinking and feeling, which requires truth. You can’t fix a problem you can’t name.
Truth is the building block for healthy relationships.
So why is it that Christian advice tells us to ignore truth?
When I got back from vacation, I found a note from a reader with a link to a recent article from the Desiring God website (Desiring God is run by John Piper and his followers, and is based on Piper’s theology. This particular article was not written by Piper, but obviously people think it’s compatible with his teachings).
Addressed to women married to flawed men, this article gives four big pieces of advice–two things that you need to believe, and two lies you need to resist.
I’d like to take you through each of them today to show how this sort of advice is rampant in the Christian world, and actually runs counter to everything we know is healthy (while also being unbiblical).
So let’s take this one by one:
1. You’re supposed to believe he’s a sinner.
Her first point is that you need to remember he’s a sinner. She writes:
At times, your husband may be proud, harsh, or impatient (Ephesians 4:2).
His unique cocktail of deceitful desires will afflict him (Ephesians 4:22). He will stumble by not actively guarding his mind (Ephesians 4:25–32; 5:18). He may be tempted toward dishonesty, theft, laziness, destructive speech, resentment, selfishness, sexual immorality of various stripes, jealousies, greed, or substance abuse. In a word, he will falter in his charge to love you self-sacrificially…
The light protects us from surprise over our husband’s failures because our expectations are built on this foundational truth: he is still a sinner.
Quite frankly, this is so bad I don’t even know where to start.
If you look up the verses she’s quoting, what you’ll find is that Paul is saying, “this is the way you USED TO BE,” not “this is the way you are now.” Our identity, once we are saved, is NOT as a sinner. It is as a saint.
This doesn’t mean we never sin; but sin does not have dominion over us anymore. The New Testament expectation for Christians is that we WILL NOT indulge the sinful nature anymore.
And take a look at that list of things she’s talking about: substance abuse, sexual immorality of various stripes. Really? We’re just supposed to accept his temptations towards these things? That’s how so many addicts and abusers defend themselves.
Her end conclusion is that, if you accept that he’s a sinner, you’ll stop expecting anything else, and this will help address the problem. But the New Testament tells us to expect that Christians will act like Christians, and if they don’t–we’re not supposed to have fellowship with them.
Perhaps, instead of quoting Ephesians 4 out of context, she should have gone on to the next chapter and quoted this:
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. 4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. 5 For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.[a] 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. 7 Therefore do not be partners with them.
8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.
2. You’re supposed to believe he’s growing.
The second thing we’re supposed to believe about our husband is that he is growing.
If your husband is awake and alive, then Christ shines on him! He will increasingly see his sin, and he will know what to do about it. Equipped with more than a thick-soled shoe, he has everything he needs to crush the sins exposed by the light. (Ephesians 6:10–18 gives a full inventory of all the offensive and defensive weapons in his arsenal.)…
These two foundational truths — your husband is a sinner, but he is growing — should shape your expectations about marriage, tempering your idealism with reality and your pessimism with hope.
Anyone see any problem here? People can choose to grow away from Christ, not towards him. As we noted at length in our critique of the book Power of a Praying Wife, people can choose to do the wrong thing, and can choose not to listen to God.
The idea that a man who calls himself a Christian will automatically be growing more like Christ is just simply untrue on its face.
We all know that.
Yes, she gives a caveat, “If your husband is alive and awake…” But who is this caveat for? This post is written to women married to men who are difficult. There needs to be much more understanding that many men are actually actively ignoring Christ, not growing towards him.
Okay, now let’s turn to the “lies” that you aren’t supposed to believe.
3. You’re supposed to believe it’s a lie to say, “I’m more righteous than he is.”
Besides revealing two foundational truths for marriage, the light of Christ exposes two persistent lies in marriage. The first is the lie of superior righteousness. All of us indulge in pride from time to time, supposing ourselves better than our husbands. But if we stay in the light, we cannot escape the equalizing effect of the cross.
Yes, all of us sin and are thus separated from God, and need Jesus to be reconciled to God.
This does not mean that all of us sin equally.
Throughout the Bible, people are commended for having MORE righteousness than others. Jesus even says, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20). The Bible talks about how some people will receive worse punishment than others, and some will receive greater reward.
It is simply untrue on its face to say that you can’t be more righteous than your husband.
If he is using porn and is abusing you, then, yes, you are likely more righteous than he is, and it’s okay to know that.
4. You’re supposed to believe it’s a lie to say, “I know what’s best for him.”
Be wary also of a second persistent lie lurking in the shadows: the lie of superior wisdom. Doubtless, if you were God, you would choose a different path for your husband’s transformation than the one he is currently on. But the light of Christ breaks into our blind spots, challenging even our expectations about how our husbands should grow.
Once again, back the truck up. Yes, we are not God. But it is very possible that you DO know what is best for your husband. If he is abusing you, it is true that it is better for him that he stop. If he is gambling your money away, it is true that you know that it is better if he stop.
You absolutely can know what’s best for him. You can know what God’s will is for him–to have love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. You can know that it is God’s will that he be transformed into the likeness of his Son (Romans 8:29).
This idea that if your husband is in rampant sin you can’t say that you know better than him is rampantly false!
I think it comes from this idea that God is in control over everything, and God’s will is supreme, so if your husband is doing something bad, God must somehow be working out his will in a way that you just cannot understand.
But this ignores the issues of free will (and is what we brought up in the issues with Power of a Praying Wife). It could be that your husband is simply choosing to not listen to God. It could be that your husband is ignoring God’s will altogether. And God does not violate our free will.
These four pieces of advice gaslight the reader.
They tell the wife: What you are thinking, feeling, and experiencing is not true. You are wrong. You are misinterpreting everything. You should not expect him to be good. He’s growing even if he shows no evidence of it. You’re not better than him and shouldn’t think badly of him. You don’t know any better than he does.
Is any of this in line with Truth? Or is it instead telling the wife, “Ignore what you know and feel to be true”?
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How can God work in this marriage if she is being told to ignore the real issues?
Doing marriage the Jesus way means telling the truth about your marriage.
You are allowed to name issues. You are allowed to confront issues. You are allowed to say what you see.
Yes, sometimes you may not have the full picture. But you can’t find the full picture until you start talking about it. Advice that tells you to have no expectations, ignore your feelings, ignore what you see with your own eyes, and put up with bad behaviour is not of Christ.
It is not aimed at solving issues; it is aimed at papering over issues so that you put up with bad behaviour rather than blow up the marriage.
The goal is maintaining the shell of a marriage rather than dealing with the health of the marriage.
The Jesus way is always authenticity, not image.
Authenticity requires telling the truth. So next time you hear advice like this from a pastor, a website, a podcast, or anywhere else, remember: If it’s telling you to ignore truth, it won’t result in healing. The goal is not true healing but rather maintaining an image. That’s not of Christ, and it’s okay to ignore it.
And it’s also okay to say, “this source is likely not a safe place for other advice either”!
What do you think of these four pieces of advice? What struck you as the most “off”? Why do you think people still teach this stuff? Let’s talk in the comments!