Men and women who believe in historic, orthodox Christianity won’t bat an eye when someone mentions the universal importance of Jesus’ “Great Commission”:
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
—Matthew 28:18-20 (NIV)
Moreover, most of those people wouldn’t object to the the biblical teaching that, within marriage, husbands have a special opportunity and responsibility to care for their wives’ spiritual health:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
—Ephesians 5:25-27 (NIV)
But do you know what makes a Bible-believing, church-going man nervous? Ask him how he actually practices these commands in his own home. The reason for the nervousness is that, while we say we believe one thing, our lives show what we actually believe and what’s truly important to us. And when the truth is dumped on the table, it doesn’t make us look good.
How do I know that? It’s not just because I have served churches where the men have failed (sometimes for decades) to “wash” their wives with God’s word. And it’s not just because I’ve seen men—good, honorable, loving men—fail to transform their guilt into change.
How do I know the nervousness that question causes? It’s because I was that man.
I was raised by a single mother in a non-Christian home. I didn’t grow up seeing what it looked like for a husband to make a disciple of his wife. Amazingly, I got to marry a woman who did grow up in a solid Christian home. Did I feel lucky? Absolutely. But you know what else I felt? Intimidated. So whenever I read passages of Scripture that call men to manage and oversee the spiritual lives of their families (see also: Deuteronomy 6, Psalm 78, 1 Timothy 3), or whenever I heard sermons that challenged men to be the gentle and loving leaders of their homes, I developed a fool-proof plan to process them: I ignored them.
Over time, God’s powerful grace overcame my idiocy. I began teaching my children every night from a faithful catechism and leading the whole family in “Bible time” before bed, and I’m amazed with gratitude that God would even change me. As I began working at a church and teaching the Bible for a living, though, a sobering thought came to me: “Am I more interested in the spiritual lives of those outside my home more than the woman who shares my bed?” Spurred on by an excellent and challenging book, I realized that I functionally cared more about the spiritual health of relative strangers more than the wife who shares my bed. In that moment, I was hit with a ton of bricks by the realization that it just shouldn’t be like that. Following Jesus meant that I had to love my wife better than that.
If my story connects with yours, let me encourage you: there is tremendous hope for discouraged husbands. For starters, God is so full of love and power that he is more willing to forgive your sins than you are willing to be forgiven. More specifically, he is more interested in the health of your marriage than you are, since a healthy marriage illustrates the truth of his gospel in hi-def clarity (Ephesians 5:29-33). In the event it helps you, here’s a step-by-step explanation of how I changed and began to disciple my wonderful wife:
- I started with confession and repentance. Over dinner one night, I told my wife that I was mourning my lack of love for her and my failure to care for her spiritually. I asked her to forgive me (she did!), and I invited her to offer her own opinions about how I could love her better.
- Together we decided that we would set apart time every week to discuss a passage of Scripture that we had been reading on our own. I have trained men and women in several different methods to read the Bible together; we settled on the COMA method (outlined in this excellent booklet), which aims for a deep understanding of the passage’s context and background. It requires a couple hours of study for each passage (the worksheets are made available for free here), but both of us are highly motivated. (Plus, we’re both big nerds who just enjoy the work.)
- Several days a week, we make sure to read the passage we’ll be discussing later. My wife prefers to do a little bit of studying each day; I prefer to do it all at once the day before our meeting. What matters is that both of us are reading and praying about the same Scripture (usually a chapter in length) and spending time concentrating on it.
- We set a date on our family calendar to share the results of our studying. Sometimes it’s a local coffee shop on a morning when the kids are in school; sometimes it’s our living room after the kids are asleep. One of us opens in prayer, asking for God’s help to transform us as individuals and as a married couple. Then we go straight through the COMA worksheet. It’s not dramatic or flashy in the least. But over the course of a couple hours, we end up sharing our discoveries and (sometimes without planning on it) connecting the passage to our current anxieties, our kids, our world, our work, and any number of other things that, unbeknownst to us, we really needed to talk about. And it all happens around the Bible.
Over the past year, these humdrum conversations over coffee have changed my wife and me. We both understand Jesus, the gospel, and ourselves so much better. I learn from her at least as much as I teach her. And we’re nearly through our long journey through all 66 chapters of Isaiah. Now I wonder how I spent the first five years of our marriage missing the time that is now more precious than any other in my life. I can’t wait to see where we’ll go next.