Chapter OneThe God-Centered Spouse
Let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body
and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.
2 Corinthians 7:1
Greg Nettle, pastor of the RiverTree Christian Church in Massillon,
Ohio, was walking to his car after a golf tournament when he realized
the remote trunk opener wasn't working. Neither were the automatic
door locks. When he finally got inside the car, he saw the fuel
gauge reading empty, even though he had filled up on gas less than
twenty-four hours before. More frustrating yet, the car would turn
over but then immediately die.
After a tow truck delivered the disabled vehicle to the dealership,
a mechanic came out to Greg and told him the problem: a bad BCM.
"What's a BCM?"
"The basic control module. It's essentially the car's brain, and
once it goes bad, everything starts malfunctioning."
Greg could have insisted on "fixing" the trunk, the door locks,
the gas gauge, and any number of problems-but those were merely
the symptoms of an overall malfunction.
How often do we do the same thing with marriage! We focus on
"We need to improve our communication."
"We need to get better at handling conflict."
"We need to show more appreciation for each other."
"We need to have a more unified plan with the children."
"We need to work harder at keeping the romance alive in our
We can spend a lifetime focusing on the symptoms, or we can replace
the BCM-the basic control module. I believe the BCM for marriage
is our spiritual motivation.
It all comes down to this: Are you a God-centered spouse or a
spouse-centered spouse? A spouse-centered spouse acts nicely toward
her husband when he acts nicely toward her. She is accommodating,
as long as her husband pays her attention. A spouse-centered husband
will go out of his way for his wife, as long as she remains agreeable
and affectionate. He'll romance her, as long as he feels rewarded
for doing so.
But Paul tells us we are to perfect holiness out of reverence for God.
Since God is always worthy to be revered, we are always called to
holiness; we are always called to love. A God-centered spouse feels
more motivated by his or her commitment to God than by whatever
response a spouse may give.
Spouse-centered Christians try to make excuses to stop loving
their spouses because of their spouses' sins. But if this were a valid
excuse, every one of us could avoid the call to love, since every one
of us married a sinner!
One woman came up to me after a seminar and said, "It would
be easy to be married if my husband were half as holy as you." I managed
to contain my laughter and pointed out that she had no idea
how "holy" I was; my wife feels pushed beyond her limit in many
areas while trying to love this sinful man.
But that's not the point! I am not called to love my wife because
she is holier than other wives (though I'm deeply thankful for her
godliness). I am not called to love her because she makes me happy
(though I am grateful for the many good times we share). I am not
called to love her because she makes me go all gooey inside (though
sometimes she still does). I am called to love her out of reverence for
God. Any other motivation is less than Christian.
If I am to rid myself of anything that may contaminate body or
spirit, then I can give no place in my life to jealousy, bitterness,
resentment, or selfishness. I am always called to practice gentleness,
kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. Someone else's
sin-even the sin of my spouse against me-never gives me the
license to respond with sin. I am called to just one motivation, and
one only: reverence for God.
In one sense, what my spouse says or does or doesn't do is almost
irrelevant. Every decision I make, every word I utter, every thought
I think, every movement I perform, is to flow out of one holy motivation:
reverence for God.
Are you a God-centered spouse?
Chapter TwoA Prayer to Remember
Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a
life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant
offering and sacrifice to God.
When I come into town for "Sacred Marriage" seminars, I often get
taken out to dinner beforehand. The organizers sometimes invite an
engaged couple to join us. I always like this, particularly if I feel tired
from traveling, because I know I can ask one question of the engaged
woman that will reward me with a good rest. I know this because she
will likely take at least ten minutes to answer. The question is this:
"Tell me about your future husband."
The bride-to-be's eyes light up, and she starts to gush with enthusiastic
and unqualified praise: "Oh, I so appreciate this about him,
and he's so good at that, and he's so wonderfully thoughtful in this
area, and in that area he's absolutely the best ."
Then, later in the weekend, I'll be with a group of wives and say,
"Tell me about your husbands." I still get a rest, but I don't find it
nearly as pleasant. The chorus goes like this: "He doesn't do this. He
never does that. He wouldn't know how to spell 'spiritual leader,'
much less act like one."
I go back to my hotel room and ask myself, "Where is the bridge
that leads a woman to stop defining a man by what he is and start
defining him by what he is not?"
The sad answer, unfortunately, is marriage. All our hopes, expectations,
dreams, and ideals get poured into this real relationship.
Because we marry a sinner, each day brings a new and often legitimate
disappointment. Before long, we stop seeing what attracted us
and instead become consumed by what disappoints us. Whereas
before marriage our eyes filled with the glory of the person we had
chosen to spend our lives with, now our eyes get filled only with their
I end the "Sacred Marriage" seminar with a story about a woman
who decided to marry a man who was severely disabled in a work-related
fire. While he could certainly offer emotional, relational, and
spiritual support, such a man obviously will lack a lot of other things
women typically seek.
"Ask yourself what a blind man with no arms and only one leg
can't do for himself, much less for you," I'll say, "and then tell me what
your husband isn't. Tell me how your wife disappoints you, or how
your spouse doesn't live up to your highest ideals."
Every day, millions of couples wake up and evaluate their marriages
by asking themselves, "Am I happier today than I was yesterday?"
but I think there's a much better question we could ask. It comes
from a song I heard on the radio, with one line that goes like this: "Ain't
nobody gonna say good-bye, ain't nobody ever really tried to love you
like I love you."
The poor grammar aside, there's some good theology in there.
I'm called to love my wife like nobody ever has and nobody ever will.
I am called to be the one person so devoted to her overall good that
I commit myself to being there on her behalf, regardless of any disappointments
or faults, so that on the day I die, while my wife may
well remember the many bad habits I carried with me to my grave,
she might yet say, "But you know what? That man loved me like I've
never been loved; I can't imagine ever being loved like that again." If
she can say this, then I'll know I've "succeeded" at this thing called
marriage. It won't be about dying happier than other men; it'll be
about whether I have truly loved.
So here's the question-more of a prayer, actually. Instead of
waking up and asking yourself, "Am I happier today than I was yesterday?"
how about praying, "Lord, how can I love my spouse today
like she [or he] has never been or ever will be loved?"
You know what I've found? That's a prayer God loves to answer
in very practical ways. He delights in loving his children, and he
searches the earth to find someone willing to be his agent to fulfill
Just imagine how your marriage might change if, before your
husband or wife returned home from work this evening, you spent
some time asking God-and listening for his response-"Lord, how
can I love him [or her] today like he [or she] has never been loved?"
The answer may be very practical: take over a chore, speak a word of
encouragement, take care of something that needs fixing. Or it may
be romantic, or over-the-top creative, or generous, or very simple.
But ask God to help you. Partner with him to build up and
encourage the person with whom you've chosen to spend the rest of
"How can I love my spouse today like he [or she] has never been
or ever will be loved?"
When we focus on what we can do, it's amazing how little time we
have left to become consumed by our disappointments.