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What the Bible Says About Marriage--it's more than just a few passages, so let's not ignore the complete picture

Some days I’m just overwhelmed by all the emails and comments on this blog–especially comments on older posts which people arrive at in crisis. Marriage is often messy, and sometimes so downright hard.

It’s also a great source of joy to most of us (I hope!), but even in happy marriages there are times when we get ticked off, when we feel lonely, or when we wish that something would change.

And that’s why I wrote 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage, because we can’t be superficial about marriage. It’s complicated because two different people are involved. And people are complex!

One of my pet peeves is marriage advice that seems to forget that marriage is messy.

I call that kind of advice “pat answers”, and I was asked in the comments yesterday what exactly I mean by that. Let me take a stab at it here:

A pat answer is a suggested solution to a problem which DOES work–in some situations. But it’s presented as if it’s the answer to every situation, even though quite often it doesn’t fit at all.

And I would argue that Bible verses are sometimes presented as pat answers.

We’re told to “win him without words”, like it says in 1 Peter 3, without taking into account that there are many instances in Scripture where women were specifically told to speak up. Or we’re told to “just love on him and God will bless you for it” forgetting that there are other instances in Scripture where we’re told to enact consequences when someone sins.

What the Bible says about marriage can’t be confined to just a few verses.

God’s purpose is always to bring people closer to Himself. He wants all of us looking more and more like Jesus, and that should be our aim, too–that we look more like Jesus, and that those around us do as well. But even though that is always our aim, that doesn’t mean that we will always act in exactly the same manner. Different circumstances may call for different approaches.

I’ve received some pushback from people saying that I’m abandoning the Bible because I say that “just submit”, for instance, isn’t the proper response to every marriage problem. I’m sorry people feel that way, but quite frankly I think that they are the ones who are ignoring the Bible, because they’re ignoring the REST of Scripture. And we have to use the whole of Scripture to interpret Scripture.

I wrote on Monday how, when we talk about marriage, we tend to turn to just five passages: Ephesians 5, 1 Peter 3, 1 Corinthians 7, 1 Corinthians 13, and Proverbs 31, with perhaps some Genesis 2-3 thrown in. But the Bible is more than those 5 passages.

And today I’d like to share the voices of two other readers of this blog who have chimed in on just that point.

First, Kim Martin left a really thoughtful comment on my blog post When The Way We Talk About Submission Turns People Off of Christ. She said (and I’m shortening a bit):

Some religious groups use “win without words (1 Pe 3:1)” to silence wives married to unbelieving and/or disobedient husbands in ways that the Bible never intended.

ALL Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16). Last time I checked, ALL wasn’t limited or confined to just the verses that Paul and Peter wrote about women and wives.

The Bible tells us that “there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: (Ec 3:1) a time to be silent AND a time to speak (v. 7B).”

Being silent (without words) and speaking up are both Biblical and purposeful. It’s important that the wife of an unbelieving and/or rebellious, disobedient husband understand the purpose and benefits of both methods: silence (without words) and speaking up.

What the Bible says about being silent:

A wife who knows when and how to restrain her words has knowledge. “Whoever restrains his words has knowledge.” Pr 17:27A

A wife who controls her mouth can protect her own life, but the wife who has a big mouth could ruin everything. “Whoever controls his mouth protects his own life. Whoever has a big mouth comes to ruin.” Pr 13:3

Watching her tongue and keeping her mouth shut could help a wife stay out of trouble. “Watch your tongue and keep your mouth shut, and you will stay out of trouble.” Pr 21:23

What the Bible says about speaking up:

A wife can protect herself by speaking wise words. “What a fool says brings a rod to his back, but the words of the wise protect them.” Pr 14:3

A wise wife can bring healing by speaking up. “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Pr 12:18 “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” Pr 16:24

A wife can deflect anger by giving her husband a gentle answer. “A gentle answer deflects anger…” Pr 15:1

When a wife gives her husband an honest answer, metaphorically, it’s like kissing her husband on the lips. “An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips.” Pr 24:26

Pr 31:10 tells us that a wife of noble character “opens her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.” Therefore, one of the primary functions of a wise wife is speaking (opening her mouth) with wisdom.

When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. FOR IF YOU REMAIN SILENT AT THIS TIME, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” Es 4:12-14

Those who have read the book of Esther know that she didn’t remain silent (without words). She spoke to her husband about what was going on. As a result, Esther helped save the Jews from annihilation.

Some religious groups quote 1 Pe 3:1 (without words) disproportionately. Being silent (without words) is Biblical, and it can beneficial. However, the win without words response is NOT the only Biblical or beneficial response. The Bible also has a lot to say and illustrate about the value of speaking up in a timely, wise and gentle manner.

So well said!

And then here’s an email I received after a similar blog post:

There is wise and relevant advice for mostly normal and relatively healthy married couples. Then there is wise and relevant advice for neglectful, abusive, destructive, or addiction bound marriages.

THE ADVICE IS NOT THE SAME.

Women who have married good men who listen to them, show them affection, and work hard to support their families think they can look at other women (in marriages absolutely nothing like that) and say things like, “Encourage encourage encourage, just pray more! Step back so he can lead.”

Women whose husbands are faithful and not addicted to porn tell women whose husbands ARE addicted to porn, “Be more free with your body. Let your husband see you naked a lot. Have sex regularly so he doesn’t look to porn even more.”

It’s hogwash.

People need to stop further damaging these wives who come for some empathy, help, and support by telling them that they should just wish, hope, pray, and submit more and their husband will stop sinning. The wife goes home, martyrs her sanity some more, goes on meds just so she can get out of bed and take care of the kids, and has sex in the dark while crying her eyes out and trying to pretend she’s on a beach somewhere because she listens to these people who DON’T UNDERSTAND they shouldn’t give blanket marriage advice.

My husband has been addicted to porn for 5 awful years and after being at the point of self-harm and meds, I finally realized the people “speaking into my life” were wrong. I didn’t need to “forgive my dad” and then the porn wouldn’t bother me so much. I didn’t need to “be naked more and have more sex” so he wouldn’t look to porn. I didn’t need to “cover his sin in love” and live an isolated lonely life just to protect his reputation.

I needed people to confront his sin. I needed people to look at me and say, “It’s normal you feel this way because your husband’s sin has caused great harm to you.”

I needed people who would stand up for God’s best for both my husband and myself with the goal of reconciliation–NOT a goal of me being more submissive and forgiving and sexual in an effort to break his cycle of sin.

I love her point–that we’re to “stand up for God’s best for both my husband and myself”. I sometimes think that many would define “God’s best” as women always submitting to what their husbands want.

No, God’s best is that we be transformed to look more like Jesus.

Submitting ourselves to our husband’s welfare–to what is best for him and to what God is doing in his life–is how we can start to accomplish that. But submitting to a sinful husband’s will is submitting to sin. And we are never asked to do that (and Sapphira, in Acts 5, is struck dead for submitting in that manner).

True Godly Submission

Let’s just look more like Jesus, people.

Can you imagine how much better life would be if we all took responsibility for our actions, and if we all were working towards each other’s good? That’s what God wants for us–and that’s the big message behind what the Bible says about marriage.

Some of you are in hard marriages, and some of you are in great ones and just want to stop jeopardizing that “greatness” by getting ticked off. I know that this book can help you, because my marriage has been in both extremes. Even now, as Keith and I are reinventing ourselves as empty nesters, I’ve found I’ve had to revisit a lot of the principles I share, on a daily basis.

A great relationship doesn’t happen by accident.

I need to be deliberate. And that means listening to all of what God is saying and wrestling it out–not relying on simple formula for complex situations.

I hope that makes sense! And again–I do so appreciate thoughtful emails and comments like these ones. They make me see that I’m saying something important, and God really uses those words to encourage me. Thank you to the others who emailed me this week telling me to keep my chin up. I did, and your words really helped!

I’m going against a lot of conventional wisdom in this book, and that’s frightening for people. I wish it didn’t have to be. Let’s look like Jesus–all of Jesus, not just a part of Him. That should be our aim.

Nine Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage: Because a Great Relationship Doesnt Happen by Accident9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage launches August 18–but you can pick up a copy now for 50% off (in North America!). And anyone who pre-orders, or who purchases it on August 18–will get a chance to enter a contest to win some awesome prizes which I’m still putting together. And you’ll get a bundle of downloadable freebies on that day, too!

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And from my Instagram feed yesterday:

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