Upon further reflection after writing yesterday’s post about marriage, there are a few points I want to add.
First of all, we must be careful how we describe the analogy between human marriage and Christ’s relationship with the Church. Paul called it “a profound mystery” (Ephesians 5:32), so I don’t want to oversimplify it. For instance, I wrote:
Even in cases in which it is the bride’s unfaithfulness that breaks the fidelity of a marriage, it is still the responsibility of the Christian husband to reconcile this marriage. We are to pursue our wives no matter what their sin, just as Hosea pursued Gomer. Just as Christ pursues us, his unfaithful bride.
It is important to note that husbands are not responsible for the sins of their wives, though I have heard many Christians teach this. Saying that a husband is at fault when his wife is unfaithful would be analogous to saying that Jesus Christ is at fault for the sins of Christians! No, husband and wife are both individual sinners, who will each give an account for their own sins to God (Romans 14:12).
Husbands have been given the responsibility to lead our families, and it is of our leadership we will give an account (Hebrews 13:17). Some husbands are unfaithful, abusive, neglecting, unloving, terrible leaders. Some husbands lead well, caring for and nurturing their wives in a godly (albeit imperfect) way. Sometimes wives of both types of husbands are unfaithful, and in either case, it is the wife who will be held responsible for her infidelity, and for her submission (or lack thereof) to her husband. A bad spouse does not give one license to sin.
(Note: This does not mean that wives in abusive relationships have no recourse, nor does biblical “submission” mean that they must subject themselves to abuse. Women in this situation should seek counseling, and, if necessary, shelter. Peter wrote that husbands disobedient to God’s word and to their responsibility to lead well may be won over by the respectful and pure conduct of their wives [1 Peter 3:1-2]. I won’t go into further detail at this time, but for further resources along these lines I recommend “Surviving a Spiritual Mismatch in Marriage” by Lee and Leslie Strobel, and this sermon by Mark Driscoll.)
The responsibility of a faithful husband with an unfaithful wife is to pursue her, and to always seek reconciliation. He is not at fault for her infidelity (though poor leadership may have contributed to the problem), but he is the one to whom God has given the responsibility and privilege of reconciliation. What better way can Christian men display God’s love to a lost and dying world than by responding to injustice with a pure and steadfast love which covers a multitude of sins? This is EXACTLY what Christ has done — and is doing — for us! This distinction is so important, and I don’t want any of us to miss it.
Second, I don’t mean to sound distant and unloving when I say things like, “Nothing sickens me more than the infidelity of Christian husbands.” Believe me when I say that there is no haughtiness in those words; no judgment or condemnation. For I write those words as a husband who is as guilty of the sickening sin of infidelity as any other man. I love my wife, and in my flesh I believe that I would NEVER cheat on her. But Jesus himself has pronounced me guilty when he said, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). As much as I hate it, and as much as I have warred against my lust, I have committed the sin of adultery countless times since (and especially before) our wedding.
It is easy to say that my adultery is less sinful than the adultery of a man who has sex with someone other than his wife, but that distinction comes purely from my flesh. God makes no such distinction. This is why I must constantly and completely rely upon His grace, and upon His mercies, which are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23).
Men, the moment we begin to believe that we are above this sin is the moment that we allow the foxes to enter our vineyard, and begin to spoil our relationship (Song of Solomon 2:15). We can never let our guard down. We must always be vigilant in the defense of our marriages, and in the pursuit of our wives. Most importantly, we must pray without ceasing that God would equip us to be the leaders He has called us to be, and that through us He would protect our wives from the devil’s schemes (Ephesians 6:11). We accomplish this by washing our wives in the water of the word (Ephesians 5:26). The discipleship of our wives is one of our highest callings.
Our greatest weapon against Satan’s designs is forgiveness (2 Corinthians 2:10-11). We can’t expect our relationships in this world to be perfect, for we only have relationships with sinful people, just as we are sinners ourselves. In Christ there is no eternal condemnation for our sins (Romans 8:1), but they still have consequences. How we deal with those consequences as stewards of God’s grace (1 Peter 4:10), and how we surprise the world when we do not join them in heaping sin upon sin (1 Peter 4:4), makes all the difference.
Some more suggested reading: