Yesterday I posted the following as a guest post on Life Together. I’ve been so helped myself as I’ve thought about these things that I wanted to post it on my blog as well. For my Muslim friends, this is a good example of how the gospel (Jesus Christ being sent by God to die on the cross for sin and rise again in triumph over sin) produces change in our lives.
The heart is the key to behavior and if we want to help one another or be helped we must get to the heart. When we confront we move beyond the behavior and help our brother or sister see how sin is at work. For example, you see a friend speak in anger to his wife. You can ignore it, but that isn’t loving to your friend, to his wife, to his children, or to the others who see Christ dishonored through this man’s sinful speech. You can simply confront him with a bold proclamation against his sin, but that isn’t loving either. We need to gently point out sin and then seek to help him.
You can very gently say something like, “I noticed when we were together earlier that you said ______ to your wife. It seemed as though there was anger in your voice. What was going on?” If your friend is wise he will receive these questions with gladness. If he is like me he might be defensive. Either way, we trust that the same Holy Spirit prompting me to confront is also at work in his heart to conform him to the image of Jesus. He will likely pass the blame for his anger by telling you what his wife did to make him angry. Of course, she may very well have first sinned against her husband, but we know that no one makes us respond in sin. We do that ourselves. So our goal is to help him own his own sin.
He doesn’t need, primarily, better communication tips. He doesn’t merely need a list of do’s and don’t’s in communicating his frustrations to his wife. He needs to see his heart in the midst of his anger. In some way he was living for his own kingdom and his wife had gotten in the way of his goals. Perhaps he had elevated peace of mind as an idol in his heart. His wife then did something that caused stress and he responded in anger because she became a barrier to the peace of mind he wanted. Perhaps he had elevated some activity as an idol in his heart. His wife then did or said something that put the enjoyment of that activity in question so he responded with anger because she became a barrier to that enjoyment. Perhaps having a submissive wife has been elevated to an idol in his heart. He wants the community to know that his wife submits to him so when she did something that calls this into question he got angry at her because she had become a barrier to the status he wanted.
The point is this: Behind his anger is some kind of idol. He had ceased living for the kingdom of God and was living for his own kingdom. His wife did not play by the rules of his kingdom and so he responded with anger. This is the problem of marriage. You bring together two people with two different kingdoms and expect them to live in harmony. You soon learn that the other is not playing by your rules and conflict comes. This is why it isn’t enough to merely give better communication tips. If someone is still living for his own kingdom he will simply use those communication skills to continue living for his kingdom. There needs to be a change of heart. And this is what we want to do when we are confronting friends.
If we are going to help a friend experience heart change we must never forget that there is one means by which a heart is truly changed—the gospel. We cannot love our neighbor without the gospel. The gospel hits at every point of need. This husband needs to change. He needs to love his wife like Christ loved the church. It isn’t enough to merely quote from Ephesians 5 about what a husband is to do. We must help our friend place his story—his life—into the larger context of God’s story. We read the command, “Husbands, love your wife like Christ loved the church.” But we can’t actually understand what that means without understanding the whole story. We need to understand how sin has separated us from God so that God sent his beloved Son as a man in order to die for the sins of his people. And by this death and his subsequent resurrection God has created a new people to whom he promises to use his omnipotent power to work all things for their good.
The gospel makes a claim on our lives. It calls us to change. It calls us to holiness and obedience. So we need to preach the gospel to one another and call each other to greater holiness and obedience. But we will never be able to heed the call of the gospel if we don’t also have the comfort of the gospel. We need to understand that in Christ our sins are forgiven. I can’t live the life God wants me to live if by living it I think God will love me more. I first need to know that God loves me and he couldn’t possibly love me more because his love is already endless. It is the knowledge and experience of that love that enables me to strive for greater holiness. We obey not in order for God to love us, but because he already does.