Loving Your Sinful Spouse
pious advice from
The Mutual Duties of Husbands & Wives
by Richard Baxter
"Do you, wretch that you are, take this wicked sinner to be your lawfully wedded husband?"
If only your marital vows were formulated like this! It might put a different light on the kind of love marriage demands!
Marriage is a great thing, but it is often romanticized and thought of in fairy tale like terms. We dream of riding off into the sunset with Prince Charming and living happily ever after.
In reality though, marriage is more like an oxen yoke, as presented in 1 Corinthians: Two sinful and stubborn brutes are united together and must be committed to trudging through the tough fields of life with one another.
This is why the great English puritan, Richard Baxter, gave this counsel to married couples...
"Do not forget that you are both diseased persons, full of infirmities. Expect the fruit of those infirmities in each other; and do not act surprised about it, as if you had never known of it before.
"Decide to be patient with one another; remembering that you took one another as sinful, frail, imperfect persons, and not as angels, or as blameless and perfect."
There is a temptation in marriage to have a "holier than thou" attitude. We can easily become frustrated with our spouse's sins and look down on him/her. Subconsciously we will likely say, "Why can't he/she be as holy as me?"
The truth is, he/she is as holy as you, and he/she probably has just as many complaints!
As Baxter notes, we shouldn't be surprised when our spouse sins. These imperfections and infirmities are bound rear their ugly heads. We married a sinner, and a degree of sin is to be expected.*
In view of this Baxter says that our marriages should be marked by the grace of patience. Biblically speaking, patience is defined as "long suffering." It is the ability to endure much and absorb a good deal of wrong.
It might be likened to the shocks and struts on your car; you need to take the impact of some bumps in the road so that the marriage might have an overall smooth ride.
Perhaps the greatest expression of patience in a marriage is the biblical command to "let love cover a multitude of sins." You commit to keeping things in perspective and simply overlooking many of your spouse's offenses.
But this patience can be demonstrated in many other ways too. For example, a patient husband will refrain from speaking to his wife when his temper is roused. He will wait to until his reason is in a suitable state to address his concerns.
One way a wife might show her patience is by refusing to talk negatively about her husband to friends & family members. She covers his sins in that they do not become public or accentuated by means of a loose tongue.
Both husbands and wives will also know when to address an issue and when not to do so. He or she will be sensitive to the other's mood and how correction should be presented.
Most of all, this patience will express itself in the same gentleness and compassion that God demonstrates towards us.
God doesn't expect us to be perfect. He might demand it, but He also knows the weakness of our condition. So He expects us to sin.
But He demonstrates compassionate patience the whole time. From His immediate forgiveness to His gentle rebuke, all of it is grace upon grace.
What's more, despite all of our errors, He still takes great delight in us and rejoices over us with singing.
So next time you think that you have married a monster, remember that you are correct. Your spouse is every bit of the sinner that you are. And God calls you to mimic His love for you by loving him/her with all your heart.
*Do note that this is not a license for abuse. Baxter uses the word "infirmity." This article says "a degree of sin is to be expected." This refers to sins that are minor in nature and common to man. Sins that are overtly scandalous, such as abuse, should never to be overlooked or tolerated. Rather it should promptly be reported to the proper authorities.