A wife wrote to TGC: “In view of the many surprising moral failings by seemingly trustworthy men that have come to light recently, how do I know I can trust my husband?” We asked T. J. Tims to respond.
That’s a reasonable and humble question on the minds of many wives, especially those whose husbands are in positions of church leadership. It’s a reasonable question because it’s based on evidence. It’s a humble question because it does not begin with an air of moral superiority—“That could never happen to me!”—but a willingness to accept that it could.
It’s also a question that touches on my life. I’m a pastor and a husband (and a sinner with many faults). My wife and I have four young kids. Our odds of enjoying an uninterrupted night’s sleep feel about the same as winning the lottery. We’re in a wonderful and difficult season of marriage. And when that question runs through my wife’s mind, I want her to have a satisfying answer.
According to Design
There are, of course, a few qualifications in order. First, I’m approaching this question from a biblical perspective in which marriage is instituted and defined by God for his glory and our enjoyment. Second, there’s no such thing as a risk-free relationship with anyone other than Jesus. It’s possible for a man or woman to live a lie, even in the most honest community. There was a betrayer among the 12 disciples.
There’s more working for our marriages because of Jesus than against them because of sin.
But does that mean we must always be suspicious in marriage? Certainly not. At creation, God designed marriage as a place of total openness and trust, and sin does not change that design. Marriage may be harder now that sin has entered the picture, but there’s more working for our marriages because of Jesus than against them because of sin.
Walking in the Light
How so? For starters, every Christian marriage is meant to have the advantage of a Christian community. To be delivered by Jesus from the power of sin is to be delivered into a new social ecosystem where we are free to grow with the help of others.
Just as one plant does not make a healthy ecosystem, so we do not thrive in isolation. This is how 1 John 1:7 describes the social ecosystem of salvation: “If we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus his son cleanses us from all sin.”
Every Christian marriage is meant to have the advantage of a Christian community. . . . Fidelity is a churchly project.
The word “walk” in 1 John 1:7 indicates that this verse is not talking simply about the moment one begins to follow Jesus. (A wife’s first confidence in her husband’s commitment to integrity is that he has truly begun to follow Jesus. After all, Jesus will never lead us into infidelity.) This verse, though, is talking about how we “walk” over time with God and one another in honest community.
The Bible lays out God’s perfect goodness for us, and when we step into that “light,” allowing others to see us as God sees us, two things happen simultaneously. One, our relationships deepen. It’s what the Bible calls “fellowship.” And, two, our heavenly Father applies the cleansing blood of his Son to our consciences in precisely those places where we feel most soiled by sin.
As we commit to life together, we’re enabled by God’s real-time grace to benefit from honest, life-giving relationships for all of our days.
Faithfulness Is a Community Project
But how does this reality speak to our initial question?
Grievous betrayals often leave us with the impression that only a grand remedy could have prevented them from happening: If only we’d gone to Paris! But that’s rarely true. The crash of marital infidelity may be sudden, but we glide into it by degrees. Screwtape puts it best: “The safest road to hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot.” The act of betrayal is a pit that lies at the end of a gently sloping, gradually darkening path of betrayal leading away from “the light” of honesty.
Judas learned to betray Jesus in the routine things long before he sold him for 30 pieces of silver (John 12:6). Just so, I’ve never seen a Christian man betray his wife without first drifting away over time from the light of honest fellowship.
I’ve never seen a Christian man betray his wife without first drifting away over time from the light of honest fellowship.
Here, I believe, rests one of the Bible’s best answers to our question. Put simply, a wife can feel confident in her husband’s integrity to the degree that he is “walking in the light” in the way 1 John 1:7 describes. Or to come at it from the other direction, the best assurance a husband can give to his wife of his fidelity is his commitment to walk in the light of God’s holiness with other sincere men of God determined to do the same. Fidelity is a churchly project.
Picture of Faithfulness
I can still hear an objection: “How does walking in the light actually help a wife’s confidence in her husband?” I want to be careful here not to be too specific about what this looks like, since walking in the light can look different in different contexts. But since we all tend to look for the loopholes when it comes to honest community, I’ll take the risks associated with painting the picture in concrete terms. Here is what walking in the light could look like for a godly husband.
A husband walking in the light wants his wife to know that he does not trust in his own strength and that she shouldn’t either. Because he doesn’t want to break his wife’s heart, a godly husband entrusts his heart ultimately to God, the only One with the strength to keep him from stumbling.
And this act of faith is seeable and verifiable. This may mean that he meets regularly with other men for the express purpose of confessing his sins and prayer. He puts those meetings in the shared calendar because everything vital is there.
He wants her to see that the men with whom he is in confidence are trustworthy and of good reputation—men who are not afraid of him, who will ask hard questions, who will not let him fail without a fight. He may invite these men over for dinner so that she can judge their character for herself. And he wants her to know that she has his permission to ask these men about the condition of his heart.
He does things like this because he wants her to know with confidence that there are no dark corners inside of him that she cannot see. And in so doing, he lays the groundwork for trust to be built, or perhaps rebuilt, according to her timeline and not his.
Headlines may lead us to believe that such a godly husband is rare. I don’t believe that. “Steady Man of God Carries On in Joyful Fidelity to His Wife” does not generate many clicks in this world—because it’s not of this world.
I’m immensely privileged to have known many godly husbands who are committed to walking in the light all of their days and keeping their vows unto death. Some of them have already made good on that commitment. And their memory is still precious to their wives and children today.
May the Lord give us grace to do the same.