So…funny story.  As a book reviewer, I have a (limited) choice on which books to read and review.  As the next list of eligible books came out, my wife looking over my shoulder, noticed this title “The Complete Husband: A Practical Guide to Improved Biblical Husbanding,” and exclaimed “Oooh.  Get THAT one!”

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Lou Priolo, a biblical counselor and head of Competent to Counsel International, first wrote this book in 1998.  This revision came out this year and I immediately found myself doing the forehead smack as to why I had never read this book before.

Perhaps, it’s because I thought that I didn’t need it?  Oh yes.  I need it.

Maybe one of the biggest challenges with pastoral ministry and biblical counseling is the question of how to best help non-believers, since all of our hope for real lasting change is non-negotiably grounded in being a Christian.   Priolo got my attention by addressing this in the introduction.  “It is impossible to for any man to consistently do what the Bible says without the assistance of the Holy Spirit’s enabling power. So if you are not a Christian – you will not be able to properly apply the contents of this book to your life.” [13]  AMEN.  Throughout the book, Priolo takes every opportunity to proclaim the transforming power of the gospel and point people towards a helpful appendix titled “How Can I Be Saved?”  Note that is also the first appendix of many…and the author’s gospel priorities are shown clearly.  Thank you.

The author quickly establishes 1 Peter 3:7 as the main thesis of the book – Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”  (1 Peter 3:7 ESV)  He places the burden, correctly and squarely on the shoulders of the husband to understand his wife.  Turns out she does come with an owner’s manual – it’s in her heart. When we fail to do this, we not only sin against our wives, but we sin against God.

This requires a change in mindset from a “feelings-oriented” person to an “obedience-oriented” person.  Yeah…Priolo isn’t messing around.

Scattered throughout the book are very helpful, and very practical questions that can be used in application exercises with husbands and wives.  Intimacy building questions like “If you could change three things about me in order to make me more Christlike, what would you change?” or “On a scale of one to ten how would you rate our marriage at the moment?” “What would it take to make it a ten?”  These are all summarized at the end of each chapter in a handy “1 Peter 3:7 Notebook Interview Questions” section.  [Which my wife quickly caught on to…’Don’t you have any questions you want to ask me?’]

This is because us husbands tend to be terrible communicators.  Everything else [life, kids, job, ministry, stress, sickness, etc.] gets in the way, we get lazy or shut down and marital intimacy looks more like just staring at your phone instead of an emotional mingling of souls.  [#ChandlerShoutOut].  Leaving no stone unturned, Priolo includes a “crash course” chapter on biblical communication, which is extremely helpful and practical.

Once a solid foundation is set, the author dives into actually how husbands should be loving their wives and as you may suppose, he defines biblical love first.  “Biblical love is primarily not a feeling, it’s a verb.” [99] Love is very well defined in 1 Corinthians 13.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends…” (1 Corinthians 13:4–8 ESV)

Love is all about giving for another person, it is not selfish, which Priolo writes “I can tell you, without fear of contradiction, that the root cause of virtually all enduring marriage conflicts is selfishness.” [104]

When talking about love and “self” one inevitably can fall into the trap of the “self-esteem movement.”  This is deadly and unbiblical, as it turns the the two greatest commandments of “Love God” and “Love Your Neighbor” into being dependent on a new and highest priority commandment of “Love yourself.”

“Nowhere does the Bible instruct you to love yourself. In fact in many places it teaches you the very opposite – you are to deny yourself.” [110]

When two people are living together in marriage, hurt is inevitable. Where there is hurt, there can be bitterness, which is the “result of responding improperly to a hurt.” Scripture likens bitterness to a root.  Roots have to be planted, so what is the seed that when planted in your heart, sprouts into a root of bitterness?” [120]

When we are bitter, we exhibit outward behavior that reflects the nasty state of our hearts.  Priolo gives a convicting list, which sadly some of my favorite weapons were prominently featured.

What’s the answer for bitterness? Forgiveness grounded in the gospel.  We forgive others, in this case our spouses, because we have been forgiven so much more by God.  “You must work at dethroning your idols. You must prayerfully and actively replace those inordinate desires with desires that are in accordance with pleasing and glorifying God rather than pleasing and glorifying yourself.” #Convicting [133-4]

Likewise, feelings of romance and being “in-love” were not something that came at the hands of Cupid’s arrow – rather the author points out that “you created (internally) the romantic feelings that you had for her, by means of both what you told yourself about her and what you did to and for and with her. That is your own heart produced those wonderful feelings as a by-product of your thoughts and actions.  It’s sort of the reverse of the root-of-bitterness. Any bitter, hurtful, or resentful feelings that you may now have toward your wife are also the by-products of your thoughts and actions (or lack of them.)” [139]

How do you go about renewing feelings that have waned?  Remember, rethink, redo.  Remember the way you used to think about your spouse.  Rethink – meaning repent – change any sinful thought patterns and redo those sinful patterns with God glorifying ones.

This is a hard – it’s a battle actually – and we can have battle fatigue. Some symptoms of this are – permitting bitterness, telling yourself things will never change, gossiping, withdrawing, pouting, and many more.  This is often responding to your spouses sin with more sin. “Do not return evil for evil…” [1 Peter 3:9]

Husbands, this is our responsibility.  Quoting the recently passed RC Sproul, the author writes “Her sanctification is his responsibility.”  But, as he points out sharply “You cannot be properly sanctified apart from God’s Word.” [181]

No marriage book is complete without a chapter on sexual relations in marriage and I greatly appreciated the initial focus on sexual health being a product of other intimacy issues.  “Each hurtful remark they make and every unkind nonverbal expression they display they are sabotaging their sexual relationship.  Sexual problems are not really sexual at all. They are relational.” [190]

Husbands are also called to protect their wives from danger. Not just physical danger, but negative influences, bad theology, taking on too much, embarrassment.  This was very helpful as I was forced to expand my definition of “danger.”

In what some might think should be the first chapter, Priolo leaves it to one of the last.  Husbands – we are called by God’s Word to be the spiritual leaders of our homes.  As a Pastor, I know full well this intimidates the heck out of many husbands.  To that end, the author gives two definitions – “A spiritual leader is a man who assumes responsibility for the management of his own household.” [245] Are we attentive and involved? Or passive and disconnected?  Yet, this is not a power play.  We are not the owners of the family, which leads to the second definition “a servant leader is a man who has learned to be a servant to his wife.” [250]  Jesus modeled perfect servanthood in his incarnation to earth, submission to the Father’s plan to die on the cross as our substitute.  We then continue in humble service of our families, but following God’s command to lovingly lead them to Him.

All in all, this is difficult, but Priolo writes pointedly “The problem is that many Christians are unwilling to suffer for righteousness.” [269]  Sanctification is hard work, but a work which is supported by the Holy Spirit’s presence and power, as we seek to grow and change into the image of Christ in our marriages.

This book is perhaps the best marriage book I have read to date, one that I will surely come back to in the future.

 

 

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