Book Review – The Complete Husband

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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Book Review – Married for God

51nwKRzG+wL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I know what you are thinking – it’s just like what my friend said when he saw my copy of the book “We need another book on marriage?”  I honestly thought the same thing, but it was Tim Challies who included Married for God on his “Favorites of 2016” list that caught my eye.  Because after all, if Challies thought this book was needed…that’s probably saying something.  Right from the beginning, this book didn’t move in the “customary” marriage book topic flow.  Sex is literally the first word, and carries an important undercurrent throughout the rest of the book.  The books focus is on the centrality of wanting what God wants, in our sexuality, but more to the related point – in our marriages.  We need to want what God wants, Ash writes, because he is not a god in our service, we are in His and we need to ask God what he wants and then line up our goals behind his, rather than expecting him to line up his goals behind ours. God has given us all we have and what God wants is actually in line with how things actually are, because he is the Creator and we are the creature. When we ask what God wants, we really are asking what is best for us. [16-17]

Pursuant to having a book that is based on what God wants, particularly in our sexuality, Ash starts with grace, because unless we start with grace we will end up either with despair or self-righteousness.  With that in mind, Ash boldly enters into gospel-fused discussions of the brokenness of sexual sin and how that profoundly affects marriage  – because the Bible speaks to men and women who are all spoiled in the area of sex. Even for those of us who think that we are pretty much in the clear, the gospel teaches us that we are not, when we are talking about the areas of sexual desires and things of the heart. [22-23]. Ash quickly brings in the powerful hope of the gospel, that there is forgiveness, but realistically even though there may not be sexual fulfillment in this life.  This then points to his empowering grace, which allows us to live lives of purity, based soundly on the hope of the gospel.

The author biblically traces the topics of gender, marriage, loneliness, and companionship – noting how we have reoriented these things to be self-serving and not God-serving. It is a serious mistake to think that marriage is made to meet my needs – for two reasons.  First, Genesis 2:18 needs to be rightly interpreted.  It’s not sex in the service of me, it’s sex in the service of God.  Second, simply – the rest of the Bible doesn’t support such a view.  God has bigger purposes in all things than just meeting our perceived needs.  AMEN!  A marriage is made to meet my needs mentality is wrong, self-focused, and destroys marriages.

Ash aptly pushes on the Western undercurrents of children being either curses or something to be idolized.  “We idolize education, caring more about their getting good grades and getting to into a good school than their faith and godliness.” [53]  He boldly (but sensitively) takes a minority position on having children in marriage which I found bold – that deliberately choosing to not have children is wrong.  This goes with this thesis of our lives being not for our own needs but for others, as any parent will attest to – this is inescapable in having children.

He then spends more time developing a convicting and biblical position on sexuality in marriage.  While Christians tend to focus on the epidemic of sexual activity outside of marriage, he calls us to focus on the epidemic of sexual inactivity within marriage. [67]  As a Pastor this rings true, I’m still saddened to see so many marriages that have a sexual relationship that has all but died, and it’s poison has spread to many other areas in the marriage.  All the while neglecting what is to be the supreme act of intimacy reserved for husband and wife, as other much lesser pursuits have taken priority.  He cautions from having too high a view of sex, nor too low a view.  A husband and wife’s delight in each other, should overflow into areas of service, usefulness and blessing to others.

This is also exemplified in the roles of husband in wife in the “shape” of marriage, in which Ash appropriately balances both the wife submitting to the husband, but also the husband loving his wife, as Christ loves the church.  He notes that Paul writes forty words to the wife about submission, but 115 words to the husbands about sacrificial love. [85] This again has everything to do with sex and making sure that all sexual energies are reserved exclusively for one’s spouse, as a primary way of honoring marriage in a culture that dishonors it.  I appreciated again his boldness and clarity on biblical sexuality and the multitude of implications within sexual sin.  Marriage after all is a covenant promise, and a promise is to be kept, whatever the cost – see Psalm 15:4. [111]

The author has a helpful chapter on singleness. Stressing again that the whole duty of every person on Earth is to love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength – married or single. The question then becomes how we are going to love and serve God. [120] Ash pushes on the ‘gift of singleness” stressing that whatever circumstances God has allowed are his gracious gift to me, and I am to learn to accept them from his hand as such. Just because we have been gifted with singleness or marriage, doesn’t mean he can’t change that status either. [126] One point that I found challenging was that neither status is an easy option.  There are unique challenges to each, and we need God’s grace and strength to fulfill God’s calling on us, particularly as sexual purity intersects life and the pursuit of holiness.

Ash closes with a chapter on the heart of marriage, as faithfulness, emphasizing that faithfulness in marriage comes from the faithfulness of God. This understanding is even cloudy in “Christian” marriage materials who instead can focus on feelings, instead of faithfulness. As God promises eternal faithfulness to us in Jesus, we are to life lives of faithful obedience to Him, whether we are married or single.

This is a highly recommended resource for all aspects of marriage!