My wife loves to play Boggle and she’s really good at it, which is why few people want to play her. But on her birthday and Mother’s Day, and usually at least one evening during a holiday, her family joins her. Our love for her calls us to join her in her great love.
Lisa also loves to bike, which is why I bike a lot more than I probably would otherwise. I prefer to run. But Lisa’s love for biking makes me much more of a biker.
That principle—we do what our spouse loves and likes to do—is fine when it comes to hobbies. It is spiritually deadly and poisonous when the same principle is unleashed by our sins.
If you hold on to a sinful attitude, there will come a time when you will want your spouse to join you in that sin.
Marriage contains within itself the power of glorious good—encouragement, support, enthusiasm, love, service, loyalty. It gives us the tools to bless one particular person like we can bless no one else. But this potential comes with a sinister side—it also offers a platform from which we invite our spouse to enter into our own temptations. From this vantage point we can do great and serious evil.
In an old, old sermon Clarence Macartney warned that while Satan is “the ultimate source and author of temptation, yet it is sadly and fearfully true that men deliberately tempt other men…One fallen person has a diabolical delight in bringing another down to the same level.”
Once we give in to sin, we can’t contain its spread any more than we can immediately confine an oil tanker spill. Sin spreads widely and chaotically by its very nature; it multiplies beyond our control (the more we give in, the stronger its hold on us) and therefore makes those closest to us most vulnerable.
The challenge is that no one—not a single soul—is exempt from sometimes fierce temptation. To live is to be tempted. To breathe is to be lured toward a fall. Sometimes we will fall, and we will be grateful for God’s grace and Jesus’ remedy. But one aspect of temptation, particularly as it relates to marriage, that we need to be especially careful about is not dragging our spouse into the temptation.
Macartney writes, “However much we have been marred and scarred by the tempter’s shafts, let us at least see to it that ours shall not be the guilt of tempting another soul. If in hell there are gradations of punishments, as the words of Jesus about few and many stripes would seem to indicate, then hell’s severest retributions must surely fall upon the souls of those who have deliberately and malignantly tempted other people.”
How do we tempt our spouse?
If you are a liar, you will eventually ask your spouse to also lie in order to cover up your initial deceit. You may even ask them to lie to one of their dearest friends or nearest relatives. Perhaps you’ll ask them to lie to a government official. When you do that, you have entered a new level of evil and are abusing the intimacy of marriage.
If you cherish a sexual sin, the time will likely come when you will ask your spouse to join you in that weakness. It will no longer be sufficient to merely get lost in a fantasy of thought—you may want to live it out. And your spouse, predisposed to please you and enjoy you, will feel more intense temptation even though the weakness may be something they never would have thought of on their own. This is a serious betrayal of the marital bed and the marital bond.
If you are negative or a gossip, you will try to draw your spouse into speaking critically of others, or make them feel less than thankful for the good things God has given them. Instead of leaving church satisfied by the worship, you will remind them that the pastor said one sentence that could possibly be taken the wrong way. Instead of making them grateful for how God has provided, you will be a constant drip of negativity for how everything in your house or car or life isn’t quite “perfect” and you can’t be content until everything is, in fact, perfect.
These are just three examples—you can supply many others on your own. But the possibility of tempting our spouse and maybe even unthinkingly inviting them to join us in our sin should be enough to make us pursue holiness for the sake of our spouse. I hate my sin and I hate how I am tempted—I’m sure you do as well. The last thing I want to do is to take something I hate and make it a part of my precious wife’s life as well.
You cannot accommodate sin without endangering your spouse. Your apathy toward growing a heart that is a bulwark against sin is tantamount to a man who, out of laziness, refuses to even close the door of his house while he is away, inviting all to enter as they wish.
One of the reasons we bought our particular house in the Heights is that it has a locked wall around it. The outside gate is a stout door surrounded by brick; the other side is protected by a tall barred fence (the Heights is in the urban part of Houston, so crime isn’t all that uncommon, unfortunately). We have video cameras on both entrances. Every time I leave the house in the morning while Lisa is still inside, I lock the inside doors, and I lock the outside door and gate. I have no peace of mind until I know my wife is safe behind at least two formidable barriers.
But how foolish would it be to lock physical doors while leaving spiritual ones open? How stupid would it be to protect our house from physical theft while leaving Satan a highway into my wife’s heart and soul through my own uncontested weakness?
Don’t accept in your own soul that which could poison your spouse’s. It’s not just about you. It’s about your spouse, your kids, and others.
If you ask, how can I grow out of my particular sin and confront my particular temptation, let me suggest N.T. Wright’s After You Believe. It’s a bit academic, but the teaching is gold. It’s my favorite “go-to” book on sanctification. If you want a less academic approach, you might consider one of my old books The Glorious Pursuit, about practicing the virtues (I talk about how the best defense is often a good offense—grow a virtue that is opposite the vice and thereby suffocate the vice).
Perhaps you could list some other books (or sermons, with links) that have helped you pursue a life of holiness in the comments section below, so that we can encourage each other.
It’s a sober thought, but one we need to take seriously: if we consistently fall to temptation, our beloved spouse (and kids) will likely be the first casualty.