My wife Kristina is an immeasurably gracious and wonderful gift to me. God kindly brought her into my life about 27 years ago and gave her to me as my wife almost 20 years ago. She has enriched my life in countless ways, and I’m grateful and honored to be hers, to be close to her, to walk the path of life with her. And as I tell you this, I want to confess something. I sometimes look to Kristina to validate me or to certify that I’m worth something.
Now, you might not think it’s bad for a husband to receive the love of his wife and feel accepted, cherished, significant, and valuable. I don’t either. I think that’s a good thing as well. But understand what my confession means. Kristina, who is lovely but is also another sinful human being, is not, cannot, and should not be what defines me or gives me my ultimate sense of identity and value. Her love must only ever be secondary to a divine and defining love.
Let’s say I make Kristina’s acceptance and love paramount for my comfort and well-being in life. If I do, when she inevitably falls short of my unrealistic expectations, I cannot properly receive her love or properly love her because I’m disappointed that she hasn’t lived up to my lofty expectations. When I make her love paramount to my comfort and well-being, I depend on Kristina for something she cannot possibly give me. So, when Kristina falls short, I will retreat to frustration, disappointment, anger, impatience, etc. So, because of my selfish and unmet expectations, not only will I not enjoy Kristina as the God-given gift she is, I will also not love her with selfless, Christlike love; I will have made her an idol and will have objectified, used, and manipulated her. This is outright idolatry, and it greatly weakens our marriage.
Here’s an illustration of what I mean. Take preaching. I prepare all week. I study Scripture. I read commentaries. I think deeply. I write, revise, and write some more. I craft. I pray (I should always pray more). I practice preaching out loud in my office. I cut words, I refine sentences, and I write, revise, and write some more. I strive to be faithful and compelling.
Well, Sunday comes. I stand up and preach Christ with passion. I pour out my heart for 40 minutes, and I come home. If my identity is wrapped up in my wife, and I depend on and expect her to validate me, what happens when she says very little about my sermon? Did she not like it? Am I not a good preacher? Did I do something wrong, and she’s mulling it over in her mind? What did I do wrong? Why am I a worthless man and minister who can’t please anybody? Why do I even preach if no one likes my preaching? Do you see where this can go in a matter of minutes? I may interpret her silence or few words as the collapsing of my identity, when, in reality, she needs to make lunch.
Kristina processes things slower than I do, but often more carefully. Can I expect her to validate my entire meaning, purpose, and identity with a quick, “You’re the best preacher I’ve ever heard live! You captivate the congregation with masterful skill and eloquence! I’m awestruck at you, honey!” all while making lunch? No. I shouldn’t expect that. That wouldn’t be healthy or good for me either, and even if she had more reasonable and fitting encouraging words for me, I must not depend on her words to validate me. At that moment, my heart should be full of Christ and the glory of the gospel, and I should rest knowing that the Holy Spirit helped me pour myself out for the glory, honor, and praise of my Savior, Lord, and God who loves me despite my self-centeredness and limitations. In that moment when I’m tired after preaching and emotionally sensitive, I need most the love, support, and validation of my heavenly Father to whom I belong.
This is an important lesson for me to continue to learn, and the more I learn it, the more I delight in Kristina’s love and support, and the more I love and encourage her. Our marriage is stronger when Kristina’s love and support are secondary to me.
Do you expect your spouse to validate you, to give you ultimate comfort, peace, satisfaction, and love? Have you made them into an idol before which your heart bows in dependence? Please don’t misunderstand. Our spouses should be sources of deep friendship, love, support, encouragement, comfort, and the like, but they simply must not be idols, or else love will not thrive in our marriages.
Here’s what gives you ultimate meaning, purpose, and validation in life: knowing that you are an adopted and beloved child of God. God’s abounding fatherly acceptance and love must be the foundation of your identity and life, for only then will you be able to properly receive the love of your spouse and deeply love your spouse.
Speaking of Jesus Christ, Heidelberg 33 asks, “Why is He called God’s ‘only begotten Son,’ since we also are children of God?” That’s a good question. Heidelberg 33 answers: “Because Christ alone is the eternal, natural Son of God. We, however, are children of God by adoption through grace for Christ’s sake.”
First, Jesus Christ is the second person of the Trinity. He is God. He possesses all the attributes of God in the divine nature of his Person. As the Nicene Creed explains, Jesus Christ is “the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.” Jesus Christ is the natural only begotten Son of God who is the sole Son of the essence of His Father.
But what about you and me? Are we not also sons and daughters of God? Yes, we are, but we are not natural children of God of the essence of God as Jesus alone is. We are children by adoption. This means that when we were not God’s children, God sovereignly chose to make us His own children. We had no rights, no entitlements, no worthiness, yet God saw us in our sin and misery and through Christ made us His own children. Scripture says God “predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” (Eph. 1:5). Scripture explains that we can cry out to Almighty God, “Abba! Father!” precisely because we have received from God “the Spirit of adoption as sons” (Rom. 8:15). In Galatians 4, Paul explains that at the right time, God sent His only begotten Son to be born of woman under the law to redeem us “so that we might receive adoption as sons” (v. 5). Why did God do this for us? Because He wants to be our Father who cares for us forever.
Connect this truth to your marriage. You are not your own. You are a beloved adopted child of God. God has made you such by His abounding mercy and grace. You have God’s favor in Christ who defines and validates you. Therefore, your deepest needs are met in Christ, and you are free to properly delight in the love of your spouse and properly love your spouse to the glory of your heavenly Father.
Here’s the point. You will be able to receive the love of your spouse and love your spouse to the glory of God and the well-being of your marriage when you are secure and assured in your identity as an adopted and beloved child of God. Remember to Whom you belong, and from that comfort and fullness, seek to delight in your spouse as well as love your spouse to their delight. God bless you.
Quotes from the Heidelberg Catechism are taken from Zacharias Ursinus & Jonathan Shirk, The Heidelberg Catechism (Manheim: Small Town Theologian, 2021).
Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one-half of any book of the ESV Bible.