What if Love and Respect Do Not Work with My Spouse? Part 2

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In part 1, we discussed Job and his disrespectful wife and how he was able to love her “as to the Lord,” despite her being a conduit for the devil. Now let’s turn to a biblical example of an unloving husband with a wife who found a way to still respect him.

What about the Respectful Wife?

What about the wife living with a man who turns everybody off?

We find such a husband and wife in 1 Samuel 25:3: “Now the man's name was Nabal, and his wife's name was Abigail. And the woman was intelligent and beautiful in appearance, but the man was harsh and evil in his dealings.”

For example, Nabal foolishly “scorned" the king’s messengers (verse 14), and as King David himself said about Nabal, "he has returned me evil for good” (verse 21).

Such conduct prompted one of Abigail’s workers to describe Nabal as "a worthless man that no one can speak to" (verse 17).

Alarmed by the life-and-death situation before her husband, to keep Nabal out of trouble with King David, Abigail seeks to appease the king. But because no one could talk to Nabal we read, "she did not tell her husband Nabal” (verse 19). She knew Nabal would scorn her. He would refuse to listen to her.

Abigail approaches King David and pleads, "Please do not let my lord pay attention to this worthless man, Nabal, for as his name is, so is he. Nabal is his name and folly is with him" (verse 25).

David listens to her and decides to bring him no harm.

God Takes the Life of Nabal

We then read, "Then Abigail came to Nabal, and behold, he was holding a feast in his house, like the feast of a king. And Nabal's heart was merry within him, for he was very drunk; so she did not tell him anything at all until the morning light. But in the morning, when the wine had gone out of Nabal, his wife told him these things, and his heart died within him so that he became as a stone. About ten days later, the Lord struck Nabal and he died” (verses 36–38).

When King David heard this he said, "The Lord has also returned the evildoing of Nabal on his own head” (verse 39).

Though Abigail endured years of a troubled marriage, her respectful demeanor eventually captured the heart of King David, who married her after the death of Nabal.

A Husband Dies in an Accident

Years ago a woman, like Abigail, married a fellow who turned out to be more like Nabal. A friend of mine commented that the mismatch stunned him. Who she was and who this fellow was differed as night from day. Several years into a horrible marriage an accident took his life. Those of us familiar with the situation privately felt this was God’s loving discipline on his life, though it was pure speculation on our part.

I am in no position to say why that happened. I can only say that the story of Nabal got my attention. “The Lord struck” this woman’s husband and brought him home. The circumstances seemed unusually close to Nabal, whose story is proof that God will discipline some by bringing them home to heaven.

I will be the first to admit I have no idea. But will be the first to say, “Don’t mess with this stuff. God does discipline and does discipline some by bringing them home to heaven (1 Corinthians 5:5; 11:30).

Should One End the Marriage?

Jesus said, “a man's enemies will be the members of his household” (Matthew 10:36).

Jesus does not pretend that all will be married to a perfect 10 on a marital satisfaction scale.

Paul teaches that a spouse might leave, no fault of the follower of Jesus (1 Corinthians 7:15). We cannot keep another person in ball and chain. Some try every which way to reconcile, but the other person has no interest (verse 11).

Paul also reveals a believer might wish to tell a spouse to leave but should not get rid of a life partner no matter how much they reject Christ. The believer married to an unbeliever is a marriage in God’s eyes. If the unbeliever consents to stay, the believer has no biblical basis for ending the marriage (1 Corinthians 7:12–13). If God has not closed the door to the marriage through the other’s adultery or desertion, then the believer is not to either.

What Should a Godly Husband and Wife Do in a Dissatisfying Marriage?

It raises the question: Should a husband and wife wait for "the outcome of the Lord’s dealings” (James 5:11)?

Yes!

Dr. Raymond Edman, the former president of Wheaton College, famously declared, “It’s always too soon to quit.”

God restored everything to Job, which we read about at the end of the book. For example, he had seven more sons and three more daughters. It appears God reestablished the marriage to some degree, though Job’s wife is not directly mentioned.

What is peculiar is that the names of the three daughters are mentioned but not the seven sons. Furthermore, about the daughters, Job "gave them inheritance among their brothers” (42:15). This sets these three girls apart in an extraordinary way. One might read between the lines that though the relationship with his wife never regained what it had been, God blessed Job with three women in his life who absolutely adored him. They were chief among his blessings.

As for Abigail, God took the life of her husband. Sometimes, apparently, the Lord says, “If you refuse to serve my purposes on earth, I am bringing you home.”

Giving God an opportunity to deal with the other person is a godly thing to do. That does not mean we have the attitude that says, “Okay, I am staying in this marriage until God kills you.” That is ungodly and misses the point. The point is that one commits to this: “I am staying in this marriage and will do everything I can to receive God’s compassion and marriage to restore us to marital health. I will patiently endure. If this marriage is going to end, God will be the one who ends it, not me."

That was the posture of the S.W.A.T. officer.

But What if Love and Respect Do Not Work with My Spouse?

It comes back again to the reward from God.

You receive a reward in heaven for loving and respecting even if a spouse has no such vision of the eternal reward.

You receive the reward of affecting Christ Himself. You touch the heart of Christ by bringing Him pleasure by your obedience to Ephesians 5:33 even if a spouse is grieving your heart and the heart of Christ.

You receive the reward of experiencing God Himself because His presence and peace floods the soul of those who trust Him even if a spouse rejects His presence and has no peace.

You receive the reward of becoming inwardly free and mature in that who your spouse fails to be does not determine who you will be, even though they blame you for who they are!

You receive the reward of leaving a legacy to your children by your example of faith and faithfulness even though your spouse bad mouths you and lives poorly in front of the kids.

You receive the reward of convicting your spouse God’s way with unconditional love and respect—if anything will convict them—even though there is no guarantee they will get humble in the face of that conviction.

This is why you do what you do.

-Dr. E

Discussion Questions

  1. In what ways was Abigail respectful toward her husband, who was described as “harsh and evil in his dealings”? What do you think King David thought of her in her request of him?

  2. Emerson wrote, “If God has not closed the door to the marriage through the other’s adultery or desertion, then the believer is not to either.” Do you wholeheartedly agree? What would be some arguments against this that believers you know may say concerning it?

  3. Do you have the patience to allow God to deal with your unloving or disrespectful spouse Himself? What if this takes years rather than weeks? In what ways can you still love or respect your spouse?

  4. If you could know for certain that loving and respecting your spouse would never result in reciprocation, would the heavenly rewards Emerson lists above be enough for you?