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Topic: Marriage

Good Works Gone Bad

April 18, 2013

good works

By Jessica Thompson

Recently I was selling books at a conference when a young, sweet girl bought a copy of my mom’s book Helper by Design. She commented that she has read several books about being a wife and is going to be married in just a couple months. She then said what every single one of us thinks before we are married, “I just want to be a good wife.” I assured her that was a lofty ambition and then I told her she would surely fail. She laughed nervously and moved away from the table.

I have been married seventeen years and I still struggle with the thought, “If I could just be a good enough wife my life would be better.” This thought rarely leads me to love my husband or God; it often leads me to despair. I know I am failing all over the place with this one. I long to be a “good wife” but I believe the actual key to learning how to be a good wife is to get my eyes off of my performance. The goal of the Christian life, the goal of the Christian marriage, is to see more of Jesus, to love as we have been loved.

Octavius Winslow said, “It is what Christ is, and not what you are, that is to fill you with peace, joy and hope.”

My heart is so aware of the list of “good wife” qualities that the church, society and my own heart has pushed on to me. When I am taken with my performance and how I fail or I succeed I am often blind to the truth that my life is “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). My failures cloud my vision and no longer is “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ” in my view (Romans 8:1).

Unfortunately, my successes often make me look down on other women who seem to be having a hard time loving their husbands the way I love mine. And, ironically, when I feel like I am doing a smash up job on the wife front and my husband fails or sins against me, I am merciless and unforgiving. I rehearse in my mind all the ways I have served him and compare it to the ways he has failed me.

Who are we serving?

Jesus calls us to throw away, take a match to, put in the paper shredder, feed to a goat all of our checks and balances. Get rid of all of your, “well if I do this, he must or they must do that.” Our good works don’t get any approval from him and truthfully they may not get any approval from our husbands either. Our husbands are sinful and often times busy with their own deals, they may not see the extra effort we put into the meal or that the house was clean.

So how do I love the way I am called to love when my husband doesn’t notice how hard I am trying? I can continue loving because I am loved eternally by my heavenly husband. I don’t need any congratulations from my own heart or from the mouth of my husband, when I have the words, “nothing can separate you from the love of Christ” written on my soul.

How do I serve my husband when he just never seems to remember to put his socks in the dirty clothes hamper? I can lay down my life knowing that “the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).  He gave his life to buy mine back from the enemy. I can also remember that His record of perfectly serving is now mine (and my husband’s!), even though I fail every day. I can find refuge in his life, instead of in my own good works.

Sisters, newly married, not married, married for decades find your only hope, peace and joy in Him and His work. Your work will never be enough, it will never measure up. Love and serve your husband from a heart that is saturated with how you have been loved and served. The point of your marriage is not to become a better you. The point of your marriage is to point you to the love Christ has for you. He loves me even though I can be like the unfaithful prostitute who continues to give herself to other husbands by serving idols and giving her love to the creation instead of the Creator. My husband’s approval can become an idol.

But His love is not dependent on your performance. This of course doesn’t mean that you should be the wicked witch of the east every single time your husband comes home, and then dance around him singing, “Jesus loves me anyway.” Your standing before God will never change; you are His beloved daughter, if you believe. Your standing with your husband can and may change if you sin against him and don’t love him the way you have been loved. So let’s throw off the super hero cape with “Good Wife” embroidered on the back and let’s hide in His body broken for us, His blood shed for us. Let’s love our husbands without expectation, and without an ever watchful eye on his performance and our own, and let’s with eyes fully engaged on Him be taken with the beauty of His performance for us.


Jessica Thompson is the co-author along with her mother, Elyse Fitzpatrick, of the book Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids With the Love of Jesus (Crossway, May 2011). She blogs occasionally for Crossway and Liberate and has done a series of blogs on parenting on her website

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