This post first appeared as a guest post for my friend Leslie Vernick at www.leslievernick.com
Behavioral change without heart change is a kin to paying a tremendous amount of money for a new paint job on a car without an engine.
Changing the outer appearance doesn’t solve the real problem. Character development is essential to the process of transformation, but not just becoming nicer, or more compliant but becoming more like Christ. Ephesians 5 is a common passage used to describe a husband’s role in marriage and many pastors will use this passage to encourage certain behaviors. I too use this passage but suggest we begin in verse one which calls us all to “…be imitators of God, as dearly loved children.”
While there are many aspects of God’s character we can encourage men to adopt, allow me to suggest one passage which I highlight in my book The Heart of Domestic Abuse. Here God describes himself using six (6) attributes, which Jesus readily demonstrated during his life on earth and of which we are called to imitate. In addition, to an obedient Christian these six attributes have a direct impact on the Christian marriage. In Exodus 34 , Moses has returned to construct new tablets after smashing the originals following the discovery of idol worship in the camp. After completing the tablets God approaches Moses and makes this declaration about himself.
“And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. Maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin…” Exodus 34:6-7
While God shares additional information about his character in the remaining portion of the passage these six characteristics stand out as adoptable attributes consistent with the call to conformity.
1.Compassionate: God describes himself as compassionate and Jesus models compassion numerous times in the Gospels. In particular, Matthew 8, tells us that Jesus was moved with compassion as he looked out over the people. For the Christian, compassion is a necessary characteristic to embrace in response to being wronged or even perceptions of harm. Consider Paul’s instruction in Ephesians 4, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” In response to the temptation to become sinfully angry that can express itself through bitterness, rage, name-calling, gossip, and even violence, Paul calls the believer, among other responses, to act with compassion.
2.Gracious: In many ways the opposition from the religious leaders of Jesus’ day stemmed from their inability or unwillingness embrace his words of grace. The Christ-follower is compelled throughout the Scripture to imitate this characteristic. In particular, Colossians 4, instructs the believer to, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Imagine for a moment the husband who repents of the damaging effects of his words, recognizes the selfish posture of his heart and determines to conform the image of Christ in part by speaking to his wife with grace.
3.Slow to Anger. Jesus did not come to us with condemnation but hope and salvation. He patiently calls us to redemption and then calls us to love each other with that same longsuffering conviction. In the James 1, the pastor leaves little room for doubt in our conformity to this principle when he says, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” The excuse, “I have a short fuse,” falls silent under the weight of our conformity to Christ who has time and again suffered long on our behalf.
4.Abounding in Love. Scripture resounds with truth regarding God’s love. We sing songs to His great love. We are recipients of His wonderful love. From an early age many of us recited that, “God loved us so much that he gave us his son.” God’s love is among the central themes of the Bible, and we are commanded to imitate him by loving others, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” Love is our go to in the process of becoming like Jesus, and the characteristic most directly related to the husband’s interactions with his wife, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
5.Faithfulness. The faithfulness of God resonates in the stories of saints throughout the scripture, as well as, those we encounter in our lifetime. We rely upon His promise to be faithful in our temptation. Our faithful God has united us with Christ and called us into fellowship with him. Our families should be able to trust us as we consistently trust in God. We are faithful in part because He has taught us faithfulness. His Spirit reminds us of His faithfulness and in turn empowers us to be faithful.
6.Forgiving. Our God is a forgiving God and Jesus models this characteristic beautifully as he forgives sinners and unmistakably when he cries, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Even while on the cross Jesus promotes the power of forgiveness. Why are we so hesitant in our circumstances to embrace this life of forgiveness? Where once an abusive man held his family hostage with selfish expectations, the mind of Christ calls him to surrender his past desires for a new Christ-like conformity which includes forgiveness. In light of God’s forgiveness through Christ, this man has little alternative than to follow the instructions given by Paul when he says, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” The most influential realization obtained by a forgiving person is the fact that he is himself forgiven. If the abusive man can experience forgiveness for the grievous sin he has perpetrated against his family ,than certainly forgiveness can be anticipated and even expected from him.
Let us strive to teach that change comes when we replace negative actions and patterns with better ones.