Stay in the light, and it will transform your marriage. Reconfigure your expectations around the truth that your husband is a sinner, and the light will protect you from surprise or disillusionment over his failures. Shape your expectations around the truth that he is growing, and the light will fill you with hope as you increasingly see your husband the way God sees him.
Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.
With this poem, Paul grounds the often-quoted marriage instructions of Ephesians 5:22–33 in the transformative power of the gospel. The gospel rouses sleepers and quickens the dead. It calls those trapped in darkness into the shining light of Christ, where, for the first time, they can truly see and do what is good.
If the gospel can accomplish these feats, it can surely transform ordinary men into husbands who love their wives as Christ loved the church, and it can surely transform ordinary women into wives who respect and submit to their husbands’ leadership. But this transformation is not automatic, and it does not happen overnight. That’s why Paul offers this apostolic marriage advice: stay in the light (Ephesians 5:8–9).
While his advice applies to husbands and wives alike, this article addresses wives. Wives who want to see their marriages transformed must stay in the light, where Christ himself shines on them, revealing truths and exposing lies that shape their expectations for marriage. In particular, light-seeking wives embrace two foundational truths and reject two persistent lies about their marriages.
Truth #1: He is still a sinner.
The first expectation-shaping truth about marriage is that even though your husband is awake, alive, and in the light, he is still a sinner. And as a sinner, he will struggle in many ways common to humanity, some of which Paul warns us about in the rest of his letter to the Ephesians.
At times, your husband may be proud, harsh, or impatient (Ephesians 4:2). His unique cocktail of deceitful desires will afflict him (Ephesians 4:22). He will stumble by not actively guarding his mind (Ephesians 4:25–32; 5:18). He may be tempted toward dishonesty, theft, laziness, destructive speech, resentment, selfishness, sexual immorality of various stripes, jealousies, greed, or substance abuse. In a word, he will falter in his charge to love you self-sacrificially.
As a native Texan, my mother-in-law strictly follows this rule: turn on the light during middle-of-the-night trips to the bathroom. Failing to do so might mean a surprise encounter with a cockroach (at least in Texas).
When Christ shines on a marriage, his light exposes sins so that we can see them for the stealthy, invasive, dirty, creepy, darkness-loving, Texas-sized cockroaches that they are. The light protects us from surprise over our husband’s failures because our expectations are built on this foundational truth: he is still a sinner.
Truth #2: He is growing.
The light also trains us to shape our expectations around a second foundational truth: although your husband is still a sinner, he is growing. In the light, his sin is visible. And once seen, the way forward is clear.
In the case of a cockroach, a heavy-soled shoe is the clearest way forward, but sin requires a different kind of death—one of confession and turning and walking away, further and further from sleep’s darkness and the grave, and further into the light of Christ. The way forward may not be easy, but it is brightly lit.
If your husband is awake and alive, then Christ shines on him! He will increasingly see his sin, and he will know what to do about it. Equipped with more than a thick-soled shoe, he has everything he needs to crush the sins exposed by the light. (Ephesians 6:10–18 gives a full inventory of all the offensive and defensive weapons in his arsenal.)
These two foundational truths—your husband is a sinner, but he is growing—should shape your expectations about marriage, tempering your idealism with reality and your pessimism with hope.