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Life is hard. We all face challenges. In fact, Jesus says that his followers will face trouble; his friends are not immune (John 16:33).

Paul, the apostle, touches on this idea in his letter to the Romans. He writes about the delight we can find in life with God; we joyously exult in God’s goodness (Romans 5:2). He goes on to say that we also exult–same joyous delight–in our tribulation (5:3). Even those who have taste such great joy in God taste trouble. But in that trouble they still rejoice.

Why? Does Paul want us to be masochistic, somehow getting happy over pain? Of course not! What he says is that the trouble we encounter works in us to produce “proven character” (5:4-5). It isn’t that the tribulation changes us into something we are not, but the trouble works in us to put on display the reality of what God has already worked into us. “Proven character” refers to the display of what we really are–what we are by grace.

Where does this all lead? When we are facing trouble, challenge, tribulation, it is simply “lab time.” Such times are opportunities to put on display who we are in Christ; to live out the kind of life we want in Jesus.

And this idea helps me understand Paul’s counsel to husbands found in his letter to the Colossians.

Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them. (Colossians 3:19)

As we noted in an earlier post, the call to husbands is genuinely to give themselves to heart-felt pursuit of their wives’ good. A laying-down-one’s-life kind of passion. But, like in all areas of life, even in a husband’s loving his wife, there is going to come trouble.

For reasons rising from within the husband’s own heart and for issues that flow from his wife’s not-yet-perfect maturity, every husband will find a challenge in living into this call. In this way, the marriage relationship is something of a lab to see how fully the husband intends to live into this call.

In many marriages, when the going gets tough and the husband finds it particularly challenging to love his wife well, he may start to pull back, withdraw, become defensive. In other words, he moves toward embitterment. Paul’s language makes it clear that it is the husband who “embitters” his own heart. It is his choice, in the face of the challenge. But it is not his only option.

The call to love one’s wife is an invitation to be a certain kind of man, not dependent upon how one’s wife reacts or responds. When the challenge comes–and it will–each husband faces the decision of whether he will step up and love his wife the way Jesus loves.

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