“What Every Christian Husband Needs to Know.” That’s what C.J. Mahaney has subtitled this book. From his perspective husbands have a universal problem: themselves. In this book he offers guidance on how to love our wives better, and all his guidance begins with two fundamental and foundational propositions: (1) marriage exists for God’s glory, and (2) your wife is more than just her body. From these two foundational points Mahaney builds a great approach to loving your wife that indeed every Christian husband would be served by reading.
Men have a universal problem when it comes to marriage. Mahaney writes:
Because the chief obstacles to cultivating marital romance are universal, I believe these practices will help you, (those obstacles, by the way, can more or less be summarized accurately – if somewhat bluntly – as pride, selfishness, laziness, and ignorance. I know because I’ve often been guilty of every one of them). (38)
It is our own selfishness that often leads us to failure in loving our wives. But, as he points out, part of loving our wives is about loving them as a whole person, not simply expressing interest in their bodies.
In order to help us get the right focus Mahaney starts with a strong emphasis on the purpose of marriage. Your marriage is not primarily about you and your needs, nor is it about sex. Marriage, he says, is “God-centered.” “Your marriage is meant to point to the truth of the crucified and risen Savior who will return for his Bride” (24). Taking his cues from Ephesians 5 he develops a theology of marriage that finds its root in the gospel. This is a foundational principle for understanding sex appropriately. If we view marriage through the lens of the gospel then we will see that we are responsible to serve our wives. Talking about sex outside of this principle will “only encourage our sinful tendency to relate to our wives selfishly” (20). Foundational to a healthy marriage, and by relation a healthy sex life, is an understanding of the deeper purpose of marriage.
In conjunction with that, however, Mahaney would have us to love our wives as whole beings. Though sex is a powerful, indeed even a “spiritual,” activity, it is not a husbands primary goal simply to get sex. He must serve his wife. So in this vein Mahaney offers the pithy and helpful thesis of the book: touch the heart and mind of your wife before you touch her body (28). From Mahaney’s perspective it is a husbands job to romance his wife. To encourage her that he knows her, loves her, and desires to serve her. And if you’re not the romantic type Mahaney gives some very helpful practical guides and steps to take to cultivate romance in your marriage.
He challenges husbands to continually learn about their wives. “Let’s reject the delusions of effortless relational ecstasy that the entertainment industry tries to sell us. Real, sustained romance, although powerfully enabled by the grace of God, is still hard work” (38). He call us to become learners, listening to our wives and asking them questions. Do research to plan activities for your wife. Invest real intentional time in building up your relationship. Mahaney recommends a weekly date night, regular daily phone calls, and getaways. He puts the pressure on husbands to lead in this area of love. Far too often, because of those old obstacles, we are depending on our wives to come up with the plans and take the initiative. But Mahaney is, I think, right to urge men to lead in the area of romance. It’s one of the ways we show our wives we are serious about serving them.
In the remainder of the book we find an unpacking of some of the major trends and themes in the Song of Solomon. Mahaney talks about romance via our words, and the enjoyment of sexual intimacy, and the power of the marital covenant. He does a tremendous service to the church in these chapters by illustrating how unabashed the Bible is when it talks about sex. We shouldn’t be prudish about sex because God isn’t prudish about sex.
This is indeed a book that every Christian husband can benefit from. It is extremely helpful in reminding us to love our wives as whole people, not simply love their bodies. It challenges us too, not to serve them as a means to another end: sex. We aren’t trying to romance them simply in order to get them into bed. That sort of manipulation does not honor the deeper purpose of marriage. Mahaney is careful to add this corrective to our approach. He writes:
As we begin looking at these very practical methods, I want to encourage you – indeed, I want to insist – that you never think of your wife as if she’s a project to be completed or a problem to be solved. (Certainly, this is not how Christ thinks of the Church.) She is your lover, your bride, your best friend and cherished companion, and a fellow heir of the grace of life. (38)
It is too easy to let romance and service fall to the wayside. Husbands must value their spouses and must consistently strive to love them as whole people. We must follow Mahaney’s sound advice “touch her heart and mind before you touch her body.” This will not only make your sex life better, Mahaney argues, but it will make your whole marriage better. And that should be our ultimate goal in any endeavor.
I highly recommend this book. And because it is so short (127 pages, in large print), it is an easy read for any one. The concepts are neither hard, and the writing style is thoroughly engaging. The reading won’t be the hard part, the implementation will. So read, be encouraged, be challenged, and work towards transformation. Your wive will thank you.