Chapter 12 – Guarding Against Idolatry


1 Corinthians 7:33-34 says:


“…but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided… But the one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband.”


Paul actually called the desire of husbands and wives to please one another a thing “of the world”. He said it divides their interests and hinders their devotion to God. This is because having as a primary goal pleasing one’s spouse is actually idolatry. Husbands’ and wives’ main goal in marriage should be to please God, not each other.


Men and Pleasing

One of the deepest needs of a man’s heart is to feel successful. This is as true of his marriage as other areas of his life. Men want to feel successful as husbands. But how does a man know whether he is successful?  What criteria should he use to judge himself? 


For many men, the natural inclination is to ask, “Is my wife pleased with how I’m treating her?” The more pleased she is, the more successful he feels. The more displeased she is, the more he feels like a failure.


This can be a very good question to ask, to a degree, since men and women are so different. Paying attention to what pleases his wife helps a man learn about her unique needs. However, taking this question to an extreme causes a man to conduct himself in marriage more for the approval of his wife than for God, which is idolatry.


A friend of mine was having a lot of conflict in his marriage. At one point he said to me, “I feel like nothing I do is ever good enough for her.” There was something about the way he said this that sounded unhealthy. He seemed overly desperate for her approval. I wanted to say to him, “It doesn’t have to be good enough for her. It only has to be good enough for God.” Instead I just listened and then prayed by myself afterward that God would open his eyes to the root problem. Three days later when we met again, he told me God had spoken to him. God said he was making his wife into an idol and was seeking her approval more than His.


There could be times in a marriage when a man loves his wife very well, but she is unable to receive it, and may even resent it, because of issues she’s facing in her own heart. That is when a man needs to look toward heaven and sense the Lord’s affirmation of him. Then he will be able to give his wife freedom to work through the issues coming up in her heart without becoming resentful or angry that she is not meeting his need to feel successful as a husband. He gets this need fulfilled by Christ.


Women and Pleasing

One of a woman’s deepest needs is for safe, secure, emotionally connected relationships, especially in her marriage. This can lead a woman to prioritize relational harmony over helping her husband become the man he is called to be. This too is idolatry because she is more concerned with pleasing her husband than God.


When a wife is overly concerned with whether her husband is pleased with her, she does him a disservice. She will likely shy away from saying something he needs to hear if it is going to create conflict. However, if her main goal is to please God, she will take the risk of being gently, respectfully honest with him even if it makes him angry.


Pleasing God may mean holding him accountable if he is sinning. It may mean reminding him of his responsibility to lead, protect, or provide for their family. This reminder will ring hollow if she does it out of self-interest or manipulation. However, if she does it out of a sincere desire to help him become the man God created him to be, the Lord may use her obedience to work on his heart.


Pressure and Control

On the other hand, sometimes husbands and wives go in the opposite direction. Instead of being overly dependent on our spouse’s approval, we are overly dependent on their behavior conforming to our wishes. Therefore, we try to control them using pressure, guilt, nagging, manipulation, anger, or intimidation. In Christian marriages, this is often spiritualized, which put a righteous-appearing masking on abusive treatment.


This too is idolatry. Our need to control our spouse reveals that they really control us. It shows that our ability to experience peace depends on them doing what we want. It shows that we’re looking to them for fulfillment more than we’re looking to God.


For years, I pressured my wife Jenny to do what I wanted her to do or think what I wanted her to think. If she had a different doctrine, I felt threatened. If she had a different opinion, I got defensive. If she challenged my perspective, I got angry. I eventually learned the hard way that buried deep underneath my need to control Jenny was unrelenting fear. 


Fear is almost always at the root of control, pressure, guilt, nagging, manipulation, anger, or intimidation. We fear of losing control of our future. We fear missing out. We fear being taken advantage of or taken for granted. We fear being hurt or rejected. We fear looking weak or foolish. We fear our ugliest character flaws being exposed.


If we can learn to identify the specific fear we feel and then share with our spouse in a gentle, non-critical way, this one habit can be the difference between divorce and decades of intimacy. However, it can be uncomfortably vulnerable to say to our spouse, I feel afraid that… So instead we resort to anger because anger feels powerful and safe.


In the short term, pressure, guilt, nagging, manipulation, anger, or intimidation may be effective in getting our spouse to do what we want. But it will inevitably cause resentment to build up and destroy intimacy. Therefore, one of the greatest challenges of marriage is choosing to be vulnerable instead of angry or critical.


Jesus on Idolatry
Jesus indicated a spouse can become an idol. In Luke 14, He told a parable about man inviting many people to a dinner he was hosting, which represented God inviting us to be a part of His kingdom. But they all began to make excuses for not coming. One of the invitees said, “I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come.” (vs. 20) This symbolized a man making his wife into an idol and using his marriage as an excuse for not fully surrendering his life to the Lord. He was more concerned with pleasing her than God.


Six verses later, Jesus said, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.” Why did Jesus choose such hard, provocative words? Because it is so difficult in our fallen world not to look more to family relationships for approval than to God. It may be the most common and socially acceptable form of idolatry. For many people, it is the most difficult stronghold they will ever face.




The world claims that purity undermines sexual passion and fulfillment. The Bible teaches the opposite. Which one is correct? We’ll find out in the next chapter.