LOOK AT THE SCRIPT: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). This message has been around for thousands of years, so it’s nothing new. It is one of the three callings of a husband. But this passage, recited in most traditional wedding ceremonies, is lightly acknowledged by the participants. They have little understanding of it’s meaning or it’s application in their own marriages.
The same Scripture passage says a couple of verses earlier, “The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church.” Sadly, however, too many of us deviate from the Writer’s script, instead allowing our culture’s ideas of what husbands and wives are to be to dictate our understanding of marriage. The result?
Far too many marriages get off track.
To understand and follow the script, we have to shut our ears, eyes, and minds to our culture and focus on God’s Word, something too few people are willing to do these days.
Let’s face it:
If you’re following Scripture, you’re going the opposite direction on a one-way street. Meanwhile, everyone else is honking their horns at you and questioning your sanity. But God’s Word tells us something different. “Don’t become so well adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out” (Romans 12:2, The Message).
Now, let’s take a look at what the script says about what God calls husbands to do and be.
Called to Lead
According to the script, a husband has three callings. The first is to be a leader, or “the head of the wife.” But what does that mean? It doesn’t mean control, passive non involvement, asserted superiority, or taking advantage. On the contrary, a husband must never use his role as leader for selfish benefit. To do so would deviate from the Writer and Director’s script.
A husband must never put his wife into a straitjacket of compliance. She will wither and her love for him will deaden. Even recent secular research has shown that what kills the love of a spouse for the other is attempting to control our partner rather than serve them.
The issue of the man’s leadership in the home has been a concern for years. Book after book has been written on this subject. They include “Passive Men, Wild Women” and “Husbands Who Won’t Lead and Wives Who Won’t Follow.” We’re talking about biblical headship —specifically the authority of the man to lead. But there are strings attached.
Ephesians 5:22-23 states, “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.” This passage endows the authority of a husband’s headship, but it also defines and limits it. The analogy of Christ’s relationship to the church as a basis for the husband’s headship means that the only time he has the right to exercise family authority is when he does it in ways that are consistent with Christ’s nature and purpose. Bryan Chapell stated this well when he said, “Headship that transgresses the purposes of God loses God’s endorsement.”
A man’s motives for leading a marriage spiritually can sometimes be mixed. But when he allows God to lead him and when his heart is open to God and His purposes, then his headship receives His support.
So what does that kind of leadership look like in practical terms? The authority God gives men to lead is built on service. This is a difficult balancing and juggling act for many. The problem is not with the teaching. It’s with the man who misuses the teaching that he is to lead to serve his own needs and desires. Some men behave like drill sergeants. They snap out orders at their wives and children. This doesn’t reflect Scripture but their own selfishness and insecurity.
The truth is, a husband is called to think of others—particularly his wife—first, ahead of himself. That’s not easy for many men. For one thing, the idea of being a servant leader runs counter to the thinking in our present-day “me” culture. But with some hard work and sacrifice, it can be done.
I’ve seen both kinds of leadership. I’ve seen the self-appointed “dictators” who distort scriptural teaching for their own benefit. The result of this kind of leadership is that marriages and families suffer and fragment. But I’ve also observed men who are servant leaders, whose families flourished as a result.
Called to Sacrificial Love
God’s script also calls the husband to be not just a servant leader but also a lover. This means that his headship of his family is not to exhibit dominating control but the sacrificial love of Jesus.
And how did Christ love when He was on earth? He was single-minded in His mission of love. He spent time with the disciples and communicated with them, teaching them about forgiveness. Jesus also led by example, helping strengthen the disciples where they were weak. He defended the disciples, praised them before the others, and revealed Himself to them. And why did Jesus do these things? It’s because He was concerned about the church’s well-being and future glory.
That is how a husband is to love his wife. A husband represents Jesus in the home. His role is to bring out God’s glory in his wife and lift her up —for her well-being. This is leadership that leaves a wife feeling special, valued, and loved.
So how specifically can a husband do that? There are many ways, one of the most important being a husband’s putting his wife first over children, parents, siblings, work, TV, and hobbies. Doing this will strengthen a marriage. But conversely, not doing it will weaken the marriage.
Another thing a loving husband can do is learn his wife’s “love language” —in other words, the ways she tends to best express and receive love from others —and package his love in a way that speaks to her and meets her needs.
A husband is also to love his wife unconditionally, the same way God loves all of us. He is not to love her “because she…” but “regardless.” When a husband loves his wife sacrificially and unconditionally, then she more fully realizes God’s love and regard for her. This in turn brings glory to Him.
God expects us to care for one another. A husband who neglects or demeans his wife robs her of what God wants for her. He also robs himself of growth and development.
Regarding couples caring for one another, Bryan Chapell wrote:
Because two people who marry are to be one, if either part damages, demoralizes, or degrades the other, then neither will be completely whole. Just as a basketball deflated on only one side still cannot fulfill its purposes, so a marriage with one side diminished will deprive both persons of fully being and doing what God desires. God has designed the similarities and differences of a man and woman in marriage to complement and support the spiritual growth of both. Neither part to the marriage can develop fully if either one is denied his or her personal potential.
What an opportunity a husband has! It’s very much like Jesus’ redemptive work on behalf of the church in that a husband is not to live for himself. Instead, he should live to be used as a channel of God’s goodness in his wife’s life. He is to respond, react, speak, and think toward her in ways that enable her to develop who she is. He is to help her develop her gifts as a way to bring glory to God.
An encouraging man does this. He’s a man who sincerely tells his wife, “I believe in you,” “Go for it,” and “How can I help you?”
Called to Lead —and Love —Sacrificially
A husband is to lead in his marriage by example and sacrifice. It’s not by ordering or constantly instructing his wife. He is never, and I mean never, to tell his wife what the Scriptures say she is to do. Rather, his only focus is to be on loving his wife as Christ love the church. That is done sacrificially.
In practical terms, this could mean, volunteering to bathe the children or massage his wife’s feet. It could mean turning off the football game and talking with her. Or it could mean going shopping with her —even after he’s put in a twelve-hour day at work.
Sacrificial love involves participating in something that is important or a favorite of hers. This is to be done even if it’s relatively unimportant to you or definitely not one of you favorites. It may mean doing any of the following (although it’s not limited to them).
- Initiate prayer with her without concern that your prayers may be briefer and more bottom-line than hers.
- Learn to say these three phrases: “You were right,” “I was wrong,” and “I am sorry.”
- Call her with any delay of plans.
- Practice Proverbs 31:28-29 (praising her) consistently.
- Accept her communication style and opinions as different from yours, and not necessarily wrong.
- Accept her femaleness and celebrate the differences that come form it.
- Ask for her opinion.
- Discover the uniqueness of her personality in order to understand her and communicate better.
- Ask what television show or movie she would like to watch.
Before we move on, ask yourself which of these you did this past month. Then ask yourself which of these you will do during the coming month.
Called to Lead by Learning
A few years ago I read an article titled “Study’s Advice to Husbands: Accept Your Wife’s Influence.” The study showed that men who enjoyed the most stable, happy marriages were also likely ones who listened to their wives’ suggestions and concerns and followed them. These were men who were willing to learn, change, and grow.
I have found that to be true in my own marriage. Over the years, I have learned that my wife is gifted with knowledge, insights, and abilities I don’t have. That is probably whey the apostle Peter wrote, “[Husbands,] live with your wives in an understanding way … and show them respect” (1 Peter 3:7). This simply means that husbands are called on to understand their wives. They are to figure out how they think, how they respond emotionally, and what they need to feel loved and fulfilled in a marriage.
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard men say, “I just don’t understand my wife.” My response to that is blunt: You can learn!
We men can be much worse than lacking in our knowledge of the opposite sex. We can be downright clueless! There is much that each husband has to learn when it comes to loving their wives. But we can learn, and not only that, we need to learn. It’s not that difficult, either. It’s a matter of taking the time to be a student, a learner, first.
So how can you learn?
First, when your wife talks to you, be a listener before you’re a fixer. We men tend to want to rush ahead and “fix situations our wives talk to us about. Actually, most of the time, our wives just want us to listen to how they feel about their situation. For that reason, we should take the time to ask our wives, “Is this a fix-it time or learning time?”
It goes against the grain of most men to hear this. I have learned though, that listening is often one of the best ways to fix things.
Second, be honest with your wife. Don’t hide. Share your hurts, fears, concerns, disappointments, and your life. Believe me, this will draw the two of you closer than you can imagine. And when you’re vulnerable, you’re leading in love, and she’ll want to follow.
This article comes from the book, One Marriage Under God: Building an Everlasting Love, written by H. Norman Wright, published by Multnomah. This is a book that will help you see things from God’s perspective. It clarifies the institution of marriage as God originally created it—a beautiful committed, eternal bond. Dr. Wright helps you see how this bond leaves only one option for anyone who’s ever said I do: Make it work, no matter what! This book gives insights on: Whether you married the “right” or “wrong” person is entirely up to you… God has a good plan for every marriage… Your marriage needs to be re-created daily, and more.