A Husband’s Obligation to His Wife

We are in the process of working through a section of Ephesians where Paul is instructing us regarding God’s design for relationships. These are important words and I have labored to show you that in order to fully understand them, they must be understood within the context of the larger passage. A failure to do so opens us up to distortion and in some cases, abuse.

The overarching principle is in Ephesians 5:21: “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ”. In all our relationships we are to have an attitude of service toward each other. Paul is now applying this overarching principle to the specifics of marriage.  He spoke first to the wives.

Last week I suggested that Paul was saying to wives: instead of trying to overthrow the leadership of your husband, encourage it! Men are generally wired to push ahead and solve problems. If a man does not feel he is playing a significant role in the home he will tend to disengage (and direct his energy to other things). Paul seems to be saying that encouragement will be much more effective than a competitive or critical spirit.

This morning we look at the Husbands. Over the years some husbands have tried to use Paul’s commands to control or make demand on their wives.  We are going to see this morning that these men stopped reading too soon. Much like the man in this story,

Jack Hayford tells about a married couple who had attended a seminar taught by a man who was determined to show that Scripture teaches that the man is IN CHARGE at home. It was the kind of terrible teaching on submission that turns women into lowly doormats. Well, this husband just loved it! He had never heard anything like it in his life, and he drank it all in. His wife, however, sat there fuming as she listened to hour after hour of this stuff.

When they left the meeting that night, the husband felt drunk with fresh power as he climbed into the car. While driving home, he said rather pompously, “Well, what did you think about that?” His wife didn’t utter a word . . . so he continued, “I think it was great!

When they arrived home, she got out and followed him silently into the house. Once inside, he slammed the door and said, “Wait right there . . . just stand right there.” She stood, tight-lipped, and stared at him. “I’ve been thinking about what that fellow said tonight, and I want you to know that from now on that’s the way it’s gonna be around here. You got it? That’s the way things are gonna run in this house!”

And having said that, he didn’t see her for two weeks. After two weeks, he could start to see her just a little bit out of one eye.[1]

If you hear the words of Paul to husbands–he puts everything into a much different light. He tells husbands how this command to “submit to one another” applies to them in their relationship with their wives.

For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her 26 to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. 27 He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. 28 In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. 29 No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church. 30 And we are members of his body. (NLT)

We don’t see this but this was a radical command in Paul’s day. In those days everyone believed a wife had responsibility to her husband (as a child to parent, and employee to employer). The order of authority was clear. What was startling about Paul’s command was the reciprocal responsibility given. Paul views husbands and wives as equal partners in marriage.

A Husband is to Love His Wife Sacrificially

 The first thing husbands are told is to love their wives. Too often men respond, “I love my wife, I married her didn’t I?” Others point to the fact that they go to work every day and bring their paycheck home as evidence of love. But they are really missing the point. Paul qualifies his statement by saying husbands are to love “just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her. . . “

Jesus gave His life to make it possible for us to be forgiven. He understood our need and addressed that need. Even now He continues to intercede for us. He has given us the Holy Spirit to guide us and to continuously pray for us. Jesus loves us with a sacrificial love.

Men, is this the way you love your wife? Are you attentive to her? Are you eager to protect her from anything that would do her harm? Do you stand guard over her body and her soul? Can she count on you rallying to her defense whether the threat is from a physical attacker or a rude person? Are you willing to give up what you want or desire (a new boat, a bigger TV, new golf clubs, or even a night out with the guys), so that you can show your wife how special she is? It may be using family funds to buy what she wants for the home, it might be a weekend away, or maybe even a night out with you. We show sacrificial love by . . . making sacrifices (and not making someone feeling guilty for those sacrifices).

Tim Savage in his book No Ordinary Marriage (p. 77-90) gives some ideas I’ve adapted for what it means practically to love as Christ loved us.

  1. Jesus is never unfaithful. He is fiercely protective. He will do nothing to hurt us. In like manner a husband is to be faithful to his wife. We must stand guard over our marriage. We must guard the wandering eye.  Savage writes, “When flames of lust are ignited, when extramarital fantasies are entertained, when sexual purity is threatened, husbands must take quick, aggressive, and even ruthless action to distance themselves from temptation.” (78) If we love our wives we will protect the exclusive nature of the relationship from anything that would threaten or diminish it. That doesn’t just mean guarding against inappropriate relationships, but also inappropriate thoughts, fantasies, and behaviors as well.
  2. Jesus keeps us secure. He has promised to “never leave us or forsake us”. He says nothing can take us from Him. Nothing will separate us from His love. A husband’s job is to help his wife feel this kind of security. This means we do not threaten divorce. We do not compare our wives to other “better” wives. We want our wives to know that no matter what we will ALWAYS be there for her; our commitment is not soft but rock solid.
  3. Jesus is attentive to the needs of His people. Just as Jesus noticed us, we need to pay attention to our wives. Men have a tendency to get so wrapped up in their own world of work, hobbies, and even sporting events, that sometimes our wives feel irrelevant. Men work diligently to develop things that are priorities to them. The problem is that sometimes our first love is our job, our golf swing, our team’s playoff hopes, or our favorite hobby. This needs to change! What would happen men if we pursued this deep, abiding, attentive kind of love with the same intensity that we pursue our work? You know what would happen . . . our marriages would be revitalized.  A wife deserves to know that she is first (behind the Lord) in her husband’s heart. Husbands, we communicate this by our behavior. Help out around the house. Be involved in the day to day issues of childcare. Pick up after the kids (or yourself). Be patient while she is enjoying a day of shopping. Notice the things she does for the family. Savage writes “A husband eager to plumb the innermost feelings of his wife, willing to turn off the television, rise from the Internet, return from work early, or delay a personal project in order to engage thoughtfully with his wife, will reap not only the satisfaction of deeper insight into the one he loves but also the reward of profound gratitude from the one whose life is now more fully known.” (83)

Men, if you are paying attention you should already find yourself under some pretty heavy conviction.

A Husband is to Help His Wife Become all she was Created to Be

When it comes to the church (or Christ-followers), the Lord is not content to merely sustain the life of those who have chosen to follow Him. He wants to “present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault.” Jesus wants us to become what God created us to be. Husbands should encourage their wives to the same end.

Men, study your wife. Study them not only to appreciate them but also to discern their abilities and their strengths. As you recognize the gifts and abilities God has given your spouse, we should “fan the flame” and encourage our wives to grow in their area of ability or talent. How?

  • By our words. Tell them what you see. Affirm their strengths.
  • By sacrificing for further education if that is what is needed.
  • By doing the other things that need to be done to free them up to do what God gifted them to do (clean the house, take care of the kids, do the laundry, drive to activities, cook meals).
  • By bragging about them to others. Let others know that you are proud of your spouse.

Our wives should know that even if it seems like no one else believes in them . . . we will always believe in them.  They need to know that we love to be seen with them. They need to feel appreciated, protected, and cherished.

Now, guys, let’s be honest. Most of us are better at grunting than talking. We may talk about the weather or sports or our job. However, talking about feelings and showing genuine appreciation is something that is outside of our comfort zone. Part of the reason for this is that behind the macho exterior (for those of you who can pull that off) most men are insecure. Why? Because we know we are out of our league. We know we spend much of our married life without a clue as to what we are supposed to be doing. We feel inadequate in comparison to our wives.

So how do we change this? The simple answer is that we need to work at it. Just as we would work hard to develop any other skill, we must work hard at developing the skill of helping our wives to feel secure, loved and encouraged. I am baffled sometimes at people who work hard at lots of things but treat their marriage as if it is something that should just “come naturally”. So here are some suggestions,

  • Read a book on marriage for your own benefit. I like to read marriage books to remind me of what I am supposed to be doing.
  • Try asking your wife how she prefers you put the dishes in the dishwasher rather than getting mad when you “don’t do it right”. Your wife will appreciate the fact that you asked for direction.
  • Intentionally work to honor your life in public (and private).
  • Rehearse positive things to say before you say them “live”.
  • Ask other people what strengths they see in your spouse. They may help you to see things you don’t already see.
  • Ask your wife what you do that makes her feel loved and secure. She may not believe you really want to know at first so don’t give up! Likewise you can ask what you do that unintentionally may feed insecurity.

A Simple Principle

Paul appeals to men in a way they understand: “A man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself”.  Please understand, Paul is not really appealing to selfishness here. What he is saying is quite profound: There is great joy, contentment, and happiness that comes into our lives when we love, support, and encourage our wives. What we really want from a marriage is found only when we learn to give ourselves to our mate. Though it is true that if we adopt a giving attitude our wives will tend to be more responsive and loving, but that is not the motive. The real joy comes from seeing someone you love become all God created them to be.

Think about your children. When you see them do well in school, or an athletic event, or even in business, aren’t you proud of them? Don’t you share in their joy? It is the same in our marriage. We should experience joy when we see our wives flourish because we love them. Will it mean they are a little less available to us? Maybe. But when we discover the joy of self-sacrificing love, we are willing to sacrifice our desires for the fulfillment of our wife.

In Conclusion

Paul wraps up his discussion on marriage with these words,

31 As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” 32 This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. 33 So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. [2]

Paul brings us back once again to this idea of a covenant marriage. Marriage was never meant to be an arrangement . . . it was meant to be a commitment. It is in marriage that we learn what it means to love, to sacrifice, to communicate, to look beyond ourselves. It is in marriage where we learn about real discipleship. It takes work and determination to have a good marriage. In like manner it takes work and determination to grow in grace and truth.

Isn’t it interesting that in all the things he could say to men and women in marriage Paul boils down to two words: Love and Respect. Emerson Eggerich has written a book on this and has concluded (as many of us discovered through the video series) that what men want/need most is respect and what women want/need most is love/security.

The reason we have so much trouble in marriage is because we spend so much time focusing on what we think we should be “getting”. We feel disappointed, deprived, cheated, and ticked off. If we put as much effort into doing what WE were supposed to be doing as we put into grumbling about what we think our spouse is not doing . . . we would have a much better marriage and a much better life.

Let me say something to you who may be struggling in your marriage.

  1. Don’t ignore what is going on. The idea that things are just going to go away is foolish. The reason some people say “I didn’t see it coming” is because they were so deep in denial they did not see what was evident to others. Don’t let your pride keep you from having a great marriage.
  2. Don’t try to go it alone. We need God’s help to truly love. May I be frank? If you are miserable in your relationship maybe the problem is not your spouse. Maybe the problem is that you are wrong in your relationship with God. Get your act together with Him. Listen to what He tells you in the Bible. It is almost impossible to forgive until you have known forgiveness (it is hard enough then). It is hard to love until you have known love. It is hard to see beyond yourself until you recognize that you serve at the pleasure of the King of Kings. A couple who is having trouble will inevitably drift not only from each other, but also from the Lord. They stop worshipping together, stop reading their Bible, and stop turning to God in prayer. Instead they spend more time with those who encourage them in bitterness and the sense of being wronged. I don’t know what happens first (struggle in the home or struggle with the Lord) but for the relationship to be revitalized you need to work on BOTH areas.
  3. Talk with your spouse calmly. There is nothing gained by blaming and making charges. Beating someone up causes them to withdraw rather than open up. Lower the temperature of the conversation! The goal of conversation should be to understand (rather than “win”). You will get much farther in the conversation if you ask your spouse how YOU can be a better mate than in trying to FIX your spouse. Good conversation requires careful, very careful …listening.
  4. Find an interpreter. This is a third party who is a believer and is good at really listening. In my experience many problems are caused by two people just not understanding each other. They are misunderstanding what is really being said. Sometimes all you need is an interpreter. Most of my “counseling” is actually just helping people hear what is being said.
  5. Address serious problems seriously. If the problem is any kind of physical, sexual, or severe psychological abuse, you need to put some distance between you and the abuse. First, get safe. Then work to address the problem. If the problem is an addiction, you will need professional help and may need serious inpatient treatment. That treatment is not going to work unless the addict really wants to get well for themselves! God can change anyone. Even after very major problems, two people who want to save their marriage can do so by God’s grace.
  6. Stop looking over the fence! It will always seem like someone else would be a better fit for you. That’s smoke and mirrors! Lots of people look good when you are looking at them superficially. Even if the other person was as good as they look, you are bringing your baggage into the relationship. Any problem you have is not just your spouse . . . it is how you interact with your spouse. You will bring your bad habits into any new relationship. So work on the relationship you have instead of dreaming about a fantasy relationship you think you deserve.

Outside of our relationship with the Lord, marriage is the most significant relationship we will ever be involved in. The more we work at Biblical marriage the more we will grow in our knowledge of God. It is important for us to work hard at marriage. It is not meant to be a burden. Marriage was meant to be one of God’s greatest gifts.

[1] Charles Swindoll Flying Closer to the Flame (Waco: Word 1993) p. 85

[2] Tyndale House Publishers. (2007). Holy Bible: New Living Translation (3rd ed.) (Eph 5:31–33). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.

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