A few years ago, while taking a seminary class on Marriage Counseling, I realized that my performance as a husband left much to be desired. I wasn’t the worst husband in the world and, in fact, had become a better husband than I was early in our marriage. Instead of being terrible, I was just ok. That was not ok by me. I love my wife and want my life to be a blessing to her. I want her to make her life better through everything I do. This began my concerted effort to become the man my wife deserves and that God calls me to be. I approached this task in the same manner I approach every challenge and task in life. I’ve read everything I could find and experimented with implementing what I read. The following books are by no means exhaustive, but they are the ones that have influenced me more than any others. I’ve read most of them multiple times.
I came across this quote from Arthur Pink today and thought it was worth sharing, particularly in light of the alarmist things I encounter in my social media feeds on a daily basis lately. It’s easy to find folks to blame for the problems in our nation. Folks post their outrage on social media, flock to politicians peddling easy answers, demand laws that will straighten up the world we live in, and pine for God to set things right. The problem with these solutions is that they are top-down fixes to a bottom-up problem. Decline and decay start in our own homes and churches. We must address our own messes before looking to those of others. In the 2 millennia since its birth, Christianity has changed the world, not through legislation and power, but through discipleship and devotion to the cause of Jesus. Fathers, follow Jesus and grow spiritually. Then, spend time with your families, loving and teaching them who Jesus is and how to follow Him. Devote yourself to your God, your marriage, your family, and your church (in that order). If you want this country to change, start with yourselves. Through prayer and discipleship, Jesus’ following grew to fill the world. It will only happen again through the same efforts.
I love my wife. I want her to love me and think I am a great husband. Heck, I want to be the kind of husband that makes my wife feel loved, appreciated, and treasured. Further, I want her to look to me as a source of comfort, assurance, and joy. Achieving this means courting her throughout our marriage. Sitting around and wanting our marriage to grow stronger without putting forth effort is unrealistic. I also want to be faithful to God’s command that I love my wife like Jesus loved the church. This means serving her. Over and over Jesus taught that love is demonstrated through service. Over the course of 18 years of marriage, I have learned through trial and error (lots and lots of error) that simply doing things for her is a start, but it is not everything. There are all sorts of things I, and lots of husbands, do to mess up the good things we do for them. We men can be thick-headed in regards to relationships and often act stupidly in ways that mess up what we are trying to achieve. Figuring out the big pitfalls and avoiding them is a huge part of courting our wives. Here are a few I have done or have observed in others.
“As the man of the house, God put me in charge, so my wife has to obey my direction… or else she is sinning against God.” This silly line has been used time and again to justify all manner of sinful behavior, mistreatment of women, tyrannical rule in the home, and in itself has the potential to be a blasphemous statement. In fact, much of the anger that is raised the idea of men leading in the home or church is rooted in the wicked mistreatment of families using this idea as an excuse. I’ve spent the last 4 years trying to figure out how to be a Godly husband. (This is not a humble brag because I’ve actually been married for almost 18 years. Better late than never.) The biggest struggle I’ve encountered in the process has been related to the matter of headship in the home. I suspect that the struggle I am experiencing is a good thing. Not struggling with it could rise from an overly simple or self-serving understanding of the concept. It is far better to wrestle with this idea and approach the matter with fear and trembling. The understanding I have reached thus far is far from the “Woman! Get me a sandwich!” mentality that’s often the default perspective.
The most important part of understanding authority in the Scriptures is that it is exemplified in Jesus’ example and His relationship with the Father. Jesus is our Lord. Lord is a bit of a culturally foreign idea for us. The ancient world “lord” meant “boss” or “master”. Paul takes this idea a step further and refers to himself as a slave to Christ. As such, we do well to observe Jesus’ example of how authority is properly exercised if we desire to exercise it as well. This is particularly important because Jesus explains the source of his authority over us. He does so in John 5. To paraphrase, he says that he has authority because God gives it to him. That authority is linked to the requirement that it be exercised in harmony with the Father’s will. So, the Father has authority and will. Jesus wields the Father’s authority, but he must do it in harmony with the Father’s will. Otherwise, he ceases to have authority. This arrangement of submission and bestowing is made possible by the fact that the Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father. The Son submits to the Father because he loves Him. The Father gives the Son authority because he loves him.
Now, if a man has authority in his home, it is either Jesus’ authority or it is in rebellion against God. To use authority for his own interests and agenda would be sin. So it is with men. If we are given headship in our home, it is only the case that we have authority as long as we are operating in harmony with Jesus’ will and teachings. If we fail to do so, our authority dissolves. Jesus said that he can do nothing on his own. The same is true of husbands and, incidentally, the same is also true with pastors. They have authority to preach, teach, and lead as long as they are doing so in harmony with Jesus’ teachings. Pastors cannot preach their own opinions, mistreat their flock, or live the high life while their people are hungry. To do so is rebellion against God. If a pastor fails to lead folks to Jesus, God’s people are to follow Christ instead of the pastor. They only follow the pastor when he looks like Jesus, wielding his authority by operating in his teachings and will. For husbands, breaking from God’s teaching and will leaves them standing on their own. Further, because such a man’s wife is called to follow Jesus, following Jesus takes precedent over all. She is only called to follow her husband when he is acting like Jesus. Period. The husband, like the pastor, carries the responsibility to follow, obey, and point to Jesus.
The implications of Jesus’ authority go further still. Jesus told his disciples that they were to lead, but not as the Gentile rulers do. Their leadership was to be marked by selfless service and self-sacrifice. They could not demand that the church wait on them hand and foot. Rather, they were responsible to serve their people. The greatest in the kingdom of Heaven will be the servant to all. Jesus offered the best example of this when he washed his disciples feet at the last supper. In ancient cultures, foot washing was a task reserved for the lowest man in the house. Foot washers were often ridiculed in popular literature of the era and Jews debated in court over whether or not a person could willingly wash their loved one’s feet as a show of devotion, with most Jews considering to to be too humiliating an act to be legal. Jesus demonstrated leadership by humiliating himself and washing his disciples’ feet, even Judas’! Greatness and leadership in the kingdom of God is exercised through humble, loving service. This example of leadership is to be emulated by a man if he wishes to operate in the headship that Paul mentions in Ephesians. Loving, humble, selfless service are what is demanded. It is a mark of the pollution of the world in the church’s understanding of authority that we default to the idea that husbands being head in their marriage means that the family serves and submits to him. The family follows Jesus. The husband is to point to Jesus and imitate Him. NOT doing so is a sin of being passive after being commanded to be active in leadership of the home, which was Adam’s first sin: Standing by passively and allowing the serpent to deceive Eve. Sadly, this is the archetype for many mens’ sins today.
There is a final component to the service and headship of Jesus. Jesus’ ultimate act of service was to die for his people. So it is for men in headship of the home. They are to die for their family. This may not mean a physical death. It may entail giving up on their desires, free time, rest, comfort, and interests in the name of loving their family the best way possible. That’s the heart of the matter: loving your family the best way possible. Love your wife the way Jesus loved the church. Show her Jesus in your actions and attitudes. You point to Him every day as the object of our worship. Do all of this whether your family deserves it or not.
Some folks might read my words and ask: then what is the point of having authority, if it doesn’t do you any good? This is a question that demonstrates thinking outside of the mindset of the Christian faith. We do not serve for our own benefit in this life. We serve because we are motivated to do so by our love for God and our family. Further, we do so because serving our family makes us more like Jesus. Becoming like and growing close to Jesus is the ultimate aim of the Christian faith. It is the purpose for which we’re saved. A man’s headship in the home should not be to his worldly advantage or for his own comfort. We serve in this way because it is our duty as servants of Jesus.
In the end, I do not have a lot to say about a wife’s part in the whole equation, apart from the fact that she is not obligated to put up with evil, abuse, or foolishness. I have mainly focused on my job. I figure that if I do my job right, everything else will naturally fall into place. Beyond that, I’m far too busy trying to understand the requirements of my role and live up to being like Jesus to worry about my wife’s job. The mistake husbands often make in relation to their wives in this area is that they become so focused on what she should do that they ignore their own responsibilities and role. In a way, it reminds me of my kids. They get so overly focused on their siblings failure to do their chores that they neglect their own chores. They accuse each other without doing their job. Men, worry about the log in your own eye before pointing to the sawdust speck in your wife’s.
A final thought, Peter warns men to be careful to treat their wives right so that their prayers won’t be hindered. Years ago a friend told me that this can be boiled down to the hard truth that if you’re not right with your wife, God doesn’t want to hear what you have to say. That’s something to take very seriously. It’s enough to demand humility, fear, and trembling in our handling of our role as husband.
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. Ephesians 5:22-33
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
During my preaching and teaching career I’ve covered the Apostle Paul’s household codes several times. There are few topics that produce quite as much arguing, anger, and accusation. I have heard men denounce women for not submitting, women denouncing men for the suggestion of submission, I’ve encountered authors and speakers who have twisted this passage every which way imaginable to assert that the verse is advocating anything from total equality, to a slave master relationship, to a 49/51 voting split, to discussions of whether or not getting your man sandwiches during football games is a spiritual discipline. This excess of commentary on the topic can tempt me to throw up my hands and pass altogether. The problem with this is that Paul included this bit of instruction on purpose and marriage is important. If the scriptures have something to teach us on the matter, we need to learn it.
There is more than a little material to cover in Paul’s 11 verses on husbands and wives. I don’t intend to cover every interpretation, but rather in the three articles I will post on this topic, I will cover:
Approaching the Text While Wearing the Wrong Glasses
Matthew records an incident in which the mother of his disciples, James and John, approached Jesus and asked that her sons be his right and left hand men in eternity. Later, the other disciples are angered when they hear about the request, which prompts Jesus to call the 12 together and tell them that they are looking at the world all wrong. “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Simply put, the disciples jockeying for authority was a result of them looking at the world from the same perspective as the pagans around them. They are seeing the world as pagans see it. Greatness means being served. Followers of Jesus assume the status of servant. Jesus demonstrates this very graphically when he washed his disciples feet at the last supper, taking on the job of the lowest servant in the household. The message seems pretty clear: followers of Jesus are called to serve. We aren’t called to be served or to lord position over others. Believers are nowhere instructed to fight with each other over rights to subjugate each other. Our primary concern in life ought to be our focus on Jesus and commitment to grow in our faith and obedience.
Perhaps the biggest problem with how many folks approach the roles in marriage as they are discussed in Ephesians 5, is that they are approaching the text in terms of who owes who what degree of service and submission. They are wearing their pagan perspective glasses. When believers find themselves enmeshed in discussions about why “you have to” or “I don’t have to” instead of discussing what makes us more like Jesus, it’s a sign that there is something wrong. Believers ought to find themselves in a place of working to out-serve each other long before they even consider arguing about subjecting each other to our own wills.
Perhaps one of the cultural components that gets in the way of a proper perspective on the matter is the sense of entitlement that our culture has developed. We are consumers who should get proper service, not servants of the world following our master’s example. We no longer see ourselves as servants to all. The attitude has even pervaded the church, where all sorts of preachers who talk as though God himself ought to be at our beck and call, making our lives as comfortable as possible and fulfilling our wildest dreams. Churches are too often seen as existing to cater to our desires, rather than equipping us to serve Jesus.
Interestingly, discussion of whose desires get served in the marital relationship so often dominates the discussion of this passage that the vast majority of what Paul says winds up totally ignored. The passage itself spends more time discussing the relationship between Christ and the church than it does husbands and wives. Really, the key to the whole passage is verse 32, when Paul tells us that the institution of marriage, in which a husband leaves his parents to be joined to his wife as one, points to the union between Jesus and the church. As such, the passage is primarily about Jesus. The bit that we can garner regarding marital relationships is primarily in relation to the larger eternal truth of Jesus as His bride, the church. Really, if there is a unifying direction to take in relation to this passage it’s that we are to imitate Christ in EVERY aspect of our lives, including marriage.
The next post on this passage will deal with what Paul says regarding husbands.
Willard F. Harley’s excellent marriage book His Needs Her Needs, is an exploration of the major emotional needs of husbands and wives. He asserts that the major cause of extramarital affairs is unmet needs, spouses rely on each other to have their needs met. When one partner goes long enough without major needs being met, they are more susceptible to temptation. He presents the 5 most important needs for each spouse, interestingly demonstrating how the corresponding need in the opposite gender can either compliment or conflict with it. For example, the most important emotional need for wives is affection. They need shows of affection, like touching, thoughtful gifts, loving words, etc. The corresponding need in men is sexual fulfillment. Men tend to do well meeting their wive’s affection need during the courting phase of the relationship. However, after marriage meeting the affection need becomes less urgent, though for most men having their own sexual needs met becomes a more pressing concern. As focus on fulfilling the wife’s need for affection dwindles, wives tend to be less in the mood for meeting their husband’s sexual needs, largely because affection in other areas of life is a large part of foreplay. It’s important to note that this cuts both ways. When women become less interested in ensuring their husband’s sexual fulfillment, men become frustrated and are less inclined to put effort toward showing their wives affection. When both parties take a stance of intentional selflessness toward their partner, the system works better. When one or both become overly focused on their own needs, things tend to break down.
Yesterday I posted an article that looked at the 5 most important needs to women. The following are the 5 most important emotional needs for husbands:
• Sexual fulfillment- Men are sexual and sexuality tends to be the most important need for many men. Please note that this is being classified as an emotional need, not a physical one. There is a tendency to think of men’s sexuality as being a mere physical need, but men largely experience affection sexually. There is a element of physical need, but the emotional element cannot be ignored. It is to men what affection is to women. Men’s sexuality is usually deeply connected with their sense of identity, which makes it important for this need to be met, as not having this emotional need met will affect the husband to his core.
• Recreational Companionship- Recreational companionship refers to engaging in activities together. Where women need conversational connection, men need to do fun things with their spouse. During the courting phase of the relationship, this is easier. Dating usually revolves around engaging in activities together. After marriage it’s not uncommon to find it easy to engage in their own hobbies and activities, going their own ways. Men have a need for companionship in activities. They like it when their spouse does things with them. This is largely because men tend to be doers and enjoy action over discussion. Relational companionship need not be active participation, though it’s a good thing when husbands and wives engage in activities together. Wives can watch their husbands, support them, or take an active interest in order to meet this need.
• Physical Attractiveness- This is a harder need to understand for many people. Men are very visual creatures. They tend to experience a lot of sexual attraction through what they see, which is why pornography for men is largely visual, because men respond to visual stimulation. This doesn’t mean that the wife must fit into the same dress she wore on their wedding day or resemble a supermodel at all times. Rather, a wife’s attention to visual cues is important. It’s generally important to men that their wives take care of themselves or try to look attractive. I’ve spoken to men who lament that their wives wear lingerie with less frequency the longer they are married or stop taking care of themselves physically altogether. It sounds shallow and crass, but it’s more a product of how men are hardwired. It’s not uncommon for men to become frustrated when they find their wives less attractive, but cannot discuss it because of the overall sensitivity of the subject matter.
• Domestic support- Whereas women often have a need for their husbands should work to support the family, men tend to want for their wives to help maintain and ordered household. This may come across as a desire for the ideal 1950s TV wife. However, it’s more a need for a spouse that helps take care of the home. How pressing this need is depends on the husband and the family composition. Many men are happy to help take care of domestic responsibilities, but feel a need for their wife to help with cooking, cleaning, and childcare.
• Admiration- Men have an inborn need to be respected and looked at with admiration. When a man feels disrespected or looked down upon by their wife, their pride can be significantly wounded. This need is generally a counterpart to family commitment. Women have an emotional need that the husband be committed to caring for and raising the family. Men, on the other hand, have an emotional need to be looked on as the leader in the family. They have a need to be treated with respect and admiration.
The key to understanding the proper handling of emotional needs as presented by Mr. Harley in his book is a degree of selflessness. Meeting needs in the marital context works best when both partners set out to meet their spouse’s needs without concern for seeking out the meeting of their own needs or judging your partner’s needs. Further, communication over these things is important. People will generally vary in their relational needs. Open communication is key to helping each other know what needs to be done in order to meet needs effectively.
Ephesians 5 is perhaps one of the most argued about scriptures in terms of male/female relationships. Arguments over who is in charge, what submission means, who owes who what, whether or not it is even relevant to modern matrimony, and all manner of other junk dominate the landscape of popular discussion of this passage. Interestingly, much of the discussion centers around a philosophical assumption regarding our rights in the marital setting. The question of who is owed what and what are my rights demonstrates something significant about how the discussion is being engaged. Namely, that the discussion is missing the point of Paul’s words. Paul isn’t talking about what each spouse is due. He is explaining how imitating Christ looks in the context of marriage. I’d love it if my wife submitted me, always treated me with respect, and had Proverbs 31 tattooed on her soul, but that is between her and Jesus. My job, and the job of every husband, is to love their wives like Christ loved the church and to prepare her to be presented to God as a pure, spotless individuals.
The specific meaning of this phrase cannot be missed. I cannot look at my wife as a subject, or someone who owes me something. Instead, I need to love and serve her sacrificially. I need to give of myself, selflessly and set aside my own desires for her benefit. Jesus washed his disciples feet to demonstrate the lowness of our attitude of service. In addition, he died for the church. As husbands, our job is to serve and to aid our spouse in spiritual growth. We are to help our wives become Christlike. If we spend time concerning over her responsibilities and what she owes us, we cannot fulfill this directive. Such thinking runs counter to it. This raises an important question of how do we follow through with this in a concrete way. I, like most men, like “to do” lists and concrete directives. Its easy to act when we know what we are supposed to do. Here are 5 things I have come up with for selflessly serving our wives:
Maintain our own spiritual health. The reality is that this is a humanly impossible task. People are naturally self-centered and selfish. Giving of self is not gonna be our strength for the long term. God understands this and makes a way for us through his Holy Spirit working in our lives. This is not instant, it requires spiritual growth. A decent place to start is reading about Jesus and talking to God. We must grow if we are to love and lead our wives.
Lead spiritually. Leading spiritually begins with praying for our wives. This is a daily task that prepares us to sacrificially love them. Worshipping with our wives is another important part. Far too often I see wives who bring their kids to church while husbands sleep in on Sundays. Leading spiritual growth in the family requires participation in the spiritual practices. A final component worth implementing is leading the spiritual development of the family through study, discussion, and family prayer.
Doing chores, without ulterior motives. Finding things that need to be done and doing them is service. Changing toilet paper rolls, doing laundry, bathing kids, or any other chore efforts are concrete shows of love and grace. It’s important that as these are taken on, it is with a heart of service and not in an effort to receive a reward. I cannot tell you how many men I have spoken with, who are frustrated when they do dishes, vacuum, or undertake any other household chore only to be angered when their wives don’t amorously reward them for their efforts. I’ll admit that I am guilty of this too. Serving selflessly means not seeking reward. Its a gift, not a job done in search of a reward. Wives aren’t stupid, they generally see through these ploys. Further, it ruins the blessing we bestow in our act of service. Selfless is the watchword here.
Giving them time away. It is easy for wives to feel overwhelmed by the constant demands that are made of them. This is particularly the case when kids arrive, because their demands on mommy’s attention can be nearly constant. I’ve found that one of the best acts of service I undertake is letting my wife nap or spend time to herself. Taking the kids to the park or out for an evening is one way. There are all sorts of others, like taking care of chores so she has no pressing concerns or planning time away from the house.
Courting her. After marriage it is so easy to stop romancing our wives. We don’t need to convince her to marry us, so we stop buying flowers, taking her out for dinner, talking for hours, listening to her share her feelings, hugging, kissing, holding hands, etc. There are many ways to demonstrate affectionate attention that show her how important she is to you. There is a caveat here. If these things are always done with selfish motives and in an effort to get her to reciprocate physically, it will ruin the whole thing. I’m not saying that sex isn’t important to marriage. Rather, that selflessly serving is just that. Shifting service and affection from being a gift we give to a commodity we trade is sort of the antithesis of Christlike behavior.
This is a brief list. It is by no means all encompassing. Its purpose is to get your brain moving in the direction of how to serve. The biggest key is doing it with right motive, which is a product of prayer and the Holy Spirit working in us.