Husbands Who Love Their Wives

January 23, 2011 / No. 3551

Dear Radio Friends,
Today we continue our series of messages on the family.
Last week we looked at marriage as God ordained it in the beginning. Today, we want to get more specific and look especially at the role and duties of the husband in marriage. And next week we will come back to the role and duties of the wife.
I believe that this is a very important subject. The world that we live in has attacked the biblical teaching of the headship of the husband, and it minimizes and belittles the role of the woman as a wife and mother. The result is confusion and broken homes and marriages. And the root of the problem is that God’s, the Creator’s, will and plan for marriage is disobeyed.
Imagine these scenarios. A football team on which none of the players has an assigned position or role. Or this one: a workplace where there is no chain of authority, no boss, and no job descriptions with specific duties. Or this one: a society with no government and no laws to control the conduct of the citizens. What would the result be? Confusion. The football team would never be successful. Nothing would be achieved in the workplace. And anarchy and war would break out in society.
And yet today there is much confusion and frustration in marriages exactly because the responsibilities and roles of the man and the woman are no longer clearly defined. With this message and the next, I want to sort out and clarify those roles from a biblical point of view.
Christian husbands and wives should be ready to follow the Bible’s teaching in this area of their marriage because they believe that God, who ordained marriage and made the man and woman, is wiser than they are. They will follow God in faith because they know that He knows best.
What is the position and role of the man in relation to his wife? There are many different passages in Scripture that speak of this. But the one that stands out is Ephesians 5:22-33. Two specific things are said there about the role and duty of the husband. First, in verse 23, his position is given. “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: …and the savior of the body.” Second, in verses 24-33, his duty is described this way: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.”
So, first, let us look at the husband’s position. He is the head of his wife. What does that mean? First, it means that the man is responsible for the welfare of his wife and home. He is responsible before God for both the physical and spiritual needs of his family. From the Scriptures, it is clear that the man has the responsibility to work with his hands in order to feed and support his family. In Genesis 3, God says to Adam, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread till thou return unto the ground.” This is in distinction from the woman, whose main work in the family is to bring forth children and to be a homemaker (Tit. 2:5).
The Christian man who does not provide for his family, the Bible tells us, is worse than an infidel. That is, he shows by his conduct that he is living in unbelief and disobedience to the will of God for the man. If a man is able and healthy, it is his responsibility before God to provide for the needs of his family. This is something that even the unbelieving world in which we live understands. A man who fathers a child is made to pay child-support for that child because he is responsible for it.
Then, also, the man is responsible for the spiritual well-being of his family. Being the head of the home means that he stands before God as the one who is responsible for the spiritual character and direction of his home. God will ask him on the Judgment Day, “What did you do to lead your family in the faith? Did you read the Scriptures with your family? Did you teach them? Did you pray with them? Did you take them to church for worship? Did you see to it that your children received a good Christian education?” And the man has this responsibility not just towards his children and family, but especially towards his wife. Ephesians 5:26 says that Christ loved His church so “that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word.” Christ, as the head of the church, takes responsibility for all her needs, especially her spiritual needs, and He makes her holy by washing her in the Word. Husbands should take the Word of God and use it in their marriages to encourage and teach and guide their wives in ways of holiness.
So, first, the man as head must provide for his wife and his family’s needs.
Then, as head, he must also lead his family. This is what it means that he is the head. He has the position of leadership in his home. This is different from the idea of leadership that you will find in our culture. Leadership does not mean giving orders, being a boss, and making sure that everything under my authority serves my interests and goes my way. That is not the biblical idea of headship or leadership. Rather, if we are thinking biblically, the first thing that should come to our minds when we think of a leader is somebody who sees himself as a servant, as someone who will make every sacrifice necessary for the well-being of those whom he leads.
This is what Jesus teaches in Matthew 20:26, 27 when He says, “but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.” And this also was the kind of leadership that Jesus modeled for His disciples when, at the Last Supper, He washed His disciples’ feet showing that, though He was their Lord and Master, He had a servant’s heart toward them. This servant-heart of Jesus comes out in all that He did for His church to bring her to salvation. Philippians 2 tells us that He made Himself of no reputation, and took on Him the form of a servant. Mark 10 says that He came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, or to serve, by giving His life a ransom for many. Ephesians 1 tells us that He is head over all things for the sake of His church. Whatever Jesus Christ does, He does for our sake, with the best interest of His bride at heart. And that is the model, the pattern, that the Christian husband is to follow in his relationship to his wife.
Now, what does that kind of leadership look like in a husband? How will it show itself? And, again, Jesus is the pattern. Here are some specific ways that Jesus led His disciples.
Number one. He was their Friend. He lived with them and He communicated with them and He understood them. He did not rule them from a distance. No, He came and lived and walked with them. And still today, He is the Immanuel, God with us. Even though He is ascended into heaven, He remains a merciful and faithful high priest, touched with the feeling of our infirmities.
And this is how husbands are to love their wives. I Peter 3:7 says that husbands should dwell with their wives according to knowledge, or with understanding. The only way for a man to be a good leader of his wife is that he understands her by being with her, by being her constant companion.
Number two. Jesus led His disciples by teaching them. This, as we have already noticed, means that the husband will take care of his wife spiritually.
Number three. Jesus led His disciples by being an example to them. He did not say, “Do as I say but not as I do,” but rather, He exemplified everything that He taught them. When He said that men ought always to pray, He showed what that meant by Himself living in constant prayer. When He said to His disciples, follow Me, He meant, I have given you an example that you can follow.
Husbands must not simply demand respect, but they must be worthy of respect by being men of faith, repentance, humility, godliness, and devotion to God. This is how they lead their wives.
Number four. Jesus led His disciples by making decisions for them and delegating responsibilities to them. The man, as the head, is responsible for everything that goes on in his home. But this does not mean that he has to do everything in the home. With a servant’s heart, he is very busy caring for and providing for his family. But also he gives direction to his home by managing who does what in the home by assigning responsibilities and authority also to his wife. Jesus has done this with His church. He is the head. But He delegates certain responsibilities in the church to different members. And this is the way husbands should lead in their homes. They need to be decision-makers, to step up to the plate, as it were, and order the affairs of their home.
That does not mean that the wife becomes a slave to the wishes of the husband, but rather that she is given a sphere of responsibility in which she makes responsible decisions and choices. In a good marriage, the husband and wife, as companions, are able to talk about and work out these things together in a respectful way. A good husband is sensitive to his wife’s concerns and opinions. And the good wife, under submission, is a resourceful contributor to the home. The wife makes many of the decisions of the home. But the husband never relinquishes his overall responsibility in the home to her. A man who is a follower cannot be the head of his wife.
So this is the husband’s position in the marriage. He is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. Husbands, God calls you to do this, to serve your wife, to dwell with them, to understand them, to provide for them, to lead them spiritually, to be an example to them, and to make decisions for the direction and welfare of your home. If a husband and wife are truly to be one in marriage, this is essential. The husband must take up his role as head of the home, according to the Word of God.
This is the position of the husband in relation to his wife.
And that brings us, in the second place, to the specific duty of the husband toward his wife. Again and again the Bible says that husbands are to love their wives. The husband must not only be a leader but he must be a loving leader. Even though the main duty of the wife, according to Scripture, is to submit to her husband, the main command of Scripture to the husband is never: Husbands, rule your wives; but always: Husbands love your wives. Your wife needs your love more than she needs your leadership.
Three times in the space of a few verses in Ephesians 5 husbands are told to love their wives. They are to love their wives as they would love their own flesh, and they are to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her.
What is love? Sometimes we think that love is something one can fall into and fall out of. And then our idea of love is simply emotion—something I feel like doing or do not feel like doing. But when you look at the Bible, you see that that is not what love is. God is love. And love is of God. God’s love is His eternal commitment to His people, in which love He saves and forgives sinners. We are not worthy of the love of God, and yet He loves us. In His love, God has bound Himself to us for our good. And in His love, He gives His own and only Son to save us from death and hell. Love is commitment. Love is sacrifice. And love is action. Christ, out of love for His bride, gave Himself, that is, He gave His life on the cross of Calvary, where He suffered what our sins deserve all because He was committed to saving us His church. That is love—the commitment of God to His people. And husbands must love their wives that way.
Normally, and quite naturally, a man puts a lot of time and thought, money and he is tired, he rests his body. When he is sick or in pain, he visits a physician. If he is threatened, he impulsively protects himself and he does not deliberately put himself in danger. And this, the Bible says, is the way that husbands should love their wives. They should nourish and cherish them to the same degree that they exercise care for themselves. To nourish something is to nurture and provide for it so that it not only remains healthy but can grow. Husbands should nourish their wives. To cherish something is to hold it dear. Husbands should hold their wives dear to themselves, as dear as life itself. These demands are very high.
But even higher is the demand to love one’s wife as Christ loved His church. Who can fathom the height and the depth and the length and the width of the love of Jesus Christ? Ephesians 3:18, 19 says that it surpasses all our understanding. We may be able to measure the depth of the deepest part of the ocean. We may be able to determine the distance to far off galaxies. But the love of God in Christ can never be measured. This is how men ought to love their wives.
Every husband is a sinner whose love is imperfect. That we should love with Christ’s love does not mean that we can attain to perfection in our love. Now, we should be ready to confess where we fail in our love for our wives and also to seek for forgiveness from them. But the standard of Christ’s immeasurable love is held up so that Christian men will always be working at loving their wives more and more. We can never attain. And yet we must always be striving.
Here are several characteristics of the love of Christ for His bride that the Christian husband must emulate:
Christ’s love for the church is unconditional. He did not choose to love anyone of His people because He foresaw their worthiness. He does not love us today because we first loved Him. No, He loves and He remains committed despite our unworthiness. And just like this, the husband cannot say, “Well, my wife is not lovely and she is not worthy of my love, so I will not love her.” No, his love must be unconditional.
Also Christ’s love for the church is sacrificial. This is the heart and the essence of the gospel. In His love, the Son of God became a man and personally bore our sins in His flesh so that we might be spared all the awful results and punishment of sin. His love is selfless. And this is how men must love their wives.
Further, Christ’s love was displayed to His bride. He shows us by what He says and does that He loves us. Think of all the ways that Christ communicates His love to us. He tells us in the gospel that He loves us. He loves His people by praying for them, by protecting them, teaching them, chastening them, strengthening them, sympathizing with them, seeking them when they are lost, comforting them, remembering them, always being with them to the end of the world. The whole message of the Scripture is a message of Christ’s love for His bride. The cross is the greatest display of His love and commitment to her.
And yet there are husbands who call themselves Christian who never communicate their love to their wives, who adopt the attitude, “Well, I told her that I love her on our wedding day, and if things change, I suppose she’ll find out.” But, just as the church needs to hear of Christ’s love, so your wife needs to hear from you that you love her.
Then also Christ’s love to His church is intimate. He dwells in a close relationship of friendship with His bride. Christ, in His love, is tender and gentle and affectionate and understanding and encouraging toward His bride. There is an intensity in His love. He pours Himself into the relationship. A husband can fall into the error of thinking he loves his wife well by providing for her, and then at the same time he is rarely with her. He does not share his life with her. The result is friction and resentment on her part, and he is surprised. “Where did that come from? I thought I was being a good husband?” But he should have expected it. Men need to love their wives with affection.
And then, one more thing about the love of Christ. It is unending. He loves His bride with an everlasting love. Romans 8 tells us that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ. Not even our failings. In marriage, men need to have this kind of commitment to their wives.
And so, this is the position and duty of the husband in marriage. Very simply put: Men must be loving leaders.
Husbands, how do you measure up? That is the question that you must answer today. If there are problems in your marriage and deficiencies in your home, if your wives are carrying the burden of responsibility in the home, then today we must examine ourselves seriously before the Word of God and confess our failings and move on in obedience.
God holds the man accountable, responsible, as the head of the home, for the welfare, especially the spiritual welfare, of the home. So much depends on this headship in the home.
May God give grace and godliness to Christian husbands.
Let us pray.
Father, what a responsibility is ours in the home and in our marriages. We are so thankful for the empowering example of Jesus Christ, who loved us so much that He gave Himself. We are thankful for His love shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit so that we may love as He did. May this gospel, as it fills us, be exemplified in our Christian marriages. For Jesus’ sake, Amen.