Bring Out Her Best

The Privilege of Christian Husbands

When a man stands before his bride and says, “I do,” his relationship with God suddenly takes on a new shape.

His relationship with her takes on a new shape, no doubt — as new as two becoming one. But so too does his relationship with God. No more will he relate to God simply as a single man. He is now a head with a body, an Adam with an Eve, a husband with a wife.

The apostle Peter gives us men a sense of what’s at stake. “Live with your wives in an understanding way,” he tells husbands, “so that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7). The prayers of a single man can certainly be hindered — say, if he lives in unrepentant sin (1 Peter 3:12). But on his wedding day, a new element enters a man’s prayer life: how he treats his wife now has a direct bearing on how God hears him (or not). For God does not listen to the prayers of an unrighteous husband.

When a man becomes a husband, then, the path of his discipleship runs through the rooms and halls of his marriage. Just as Adam could not image God faithfully while neglecting or mistreating Eve, so a husband cannot follow Jesus well without loving his wife. A bad husband may still be a good employee, a good sports coach, or even a good neighbor, but he cannot be a good Christian.

We could describe God’s calling on a husband in many ways. But one particular description has helped to capture my focus (and give me a whole lifetime of work): a good husband brings out the best in his wife.

Bring Out Her Best

This calling to bring out a wife’s best confronts us every time we say the word husband. For, in one sense of the word, to husband is to cultivate, to bring forth flowers from buds and fruit from seeds. A good husband kneels in the garden of his wife’s soul, laboring by God’s grace to draw forth latent beauty, to become a spade in the Holy Spirit’s hands, used by him to bear his wonderful fruit (Galatians 5:22–23). Like the perfect heavenly Husband, a good earthly husband nurtures his wife toward resplendence (Ephesians 5:25–27). He brings out her God-given best.

“A good husband brings out the best in his wife.”

To be sure, this husbandly calling does not mean a woman is helpless without a good man — Ruth, Abigail, Anna, Phoebe, and others testify to the contrary. Nor does the calling suggest that a husband’s godliness guarantees his wife’s — some quarrelsome women contend against good men (Proverbs 21:9). Nor does a husband’s responsibility diminish the profound effects a good woman may have on him.

Nevertheless, the point and the general pattern still stand. The beauty of a godly woman often blooms best in the soil of a godly man. As Jonathan Leeman writes, “Few things on this earth can strengthen, embolden, empower, encourage, enliven, or build up a woman like a head who is devoted to her good” (Authority, 174) — like a husband who gives himself to bringing out her best.

And how do normal, imperfect husbands like us become such men? I have been striving after two simple postures vital for godly husbands: love her and lead her.

Love Her

The first posture faces inward. Here Adam sings over Eve (Genesis 2:23), the wise son rejoices in “the wife of [his] youth” (Proverbs 5:18), the smitten lover gets lost in his beloved’s eyes (Song of Solomon 1:15), the marveling man praises his excellent bride (Proverbs 31:28–29). “Christ loved the church,” the apostle Paul tells us (Ephesians 5:25), and good husbands love to learn his ways. By the inward-facing posture, we admire all that’s lovely in a wife, and we adore her into deeper loveliness.

Love, of course, is a many-petaled rose. Consider just a few of the petals.

Enjoy Her

Such love often looks like a smile and sounds like laughter. It may joke and dance and make a man do silly things. It writes unlooked-for love notes and takes her by the arm into adventure. It does not allow children and jobs and homes and bills to silence the song once sung, but finds ways to fill ordinary days with the unashamed joy of Eden.

“Enjoy life with the wife whom you love,” the Preacher tells us (Ecclesiastes 9:9). Yes, “rejoice in the wife of your youth”; let her love make you woozy (Proverbs 5:18–19). For such joy says something wonderful and true about the great Groom: he is never bored with his bride.

“The beauty of a godly woman often blooms best in the soil of a godly man.”

Some flowers raise their heads at the sight of the sun; many a wife raises hers at the sight of a glad and admiring man. True, not every married moment can know the poetry of deep pleasure, the wine of overflowing delight. Some days, we live by the water and prose of covenant loyalty. But if our marriages never wear white robes, never anoint themselves with the oil of gladness and say, “Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away” (Song of Solomon 2:13), then some of her best will lie hidden within.

Serve Her

In our Lord Jesus, affection joins hands with sacrifice. He loved the church, and so he “gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). Now united with him, the church receives his daily nourishing and cherishing. He loves and serves her as his own body (Ephesians 5:29–30). And so, the pattern holds in other happy husbands. They are Jacobs who gladly serve seven years and more for their Rachel — and their love makes the labor feel light (Genesis 29:20).

A godly husband’s service will include all manner of practical duties, no doubt. Take care of the yard; plan for the family; clean up after dinner; spend regular, unhurried time with the kids while she gets away — he will lift what weights he can from her body, her task list, her time. But a Christian husband also looks deeper and asks how he can serve her spirit.

How can he nourish and cherish not just her outer self but her inner self (Ephesians 5:29)? How can he wash her heart with the cleansing water of God’s word (Ephesians 5:26)? In the end, although Jesus uses husbands, only he has the power to bring out the best in a wife. So, what rhythms of Bible reading and prayer and fellowship will a man weave into the family’s life such that she, like Mary, lingers often at the feet of her Lord (Luke 10:39)?

Honor Her

A husband who enjoys his wife and serves his wife certainly honors his wife. But a good husband’s honor also goes further. He not only embraces her and smiles upon her, helps her and speaks God’s word over her; he also lifts his voice to praise her. Like the husband in Proverbs 31, he speaks words that echo her excellence back to her (Proverbs 31:28–29).

The apostle Peter names honor as a particular husbandly privilege, and as he does, he fastens our attention to where the deepest honor is due. Honor your wives, he says, “since they are heirs with you of the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7). She is a queen, this wife of yours, a daughter of God and an heir of eternity. The world may miss the true beauty of this heavenly heir, “the imperishable beauty” in “the hidden person of the heart”: her “gentle and quiet spirit,” her refusal to “fear anything that is frightening” (1 Peter 3:4, 6). But such beauty need not, should not, be lost on you.

A godly husband’s praise, of course, cannot be false; he cannot flatter. But I imagine most husbands err in the opposite direction: not by praising inappropriately, but by remaining silent as our wives parade praiseworthiness before us. When the silence is broken, however, a husband’s praise often bears fruit. As he honors the grace in her — noting it, loving it, speaking it — he helps to bring forth more of it.

Lead Her

So far, we’ve considered a husband’s inward-facing posture. But a good husband, a husband who brings out his wife’s best, faces outward also. He loves her, yes, and looks often into her eyes. But he also leads her, inviting her to join him on a mission far larger than marriage.

“Whatever her gifts, the way a husband leads will either draw them out or bury them.”

God gave Eve to Adam not just so he would sing the poetry of love over her, but so they both would sing the poetry of God’s reign over all the world (Genesis 1:28). He intended the two of them to become not only one but many, as together they multiplied God’s image through the earth. He gave them marriage for mission — a mission that cannot succeed apart from inward love, but that cannot succeed either if inward love never turns outward. And as so many husbands have discovered, some of the best in a woman appears only as she turns her heart, her mind, her soul toward need.

Toward what kind of need? The answers to that question are many. The mission of any Christian marriage will take its bearings from Jesus’s Great Commission (Matthew 28:19–20), but the possibilities beneath that banner are broad. For direction, a husband will need to look to the gifts that God has given him, and that includes his greatest earthly gift of all: his wife.

Perhaps God has made your marriage to flourish and bear fruit in the harvest field of an unreached people. Perhaps he has made your wife capable of mothering many children, of bearing and fostering and adopting till no minivan can hold you all. Perhaps she has the skills of an incredible host and neighborhood evangelist. Whatever her gifts, the way a husband leads will either draw them out or bury them, make the most of them or mute them.

In my own marriage, the needs of young children and a young church have brought out beauties in my wife that I never could have called forth on my own. And wonderfully, watching her devote her days to the needs of toddlers and saints, to the demands of a home and a fellowship, has only made me love her more.

So it often happens. A marvelous cycle begins: a man loves his wife and leads her into mission — and while on mission, he falls more in love. And over time, with much mercy along the way (for we husbands often stumble in our calling), her soul’s garden becomes more flowered and fragrant, and anyone with eyes to see gets a glimpse of that bride who will one day appear “in splendor” (Ephesians 5:27), the perfected beloved of her perfect Bridegroom.