With Christ’s love for the church providing the typological pattern, the archetype, for a man’s love of his wife, it’s no surprise that we get a lot of emails from husbands who don’t know if they are on the right track here. What does Christlike love look like in a husband’s daily life?
It’s the question today from a listener named Zachary. “Pastor John, this winter I will be married, and I have little to no experience with men in my life leading their wives well. What are some general parameters for me — and for all new husbands — to know whether we are leading our brides in a way that honors and reflects Christ’s love of the church?”
Okay, Zachary, here it is in a nutshell: make Ephesians 5:25–33 your lifelong charter of how to love your wife and what it means to live in the covenant relationship, which God designed in order to show the world the beauty of his own covenant love for the church. Make it your lifelong charter.
A Charter for Life
It is an inexhaustible passage. It will break you down and then build you back up again and again as you discover more and more deeply the wonders of the mystery of marriage. Very few people in our day — even in the church — think of marriage as deeply and seriously and gloriously as God intends. We have by and large (it seems to me) absorbed the world’s superficial views about marriage and its glories, and we’ve utterly, utterly neglected what it is really about.
“Make Ephesians 5:25–33 your lifelong charter of how to love your wife.”
Then add 1 Peter 3:7 to this lifelong charter. Now you’ve got two pieces to the charter: Ephesians 5:25–33 and 1 Peter 3:7. Peter uses this phrase, “Fellow heirs of the grace of life.” You will never get to the bottom of that phrase ever — not in this life, probably not in the next. “Fellow heirs of the grace of life.” Two people, a man and a woman, both of whom are utterly and totally sinful, and therefore utterly and totally dependent on grace for this life and the next. What would that look like?
What a glorious thing that would look like. Two broken-hearted, grace-dependent people living together. Now, let me get specific — just a few specific questions — because I’m sure that’s what you want me to do.
Follow the Story
Ephesians 5:25–33 is designed as the redemption of what was destroyed in Genesis 3. Let’s start there. Just realize that connection when Adam and Eve fell from the beautiful plan that God had for them.
Ephesians 5:25–33 is the rebuilding of what was destroyed. Now, let’s read what was destroyed. You’ll see it. You can see at least three terrible destructions: “Then the eyes of both were opened” — so Adam and Eve have just eaten of the forbidden fruit — “and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:7–8).
Then the Lord God called to the man, “Step up, Adam”: “The Lord God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ And he said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself’” (Genesis 3:9–10).
And God said, “‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?’ The man said, ‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate’” (Genesis 3:11–12).
Notice three catastrophic corruptions to this beautiful relationship.
“Take initiatives for creating an atmosphere that replaces shame with honor.”
First, the man and the woman felt shame for their nakedness — they weren’t safe with each other anymore. We’ve all tasted this, right? He or she may see me in my most vulnerable condition, naked, and they may say something utterly devastating about me that would wound this relationship for the rest of our lives.
Second, they hide themselves not just from each other but from the Lord. They were afraid — “I was afraid because I was naked” — so the relationship horizontally and vertically was ruined. Oh, what a universe of misery entered the world.
Third, man’s first reaction to this new ruined set of relationships is to blame her and blame God who gave her to me — “The woman you gave me, she gave me the fruit.” So there’s the tragic result that Ephesians 5 is intended to heal — shame, fear, blame, guilt shifting.
What you know, Zachary — (you know this as a Christian) — is that Jesus Christ came into the world to save people from all that relational destruction. That’s why he came. His central, all-important way of saving us from shame and fear and blame and guilt shifting is to die — to die in our place and on our behalf, rise from the dead, and give us eternal hope.
In other words, Jesus deals with our sin in such a way that fear and shame and blame and guilt shifting are destroyed in his redeemed family. He does it by dying — dying.
Take the Lead
Now, what does this mean for you as a husband, the one who is called to be the head of your marriage and your family? Ephesians 5:23 says, “For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church.” What this means is that you now take the lead.
That is, you feel a special responsibility to take initiatives for creating an atmosphere and putting in place the means of grace that replace shame with honor and fear with joyful confidence, and to endure blame or guilt shifting with forbearance and forgiveness. You feel a special responsibility for putting in place an atmosphere, and means of grace, that accomplish those glorious ends. In other words, you first receive the redeeming work of Christ in your own brokenness and sinfulness, and then you bend it outward after the model of Christ to show it to your wife and your children.
But notice carefully: you and your wife are fellow heirs of grace (1 Peter 3:7). This means that she is experiencing the same redemption from the Lord Jesus directly by faith, not through you. She too has a responsibility to bend it outwardly and horizontally toward you and the children.
That’s why I said as a head, as a leader, you have a special responsibility. You, as the head, must take initiatives for creating and sustaining a spiritual and emotional and physical atmosphere where your wife feels protected and safe. She needs a place safe from verbal putdowns and other wounding that might come from you or the children. A place where she feels provided for and where she feels that she doesn’t have to push because you’re already moving in the direction of establishing a gracious and godly atmosphere in the home.
One Little Guideline
Zachary, here’s one little guideline, one little practical test to see if you are fulfilling your calling in this regard when you get there. Pose this question: Who (me or my wife) in this family is saying most often, “Let’s . . .”?
The husband needs to establish a healthy family pattern of life — prayer patterns, Bible reading patterns, church attendance patterns, patterns of moral guidance for the children, patterns of pace and schedule, patterns of how you handle iPhones, patterns of financial responsibility in living within the budget, and on and on. The husband, as head, should not leave a wife in a position where she feels like these things are being neglected, or that she has to push on you in order to initiate the necessary conversations.
“Spiritual leadership does not mean one-sided decision making. It means saying, ‘Let’s talk.’”
Spiritual leadership comes from a husband, who is a saved sinner, is dependent on daily grace, readily confessing his own sins and flaws to her, to the kids, to his friends. Such spiritual leadership does not mean one-sided decision-making. It means saying, “Let’s talk about the budget. Let’s talk about the way we discipline our kids. Let’s talk about the most helpful pattern of prayer and Bible reading for both of us. Let’s talk about church and participation there. Let’s talk about the moral vision we want to have for a family in this community.”
The reason you lead with “Let’s . . .” instead of unilateral commands, is because you’re not Christ — you are only as Christ. Can you make that distinction? You need to lead her and love her as Christ loved the church. That means you take into full account your own sinfulness and finitude and how a sinful, finite leader creates the fullest joy and fruitfulness in the family.
You may find in any of these cases that your wife has greater wisdom than you do. That doesn’t mean she suddenly becomes the leader. She will be thrilled that in your initiative-taking leadership you are humble enough to receive a wise word when you hear it. No worthy leader — whether the President of the United States or the general of an army — no worthy leader assumes he has all the wisdom he needs. Zachary, there is so much more, and the Lord will show it to you if you make Ephesians 5 and 1 Peter 3 the lifelong charter for your calling as a husband.