(This is part one of two-part series. Part two: Biblical Wifery will come next week)
Martin Luther spent his life dedicated to God. He pastored for decades, stood up to the powers and authorities of the day, and even launched the Reformation, out of which our own tradition comes. And yet, it wasn’t until the end of his life that he married an ex-nun (himself being an ex-priest, neither of whom were able to marry that day in age) that he claimed that MARRIAGE was the hardest thing he had ever had to do. It was also, he claimed, the single-most influential thing in his life that made him more mature and took him to new heights as a man.
There is a problem in our world today. Men are content to sit around and not be the husbands and dads they should be. Others are so busy conniving and climbing the corporate ladder that they’re content to ignore the family at home and pursue the next most available piece of comfort. You’ll find other men who have never grown out of the party scene. Others still are so busy tooling around in the garage, keeping up on sports, checking the DVR, or too drunk to notice they’re drunk that they still have a family.
Naturally, I’m painting in rather broad strokes, but there is an issue in today’s society. Divorce is on the rise, living together before marriage is seen as a viable choice, and teenagers are no more knowledgeable about how to become a man than their own fathers. This post isn’t about digging down for that key historical turnaround, and this post won’t directly solve all of these problems, either. But I believe, at least in some way, if you men follow some of what’s laid out here (or if you women pass it along to your husband) that it will have a profound impact on your marriage, family, and life.
Ephesians 5:25-28, NIV: 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
A dear friend of mine once told me that, “In marriage you should expect a 20% return on an 80% investment.” And after many changes in my life I can say that I’m finding it to be true. However, it is the sweetest, most wonderful arrangement I could imagine!!
While Jesus was preaching to his disciples one time he shared with them, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).” When we then see Paul specifically ask husbands to be willing to go these lengths for their wives, just as Christ did indeed go to these lengths for all of us, there is a certain requirement of historical knowledge. A majority of ancient texts said that husbands were merely to provide. It was not a requirement upon husbands to love, nurture, comfort, or show any sort of emotion with his wife (or wives) – he merely needed to provide.
Paul, here, turns that on its head. It is not enough to provide. He must love. It is not enough to love. He must be willing to die. It is not enough to die. He must be willing to lay down his life in order that she may be cleansed and purified.
I propose that it is not so much a physical death to which Paul refers, although if it came to that the husband should be willing. No, Paul is challenging all of the conventions of the time by saying the husband’s love should show itself in a lifestyle of sacrifice. It should come in an entire series of a lifetime of choices that the husband is making for his wife. As Christ died for us he provided justice for humanity, and so there is also justice for the wife in the actions of the husband. In his book Wild At Heart, John Eldredge proposes that men were created in part to battle for the beauty in their lives (their wives). We are to fight. “And it’s not just once, but again and again over time. That’s where the myth really stumps us. Some men are willing to go in once, twice, even three times. But a warrior is in this for good.”
It is through this repetitious fight for the love, honor, beauty, and essence of our wives that the husband repeatedly dies to himself, just as Christ did. He refused to cheat the responsibility His Heavenly Father had laid on Him, and so should husbands. Rather than pursuing their selfish desires or merely thinking food and shelter is all he should provide for his wife, a husband is to sacrifice these motivations for the goal of justifying, cleansing, washing, and purifying his wife. The war here, though, is not just physical. Note in Eph. 5:26 that this cleansing comes through “the Word” and in 5:27 that it will make her “holy and blameless”. This battle that men are fighting, this self-sacrificial way of life on the husband’s part for the sake of his wife, is firstly a spiritual war. It is a battle fought on one’s knees praying to keep the spiritual powers of Satan at bay from his wife and his marriage. It is a battle fought with every choice of a man’s mind or every action with a member of the opposite sex who isn’t his wife… it is a frequent battle of sacrifice in order that his wife may be lifted up, rescued, and cleansed.
At the risk of being proof-texty, I would also remind my readers of another example of how far Christ went for us so that we can guage how far husbands should go for their wives: Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Mark 10:43-45
I recently finished a book called The One, by Ben Young and Dr. Samuel Adams (no, really). Though the book itself was rather dry (as in I don’t think I’ll pick it up again), I did love this quote: “Marriage is a 24/7/365 marathon designed by God Himself to knock off your rough edges and reform your selfish nature in order to make you holy.”
The idea that “love is a choice” comes into play here. At the root of these actions is the idea that if a husband truly loves his wife it will show itself in a daily and frequent choice for her and her benefit, even at the expense of himself. This not only gives the beauty the opportunity to feel loved, but as it is a spiritual battle that he is waging for his wife, it purifies and cleanses her… as though a refiner’s fire is burning away all impurities. If a husband can do this he is on his way to emulating Christ’s example and loving his wife as Christ loved the Church.
Why would the husband do all this? Not just because he loves his wife or wants to keep things happy. It is in these ways that a man is showing that he loves himself. If he loves himself and has the respect and the goal for self-fulfillment, it will ironically be fulfilled in loving, choosing, and fighting to sacrifice himself for his lover, his wife. It is in this way that we show Christ’s love, and perhaps show a truer form of worship than is possible without the true love between a husband and a wife.
And so, in this way, I propose a solution to the aforementioned societal problems. At its root, men and husbands no longer see themselves as the leaders of their homes. Like it or not, men, we are in the driver’s seat. Although there is compromise and we’re yoked together and all that, the success of our marriage rises and falls on our shoulders and nobody else’s. I mean, we could go on like Adam blaming our wife for our failure (“That woman you put here with me, she gave me the fruit!”). But if we’re going to man-up, then we’re going to start from this moment on (if we’re not already) by courageously leading AND accepting responsibility for the successes and especially the failures in our marriages.
So, men. Are you sacrificing? Are you loving your wife as Christ loved the Church? Or are you skating by? Coasting on the happy trails that have been previously paved? Believe you me, I’ve been there. I’ve scooted down those slopes until all of a sudden I was careening downhill at break-neck speed and nearly lost everything I held dear. Men. It is time to rise up. It is time to be intentional. It is time to be the men that we’ve been called to be, take responsibility for our own lives and marriages, and at the same time bow-low “to make her holy.”
28 Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.”
– Proverbs 31:28-29
**For those of you wondering where the wife’s role is in all of this, we’ll get to that next week. The syncopation, love, and amazing wonder of a marriage working as God intended it to is an amazing thing, and can get to a point where it does feel nearly effortless. Don’t forget, though. It takes a lion’s share of effort and more. The rewards are just so sweet!!**