An Excellent Husband*
I entered this marriage determined to be a good wife. I studied and read books to teach me how. Based upon the books I read and a shallow understanding of the Bible, I worked up a hand-written list of rules I thought a good Christian wife should follow. It sounded very spiritual, and I was very proud of it! After we were engaged, I showed my list to Paul, expecting his approval. He told me to tear it up and throw it away! He didn't want that wife. That wife was nothing but a blank slate to write on. He wanted me, the real me, wounded, abandoned, and prone to depression. Me, the uptight woman who worried more about what others thought than what he did.
But Paul saw more in me than my failings. He saw a friend whose wounds and frailties enabled her to feel compassion for his, who he could safely tell anything, who would understand and accept him. He saw a heart being shaped and gentled by the grace of God - a heart he could trust with his own heart.
Paul valued everything I brought to the table, and I don't just mean food. He eagerly sought out my thoughts and opinions. He saw in me the curiosity, and creativity to understand his idiosyncrasies, to value his perspectives and intellectual interests, to delight in his delights, and to teach him new things to delight in. From the day he determined to marry me he set about nurturing everything he found beautiful in me, strengthening my weaknesses, and freeing me from my emotional chains. Every day, for ten years my husband has encouraged me with the hope of the gospel and demonstrated Christ's love and dedication to me.
Again, I am not a great woman. Nor, as I mentioned in a previous blog entry, do I have the kind of marriage the books led me to expect. But I do have a happy marriage, and Paul insists that I am an excellent wife! So how can that be? Well, I attribute it largely to the example of my excellent husband.
Paul is quiet and unassuming, the picture of meekness. But as I look back over our life together it is clear that it is he who has primarily shaped the character of our marriage. And how has he done it? By the strength of his character. Good husbanding doesn't begin with a list of rules, it begins with the heart.
An excellent Christian husband is shaped by the gospel. His heart for his wife is aligned with Christ's. He has internalized Christ's teachings that turn relationships entirely upside-down, or, rather, right-side-up from what sin and fallen culture has done to them: "But Jesus called them to him and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mt. 20:25-28)
Christianity requires an altered understanding of authority. In the kingdom of God positions of leadership are positions of servanthood. Servants by definition submit their wills to the good of others. When we believe this, it turns our lives upside down. Wives give themselves up for their husbands. Husbands love to serve their wives. So an excellent husband's goal is not to rule, but to serve. He isn't focused on leading but on loving. He leads as love requires, and he leads lovingly, with meekness and gentleness. This kind of leadership is powerful, and often imperceptible. I've found that it is almost always in retrospect that I recognize how Paul has led me.
Paul (the apostle, not my husband) taught that an excellent husband places the same value and regard upon his wife as he does his own life, and gives himself up for her, just as Christ did for the church.
"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." (Eph. 5. 25-30)
The temptation to abuse this tender love can be strong. The apostle senses a need at the end of his description to protect it from abuse: "let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband." Peter gives a similar warning to husbands: "husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered." (1 Peter 3:7) A godly husband will not use the gentle character of his wife as an opportunity for abuse or scorn.
The excellent husbands I have known hold women in general in high esteem. It is a curse of sin that men throughout history have, both physically and culturally, wielded the power in relationships and demeaned and subjugated women at every level of society. Christians, however, are not called to perpetuate the curse of sin, but to restore what sin has destroyed. A godly man remembers that "in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God" (1 Cor. 11:11). He sees his wife and his sisters in Christ as fellow-heirs with him of the grace of life (1 Pet. 3:7) and as complete human beings created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27) fully capable of serving and pleasing Him independent of marriage, should they be called to do so (see 1 Cor. 7).
An excellent husband does not see his wife as a shapeless lump to make into whatever he wants or thinks he needs. Rather, he sees her as God's handiwork, beautifully suited to him, created to share his joys and pains, to glorify God together with him, and to be his strong support. (Gen. 2:18-14) We are two people following the Lord together, not single-file, but side-by-side, friendly companions leaning on one another.
Paul leads by his strong presence. If I start down a wrong path, he doesn't bend. He plants himself firmly and urges me back to the right road. And, with no intention of being the leader, I've done the same for him on occasion. This is two people living as one flesh, loving and following Christ, each desiring to display His self-sacrificial love. This is marriage.
Paul likes to compare marriage to a cup of tea. In the beginning there is water and there is tea - two very different things. But once the tea is introduced to the water, the two change each other forever. I've often told Paul that it is only because of him that we have the lovely marriage that we do. I know he likes to hear that. He always smiles. But he shakes his head and says it's not true. Yes, his love is a driving force in our marriage, but it would not be sufficient if I were not devoted to Christ, too. Paul and I both know that were it not for Christ's example, I would interpret my husband's love as pathetic weakness and despise him for it. I would be a cruel, bitter, and dominating force in our home. It is the work of Christ in my heart that makes me receptive to the loving influence of my husband.
It is the gospel that makes a Christian husband excellent, and it is the gospel in the heart of a wife helps her treasure the love of her husband, seeing in it the reflection of the love of God. It is these two, living and loving as one, that paint for the world a living picture of the self-sacrificial love of Christ.
*This is a revised version of an article I originally posted six years ago. I am posting it today in honor of my tenth wedding anniversary.