The Apostle Paul was unmarried, but in just four verses of advice to husbands on their responsibilities, he mentions three times the need for husbands in Christ to love their wives. It is doubtful that we today would have written so openly, so emotively on the subject, but the Apostle obviously saw this as the key role in a husband’s behaviour.

In his many visits to ecclesias in different parts of the world Paul saw all kinds of marriages and no doubt different emphases in their customs of marriage, but this is the Apostolic teaching for all marriages, irrespective of race or epoch. As Australians, it is probably true that our heritage does not help in keeping the Spirit’s advice. The male image in this vast and untamed land has been one of rough independence, not easily compatible with the kind thoughtfulness of Paul’s instructions. Then again, our Anglo-Saxon background may bring with it an aloof indifference to the burden and concerns of our weaker partner, as though it is hardly proper that we should relate to her domestic duties; that the dishes are only to eat from, not for us to wash.

Ephesians 5

 No higher thoughts were ever given upon the subject of the husband’s role than in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. The love of the husband towards his wife is likened to that love with which Christ loved his ecclesia. It was a practical love, so much so that “he gave himself” for the ecclesia. He did not just speak about it; he gave his life in illustration of his love for his people, his Bride (Eph 5:25). The next statement says that Christ did this that he might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the Word” (v 26). What is this cleansing “Word”? It is the Word of the gospel which, portraying Christ’s life and principles, is made powerful by the sincerity of his actions. That message, that Word, strikes the heart and conscience of men and, moved by his love, they seek to wash all impurity from heart and mind.

Yet the Apostle does not stop there. “He shall see his seed”, said Isaiah and he did, not abstractly but in the delightful figure of a Bride “not having spot, or wrinkle,… holy and without blemish” (v 27). Furthermore, this beautiful Bride was being presented by himself “to himself”! This was the ultimate picture in mind when he gave his life. The Master was driven by this remarkable vision, so that he was able to bear the pain, the shame, the loneliness of his sacrifice and press on regardless!

The Apostle states his real point: “so ought men to love their wives as their own bodies”. This is a truly remarkable statement. The whole vision and mind and action of Christ is transferred to the husband in his attitude and behaviour to his wife. The husband has a vision and that vision is that, after he has spent his life with his companion, he will see her presented to Christ in spiritual maturity. To that end he is not strutting round the house showing himself to be the “head” by heartless comments and judgments; rather he is willing to spend and be spent for the well-being of his wife, giving his life for her that, when he speaks a word to his bride, she responds willingly because she knows his love for her in the myriad of sacrifices that he makes for her. That is how the ecclesia feels about Christ; that is how our wives should feel about their husbands. These wives respond to the warmth of love received. Each one trusts her husband because she sees his life is a sincere sacrifice in the interests of Christ. This marriage is really working with each partner striving joyfully to fulfil his or her role, keenly seeking to fulfil their individual responsibility. Their eyes are upon their own particular duties. It is not a competition, nor does bitterness and deprecation mar the domestic environment. The husband has set the pace as he leads the home in Christ-mindedness. This is a “head”, a true leader in the marriage; what woman would not be happy to respond to his leadership!

Simple and Practical Wisdom

 How relevant are these beautiful words of the Apostle to the increasing degeneration of married life. When dissociation occurs it is not uncommon to find each partner obsessed with the faults of their spouse. The question, “What has happened to bring this sorry state of affairs?” will initiate ten or twenty points of complaint concerning the other partner. And both of them have their list! One may wait in vain to hear a voluntary acknowledgment of their own failings. Rarely is it heard! In other words both of them have ceased concentrating on their own responsibilities and whether they are fulfilling them and have become obsessed with their “rights” – and the faults of their partner! When one does this then it rebounds very quickly and in no time an escalating division is found in the marriage. The wife complains that the husband is thoughtless and bitter and does not love her as he should. His response is that she is insubordinate and without respect for his leadership. Both may be right in their judgments but the only thing that will solve the problem is for each to concentrate upon their own role and perform it. Bro Carter comments: “The emphasis is placed upon the duty each has to perform, and not upon the right to be expected from the other.” Here the husband has the principal responsibility. If he is “the head” then he has the duty of leadership. By definition the head generates the thoughts and decisions by which the body is guided. This is the apostolic teaching and it should not change one wit because we now live in the age of feminism in which the basic foundations of marriage are being overturned throughout society. The tragedy of modern thought may be seen in the rapid escalation of abuse, violence, law suits and general marriage deterioration.

Take a case in point. When I was speaking to a Victorian farmer recently, he introduced his second wife to whom he had been married for several years. Till 1984 he had lived happily with his first wife for twenty five years, raising four children and combining their energies to pay off their 1200 acres of land. Having started with nothing (for he was a migrant from Germany) he had reached the happy situation of owning the place and the equipment. His wife, unsettled by current thinking, requested to spend time in the city to study for a degree course. The bright lights, erudite company and exciting opportunities got to her mind and he told me, with tears welling in his eyes, of the phone call he had received advising that she had made the decision to stay in the city and continue with her new job and way of life. The husband then found himself responsible for a payment of almost half of the one million dollar value of the farm. It has ruined him and the family. Why should he have to pay? Because the government ascribes “no fault” to break-up of marriage. So, treacherous and adulterous behaviour is rewarded with half a million dollars vouchsafed by the law of the land. Look at the depth of tragedy in this case! These circumstances could be retold a thousand times.

We are all hearing these things in our present society. It is the madness of the latter days! But it all stems from a failure to accept God’s way. He made man and woman and He made them different. Man has his role and his beloved wife has her role. Our greatest wisdom is to establish our children in these fundamental teachings.

Christ-Like Husbands

 This little heading puts into a nutshell the teaching of the Apostle Paul. Christ provided leadership and shouldered his responsibilities. He took our burdens upon himself: “even Christ pleased not himself” but rather “bore our griefs and carried our sorrows”. We husbands must seek to bring inspiration, happiness and cheer into our family life. Let us not burden others with how sad is our lot or heavy is our load but contrariwise lift the mind and heart of those within our house. The Christ-like husband sets the tone of his home. He is the leader in the reading of God’s Word, drawing the family around his table and seeking interest and lessons from the chapters read. He draws the family together in prayer and acknowledges before the Father his dependence upon His love and mercy. He takes an active interest in the children’s lives and will not shirk those hard decisions which will deeply affect their well-being. He encourages them in good things and takes interest in their Bible Studies, Sunday School work and Young People’s activities.

In all these activities his wife will take great delight. She brought these children into the world by the mercy of God and she will never cease to yearn for their well-being, spiritually and naturally.

Essential to wise husbanding is communication. We must not allow ourselves, even if busy, to be out of tune with our partner or unaware of her concerns or program. She too needs to know our program, what we are planning and our present concerns. If there are problems developing in the relationship then cover them in love and sincere communication. Let husbands encourage their wives. Peter says that they are the “weaker vessels” and for this reason honour should be given to them (1 Pet 3:7). Surely this means a little praise from time to time, a word of sincere thanks for a pleasant and satisfying meal, for a tidy house, for washed and pressed clothes, for a thousand duties well performed in the keeping of the house and family. An husband’s praise is like oil to a marriage relationship. If we think it but never say, then what use is that? How would we respond if so many of our duties were performed without appreciation or if, in absence of a word of encouragement, there is criticism and belittlement of performance? None of us accept this but sadly this is not an uncommon feature in some marriages. It should not be so amongst us.

Husbands, love your wives!