The second greatest command is that we love our neighbors as ourselves. (Mark 12:31). Jesus teaches us, in the parable of the good Samaritan, that the person before us is our neighbor. This includes the stranger on the way but certainly also includes those with whom with live. A husband and a wife are clearly required by Scripture to love one another.
But when Scripture gives specific commands to husbands as husbands and to wives as wives, the emphasis in the commands to each is notably different. This is not a mistake. For example, wives are nowhere specifically commanded to love their husbands. In one passage (Eph 5:33), Paul exhorts the older women to teach the younger how to be “husband-lovers” (specifically philandros). The idea communicates warm affection and the attitude required for wives is one of respect.
Men, however, are commanded to love (agapao) their wives to the uttermost. First, they’re commanded to love their wives as they love their own bodies (Eph 5:28). Second, men are commanded to love their wives as Christ loved the church (Eph 5:25) There is no greater love, no greater sacrifice.
The Scriptures lay out our duties. Wives are to respect their husbands and husbands are to love their wives – when you look at how the husband and wife relate to one another we can see the harmony between what God requires and what we need to both give and receive.
The commands are given to our respective weaknesses. Men need to do their duty with respect to their wives – they need to love. Women need to also do their duty – they need to respect. But men are generally poor at loving. C.S. Lewis once commented that women tend to think of love as taking trouble for others (much closer to the Biblical definition) while men think of love as not giving trouble to others. Men need work in that area and are instructed by Scripture to undertake it. Likewise, women are fully capable of loving a man, and sacrificing for him, while believing the entire time that he is a complete jerk. Women are good at this type of love but the central command to them is that they respect their husbands. As Christian women gather together for prayer or study, they frequently talk about their husbands in the most disrespectful way. They then go home to care for the home, the husband, and the kids in a self-sacrificial way. Why? Because they love their husbands. It’s not wrong that they love their husbands but it’s wrong to substitute love for the respect that God requires of them.
Men have a need to be respected. Women have a need to be loved. But we’re often like the man who gives his wife a shotgun because he wanted one. When a wife is trying to work on a troubled marriage, for instance, she gives him what she would like (love), and not what God commands and not what he needs (respect). She loves him and tells him so but doe she respect him and tell him so?
We have difficulty because we don’t obey the Word of God. When a man communicates his love for his wife, in both words and actions, he should be trying to communicate to her the security and love of a covenantal commitment. He will provide for her, he will protect her, he will nourish and cherish her, he will sacrifice for her, and so forth. Her need is to be secure in his love for her. Her need is to also receive love from him.
When a wife honors and respects her husband, the process is different. Instead of concentrating on the security of the relationship, respect is directed to his abilities and achievements – how hard he works, how faithfully he comes home, how patient he is with the kids, how valuable his insights are, etc.
The theory is nice as we all agree that we should obey the command of God but we tend to fail in the execution and the specifics. But love is to be rendered to wives and respect is to rendered to husbands, because God requires it and NOT because any husband or wife has earned it. The command for husbands is this: love your wives. The command to wives is this: respect your husbands. It is important to remember that God requires of us far more than any of us deserve.
All human cultures are hierarchical. The Bible does not require submission of women to men but rather of a woman to a man. Far from making her submissive to other men, the Word protects her from obligations to other men. This provides an umbrella of protection for her – she is to be submissive to her own husband.
Some might say that the Christian doctrine of submission requires the belief that any man can lead any woman. This is false and it’s ridiculous. Women are not created to respond and submit to just any man. A godly woman is therefore going to limit here options. Those who understand the Word know they are created to be dependent and responsive to a man and she must be very selective about who she marries. A godly woman should never lower her standards – the consequences are too high. A smart woman should not marry a man who does not have the intellectual or spiritual strength for him. The idea that “love is blind” is a romantic and un-Biblical idea.
Thus, a woman submits to a man. A woman can cheerfully and gracefully acknowledge that there are many godly men that are not for her. Conversely, a man should cheerfully grant that there are many women that are his spiritual and intellectual “betters”. God created them to be submissive to their own husbands – not to him.
Our modern world is fond of the expression and idea of a “level playing field.” This is a inculturated form of envy. When we make our peace with God and are happy with what He provides then we do not gristle at the inequities that exist in His created order. It has been said, for instance, that the feminist confession is this: 1. Men are jerks. 2. Women should be like men.
So a Christian husband should respect the weaknesses of his wife and treat her as Christ does the church. He should protect and watch over her without condescension. The weakness, as Peter mentions, is God’s design and not her fault – in fact, it is no fault at all. Weakness is only a fault if it falls short of design but it is precisely as it is for God has made it so. A teacup may be weaker than a sledge hammer but try sipping tea from a sledge hammer.
This does not mean that women don’t have strength – only those that confuse masculine strength as the only real strength would make that foolish mistake. The husband is called to provide the foundational strength in the relationship and be a source of strength for her so she can develop strength within the loving, secure protection of the husband who is called to love her as Christ does His Church. Even when the wife is stronger than her husband in many different areas, he must be emotionally and spiritually strong enough to listen to her and assume responsibility in those areas as well.
A man must exercise authority for his wife’s sake and not his own. He must wield authority with a servant’s hear. In John 13:13-17, Jesus showed the way for leadership by washing the disciples’ feet. The husband is a Christian leader in the home and is called to imitate Christ in leadership. He must make a conscious decision to use his strength for his wife’s protection and benefit and not his own.
See Joshua 24:15
The word evangelical used to describe allegiance to the gospel but is now so abused it has lost much of its meaning. In the older sense, an evangelical was one who proclaimed the Gospel, literally a “Gospeller.” Husbands should be those who proclaim Christ and the Gospel in the marriage.
The evangelical world is throwing away its heritage. A husband must preserve that heritage. He must lead his home in worship. He must lead his home in instruction. He must lead his home in confession. He must strive to be the resident theologian in his home as he is called to teach his wife (1 Cor 14:35). A husband must know why he believes what he believes to communicate the truth to his whole family. He must protect his family from error. He must cultivate Godly virtue in the home. He should always treat his wife with affection and courtesy. He should never lose his temper when correcting or teaching his children. He should be a rock within the home.
In short, a husband must think in terms of being responsible for the home terrified at the responsibility given him by God but leaning upon His grace for it. He is the shepherd of his home and needs to be willing to sacrifice for all in his home. His great concern is the spiritual health of his wife and children. The buck stops with him and he should steel himself for the mission and not run from it. His great joy is to see his wife grow in spiritual loveliness and to hear his children’s children call upon the name of the Lord!