In the Bible it is written, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2Ti 1:7) While this is a text directed toward all believers for all time, in our day this truth, in my opinion, directs and encourages husbands in their proper marital role perhaps more than any other biblical text. As I write to encourage myself as a husband, and other men in their marriages, I must begin here.
I admit, it is a strange text with which to begin instructing husbands in our relationships with our wives. Surely, we are more accustomed to being instructed in the manner of a husband from such texts as: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: for we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself.” (Ep 5:25-33a)
With a text such as this available, and many similar, why begin in Timothy with a general instruction pertaining more to the Spirit-filled walk?
The ways of God have never been common in the world. God’s plan for the family, that wives fearfully, passionately and voluntarily subject their time and energy to the will of their husbands, and that husbands love their wives in an extravagantly sacrificial manner, has seldom been fully taught at any season in history, even within the visible church.
Until quite recently, in fact, it was much more common for husbands to give themselves to the selfish exploitation of their wives (and other women) and the church was largely silent about it, emphasizing the duty of wives to submit to their husbands even amidst direct physical abuse, and at times even encouraging husbands in this abuse. (Will Durant, The Age of Faith, NY: Simon and Schuster, p. 505). In recent times however, perhaps in rebound to many centuries of neglect and abuse, the tables have turned and feminism has moved very many women to rebel against their husbands, even reasonably decent ones, and to hold them in open contempt. (The Surrendered Wife) Again, the church is loudly silent, encouraging husbands to love their wives in the midst of this, yet seldom making mention of the wives’ proper duty.
It is within this latter context that we Christian husbands find ourselves today, sincere men seeking to follow the living God, often married to women who do not pursue submission with an earnest heart. With little encouragement from the church or the world, many of us are faced with a profound dilemma: What should we do when our wife is manipulative, disrespectful or defiant as a manner of life? Not knowing what to do, most of us either fight back until the home disintegrates, or we withdraw into passivity and internalize our anger. Both responses are unhealthy and spring from a single root: Fear.
This isn’t typically fear of being physically hurt, but aversion to the conflict, discord and disrespect that surfaces when our wives don’t accept their proper role in our home. (Es 1:18) Men who enjoy such conflict need no encouragement here, but the rest of us are often crippled and bewildered by the constant strife (Pr 30:21, 23a) – it brings out the worst in us, exposing us to shame and reproach, so we begin trying to avoid the conflict and tension (Pr 21:19), ultimately yielding control of our homes to our wives and living in fear. This is not God’s way, though it is certainly understandable.
Until our calling as husbands is rebuilt upon a solid apprehension of truth, and we find a way forward that glorifies our Lord in our homes, believing husbands in unhealthy marriages will continue relatively ineffective in leading their families, suffering in fear, bitterness and resentment.
It may come as a complete surprise to learn that there is no hint anywhere in the word of God we husbands might be living in fear of our wives. This problem is not mentioned, even in passing, anywhere in the Scriptures. It is a problem that is totally foreign to the Word of God; no contexts are formally given to strengthen men in this state; it is unheard of in the ancient texts.
But times have certainly changed and husbandly fear abounds. Wives may dismiss their husbands from their families for any reason that suits them, and force their husbands at gun point to support the family financially from a distance, turning fathers into unwelcome visitors. The culture, and even the church, is for the most part quite supportive of women when they do this, particularly when there are children involved. It is an evil day for the family indeed, and particularly for husbands. General principles in the Word which seem unrelated to marriage must therefore be used to guide and strengthen us here, like 2 Timothy 1:7 where we began.
It is perhaps also instructive to note that the Bible contains no explicit command that parents love their children; never in the Word of God do we see such a command, though certainly most parents do so naturally; it seems obvious to most healthy, god-fearing adults. Further, we are not explicitly instructed to love our parents, though certainly we also find this wholesome and appropriate. However, husbands are plainly instructed to love their wives. It is a good thing that the Word of God instructs husbands in this thing, to love our wives. Perhaps it is not so natural and obvious that men ought to love their wives, especially when a woman is unruly and stubborn. Even so, such love is foundational for the home, and God makes this plain to any who will listen.
But fear is never even mentioned. There is no thought in the Word of God to encourage us to walk in love for our wives while we are also walking in fear of them. Jesus Christ would not walk in fear in His home; He would never be intimidated in the very least. Will we be like Him?
It is certain, we are instructed with the commands of God to love our wife, to give her honor as unto the weaker vessel, and to dwell with her according to an intimate knowledge of her frame and disposition. (1Pe 3:7) Yet, what is it to encourage a man to love his wife when he is walking in open fear of her? It is a worthy question, is it not? … though few may consider it?
I wonder if a fearful man is really capable of loving his wife properly. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.” (1Jn 4:18)
We should never be afraid of anyone, even our wife … for any reason … at any time … at all … ever. Any time we begin to sense we are becoming the slightest bit afraid of the sharpness of her tongue, of her glare, of her vengeance, of her retaliation over anything — we are experiencing a disconnect in our spiritual frame, a discord in our calling as a Christian, a problem with the love of the Father. It is natural to be afraid, but it is bondage nonetheless. Such fear is not of Jesus Christ. Nothing of our behavior should be related to or prompted by domestic fear, even in such an evil day as this. Nothing.
We are not loving our wife when we are afraid of her, it is a snare to both us and her: “Fear of man bringeth a snare.” (Pr 29:25) We cannot love her as Christ loves the church when we are afraid, and we make it all the more difficult for her to respect us. Do we respect a leader who is afraid of us? Could we? This deadly fear must be overcome, for her sake and for ours.
What must we do about this? to correct it? It is simple to get started: accept our role as husband, fully equipped by God to do so, for His kingdom and for His glory, and start to live within it. Nothing more. Nothing less.
What does it mean to be a husband? It means, among other things, being the ruler in our home. W are the ruler in our home: there is only one ruler and it is us. We are to be one that “ruleth well his own house.” (1Ti 3:4) This position is not something we need to attain — it is an established fact that this position is already ours by God’s decree. We do not need become the ruler in our home, we need to begin to walk in that role in a godly manner because we are its ruler. This is where the kingdom of God begins in our home, the domain God has given us to tend for His name.
It is stating the obvious that we are not to abuse this position for selfish ends. Let us be plain about it: God did not place us in our marriage as its ruler for our own pleasure. That aside, even if we are being unselfish — there are strongholds in both us and our wife that will inevitably bring conflict in our marriage. We lack wisdom at times, and we are selfish and inconsiderate at times. Our wives may not respond well in such cases, or may be overtly rebellious even when we are walking in sobriety and love.
When rebellion surfaces in marriage, under any condition, if we passively condone and acquiesce to it, in this our primary sphere of spiritual influence, we leave the door open to the kingdom of darkness, and we may find the dark tide to enter relentlessly, without mercy, pity or concern, to destroy everything temporal we hold dear. However, if we fight against this rebellion in the flesh we will likely sin against all common decency, alienate our wives and bring a reproach to the name of Jesus. Both of these responses are born of fear, the fear of losing what we love in this life. Yet if we love our life we will lose it (Jn 12:25) This is a powerful, complex dilemma, yet there is a way forward. (1Co 10:13)
First, we must come to understand a vast disconnect we have exposed in what we might expect from the Word of God: husbandly fear abounds today yet the Bible evidently presupposes the contrary. How can this be?
Simply, western culture has recently departed drastically from the moorings of all previous cultures. Essentially, the Bible addresses those of a different culture while anticipating our present culture and describing it. Ours is fast becoming the culture of “perilous times” (2Ti 3:1-5), when men will be “lovers of their own selves” in a manner that distinguishes that time from all before. We are now of this present evil world, evil in a new insidious way, and we need to be delivered. (Ga 1:4)
Further, as men, most of us are broken. Many of us do not know what it means to be a man and we are afraid of being one. We are also afraid of women; we do not know how to relate to them. We long for healthy intimacy with a woman, but feel a strange and unhealthy dependency — an unhealthy need — that destroys the intimacy we seek. It is a dreadful impasse, and a fearful one. We have been wounded at our very core, so much so that we do not even know what and who we are.
If we are thus, then we need to be healed. We need help. We cannot go forth to the battle to which God calls us … broken. This battle is fierce like none before it. We must indeed find healing. Healing The Masculine Soul, by Gordon Dalbey, may be helpful as a start. Gordon has defined our wounding and prescribed the path of healing most eloquently, perhaps better than any other.
As we begin to find our strength as men and learn to walk in it, let us begin to count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of God, to die to our selfish ways, to stand in the gap and to begin to fight for our marriages and families, even if it looks utterly impossible to us now. God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
Being ruler in our homes requires us to be willing to take responsibility for all major decisions affecting our home. The home is not a democracy; it is a monarchy. Each husband is required to be willing to rule their own home. That is not unkindness, pride or insensitivity, and it is — again — not a license to be unilateral and selfish. This is for the welfare of our wives and children and not for our own pleasure. We are not more worthy of this role, or necessarily more capable in it than our wives. Being head of our home does not mean that we are better than our wife in any way: this is simply our responsibility before God. He will hold us accountable for how we lead our home whether we — or our wives — like it or not. This is His order, His call. Let’s accept it.
A healthy woman that senses a deep concern for her welfare in the heart of her husband is likely to be relatively comfortable with such leadership, at least much more so than with a man who is abusing his position. However, women are sinners as well as men, and may indeed rebel against the most selfless and wise authority. Should our wife refuse to follow us in any decision we make, we pause and pray. We beg God for direction. There may come a time when He will have us to move on without her consent, prayerfully asking God to give her repentance to come with us. (2Ti 2:25) Until then, there will be broken fellowship over her rebellion and we are not to hide this or cover it up … it is good at times to expose rebellion rather than disguise and accommodate it. Prefer that witchcraft be hidden in our home, rather than stubbornness and rebellion: they are one and the same. (1Sa 15:23a)
In worst cases, we prepare ourselves for the unpleasantries following any decision made against our wife’s wishes which turns out inconveniently. The impudent, “I told you so!” pounded relentlessly into our bosom, daring us to continue to lead. Yet we must not buckle; we must not crumble. We are willing to be crucified, to die daily. We make mistakes, but these are not generally discerned merely by initial inconvenience, and a carnal woman may often miss the mark in this regard.
Let us be watchful, persevering like men, strong. (1Co 16:13) Our Lord’s way will not be an easy one at every step, and it may be more likely that we are following Him when a carnal woman is upset with us than when she is not. We must seek God’s face and trust Him at every turn. We must learn to wait on Him, learn to fear Him. We do not seek trials, but we should rejoice in the sovereign pleasure of God when He permits trials that are extreme and unusual. We count it all joy. (Ja 1:2) We will be growing through this, but it is not easy, not by any stretch.
When fear comes over us, when the fiery darts of the wicked one come hurling down upon us, we stop right where we are and recall the fact that all things, even this present distress, work together for good to us, lovers of God and called according to His purpose. (Ro 8:28) We ask God for faith to believe this and then we thank Him for the present situation. (Ep 5:20)
Remember, it is not our wife who wants us in fear — but our true enemy. The battle may be long and fierce. Great will be our deliverance if we persevere unto the end in His strength. God give us grace to do so.
Our family is no longer to be managed by committee, our wife having to agree with us on everything before we act together, and us giving in against our better judgment because we cannot out-talk her and are afraid of displeasing her. We are not to follow this way any more; God will not move in our wife to defy us … not ever. Neither will He move in her to rebuke us, or to resist us, unless we are encouraging her or others to sin or endangering them. Rebellion in our wife is not of God; it is earthly, sensual and devilish. (Ja 3:15) Let us not be intimidated by rebellion any longer, but understand where it comes from and how to confront it.
That said — and, granted, much is said here that is very difficult — we must be very careful and balanced in such a thing. Though we are the ruler in our home, it is still quite true that in most any remotely healthy marriage the opinion of our wife is very valuable and should be earnestly and humbly sought in every major decision. Our wife is given by God as an help to us, and that help is not merely in the form of cheap manual labor, convenient population growth and sexual gratification. Her primary means of help to us is in her perspective, her insight and her counsel. It is not the consent of our wife that we should seek, but her heart-felt counsel that we must discern and weigh very carefully. This resource should not be neglected or abused in any sense; it is, in fact, a great treasure found (to at least some degree) in most any remotely healthy woman. This is by God’s design: “it is not good that Man should be alone.” (Ge 2:18)
Yet women are certainly fallible, and may indeed be subject to seasons, or even life patterns of foolishness, stubbornness and willfulness in the same way as men. When our wife’s counsel is evidently foolish or ungodly and we are at an impasse with her, we discretely seek other godly counsel among our spiritual community as confirmation and prayerfully do as we think best. When a decision is made by our wife that is plainly different than the way we feel it should have been made, we are to let her know this clearly and gently, unless, of course, our fellowship with her is already broken, she is in open rebellion against us and heedless of it, in which case it is pointless and evil for us to intimidate or harass her.
In short, we are the head of our home and family. We are to be willing to make all of the significant decisions ourselves and to follow through with them as God permits. That is our responsibility and we must begin to shoulder it. We regularly and humbly seek counsel in this, especially from our wife. When our wife is uncooperative, we continue to bless her unconditionally as we are able but we do not agree with her sin, or condone or enable it directly. We lead our home as we think best, humbly and sincerely for its eternal and temporal benefit as God enables us.
In our day, this is certainly a tall order. While we have few earthy weapons to effectively wage this war, yet we have spiritual weapons if we are dead to ourselves and walking with our Lord. (2Co 10:4) Our warfare in this is certainly not against our wife, it is in fact for her and for our children. We wage war against principalities and powers (Ep 6:12) who hate God’s order and leverage turmoil in Christian homes to bring dishonor to God. (Tit 2:5)
To succeed in blessing our dear wife in God we must rule our home well; we must be dead to any of her manipulations and/or threatenings for Jesus’ sake and for her sake. We count the cost and follow Jesus Christ even if it seems to mean losing all. We should not hope for success here unless we are seeking to walk in obedience, sincerity and all humility.
Humility, though, is not enough to win this battle. We can, in naked humility, still be damaged so badly in conflict that we are deeply tempted to withdraw, or we may even become paralyzed and rendered helpless for a prolonged season through emotional trauma delivered through our wife by the enemy. We cannot win in conflict if we disengage voluntarily … or involuntarily: withdrawing into silence and passivity is nearly as much a loss as exploding in anger.
In addition to walking in humility, we must also walk in love. We must know that we are loved and accepted by the Father in a way that sets our hearts safely above the fray of the most severe conflict. It must be so that His love is all we really need, such that we are — at the very core of our being — unmoved at the loss of all else beside. This is no small thing, to which so few attain.
Yet, it is only from the safety of the loving heart of God that we are truly free to love our wife. Free to love her, though she be so broken that she is afraid to receive our love for her, even though it anger and distress her for a season for us to love her in the midst of her pain, deceptions and demonic strongholds. To be free to respond to harshness with an embrace, to offer kindness in the face of sarcasm and indifference, even cruelty … yes, this is Jesus.
Such love is what most every woman yearns for in her husband, from deep within her heart, as much as we yearn for her to respect and honor us. God is not unwise in what He has commanded. Be assured that our wife does not want us to be weak: she is likely just as afraid as we once were, and more. Our strength is what is needed to stabilize her; we must by all means get it from God in order to bless her as we should.
This love, sourced in the firmness of our strength in God as the ruler of our home, is all that we may ever rightly offer our wife in conflict as her husband. This may sound difficult, impossible, or even unbiblical in the context of being an authority in our home, being its ruler, the head of our wife. (Ep 5:23) Civil and parental authorities are permitted to use force (Ro 13:1-2, Pr 19:18, etc), as well as masters over servants. (Ex 21:20-21) Even rulers of the church may at times impose a kind of forcefulness (Mt 18:17, 2Th 3:10) However, we have no indication in the Word of God that we husbands are ever to bring any negative consequences to our wife under any condition.
True, we are indeed a master and our wife is our servant (Ex 21:8), but she is much more than a mere servant to us — she is one flesh with us and we are in covenant with her. Note that in the area of the marriage bed she has a right to our body and we cannot rightly deny her (1Co 7:4); this is a far cry from mere servanthood. In fact, it is clear from a careful search of the scripture that we are never directly commanded to use any force with our wife, be it emotional or physical, and there is not one single instance of any husband rightly doing so in the Revelation of God. Even king David did not discipline the open, public disrespect of Michal, though it seems that God did (2Sa 6:23), and as further example to us David generally refrained from using his kingly powers to personally avenge himself in any manner. He used it only for the protection and blessing of his subjects.
We are the authority in our marriage, this is true indeed. But we are also in a decidedly unilateral position as husband, and from such a position disciplinary and/or retaliatory measures are unhealthy. It is the function of the community, be it the local church or civil government, to provide a more balanced and neutral perspective when judging between adults to discern when discipline and/or punishment is in order. This type of response is never the calling of a single individual, such as an husband, especially in the context of the vulnerable intimacies of marriage between two peers. God’s command to husbands is to love our wives, not discipline or harass them. Jesus himself disciplines the church as a just king and governor (Re 2:5), not at all as an husband. (Jn 5:27) And when dealing with those who are not submitting to Him, He generally exposes their rebellion with a penetrating question rather than a direct rebuke. (Lk 6:46)
A husband’s love is to be unconditional, and loving freely is a choice we must make daily, taking up our cross and following Him. If we find that we are beyond all strength with our wife, totally spent after making every possible effort to continue and we simply cannot find the strength to go on any farther, God does provide protection for us both in extenuating circumstances through divorce. (De 24:1) However, this must be considered permanent, expecting that she will remarry another, not some temporary measure to intimidate or punish her. Generally, believing men are expected to have grace to never pursue this end with their wives (1 Cor 7:11), though if an unbelieving wife depart the marriage a husband is free to let her go and marry another if he chooses. (1Co 7:15) In any case, the husband is not permitted to directly punish his wife or to discipline her in any way during the marriage relationship. If he simply cannot tolerate her any longer, after trying every possible remedy, he should end the marriage rather than fail in continually choosing to love his wife in this way.
Even so, try as we should, we will certainly fail in loving our wife as Christ loved the church, and we will fail repeatedly. Rest assured, everyone does. Regardless of our background, we will experience strongholds in our life, ground inadvertently given to the enemy over time of which we are yet unaware, which will move us to respond without love in conflict, to be neglectful in our husbandly duties, to be selfish. When this occurs, the cure is the same for us as for our wife (or anyone else): find the lie, replace it with the truth and begin to obey immediately.
Every stronghold of the enemy producing sin in our hearts is in the form of a lie received, a lust that has grown from the lie, and disobedience springing from the lust that gives the enemy legal ground in our minds and hearts. (Ja 1:13-16) Perhaps the lie was received at the time of an emotional trauma, or in the face of temptation, through a generational curse or simply through poor teaching or cultural deception. When we find ourselves responding emotionally in conflict, out of control and in disobedience to God (sin), this is evidence that we have exposed a stronghold of the enemy within and it should trigger a cry for freedom in our hearts.
The path to freedom is to undo the enemy’s stranglehold by cutting him off at the root: expose the lie and the disobedience for what it is, then replace it with the truth and obedience. This may take much prayer and time: some wounds and their associated lies run deep, being woven into the very fabric of our being. Ask Father to expose both the wound and the lie, as well as the truth. He is faithful to reveal these things for He Himself came to destroy the works of the devil in us. (1Jn 3:8) In every case, His cure is the same: “Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” (Jn 8:31-32)
Freedom is not an option: we are to be as open to letting our wife help us get free of strongholds as we want her to be free of them. It is the same Holy Spirit in her as in us, if we are both saints. Working together as a team in this is for our mutual health and the glory of God.
Perhaps it is obvious now that we are not saying we should go from here and actively molest whatever peace there may be resident in our home, false or true. I am not saying that in any way. A prudent man will guide his affairs with discretion. (Ps 112:5) We ponder the path of our feet, before we go charging off, and let all of our ways be established. (Pr 4:26)
Certainly, let us not correct our wife and slam her down every … single … time … she stumbles, any more than God hammers us every single time we do. And let’s not pull the submission card out just because she challenges our behavior: let’s listen to her carefully as our helper and, as an initial response, always check to see if there is something amiss in our ways, anything at all that we might correct. We view any corrective instruction like silver and gold. (Pr 8:10) We only consider confronting our wife once our own conscience is clear, and only then if what we see in her is a pattern over time and she is also openly wanting to walk in obedience to God. In love, be ready to overlook things that are out of character and forget them. (1Pe 4:8)
If our wife is of such a mind that she purposes to walk in rebellion, we must let her be and trust God to work in her heart rather than trying to control or manipulate her. It is His job to enforce the authority He has given us in our marriage, not our job. Our job is to love. Let us do so with all our heart, keeping our joy in God and avoiding the temptation to walk in disappointment. If the conflict becomes severe, involve others in spiritual community (Mt 18:15-17) or even the law if we must (Ro 13:4), but we must not take matters into our own hands. (He 10:30)
Ultimately, what we are saying is this: we cannot settle where we are in our marriage with any health before God unless we are not afraid of our wife and we are effectively ruling in our home in love, mercy and gentleness. We must seek to fulfill our proper role as a husband, as a loving and sensitive leader, as the ruler in our home to the best of our ability before God. This is His call for us as husbands.
This result we seek is not something that will likely happen overnight. It is something we may need to pursue prayerfully and soberly and persistently over much time. It may take many years to get there; in fact, we just might not ever “get there.” Let’s not be overly idealistic; let’s pick our issues carefully and prayerfully and soberly, one at a time. Let’s not be petty, no Mr. Spiritual Detective who is constantly looking for flaws in our wife and who is never joyful and thankful for her. Let’s work with major issues that are causing us both the most pain and get the functional brokenness of our relationship repaired, then fine-tune things from there.
And let’s not be afraid to request the assistance of others if we find ourselves in a gridlock: godly friends and elders can often see what what we are missing on our own. This is the way of Jesus Christ with us; He begins with the “necessary things,” (Ac 15:28, Re 2:24) He puts us in a local community of believers for a reason, and He knows what we can handle and when.
Let’s be as sensitive and deliberate with our wife as we can possibly be in our pursuit of health in our marriage, and guard ourselves intensely from pride and wantonness. And above all things, always be first in obedience: we never expect more of our wife than we do of ourselves. We need great humility, love and patience; we need wisdom, and this we have aplenty as we need: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” (Ja 1:5)
And, as we walk in this narrow path of patient, joyful struggle … let’s remember this one thing along the way:
Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honor unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers be not hindered. (1Pe 3:7)
We are to dwell with our wife according to an intimate, informed knowledge of her frame and disposition. We should know her past very well and understand through diligent observation where she is prone to weakness. We should know where she has been wounded, and by whom, and give careful thought to how the enemy might use our own shortcomings to trigger the pain of these wounds to cause further pain and resentment in her toward us. In short, we are to love her as Jesus Christ loves the Church and gave everything to secure her purity and redemption from this evil world, and we are to give our wife honor as unto the weaker vessel, as being heirs together of the grace of life.
In our role as a husband, being an heir of the grace of life is a key perspective in which we must become settled and grounded. It is a foundational attitude which we must nurture; it will enable and balance the godly power that God has given us, and it will also equip us well to deal with our wife’s contentions and strivings should they come, as well as our own quirks, foolishness and indiscretion. As so many others have taken up other aspects of our disposition towards our wife quite well, we will limit further depth here to this single salient question: What does it mean to be an heir of the grace of life?
The grace of life … being alive is not a right. Every day is a gracious gift to us from God, a gift to us and to our wife. Neither of us deserve to be alive, nor to have any comfort or pleasure whatsoever in life. Remembering that we are an heir of the grace of life starts by remembering what we deserve.
We each deserve to be screaming in the dreadful fires of an eternal Hell. At this very moment, were we on our own apart from Christ, we would deserve to face the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God, to be crushed in His rage, to be mangled in His relentless fury, and to be completely decimated by Him. We would deserve this for all eternity, forever. We could deserve nothing better, and we cannot deserve much worse. We would deserve this deeply and fully. We always have deserved this … and apart from Christ we always would. Anything we receive from God that is better than the vengeance of eternal Hell fire is a gift of His infinite mercy, and to be quickened in eternal life is only found in God’s free grace. Let us be deeply thankful for it.
“Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?” (La 3:39) If we are still alive, we have nothing to complain about; we have not yet received what we truly deserve, it matters not what else has befallen us. As saints we will never, ever get what we truly deserve. Forget complaining, just lose it. Most often, anger, resentment, and discontent result from being treated in a manner less than we think we deserve. Because we think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think (Ro 12:3), we think we deserve better treatment than we have received, and so we become vulnerable to attack and prone to pride, foolishness, wantonness and unthankfulness. (Ro 1:21)
The next time we are angry about something with our wife, find any trace of bitterness or resentment toward her, or fear somewhat from her defiance, let’s take a moment to peer out over the edge of the eternal abyss – and focus our gaze upon the darkened flames below. Strain to see them clearly, listen to the screams, feel the terror of the Lord. Do we know the terror of the Lord? (2Co 5:11)
All that is between us and this fearful, dreadful end is the fragile soil of the earth. Feel the angry mists of God’s holy vengeance crying out for justice upon us, study the hungry, righteous flames, and agree with them soberly. Were it not for the tender mercies and unmerited lovingkindness of a sovereign God, we would be tossing about in the infernal blasts even now. If we rest in eternal safety from them, it is simply in the blood of Jesus Christ shed on our behalf. We stand safely on His merits, not our own. If God dealt with us justly based upon our own intrinsic merit, we would be damned, swiftly and certainly and eternally.
If we are to fear anyone, it is the God Who, after He hath killed, hath power to cast us into hell. Yea, we fear Him. (Lk 12:5) We fear no one made of dust.
Given what we deserve, I suppose it is good to constantly remind ourselves that in our role as husband in our home we have no right to molest the dignity and person of our wife. We are not in a role of power because we deserve it, or because we are better or more valuable than she. No. It is a great responsibility and a great honor. We must be honorable, gentle, and give our wife honor, respecting her as a fellow servant of Jesus Christ; we order our conduct in our home in a selfless and Christ-honoring manner. We do not expect more from her than we do of ourselves; we acknowledge that she is the weaker vessel and handle her gently and in all goodness.
While we are not to agree to domestic rebellion, as others may encourage us to do, we certainly need to be patient with our wife, considering her frame, especially at first. Transition is never easy, and we shift a core paradigm here. Patience, love and persistence is absolutely essential. Focusing on God’s grace will enable us in this disposition. We remind ourselves constantly that we are an heir together with her of the grace of life.
The grace of God is, in fact, an enabling thing. It is His grace that gives us strength to love our wife when she is irritable and irrational. It is His grace that gives us a song when she is defrauding us. It is His grace that gives us meekness and sincerity under provocation. It is His grace that gives us a true heart toward her that is neither condescending, patronizing, nor haughty with her, a heart that seeks her welfare in all things, and does not vaunt itself. It is grace that moves us to be present with her in conflict and trouble, to show up and dwell with her, even if it means being speechless and without an answer. This is Christ in us, ever present, ever looking to bless and heal those around us. We look for and lean on Him to live in us and through us as an husband, that by the grace of God we are what we are to her. (1Co 15:10) Let’s watch Jesus Christ love our wife through us.
We honor her on special occasions, and randomly surprise her with expressions of love and appreciation. We spend time with her. We listen to her. We are thankful for her. We share our heart with her when it would be edifying and promote our closeness to her. We are earnestly thankful for anything good that God is pleased to bless us with through our wife. We look for His grace in her, and encourage and bless her as her spiritual leader.
We pray for her as she struggles to follow God in our home, and be what encouragement we can be to her. We remember that there is nothing of the darkness of our day that will be helping either of us. Beating her down regularly by finding fault in her and demanding perfection will surely drive her to anger or (worse) despair. She will find little encouragement in the church and less in the world, and her flesh is no friend to her either. If we are not prayerful for her, who do we expect to be? Our mother?!
Let’s be men! (1Co 16:13) We are men of prayer, and let our prayers be deeply earnest for Christ to be formed in our wife. (Ga 4:19) Understand that in our role as pastor of our home (1Ti 3:5) we may sanctify our wife (and children) before God. (Job 1:5)
While we are certainly not Christ to our wife, we are not her savior, we must act much as Christ would act toward her, protecting her and cherishing her in humble, compassionate, loving, sober concern. (Ep 5:25-27) We must be watchful for signs of weakness in our wife: unbelief, vulnerability, disillusionment, deception, and any sign of a lapse into spiritual coldness, apathy or lethargy. Let’s be aware, close, intimate, informed. (Php 2:19) Let’s listen to her and observe her, as God does so mercifully with us. We take it upon ourselves to continually monitor her spiritual and emotional well-being and see to it that we provide a domestic and marital climate conducive to her spiritual, mental and emotional health; we are diligent to maintain a prayerful hedge about her heart. (Col 4:12) It is the same care that a pastor shows for the church, with the same motive and for the same end. (1Ti 3:5)
As much as lies within us, let’s prayerfully see to it that our wife thrives in Christ and for Christ. (Ep 3:14-19) Let’s see that she thrives as a woman, as a person in her own right, as a beloved sister, as a mother, as a daughter of God, and as our wife. We husband her, cultivate her, as the wise husbandman cares for his garden and nurtures it that he may enjoy the ripe fruits in its fulfilled season.
We should not be negligent in this husbanding for any reason, especially when things are going well. Satan took Adam himself, sinless though he was, through Eve; it worked very well, to say the least. The dragon has learned what works and what does not; he is waiting to take us down, and he has the upper hand when we are the least bit negligent here. We stand guard in this thing as though it were our very life. In many senses, it is: she will not fall without taking us down with her or ripping us apart at the core.
Let’s be patient and longsuffering and compassionate with our wife, not bitter. (Col 3:19) Let’s not be intimidated. Let’s not be careless. Let’s not withdraw from marital conflict. We stay engaged; we stay close. We show up; we are present. We are good. We are sober. We are humble. We are vigilant. We are holy. We stay close to our God, and constantly promote the oneness He has created between us and our wife.
We lead primarily by example. We are selfless and considerate of her needs. We are humble and open to her opinions, counsel and ideas. Again, godly kings of old seldom moved in anything without counsel, even though their authority was often totalitarian in nature. Remember that God has given us our wife as a helper, and she will most often be a rich source of wisdom for us. Let’s seek her counsel often and consider it carefully, and humbly.
We are of the mind that was in Christ, that though He was rich, yet for our sake He became poor, that we through His poverty might be truly rich. (2Co 8:9) Though He was in the form of God, and thought it not robbery to be equal with God, yet He made Himself of no reputation and took upon Himself the form of a servant. (Php 2:5-6) He did not use His power and authority to serve Himself. He humbled himself, even unto death. When He suffered, He threatened not, but committed himself to Him Who judges righteously. (1Pe 2:23) We are His servant, putting our wife’s needs and interests before our own. We only use our power for the glory of God – we are not found oppressing and molesting the dignity of another, especially one so vulnerable to us.
We do not expect our wife to be perfect – we are compassionate, not a perfectionist with someone else’s heart. We know our own self how far short we fall of loving God with all of our heart and soul and mind and strength. (He 5:2) We quickly fail in thanksgiving whenever unpleasantness abounds (Ja 1:2), we seldom do anything in the name of Jesus, as we are commanded. (Col 3:17) How patient and longsuffering and careful is God with us?
How would we fare if God were to walk in constant bitterness toward us for our coldness and self-absorbed unthankfulness? How can we expect our wife to follow us any more carefully than we follow our God? Our love for her is to be a picture of the love of Jesus Christ for His Church, and His love is always toward a significantly imperfect bride. He went so far as to become sin for her (2Co 5:21), when she was dead to Him. Let it be so with us. Let us walk with our wife in love, even as Christ also has loved us (Ep 5:25), and has given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God on our behalf. (Ep 5:2)
We never give our wife commands merely for the sake of it; we do not flaunt our power as her head. We take the yoke of Jesus Christ upon us and learn of Him, for He is meek and lowly in heart. (Mt 11:29) We find a humble rest for our soul in Him. While we should not accommodate open disrespect, we are more careful that we do not act in a manner that fosters disrespect, or provokes our wife to wrath. We admonish her when this is a necessity, but we do not forget to nurture her and earn her deep respect as well, as any wise leader would: even as Jesus Christ has in us.
God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. Let us walk in the way that He has prepared for us, moving toward that position of tender authority, loving, gentle guidance, and humble responsibility as the husband in our home, that place in which it is both our duty and privilege to walk.
As we get to health in this area, and God be merciful to us along the way, as our wife begins to rest in the sovereignty of God in leading the family through us, yielding to our decisions and honoring us as she ought, perhaps then we can pick up a couple of those other books about the home, and they will do us both some real good. Then, let us rejoice with the wife of our outh, as the man in her life that we ought to be, and be ravished always with her love. (Pr 5:19) Let us encourage each other, and rejoice in His victory together. (1Co 15:57)