Today marks the conclusion of our four part series on marriage. We hope it has been a blessing to you! If you missed any of the first three posts, you can read them here: For Wives: A Profound Paradox, For Wives: Praying Hearts, and For Husbands: Miracle Required
Adapted from No Ordinary Marriage: Together for God’s Glory by Tim Savage
What does the biblical love of a husband look like in practice? Once again, the model is Jesus Christ. We can identify six salient features of the love of Christ. The first two may be framed in terms of prohibitions (what his love is not) and the last four in terms of affirmations (what it is).
First of all, a husband’s love is never unfaithful. The love of Christ for the church is extremely possessive (John 10:14), fiercely protective (John 10:28), intensely devoted (John 10:9), and radically sacrificial (John 10:11). Nothing could ever prompt the Lord to spread his affections among those who do not belong to him (John 10:10). And love like this evokes a response in kind: the people of God return an all-encompassing love.
The same pattern applies in marriage. When husbands demonstrate unwavering faithfulness to their wives, they prompt a response in kind. Husbands must guard this fidelity at all costs. A wife should know herself to be the sole recipient of her husband’s romantic affection. As he vowed at the altar, a husband must forsake all others.
It is not ultimately biblical warnings against infidelity that sanctify our behavior as much as fresh encounters with the living Christ. Transformed daily by the faithfulness of our Lord, we are supernaturally empowered to exhibit the same faithfulness to our wives.
Secondly, a loving husband will never divorce his wife. Although the Scriptures may provide an exception to this rule (see Matt.19:9), husbands ought to draw their inspiration from the exceptional love of Christ. It is a love that never parts with its object. There will never be sufficient reason for Christ to abandon his bride, the church which bears his name. We are secure in his eternal embrace. It ought to be the same for wives who are loved by their husbands in the same way as Christ loves the church. Marriages may be subjected to severe trials, but they need never break. At the altar a vow was etched in stone—“till death do us part.”
In antiquity, people were accustomed to easy divorce, and it proved a comforting safeguard in the event of bad marriages. When Jesus uttered the famous prohibition against divorce, it sent a collective shudder down the spines of even his most pious listeners. “If such is the case of a man with his wife,” demurred his disciples, “it is better not to marry” (Matt. 19:10)! Many today would express a similar reservation. But we must not succumb to a self-seeking outlook that has produced so much pain and dysfunction within marriage. Our compassionate Messiah’s instruction, far from limiting our options and curtailing our happiness, is designed to promote freedom and fulfillment within marriage. It is for our good that he commands us not to divorce.
It is only when a husband follows the counsel of the Lord, when he forsakes all others and clings faithfully to his wife, and does so irrespective of inevitable marital disappointments, that he discovers a contentment beyond anything the present age has to offer—an abiding and overwhelming joy that only God can provide. Following the commands of the Lord never diminishes marital fulfillment. It always enhances it.
We can fill out the portrait of a loving husband by adding four positive affirmations. First of all, a husband who models the love of Christ will notice his wife. Love pays attention. As time wears on and the initial sparks begin to wane, other things—the demands of work, the passion for sports, the challenge of parenting, the companionship of male friends—can steal away a husband’s attention. The result is marital stagnation in which superficial and brief conversations and perfunctory kisses take the place of deeper interaction.
Many husbands fail to detect the deterioration, or they look primarily to their wives to stoke the marital flame. Sticking closely to their appointed routines, husbands busy themselves with their own projects. Wives, wishing to please their husbands, keep growing frustrations under wraps and then, unwittingly, begin to slide into a state of emotional indifference or despair. When the sterility of the relationship finally becomes unendurable, wives will erupt into—what seems to their husbands—a volcano of irrational negativity. At that point, the marriage is seriously imperiled.
But the point need never arrive. A vigilant husband consciously nurtures his first love. He views his wife as his most cherished earthly possession. He pays attention to her. And when he does, he makes a startling discovery. She becomes the great delight of his heart. Her personality, her gifts, and her interests—now carefully noted by the eyes of her partner—become to him a source of endless fascination. The words of Solomon stand like a capstone over his heart: he enjoys life with his wife whom he loves (Eccles. 9:9). Because she knows herself to be his greatest treasure, she is filled with joy and the sparks of the marriage rarely diminish.
A loving husband will take pains to understand his wife. He will notice not only what she says and how she acts, but will also seek reasons underlying those words and behavior. He will probe beneath the surface for the person she is within. That, of course, is a defining feature of Christ’s love. He was not content merely to notice from afar but climbed into a human body in order to deal with us on an intimate level. He was “made like his brothers in every respect” in order that he might “sympathize with our weaknesses” (Heb. 2:17; 4:15). In the same way, a husband ought to pursue insight into the thoughts and emotions of his wife. He ought to learn what shapes her dreams and prompts her fears.
Deep understanding will emerge only through creative verbal interaction. Love talks. It asks questions. Jesus constantly inquired of those he loved. “Why are you so afraid?” (Mark 4:40). “Why are you making a commotion and weeping?” (Mark 5:39). So, too, a loving husband will tenderly ask his wife to reveal her heart and, when necessary, help her to do so.
It will hardly be surprising that the greatest obstacle to an outbreak of God’s glory within marriage is a breakdown of communication. When dialogue becomes mundane, one-sided, repetitive, tense, or ceases altogether, mutual understanding will be the casualty. A loving husband will guard against the demise of conversation. He will carve out times for sympathetic interaction and, if necessary, structure times into his daily routine. Uninterrupted communication every day helps to build marital cohesion. So, too, does a date night once a week or a quarterly weekend in the mountains or at the beach. Fixing times is the responsibility of a loving husband. Ongoing dialogue is the fruit of his love.
Thirdly, a loving husband will seek to sympathize with his wife. Sympathy represents a natural progression from the first two positive brushstrokes of Christlike love.
For many husbands, sympathy is not a natural attribute. And, ironically, the more a husband thinks he understands his wife, often the less sympathy he expresses. Understanding can breed contempt. When the weaknesses of a wife are exposed, husbands can become judgmental, harsh, critical, or authoritarian. They can disrespect her opinions, belittle her ideas, demean her accomplishments, correct her use of words, and criticize her initiatives—either in subtle ways or sometimes even in front of others. How a husband treats his wife in public is a very telling measure of the authenticity of his love.
True love sympathizes. It rejoices to support another. Here the apostle Paul sets a high standard of instruction: Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful. . . . Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Cor. 13:4–5, 7). Although these words were addressed to all members of the church at Corinth, they could easily be understood as a call specifically to husbands. Love relishes the opportunity to defer to the concerns and the needs of a wife.
Fourthly, a loving husband will sacrifice for his wife. If we were to scan the dictionary for the perfect synonym of biblical love, we could do no better than the pregnant word sacrifice. It certainly sums up the pattern inherent in Christ’s love. He sacrificed himself on our behalf. This is the supreme calling of husbands. They love their wives “as Christ loved the church [when he] gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25).
Sacrifice entails more than a simple willingness to put one’s life at risk for another. The love of a Christian husband ought to be characterized by an even greater degree of sacrifice—more than a life given in death, but a life given in life. A loving husband will lay down his own life by taking up his wife’s. He will make her life his life. He will view her life as dearer to him than his own.
This kind of self-denying love is a mystery to most husbands. Few things are deemed worthy of the sacrifice of their lives—work perhaps, or ambitions, or wealth. But a wife?! Men still nurture the idea that wives are essentially there for them—to serve them, to please them, to love them—and not vice versa. How often do men forfeit a personal passion for the good of their wives? How many men will put their work on hold to fulfill a wife’s dream? How often do husbands assure their wives in a tangible way that apart from God nothing in their lives is even remotely as important as they are? How many wives are confident that their husbands are willing to sacrifice everything for them? This is not the reality of most marriages. We live in a society where men are more likely to nurture their golf swings, or their reputations, than the hearts of their wives.
Rewards of Christlike Love
Biblical love transforms a wife. It is the most powerful shaping agent in the world. Love elevates a wife above everything common and defiled, cleanses her from the sullying influences of her past, and transforms her into a radiant person. It bathes her in the glory of God and removes—from the eyes of her husband and, consequently, from her own eyes too—any taint or blemish. What an exquisite creature is the woman loved by her husband! Men take note. The wife of your dreams—indeed a wife exceeding your dreams—awaits the demonstration in and through you of Christlike love.