This article is part of the Open Letters series.
I know a Christian man who stubbornly refuses to observe Mother’s Day. His rationale is that Mother’s Day is a contrived holiday, first being proclaimed by President Woodrow Wilson in 1914, and thereafter being entrenched in American culture by various greeting card companies. While this may be historically accurate, I think my friend may be missing out on an opportunity to display his faith to his family and before a watching world. The fact that Mother’s Day may have secular origins does not mean that it can’t be used by Christian husbands to remind us of biblical principles related to our mothers and wives.
Certainly, all Christians have a duty to honor our mothers, as well as our fathers. This is a foundational biblical teaching enshrined in the Ten Commandments (see Ex. 20:12) and reiterated in the New Testament (see Eph. 6:1–3). Yet, in this brief letter I want to specifically remind my fellow husbands of their duty to love and to honor their wives, many of whom are mothers or mothers-to-be. A number of passages in the Bible instruct husbands on how to properly interact with their wives, including Ephesians 5:25–33 and 1 Peter 3:7, among others. While these verses contain a wealth of general information that could be explored in a book-length letter, in this brief note I wanted to exhort Christian husbands with two specific biblical teachings contained in the aforementioned passages.
Cleansing with the Word
In Ephesians 5:25–27 we read, “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.” Here in Ephesians 5:25 Paul urges Christian husbands to love their wives in the same way as Christ loves the church. This, of course, is a tall order, for Jesus’s love for the church was completely selfless, even costing him his very life (see Rom. 5:8). Indeed, Christ’s example of unconditional love sets the bar high for husbands, and we need to pray for strength as we seek to emulate our Savior’s example of altruistic love.
But, it is the exhortation in Ephesians 5:26–27 that I wanted to briefly highlight. In these verses, in imitation of Jesus, Paul exhorts husbands to cleanse their wives “with the washing of water by the word” (Eph. 5:26). To understand this process, we must look back at Jesus’s promise to the church on the evening before his crucifixion. On the night he was betrayed, Jesus instructed his disciples about the arrival of the Holy Spirit. In John 16:13 Christ taught, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” The truth that Jesus references here is not extra-biblical revelation, for in this same context, Christ prayed to the Father, “Sanctify [my followers] in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). Therefore, what Jesus was teaching here is that a primary function of the Holy Spirit is to apply the word of God to his followers, for Scripture is the truth that the Holy Spirit illuminates.
As we study, read, hear, memorize, and are otherwise exposed to Scripture, the Holy Spirit causes the word of God to wash over us, to clean us, and to make us pure. This happens as the Bible convicts us of sin, prompts us to repent, and encourages us in righteousness. Of course, Scripture is profitable for these things (see 2 Tim. 3:16–17). Along these same lines, Paul later taught, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). In other words, the Bible is the divinely designed conduit through which God has chosen to birth and to nourish faith in the hearts of believers. Apart from Scripture, faith does not come through eloquence of speech, rationality of argument, or force of personality (see 1 Cor. 1:21; James 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:23). Indeed, the word of God is the truth that Jesus uses to cleanse his bride, the church.
Given the primacy of Scripture, then, as well as husbands’ duty to love their wives as Christ does the church, it is logical that Paul would point husbands to the paradigm of “washing of water by the word” (Eph. 5:26). The implication here is that, as the spiritual leaders of their homes, husbands are to ensure that their wives are being cleansed through continual exposure to the word of God. There are many ways that this can take place, such as: leading one’s wife in attendance at a Bible-teaching church, encouraging the reading of Bible saturated books—perhaps even doing so together—leading one’s home in family worship, pursuing accountability between spouses for a daily quiet time, suggesting the consumption of media that reflects a Christian worldview, as well as gently confronting unbiblical habits, attitudes, and patterns. The idea here is that, in imitation of Christ, husbands are to lead their brides to the purifying, cleansing, life-giving waters of the word of God.
Honor and Pray Continually
In his two letters, it is interesting that the apostle Peter, who was married (see 1 Cor. 9:5), only gave husbands one specific directive regarding their wives. Peter writes, “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 Pet. 3:7). At first glance, it seems that Peter may be encouraging husbands to show understanding and honor to their wives in order to prevent God from ignoring their prayers. While this is a possible understanding, it is curious interpretation of this verse, as Scripture nowhere else mentions this principle regarding the marriage relationship.
The understanding and honor that husbands regularly show their wives will work in concert with their daily prayers to produce a Christ-like marriage.
I would suggest a better interpretation of Peter’s teaching in 1 Peter 3:7 is as follows. Here Peter is assuming that husbands will pray for their wives. After all, husbands and wives know each other intimately, and believing spouses are heirs together of the grace of life. In light of the assumption that husbands will regularly pray for their wives, Peter then exhorts husbands to understand and to honor their wives so that the experience of the marriage relationship for both spouses will not undermine or discredit the very things about which husbands are praying for their wives. In other words, the hindrance to answered prayer that Peter warns husbands about in this verse is not a divine act of judgment, but the practical result of husbands failing to understand and to honor their wives. When husbands fail to model Christ before their wives, they sabotage their own prayers.
As Paul reminded husbands, the relationship between Christ and the church is the model we are to follow, which means husbands must be willing to sacrifice all things for their wives. While this is a challenging task, a bigger issue I’ve encountered is this: many husbands simply do not pray for their wives. Indeed, the most effective way for husbands to hinder and to undermine their prayers for their wives is simply to not pray for them at all! In contrast, observe that when instructing the church about gender roles, Paul wrote, “I desire then that in every place the men should pray” (1 Tim. 2:8). My exhortation to all husbands, then, is this: resolve to pray daily for your wives. The understanding and honor that husbands regularly show their wives will work in concert with their daily prayers to produce a Christ-like marriage.
So, then, on Mother’s Day it is good to honor our mothers and our wives. We can and should do many practical things for the women in our lives, such as: verbally expressing our love, giving gifts and tokens of our affection, and taking our wives out to dinner or perhaps even on a brief getaway. Yet, Christian husbands, of all of the gestures of love we can show to our wives on this Mother’s Day, I would suggest that the best gift is to make sure that we are regularly washing our wives with the word of God and being sure to pray today, and every day, for our wives.
David W. Jones
David W. Jones is the co-author of God, Marriage, and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation.
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