What God asks of husbandsWritten by Gary Thomas
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My love for Scripture is matched only by my love for Jesus, and the love of one is the expression of my love for the other. Everything I aspire to be as a husband is because of what the Bible calls me to be. And since Jesus was never married, I have to take the bulk of my instruction as a husband from the other words of Scripture, which I take to be as authoritative as the “red letters” of Jesus.
My fellow husbands, what I’ve found is that when I rightfully understand and seek to submit to all that God’s Word calls me to be and do as a husband, I don’t have any time left over to wonder if my wife is holding up “her” verses.
So, let’s look at what the Bible actually calls husbands to be. A “biblical” husband:
1. Never makes his wife’s life bitter
Colossians 3:19 says, “Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly.” The word “love” is in present tense, meaning unceasing and ongoing action, while the language for “treating your wife harshly” is in the aorist tense, meaning a one-time occurrence. In this context that means when it comes to a husband being harsh with his wife, Paul’s policy is Not. Even. Once. You don’t get to treat your wife harshly when you’re tired, frustrated, or it’s at the end of a long day and you’re not getting what you want out of life or marriage. A paraphrase for Paul’s advice to husbands would be, “always love, never be harsh.”
Another translation for harsh, by the way, is anything that “makes her life bitter.” If I believe the Bible, I should never do anything that makes my wife’s life bitter. If leaving my socks on the floor bothers her, I should pick them up. If a tone of voice makes her feel talked down to, I must stop using that tone of voice. And of course, this verse absolutely rejects any notion of physical harm, verbal abuse or even threats.
A biblical husband always loves and is never harsh.
2. Provides for his family
1 Timothy 5:8 says, “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Those husbands who play videogames at home while their wives work two jobs? They’re not “biblical husbands.”
I understand the desire men have to pursue their dreams vocationally. I don’t think this verse objects to a wife working full-time while her husband is in school – that’s preparing to provide and it’s work (even though you may not be getting paid for it). This admonition also doesn’t negate the wife also working, especially since Proverbs 31 refers to an income-earning wife. It does negate the thought of a husband who is able to work not working out of selfishness or laziness.
This verse challenged me when I was a young husband desperate to become a writer and married a woman who was desperate to be a full-time stay-at-home mom. I had to work a full-time job (and for a spell another part-time job added on) for 15 years and write on the side before I could write full-time, which is partly what turned me into an early morning person (it was the only time I could pursue my dream). So men, I get wanting to pursue a dream. It’s the story of my life. I don’t get making your wife and children suffer so you can pursue your dream. Wanting to be a “biblical” husband, I didn’t see that as an option.
A biblical husband works hard to provide for his family.
3. Treats his wife with respect
1 Peter 3:7 tells me that if I don’t respect my wife, God won’t hear my prayers: “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect . . . so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” It’s therefore impossible for me to imagine that I could be a Christian in good standing if I fail to respect my wife. Respect begins with my language – I’m never to be condescending, nor hurtful, nor threatening. Respect includes making life choices with my wife’s welfare at the top of my concern. Respect means I also listen to her, value her opinion and don’t talk her down to others. Respect doesn’t mean I always agree with her or always do what she wants me to do, but it also means I don’t expect her to always agree with me or always do what I want her to do.
A biblical husband respects his wife.
4. Takes initiative
Male chauvinism and domineering control have been a problem for all of human history, but in society’s attempt to dismantle this sin, the opposite sin – male passivity – often gets overlooked. That’s the devil’s trap: if he knows he’s losing his grip on tempting the church with one sin, he’ll try to get the church to fall head-first into the opposite sin. Truth isn’t found by reacting to evil; it’s found by responding to Christ and his Word.
If you take the Bible seriously, a husband’s love is an initiating love. When the Bible tells men to love their wives like Christ loves the church (Ephesians 5:22ff), it’s calling us to an initiating, reaching-out love. Christ adopted the breathtaking plan of becoming flesh to get his message across to us – a bold, audacious and one-sided move. He willingly laid down his life to deal with our sin when we didn’t deserve it. He is the most active figure in history, and he continues to be so when he says, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). He hasn’t built but is building his church. A biblical husband is an active husband, expending much energy and thought over how to build up his wife. He’s not primarily thinking about how or whether she is serving him; he’s focused on what he can do for her.
A biblical husband is an initiating husband.
5. Speaks life to his wife
Proverbs 18:21 warns us, “The tongue has the power of life and death.” We husbands are therefore called to choose every word – every single one – carefully: “I tell you, on the Day of Judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37).
This includes words when we’re tired, angry, frustrated, hurt or disappointed. The Bible moves us to make every word breathe life into our wives and marriages.
A biblical husband uses his tongue to nurture, never to hurt.
6. Values her sexual pleasure and needs
Our bodies aren’t just our own; on the day we get married, they also belong to our wives (1 Corinthians 7:3ff.). Which means we need to preserve a brain that values her beauty, which enjoins us to resist comparing our wives to pornographic images or other women walking down the street. It means when we make love, we put her pleasure at the centre of every experience, and that we preserve enough energy to be able to engage in sexual relations. It means we spend time and thought thinking up how to please her. It also means we try to take care of our own bodies since they’re the only ones our wives are biblically allowed to make love to. Offering a body and brain that’s broken down due to neglect or indulgence (I’m not talking about age or disease here) is like feasting at a restaurant and giving our wives the option of licking the plate. That’s not generous; it’s gross.
A biblical husband disciplines himself and works to please his wife sexually.
7. Loves her out of reverence for God
1 John 3:1 and Ephesians 5:1 are key Bible verses declaring that we are God’s children, which means my wife is God’s daughter. She will never not be God’s daughter, so I will have a lifelong motivation to love her and be faithful to her, simply because I owe her Heavenly Father more than I could ever even begin to repay.
This biblical truth has been a mainstay of my marital devotion from the time God first hit me over the head with it when he convicted me, probably 25 years ago now, about how lousy of a husband I was being: “Lisa isn’t just your wife, she’s my daughter, and I expect you to treat her accordingly.” Having my own children, and knowing how desperately I want them to be well-loved even though I know they aren’t perfect, gives me just a glimpse of God’s desire for me to love his daughter, my wife, and how much I can please him by loving her well.
A biblical husband loves his wife because she is, first and foremost, God’s daughter.
8. Honours her more than she honours him
When I got married, I foolishly kept a scorecard, wondering if Lisa would treat me as well as I was trying to treat her. That is one hundred and eighty degrees different from the attitude the Bible calls me to have when Paul writes, “Outdo one another in showing honour” (Romans 12:10). According to Paul, at the end of the day my goal should be that I honour my wife more than she honours me. This means I focus more on what I’m called to do than on what she is called to do.
A biblical husband focuses more on loving his wife well than on evaluating whether he is being treated well.
9. Is committed to his wife for life in a covenantal relationship
When Jesus does talk about a marriage, he makes it clear that I get one choice, and I am to be covenantally (not just contractually) committed to that choice for the rest of my life – until either one of us dies. “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9). If I want to honour Jesus, I can’t end my marriage because I’m not satisfied or happy or think I made my choice too hastily. Only my wife can give me grounds for divorce. If she’s not unfaithful to me, my call is to work it out. If she abandons me or is unfaithful to me, that’s not something I’m doing, that’s something she’s doing. She’s breaking the covenant, not me. But for my part, I am to accept that this is my one and likely only marriage, so I should nurture it, grow it, build it and enjoy it. There won’t be a second chance (not that I would want one).
Biblical love isn’t sentimental or emotional. It’s gritty and specific. Just look at 1 Corinthians 13:4ff. Love is patient; men, are we patient with our wives? Love is kind; men, when’s the last time you’ve done something for your wife out of sheer kindness and not to get something back? Love isn’t proud; men, do we exalt ourselves over our wives or act like servants? Love doesn’t dishonour others; men, how do we talk about our wives when we’re not with them? Love isn’t self-seeking; men, are we more focused on what we’re getting out of marriage than what we’re giving? Love isn’t easily angered; men, do our wives feel safe and cherished in our gentle love? Love keeps no record of wrongs; men, do we shove our wives’ past mistakes and sins back at them during an argument? Love does not delight in evil; men, do we entice our wives to join us in sin? Love always protects; men, do we endanger our wives’ health, energy, joy and peace for our own selfish pursuits and pleasures? Love always perseveres; men, are we committed to hanging in there, refusing to even utter the word “divorce”?
A biblical husband loves his wife the way the Bible defines love.
These verses sidestep the complementarian/egalitarian divide. Whatever those verses mean, all of the above apply to every husband in every marriage. If I ever master these ten passages, maybe I’ll have time to wax eloquently on the ones so many others seem so obsessed about arguing over. Until then, I’ve got my hands full with what God clearly asks of me as a husband. And I hope every spiritually alive husband reading this will feel the same.
For the men who say it’s not fair that I’m focusing on just the husbands here, let me remind you that I wrote an entire book for women: Loving Him Well: Practical Advice on Influencing Your Husband. Publishers aren’t too excited about publishing books with men as the primary audience, so I’m slipping a bit of what I’d say in a book to men into this blog. Plus, I like the biblical reminders about how I’m supposed to behave toward Lisa. I need them to stay the course.
Gary Thomas is the founder and director of the Center for Evangelical Spirituality, a writing and speaking ministry that integrates Scripture, church history and the Christian classics. He is the author of many books, including Sacred Marriage, Sacred Parenting, Cherish, The Sacred Search and A Lifelong Love.
© 2020 Gary Thomas. Reprinted, with permission, from a blog post by Gary Thomas dated February 26, 2020, at GaryThomas.com.
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