A husband’s sacrificial love: what does it actually look like?

Commenting on a previous post, Andrew asked a question that was so worthwhile it deserves a whole new discussion:

I find the discussions about submission and love and even mutual submission helpful but a bit hard to understand practically.

Often the discussion is centred around the controversial passages and is understandably directed towards women who have qualms about what this means for them. This is a good thing. However (sorry if I missed the updates) I find precious little directed towards how men would apply this and how they should be a loving husband.

If I were married I’d want to know this especially if we are supposed to love and lead. So in wives submitting to their husbands, what does this mean for the husband?

Andrew went on to say (quite rightly!) that he was unsatisfied with simplistic solutions such as the idea that the husband is the ‘final decision maker’, or the idea that the husband just has to ‘sacrifice’ his own opinions whenever there’s a deadlock in the decision-making process. I also received an email raising similar issues from another bloke who’s been married for some time.

In this post, I’d like to make a few observations about the nature of a husband’s sacrificial love based on one of the relevant passages (Ephesians 5:25-32), and then invite others to contribute examples of how this sacrificial love might work out in their own situations.

As I begin, there are two important caveats:

  1. Although an online discussion like this is valuable, it can’t deal with the issue fully. Ultimately, the day-to-day reality of the Christian life is best learned in the context of personal relationships and communities. This doesn’t mean than an online discussion has no value; it just means that it is of limited value. In fact, if you’re a bloke, and you think this is a valuable discussion, then I’d encourage you also to actively seek opportunities personally to encourage, and to be encouraged by, other blokes whom you know.
  2. Usually, biblical principles will need to be applied in different ways in different contexts. In this case, since every man is different, and every woman is different, and therefore every marriage is different, the application of these principles will be different. Hence it would be a mistake to lay down absolute rules or policies. This discussion is more about godly wisdom, attitudes and desires, which are informed by biblical principles, and which work themselves out in different ways in different circumstances.

Now let’s turn to the passage from Ephesians. The key principle in this passage is that the husband-wife dynamic makes proper sense when it’s grounded in the gospel of Jesus Christ:

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. (Ephesians 5:25-27)

Paul is not saying that the husband-wife relationship is parallel to the Christ-church relationship at every point. When you think about it, that would be ludicrous, wouldn’t it? Nowhere does the Bible teach, for example, that all husbands are splendidly holy like Christ, or that only wives need cleansing of sin. Rather, Paul is reminding his readers of what he’s been saying right from the start of his letter. Although none of us deserve anything but God’s judgment for our rebellion against him, nevertheless God has shown incredible grace and mercy to us. God, through Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross, has forgiven, redeemed and purified us, and made us his own children, a people for his very own:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. (Ephesians 1:3-4)

God’s great plan for the world is a cosmic plan; a plan which includes our own adoption as God’s children and the forgiveness of our sins; a plan which culminates in the whole world being united in Christ (Eph 1:10). This theme continues all the way up to chapter 5, where Paul  reminds his readers of this great truth, and insists that the husband-wife relationship is best understood in light of the great plan God has for the world in his Son Jesus Christ.

This is the key for us as we come to think about the idea of sacrificial love in marriage. If we don’t have the gospel of Jesus Christ firmly in our sights when we read Ephesians 5, we’ll only end up with a twisted distortion of the sacrificial love / submission dynamic that it describes. That’s because we’ll probably be thinking about the husband-wife relationship in terms of some other paradigm which we’ve gleaned from somewhere else, and which doesn’t do proper justice to the meaning of the passage. For example, here are some common alternative paradigms for understanding the husband-wife relationship:

  1. The power struggle. In this paradigm, marriage is primarily about two individuals in competition with one another. The most powerful person wins, so you need to make sure you protect your own interests. If we are thinking about marriage in these terms, the sacrificial love / submission dynamic will just end up being a cynical effort at aggressive or passive-aggressive power-plays. We shouldn’t be surprised that this paradigm exists, of course; after all, in Genesis 3:16, after the man and the woman rebel against God, God himself says that the man-woman relationship will be cursed by a struggle of desire and rule. It’s a paradigm that affects our own sinful hearts, and one to which we are still constantly tempted to return.
  2. The economic partnership. Sometimes, even without realizing it, we can think and act as if marriage is simply an economic partnership. Marriage, in other words, can be thought of as a contract between two people who acknowledge that they have somewhat conflicting interests, but who nevertheless enter into a mutually satisfactory co-operative arrangement to ensure that each others’ needs are met, a little like a corporate partnership. Of course, this way of thinking isn’t entirely wrong, because marriage always has economic aspects. If, however, we view marriage primarily in terms of an economic partnership, we will tend to be absorbed by the questions that characterise the corporate world: management, chains of command, questions about who makes the ‘decisions’ and who does the ‘tasks.’ The sacrifice / submission dynamic, if it is understood in these terms, is at best a convenient management structure for making the partnership run smoothly, and at worst a way for the husband to keep his wife as a ‘subordinate’ in the chain of command.
  3. The fairy tale (a.k.a. the Hollywood “happily ever after”). In this paradigm, marriage is ultimately all about ‘the two of us.’ We are ‘fulfilled’ in one another. Perhaps we’re on a romantic journey together; we don’t know where we’re going on this journey, but it’s nice to hold hands on the way. Of course, love and marriage go together like the proverbial horse and carriage. But if we put such inward-focused romantic love on a pedestal and make it the ultimate goal, it becomes idolatry, as Valerie Ting points out in her recent article on singleness.

We need admit that all these alternative ways of thinking affect us at various times. That’s why we need to keep coming back to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Those who know Jesus Christ have been redeemed and made God’s precious children. We have been given a vision of a better way of life. It’s a way of life which can rest secure in God’s forgiveness rather than needing to struggle for power in the world. It’s a way of life that cannot be reduced to economics. It’s a way of life which isn’t oriented toward ourselves and our own desires, but which has a further goal outside of our own relationships, a goal which we do not determine for ourselves. This goal, as we have seen, is God’s great plan to unite all things in Christ (Eph 1:10). It is from this goal that the “profound mystery” of marriage (cf. Eph 5:32) must take its ultimate cue.

According to Ephesians 5, the paradigm for marriage is not a power struggle, or a partnership, or a paradise. It is, rather, a deeply profound union, with an orientation to something even more profound, outside the union. Marriage is, in other words, a Christ-oriented one-flesh relationship. This is the basis for Paul’s instruction to husbands:

In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:28-32)

What might this mean when it comes to a husband sacrificially loving his wife? Here are a few general observations:

    • Because marriage is a one flesh relationship, the immediate goal of a husband’s love is to nurture a deep and tender union with his spouse. His responsibility is to love his wife in a way which seeks to maintain and deepen the profound unity of the marriage relationship itself, a unity which is for the mutual good of both of them.
    • Because marriage is a Christ-oriented relationship, the ultimate goal of a husband’s love is directed toward God’s great plan for the world, to unite all things in Christ. What should matter to him is whether the marriage is heading towards greater godliness, greater concern for God’s desires, greater love for one another, greater concern to see Jesus Christ known and honoured in the world, and greater service of others.
    • Because a husband’s love is Christ-like, it will involve sacrifice. However, this ‘sacrifice’ is not simply a matter of giving in to his wife’s whims at the expense of his own whims. Just as Christ’s sacrifice was intended to achieve a purpose—our cleansing from sin and unity with God the Father—the husband’s sacrifice is also intended to achieve the purpose of the marriage. He sacrifices himself and his desires for the sake of maintaining and deepening his unity with his wife, and for the sake of making his marriage a marriage which glorifies Christ.

What might that mean? It would be unfair to ask you what it would mean without giving some thoughts from my own life. So here’s some of the things it means in my own situation. We’ve just returned from a 3-year stint in the UK, where I was a theological student. Although we’ve been well provided for through generous donors, being in this situation has meant that I haven’t been able to ‘provide’ for my wife the same level of material security and stability that some of our peers enjoy. But that’s OK; our marriage is meant to be Christ-oriented, and we made the decision for me to do this study in order to serve Christ together. At the same time, my constant temptation is to be too absorbed with study. I really like reading and writing and preaching; and if I’m not careful, my wife gets the second-best of my energy and attention. I need to be pro-active in cherishing my wife; not just reactive. That sometimes means I need to say ‘no’ to more opportunities to read and write and preach. How do I actually go at loving my wife? Sometimes I fail; sometimes, by God’s grace, I succeed.

In concentrating on a few verses in Ephesians, I’m aware that there are many things that haven’t been said. I’m also very aware that Ephesians gives us a standard to which we men so often fall short. But hopefully it’s enough to go on. Now it’s over to you. How might a husband’s sacrificial love be expressed in the various situations in which you find yourself?

To ensure that this discussion achieves its aims, I’m going to add some special guidelines for comments on this post:

  1. The assumption for making a comment is that you agree with complementarian principles for marriage, and that you are providing an example or a thought about how these principles actually work out, or asking a question along these lines. If you don’t share the assumption, this thread isn’t for you to contribute. There are plenty of other forums in which you can express your disagreement.
  2. Although the discussion should stick to the one topic of a husband’s sacrificial love, that doesn’t mean that only husbands are invited to make comments. Whether you’re a man or woman, married or single, please feel welcome to contribute.
  3. The examples you provide can include things you’ve learned from your own failures, or your own successes, or the failures of others, or the successes of others. You don’t have to tell the rest of us where you got your example from, and we won’t assume anything either.

23 thoughts on “A husband’s sacrificial love: what does it actually look like?

  1. I want to reiterate the particular commenting rules for this post, so that they’re fresh in your minds:

    1. The assumption for making a comment is that you agree with complementarian principles for marriage, and that you are providing an example or a thought about how these principles actually work out, or asking a question along these lines. If you don’t share the assumption, this thread isn’t for you to contribute. There are plenty of other forums in which you can express your disagreement.
    2. Although the discussion should stick to the one topic of a husband’s sacrificial love, that doesn’t mean that only husbands are invited to make comments. Whether you’re a man or woman, married or single, please feel welcome to contribute.
    3. The examples you provide can include things you’ve learned from your own failures, or your own successes, or the failures of others, or the successes of others. You don’t have to tell the rest of us where you got your example from, and we won’t assume anything either.
  2. For me
    The things that I believe I should do as a loving husband are usually obvious I am just too selfish to do them.

    When its the middle of the night and baby is crying I know I should get up to her rather than hope that my wife will do it.

    I know that when I have a spare moment I should see how I can help out (around the house) rather than go on the internet and check facebook (again).

    I believe that husbands should initiate/lead some form of family prayer time yet I will sooner organise and plan and lead other things rather than pray together.

  3. Great article, Lionel.

    As I think about what this passage says, I sum it up in a sentence along the lines of loving, sacrificial initiative to protect and provide for my wife’s welfare, physically, relationally, emotionally and spiritually.

    I liked what David said (please use full name as a commenting rule here, please).

    But sometimes actually doing lots of ‘servant’ things, washing up, ironing, cleaning, mowing, becomes a substitute for caring for her at the personal and spiritual level, which seems so much harder. And so sacrifice is required in taking initiative in conversation, just being emotionally ‘present’, and yes prayer and Bible reading/discussion. It also means not leaving her to do all the heavy lifting with kids, not just in jobs, but in presence, conversation, discipline.

    This is hard when I have done some practical jobs, and now would find it far easier to pick up the newspaper, or read a book, or watch TV, or muck around on the net, or go back to doing some work at home on the laptop.

    Initiative is a key idea here, I think, not always leaving it till your wife brings up a matter, although there’s nothing wrong with that.

    My 2c.

  4. One other thought is that I think there is a responsibility (ordinarily) to be primary provider here for your wife and any kids God gives you. I don’t think this rules out a wife working, of course.

    Sacrifice in this regard can vary greatly. It means you won’t pursue your career (even in ministry) at the expense of your wife’s welfare, although that’s not the same as just doing whatever she wants or avoiding everything she finds hard either. And it doesn’t mean being led by a consumerist desires of the world that equate providing with providing luxuries.

    So sometimes, especially for the person with the satisfying and/or demanding job, it means drawing boundaries there to come home at a reasonable time, and to not always bring work home.

    But sometimes, for the many men, who do not always have the enjoyable and satisfying job or career they wanted, it means knuckling down to do a job that’s hard and not very pleasant, because it’s the actual job available to you that means you can put bread on the table.

  5. A very helpful article, Lionel. Thanks.

    Recently I had to look for a new job. In youth ministry, it turns out that there are exciting opportunities all over the place – in Sydney, up in Qld … and Hong Kong and Dubai!

    So while there was a tug in my mind to go somewhere exotic and exciting (imagine how cool it would look on a resume to say I’d spent a handful of years running youth ministry in Dubai!); to be self-sacrificially loving has meant that as I’ve looked at jobs, I’ve considered deeply what will be most beneficial and helpful for my wife and kids. Which, considering where we’re at, means close to wider family, with support and a friendship group for my wife, and opportunities for us to serve together.

  6. Excellent article. The one thing that I am consciously aware of is the fact that I need to listen to my wife. She could be speaking and I could be so consumed with a gospel coalition article (for example!!) that I answer with the proverbial nod of the head or standard ‘yeh’ answer.

    Lift the fingers off the keyboard & genuinely listen to the story or event or concern that your wife is relating.


  7. Lionel, thank you for providing us the vision and boundaries for this discussion. What’s wonderfully ironic, is that what you have done for us in this blog post, by creating a vision and boundaries, in addition to what I assume you’ll do in re-centering us if we get off base, represent what I have found to be very important and concrete responsibilities of masculine serving headship.

    Convinced of biblical complementarity, I have found some of the practical vision less convincing. A typical explanation of this practical might sound like this: if you and your wife are presented with a tough decision, pray, and give it time, and if in the end you don’t have full agreement, then the husband sacrificially exhibits his authority by making the ‘final call.’ However, in nearly all other situations, it is full and equal partnership. That sure seems like a wet sandwich to me!

    Regarding sacrificial leadership maybe we consider two categories: foundational and circumstantial. The comments thus far, all good, would all fall into the circumstantial category. Things that we do, or not do, on a day to day basis, but have little influence on giving shape to how our wives actually live. Now of course providing financially, taking out the trash, listening, and keeping clear work hours help her, but they do little to serve her when you’re not around. When you’re at work.

    Right now, Jesus isn’t around to wash our feet, or give us loaves and fishes, but He is surely leading and serving us. Here’s the wonderful benefit we experience: he has given us a foundation by which to function and flourish on a day to day basis. We don’t need to wonder, day in and day out, what is my purpose? What are my priorities? Am I valued? How do I fix my sin problem? What am I supposed to do? How do I hope for? And the list goes on. Think of all the things that are “knowns” in our lives because Jesus has given us a vision to pursue. How, as I husband, have I done that with my wife? If someone as your wife, specific questions like that, could she answer them point blank? A christian can answer the vision Jesus gave, ‘make disciples’ without having to ponder. Can my wife do the same as it relates to what our family is about? About what she’s about day to day?

    Jesus also gives boundaries. We ought to as well.

    Submission then, isn’t only about those circumstantial decisions that come around where a husband makes “a final call.” It’s about a wife and children understanding the pre-understood vision and boundaries of the husband (who conitually re-evaluates and discusses with his wife) and making daily decisions based on that. Just like we the church do with Jesus commands.

    How is this serving? Think of the persecution Jesus receives for casting a vision and setting boundaries. Think of the work of intentionality. Not just one time to ‘set it up’ but continual, encouragement and shepherding.

    This is nearly a book! My apologies. To summarize, we have the opportunity to flourish on this blog post, with our collective insights and gifts, because Lionel has given us a clear vision and boundaries. So it should be with our wives and children under our servant leadership.

  8. As a husband, the “sacrificial” part of my role seems to typically hone in on the differences between how we are wired as husband and wife. I order to live with my wife in an understanding way (Peter’s exhortation), I have to learn to understand my wife’s emotional struggles – which means taking the time to do so. Honestly, that’s a very real sacrifice for me. I’m tempted to say (at least to myself) “Just deal with it.” instead of, “Tell me more so that I can love you better.”

    This difference in how we are wired also impacts the things we think are important or pressing in our world. For instance, she may feel a need for us to connect or for us to connect better with the children, when I feel nothing even close to that. In that case, my sacrifice may be to defer to her intuition or judgment in that situation rather than watch the game, lounge on the sofa, or work on a project that I think is pressing.

    Good question Andrew, and good article Lionel!

  9. Though, as I have said elsewhere recently, I don’t prefer to call myself complementarian, I do share the fundamental assumptions.

    Speaking of assumptions, one word of caution start with: When contemplating what a husbands sacrificial love looks like be careful not to buy into the pop-culture/pop-theology notion that a husband should be his wife’s girlfriend. You won’t be good at it, you won’t feel right doing it, and she won’t be right expecting you to do it. She can have as many girlfriends as she wants, you are her only (legal) husband.

    I think it’s best to start with, and major on, fundamentals. The primary one, and it has already been identified here, is the role of provider. If man is able, but is not trying hard enough to do that he is not sacrificially loving his wife. The sacrifice might well mean taking, or sticking with, the job you need rather than the job you want. It might mean giving up some toys. It might mean accepting that she has
    some choices you that don’t have.

    Now one thing I don’t accept is that a woman has nothing to do but look pretty, so I don’t know about the general housework for a working man. However, I will say, the dirtier, heavier, and certainly the more dangerous, a job is the more sacrificial love calls on the husband to be the one doing it. It generally works out that way anyway, but don’t, husbands, let it be otherwise.

    If the fundamentals leave anyone thinking “thats it?” I suggest that it’s only because we are all so overfed, secure, and pampered in our generation. Our great-grandmothers would have appreciated the basics more.

  10. I know a guy whose wife became very (mentally) ill, with borderline personality disorder. Against the advice of (some) counselors he stayed with her and cared for her, through multiple suicide attempts (and subsequent late night trips to emergency departments), psychiatric hospitalisations that took up 6 months out of each year (2-3 months in hospital followed by 2-3 months out of hospital), and his constant stress of a emotionally fragile life-partner. Though the strain in the end damaged his own health he would not leave her. He kept it up for 7 years after which, sadly, his wife passed away. This guy still struggles with trauma issues of his own as a consequence. But he said to me that he had decided that the promises he made – in sickness and in health – and that he was called to love his wife “as Christ loved the church” by giving up everything for her (including his own health if necessary) meant that he would not leave her. He did try to avoid loosing his own health by undertaking counselling of his own, but ultimately it was hard for him not to be affected by the strain. He gave me permission to share his story.

  11. I was just wondering how the husband’s sacrificial love in a complementarian model is going to differ in any practical way to an egalitarian model? After all, surely both model accept the husband is to love his wife sacrificially, the disagreement being on what the wife is to do. By limiting comments to those who agree with complementarian principles for marriage there is the implication that you believe there will be a practical difference and I was wondering if you could flesh that out for me?

  12. Hi everyone; thanks for your comments so far. I’ve resonated with quite a few of them, and been touched by by many of them too.

    Richard, I think the complementarianism is being played out pretty clearly in the general assumption that we’re expecting a certain responsibility and initiative on the part of husbands that we aren’t expecting of wives–e.g. from the examples given: being the one who is usually pro-active in giving time and attention to the relationship, initiating / leading in family prayer times, taking initiative to protect and provide for our wives’ welfare, taking initiative in conversation, setting vision / protecting boundaries, being responsible for providing, deliberately taking on the heavy tasks. I hope that brief explanation suffices, since here isn’t the place to enter into any more detailed complementarian / egalitarian comparison.

    • Thanks for opening up the subject Lionel. It’s an important one to consider with care and caution because God’s design matters. Blessings brother.

    • Lionel, I respect that you don’t wish to enter a detailed complementarian / egalitarian comparison; my suspicion, however, is that in reality there is no major difference practically speaking in that all of the examples given above are not distinctives of, or better exclusive to complementarian households. I know evangelical husbands who are egalitarian who seek to do all of the above because they too understand marriage as a Christ-oriented one-flesh relationship.

  13. I would still be interested to hear day-to-day examples – while a husband can make extreme sacrifices for his wife – what about the mundane, day-in/day-out sacrifices – what do they look like?

    My [own] understanding is that if a husband is to be a leader – then [Christian] leadership is by example. But how does that play out in the reality of a day-to-day ordinary Christian life lived out?

    If it means that the husband is to be provider, does that mean that the husband is the one to be the breadwinner – or is it [simply] his responsibility to ensure that bread is brought home by *someone* – thereby allowing for an arrangement whereby the wife might infact be the person working for income for some reason [such as perhaps if the husband were studying – or perhaps if the wife had a job that brought more income than the husband could himself. In that case, is it legitimate for the husband to care for children while the wife works [I’m assuming of course that this would assume that the children are old enough to not require breast-feeding – or that they were bottle fed].

    Is the whole husband leading thing about the husband taking responsibility to ensure that things happen – such as the family’s spiritual life being maintained with family bible study and prayer? Even amongst the most die-hard complementarian families I know, this is routinely done with discussion between the husband and wife leading to consensus.

    I guess the big point to be made in mature, properly functioning complementarian families that the husband and the wife are one the same side. They’re NOT enemies facing off against each other and negotiating a truce – they’re comrades in the same army with the same goals and the same direction.

    • Hi David, thanks. Personally, I don’t see any reason why the kind of working arrangement you’re speaking about couldn’t work, at least for a time, if the husband is still taking responsibility to lead in that area. Having said that, do you think there might be differences between the way a mother and a father provide care and nurture that would need to be taken into account in such an arrangement (and which it might be the husband’s responsibility to consider)?

      I definitely agree with your last paragraph. My wife and I like to use another (less military ;) illustration involving rivers and canoes. We’re not paddling along in a stream in two separate canoes; we’re both together in the same canoe. We may sometimes have different roles, but we’re going along together in the same direction–in sacrificial service of Christ. We learned that illustration from a missionary couple, and it’s stuck with us.

      Of course, as you’ve suggested, none of this rules out leadership, initiative or responsibility on the part of the husband. True leadership is not about autocratic imposition of a person’s will or unilateral decision-making. Leadership is about taking responsibility, but love, respect, and striving to listen and establish consensus have always got to key parts of the whole thing.

  14. Dear Lionel,

    Your helpful article is written in response to Andrews comment…

    “I find the discussions about submission and love and even mutual submission helpful but a bit hard to understand practically”.

    Your introduction states…

    “In this post, I’d like to make a few observations about the nature of a husband’s sacrificial love based on one of the relevant passages (Ephesians 5:25-32)”.

    I have two comments.

    Firstly, If your response is going to based on the Ephesians 5 passage then why isn’t Ephesians 5:33 included?

    Ephesians 5:33 (Holman) “To sum up, each one of you is to love his wife as himself, and the wife is to respect her husband”.

    The verse begins “To sum up” so it is effectively the conclusion of the passage isn’t it? I believe the conclusion of a passage deserves to be included in the discussion on the passage.

    My second comment is, given Andrew is looking for some practical advice, Ephesians 5:33 provides practical advice for husbands and wives. Love your wife Andrew. Self sacrificially. Wives respect your husbands. Fleshing out this verse further would be a big help in my opinion.

    (I also believe using “respect” for the brides wedding vows would be helpful for Christian women, given “respect” is used to sum up the Eph 5 passage it is clearly a Biblical principle and I think it would also alleviate some of the communities hysteria over “submit”)

    • I think you have a point worth exploring there Will.

      While husbands should respect their wives in a sense, the type of love that really reaches her and builds her up in line with how she is wired, might have more to do with a cherishing/appreciating/nurturing type of love as the passage seems to indicate.

      And while wives will tend to love their husbands in this way almost automatically, the type of love that really reaches and builds him up in line with how he is wired, might have more to do with a ‘respecting’ type of love. And hence, the summery provides the context for Paul to speak about submission.

      Not to get away from the discussion though, I think a big way I could love my wife more in line with this, is by doing something thoughtful for her every now and then, that makes her feel cherished and special and appreciated.

  15. As I understand it, respect is a part of love. But again, husbands/wives reading this passage need to be approaching this passage as two partners who are on the same team – rather than as enemies negotiating a truce.

    My theory [I could be wrong] – is that the “respect” part was put into the Ephesians passage because when a woman who is accustomed to arrogant, selfish, bossy men is [suddenly?] confronted with a man who loves like Jesus – she might be tempted to think him weak – and to therefore despise him.

  16. I think Simon’s use of the word “wiring” is very helpful. Clearly men and women are different emotionally as well as physically.

    Personally I find it fascinating that God wraps up Ephesians 5 (which I believe is the largest Bible passage on marriage) by specifically instructing husbands to love and women to respect (Eph 5:33). While we all need both love and respect and ought to be given both love and respect it seems that men and women esteem these values differently.

    God our creator, who knows us best, instructs husbands to love because that is how a husband can best meet the deepest need of his wife. Furthermore this may also be something that doesn’t come easily to him and another reason why God specifically addresses husbands to love.

    Similarly, the wives are instructed to respect because that is how she can best meet the deepest need of her husband. Furthermore, this may also be something that doesn’t come easily to her and another reason why God specifically addresses wives to respect.

    Personally, I would be very happy to go with “respect” for a brides wedding vows. Most importantly it is rooted in scripture. It has the added benefit of being an easier concept to take on board for a woman (and a man for that matter) because it doesn’t have power/dominance/status connotations.

    This might be helpful… A boss can respect a subordinate. A subordinate can respect a boss. A person who has equal status as another can respect the other. That, I believe, is what we are looking at in Ephesians 5. Equal partners who are given different instructions. Its not about love at the expense of respect or vice versa, both are important, rather its of particular important that each spouse take on board the specific emphasis God gives them.

    Furthermore, aside from removing status concerns I think “respect” will avoid the possibility of misunderstanding or misusing scripture. If a husband says, “Honey you are not submitting to me… God says… therefore you need to (do what I say)” Is that really what God intends in this passage? I don’t think so.

    Instead if a man thinks in terms of respect he can say, “Honey I feel like you are not respecting me right now” and I really don’t see how that can be abused or warped by a sinful man in the same way that “submit” can be.

    So Andrew I would encourage you to think in terms of “respect”.

    And the other piece of practical advice I would give is to work at “listening”.

    Some researchers report that men and women have different communication thresholds. Average spoken words by a woman per day are about 8,000 and for men 6,000.

    When a husband and wife get together in the evening he may only have a few hundred words left in him and she might have a few thousand. If those stats are accurate (I don’t think anyone would be surprised) then a husband could show his wife lots of love by making a big effort to listen more. Dare I say it, perhaps wives could make an adjustment here also. Ideally, like most things, they would meet in the middle.

    Ok so having said all that, the other two significant passages on marriage in Col 3 and 1 Peter 3 both use submit (as does Eph 5). So even though I really like “respect” for wedding vows (because its rooted in Scripture and is easier to understand and implement in day to day life) there is no escaping “submit”.

    My thinking is that perhaps a husbands role to do what he can to present his wife holy and blameless before Christ is at the heart of what God means by “submit”. So its not about his slippers or newspaper or beer or other whims rather it is specifically when a husband initiates prayer or reading the Bible or Biblical discussion or reading a Christian book, or other things that he can do to help her become more Christ-like, then the wife ought to be agreeable.

    However, that may be too simplistic… because…

    What happens when a couple discuss major decisions (whether they be where to live, where the kids will go to school, what church they will go to, what ministries they will support or be involved in etc) and after much prayer and discussion they reach an impasse?

  17. Garry Millar spoke of the need to regularly woo your wife at MKC 2010. I have come to realise that my wife appreciates regular affirmation in various ways. So as a male who can happily be silent for hours and enjoys solitude I find this a bit of a struggle.

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