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THEOLOGY > Man > Marriage: Two Become One > The Husband 


In Ephesians (5:25) and Colossians (3:19) husbands are instructed regarding their proper demeanor toward their wives: “Husbands love your wives.”  This instruction is remarkable in light of the fact that God has already told wives to submit. If wives are to submit, then one would think that the word to husbands would be to “rule,” that is, to rule with compassion and kindness. But no such logic is found. Instead of telling husbands to rule in a proper manner a wife who has been instructed to submit, the husband is told to “love” his wife. Again we see how God’s Revelation is so different from man’s expectation—man is not to rule his wife but to love his wife.

But what does it mean for a husband to love his wife? What is love? Is this a special kind of love that is called for in Ephesians and Colossians? Is it mere emotion and fleshly excitement, or is it more profound and complex? Is this love more about the lover or about the loved? Is a man capable of such a responsibility, however that responsibility is defined?

The word “love” in both passages is the Greek word agapaō, a verb appearing around 140 times in the New Testament and used with reference to God, Christ, and humans (the noun form, agapē, appears around 120 times). Note the following verses:

You shall love your (agapaō) neighbor as yourself (Matt. 19:19);

You shall love (agapaō) the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind (Matt. 22:37);

For God so loved (agapaō) the world that He gave . . . (Jo. 3:16);

A new commandment I give to you, that you love (agapaō) one another; as I have loved (agapao) you, that you also love (agapaō) one another (Jo. 13:34);

This is My commandment, that you love (agapaō) one another as I have loved (agapaō) you (Jo. 15:12; see v. 17);

And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love (agapē) with which You loved (agapaō) Me may be in them, and I in them (Jo. 17:26);

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love (agapaō) God  (Rom. 8:28);

But the fruit of the Spirit is love (agapē) . . . (Gal. 5:22);

Just as Christ also loved (agapaō) the church and gave Himself for her (Eph. 5:25);

Grace be with all those who love (agapaō) our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity (Eph. 6:24);

he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love (agapaō) Him (Jas. 1:12);

God is love (agapē) (I Jo. 4:8, 16).  “You shall love your (agapao) neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 19:19);

The Greek word in the above verses is the word used in Ephesians and Colossians to speak of the husband’s responsibility to love his wife. It is often pointed out that the Biblical use of a word should determine the meaning of the word rather than just limiting the meaning to the Greek use of the word.

With this principle in mind, it is instructive to note that the word is used in the New Testament of the essential nature of God—God is agapē, and when God loves the world, the word is agapaō. So the meaning of love must be grasped in light of who God is and what God does. It is God who gives the definition to true love; only in reference to Him can it be known. Love cannot be comprehended nor practiced apart from Him. It is God who gives understanding to the believer of love’s nature and imparts the ability to emulate it in part in the marriage relationship.

Several characteristics of this love will be discussed:

This love is based on the character of the one loving; it is not dependent upon the one receiving the love. It loves, not because of, but in spite of; in other words, the affection and devotion of the one loving is contingent on the inward person, the character of the one loving,  and not on the personality, looks, or ability of the one loved.

The supreme demonstration of this love is seen in John 3:16 where it states that “God so loved the world.” But what is loveable or lovely about the world, a world which is a cursed world? Really, nothing. One word describes the world and all that is in it—sin. Yet, in spite of this fact of depravity and degradation, God set His affection on the world. There was nothing about the world that evoked or deserved this love of God; rather, the love flowed from the inward and holy attributes of God, the One who is love. This is to say that the love was and is dependent upon the character of God, the One doing the loving, not upon the worth or value of the ones on earth who are the recipients of the love.

This is the way a husband is to love his wife; the devotion and affection are to flow from who and what the husband is and who and what the husband is becoming. It is not a love that is dependent upon the wife’s doing or being.

Most husbands spend years in a marriage without ever understanding this foundational principle, much less seeking to put it into practice. There is much heartache because the husband is constantly critiquing the actions of his wife rather than critically evaluating himself in this all-consuming area.

The problem of the husband is the husband, not the wife.

This love is active and not passive; it is concerned with meeting needs. This is to affirm that agapē does not just exist as something fixed; it is dynamic, seeking to accomplish good for the loved one. agapē is not static, but is vibrant, always having the object of the love in view.

Again God is the ultimate example of this aspect of agapē. When he viewed the world, He saw a sinful world, with the need of the world being a Savior and salvation. The Bible records: “For God so love the world that He gave . . .” (Jo. 3:16). His love was not just passive but active—He gave. He gave to meet a need.

In addition, when God gave to meet the need, the dynamic nature of His love provided the best possible solution for the need of the world: “He gave His only begotten Son” (Jo. 3:16). God did not attempt shortcuts nor the minimum with which to get by—He gave the best; He gave His Son.

For the husband this means that he does not just feel love for the wife nor just speak love to the wife, but that he is constantly demonstrating his love by meeting the needs of the wife. After all the Bible does inform us that wives are the weaker vessel, and admonishes the husbands to “dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife” (I Pet. 3:7). The weakness does not suggest inferiority nor lesser significance, but indicates the wife’s need for a sensitive and compassionate husband.

And the sensitivity and compassion of the husband compels him to give the best or to do the best in meeting the needs of the wife. It is typical of the average husband, if he even perceives any need that the wife may have, to seek to expend the least required energy or expense in meeting that need. The best is saved for himself. And he does not realize that by such an attitude and action he is condemning himself and revealing that he does not understand nor exhibit agapē.

It is difficult for a wife to submit to such a man.

This love is sacrificial, even self-sacrificialAgapē gives of itself for the well-being of another; it does not count the cost. This love is known by its sacrifice.

The definitive example of this is the sacrifice of Christ for His people. Jesus told the apostles shortly before His death that “greater love (agapē) has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (Jo. 15:13). Of course, Jesus was speaking of Himself—true love is seen in the sacrifice that it makes, even to the point of self-sacrifice. John in Revelation has these words: “To Him who loved (agapaō) us and washed us from our sins in His own blood” (1:5); because of His love, He gave His life for those He chose to save.

As Christ loved the Church, so the husband is to love his wife: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her” (Eph. 5:25); that is, in a self-sacrificial manner like the sacrifice of Christ. Husbands are to give of themselves to their wives, and the giving is to be costly to the husband.

It may cost him his life, but more likely it will cost him time, and an involvement in the life of the wife that most men never contemplate as necessary nor as productive. The husband’s task is to discover the needs of the wife and then to seek to meet those needs in the most constructive manner. If it costs, then the price must be paid.

Following are words from Paul to husbands:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own 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 the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband (Eph. 5:22-32).

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