Do you remember the first time you met the woman that is now your wife? Remember that first date? When you realized that you were in love with her and she was in love with you? Can you still feel that nervous, belly-flopping ecstasy of saying something you desperately hoped would be witty, or funny, or (at the very least) not stupid and then seeing her eyes sparkle with amusement (hopefully at what you just said and not at you) and a smile spring to her lips? (Not that you were staring at her lips, of course).
While every experience is different, and each romance is as distinctive as the couples that make them up, it’s safe to say that, in those days, you would have done almost anything in your power to please, entertain, or impress that beautiful woman with whom you wanted to spend the rest of your life. But let me ask you this: how long has it been since you felt that way? Has the belly-flopping nervousness turned into flopping into the Lazyboy (we won’t mention the flopping that our belly does these days). What happened to the eagerness to “be all that you could be” to win that privileged commission in the one-man army that would be her protector and provider?
More importantly, we must ask ourselves, “How do we return to that first-love fervency in our years-old marriage?”
Thankfully, the Bible gives us several “1-2-3 Home Depot Handbook” kind of help to get us back on track toward that goal. If you can’t remember what it was like to go weak-kneed at your wife’s presence, then please consider these relevant, Biblical reminders regarding your relationship with your wife.
The fact is that many of us have let the years of familiarity, the grind of daily obligations, and the stress of real-life hardships rob us of the romance that we once aspired to so enthusiastically. It is doubtless given this danger that Paul begins his instruction to husbands, in his letters to both the Ephesians and the Colossians, with this explicit instruction: “Husbands, love your wives.”
The Bible makes it clear that—no matter how much money we bring home or how many leaky faucets we fix—we have not fulfilled our role as husbands if we are not consumed with love for our wives. After all, the Greek word is a form of agape, love that is willing to utterly give itself for the sake of its object.
Anyone who thinks of the Bible as a stodgy, restrictive guide to a monotonous marriage has spent too much time listening to Hollywood and not enough time in the real, rip-roaring romance of God’s Word.
In fact, we will just have to leave out several particularly explicit passages (see the Song of Solomon for several dozen examples), but that still leaves us with many other passion-filled passages of Scripture. Consider, for instance, the command in Proverbs 5:19 for the husband to be enamored with his wife: “be intoxicated always in her love.”
The word translated intoxicated here is almost scandalous it is so strong.
It is perhaps the most head-turning word study I’ve ever had the pleasure to be overwhelmed by. The word is translated most often in the ESV as “astray,” or in the KJV as “err.” It means to “wander, swerve, go astray, reel, roll, be intoxicated, lead astray (mentally).” It is more than an entertaining diversion; it is also more than a physical attraction. We might use several words in our attempt, to sum up, the implications of this one word: it is a daydreaming, intoxicated seduction of the mind and affections that keep us swept off our feet by the very force of it.
There was a time when it would make your heart skip a beat to glance at her across the room and find that she was looking at you. Solomon refers to this level of amorous immersion: “you have captivated my heart with one glance of your eyes” (Song of Solomon 4:9). In other words, you make my heart beat faster by just noticing me.
Recently a young man, in whose wedding I was to take part, was asked the question, “What one thing would you change about your prospective bride?” He replied, “Nothing but her last name!” How do we degenerate from this kind of love-struck devotion to referring to our wives as the “old ball and chain”? Somewhere along the way, we allow our selfless, adoring love to diminish into a selfish, scorning contempt of love.
Paul unashamedly calls us back to the truly manly agape that is ravished with the love of our wife, and that is willing to labor for her happiness and sanctification.
Now before you go and accost your wife with a flurry of physical proofs of your adoration, remember that being intoxicated in her love—while including a heart-swerving attraction—also involves a love that is so lost in the pleasure of its object that it studies every possible avenue of delighting the one that is loved. This requires concentration, determination, and careful investigation. As Peter directs us, “Husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way” (1 Peter 3:7).
This kind of intimate knowledge and understanding of one’s wife requires more than the cursory observation that is characteristic of most of us men, in most every situation. The pastor who married my wife and me gave me the excellent assignment (which I considered rather unromantic at the time) of keeping a notebook on my wife: what is her dress size, ring size, favorite color, favorite Bible verse, etc.? While I have failed to keep this counsel as thoroughly as I should have, it has proven extremely helpful on numerous occasions.
The nuts and bolts of romance is, as Peter hints to us, not so much how good we look, or even how affectionate we are, but rather how well we come to know our wife, to perceive her heartaches and mental struggles, to understand what makes her tick and what she needs from us.
It is interesting to see the vivid figure employed by Nathan the prophet, as he describes the gravity and awfulness of the crime that David committed against Uriah when he committed adultery with Bathsheba. He relates a parable in which one poor man has his only sheep taken away from him, and that sheep is his best friend: “It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms” (2 Samuel 12:3).
It is this close partnership in the activities of life that Peter no doubt has in mind when he exhorts us to live knowledgeably with our wives.
He then reminds us that our wives “are heirs with you of the grace of life.” A vital part of the passion and of the partnership we are to share with our wives is a realization of eternity and a striving toward its perfect treasures. We cannot claim to love our wives if we are not laboring together with them in the yoke of faithful service to Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 6). In fact, we should be leading the charge, helping to purify and edify our wives, just as Christ cleans and nourishes us (Ephesians 5:23-27).
Peter includes a gentle warning for us, indicating that there are definite spiritual ramifications to our relationship with our wife: “that your prayers may not be hindered.” Clearly my relationship with my wife (or lack thereof) affects my relationship with the God who invented marriage and gave my wife to me. This brings us to yet another point worth careful consideration.
Malachi records the seriousness with which God views our marriage vows: “The Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth . . . she is your companion and your wife by covenant” (2:14). My wife is not just my best friend, according to Malachi—she is also the person to whom I have promised my life, with whom I have pledged exclusively to share my affection, devotion, and attentions. When you were married, you likely made a vow that went something like this:
“I ____ take you ____ to be my wife, and I promise and covenant before God and these witnesses to be your loving and faithful husband til death do us part.”
Whether we realized it or not, Malachi lets us know that God took that vow seriously and that He was more than a spectator at the event: He was a witness of our covenant. And He will hold us to it.
She is your companion, yes, your best friend, but she is also the wife to whom you have made a promise before God and is, therefore, do all that you promised to her. She is due all your heart, for all your life, for the glory and pleasure of God.
In Ephesians, at the conclusion of Paul’s lengthiest discourse on marriage, he wraps up the topic with this striking statement: “I am talking about Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32 NIV).
Ultimately, your marriage is not about you, nor is it about your spouse. Your marriage is a picture of the relationship between Jesus and his Church. It should, therefore, be our great goal as Christians to display the glory of God, through our marriage, in a way that illustrates the love of Jesus for His people.
You must passionately love your wife because Jesus dearly loves His people (Ephesians 5:2; Zephaniah 3:17). You must partner with your wife in this walk through life, to display the daily presence and intimacy of Jesus with His people (Psalm 23:1, 4; Isaiah 43:2; John 10:3-4). You must also keep your covenant promise to your wife because Jesus will never leave or forsake His people (Hebrews 13:5).
The fact that marriage is patterned after Jesus’ love tells us that the greatest thing we can do for our marriage is to embrace the gospel ourselves wholly. Only when we perceive the passionate love of Christ for us, the partnership of Christ with us, and the covenant promise of Christ to us—only then will we be truly equipped to be godly husbands. When we are daily soaking our own souls in the truth of the gospel, then we are abundantly prepared to love our wives as God designed us to do.