These three verbs describe freely given love: lead, sacrifice, and care. Let me speak directly to men with each of these words.
Husbands, lead your wives. I remember hearing John Piper say on more than one occasion that the husband should be the one who most often says, “let’s.” That simple piece of advice has always stuck with me. “Honey, let’s go on a walk.” “Let’s pray together.” “Let’s get the kids ready for bed.” Take the initiative, men. This isn’t about making every decision or believing that listening to your wife is a sign of weakness. John Witherspoon puts it well: “I therefore take the liberty of rescuing from the number of hen-peckt, those who ask the advice, and follow the direction of their wives in most cases, because they are really better than any they could give themselves.”1 Good leaders sometimes follow, and insightful followers sometimes are given the opportunity to lead. The point about “let’s” is the man’s posture, his eagerness to make plans, take risks, and be fully engaged in the marital relationship.
This is especially true when it comes to spiritual leadership. Christian husbands can be aggressive and assertive when it comes to making money, tackling problems at work, or pursuing their hobbies, but when it comes to loving leadership in the home, too often they’re doormats. They take zero responsibility for the spiritual well-being of their household.
And yet God holds men accountable for the spiritual welfare of their wives. “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” (Eph. 5:25–27). I have a responsibility for my wife’s holiness. Trisha’s marriage to me should be an instrument of edification, purification, and sanctification.
Being a spiritual leader means taking the initiative to repair the breach when the relationship has been damaged. If Christ loves the church, his wayward bride, and continually woos her back from her spiritual adulteries, how much more should you woo back your wife after a disagreement when half the time it will be your fault anyway? It is always 100 percent the church’s fault. And it is never 100 percent your wife’s fault. Husbands ought to take the first step toward reconciliation when the marriage has grown cold with hurts and disappointments.
Husbands, sacrifice for your wives. Perhaps the most important thing for your marriage is that you understand the doctrine of the atonement. Jesus died for the church. Your leadership as a husband is a self-sacrificing leadership.
This can mean little things: coming home early, taking care of the kids, participating joyfully in something she likes to do, overlooking an offense, running errands, fixing something around the house, cleaning up the house. Loving your wife can also entail bigger sacrifices. You may need to forfeit climbing the corporate ladder in order to be a decent husband. You may be called upon to give up your hopes and dreams in order to take care of your wife after she falls ill or is injured. You may sacrifice the big house or the best neighborhood and live at a lower lifestyle so your wife can stay home with the kids. Chrysostom was right as he exhorted husbands to lay down their lives for their wives: “Yea, even if it shall be needful for thee to give thy life for her, yea, and to be cut into pieces ten thousand times, yea, and to endure and undergo any suffering whatever,—refuse it not. Though thou shouldest undergo all this, yet wilt thou not, no not even then, have done anything like Christ.”2
Finally, husbands, care for your wives. Cherish her as your own body (Eph. 5:28). She is not merely your partner. She is your other half, your own flesh and bone. You don’t abuse your body; you build up, protect, and nourish it. Likewise, cherish and care for your wife. “Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them” (Col. 3:19). You should just as easily treat your wife harshly as you should punch yourself in the face. “The man who does not love his wife,” Calvin says, “is a monster.”3 Take care of her needs for food, clothing, and security. There is no law which says the wife cannot make more than the husband, but there is this command for husbands to feed and care for their wives.
Your wife should feel secure in your provision and protection of her. As Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote in Tarzan of the Apes when the title character first saw Jane Porter, “He knew that she was created to be protected, and that he was created to protect her.”4 Such a sentiment will strike many today as quaint, if not outright sexist. But there are worse things than men feeling deep within themselves that women are to be protected, not exploited, defended, not demeaned, and treated with special honor instead of nothing special whatsoever. In fact, Mary Eberstadt argues that the sexual revolution—with its laissez-faire attitude toward sex and its insistence that men and women are the same when it comes to sex—has left women vulnerable and frustrated. “The furious, swaggering, foul-mouthed rhetoric of feminism promises women what many can’t find elsewhere: protection.”4 Women, more than ever, need to know that men will treat them by a different set of rules and will seek the well-being of women above their own.
Maybe there is something right in all those chivalry stories about the man fighting for the honor of the woman, defending her to the last, treating her like a queen. In the book A Return to Modesty, Jewish author Wendy Shalit comments on the quaint etiquette rules from the past—rules like “a man always opens a door for a woman,” or “a man carries packages or suitcases for a woman,” or “a man rises when a woman comes into the room,” or “if a woman drops her glove in the street, you’d certainly pick it up,” or you never “race a woman, young or old, for a vacant seat.” Shalit acknowledges that “one can certainly criticize these rules as sexist, and many have.” But she continues, “The simple fact is that a man who observed all of the above rules was a man who treated a woman with respect, a man who was incapable of being boorish.” Women were not to be treated like men; they were to be treated differently, like women. Consequently, “in the old view, if you weren’t considerate to women, you weren’t really a man.”5
If men in general ought to treat women with special care and kindness, how much more so for our own wives. D. L. Moody once remarked, “If I wanted to find out whether a man was a Christian, I wouldn’t ask his minister. I would go and ask his wife. . . . If a man doesn’t treat his wife right, I don’t want to hear him talk about Christianity.”6 Would you feel comfortable putting your wife down as a reference on your Christian resume? Throw out all the ways our culture confuses love with feelings and euphoria; could your wife look you in the eye and say with all sincerity and tenderness, “Honey, you love me well, like Christ does the church”?
This is a guest article by Kevin DeYoung, author of Men and Women in the Church: A Short, Biblical, Practical Introduction. This post originally appeared on crossway.org; used with permission.
- John Chrysostom, Chrysostom: Homilies on Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, vol. 13, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Peabody, MA: Hendriksen, 2004), 144.
- John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians, vol. 21, Calvin’s Commentaries, trans. W. Pringle (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1993), 322.
- Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan of the Apes (New York: Modern Library, 2003), 143.
- Mary Eberstadt, Primal Screams: How the Sexual Revolution Created Identity Politics (West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Press, 2019), 75.
- Wendy Shalit, A Return to Modesty (New York: Free Press, 1999), 144–45.
- D. L. Moody, The Overcoming Life and Other Sermons (Chicago: Bible Institute Colportage Association, 1896), 13–14.