It’s no secret that marriage is in a state of crisis. Divorce is all too common, and even couples who have been together for decades often don’t have healthy, thriving marriages. When we hear of another couple struggling in their marriage, it saddens us, but rarely surprises us. Statistics tell us that the average marriage in the U.S. now lasts only around eight years. These statistics remind us that something is terribly wrong. You have heard it said before that “as the family goes, so goes the nation.” That is true, and in order for married couples to have healthy and satisfying marriages, they must take heed to the Word of God. A good, healthy marriage is no secret. God has revealed His will clearly in the pages of Scripture.
Every husband must understand that what your wife needs more than anything else is love (Ephesians 5:25). If you are going to have a happy, healthy, and Christ-honoring marriage, then you must love your wife. In the same way that every husband desires respect, women need love. That is how God wired and designed women.
Yes, marriage can be tough, and there will always be issues that couples have to work through, but if you strive to love your wife and follow the example of Christ, it will serve as the foundation for a strong, healthy, enduring marriage.
Love Is a Verb
One day a woman was complaining to her husband, “Why don’t you ever tell me that you love me?” The husband quipped back, “When we got married 30 years ago I told you that I love you. And if I ever change my mind, I’ll let you know!”
It is important for husbands to express their love to their wives, but it’s not enough. Saying “I love you” should be a big part of your vocabulary, but keep in mind that love is a verb. That is to say true love is lived out and demonstrated in many different ways. A husband who makes a habit of saying “I love you” without manifesting that same love is not fooling his wife. He might be able to manipulate her for a time, but she will not feel cherished and Christ will not be honored.
Not only does the Bible teach us about love, but we have been given an example to follow. Jesus is both the object of our faith and the example of our faith (1 Peter 2:21-25). And husbands have been called to love their wives in the same manner that Christ loved the church.
So, how did Christ love the Church? The apostle Paul gives us the answer, “By giving himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). If there was ever a picture of sacrificial love, this is it. Through His sacrificial, atoning death, Christ showed us what agape love is all about.
The Cross and Christian Marriage
Paul writes “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” What Paul has in mind is the cross. Elsewhere he writes, “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). This striking analogy equates the Church with the Bride of Christ. The Lord Jesus sacrificed Himself on behalf of His Bride, the Church.
No greater love could be demonstrated than what we find in the example of Christ’s death on the cross. But Christ didn’t love his people because they were worthy or deserving of that love. As Titus 3:5 explains: “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy.” Clearly, salvation is not something earned, merited, or based upon good deeds. It is only because of God’s sovereign grace and mercy that a person can be forgiven of their sins and granted eternal life.
What a stark contrast to the world’s love! The world’s love is always “merit based.” We might be compelled to love a person for their attractiveness, wit, personality, talent, intelligence, etc. But God’s love is not like that. God doesn’t look at a particular person and say – that person is worthy of my love. For all have sinned (Romans 3:23) and all have wicked, deceitful hearts (Jeremiah 17:9). God loves us simply because He loves us (Romans 9:14-16) and no one can claim they are deserving of that love.
In the same way, a husband should love his wife unconditionally. If your love is only based upon looks or intelligence or personality or anything like that, then you are not loving as Christ loved the church. Often, husbands place unfair expectation upon their wives. If his wife does not “toe the line” so to speak, the husband withholds love. He punishes his wife for not performing up to his standard. In doing so, however, he is not demonstrating agape love or following the example of Christ.
Finding Victory Over Sin
Marriage is tough! More than anything, it is the reality of sin that makes marriage so difficult. When two people come together in holy matrimony, it marks the joining of not just one sinner, but two. Just like you, your wife is right in the middle of her own sanctification. Therefore, marriage requires much grace and kindness.
It has been said that the DNA of sin is selfishness. We are always looking out for ourselves, while overlooking others. One of the great blessings of marriage is that it exposes our pride and selfishness. Before I was married, a friend of mine told me, “Until I was married, I had no idea what a selfish person I was.” I have never forgotten his words, and they proved true in my own life as well.
In marriage, we are confronted with our sin every day. It is only as we confess our sin and selfishness, obey the teaching of Scripture, and pray for the Holy Spirit to work in our hearts that we will experience deliverance and change. Only then will we start to truly love, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.
*This article is an excerpt from Daniel Stegeman’s new mini-book, HELP! I Want to be a Loving Husband.
Daniel Stegeman, DMin, is pastor of Pine Glen Alliance Church in Lewistown, Pennsylvania. Daniel and his wife Stephane are the proud parents of four children. Daniel blogs at www.pastoral-theology.com.