“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make are holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendor...” ~Ephesians 5:25-27a (NRSV).
The model for marriage that the Apostle Paul sets out for Christians (Ephesians 5:21-33) fits with marriage universally. Here we acknowledge God constructed, instituted, and blesses marriage by the Divine code set out in sections of the Bible like these.
Yet, there might hardly be a more dividing subject so far as the home is concerned. This is because we polarise between the roles, responsibilities, and needs of men and women in marriage. Too easily we find marriage requirements put in the ‘too hard’ basket. We are, after all, speaking about an illustration—Christ the husband, and the wife as the church.
Any husband who seriously contemplates such a tall order—to be compared with consummate Perfection—will without doubt begin to hesitate over his capability, and even suitability, for the role. It’s clearly not God’s will for the husband to feel hopeless against the Christian ideal of marriage. Still, many have.
There is a flipside to the requirements of the husband; whilst his model is Christ—unreservedly and unapologetically so—there is a need for reassurance.
Five reasons husbands feel vulnerable in marriage—according to the biblical standard—are:
1. Many Husbands Struggle to Love Their Wives
The reasons for this are many, notwithstanding the common one: he may not even love himself (Ephesians 5:28-29). Many, many men struggle deeply with identity issues and a cover for this is either of/or both extremes: chauvinism or timidity. In other words, he’s either a bully or a weak pushover. Any self-assured woman would not want either.
Men cannot love their wives, their children, their extended family, or anybody else for that matter until they accept themselves.
The wife has an important part to play in supporting her husband’s self-image to that end, so that not only would he be capable of loving her, but he would also be capable of loving every human being. Without doubt the husband has the same responsibility; let’s not forget his standard is already loftier than all other standards.
Even the most well-adjusted husband will, at times, struggle with self-acceptance and, therefore, self-love. He will, during such times, consequently, struggle in his ability to love his wife.
2. Husbands, Like Wives, Struggle to Sacrifice
Perhaps the modern pleasure-zone has exacerbated this problem.
The Scripture tells us the husband is supposed to serve his wife, by sacrificing his needs for hers. And yet, the wife is to submit (Ephesians 5:22). Modern convenience has made it hard for them both, but not impossible.
Our flesh is the biggest problem—self-centredness has no gender exclusivity.
But as the husband considers, with earnestness, that he is to give himself up for his wife, he knows he can do it most of the time, or even some of time. Equally, and this is a sad truth, he knows he can’t do it all the time. He feels vulnerable, perhaps, because he is back at ‘square one’ too often. (And, many men, as with many women, struggle with illogical perfectionism problems.)
3. Making his Wife ‘Holy’ Can Seem an Impossible Task
Giving “himself up for her” necessarily leads to “making her holy.”
With that condition in mind, and surmising that wives no doubt have similar—if not the same—human issues and limitations to deal with as husbands do, we can understand the husband feeling vulnerable about his capacity to achieve the mandate.
Not that he shirks the issue. The Christian husband knows, most certainly, he’s under the covering of grace at all times. Only the devil makes us feel condemned. Still, that happens; occasionally we feel condemned.
4. Leading the family Properly Can Seem an Impossible Task
As leader of his family, nurturing their spiritual growth can seem a huge task, particularly considering the challenges of the teen years. Nothing makes a man or woman feel more humbled, and at times hopeless, than parenting does.
Yet, one of the most important roles for any husband, with its direct impact on his wife, is how consistently well he nurtures the children and the entire family. Men love their wives by appropriately loving their children.
A husband cannot, foreseeably, reach his goal as husband without achieving this. He knows it deep in his heart, and yet he feels vulnerable; perhaps even (often enough) a failure.
5. Developing his Wife’s Full Potential is a Loaded Role
Giving control to anyone for the results of another person is a loaded role, though we need to be careful; the husband is just supporting his wife, enabling or empowering her to become everything she needs to be.
Justifiably, if the husband looks back on 10 or 20 years of marriage and sees little evidence that she’s made her self-desired progress on her journey, he will no doubt—even for a moment—consider that he is failing. That would make anybody feel vulnerable.
In this day and age we truly need to be careful. Whilst the cards were stacked against women and wives 20-60 years ago, the trend has—in some ways—possibly been equalised too far. (Yet, there are still important landings for women that haven’t been reached, like equal pay.)
For instance, the stereotypical Homer Simpson image of husband has devalued the vital role husbands’ play. When we continually throw mixed messages at either husband or wife—and in the husband’s case it’s ‘macho’ one-minute, ‘timid’ the next—we can be sure feelings of ongoing uncertainty will be valid and this will not make for good, capable, loving husbands.
So, what am I saying to wives here?
Value your husband, appreciating the steepness in God’s standard of him of care toward you and the family. This is neither pitying him, nor criticising him for not reaching the standard. Instead, it’s encouraging him to be everything—with Divine grace—that God has destined him to be.
Good husbands will fail, but the important issue is, are they trying? Mistakes are learning opportunities; all that God expects—for husbands and wives—is that we will be avid learners, centrally in marriage, all through our lives.
© 2011 S. J. Wickham.