Love Your Wife, As Christ Loved the Church
What Paul Teaches Husbands about Marriage
by Fred Stoeker
Do you have a radiant wife? Sacrificial love produces radiant wives, thriving in oneness and intimacy with their husbands. Here’s how men can help their wives to be radiant.
As Pentecostal men, we understand that women are quite different from us, but we do not believe these sexual differences preclude women from positions of leadership in the church. As Pentecostal husbands, however, our unique egalitarian stance too rarely makes its way home from the pew, and a not-so-unique male dominance takes its place — barring our wives from filling their natural leadership positions at home, and preventing us from loving our wives as Christ loves His bride.
This is a grave, costly error on our part as husbands. After all, every wife has life-giving gifts that her husband simply doesn’t have, gifts that are critical to the success of his call in marriage. If we allow our wives the freedom to lead through the insight and strengths of these gifts, we bless our homes, and our wives are radiant with joy. If we don’t, we dim that radiance and rob ourselves of the rich blessings God intends for us to have as couples.
Let me paint a clearer picture of our error as husbands by using my wife, Brenda, as an example. When single, she was free to blossom in Christ. Whenever God touched her heart to do anything, she simply did it. When God asked her to give money for a missionary in need, she obeyed. She honored the Spirit’s convictions without interference. She could rest when she needed to do so and pray when she desired. Before marriage, Brenda freely ministered to God without interference, using her gifts for His pleasure. She was free to avoid sin and to live purely, and when I met her, she was absolutely radiant in her life with Christ.
Yet I myself stole this freedom from her through my own arrogant leadership and male dominance. As so many husbands do, I destroyed the very radiance that drew me to her in the first place. Said simply, I sinned against Brenda by making far less room for her Christian gifts in our marriage than she had when single. Worse still, I forced her to sin, something no one could do before my “love” entered her life. Let me explain.
Brenda has the gift of discernment with families, a strong gift that I do not have. When it comes to family relationships, she knows the good from the bad (Christianity stretches back at least four generations into every branch of her family tree), and what she saw in our in-law relationships with my family made her very uncomfortable. For example, after each visit with my father, I inevitably left his home angry or depressed because he constantly cut me down in Brenda’s presence. Sometimes it took two weeks for my emotions to stabilize.
My dad was taking a toll in many ways on my young family. Before long, even Brenda began riding the same emotional roller coaster after our visits. She was frightened.
“If I can be sucked into this emotional whirlpool,” she said, “it will likely happen to the kids!”
The same thing was happening when we visited my mother and sisters. Alarms were blasting off in every corner of her spirit, and for good reason.
Brenda’s strong gift of discernment was meant to bless and protect our marriage and to help me lead well as a husband and father. She knew she had to fight the emotional abuse coming from Dad and to stop the emotional chaos arising in the rest of my family. But I had lived with it so long I was blind to the danger. So I coldly shut off her gift and shut down her voice.
“A family doesn’t have to be perfect like yours to be acceptable,” I declared. “If you’d been raised in a regular home, you wouldn’t be so weak in facing all this.”
I chided her when she’d get emotional or depressed over these issues, slamming her heart with cutting words like, “You are such a spoiled brat. Adults have conflicts, and they need to be able to deal with them. You need to grow up.”
In truth, she wasn’t spoiled, and she wasn’t weak at all. She was standing up for the convictions in her heart. To Brenda, subjecting her young family to my father’s unfettered criticism and the emotional tirades of my mom and sisters were clearly sin to her, which should have made it a sin for me. Instead of making room for her gift of discernment, I blindly ridiculed her gift and loudly demanded that she do whatever I wanted her to do in regard to my family. In short, I was commanding her to sin. No wonder our oneness and intimacy died, and no wonder her radiance disappeared completely in this disturbing fog called “my leadership.”
Brenda’s ministry was raising godly children. It was her life’s call, and in light of her gift and her obvious call, it should have been easy for me to honor her leadership at home, regardless of my “theology” on male leadership. After all, it only made sense. Again, she was born of four generations of Christian families. I was spawned from a string of dysfunctional ones. She knew what a godly, Christian home looked like. I didn’t. She had a clear, direct call from God to build one. While I wanted that, too, it was clear that we would get there only if I freed her to lead us in that area. Still, letting her lead in the areas of her gifts wasn’t easy and didn’t come naturally for me.
Why is that so hard for us as men? It’s not that the Bible is unclear. For instance, I’m commanded by Scripture to love Brenda as Christ loved the Church. How did Christ love the Church? In perfect kindness: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out” (Matthew 12:20). Christ doesn’t trample our emotions and gifts. But I trampled Brenda’s.
The Bible exhorts, “Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them” (Colossians 3:19). This command is no less important to God than, “You shall not murder.” Yet I always seemed to gloss over that sentence of Scripture.
I’m also commanded by Scripture to love Brenda sacrificially, to give up my life in costly ways to ensure her heart and gifts have room to blossom and thrive in our marriage (see Ephesians 5:25-27).
Sacrificial in Approach
So the Bible is clear to us. To live out my egalitarian theology at home and establish radiance in Brenda’s life, I needed to learn to submit easily to my wife’s leadership in the arenas of her strengths and to sacrifice my own life at times for the sake of her gifts.
Many of us need to learn this, as radiant wives are rare. Statistics show that 84 percent of women feel they don’t have intimacy or oneness in their marriages, and a large majority of female divorcees say their married years were the loneliest years of their lives. Radiance is in short supply, and since the divorce rates are pretty similar inside and outside the church, we know that we Christian husbands are being no more loving or sacrificial than our secular counterparts, in spite of God’s promise.
What has happened? Are men just naturally this heartless — even us Christian men? I don’t think so. I think Christian husbands are simply hung up on another portion of Scripture just two verses earlier, in Ephesians 5:23,24: “For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”
That passage doesn’t sound very egalitarian at all, does it? It seems to say that the wife is to be subservient to an almighty, all-wise, male oracle of insight who has been given unassailable leadership rights. No wonder husbands are confused in marriage! In one passage we seem to be told that we have the one-up position in all our dealings with our wives and that our gifts and insights should be preeminent, and in the next passage we are told to give away our very lives for the sake of her gifts and insights, that we might produce radiant wives.
That passage has confused God-fearing Christian husbands into dropping their egalitarian stance on their wedding day for years, and that error is easily traced to a poor cultural translation of the word “head” in our current day. Let’s take a look at it.
Male dominance in marriage is as old as time, and it was especially evident throughout the Greco-Roman culture of Paul’s day. In that culture things were pretty straightforward. Wives were simply expected to obey their husbands, and couples adhered to defined, recorded household codes that instructed husbands on how to rule or govern their wives. Everyone did it that way.
God hated that and wanted to change it. The Lord’s principle of mutual submission, as expressed in Ephesians 5:21, was a stunning new paradigm for everyone on Earth, and it’s central to our egalitarian position as Christians: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
These words were intended to upset traditional male dominance in our homes and bring the marriage relationship back to where God intended it to be from the beginning. In short, God challenged husbands to relate to their wives from a position of love, like His Son Jesus did in relation to His bride, rather than from a position of power and domination.
So Paul wasn’t writing to confirm the status quo of the day, but to tip it on its ear. However, most of us miss that message by a mile these days because of a simple translation issue between our two cultures. Consider this. When we read “the husband is head of the wife” in our world today, it appears to us that Paul is actually confirming the status quo of male dominance in marriage because of the way we currently define the word “head.”
Because of our modern understanding of biology, we think of the head as the governing center of the body. After all, that is where all human decisions are made. We use the word in titles like “head coach” and “head of state” because these leaders cast the visions and mobilize their people to implement those visions. They are the governing centers of their organizations, the ones with the final say in everything. So when Paul declares the husband to be the head of the home, we naturally assume that husbands are to be the overarching governing centers of the home.
But that was not at all how the Ephesians read Paul’s words. To them, the head didn’t refer to the governing center. The head was considered the body’s source of life, and for a very simple reason: Cut off the head, and the body dies. When Paul wrote that the husband was to be the head of the wife, the Ephesians understood instantly that Paul just blasted their marital status quo into shambles. The Christian husband was no longer to rule over his wife from a position of dominance, but rather love her as her source of life and as a sacrificial servant ensuring her gifts had the room to grow and blossom in their home.
The Husband as Source of Life
Obviously, this phrase “source of life” makes all the difference when it comes to eliminating the confusion in our leadership roles as husbands. Let’s insert the Greek definition of the word “head” into Ephesians 5:23–27 and look at it again: “For the husband is the [source of life] of the wife as Christ is the [source of life] of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy … to present her to himself as a radiant church ….”
This passage takes on a completely different tone now, doesn’t it? The original sense of conflict between the concepts of “headship” and “sacrifice” now disappear. In this context, giving oneself up for a wife is simply a natural and necessary extension of being her source of life, something any Christ-like leader should do to make room for his wife to grow and blossom in her marital relationship and in her relationship with God.
Once a husband sees himself as the source of life rather than the governing center, everything changes in his marriage. To give up my own rights and position for Brenda’s sake suddenly made perfect sense to me as a leader. Our marriage soared, and Brenda’s heart for me blossomed. As I honored her thoughts and convictions, she felt oneness with me, and I’d never felt stronger or more secure in my leadership. I was clearly still leading. I was just leading differently now — and more biblically. I could now easily yield my rights as leader for the sake of our relationship and for the sake of God’s work and purposes in Brenda’s life.
Getting It Right
Sacrifice, especially in the sense Paul spoke of where I must yield my rights to honor Brenda’s convictions and gifts, looked a lot easier on paper! I soon discovered that making room for Brenda’s gift of family discernment meant far more than me simply sacrificing some time to hear her opinion on the matter without fighting and chiding her. It was one thing to admit that Brenda’s gift of discernment in relationships was stronger than mine. It was quite another to give her gift real sway in my day-to-day decisions. It meant genuine sacrifice, and it cost me deeply in my family relationships to allow her insights to lead us to the kind of home we both wanted to have, to God’s glory.
I found quickly that there are more important things than exerting my authority in my marriage relationship. You either sacrifice for her gifts as you do your own, or you don’t. If you do, you get a radiant wife. If you don’t, her light dims. This is true in the big and the small things.
As a lighter example, Sunday mornings became an argumentative mess during our child-raising years. To arrive at church on time, we had to leave the house by 9:45 a.m. I’d work my tail off, bathing, feeding, and dressing everything in sight. Invariably, I’d have us ready to go at the appointed time. Brenda, however, was not a morning person — especially on Sundays, which she viewed as her one day of the week to take her time getting out of bed. No matter how early we set the alarm, we’d come to 9:45 with Brenda just getting around to curling Laura’s hair. I’d stand in the kitchen with my arms crossed and foot tapping, glancing at my watch and glaring at Brenda as she curled and twirled. I was so angry!
I knew I’d reached a fork in the road: I could either assert my authority and yell like crazy — or learn to curl hair. Finding the necessary patience would be a stretch for me, even with God’s help. So I went with the irons.
With big hands and clunky knuckles, I knew I was in over my head from day one. Laura liked the new arrangement even less, since I twisted her hair in unsightly ways and burned her ears. Ouch! Whenever I rounded the corner with a curling iron in my hand, she’d scream, “I want Mommy to do it! I want Mommy to do it!”
I challenged myself. “If every 14-year-old girl in America can curl her own hair and make it look great, then there’s no reason why a 30-year-old man can’t do the same.”
Thankfully, practice makes perfect. In a few weeks under Brenda’s close supervision, I upped my skill level to the point where I could actually meet her standards. I knew I’d finally arrived one fine Sunday when we ran into a friend in the church foyer, who exclaimed, “Laura, your hair looks so good! Your Mommy must have spent hours on it this morning.”
Most importantly, I sacrificed for Brenda’s sake and led from a position of love, rather than a position of dominance and anger. Church days were now a breeze, and Brenda’s heart wasn’t battered every Sunday morning on the way to the service.
As another example, Brenda has a strong gift of hospitality, but when our kids began to grow, they were demanding, busy, and constantly hungry. This cramped Brendaâ€™s style, often tightening her preparation time for guests. When she finally got around to the house, it was at the last minute. There were carpets to vacuum and rugs to shake — things she said she couldnâ€™t get to because of the kids. I would arrive home from work to find her in a panic. Many of the chores fell on my shoulders during our last-gasp efforts to have everything "just so" when the guests arrived.
So I put my foot down. “Why do you do all this?” I demanded. “It’s ridiculous! No one really cares about your little touches, and no one cares if the house is perfect. They’re our friends, for heaven’s sakes! If they can’t take a little mess, let them eat elsewhere. Better yet, let them find new friends!”
Following one of my countless sermonettes, Brenda told me through tears, “I just can’t invite people over anymore until the kids get older. If I can’t do it the right way, I don’t want to do it at all.”
This was crazier yet. I didn’t mean we shouldn’t have friends over. I liked having company. “Brenda, are you telling me you’ll deprive us or the kids of having their friends over simply because you can’t do everything just right? Isn’t that a bit extreme?”
“Fred, can’t you see?” she said, with pleading eyes. “I don’t expect you to care about this like I do, but having it all just right is important. Inviting friends over is a ministry to me.”
Ministry? This was the first time I’d heard that word connected with a Saturday night get-together for barbecued ribs and corn on the cob. The word pounded me between my eyes. Brenda saw this as a ministry? I finally began to get it, and when I did, I reconsidered how I’d been treating the situation. Normally, as the time neared for our guests to arrive, I half-heartedly helped with the kids, picked up around the house, or swept up outside. I slogged away at it until I could answer the doorbell and welcome our friends to come in. That’s when all the prep work could finally stop.
There’s Ministry Here?
I realized I had to put my foot down, all right — on me! I needed to make room for Brenda’s gift of hospitality to blossom. If we were having friends over on a weeknight, I began arriving home from work an hour earlier to help around the house. On the weekends, I made sure I was home hours before our guests arrived. I shouldered the menial duties, such as vacuuming and dusting, freeing Brenda up for her special touches. I washed pots and pans as the recipes moved through their stages. I shoveled snow off the sidewalk in the winter and swept the walkway in the summer. I started a fire in the fireplace stove and rearranged the couch pillows.
What a surprise! I soon noticed that Brenda and I became closer as I lovingly sacrificed and allowed her gift to lead when it came to hospitality in our home.
It’s not that I’ve now been blessed with the same gifts as Brenda has or that I suddenly feel the same urgency that drives her to do all the things she does. I don’t. It’s just that I finally recognized she has broad and valid ministries right in our home, and I began honoring those ministries and her gifts right alongside my own ministries and gifts.
Do you have a radiant wife? Sacrificial love produces radiant wives, thriving in oneness and intimacy with their husbands. The promise is clear.
Adapted from Every Man’s Marriage by Fred Stoeker.