by Taylor Combs
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her to make her holy, cleansing her with the washing of water by the word. He did this to present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and blameless. In the same way, husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own flesh but provides and cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, since we are members of his body. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This mystery is profound, but I am talking about Christ and the church. — Ephesians 5:25-32 (CSB)
These words, from perhaps the Bible’s most famous passage about marriage, present husbands with a daunting task: “love your wives, just as Christ loved the church.” The apostle Paul explains the great mystery of marriage by saying that Christ’s relationship with his bride, the church, is not a metaphor for marriage; rather, marriage is a metaphor for the relationship of Christ and the church. From the beginning, marriage was meant to mirror the gospel, and the role of husbands in this mirror is to represent Christ.
When I was newly married, I felt the intense pressure of this high calling, and I listened to many voices who could tell me how I could best mirror Christ in my marriage, how I could best lead my wife spiritually. The result? I was exhausted and discouraged. Obeying the commands of men with impressive ministries left me feeling like a failure, like I would never be able to lead my wife as I was called to do. Each new thing I tried felt like another square peg in a round hole.
My guess is, many husbands feel like I did—exhausted, frustrated, and frankly, tired of trying. I hope I can help take some of that pressure off husbands who want to be obedient to the Lord’s high calling, but aren’t sure where to begin.
Don’t: Try to Be Your Wife’s Pastor
You are (probably) not your wife’s pastor. Nor are you her counselor, therapist, or probably even her small group leader. These roles are filled by others. It is not your job, then, to preach to your wife, to have all the answers to all of her questions, or to fill up all of her struggles and weaknesses. Help her where you can, but acknowledge you can’t help in every area, and determine to let others disciple her, just as others are discipling you.
Do: Foster an Environment for Spiritual Growth
While you are not responsible for every ounce of your wife’s spiritual growth, and while others will fill the roles of pastor, counselor, or small group leader, you can and should lead by fostering an environment for spiritual growth. What does this look like? A steadfast commitment to be involved in the life of a local church. Engagement in a small group. Setting the example with your morning devotional time. Picking up extra work around the house or with the kids to make sure she has plenty of time and space alone with the Lord. You shouldn’t be heavy-handed, and she doesn’t even need to know what you’re doing behind the scenes to foster this environment, but do what you can to make sure she has the opportunity to keep growing spiritually.
Don’t: Be a Spiritual Bully
Some husbands are enamored with being spiritual leaders, but, perhaps because leadership has been poorly modeled for them, lead with a harsh, arrogant, or bullying demeanor. This is not how Christ leads us. He leads us by washing our feet, by praying for us, by laying down his life for us. Follow his example, not the example of harsh, sinful leaders.
Do: Find Out How Your Wife Wants to Be Led
I carried an assumption into marriage that my wife wanted far more of me—in terms of time and involvement—than she actually wanted. Maybe your wife wants you to pray with her for an hour each night, but maybe she doesn’t. Maybe should wants to read the Bible together, or maybe she just wants the space to read it on her own time. Ask her how she wants to be led, and do the best to meet those desires.
Don’t: Try to “Fix” Your Wife
Guys, you know who needs to be “fixed” just as much as your wife? You. One of the ways we’ve misunderstood the headship-submission relationship of Ephesians 5 is by thinking we need to fix all our wife’s problems, but she’s not allowed to fix any of ours. This just isn’t true. It’s not your job to fix your wife—most of the things you’d want to fix are probably just personality differences and not sin issues anyway. No, you are called to love her and serve her—the Holy Spirit will fix her the same way he’ll fix you.
Do: Find What Works
There’s no simple equation for leading spiritually in your family. The Bible tells husbands to do so, but it doesn’t give us a detailed account of how. Try different methods. If they don’t work, don’t get discouraged, just move on to something new. Eventually, you’ll get in some sort of rhythm, even if it takes longer than you’d like. Once you find it, commit to it and stick with it.
Don’t: Treat Your Wife as Spiritually Inferior
We’re called to model Christ in our relationship to our wives, but we are emphatically not Christ. Yes, his church is spiritually inferior to him, but we’re called to model his sacrificial love, not to consider ourselves “ahead” of our wives spiritually. They are co-heirs with us, co-image bearers, and equally loved by Christ. If we’re honest, we all know there are many areas where our wives are ahead of us. Don’t treat your bride as an inferior being; love her as an equal in Christ.
Do: Lay Down Your Life
This is what it all boils down to. The way we lead our wives spiritually is by dying to ourselves and putting them first. We are to love our wives the way Christ loves his church. How does he love us? He died for us. He left his place of privilege and suffered for us. He intercedes for us with the Father. He washed his disciples feet. He speaks tenderly and graciously to us and doesn’t hold our past sins against us. In all these ways, we ought to be sacrificing for our wives. We ought to be sacrificing time that could be spent doing something “productive” by praying for our wives. We ought to put away our desire to watch the ball game on a Saturday so we can hang with the kids and give her some precious recovery time. We ought to have the willingness to do what our wives need us to do spiritually, even if it’s uncomfortable, awkward, or difficult. In this way, we mirror the love of Christ for his church, and he is glorified.