Family and Work, Part 2: The Husband
Women are commanded to submit to their husbands as is fitting in the Lord. Men are commanded to love their wives, especially avoiding harsh attitudes and actions.
Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. (Colossians 3:19 ESV)
The Greek word translated here as love is best defined as a strong desire for the eternal good for another person. It is a moral love, a long-term view of love, rather than temporary affection or sensual desire. It is based upon the desire to provide the answer to the question: What would be ultimately best for the one I love? It is used for many relationships, not just that of husband and wife:
Jesus commanded this type of love for neighbors, enemies, and God Himself:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 19:19 ESV)
Love your enemies. (Matthew 5:44 ESV)
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. (Matthew 22:37 ESV)
This is the same love with which God loved the world:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16 ESV)
And it's the same love the Father has for the Son:
The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. (John 3:35 ESV)
This love is a desire to be intimate, to enjoy, to experience...whether something good or bad. The Pharisees loved praise and recognition, and wicked men loved darkness rather than light, loving money and earthly life (Luke 11:43, John 3:19, 2 Peter 2:15, 2 Timothy 4:10).
Jesus loved Martha, her sister, Mary, and their brother, Lazarus. Yet his love was expressed in a way that seems at first glance to be false, and this may provide an important foundation for a husband's love for his wife.
The illness and death of Lazarus is described in John, chapter 11. Mary and Martha had told Jesus about their brother's illness, and they trusted Him to heal Lazarus as He had done for many others. Jesus loved this family, yet He stayed away from Lazarus for two days, seeming not even praying for him. Lazarus died while Jesus delayed traveling.
This seems heartless. It seems the opposite of love. Yet Jesus was acting out of love. He believed that the illness and death of Lazarus would eventually result in more joy than the sorrow it immediately would bring. He believed it was for the glory of God, glorifying Himself as the Son of God.
When Jesus heard about Lazarus, He said, "This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it." (John 11:4 ESV)
Martha and Mary both doubted the love of Jesus, but not His power. They blamed Him for allowing Lazarus to die, but still believed He had the power to give life, even to one dead.
Jesus felt emotional love and compassion for Lazarus and his sisters. He wept when He saw how devastated the sisters felt when their brother died. But this emotional love is not the same as the moral love He had in placing God's glory and a greater good as more important than the death of Lazarus.
Moral love moved Jesus to delay healing Lazarus, allowing him to die, allowing his sister's to feel pain, and allowing all Jerusalem to think of Jesus as weak and powerless, or heartless.
Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, but only after choosing the greatest good for all concerned. This is the foundation of moral love. This is the love in which all Christians are to live in all their relationships: politics, work, ministry, friends, family, and marriage. Love desires the greatest good.
This is how men ought to love their wives.
Paul is echoing the commandment of Jesus:
Love one another as I have loved you. (John 15:12 ESV)
Jesus endured temporary discomfort, pain, and loss in order to accomplish ultimate pleasure, joy, and contentment. This can be seen in all His attitudes and actions. His love for His people is rooted in God's love for Him, longing for people to be as intimate and joyful together with Him as He is with God. His joy in, and enjoyment of, God is the motivation for His love for us. This is the greatest good.
Paul was probably not married, yet he saw direct correlation between his love for Christians and the love of a man for his wife. His love for the believers in Corinth drove him to desire the greatest good for them beyond everything else:
I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. (2 Corinthians 12:15 ESV)
A man's love for his wife will move him to sacrifice for the sake of his wife's ultimate good (Ephesians 5:2, 25). This love is a desire for enjoyment and pleasure, but only if it works toward lasting good (Ephesians 5:28, 33). It requires the husband to lead and instruct (Hebrews 12:6), making decisions based upon the love of God rather than love of the world (1 John 2:15).
This leads us to the qualifying statement that Paul attaches to his command that a man love love his wife: Do not be harsh.
In the Greek, Paul used pikraino, meaning embittered, from pikros (sharp, pungent, or acrid), probably related to pegumi (to "peg" a tent).
Paul cautions men to avoid being bitter, sharp, and piercing toward their wives. It seems too common to see men who release their frustration and dissatisfaction by using harsh, biting words against their wife. It's as if they know that striking her would result in criminal charges, so they reach for the same effect in bitter words of scorn or command or criticism,.
What is the source of bitter, harsh words? Is is just the result of a "bad day"? Is it a bad habit? Is it "just the way I am"?
James describes bitterness as coming from jealousy, ambition, and it is ultimately demonic:
If you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. (James 3:14-16 ESV)
My careless and harsh words to my wife are not random...they are the result of being manipulated by a demon, springing from jealousy and selfish ambition.
Perhaps my wife seems more intelligent than I, or more valued in the workplace. Perhaps I lack emotions and attitudes that can only come from a heart in love with Jesus, yet I expect my wife to make me feel them. Perhaps I'm willing to settle for immediate self-pleasure rather than the long-term greatest good.
There seems to be a direct correlation between love and bitterness, in the same way that a woman's submission is connected to what is fitting in Christ.
If a man harbors bitterness, his actions toward his wife will not demonstrate genuine love. It is the same for the woman: if a woman disregards what is fitting in the Lord, her actions toward her husband will not demonstrate genuine, godly submission.
Paul is implying that it is possible for a man to demonstrate an outwardly moral love, appearing to be giving what is ultimately best for someone. Yet inner jealousy and ambition perverts love into a weapon, either to hurt someone or to achieve superiority over them.
Not only is it possible, it is all too common.
A man works to provide for a luxurious lifestyle for his wife. It would be a demonstration of love...unless he regards it as evidence of his own strength or importance. The taint of selfish ambition will soon express itself in bitter words, calculated to force his wife to feel subordinate, dependent, weak, and unimportant.
A man remains faithful to his wife, never having sex outside of his marriage, never allowing himself to be placed in a compromising situation. It would be a demonstration of love...unless he sees divorce as evidence of personal failure that would result in loss of stature in the workplace and society. Divorce would allow his wife to find someone else, and someone could claim victory of a sort over him. He is in truth acting out of jealousy of an imagined lover, someone who might win a more intimate, more honored position in the heart of his wife. This taint of jealousy will soon be seen in bitter, harsh words.
What can be done?
Put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:14-17 ESV)
This is the heart of Paul's argument and exhortation. Without Christ's rule in our hearts, even our attempts at godly love and submission will erode into bitterness and apathetic despair.
Wives are to allow Christ to work submission into their lives. Men are to allow Christ to work love into their lives.
What do you think?
Men: what does healthy, godly love for a woman look like?