Love Your Wife
Colossians 3:19 Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.
Last week we saw that the apostle Paul used language similar to what we called “household codes” when he described the duties of the wife, servants, and children. But Paul turned those codes on their head, and instead of supporting the customs of the first century, he transformed those codes into what the Gospel required. In Eph 5:21, it says “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” And Paul then went on to describe how every believer is to relate to one another in whatever position they find themselves. Wives were to willingly submit, children and servants were to willingly obey, and now in verse 19 of Col 3, husbands are to love their wives.
If you ask many Christian husbands to summarize their biblical duty in one word, and they will most likely answer, “Leadership.” But God answers the question with a different word. He says: “love.”
There is no doubt that a husband’s duty requires aspects of leadership. The apostle Paul uses the Gk term kephale to describe the headship of the husband. But as we saw last week, this headship is not an authoritarian reign, or dictatorship, but it is based on mutual submission. And the leadership that flows from love and is always marked by tender, caring affection. The husband’s proper role as a loving, nurturing head is best modeled by Christ, who took on a servant’s role to wash His disciples’ feet (John 13:3-17).
Wives, let’s be sure that we understand that this verse is not addressed to you! It does not say, “Wives make sure your husband loves you, remind him every day.” This command is to the husbands. Men, this is your responsibility regarding your marriage.
There are two sides to this command. The first one is: “Husbands, love your wives…”
Most of you have heard of W.C. Fields. While he lay on his deathbed – a friend stopped by to see him and was surprised to find him reading the Bible. W.C. Fields was a lot like the conniving, drunken character he often acted like. So the friend asked, “Why in the world are you reading the Bible? Are you looking for answers?” and W.C. Fields said, “No. I’m looking for loopholes.”
When we are confronted with the commands in the bible, don’t we often start looking for loopholes? For men, this is one of the most difficult commands in the Bible. And its not because our wives are hard to love, it’s because we tend to be selfish. Problems in a marriage relationship are a result of our sin, our failure to live out the commands of Scripture.
The Greek word used here for love is agape. We talked about this word before, and saw that love is not an emotion, but rather it is a willing love, the love made by choice, not by feelings. Love is something you do. When we went through 1 John we saw that love is expressed in action.
1 John 3:18 (NASB) Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.
It is interesting that what God through Paul is saying to husbands probably came as a surprise to many in that culture. It is hard for us today to understand how different the status of women was when this letter was written. In a commentary by William Barclay it says:
Under Jewish law a woman was a thing, the possession of her husband, just as much as his house or his flocks or his material goods. She had no legal rights whatever. For instance, under Jewish law, a husband could divorce his wife for any cause, while a wife had no rights whatever in the initiation of divorce; and the only grounds on which a divorce might be awarded her were if her husband developed leprosy, became an apostate or ravished a virgin. In Greek society a respectable woman lived a life of entire seclusion. She never appeared on the streets alone, not even to go marketing. She lived in the women’s apartments and did not join her menfolk even for meals. From her there was demanded complete servitude and chastity; but her husband could go out as much as he chose and could enter into as many relationships outside marriage as he liked without incurring any stigma. Under both Jewish and Greek laws and custom all the privileges belong to the husband and all the duties to the wife. [William Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, rev. ed. (1975), p. 161]
So a husband had no duty in the marriage relationship with regard to his wife. And that is why Paul’s command to husbands would be a surprise to them.
Ephesians 5:22-33 tell us the the marriage relationship is modeled after the relationship between Christ and the church. Christ gave up everything for His people. As husbands, we tend to give everything but ourselves.
This command to love your wife implies that the husband is to be committed to total unselfishness in the relationship. The husband is to model his actions of love after that of Christ who unselfishly gave himself for his bride. In practical terms, this love means that the husband is looking out for how he can best meet the needs of his wife. He seeks to nurture her, to care for her, and to help her enjoy the marriage bond. He works to help her develop in the areas of spiritual and emotional maturity. He delights in seeing spiritual growth in his wife.
Loving your wife demands sacrificial actions that model Jesus Christ, who “gave Himself” for the Church. It was the unselfish heart of love that was willing to pay the ultimate price for his Bride’s benefit. Many men would stand between their wives and an intruder in order to protect her, but would those same men think of adjusting their schedule or career or hobbies for the benefit of their wives? Sacrifice may come in many forms, not just protection from harm. It also involves the sacrifice of his energies, goals, time, and interests for his wife’s best interest.
Dr. Gary Chapman, a marriage counselor, describes in his book, The Five Languages of Love, five unique love languages men and women utilize in relating to one another. A love language is the ability to express love and concern to another person in the primary emotional language of the other person.
If you ever were around people who were speaking a foreign language, you can’t understand what they are saying. And what happens in foreign languages occurs with emotional languages, also. If we express love in the way we think we should do it, it may not be what is expected or wanted by our spouse. It’s like a foreign language to them. As a result, our efforts to demonstrate love are frustrated. To avoid that frustration, we must learn the primary love language of our spouse.
According to Dr Chapman, there are five ways of expressing love in action to our spouse so that they actually feel loved.
1. WORDS OF AFFIRMATION – One way of expressing love is by building up others through verbal encouragement. Taking the time to verbally pat someone on the back is a way of saying, “I love you.”
2. QUALITY TIME – Quality time means giving someone your full attention. Sitting on the couch together watching television is not quality time. It means looking at each other while talking. This requires that you invest yourself in the other person by listening carefully to what she is saying. It involves two people who are actively taking part in the conversation and going beyond the fact level of communication. Some ways of doing that are through participating in activities that both spouses enjoy. It may be working in the yard, it may be walking in the neighborhood, it may be traveling, it may be playing a sport, or working on a hobby, or going to the beach. However it is translated, it means having quality time to interact together. A central aspect of quality time is togetherness. Togetherness is not just a matter of proximity, it has to do with focused attention.
3. GIFT GIVING – Giving your spouse a gift when it is not her birthday or a holiday sends a message, like “I was thinking about you, and I care for you.” It is providing something that you can hold in your hand and say, “This person was thinking of or remembering me.” It may be a gift of something you purchased, it may be a gift of something you made.
4. PHYSICAL DISPLAYS OF AFFECTION – Babies who are held, hugged, and kissed develop a healthier emotional life than those who are left for long periods of time without physical contact. Some people find the chief way that they sense affection is by touch. It may be a hug, it may be holding a hand, it may be just an arm around a shoulder.
5. ACTS OF SERVICE – We communicate love by serving others, doing things for them that will help them out, or doing things that we know that they will appreciate. Whenever you do something for another person beyond the normal course of events, you are saying, “I love you” in action.
Out of those five love languages, one is your primary language. One of those modes of expression means more to you than the other four, and another one means the least to you. Your primary love language is the one you most enjoy hearing, and the one you tend to speak to other people. Learning how to love your wife means learning and choosing to speak her love language.
The last part of Col 3:19 says “do not be embittered against them.”
God does not want us to become angry or cross with our wives. There is to be no resentment. Our wives can be handy scapegoats sometimes. It is so easy to shrink from taking responsibility for our own actions.
The Greek word embittered originally meant: “pointed, sharp and then more generally of what is ‘sharp’ or ‘penetrating’ to the senses,” like a smell, or a sharp noise, or painful feeling.” It means to have bitter resentment or hatred toward someone. Bitterness refers to that which is resentful or sarcastic. The one who is bitter is one who is very unpleasant. The one who is the recipient of someone’s bitterness gets very distressed.
Paul uses a present tense imperative here, so husbands are commanded to continually not be bitter to their wives. This Greek verb construction is a command to cease a practice which was already going on among the Colossian husbands. It was no doubt such a part of that culture so that it continued to happen, even among believers. Paul says in essence, “Stop being bitter.” “Do not have the habit of being bitter.”
If we are angry about something, we have a tendency to become harsh or overbearing. But love conquers this tendency to be harsh.
Being harsh, or sharp with someone cuts them deeply. Not physically, but emotionally. And when we do that, deeps cuts take time to heal. The deeper the emotional cut, the longer we take to heal. But the apostle knows that love overcomes and shuts down bitterness. If you have bitterness toward your wife, it is not showing love. You can’t show love and have bitterness at the same time.
Men, as you love your wife, by God’s standards, you will show the love of Christ for His church in a way that no sermon can describe. Think about how God’s love for us, through Jesus Christ, caused us to have our sins forgiven, caused us to be adopted into God’s family, caused us to inherit eternal life. Though we were still sinners, Christ died for us. That love was totally unselfish. That love speaks of grace beyond measure, for those who belong to Christ. That love shows how Jesus Christ willingly lowered Himself to become man, willingly suffered the humiliation of men, and willingly suffered agony of the cross for us.
Its easy to love someone who responds in love to us. But what about a spouse who gripes, or complains, and doesn’t respond in love? It was the love of Christ that turned us from our sinful ways. It was the love of Christ that showed us the way of salvation. And it is the love of a husband for his wife that can change a heart of stone to a heart of flesh, by being the example of Christ’s love.
It is this love which God calls you to. It is this love which you are to give to your wife-Not because she deserves it, but because Christ asks for it and deserves it. If you ever get to the point where you give your spouse what she deserves because her behavior earned a reward, then you are expecting them to be perfect. Marriage is not about getting what you deserve – that’s called LAW. Marriage is about giving something that is undeserved – Marriage is about Grace.
It is about showing the love of God for his people. The reason why you love your wife is NOT because she is such a lovable person (and she may in fact be such), but it is because God has loved you and forgiven you! He has removed your sin and united you to his Son. It is He who is at work in you and it is His Spirit who is sustaining you daily by the power of Christ’s atoning blood.