The Reciprocal Effect of Christ’s Wisdom in Marriage

Whirlpool | Aquinnah, MA

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” || Eph. 5.25

“…let the wife see that she respects her husband.” || Eph. 5.33b

There is a reciprocal dynamic to be noted in Paul’s instructions to husbands and wives in Ephesians 5. In the “fearful and wonderful” creativity of God, men and women have been designed with certain impulses and capacities which complement one another, and they can only function healthily when the wisdom of Christ is the centrifugal force which compels them.

When Paul calls husbands to love their wives “as Christ loved the church,” he is charging the men to take up arms against “the world, the flesh, and the devil.” There is a cosmic war on, one which requires painstaking attention. In the main, he is calling men to die, that their wives might flourish in the grace and truth of God.

Douglas Wilson gives us help on defining the man’s role:

“Biblical manhood is the glad assumption of sacrificial responsibility.”

When a married man (or a man aspiring to marriage) sees clearly that the Scriptures call him to a sacrificial kind of love, to gladly assuming the weight of responsibility in spiritual, relational, and practical headship, he is seeing clearly indeed. When he acts consistently upon this kind of clear seeing, he frees his wife up to flourish in her own role as woman abounding in the grace of God.

The children of God, whether we are aware of it or not, are right in the thick of the most ultimate and cosmic war; one which transcends, in intensity and longevity, all of the global and civil wars in the blood-drenched history of men. Our enemy has waged war against mankind since the garden of Eden, and he will be waging war until he is finally cast into the lake of fire. One of his chief aims is to blur and disfigure the unique intentions of God for men and women, and he’s making a devastating show of it in our day. We mustn’t be naive or casual about this. Our failure as men to assume responsibility, and to shoulder it gladly, is to our peril, and to the peril of our wives, our children, and our churches.

Christian men must strap up their boots daily and plant their feet at the front of the battle-line. It is our sacred privilege and call. This battle is on every day. Bullets and arrows are whizzing by, often striking our souls, and as much as we might seek vacations and retreats, the war carries on. Nothing gives the enemy cause for pause or hesitation. He is cutthroat from Eden to Eschaton, wholly engaged in a diabolical fury, with the aim of victory whatever the cost. He will not rest until marriages are destroyed, or he is destroyed. We must look then to the Captain of the hosts, for He is faithfully present in the battle, and He gives us all that we need in the war for “life and godliness.”

Men, our call is quite clear— to lead our wives spiritually—- by praying for them, praying with them, and teaching the Scriptures to them (and the children); to point them again and again to the Gospel, being quick to repent ourselves, and to glory in the grace of God; to gently and wisely shepherd them in their weaknesses, that they might be strengthened in their call as wives, mothers, and Titus 2 women in the church; to lead the way in disciplining and nurturing the children (the buck ought to stop with us, and the springs of wisdom ought to flow from us); to bear the primary brunt of work in providing for the family; to lead the way in decision making with regard to all matters, giving appropriate guidance to empower her areas of responsibility and authority, including the education of the children; to lead the way in managing finances and creating a responsible, generous culture in the home; to protecting and nurturing our wives in affection, establishing them more deeply in the love of God by lavishly giving God-centered praise to them, helping them to know that they are beautiful to us and to Him.

This is a tall order, indeed, and impossible order if we seek only to draw from natural means. But “nothing is impossible with God.” Through the grace of the Gospel, with the two-edged sword of Scripture, and with the power of the Holy Spirit, Paul charges us to grow in this reality, and to gladly assume the responsibility of loving our wives in this Christ-riveted way.

In a complementary manner, Paul charges the women, “let the wife see to it that she respect her husband.”

As the helpmeet, the wife is charged joyfully to “submit” to her husband, and to see to it that she respects him. There is something glorious in this kind of godly submission. It is meant to image the very relationship of the church to Her Lord.

When a husband is wayward, or lapsing in his call to take up responsibility, there is nothing more likely to heap grace-infused coals upon his head and to awaken him to his role, than a quiet, peaceful, woman who is secure in God on the basis of the Gospel, and who trusts His sovereignty to bring about His purposes in the context of family.

When a wife is enabled by God to “respect” her husband, though there will always be areas in which he doesn’t deserve it, it has a positively reciprocal effect. Functioning in her role, she is used of God to quicken him towards a loving, sacrificially responsible kind of thinking and living.

If she puts all her hope in her husband, or if her eyes are not upon the Lord, she will resort to nagging, belittling and manipulating, and this kind of unfaithfulness to God often leads tragically to being unfaithful to her husband. The Holy Spirit knew what He was doing when he inspired Paul to issue that command, “respect your husband.”

Nothing could strike more at the root and essence of manhood and womanhood than the command for the man to “love,” and for the woman to “respect.” 

We all desire both love and respect, but there is something about these reciprocal commands which calls us to task profoundly. Paul wouldn’t have issued these commands if it were natural or easy for men to love and for women to respect. He was hitting a touchstone, tapping the bedrock of our malady as the children or Adam and Eve. Hearing and responding to these imperatives will daily require the graces of repentance and faith, both for the husband and for the wife.

When a Christian husband and wife obey the call to fulfill these charges from the apostle, they are reversing the primal curse that is resident within us all, the ruptured condition of sinful humanity. When a man in Christ loves his wife, even when she seems unlovable, the wisdom of the Cross is being demonstrated. When a woman in Christ respects her husband, even when he seems unworthy of respect, the Gospel is being magnified in the earth.

There is a positively reciprocal kind of God-glorifiying power at work in a couple of that kind, and the Lord means for this to image, most profoundly, the sacred union of Christ and the Church. With regard to the roles of husbands and wives, the one affects the other as the years go by, and from faith to faith, an imperfect but increasingly wonderful picture emerges, “to the praise of His glorious grace.”

Conversely, the failure of the husband or the wife to see and carry out their call in these regards has a negatively reciprocal effect on the other— it discourages love from a man and hinders respect from a woman.

In light of these things, what say you, men? Are you clinging to Christ and “gladly assuming sacrificial responsibility” for the good of your wife and the glory of God? Are you loving her in that way, day by day, moment by moment? The answer will be “no” if we’re honest, for none can do this perfectly. But the apostle doesn’t lower the bar for us. He calls us higher, even to the zenith of Christ’s own love for the Church. He calls us to die that we might love. We are charged with leading the way into the battle, bearing the bulk of the assault from the enemy’s firing line; laying down our lives for the woman with whom we’ve been covenantally conjoined. Will you answer your Master’s call today?

Wives, are you clinging to Christ, making Him your source and delight, and out of that place seeing to it that you “respect” your husband? All of your pulling, jerking, nit-picking, and pestering will not produce the man you so ideally hope for. But when you soak your soul in the Bible, hope in the Gospel, keep in step with the Spirit, and show him respect simply because you have heeded the call that God has given you as a wife, it will have a quickening effect on him, and point him to the only One who can refine and shape him as a man.

You can see, then, that the one role encourages the other, and Christ is the center and aim of it all.

So here we are, saints. Let us hear His Word afresh on these matters. Let us take up our crosses and gladly assume our positions in the battle. Our enemy is not our spouse. Our enemies are “the world, the flesh (our own flesh!), and the devil.” Every painstaking movement in the battle, every scar we bear from the war, will be worth it in the end. It will eventuate in our everlasting joy in God, and the hallowing of His Name in our homes, our neighborhoods, and out into the Nations.

Our strategy is clear enough. Let us follow in the train of our kind and unrelenting Captain. Let us advance with Him at the center. Let us advance, not against, but side by side with our spouses. Let us go to war.

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” || Eph. 5.25

“…let the wife see that she respects her husband.” || v. 5.33b

“This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” || v. 32

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” || vv. 15-16