Before I set fingers to keyboard, I asked my wife if I should write this article—one requested by Ligonier’s Tabletalk magazine. Before I so much as typed a single word, I asked her if I was at all qualified. She pondered this for a few moments and said, “Yes, I think you are.” I was grateful for her affirmation, yet we both had to acknowledge that many parts of the Christian life are easier to say than to do, easier to describe than to live out. And this one is no exception. It’s easy enough to plan and pledge and pray to live selflessly, but it’s difficult to actually do it moment by moment and day by day. That’s true even of living selflessly with the person in this world I love the most.
I have often pondered one of the strange paradoxes of the married life—that the person I love the most is the person I will sin against the most. Because of our proximity, because of our intimacy, because we have pledged to live our lives together “till death do us part,” I will have a lifetime of opportunities to love my wife but also to hurt her, to bless my wife but also to sin against her. Every day I will have the opportunity to live with her selflessly but also to battle the temptation to live with her selfishly.
God’s Word makes it clear that it is the responsibility of every husband to live with his wife in an understanding way—a way that shows her special honor (1 Peter 3:7). God makes it clear that while a husband is called to lead his wife, he is to lead in a way that is marked by love, not control, and that is shown in sacrifice, not dominance (Eph. 5:25–31). If a wife’s calling is to submit to her husband’s leadership and to show him honor, the husband’s calling is to lead in a way that makes it easy for her to follow and to love in a way that makes him worthy of her honor. It is to think more of her than of himself, to consider her good ahead of his own, to love her even at his own expense. It is, in short, to live selflessly.
To live selflessly is to live with an awareness of complementarity, to understand and embrace the differences between men and women. There is something deep within every man that tacitly believes that marriage would be easier and his union stronger if his wife were only more like him—if she thought like a man and reasoned like a man and felt the desires of a man. Yet God has chosen to display His glory in two genders that are wonderfully different and wondrously complementary. A husband who truly loves his wife is a husband who embraces the differences rather than battling them, who sees them as a feature of God’s design rather than a mistake. He listens to his wife attentively; he comforts her lovingly; he provides for her willingly. He understands and accepts that she is fearfully and wonderfully made in God’s image every bit as much as he is, both in her similarities and in her differences.
To live selflessly, then, is to live compassionately. When writing to the Colossians, Paul says, “Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them” (Col. 3:19). Surely he would not have included that particular exhortation if it did not reflect a common temptation. And every husband must admit that he can so easily stoop to harshness, to treat his wife brusquely, sharply, or unseriously. Yet the husband who means to honor his wife will treat her with kindness and dignity, with care and compassion. He will be sobered that God has provided him with a wife at all, be honored that God has entrusted this particular wife to him, and be eager to extend to her all the love and affection that God has extended to him. He will be gentle and forbearing and will always be quick to repent, quick to seek forgiveness and to restore the relationship when he has sinned against her.
To live selflessly is also to live as a companion. It is to “enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun” (Eccl. 9:9). A godly husband enjoys the freedom and intimacy of the marriage relationship and relishes his wife as his dearest companion and closest friend. Though any marriage is at times difficult and though any relationship will at times demand effort and require work, he is committed to enjoying his wife and delighting in the unique joys and wonders of the marriage relationship. He embraces the unique strengths that come with his wife’s femininity, appreciates the unique insights she brings, and learns to enjoy what she finds pleasurable. As he sets aside his natural selfishness, he awakes to the wonders of the closest and dearest kind of human companionship.
Any good man would be willing to die for his wife—to take the bullet that would have struck her, to welcome the pain that would have afflicted her. But it is the rare man who is willing to live for his wife—to set aside the selfishness that is always so close at hand and to instead live for her good and her joy. But then no husband is behaving in a more Christlike manner than the one who considers his wife’s good ahead of his own, who puts to death his natural self-importance so that he can live truly selflessly with the wife whom God has given him.