I won’t ever forget the day I married Aileen. I won’t ever forget the moment she appeared at the end of the aisle and began her slow walk toward me. Our eyes met, and in an instant I was overwhelmed with awe, overcome with the joy of being joined together for life. It was a holy, intense, unforgettable moment. My love was fierce and strong, and I was convinced there was nothing I wouldn’t do for her, no trial I wouldn’t endure on her behalf. By the time her father put her hand in mine, I was little more than a messy puddle of tears and snot (which rather dampened the sweetness of the moment, I think; I should have thought to put a handkerchief in my pocket.).
But sadly, it didn’t take long for that kind of adoration to be replaced by impatience and immature squabbling. We hadn’t been married for long when apathy began to replace fervor, when the highs began to give way to the inevitable mids and lows. The drama of the wedding day turned to normal life with all its stresses and trials and mundane moments. I soon learned that marriage is tougher than it seems. I soon learned that I’m more sinful than I had imagined.
For all that, our marriage has been good. Neither of us has ever been tempted to stray or to walk away. We’ve never fallen out of love or grown tired of spending time together. We were best friends before we were married and have remained that way ever since. There’s no one I’d rather spend time with and no one with whom I share so many interests. Yet my great challenge from then until now has been treasuring my marriage. And I suspect this is your challenge as well. As we continue this series on being a godly man, we need to consider this: If you are going to run to win, you must treasure your marriage.
The Meaning of Marriage
We are selfish people who are experts at identifying and doing those things that benefit ourselves. We can even misuse something as good as marriage, to see it as an institution that exists ultimately for our comfort, for our happiness, for our pleasure. And while marriage does bring all of those benefits and many more, it ultimately exists for something far better. Marriage exists to glorify God. Marriage exists to demonstrate the gospel.
Paul makes this link clear in Ephesians 5:32, where he calls marriage a “mystery” that refers to Christ and the church. What he tells us is that even before Christ lived and died for his people, the union of a husband and wife was a picture of what he would accomplish, a metaphor of the way he would love his people. We might even say God created marriage so we would have words and images through which we could learn about him. The sacrificial love of a husband for his wife would be a demonstration of Christ’s love for his people. The wife’s joyful response to her husband’s pursuit would be a demonstration of the church’s love of her Savior. The universal human institution of marriage was ultimately created by God for the purposes of God.
This cuts hard against the cultural ethos, which sees marriage as optional and perhaps even oppressive. It cuts hard against our inward selfishness, which would take all the benefits of marriage without the commitment. It elevates marriage to something far beyond itself. It makes marriage something holy, something to treasure.
Treasuring Your Marriage
If God has given you a wife, he has given you a precious gift. He calls you to treasure your marriage, and to treasure marriage, you must treasure your bride. If you are to treasure your wife, you must learn from Jesus Christ how to love her well. Here are four marks of a husband’s love.*
A sacrificial love. A husband’s love is sacrificial. It sacrifices safety, comfort, desires, preferences or anything else if only it will serve her. Paul says, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” As a husband, you are to imitate Christ who gave everything he had for the sake of his bride. I’m sure you know that you are called to love your wife to such a degree that you would be willing to die for her. Perhaps you have fantasized about going out in a blaze of glory as you save her from a fiery building or throwing her out of the way of a runaway train. But God calls for far more than this. God calls you to live for your wife, and this is a much greater challenge. This is a day-to-day, moment-to-moment calling to love and serve her. It is a call to study and know her so you can provide for her needs and submit to her desires. It is a call to put to death whatever sin you are clinging to that keeps you from loving her better and serving her deeper. Do you love your wife in a sacrificial way?
A purposeful love. Christ’s love for his people accomplished something on their behalf—it accomplished their salvation. He “gave himself up for [the church], that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” Christ died to both save and sanctify his people. As a husband, you are God’s special means to help your wife grow in holiness. You are to imitate Jesus by helping your wife grow in holiness, to take upon yourself the solemn responsibility of applying God’s Word to her life. Her spiritual maturity is your husbandly responsibility. You are responsible to know God’s Word to such an extent that you can carefully and faithfully apply it to her. Do you love your wife in a purposeful way?
A nurturing love. The love of Christ is a gentle and nurturing love, and it serves as the example of the kind of love a husband is to extend toward his wife. “In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.” To nourish your wife, you must consider how a gardener nourishes his plants, how he carefully draws out the beauty of each one. Richard Phillips says of the husband, “This requires him to pay attention to her, to talk with her in order to know what her hopes and fears are, what dreams she has for the future, where she feels vulnerable or ugly, and what makes her anxious or gives her joy.” To cherish your wife, you must treat her in ways that prove her value, that cause her to thrive. Do you love your wife in a nurturing way?
A steadfast love. The love of a husband is a steadfast, enduring kind of love. It expresses the highest commitment. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” Just as Jesus Christ will never forsake his church, you as a husband must never forsake your wife. The permanence of the one-flesh union of marriage is sealed, signified, and repeatedly celebrated through sex. The permanence of the one-flesh union of marriage is mocked, undermined, and dishonored through adultery, pornography, and any other form of sexual sin. As a godly husband you vow to “forsake all others” not merely in deed, but also in thought, desire, and fantasy. Your wife thrives when she can count on the rock-solid assurance of your commitment to her; she withers in distrust and broken vows. Do you love your wife in a steadfast way?
The love you are meant to show your wife is sacrificial, purposeful, nurturing, and steadfast, just like the love of Christ for his church. It is in loving your wife this way that you treasure her, and it is in treasuring your wife that you treasure your marriage.
Do It Now!
Treasuring your marriage requires action. Here are a few steps you can take right away.
- Give your wife a voice. It is wise to invite your wife to speak into your life. For this to happen well, you must allow her to speak freely, you must listen carefully, and you must respond only after careful reflection. It may be best to promise that you will not reply defensively for one hour or 24 hours or however long it takes you to prayerfully consider what she says. Perhaps ask, “How can I better serve you as your husband?” or “What is one sin you would love to see me address in my life?” or “What are some things I do that make you feel unloved, and what could I do instead?” Carve out some time, ask the questions, listen carefully, avoid prideful defensiveness, pray fervently, respond graciously.
- Exclude all others. When you married your wife, you committed yourself to her fully and completely. Yet many men allow room in their lives, their hearts, and their minds for other women. Allowing your mind to dwell on others will only ever cool your love and harm your relationship. There is no room in marriage for “what ifs” or “if onlys.” Exclude any thoughts, desires, or fantasies for any other woman and commit yourself entirely to your bride.
- Continue to pursue her. It is tempting to see your wedding day as a kind of finish line. You pursued her, you wooed her, you won her, and now she’s yours. But your wedding is not the finish line; it is the starting line. Continue to pursue her, to learn about her, to know her, to display your joy in her, to grow in your love toward her.
- Continue to do love. There will be times when your feelings of love will grow cool. But even though it may be difficult to feel love, there are always opportunities to do love. After all, love is not first emotion, but action. Or as Sinclair Ferguson says it, “Love is not maximum emotion. Love is maximum commitment.” While you may at times lack romantic romantic feelings, you’ll never lack opportunities to do her good. Commit yourself to her good and always do those things that express love toward her, even and especially when you don’t feel love.
Run to Win!
I began this article with tears—the tears I experienced as my wife walked toward me on a sunny August morning in 1998. I write this article 19 years later and, as it comes to a close, there are tears in my eyes once again. I am reminded of how often I’ve failed her. Having pondered the depth of Christ’s love, I am aware of the shallowness of my own. Though I am the one who has written the article, I still have so much to learn, I still have so much room to grow. So this final charge goes to me, just as it does to you: If you are going to run to win, you must treasure your marriage.
*These four headings are adapted from Richard Phillips’ commentary on Ephesians.