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Volume 15, Issue 4: Husbandry

When a Man Loves a Woman

Douglas Wilson

The apostle Paul reminds husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church. He tells wives in their turn to reverence their husbands, to respect them. When men get this garbled and backwards, one of the results is that they spend their time wondering why their wives don't respect and honor them. And so they start to demand it, making it even less likely that it will ever happen. Few forms of behavior are less respectable than that of demanding to be respected.

When a husband does what he is told to do, the result is that his wife is washed with the water of the Word. He loves her, as Christ loved the church, and one of the blessings that flows from this is the fact that his wife finds herself naturally respecting him. He who loves his wife, Paul says, loves himself. A man who gives love receives respect.
But marriage is not a vending machine, and love is not two quarters to put into it. This is a manner of life, not an exchange of commodities. So what does this kind of life look like? What does it look like when a man loves a woman?
First, the love that Christ modeled for Christian men was a particular love. Another way of putting this is that Christ is monogamous. He gave Himself for His bride, the Church. He has one Church, one bride, one wife. Other worldviews, other religions, other patterns of philosophy, are not loved by Him redemptively. Christian men are therefore to be dedicated to one particular woman. Temptations to look aside, to the right or to the left, are temptations to represent Christ and the church sinfully. Husbands are a walking typology of the Gospel, and when they waver in their sexual dedication to their wives, they have begun to model a religious relativism. Lusting after another woman is like saying that Buddhism or Islam have their good points. The particularity of the atonement is very important, but we should never trust a man who affirms this without being equally devoted to his wife. He should treat her like the elect—because typologically that is what she is.
Second, Christ loved His bride sacrificially to the point of death. More than this, His perfect, sinless life up to the point of death was an expression of His love for His wife as well. When a man has to lay down his life for his wife, it should not be a spasmodic final event inconsistent with what has gone before. In other words, if a man has to die for his wife, it ought to be the next logical step, the most obvious thing. A sacrificial death is unlikely outside the context of a sacrificial life. We do not become suddenly, miraculously obedient at the last minute. So when Christ gave Himself up for His wife, this sacrifice was characteristic of His entire life. It began in history with the Incarnation, continued through to His baptism, and culminated in His death and resurrection. Too many husbands want the perks of headship in the home ("with dominion, glory and a kingdom, that the wife, sons and daughters, dog and cat, and tv remote should serve him") without understanding that biblical authority in the home is based on sacrifice. The universal dominion of Christ is based squarely on the fact that He died in obedience to the Father. All men who want to be the boss in their home without an ethos of self-sacrifice driving their daily decisions are men who secretly want to be Muslims. But Christian men show honor to their wives by imitating the kind of authority that Jesus modelled, which is the authority of the servant's heart.
Third, a man loves a woman sacramentally. She is bone of his bone, flesh of his flesh. This happens when the marriage is consumated on their wedding night, but it is constantly renewed in their sexual life together. This is not a mere physical action, a biological phenomenon. Most contemporary Christians unwittingly set the stage for marital infidelity by how they view the sacraments of the Church. If the Lord's Supper is a "mere" memorial, then eating at the table of devils is "merely" something else. If lovemaking is merely physical, then what does it matter what other physical bodies might get involved? At the other extreme is the mistake that mirrors the Roman Catholic error of the Mass. A couple who become one flesh are not mystically and magically united forever and ever. The sacraments are sacraments of the New Covenant; they are covenantal realities. A man loves a woman by maintaining his relations with her, knowing that covenants define relations betweeen persons, and that the stipulations of the covenant can be nourished and maintained, or starved and broken.
And last, when a man loves a woman, he does so in a story. Paul says that men are to treat their wives with a certain end in view. In this passage, men are commanded to nourish, cherish, sanctify, cleanse, and present their wives. Nothing about marriage is static—a marriage travels through time. It has characters, development, a plot, and so on. This means that men are responsible to see themselves accurately.
Men can do this by asking the right question. If this household of his were a story (the kind you get from a book), what kind of character would he be in it? The question can bring remarkable and unsettling perspective. Is he the antagonist? The protagonist? The villian? The buffoon? The sidekick?
And is this story going to end the way Paul describes in the fifth chapter of Ephesians? Without spot or wrinkle, or any other blemish? And which character is preventing this?

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