When my husband and I were engaged, we attended marital counseling with a pastor. I had always had trouble with the verse in Ephesians 5 that tells wives to submit to their husbands, but I knew there must be a good reason for it. Our pastor helped not only explain his take on the verse, but helped us to understand how to use it in our marriage.
He reminded us that this passage didn’t stop with the command to wives. It goes on to address the husbands: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Husbands are basically told to love their wives until it hurts. They are to love them just as Christ loved the church. That is a lot of love; it’s unfathomable.
I am married to a man who stands up for me when others try to put me down. I am married to a man who is willing to give up anything in his life if it gets in the way of our marriage. I am married to a man who constantly reminds me of my potential and my gifts in life when I feel as though I am nothing. I am married to a man who talks highly of me whether he is in my presence or not. And let me tell you, that’s an amazing amount of love to display for someone.
Ephesians also says that husbands are to love their wives as they love their own bodies. Now, not one of us can say honestly that we aren’t selfish. We naturally want to care for ourselves first and foremost. I’ll fill you in on a little secret that you can’t really understand until you’re married: You will never know how selfish of a person you are until you are married.
When you are newly married and you and your husband move things into your very first apartment together, nothing can get either of you down. Things are perfect. Life is perfect. Now fast-forward a little bit. Six months down the road, you realize that the way you have lived your life up until six months ago has been radically turned upside down. You like to squeeze the toothpaste from the middle; he likes to squeeze it from the end. You hate doing dishes and don’t mind letting them pile up; he is a neat freak. Your habits annoy him and vice versa. He’s sick and stuck in bed, and he wants you to run out at 11 p.m. in the middle of winter to get him medicine, and the only 24-hour pharmacy is across town. Your selfish tendencies explode, and everything inside of you is screaming at you to tell him to get his own stupid medicine and to let you sleep. But you don’t, and you can’t.
This person who you have promised to spend the rest of your life with has vowed to love you just as much as he loves his very own body … seems a rather ridiculous moment to get selfish and tell him that he better respect you, but you’re not going to respect him in the same way. Husbands are told to love their wives and sacrifice for them (patterned after the love of Christ on the cross), so it only seems fitting that they should receive something in return.
Here’s an illustration of what a wife should be able to say about her husband, taken word for word from our wedding ceremony: My husband treats me like a roomful of priceless antiques. He walks in, picks me up and holds me with great care and tenderness. I often feel like I’m the most precious thing in our home. He saves the best hours and the best effort for me, not the television. Now if a wife is going to be able to say that truthfully, she needs to respect her husband wholeheartedly.
We know that we are equal by creation and redemption and that the husband and the wife must both submit to God’s authority. Since the husband and wife are one flesh, they are both recognizing God’s authority in their lives and their marriage and are together as one when they worship him. Our pastor used this quote in our ceremony to describe the equality between a husband and wife: "A woman was not made out of his head to top him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him; but out of his side, to be equal to him; under his arm to be protected; and near his heart to be loved" (Matthew Henry).
As a woman and a wife, I like to feel protected. And my husband makes me feel that way. Whether it’s by taking my arm when the sidewalks are slippery or by him walking the closest to the road when we’re walking side by side, I know that he loves me so much that he is willing to do anything to protect me from harm. We are equal as partners in our marriage, and we simply have several different duties within that marriage.
I respect him, and in essence I submit to him, because he is worthy of it. My husband has shown me undying respect and love since the first day we started dating, and it feels good to respect him back. We recognize each other’s weaknesses and compromise to help each other out. (I hate to do bills and keep the checkbook up to date—it actually gives me panic attacks sometimes—so he does his best to take care of them both. He and I both don’t like to make phone calls so we split them in half and both make the calls.) After all, we gave up the independent life when we said our vows. The rest of our lives is based on inter-dependence and thus, respect and submission.
Here is a quote from my wedding ceremony expressing what a man should be able to say about his wife: My work and sometimes life in general makes me feel like I’m walking a desert trail on a hot day. After struggling through the heat and cactus all day, I come to the end of the path and there’s a beautiful pool of cool water. That’s what it’s like being with my wife. She is like coming upon an oasis.
I want to leave you with the secret to success in marriage: Not in finding the right partner, but in being the right partner.
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