Is Your Wife Your Doormat or Your Beloved?

Meet Anna and Kevin.  They are not unlike most Christian couples raised in the church. They met at a youth retreat.  They dated for a couple years. They got married a few years later. They had 3 girls. They both go to church and are active in their congregation.  She is on the ladies circle committee and he is an usher. Their kids go to a Christian school.  Anna complains in secret that “Kevin is more of a dictator than a husband.  I did not realize it was so bad until we got married.  He treats me like a slave; like a doormat, not his beloved.”

Kevin then complains, “My mom obeyed my Dad.  It was never a question. When my dad got home from work, mom had a fresh coffee and the TV remote ready for him, the house was clean and dinner was cooking.  I don’t understand why my wife just won’t obey me like my mom obeyed my dad.   Why won’t she obey me like she promised she would in her wedding vows? She’s a woman. It’s her job to serve me, the Bible says so.”

Do you know a couple like Kevin and Anna?  Probably not.  This kind of relationship is usually well hidden. But sadly, this type of relationship is far too commonplace in the Church. A controlling husband throws the Bible at his wife and preaches to her about his favorite text:

“Wives, submit to your own husbands.”

But if Kevin would only read just a little bit further:

“Husbands, love your wives just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her”

Kevin’s overbearing, chauvinistic, arrogant attitude is sadly the experience of many women who feel more like her husband’s slave than his beloved and cherished bride. This kind of relationship in a marriage not only damages their relationship, but it damages the wife and the children.  A marriage like Kevin and Anna’s is not a testimony about Christ and the church; in fact it damages the reputation of the church and of Christ.  That is a lot of damage caused by one man’s sinful, selfish attitude.  I would even wager to say that men who behave like Kevin are not even saved.

Gasps!  I heard them.  How can I say that?  Well if you want to debate with me feel free, there is a comment section. Husbands are supposed to be a living representation of Christ, who loved the church and gave Himself for her. We read in Ephesians about the love of Christ:

21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing[b] her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Image -- Husbands love your wives

When Paul shows us what the husband’s headship looks like in verse 23, he was not saying that the man  has a god given right to carry out his will and force his wishes on everyone else in the family. What we (men) so desperately need to understand here is that a husband best shows Christ-like headship though his loving sacrifice and service to his wife.

It is so easy for a sinful, selfish man to become like Anna’s husband Kevin.  These men try to (and often do) control their wives like a dictator, through emotional manipulation, and even physical force; as if the marriage ceremony promotes the husband to master and demotes the wife to slave-girl. Some husbands, like Kevin, try saying that Ephesians 5:24 promotes this view marriage, because it tells wives to be subject to their husbands “in everything.” In today’s warped world there are even men who will manipulate their wives into working outside of the home to “win the bread”, and still demand that she has to cook and clean and wait on him hand foot, while he stays home indulging in all the pleasures and comforts of life.  Such a man is not the head of his home. He is not leading his family in Christlikeness; such a man is an abomination to Christ’s name. These perspectives on the husband’s role are so utterly backward to the design of the spiritual headship Christ that shows us in the Bible.

Any man who thinks that he is entitled to this kind of marraige simply needs to read further into Ephesians 5. When Paul turned his attention from the wife’s role to husband’s he didn’t say, “Husbands rule over your wives; You are the master, and she is your slave, put her down and emotionally abuse her , especially if she does not do things your way, demean her and order her around; command her; dominate her, be her master as they serve you, and if necessary physically dominate her until she gives in.” NO! He told men to love their wives as Christ loves the church: sacrificially, affectionately, humbly, and with a servant’s heart.

Real love does not exist in a “Kevin” style husband.  This is unloving. Yes,  I am saying that any man who treats his wife this way does not love her. When Paul commanded husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church, he was not only telling husbands to protect, provide for, and die for their wives, but he was also  forbidding them to use manipulative and abusive power over their wives. Let me put it this way…The model of true love is Christ. Right? He did not come to be served, but to serve.  So then Kevin, who thinks he exists so his wife and children can serve him couldn’t be more wrong, more off the mark, and further away from modeling real love.

In this text, husbands are not told to lead or rule. They are simply told to love. Love is the main theme of the entire text in Ephesians 5:21-33. Love is mentioned 5 times.  So what is Love?  Where can we find the attributes of love?  What is it that Paul is telling all Husbands when he commands them to love their wives?

Well, what Paul is speaking about can be found in that famous passage in 1 Corinthians 13.

 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Interesting.  Does this sound like Kevin?  Nope. MEN…men.  Listen up. It is important for us to see that all the properties of love stress selflessness and sacrifice. The husband who truly loves his wife cannot rule over her by beating her over the head with the Bible. He can not manipulate and demean. He is not king of the family, the godly husband and father must make himself servant of all.

And that’s not always easy. We all fail from time to time.  I fail sometimes and so will you. Every Christian man will fail once in a while. But where we fail, Christ overcomes.  In Christ, we can be christlike.  In Christ we can succeed in being the husband that Paul commands us to be. It is impossible for unbelievers to obey Paul’s command in Ephesians. Only a born again, Spirit-filled husband can love his wife as Christ loves the church.

So, to all the men like Kevin, and those like me who fail on occasion, you must repent and turn to Christ.  There is forgiveness in him.  He can restore even a broken marriage. And if you are like Kevin or Anna, then please be fervent in prayer and seek the Lord in all things.  He is faithful.  If you are in a dysfunctional marraige relationship, if you are at the end of your rope, if you feel all alone in the world,  please go to your pastor.  Your pastor will care, he will.

So, Husbands, is your wife your doormat or your beloved?

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  1. “I would even wager to say that men who behave like Kevin are not even saved.”

    I would argue with you on the wagering part. 🙂

    A good read, thank you.

  2. Timothy van Beek says:

    Thanks for the post 🙂

    Your point on the self-sacrifice is well made; I do agree that the relationship between Christ and his church serves as our highest example of self-sacrificing love.

    Unfortunately, I’m having a difficult time understanding young straw Kevin. In fact, he’s completely unrelatable. Perhaps that’s just a reflection of how good I am :P, although, as you say; it’s true that Ephesians 5 applies to me as much as does to him (we all fall short).

    I found your statement concerning the salvation of our brothers-in-Christ-like-those-who-behave-like-our-straw-Kevin perplexing; I’m not sure how valuable it is to this discussion; unbidden, uncomfortable – surely unintended – thoughts of causality arise. The secret things belong to the Lord.

    One small nuance; the responsibility of headship IS God-given. Is IS therefore correct to say that the husband has a God-given right to carry out his will and force his wishes on everyone else in the family (technically correct, although I wouldn’t express it in that way. Indeed, if he must ‘force’ then there must be terrible discord in the family). It is Paul’s desire here that his will, and those wishes, are motivated by Christian love. In this sense, I’ve always understood Ephesians 5:25 to be a picture of what authority – in all it’s various forms – should be like.

    Also! You might find this interesting; C.S Lewis (in “The Four Loves” pp 128) presents this verse in slightly different manner. Perhaps he takes the comparison (Christ/Church to husband/wife) a little too far (?), but he draws attention to the tragic nature of any relationship that requires such profound sacrifice:

    “Christian writers (notably Milton) have sometimes spoken of the husband’s headship with a complacency to make the blood run cold. We must go back to our Bibles. The husband is the head of the wife just as in so far as he is to her what Christ is to the Church. He is to love her as Christ loved the Church – read on – and gave his life for her (Ephesians 5:25). This headship, then, is most fully embodied not in the husband we should all wish to be but in him whose marriage is most like a crucifixion; whose wife receives most and gives least, is most unworthy of him, is – in her own mere nature – least loveable. For the Church has no beauty but what the Bridegroom gives her, he does not find, but makes her, lovely. The chrism of this terrible coronation is to be seen not in the joys of any man’s marriage but in its sorrows, in the sicknesses and sufferings of a good wife or the faults of a bad one, in his unwearying (never paraded) care or his inexhaustible forgiveness: forgiveness, not acquiescence. As Christ sees in the flawed, proud, fanatical or lukewarm Church on earth that Bride who will one day be without spot or wrinkle, and labours to produce the latter, so the husband whose headship is Christ-like (and he is allowed no other sort) never despairs.”

  3. Heather Aasman says:

    Timothy Van Beek, I beg to differ, it never says anywhere man can force his will, but rather it is a God-given right to act as leader and promote GOD’S will. Man’s will is inherently sinful, born and concieved in sin. It is GOD’S WILL that man serves others as Christ was a servant. So actually it is NOT therefore correct to say that the husband has a God-given right to carry out his will and force his wishes on everyone else in the family. Change his to GOD’S WILL and you might have a point.

    • Timothy van Beek says:

      Hi Heather,

      We do, in fact, agree 🙂

      My meaning is that it’s difficult to separate a man from his will. It’s his. His very own. Corrupt indeed, but by the grace of God, redeemed, and, in the wonderful process of sanctification, continually transformed so as to bring him closer to God. In this sense I think it’s correct to say that the wife, as subject to the husband, is also then subject to his will.

      For clarification, as I mentioned previously, I wouldn’t express it in the way that it was given, and in that sense, I agree with Ryan. Two things, I guess; first, to speak of ‘rights’ in the context of conferred authority may leave us in a wrong frame of mind (and quite honestly, can disparage the very concept of authority); far better to speak of ‘responsibility’. And second, the use of the word ‘force’ is rather harsh. It implies that discord already exists, and hence, authority is not respected (no man has ever been compelled to force his wishes on any except on those who have already refused to accept them). An interesting conversation would be on whether the use of ‘force’ can ever be justified (… for the sake of peace, as in; discord = bad and peace = good. I suppose it would be awfully situational, and it seems unlikely that any circumstance requiring ‘force’ can ever result in lasting peace, umm, so… ).

      So then, I would rather say this: The husband has a God-given responsibility to purposefully direct his family in accordance with the renewing of his mind; insofar as he is able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.

      Which is basically what you said, I think. So we agree? 🙂

      (Sorry if I’m splitting hairs – I like working this stuff out. It’s a thought-provoking subject 🙂 btw! how’s James? Are you his Heather Asaman?)

  4. Jo says:

    Great post, Ryan!
    We just finished (ok, about a month ago) watching Voddie Baucham’s series on love & marriage on youtube & this reminded me of his last speech- “the better half.”
    Thanks for posting!