By Pastor Glenn Pease
A minister was visiting a state asylum, and was being shown around by the superintendent. On the first floor a man sat in a rocking chair moaning, "O Mary, why did you do it?" The superintendent said, "This is a very sad case of a man jilted in love." Continuing on the tour they finally came to the top floor, and they walked down the corridor lined with padded cells. As they passed one they heard a man screaming and knocking his head against the wall. "That," commented the superintendent, "is the man who married Mary."
This is a joke, of course, but the facts are not very funny when you discover that people are not just going crazy about each other, but are going crazy because of each other. Dr. Hadfield, a writer in psychology, said, "I have personally known many neuroses precipitated by marriage; indeed, I am sometimes tempted to think that half of my patients are neurotic because they are married." There is just no doubt about it, marriage is a gamble. It is a leap of faith. You can never know the future, and so any act of commitment in the present must be an act of faith. It is unrealistic for two imperfect people to think that the uniting of their imperfections will produce perfection. Gray mixed with gray never makes white.
Imperfections are an inevitable part of marriage, and there is only one antidote to the poison of imperfection, and that is love. That which is the ultimate in God's relationship to man is also the ultimate in a man's relationship to his wife. Harold T. Christensen said, "Love is the magnet that brings people together and the cement that holds them together; it is the most essential element in pair unity." Without love all other factors will fail to make marriage a success. Kepler, the great astronomer, failed in his first marriage, and so he decided to put the next one on a soundly scientific basis. He made a list of all the women he consider available. Then he listed all their good qualities, and all their bad ones. He gave each item a value, and by exact mathematical calculation he made his choice. His second marriage turned out worse than the first. Science can never find a substitute for love.
Match making machines can pick two people that ought to be ideal for each other, but the machine cannot make them love each other, and without love there can be no lasting unity. This is obvious, but what is not so obvious is what Paul implies by his command that husbands love their wives. The implication is that husbands have a tendency to neglect this most important factor in marriage. The two major problems that Paul puts his finger on are, unsubjective wives, and unloving husbands. This means that husbands who do love their wives fail to express it, and so lose the benefits of it in making a happy marriage.
This is due in part in our culture to the modern male's misconception about the nature of love. All of the mass media convey the concept that it is something like being struck by lightning. It is a matter of mere chance. It just happens to you. Your eyes meet across a crowded room, and it happens-you fall in love. The only problem is that this kind of love is as easy to fall out of as it is to fall into. With this view of love, which makes it a matter of stimulus and response, one is on the lowest level of love. If the love of Christ were on this level there would be no cross and no salvation, for there is nothing in man to stimulate God to sacrificial love. His love is agape love, which means it is objective rather than subjective. It is a matter of the will. It is an act of choice. This is the way men must view love if they are to be on the highest level. Anyone can love on the level of eros, for this is the natural response to what is pleasing. But only those who work at it , and strive to make it a matter of the will can love as God loves, and as Christ loved the church.
Eric Fromm in The Art Of Loving says, "Most people see the problem of love primarily as that of being loved, rather than that of loving, of one's capacity to love." This means that men are constantly striving to be successful, powerful, and rich in order to be loved, when they ought to be striving to develop their own skill in loving. Dr. Popenoe said, "If we gave as little time to the training of our intellect as we do to our emotions, very few would rise above the level of idiocy." Men must cease to think of love as just happening, and instead recognize it is a gift that can be and must be trained as any other faculty if it is to be effective. Love is a talent that too many husbands have buried.
Paul could not command husbands to love their wives if love was only a passive experience, and a matter of chance. He could only do so if love is a skill, and an act, and something one can develop by practice. The skeptic defined married love as, "The insane desire to squeeze orange juice out of a lemon." Paul, however, says that no wife would be a lemon if her husband loved her as she was meant to be loved. This love of which Paul speaks is so precious, and on such a high level, that the only example adequate to illustrate it is the love of Christ for the church. Paul also illustrates this love by the natural self-love of each person for themselves. By the use of these two illustrations Paul tells us how a husband is to love his wife. First of all he is to love her-
The husband is to love as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it. Jesus was never a husband, and yet, even in this aspect of life He is to be our example and ideal. The church is His bride, and never was there a greater romance. Jesus left His palace in eternity to fight and slay the dragon that held His bride in bondage. No knight was ever more bold, and never did a king fight so bravely for His queen. He laid down His life for her, but He conquered the dragon, that old serpent the devil, and He set the prisoner free. He then returned to His throne in glory, and He took with Him that part of His bride already dead to this world. The vast majority of those He died to save, however, were yet to live in history.
Jesus continues to guide and intercede for His bride on earth. He never leaves he nor forsakes her. He is just as concerned now to rescue her from the power of sin as He was on the cross to rescue her from the penalty of sin. His sacrificial love does not change. He is still giving Himself up for His bride that He might sanctify and cleanse her, and bring her to a state of perfection so He can take her to His mansion where they shall live happily ever after. There is no greater love story than the love of Christ for the church. Paul says this is the standard for a husband's love for His wife. When you have loved your wife as sacrificially as Christ loved the church, then you can say you have done your best.
You can see now why love on the level of mere feeling and sexual stimulus is wholly inadequate. Christian love is not a getting love, but a giving love. It is not a love that altars when it alternation finds. Your wife may not be all you expected when you married her. If she was, you would not need to have a sacrificial love. Just as Jesus would not need infinite patience if the church was perfect. It is a wife's imperfections that call for a sacrificial love on your part. If Christ gave Himself, it seems quite petty for men to complain because of having to give up a ballgame, fishing, or a night out bowling in order to be with her. If there are any objections, do not voice them to me, for Jesus set the standard, and Paul is the one pointing to it. Like all the rest of the Bible it can be ignored, but the consequences are far more costly than obedience. A love that is not willing to sacrifice is a love that will never qualify as Christian love. A word to the wives is seldom sufficient, but don't be foolish enough to try and enforce this yourself by demanding sacrifice.
To make this realistic and practical we must get down to the level on which we live. It is not likely any of us will have to die for our wives. We will not have to give an arm or a leg, or even an eye. We will not have to sacrifice our car, golf clubs, or even our love for cashews, or some other luxury. Marriage experts tell us that wives can take a crisis quite well, but it is the little things that drive them to despair. They are seldom miserable because we won't die for them, or make some colossal sacrifice. They are usually miserable because there husbands will not sacrifice some small, insignificant, but annoying habit. Most people end in the divorce court because of a mole hill which was not removed, and it grew into a mountain. An example of this is illustrated by the cartoon where the wife is standing at the door with her arms full of coats, and four little children standing at her side. The husband comes running down the stairs with a look that says, "What are you standing around for?" She responds, "This time you put the coats on, and I'll go honk the horn."
A college professor had a beautiful wife, and she was very talented. He was not very handsome, and it puzzled the other professors. They couldn't figure out how he could capture the affections of such a woman. He didn't have looks, power, or money. Finally someone asked her why she married him, and she said it was his brain. "His brain!" exclaimed the inquirer. "Yes," she said, "It's the little things in life that count." Another joke illustrating a very real truth. Little things really do count, and a husband cannot love his wife as he ought until he sees this. Roy Burkhart has written a lot of books on love and marriage, and one time he asked a thousand wives what they thought were the marks of a good husband. Listen to the top answers-
1. He is not bored to stay home in the evening.
2. He never reminds me what a good cook his mother is.
3. He helps with the dishes.
4. He tells me interesting things about his work.
5. He notices little changes I make in the house.
6. He always cleans the tub after washing.
7. He appreciates new dishes I make.
There is not what could be called a major item in the list. A husband looks at the home, car, appliances, and the pay check he earns, and he feels these provisions make him a good husband. But these are expected by the wife, she sees no real love in all that. Love to her is shown in little things. Love is seen in what is freely done, and not in what one is compelled to do. Jesus said, "When you are compelled to go a mile, go two." It is the second mile that counts, for it is a mile you have chosen to go, and only that mile is an act of love.
The husband is compelled by his own needs to work and provide for his family. He doesn't have a great deal of choice if he wants to remain and accepted member of society. This does not mean it is not important. It is vital, but it is not the second mile, and it is not a sign of sacrificial love. Sacrificial love is in the little things you do to show your wife you appreciate her. Someone has said, "A flower given to your wife for no reason at all is worth a car load of Easter lilies." It is the act of doing something for her, or with her, for no other reason than you desire her happiness that expresses agape love. Christopher Morley wrote-
The man who never in his life
Has washed the dishes with his wife,
Or polished up the silver plate-
He still is largely celibate.
It Christ only loved the church enough to die for her, but did not care about many lesser matters, we would be a sorry bride. But notice how Paul stresses that Jesus is concerned that His bride be without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing. He is aiming for perfection that she might be holy and without blemish. He not only does the major things like lifting her out of the miry pit, but he goes all the way in taking care of every spot and wrinkle to restore her to perfection. Justification is vital, but the greatest joys and blessings of the Christian life are in the realm of sanctification, for here the love of Christ is demonstrated to us personally.
Providing a home, protection, and food and clothing, are major tasks of the husband, but it is in the secondary realm of thoughtfulness, and the doing of little things for and with his wife that brings to marriage the greatest joys. This is sacrificial love because it calls for real effort, thought, and discipline on the part of a husband to do it. By nature he will miss almost every opportunity, or will think these little things crazy or meaningless. Jesus does not think anything is too small or insignificant in His love for the church. The husband who wants to love his wife as he should, and as God wants him too, will consider nothing too small for his attention.
One area where husbands consistently fall short is in simply telling their wives that they love them. A woman needs to hear words of endearment. Her very nature craves for assurance. It is one of the factors that explains why more women come to Christ then men. Women need the assurance and security that only Christ can give more than men do. A husband is never more cruel than when he does not give his wife the assurance of his love. Often a wife in frustration accuses her husband of not loving her just because it is the only way she can get him to say he does.
According to Margaret Johnstone, a woman is often unreasonable because she is starved emotionally, and this is her way of forcing her husband into expressing some kind of concern for her, even if it is only a concern that she is cracking up. It is a poor way of getting the love she needs, but the folly is the husbands for not satisfying her need for affection in the way he ought. Those three little words might seem trite to you, but your wife needs to hear them often. The poet has said,
A woman never tires of hearing
I love you said in tones endearing.
She'll hear it when she first gets up,
And then above the breakfast cup,
And yet again, by phone, at noon,
And later, underneath the moon.
Although she hears it day and night,
She never comes to think it trite....
How many times a day do you lift your wife with words of love? We have only scratched the surface on how to love your wife, but any man who applies the few insights we have covered could make his wife feel like a queen. God has not called many to be great statesmen, scholars, or scientists, but He calls all who are married to be great husbands, and if you succeed at that, you are a great man in the eyes of God, and, by the way, in the eyes of your wife.