Survey Studies in Reformed Theology
Genevan Institute for Reformed Studies
Bob Burridge ©2011
Nomology: Lesson 8b – The Godly Husband
by Pastor Bob Burridge ©2000, 2011
The duties of husbands in marriage
Since man was made before woman, it is helpful to understand his duties before going on to study those of the wife. A good place to begin is with Paul’s summary of the man’s responsibilities in his letters to the Colossians and the Ephesians.
Colossians 3:19, “Husbands, love your wives, and do not be embittered against them.”
Ephesians 5:25-31, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh.”
In these passages the husband is directed to care for his wife lovingly following the model given to us by the love Jesus Christ has for his church. To know how the man is to love his wife, he needs to know more about how his Savior loves him as a part of his church.
1. Jesus Christ’s love for his church is self-sacrificing
Unlike the love common to our fallen souls this divinely implanted love puts the well being of the loved one first. The love Jesus shows his true bride is not something he falls into or out of depending upon how the one he loves treats him.
Jesus suffered when he came to redeem his people. He set aside the display of his heavenly glories to take on a finite human body and soul. He went through the pains and indignities of growing up, being disliked and rejected, being persecuted, wrongly accused of crimes, and put to a disgraceful and torturous death.
He took the place of his unfaithful bride, the church. He took on the horrors of the cross which his bride deserved, and died the death she deserved. He did all this out of love. His pain and agony were not illusions. They were taken on voluntarily. He did it all in a dramatic display of what constitutes true love.
The words by Samuel J. Stone in the hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation’ describe it so well …
“From heav’n he came and sought her to be his holy bride;
With his own blood he bought her, and for her life he died.”
The Apostle Paul described this love in Philippians 2:7-8. Jesus emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant, and being made in the likeness of men, and being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
After the last supper, before His arrest in Gethsemane, Jesus taught his disciples about love. In John 15:13-14 he said, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends …”
I’ve always appreciated this amazing story. It was just four days after Christmas in 1876. Philip and his wife had just completed a visit to his childhood home in Rome, Pennsylvania. They were relaxing as the train took them back to their home in Chicago.
As the train rumbled across a bridge in Ohio, the train lurched and suddenly their seats and the floor fell away from under them. Passengers were tossed around inside the car as the bridge that supported them crumbled into pieces. The train and its people were dropped into the ravine sixty feet below. When the pieces came to rest at the bottom, fires broke out.
The few surviving passengers scrambled to find a way out of the flaming wreckage. Philip found a broken window nearby through which he squeezed himself. Free of the wreckage he began to search for his wife. Horrified, he realized she was still trapped inside!
Without hesitating for his own safety he returned to the wreckage to rescue her. While inside he became trapped by the fire and they both perished. A total of one hundred passengers died that December day.
Philip was only 38 years old when he died. He was a Christian. His full name was Philip P. Bliss, a well-known hymn writer. Many of his hymns are found in our present hymnals.
When his trunk was pulled from the wreckage of the train they found in it a yet unpublished song Philip had recently written.
Today we know it by the title, “I Will Sing of My Redeemer”. It is a song about the self-sacrificing love of Jesus Christ for his people:
“I will sing of my Redeemer and his wondrous love to me
On the cruel cross he suffered, from the curse to set me free”
Then there is the refrain:
Sing, O sing of my Redeemer! With his blood he purchased me;
On the cross He sealed my pardon, paid the debt and made me free.
Verse two speaks of the boundless love and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Unlike our Savior who gave himself for us, Philip wasn’t able to save his wife. But his love for her was so deep that he gave his own life trying to help her.
The godly love of Christ-like headship doesn’t love for self-benefit. Its driving objective is the true well being of the one loved. For us Christ laid aside the display of his own divine glory to suffer in agony to save his bride.
2. Jesus Christ’s love for his church provides for her true needs.
One of a good husband’s greatest concerns is to make sure the family’s basic needs are met.
1 Timothy 5:8, “If anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever.”
After the fall in Eden the curses God pronounced which would flow out of the sin condition describe struggles to be experienced by both the wife and the husband. (For details see our study of the results of sin and the curses in Syllabus unit 3 on Objective Soteriology, lesson 1 on Man’s Fall Into Sin.)
Eve’s struggle would be two-fold. She will struggle with pain in childbirth and in bringing forth children. The language includes the raising of her children. Secondly she will struggle in her subjection to her husband.
Adam’s struggle would be in brining forth daily provisions from the earth. That is the responsibility God therefore particularly assigned to men.
Of course there are exceptions, and times when a man isn’t able to work, or when the woman is physically unable to carry out her domestic duties in raising the children. In those situations, godly husbands and wives lovingly do all they can to help meet the family’s needs, yet without neglecting the responsibilities God has specially given them. Those are very hard times for any man or woman. They need the support and encouragement of the whole Christian community. But the general rule is: Men must make sure their family has its provisions and the woman must take care in rearing the children in the home.
Ordinarily, the man’s work is to provide for himself and his family. It perverts that duty when his regular labor becomes more important than those he cares for. He must never become so greedy of money, power, or position that beyond meeting their needs he neglects providing for them spiritually.
The godly husband is concerned for the spiritual health of his wife and family. The love of Jesus moved him to build up his church in her relationship with God. Ephesians 5:26-27 shows that he came, “that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless.”
Jesus prayed for his bride and purified her by paying the penalty of sin in her place. He made her able to live God’s way by giving her spiritual life. He was an example to her by his whole life. That should be the godly husband’s concern toward his wife. He should see that she has every opportunity to grow in grace.
Jesus is able to change the heart of His bride. That’s something a husband can’t do. But he may draw down the power of Christ by the means of grace.
1. The godly husband prays for his family, and teaches them to pray.
2. He values God’s word so that he and his family know it and live by it.
3. He makes sure that he and his family are regular in worship, and in partaking of the sacraments. He makes sure his family understands all the parts of worship prescribed by God in his word.
4. He values the Christian friends of his family. He teaches them to encourage one another in social fellowship and mutual care.
3. Jesus Christ’s love for his church is tender and caring
Ephesians 5 tells us that Jesus nourishes and cherishes his church as someone would his own body.
We humans instinctively care for our own physical health. When you are hungry or thirsty you instinctively look for food or drink. When you are injured you instinctively try to treat the wound. When you are cold you instinctively look for a way to get warm. When you are hot you instinctively look for shade. Husbands should care for their wives as instinctively and with as much concern as he by nature cares for his own body.
In Genesis we are told that when two are married they become one flesh. This real union is reflected in the tenderness a husband shows to his wife.
The words “nourishment” and “care” stir up a picture of the gentle care a mother gives to her baby. She loves it dearly and watches over it, as if it was her greatest treasure.
1 Peter 3:7, “You husbands likewise, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with a weaker vessel, since she is a woman; and grant her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”
This verse is often mis-used to teach that women are by nature weaker than men. First, that’s not what it says. The words mean that she is to be treated as one would treat a valuable but fragile vase. It’s not that she is just a fragile vase.
Second, any man who knows what women go through can’t possibly believe that she is weak in every sense. While the average woman may not have the strength in her arms or legs as that of the average man, she if far from weak. Her body has a whole cycle of demands to prepare her for bearing children. She endures a heavy demand from her responsibilities in the home. She has strong emotions specially suited to her duties as mother and wife. Her strengths lie in different areas than those of men. God equips us each with what we need to accomplish our callings. But a wife is to be treated tenderly and with the same care one would give to an art-form that is very fragile and valuable.
This tender care of Jesus is never overbearing. Our Lord isn’t a slavemaster driving his church oppressively. He blesses her by using her gifts and talents to accomplish his work. He tells us that he knows her weaknesses and her need for comfort so that his encouragement is always appropriate.
This is the model every godly husband must follow as he leads his home.
4. Jesus Christ’s love for his church moves him to listen to her
1 Peter 3:7 says that husbands must live with their wives in an understanding way. Godly love wants to know and understand what the wife needs and wants. That love works to hear and appreciate what the wife says.
Jesus became human to assure us that he understands our needs. He tells us that when we pray to him at any time he hears us. Often men and women face different experiences in life and deal with different problems. God equips them with different sets of emotional strengths and sensitivities for their jobs. This means that sometimes “men just don’t seem to get it” when women speak. And women don’t seem to be tuned into the same station the men are on. But setting all our worldly excuses aside, husbands — It is your duty to understand your wives. You need to listen carefully and be ready to find out what she means by what she says.
That is a big job! But God commands husbands to understand their wives.
5. Jesus Christ’s love for his church is assuring
A pure godly love makes sure that the loved one is secure in a sure source of hope. A lot rests upon the fallible husband. How can an imperfect man offer his family the kind of assurance that the church receives from Christ? The husband’s responsibility could become discouraging to him.
A wife may be thinking, “Yes! If my husband loved me the way he should I would find it easier to be supportive of him!” That’s probably true. But it is not an excuse from her biblical support of her husband. Her responsibility doesn’t depend on how successful the husband is in his duties.
Husbands may think, “Well, if my wife was more encouraging and submissive I might find it easier to love her and understand her as I should.” That’s also probably true. But it does not excuse the man from loving leadership. His responsibility doesn’t depend on how successful his wife is in her duties.
Husbands may feel discouraged and ask: “How can I live up to such a high standard? How can I, as weak as I am, learn to be a loving leader toward my imperfect family? And how can I help them feel secure and assured?”
Be encouraged men. There is hope. There is a sure source of help. You too as the leader of your home are loved by Christ. You are a bride, the one for whom Christ died. He has sanctified you and has given himself up for you. You are one of those he nourishes and cherishes. You are his body. Your source of help is in your Savior, Jesus Christ.
No human called to leadership is ever perfect in this life; no parent, no husband, no church officer, no civil leader. There is nothing that excuses you from the standards God sets for you. But no one is left to accomplish his high calling on his own. The godly husband points his family to Christ’s promises, not to his own fallible abilities.
As anyone in the church must do in all things God calls us to do, the husband must press on in his calling as leader in the home in spite of his own struggles and short-comings. As Paul wrote,
Philippians 3:12-14, “Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
The husband must be an example to his wife and children, showing humility, repentance, and subjection to Christ. He must demonstrate confidence that his hope doesn’t rest in his own accomplishments or abilities, but in those of Jesus Christ.
Don’t let your children or wife think you expect perfection in them. But let them know you expect humble subjection to Christ. You will love them in Christ when they do well, as well as when they sin or fail. You need to remember that Christ loves you on the same conditions.
To accomplish this you must strive to understand each member of your family as Jesus understands each person in his church. And you must do so with the confidence that Jesus understood you when he called you by his providence to the duties of leadership in your home. Your confidence will convey to your family the source of assurance they need in meeting the challenges in their own lives. We direct them to Jesus Christ, our hope and strength who cannot fail.
6. Jesus Christ’s love for his church is unquenchable
Godly love continues even when the loved one is in rebellion. It persists because we are united with him. Jesus persists in His love, even when His church turns in a foolish direction for a time.
Romans 5:8, “God demonstrated His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
The Bible tells us that Christ came to seek and to save that which was lost. He did not come to redeem those who in some way were already found worthy.
Colossians 3:19 says that husbands are not to become embittered against their wives. The Greek word used here for “embittered” is pikraino (πικραινω). There was a plant familiar then called Botanae Pikrain Ekhousa meaning a bitter tasting plant. The use of this same word here means that husbands should not get a bitter taste toward their wives. Don’t be at odds with her. Remember that in marriage you are one flesh!
The biblical model for the husband is a humbling thing to study. We are to love our wives as Christ loves his church! Husbands, this is a very special kind of love.
- It is a self-sacrificing kind of love. It puts her well-being above your own.
- It provides for her every kind of need to the best of your ability in Christ.
- It is tender and caring.
- It listens carefully to understand her.
- It assures her by directing her to Christ, the only sure source of hope.
- It is an unquenchable kind of love.
Note: The Bible quotations in this syllabus are from the New American Standard Bible (1988 edition) unless otherwise noted.