A few years ago as I was reflecting upon, “Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church,” (Eph. 5:22ff) I thought about Christ’s owning my guilt as an act of love. And then it hit me: “Ivan, if you are to love Cheryl, you are to own her guilt, in some part.” Astonished, I blurted, “You have got to be kidding me?!”
There is something unique that the husband bears that the wife doesn’t. In his headship, he is to so love his wife as Christ did/does the church, that he is willing to own her brokenness as his own. ”He bore our sins in his own body” – the innocent voluntarily became guilty so that the guilty may become innocent by faith = this is the gospel. How then does a husband fulfill his headship in this way, modeled after Christ?
1. With discernment and patience, he will assume the role of “guilty” so that through his voluntary self-humbling (Phil. 2:7ff), his wife will go free. It means owning her failures as your own. It means saying sorry for something that you believe you didn’t do. It means taking full responsibility for the broken condition or impasse that is in the marriage. It means to lay down your Lawyer License of Self-Defense and accept insult and injury – Jesus did all this and more for his wife! How many husbands have ever thought to apply 1 Peter 2:23 or Mt. 5:10, 11 to his marriage? Or Romans 12:14-21? The wife is called to this as well but not as head – which means the husband is to initiate – he is to lead the way so that his family follows Christ in owning the brokenness of the church.
2. Secondly, since they are one flesh and no man ever hated, rejected, turned away from his own flesh (Eph. 5), he will believe that he is not a healthy man unless his wife is healthy and whole, spiritually and emotionally. If she is sick and worn, then he is too. If she is hurting then he should be too. If she is weak and down-trodden, then he is too. If she believes that their marriage is in trouble, then he must believe it too. He cannot cut off his arm without bleeding to death. The husband simply cannot separate her pain, her brokenness from his own and then blame her for making their marriage a paraplegic. His must learn to either rise up with his wife or go down with her.
When he loves his wife this way by grace, and not perfectly of course, this love “sanctifies” her through the washing of the Word, cleansing her from the stains of the Fall. In the end, he gets the wife that he wanted all along, like Christ. Paul did not say, Husbands, “rule your wife,” he said to love her. Love sacrifices if it does anything at all. When husbands learn and apply the paradox to their marriage, “You lose your life, you keep it. You keep your life, you lose it” – they will find that what they wanted in a wife is right there. A man wants respect and admiration – he wants to feel like he is saving his wife from a wild beast that would harm her. He wants to know in his heart that his wife would follow him no matter what – but he can’t get this by lording over her. He has to pick up a cross and die for her. What Glorious Mystery!?