(This article was written two and a half years ago and for my previous blog. I’m republishing it so that I can link to it in the article titled “Critiquing Complementarianism: Are Men and Women Different?”.)
by John Ellis
As I write this, my wife is out of town at our church’s women’s retreat. So, as I often do, I took the kids out to eat last night. And, like they often do, they left me with no one to talk to while there. My daughter was engrossed in a book; my son stared at the muted TV screen tuned to ESPN hanging just behind my head, showing little interest in the questions I directed his way. With nothing else to do, I people-watched as I ate.
One couple sitting at a high-top near us caught my attention. At first, I assumed they were on a date the way they were interacting. It didn’t take long, though, for me to notice that the man had a wedding ring and the woman did not.
To be clear, I’ve never seen them before in my life and most likely will never see them again. For all I know, they were married; her ring may have simply been out being cleaned. Or, I may have completely misread the situation and there might not be anything untoward going on between the two. That being said, if they weren’t married then I believe their actions were inappropriate. If someone from my church family saw me acting towards a woman not my wife in a similar manner as the man from last night was acting towards his dinner partner, they would undoubtedly ask, and should ask, “Um, John, is there anything you need to confess?”
I bring that possibly unfairly maligned couple up because while watching them, past conversations with men who’ve committed adultery were sadly brought to my mind. The thing is, all of those conversations are basically the same. One pastor friend told me that whenever he first sits down with an unrepentant man who’s been busted cheating on his wife, he wants to stop the man and say, “Wait. Before you say anything else, let me tell you what you’re about to say.”
It’s almost as if Ashley Madison has a script available for guys who get caught and are unrepentant. And that script always includes a variation of:
I’ve never really loved my wife. We got married too young and I never got the chance to experience real love. Everyone expected us to get married and I thought I was doing the right thing, but now I realize that I’m being unfair to her by staying with her.
At some point, the conversation will become more belligerent and even less faux-selfless:
We’re not sexually compatible. She doesn’t meet my needs and I don’t believe that God wants me to be in a loveless marriage that is sexually unsatisfying. I was too young when I got married and God doesn’t expect me to suffer through my youthful mistakes. It’s best for everyone involved if I leave my wife.
On some occasions, adulterous men who are unrepentant excuse their sin with the wicked statement, “My wife doesn’t submit to me the way she’s supposed to.”
Yes, I’ve heard that come out of the mouths of men who have been caught in their sin, and pastor friends have told me they’ve heard it, too. What that last statement and all the preceding excuses reveal is a self-serving heart that doesn’t understand love apart from what the speaker gets out of it. Except that’s not how God calls husbands to view their marriage and love.
The famous Bible verse that succinctly defines what it means to be a husband is Ephesians 5:25. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
That is a verse that is taught and quoted ad nauseum, and for good reason. Yet, I’m afraid that within our society increasingly characterized by an embrace of identity politics, many conservative husbands are more concerned with embracing and defending definitions of masculinity that are, frankly, outside of the scope of Ephesians 5:25.
Defining masculinity has become a cottage industry among conservatives and evangelicals. Books, blog posts, and lectures abound telling men to stand up against the feminist tide and embrace their masculinity. Sadly, much of what I read and hear is focused on encouraging men to defend their rights to be fill-in-the-blank. I rarely hear, outside of sermons, “Being a real man looks like coming home from a long day at work and cooking dinner and cleaning up afterwards so that your wife can sit and rest.” Yet, based on Ephesians 5:25, that’s what a godly husband does. Frankly, I’d rather be a godly husband than a real man (whatever that means).
Within hyper-complementarianism, the family life is divided up into spheres – this is the man’s sphere; this is the woman’s sphere. To be blunt, that notion is rooted in post-Industrial Revolution Victorian ideals. It’s not in the Bible. And it’s not found in Ephesians 5:25. But that’s a topic for another post, because even if you were able to convince me that women exist to do the cooking and cleaning in the home, the example of Jesus says, “who cares.”
I’m fairly confident that no complementarian would assert that washing the disciples’ feet was part of Jesus’ sphere. They would deny that getting on his hands and knees and serving his disciples was Jesus’ responsibility. Yet, Jesus did it. Never once did Jesus consider himself worthy of more honor than others. Never once did he say, “Well, that’s not my role.” Never once did the Second Person of the Trinity excuse himself from serving his bride by claiming his Divine right. And he served to the point of death.
The definition of marital love in Ephesians 5:25 is divinely welded to Jesus’ selfless, sacrificial life. Being a husband means serving your wife, all the time. Not 50/50. Not even 99/1. All the time. As husbands, our responsibility is to love our wife through serving her. To hammer it home even more, “serving” and “love” for a godly husband are synonyms.
Look, here’s the thing, I’m aware that I haven’t said anything new or especially insightful in this post. Most Christian husbands have heard similar admonishments. What I want to add, and circling back around to my opening anecdote, is how understanding that true masculinity – being a godly husband – is a way to fight lust.
Any man who’s been married more than a day knows that there are moments when we shamefully buy the lie that we are allowed something that God has not given us. Sin still clings with all its might to our heart and calls us to serve self. By God’s grace and through the power of Christ’s Spirit, modeling our husbanding after Christ is a way to combat the devastating sin of lust. Establishing a pattern of constant service to our wife, defining love as an act of service to her, pushes back on the flesh’s claim that we have rights, too.
If a husband walks through life vigilant to constantly find ways and have the desire to serve his wife, lustful moments will be exposed as the antithesis of love. The desire to have what God has not given a husband will contradict the objective goal of serving his wife.
Husbands, be a man by being a servant. Doing so will not only protect your marriage, it will help it to flourish because you will be modeling the love that Christ has for his bride.
Soli Deo Gloria