April 12, 2015

Christian Husbands Suffer First

Gary Thomas — 

Christian Husbands Suffer First final

“Why is it always on us?”

The leader of the wives’ study group looked at Lisa and me, explaining that after reading numerous books on marriage together, it always seemed to come down to the wives being the ones to set the relationship right.

All of these women had read many books on marriage. At best, their husbands had started maybe one or two.

The simple answer to this woman’s sincere, honest, and fair question is that we men aren’t acting like Christian husbands. If we would meditate on what love, Jesus style, truly means as it applies to our marriages and families, we would see that we may not be the great husbands that we perceive ourselves to be.

Paul tells husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25). To love as Christ loved is to be the initiator as Christ is the initiator in His relationship with the church. We were estranged from God, but Jesus came from on high to bring us back. He didn’t wait for the church to approach Him. He didn’t expect that the bride, as the “relational” one, would be more invested in the relationship and plead with Him to come back.

Which means, men, that to be like Christ is to be the ones who chase after our wives. If things go bad, we think of ourselves as responsible for setting them right. We should be the ones having marriage study groups. We should be the ones saying to our wives, “We need to talk.” We should be the ones who buy the books, sign up for the marriage conferences, initiate getting away from the kids for a while, or who researches the best marriage counselor.

As part of His love, Jesus wasn’t just the lead initiator, He became the lead sufferer. He “took the bullet” so we didn’t have to.

This was Paul’s attitude expressed in Colossians, when he made the astonishing statement that the mistreatment he so often suffered was “completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, that is the church.” (Colossians 1:24) Paul wasn’t suggesting Christ’s suffering was insufficient—not at all. It’s rather that Paul knew the church in Colossae was young and fragile and (in the words of N.T. Wright) “it is as if he, as the leader of the church in that part of the world, is drawing the enemy fire on to himself so that the young church may have a breathing space, a time to grow.” Wright suggests his attitude, as he sat in prison in Ephesus (where Paul wrote the letter to the Colossians) is, “Well, as long as they are concentrating on me, then Christ’s body, the church, can grow until it is strong enough to stand on its own feet.”

Paul was willing to suffer so the Colossians didn’t have to. That’s the attitude of our Savior as well, and that’s the attitude of a mature man in Christ. If suffering must come, let it begin with me. If someone needs to get a second job, it’s me. If someone needs to speak up to my parents or in-laws about undue meddling, it’s me. If someone needs to have the painful conversation with a child about who they’re dating, it’s me. If someone needs to say “No” to more requests so that there’s more time for marriage and family, it’s me.

This doesn’t diminish our wives—as if they are incapable of any of the above—it’s done in an attitude of service to our wives. I agree that Lisa can do many things much better than I can, but when I let her take the lead it’s a matter of strategy, and hopefully not because I’m being afraid, lazy, or apathetic.

Men, what does it mean to be a Christian husband? In part, it means we take the first bullet. How about we spend time this week asking ourselves, “What bullet can I take for my wife? What burden is she carrying that I should carry? What action has she been forced to take that I should be taking?”

Let’s do this in an attitude of humility. If we’ve been passive and suddenly come on too strong, our wives might think we’re disappointed in how they’re handling things. We need to be repentant, explain what’s going on, thank them for stepping up when they did, but then offer to carry the burden from now on.

Paul’s words are simple, powerful, and profound: Look at Christ on the cross, and let’s love our wives like that. Christ was the initiator, and He took the first bullet. May we settle for nothing less.

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18 responses to Christian Husbands Suffer First

  1. Gary, what about at dating level or when he is still pursuing you? If the guy seems very laid back. Is that a bad sign? Shd i go ahead and give him chance?

  2. David a few reflections A lot of the Christian book coevrs look like ads for feminine hygiene products. I sure as hell am not about to be caught dead reading something that putrid and can’t imagine most of my female friends not to mention any man doing likewise. The books penned for Xn men (read evangelical) tends to be along the lines of stop being a wimp and man up aka Promise Keepers, a group that seems to have faded but reemerged in the persona of folks like Mark Driscoll these books teach men how to to function in a biblical marriage (see 1 Peter) where he assumes the role of the head of the household while supporting the wife as his suitable helper. The vast majority of books I’ve seen on Xn dating and marriage preparation targeted to both sexes focus solely on this model. BTW-I had Max Lucado’s success explained to me he is one of the few Xn authors that men aren’t embarrassed to read. Also, his chapters are divided into small bits that a man can read while going to the toilet. Another author who fits this bill is Francis Chan and I’m sure folks can think of others.

  3. I agree that there is a lot of work I can do to be more Christ like in my marriage. When I say a lot – I really mean a LOT. I’m trying, recognizing the patterns of failure that must stop on my part.

    What troubles me is that messages like this one often come off like – hey if you guys would get your act together, then everything in all marrrages would be fine. I find this line of thinking to be somewhat insulting.

    Believe it or not – women also contribute to marital issues. I believe and have seen evidence that a good majority of women have bought, at least partially, into the feminist world view. Mostly this will mean that their husband will come last in the priorities of life. What will often come in front of today’s husbands is : a zillion kid activities, obligations to visit with her family, charity events, and some form of “girls night out”.

    I’ve run into lots of great Christian men that say to me, through an expression of emotional distress, my wife does not have time for me – she simply ignors my needs involving intimacy, date nights, or a short weekend getaway – anything that involves just us is out of the question.

    As I said earlier, I personally have a lot of work to do to become the Father and Husband that Jesus would expect of me. However – let’s stop heaping all the issues on the guys. I think that Christian women in a secular society could put in some work also – something more than reading a few books.


    • My husband led by example, loved me well first and I couldn’t help but respond. It took years for me to see my selfishness in “putting him last” but his loving kindness to me and our kids brought me to a place where I couldn’t help but submit to his leadership in all areas. One major area being my career, I knew after our daughter (2nd child) was born he desperately wanted me to stay home with our kids. Me with a Masters degree thought that was insane. When I got ready to return I felt the Holy Spirit overcome me with conviction to follow my husband’s lead in that area & I discovered I truly enjoyed and thrived “staying home” although I was always taking the kids someplace so we weren’t just at home. Other areas followed. Although I do think my husband had struggled with pride about how good of a husband he is which has opened the door to temptations and hurt on both our parts. By God’s grace we have been able to reel one another in before ruin.

      Most recently I’m enjoying finding ways to put him first! Planning dinners at home with just him & I in mind, making his lunch, watching Basketball with him (which is no small miracle). 9 years in and I feel like we are just getting to the great part of marriage.

    • I’m reading this post about a year late, but I just want to assure the husbands that think this was a bit harsh that there are many blogs aimed at getting us wives in gear. So please don’t think all the heat is on you.

  4. Women want to be men. If they really want be helpful. Be the help, and not the leader. They just read cause they don’t want to do the little things that he is leading on. Pastor’s kills me with this perfect women preaching.

  5. Might as well face it, I’m addicted to your blog.

    Sharing this post with the Future Marriage University (FMU) community at https://www.facebook.com/FMUniversity.

  6. Dear Gary,

    I was considering asking you a question… but after reading this article, realize I would not receive a fair reply. You see, she had a grudge, left over from her last marriage and when I told her to address it, she filed for divorce, so that she would have to… but I know… it my fault!
    No… I just simply picked the wrong person at the wrong time!


  7. Love him no matter what . it is hard at times,but Love covers a multitude of Sins <3

  8. Hi Molly,
    In response to your question, I’ve found that when I treat my husband as IF HE ALREADY IS the step-up kind of guy, instead of how he currently is, he is encouraged and feels empowered. This is an on-going process. Being a cheerleader for my husband, showing him respect both verbally and physically, talking well of him to others, building him up…….all of these things encourage and empower him. Catch him doing something right and praise him for it, no matter how trivial you may feel it is. Focus on his good points, overlook the short-comings and leave the rest to God. 🙂
    I wish you the best and will be in prayer for you! With God, all things are possible!

  9. As a wife, how can I encourage and empower my husband with my actions and attitude to “step up?”

    • That’s a tricky one, Molly, and particularly difficult to do justice to in a short “reply.” If your husband is a reader, two excellent books are Larry Crabb’s “the Silence of Adam” or Dennis Rainey’s “Stepping Up.” I also like C.J. Mahaney’s “Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God.” If he’s not a reader, maybe he’d read this short blog post? The ideal scenario is if this topic comes up in basic church life–small group studies or a sermon series–so that’s it not you sounding like you’re criticizing him. Some husbands, depending on their personality and marriage, might welcome a loving correction from a wife. Others, not so much; in those cases, the correction might need to come from outside. Not knowing your marriage thus makes it difficult for me to offer practical suggestions.

  10. True. God didn’t say “what have you done, Adam and Eve?” He asked Adam. Adam pointed at Eve and Eve at Adam. The fall. Yet this dance of marriage is not just one person. It is two different people, and for most and as designed, two different genders. There will be turmoil even when both are trying to do as they are called. There will be devastation when one or both point fingers at the other. So men, step up (check out Dennis Rainey’s Stepping Up if you are unsure how, Tony Evans, or Chip Ingram) and women, please let us at least try to lead (check out truewoman101.com, Nina Roesner’s Respect Dare, Robyn McKelvy’s Say It Loud, or a number of works by Shaunti Feldhahn). These are merely suggestions and take it if you are on Gary’s site, that you’ve read his works as well.

  11. Thank you for sharing this Gary. I read your recent book a Lifelong Love after being involved with the marriage ministry with Joel and Kathy Davisson at http://www.godsavemymarriage.com/. Yes, we are called to go first for our wives and lay down our lives. This is certainly a challenge for many men, but it is the road to becoming more Christlike developing our faith in God. I pray other men get this message and apply it early on in their marriage as I believe it will lead to a lifelong love. God bless you .

  12. GT/LT .. Thank you for this post..
    As a lady, help me Lord, to get out of the way of my husband’ s shepherding me.. Im a sinner saved by God’s grace.

  13. Dear Lord, please make me this kind of man! Help me to lighten my wife’s burdens any way I can. Help me to initiate relationship issues without fear of rejection. Help me to love as Christ demonstrates! Amen

  14. Wonderfully written. Thank your for speaking from the heart of God.