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In Paul’s lengthiest prescription for Christian marriage, most of the instruction is for men to be Christlike husbands (Eph. 5:25-31).

His instruction for wives is short and broke from prevailing Roman expectations. But it would still be quite culturally familiar to the ancient world. However, his instruction for men would have raised more than a few cultural eyebrows.

It is as counter-intuitive, counter-cultural, beautiful, and vital today for modern India, as it was yesterday for the ancient Roman world.

Like following a prescription from a trusted, competent physician can heal our bodies, honouring this prescription of sacrificial love can heal and beautify our marriages.

Start with Love

The apostle Paul says, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church, and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25).

However, when we receive these words through the filter of cultural expectations and social norms, we hear and apply them this way: “Husbands, lead your wives, as Christ leads the church, so she gives herself up for you.”

Do we follow Christ because he is a powerful leader or because in his power, he has displayed sacrificial love?

The beauty of Christ is how he set aside his power to redeem the powerless. Put another way, we love him because, in his love, he leverages all his power to empower the vulnerable, who have no power to rescue themselves (Rom. 5:8).

God calls husbands to lay down their lives, not to lay down their law.

If husbands begin by seeing themselves as leaders, their view of “leadership” runs the risk of coming under the influence of historical family patterns, cultural heroes, social expectations, and traditional norms.

But if husbands begin with a devotion to sacrificial love, they are more likely to lead like Christ—who loved the church and gave himself up for her (Eph. 5:25).

Christlike Husbands are Sacrificial in Love

God calls husbands to lay down their lives, not to lay down their law.

In India, it is common to hear men say about their wives, “She has made a lot of sacrifices for me.” It is uncommon for wives to say of their husbands, “He has made a lot of sacrifices for me.”

What does this sacrifice look like? Sacrificial love marries authority to vulnerability. Together, it means taking responsibility.

Listen to nearly every complaint a wife or a woman has about a husband or a man. It will amount to one thing: “He’s not taking enough responsibility.”

A man who takes responsibility mirrors the posture of Christ to the church. He took responsibility for her by giving himself up for her.

In marriage to a Christlike husband, God wants his daughters to grow in their fascination with her true and perfect bridegroom. A husband’s delight in his wife and devotion to her will deepen her delight in Christ and devotion to him.

Sacrificial Love is Not Abusive

While there are many husbands who love their wives well, it is important to know how we can go wrong.

The first and obvious way men can betray the call to sacrificial love is by being abusive. They become angry, aggressive, violent, dangerous, verbally or physically abusive, and frightening to live with.

Deepa Narayan, the author of Chup, once described India’s abuse of women as the biggest human rights violation on earth. At the time, she revealed how nearly half of Indian men and women believe that sometimes a woman deserves a beating.

Such abuse is what happens when men sacrifice their wives, instead of being sacrificial for their wives.

Sacrificial Love is Not Passive

Abuse obviously betrays the prescription for husbands. But there is another subtle, implicit, and often unrecognised way that men betray the call to take responsibility. It is by being passive—abdicating responsibility.

Sacrificial husbands are good for the mental health of their wives.

A wife with a passive husband might say, “He doesn’t talk, he doesn’t care, he doesn’t open up; he doesn’t let me in, he shuts me out, he doesn’t help around the house; even when he’s at home, he’s not at home. When he was chasing me, he was so active; what happened to all that attention now?”

God wants husbands to be actively involved in the spiritual health of their home, loving their wives, and raising their children.

We praise God for all men in India who do this delightfully, dutifully, and sometimes invisibly.

Sacrificial Love is Active and Assertive

Husbands are most Christlike when they take responsibility. Such men assume an active and assertive involvement in the affairs of the home.

It is common in India for the “spiritual” influence on children to be left to the mother, while the “practical” role of providing food is taken up by the husband. 

But fathers and mothers are not interchangeable. All our stereotypical role assignments are more cultural than biblical, more harmful than helpful.

The godly example, exhorting love, and empowering encouragement of a father cannot be replaced by the love of the mother, aunties, uncles, brothers, cousins, Sunday school teachers, or even the Lord himself.

God wants men to be ambitious about the spiritual nourishment of their marriage and families, not merely the prosperity of their careers.

We must honour men like this for honouring the Lord’s prescription for their lives.

Christlike Husbands are Nourishing and Cherishing

A husband’s Christlike love is good for his wife’s health and also makes her feel good. It is nourishing and cherishing (Eph. 5:29).

To be nourishing means he is good for his wife’s health and well-being. He is not a stress-inducing, peace-robbing, joy-killing, fear-mongering, anxiety-stirring, or burden-laying influence on her soul.

She will not be walking on eggshells when he is around, she will be walking on air.

Sacrificial husbands are good for the mental health of their wives. He makes her life better, not worse, by being in it.

To be cherishing means she feels desired and enjoyed by him. She will not feel taken for granted, under-appreciated, disregarded, dishonoured, unseen, or unheard.

Through his sacrificial love, God makes sacrificial husbands out of selfish men.

This matters because a well-loved woman is a powerful woman. She is a force of nature, fearless and compassionate.

Husbands, this is the kind of man God desires for his daughters, for his beloved.

We are called to be the imitation of his love, not the knife that pierces her heart with our vanity. He loves his daughters so much he will not suffer our prayers if we cause her to suffer (1 Pet. 3:7).

Christlike Husbands are Captivated by Christ

Through his sacrificial love, God makes sacrificial husbands out of selfish men. Men can only reveal the glory of Christ when they are captivated by the mercy of Christ.

He Takes Responsibility

As our true and perfect bridegroom, he takes responsibility for our salvation from start to finish (Phil. 1:6, Eph. 5:26-27).

As husbands, we will only take responsibility for what he has entrusted to us when we know Christ has taken full responsibility of what we have entrusted to him (2 Tim. 1:12).

In all our loneliness, he is our friend. For all our weariness, he is our strength. To all our inadequacy, he is our righteousness. From our sin, he is our deliverance.

When the gentleness of Jesus makes us feel nourished and cherished, we will be free to be nourishing and cherishing of our wives.

He Loves Sacrificially

Regardless of our marital status, all Christians are married to Christ.

The mystery of marriage is the mystery of union (Eph. 5:31-32). Have you ever looked at a couple walking down the street and wondered, “How did someone like him end up with someone like her?”

Some unions are mysterious but no union is more mysterious than the union of Christ and the church. How did people like us end up with someone like Jesus?

The crying, humbling voice of wonder in the heart of every Christlike husband is this: “How did someone like me end up with someone like Jesus?”

Our meditation on this mysterious—unmerited, unearned, and undeserved—can humble us and empower us at the same time. 

It can make us husbands that make our wives grateful to God always, because we are men who remind them of his forever and faithful love for them, always.

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