Good news for husbands
For husbands who desire to follow the instruction of scripture by being a real, live head-of-household, there is good news. The good news is the winsomeness of what God actually commands husbands to do. There is a natural attractiveness to carrying out the commandment.
The type of good news I have in mind is not news of a recent event, but instead the glad tidings that things are better than you previously thought. This sort of good news is always dependent on the context. It depends on context in a way that news of a happy event (like a birth, wedding, promotion, etc.) is not.
So, in what context is this good news? There are many things militating against the happiness of the husband and wife who desire to live according to bible’s instructions regarding submission and authority in marriage. For one, very few people practice biblical marriage, which means there aren’t very many examples to imitate. For another, many well-meaning Christians actively deny that the bible says what it clearly says. But the worst may be the fact that our American culture teaches (very effectively too!) that a husband having authority is merely oppressive, self-serving chauvinism.
I don’t want to dwell too long on this sad state of affairs, but let me make just a few more observations. Given the state of marriage in our culture, young people thinking about marriage are not thinking about biblical marriage. They do not eagerly look forward to a relationship of submission and authority. Young women don’t show much evidence of consciously choosing a man that will be easy to respect and obey. Young men don’t actively contemplate shouldering the responsibilities of the head of the household. This sets marriages up for failure, because what young people are expecting to do in marriage is incredibly hard, maybe even impossible. That is, they expect to be one flesh, with two heads, which is a design seen nowhere in nature.
The good news is that biblical marriage is much better, and in a sense easier than modern, American marriage. That isn’t to say that it is less work. It’s not a kick back and put your feet up sort of easy. Instead, biblical marriage is easier in that it actually works with human nature, rather than against it.
Let me cut to the chase. Scripture instructs the husband to bear responsibility and authority in the marriage in a way that honors the wife. As a Christian husband struggles through the culturally imposed fog, and seeks to do the will of God, when he actually succeeds in being a godly authority in his marriage, it will make his wife’s heart sing. When someone else sees what he is doing, what he is really doing, it will draw praise not condemnation. This is because the godly husband honors his wife in the way that he uses his manliness, his strength and his authority.
Please read this scripture.
1 Peter 3:7 Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.
Notice that the husband is commanded to honor his wife. Do you suppose that it is pleasant or unpleasant to be honored? Right, it’s very pleasant.
Now notice that the honor commanded is not that which is due a strong, independent woman. Quite the opposite, it is the honor due her as the weaker vessel. It is the wife’s weakness which is to be honored by the husband.
Notice again that it does not say that the wife’s relative weakness is to be looked down on. The effect of the husband appropriately recognizing the wife’s relatively lesser strength is that she is honored.
Does anyone know what that looks like? Can anyone articulate it? I venture to say that we struggle with it more than we should because it hasn’t been articulated clearly. It hasn’t been taught like it should be. We haven’t seen it demonstrated and simultaneously described in clear terms.
What we’re seeking is an understanding of exercised authority as a way of honoring the person who submits to that authority. It seems like a paradox, a contradiction in terms. Surely you mean that refusing to exercise authority shows honor to the wife? No, I do not mean that. Oh, then you must mean to say that exercising authority means making the wife honor her husband? No, not at all.
The issue here is no less than the entire Christian model of authority. It is a model that God intends us to apply to all authority relationships, whether parent and child, or government and governed. It is the model Christ commands us to use inside, as well as outside, of the church. Understanding this model of authority will have wide ranging implications. If we can get our hands around it, it will – it must – transform society.
But first it will transform our homes.
What is the take away for husbands? You should practice a sober, mature recognition of the relative weakness of your wife. When you exercise your authority, it should express care for her, not for yourself. When your authority covers her needs, you will be honoring her, and she will eventually notice.
Although the crucial point of disobedience to God in American marriages is our handling of authority, the dynamic of the strong honoring the weak should also operate in other categories. The man’s physical strength is NOT the source of his authority over the wife, although it fits nicely with it. The husband’s physical strength and toughness should be deployed to serve his wife. Lift heavy things. Ease her burdens. Discipline the children. Open doors. Carry umbrellas. Notice when she is tired. Anticipate hunger and thirst. You do this not because she is so fragile, but because she is so valuable. And you express regard for her worth by showing care for her need.
The same dynamic applies to exercising authority. This is how, and why, authority is to be exercised. Employers exercise authority over employees because they know how to make the employee economically productive. The employee needs that. The father knows what the child needs for safety, health, discipline and education. Or he should know, and must learn it if he doesn’t know already. Similarly, the husband’s job is to understand what the wife needs in order to be her best and then see that she gets it.
Authority means responsibility, and that demands understanding. See how that too is in the text in 1 Peter. That’s because that’s how this husband-thing works. Even a man who really wants to use his strength to care for his wife will fail if he fails to understand her needs. A wife is honored only when actual needs are actually cared for.
This brings to mind the potential for a very unpleasant situation, one in which the husband belittles the wife’s strengths and abilities. This might happen for few reasons, but the effect is bad whatever the reason.
If the husband and wife are in a power struggle, belittling the other’s abilities looks like a plausible tactic. I have to be in charge because you’re so clueless. Remember when you totally botched that thing last year? This tactic can be employed by both sexes, and frequently is. It can even be effective at winning a momentary power struggle. That doesn’t make it a good tactic. The casualty rates tend to be high on both sides.
Another cause might be an insecure husband. If he is uncertain of his ability to provide for his wife’s actual needs, he can always invent some that are easier to meet. Invented needs can be conveniently matched with the husband’s areas of confidence. Is he worried about his ability to handle unruly children, or overbearing in-laws? Never mind, let’s just pretend the wife can’t do math. Obviously, this does not cause the wife to feel cared for. Cowards do not show their wives honor.
Yet another reason is the honest mistake. In this case, the husband isn’t covering for his own weakness nor seeking to dominate the wife, he’s simply wrong about what she needs. This sort of thing is to be expected, even though it’s nothing to celebrate. A man should seek to excel in understanding his wife’s needs. He should seek to be a wise husband. The wife should endeavor show patience with him, anticipating that he will grow in understanding. That being said, an honest but bumbling attempt to care for the wife won’t be much of an honor.
One variation on the honest mistake is a sincere, but cartoonish concept of the differences between men and women. This presents the simultaneous dangers of failing to honor the wife and also triggering the well-trained offense-response of modern Americans. It might be safer for the husband to fail by thinking his wife is weak in something the stereotypical women is strong in. Of course, she still may be insulted, but she will only be personally insulted, instead of being offended on behalf of her entire sex.
The comical irony is that men are much more likely to have a cartoonish, unrealistic concept of differences between the sexes when those differences can not be discussed in polite conversation. Each man will have only his own limited perspective to work from, and is bound to detect some fake patterns along with some real ones. A society that is embarrassed by differences between men and women, as ours tends to be, is one in which it is hard to develop a clear, nuanced understanding of those differences.
But no matter, the husband only needs to understand his own wife. So he should watch her, study her, and pray that if she happens to really be ignorant of automotive maintenance, she won’t take it as an affront to the sisterhood when he takes oversight in that area. And please God don’t let “mansplaining” be in her vocabulary!
Right then. Your goal, men, is to honor your wives by using your strength, toughness and God-given position of authority in a self-sacrificing way to lovingly cover and support your wives. Study. Exert yourself. And don’t overlook the small things, while you’re trying to figure out the big things.