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What every marriage needs

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topical Scripture: Ephesians 5.22-33

The publication New York Newsday carried this report a few years ago: “Former Rolling Stone Bill Wyman’s son is to marry Bill’s ex-wife’s mother. Wyman’s son from a previous marriage, Stephen, age 30 announced his engagement to Patsy Smith, age 46, the mother of Wyman’s former wife, Mandy, age 22. The marriage would make the rock star his ex-wife’s step-grandfather.”

Marriage can be confusing.

And no marriage is safe from storms. Frank and Kathie Lee Gifford were a model of married happiness until their problems made headlines. Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, and Alex Baldwin and Kim Basinger are only the most recent Hollywood break-ups. No marriage is immune from problems. No relationship is guaranteed.

And relationships are even harder when we don’t know the essentials necessary to them. Fortunately, God’s word is clear on the basics. What do wives’ needs have in common? The gift our text calls “nourishing love.” What do husbands’ needs have in common? The commitment our text calls “encouraging respect.”

Because God made us, he knows exactly what we need from each other. In his word, he tells us how to give these gifts. Whether you are married or not, in committed relationships or not, you need these essentials. To understand yourself and those you care about. Here’s God’s answer to one of our greatest needs today.

What every man needs

Let’s discover first what every husband needs from his wife, what men need from women. The key word in our text is “submit”—”Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.”

The Greek word is “hupotasso,” a military term which means “to rank under,” “to take your post.”

This is the present tense, pointing to an ongoing, continuing commitment. Not just for the wedding, but for the marriage; not just when things are easy and good, but when they are not.

Now, here’s a very important point. It is made very clearly in Paul’s original language, but not so clearly in English.

Paul’s word, “submit to your husbands,” is in the middle voice in the Greek. Translated literally, he says to “place yourself in submission.”

This is a decision, your choice, a voluntary decision. Clearly, women are not by nature in a subordinate role to men, as so many have thought. The wife chooses this role with regard to her husband. This is not the inferior admitting her place, but the co-equal deciding freely to do this.

Scripture is clear: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). In God’s eyes, men and women are equal in status. This is a voluntary submission, made freely by the wife. Not because she is the inferior—far from it.

Thomas Wheeler is a retired CEO of the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company. He tells about a time when he and his wife were out driving and nearly ran out of gas.

They pulled off the freeway and into a dumpy little gas station with one pump. There was only one man working the place, so Wheeler asked him to fill the tank while he checked the oil. He saw his wife talking and smiling at this attendant. When they saw Wheeler looking at them, the man walked away and pretended that nothing had happened. Wheeler paid the man and he and his wife pulled out of the seedy little station.

As they drove down the road, he asked his wife if she knew the attendant. She admitted that she did know him. In fact, she had known him very well. It seems they had not only gone to high school together, but they dated seriously for about a year.

Wheeler couldn’t help bragging a little and said, “Boy, were you lucky I came along. If you’d married him you’d be the wife of a gas station attendant instead of the wife of a Chief Executive Officer.” His wife replied, “My dear, if I had married him, he’d be the Chief Executive Officer and you’d be the gas station attendant.”

A wife chooses to support and respect her husband. Not because she is inferior to him, but because God’s word calls her to do so.

Verse 33 elaborates: “the wife must respect her husband.” The word here means to support, encourage, honor. Paul describes a wife who supports her husband, who respects and encourages him, who follows his leadership. Encouraging respect is the gift God wants wives to give their husbands.

Why? Because this is a man’s greatest need. Every husband needs from his wife an ongoing commitment to support and encourage him. Not just while they’re dating, or when he deserves it. Remember, this is in the continuous tense: “Wives, continually respect and encourage your husbands.” Because this is his greatest need.

John Gray wrote the famous book, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. He states the fact well: “A man’s deepest fear is that he is not good enough or that he is incompetent.” Encouraging respect is the gift every husband needs.

What every woman needs

Now let’s see what every wife, every woman needs. The key is in verse 25: “Husbands, love your wives.” The word here is not the Greek term for sexual love, or for friendship or business partnership, but for serving, nourishing love.

Martin Luther was right: “Some marriages were motivated by mere lust, but mere lust is felt even by fleas and lice. Love begins when we wish to serve others.” Nourishing love is the gift every wife needs from her husband. How do we give it?

We make love a lifestyle. Verse 25 is also in the continuous tense: “Husbands, continue to love your wives.” Not just until you are married to them, or feel like, or want something from them, or are moved by circumstances to do so. Continuously, repeatedly, as a lifestyle.

We put our wives first: “just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (v. 25b).

Jesus sacrificed everything for us—status, achievements, his very life. The Bible wants me to put Janet before my career, my ambitions, and my achievements. We husbands deceive ourselves into thinking that our workaholism is for our wives and children, but it’s really not. It’s really to satisfy our thirst for status and significance. All the while, our wives want most for us to love them.

We love our wives unconditionally, for this is how Jesus loves us. We love when we don’t feel like it, as Jesus did in Gethsemane. In action, not just feeling, as Jesus did at Calvary. Jesus put us first; so we are to put our wives before every other priority in our lives as well.

I know an elderly pastor who used to say, “If I take care of the church, God will take care of my family.” He nearly lost his family, until he got his priorities right. We put our wives first.

We seek to meet their needs: “husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies” (v. 23a).

We eat, sleep, exercise, and do whatever our bodies need. So with our marriages: they have needs as well. Our wives need affection, but also conversation, listening, honesty and commitment.

Our wives need to know that they are far more than the mother of our children or the manager of our home, that their status and identity extends beyond their children and their job and their house. God’s word teaches us to be attentive to their needs, and work hard to meet them.

We are to give nourishing love to our wives because they need it, not because they deserve it. Just as wives are to give encouraging respect to their husbands because they need it, not because they deserve it. Whatever the circumstances might be.

When Elizabeth Dole was appointed Secretary of Transportation some years ago, a photograph was taken of the two of them making their bed. The day after the photo ran in the national press, then-Senator Dole received an irate letter from a constituent. The man complained that Senator Dole should never have allowed a picture of a man “doing such things around the house.”

The Senator wrote back, “Buddy, you don’t know the half of it. The only reason she was helping me was that the photographer was there.”

We are to give our wives nourishing love, whether the photographer is there or not. This is our wives’ greatest need in marriage.

Practical advice

Let’s close with some practical advice from marriage counselors. These characteristics are essential to all strong marriages.

Commit to the marriage.In 1962 only 51% said a husband and wife who don’t get along should get a divorce; in 1985, 82% said they’d divorce.

Is it any wonder that the divorce rate has tripled in one generation? When you were married, you stepped from contract into covenant. A contractual relationship can be ended at any time by either partner. A covenant is an unconditional, permanent relationship. Make a commitment to the covenant you entered when you were married.

Be positive with one another.John Gottman of the University of Washington says, “In couples that stay together, there are about five times more positive things said to and about one another as negative ones. But in couples that divorce, there are about one and a half times more negative things said than positive.”

Overlook faults. A grandmother, celebrating her golden wedding anniversary, told the secret of her long and happy marriage: “On my wedding day, I decided to make a list of ten of my husband’s faults which, for the sake of my marriage, I would overlook.” Then whenever he did something on the list she would say, “Lucky for him, that’s one of the ten!”

Don’t let small things become big things. No one is perfect—not even you. Overlook faults wherever you can.

And work hard. Martin Luther spoke words which should be engraved over every home: “Let the wife make her husband glad to come home, and let him make her sorry to see him leave.”

Conclusion

What does every marriage need? One expert summarizes: “Men are motivated and empowered when they feel needed … Women are motivated and empowered when they feel cherished.” Every marriage needs encouraging respect and nourishing love.

And these gifts are given “as to the Lord” (v. 22). By a man and a women who have first given their hearts to Jesus. Only he can make two lives into one. Only he can sustain a marriage in the best and worst of times. Only when Jesus is Lord can the marriage be its best.

When I perform a marriage, I always begin the ceremony with this paragraph: “We have come to this place of worship to witness the uniting of two lives in holy matrimony. The Bible tells us that the first woman was taken from the side of the first man. Not from his head to rule over him, or from his foot to be trodden upon by him, but from his side to be equal with him. From under his arm to be protected by him; from near his heart, to be loved by him.”

Nourishing love, and encouraging respect. How will you give your gift, this week?