There is a book in circulation entitled What Men Know About Women. Its pages are all blank! We have often heard some frustrated male sigh, “I’ll never be able to understand women.” Yet the Apostle Peter said, “Ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge.”78 This is a most amazing paradox. God tells men to dwell with their wives according to knowledge—an understanding of their basic nature and needs—but most men know very little about the makeup and mechanism of the female of the species. Could this be one of the reasons why so many marriages are floundering?
If God says that men are to live with their wives according to knowledge, then obviously they can know something about them, popular opinion notwithstanding! The first thing they need to know is stated in the very verse we have just quoted: “Giving honor unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel.” The woman is the weaker vessel. That doesn’t mean she is mentally, morally, or spiritually inferior, but simply that she is physically weaker. She may be less susceptible to disease and may even have a longer life span than the man, but the fact remains that she is not as large or as strong physically. God made her that way with the intent that the weaker would depend on the stronger.
Because the wife is physically weaker, she depends on her husband for provision and protection. His task is to provide food, clothing, shelter, and defense, while she is especially adapted by God to bear children and to provide them with the warm affection and tender care which they need. However, the very equipment which God gave her to assume that role is likewise the cause of a second area of weakness—her emotions. A woman must sometimes struggle with sudden and unexplainable changes in mood. These are chemically precipitated by hormones which form part of her reproductive capacity. This emotional vulnerability makes her especially dependent on the man God gives her. It seems to be the underlying idea in God’s words to Eve: “You shall welcome your husband’s affections.”79 She looks to him with an inner yearning to meet her basic needs. She was made for him, and so her life centers in him. God wants us husbands to “dwell with them according to knowledge,” then and act on the basis of that knowledge, “giving honor unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel.” The God who created these tremendous emotional needs in women intends that husbands should meet them.
Some of you are asking, “What about women who have no husbands? Who will meet their needs?” God will bestow the gift of celibacy on those women whom he intends to remain single. Furthermore, a woman’s needs can be met by the Lord himself. In fact, every Christian woman, married or single, needs to maintain a close personal relationship with Christ. However, this does not excuse a husband from his responsibilities to his wife. God’s normal way of supplying a married woman with the security and satisfaction for which she yearns is through her husband.
How does the husband do it? How can any man satisfy a woman’s basic needs? This may sound like a gross oversimplification, but one little four-letter word is actually the complete answer to this entire complex problem. The husband’s primary responsibility in a Christian marriage is to love his wife. “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church and gave himself for it.”80 “Husbands should [love] their wives … as part of themselves.”81 “A man must love his wife as a part of himself.”82 “You husbands must be loving and kind to your wives, and not bitter against them.”83 All of these verses require agape, that highest level of love that keeps on giving even when it gets nothing in return and seeks only good for the one loved regardless of the personal cost or sacrifice.
This gives an entirely new meaning to the misunderstood doctrine of male headship. Headship is not some masculine doctrine cleverly designed to bolster the husband’s sagging ego. Headship involves the husband’s solemn obligation to establish an atmosphere of love in which the basic needs of his wife are fulfilled—an environment in which she is free to grow and develop into all that God wants her to be. Her submission will then be the voluntary response to his loving leadership.
The key word here is response. The woman is a responder. This is the obvious role of someone who depends on another person. Flowers depend on sunshine and rain; when they get it, they respond by blossoming into gorgeous beauty. This is how God made a woman too. She responds to what she receives. If she receives irritability, criticism, disapproval, unkindness, indifference, lack of appreciation, or lack of affection, she will respond with a defense mechanism, such as bitterness, coolness, defiance, or nagging. Some women turn to drinking or submerge themselves in social activities.
But if the woman receives love she will respond with love, and will blossom into the most beautiful creature under God’s heaven. When a man claims that his wife doesn’t love him anymore he is unwittingly admitting that he hasn’t loved her as he should have. If he had, she would most likely have responded with love in return. A man gets from his wife what he invests in her. He cannot force her to love him, but he can show love to her and enjoy her loving response. Thus the responsibility for a successful marriage rests initially with the husband. He makes the first move—that of loving his wife with the totally unselfish love of Jesus Christ.
“If she’d only quit nagging, I could love her more.” If that’s what you’ve been telling yourself, then you have it backwards! The husband must take the initiative. Love is a mental attitude which is received by an act of the human will from the source of all love, God Himself. It does not depend on the worth or the actions of its object, but simply on the ceaseless love of a changeless Lord. A wife may be sweet or sour; the house may be clean or cluttered; supper may be tasty or terrible; but none of these should affect a husband’s love. He is to love his wife “as Christ loved the church.” We know all too well that Christ’s love for the church wasn’t prompted by anything wonderful He saw in us, but instead by his own intrinsic nature of love. Now He makes this same love available to every Christian husband who wants to make his marriage work.
“Husbands, love your wives as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.” Calvary, where Christ scarifically gave Himself, was the greatest demonstration of love in all of human history. Sacrificial self-giving is the very essence of love. Now God asks of every Christian husband the same self-giving love. That’s important to remember—love gives. It will involve giving the material things a wife needs as finances permit, and perhaps even a little gift now and then that says, “I really care. I think about you when we’re apart.” It doesn’t have to cost much money, but it does reassure a wife of her husband’s love.
Love will also involve helping. Sometimes a husband develops the strange notion that his home is a castle and he is the king. His wife’s task is to provide for his comfort and to protect him from all unpleasant circumstances. He rises majestically from dinner, sinks gloriously into his overstuffed chair, and entertains himself with the newspaper and television while his wife cleans up the kitchen, straightens up the house, helps the children with their homework, and puts them to bed. Any encroachment on his lordship’s time is met with howls of protest. Most wives work hard, maybe even harder than their husbands, and no husband ought to be above helping with the housework and the children. If the wife is really the weaker vessel, then wiping the dishes, sweeping the floor, supervising the children, cleaning the windows, or dozens of other little helpful acts are just other ways of saying, “I love you.”
Self-sacrificing love will involve the giving of time. Some husbands are too busy to run an errand, fix a gadget, or devote an evening to their wives alone. They are saying in subtle little ways, “You’re really not worth very much personal sacrifice,” and this is like spraying weed killer on a beautiful flower. But when the wife begins to wilt and reflect the same attitude toward her husband, he is usually quick to complain about it. Problems like this will be solved when the husband begins to show the love of Christ.
Love may involve giving up things. Often a husband has interests or hobbies in which his wife finds no pleasure. Usually compromises can be made: she may develop special interests of her own, he may restrict his activities somewhat, or they may plan other special activities together. But if all reasonable attempts to solve the conflict fail, then God intends for the wife to know that she holds the most important place in her husband’s life, that next to the Lord Himself she is above everything and everyone. That does not give a wife the right to demand that her husband give up something to “prove his love,” but it does lay upon every Christian husband the need for assuring his wife that he loves her above all else.
Christ-like love will involve reassurance and encouragement. Some men refuse to tell their wives that they love them. “I told her that when I married her, and she knows it’s true.” Yes, but a woman requires reassurance. Her whole life is wrapped up in the security of her husband’s love, and the Lord wants her to be assured of it in every possible way. She needs to know that he cares—that he appreciates the things she does to please him, like maintaining his home and cooking his meals. She needs to know that he comes home because she is there—not just for meals and a bed! One of the most prevalent complaints of wives is that their husbands take them for granted, treating them as if they were maids. Here is what one woman said she needed most from her husband: “I need to feel needed, that what I am doing for him and for our children is important to him. Then, I want to be appreciated for the things I do.” Most wives try hard to please, and they need to know that their husbands approve of their efforts and appreciate them.
Of all the things God wants a husband to give his wife, none is more important than what Christ gave—His own personal being. “Oh, I’d die to protect my wife,” some would protest. Giving ourselves may not demand dying for our wives, but it certainly demands living for them, and that is the very thing many husbands are unwilling to do. They exclude their wives from their lives. They think working hard and providing an abundance of material things will make their wives happy. And while they are at work getting rich, their wives are at home with aching hearts, yearning to share their husbands’ lives as God intended them to do, yearning for the appreciation, approval, attention, and affection which God intended them to have, yearning for the sympathetic understanding their God-given natures demand.
One woman wrote, “My husband needs to let me know that he is aware of my problems and understands them. I need to feel that we are working together toward a common goal.” The one word that occurs most frequently when wives are discussing what they need from their husbands is understanding. No amount of material things can take the place of a husband who listens to his wife with undivided attention when she unfolds her heart, who tries to understand even her most complicated moods, and who lets her know that he loves her even during her most illogical and unreasonable moments.
That costs something; in fact, it costs everything. It demands total self-sacrifice. That is exactly what it cost Christ when His love led him to Calvary. If you are not willing to pay that cost, then you made a dreadful mistake when you promised a woman you would love her until death. God says she is part of you. You are one flesh.84 She needs to be treated with the same loving care and concern with which you treat your own body. “So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church.”85 The word nourish means to supply the food and clothing which the body needs. The word cherish literally means to keep warm, but also includes the idea of tender, loving care, the kind of care a trained nurse would give to her own children.86 Some men are like little boys; they want their wives to feed them when they are hungry and soothe them when they are hurt, just as their mothers did. Biblically, that comes closer to the role of the husband toward his wife than the role of the wife toward her husband.
Most men take pretty good care of their own bodies. They get plenty of food, proper rest, adequate clothing, a break from the monotonous routine, some enjoyable relaxation, some time to themselves, and a certain amount of personal satisfaction in life. But are they as interested in seeing that their wives get the same? They should be, according to the Word of God, because their wives are part of them. A man’s care for his wife is, in effect, care for himself too, since both their lives are one.
That is exactly what Peter said in the verse with which we started this chapter: “You husbands must be careful of your wives, being thoughtful of their needs and honoring them as the weaker sex. Remember that you and your wife are partners in receiving God’s blessings, and if you don’t treat her as you should, your prayers will not get ready answers.”87 When a man takes a woman to be his wife he makes her part of himself; he cannot afford to shut her out of his life. When he refuses to obey God’s Word in this regard, a spirit of bitterness and resentment creeps into the marriage, spiritual power vanishes and an effective prayer life is hindered. Much of the spiritual impotence of believers can be traced to this very matter. It’s time for us to obey God’s Word again!
On one occasion a Christian husband told me some of his wife’s problems—a general discontentment, a proneness to pick and gripe at little things, and a constant irritability and unreasonableness. He had tried to improve himself in some areas in order to make her happy, but it was never enough. One day he blurted out, “That woman will find something wrong with heaven!”
We discussed her immaturity and insecurity, much of which seemed to stem from her family background. But one day I suggested that all of her problems might not be traceable to her parents. Maybe some of them grew out of her God-given need to be reassured of his love. I asked him to do everything he could to make her feel more secure in his love. He accepted my challenge and with God’s help began to make some changes.
He started to show his wife more affection, taking her in his arms as they passed in the house and telling her he loved her, even though it was not his natural inclination to be that demonstrative. He spent time with her away from the children, listening to her talk and making sympathetic comments. (He found that the best time to talk was while she was cleaning up the kitchen—the kids were nowhere to be found at that particular time!) He pitched in and helped while they talked. When she had had a bad day and got upset about some silly little thing that didn’t please her, he asked God to keep him calm and help him assure her of his love at that very moment, instead of angrily defending himself and sulking, as he once had done. The transformation that gradually came over her was amazing. Their marriage isn’t perfect as of this writing, but a woman who missed something very important in her childhood years is beginning to find in her husband the love that God intended her to have, and in that atmosphere of love she is growing into the beautiful person God planned for her to be.
Let me add just a brief word to wives. Let the indwelling Spirit of God motivate your husband in these matters. Don’t try to do God’s work for him. If you try to remake your husband yourself, the results will be far less than you hope for. It is not even your place to remind him of his responsibility. Instead, commit him to the Lord, pray for him, and be what God wants you to be.
78 1 Peter 3:7, KJV.
79 Genesis 3:16, TLB.
81 Ephesians 5:28, TLB.
82 Ephesians 5:33, TLB.
83 Colossians 3:19, TLB.
84 Ephesians 5:31.
87 1 Peter 3:7, TLB.