OK, so many of you who went to Mass today hear the “Infamous” line: Wives should be subordinate to their Husbands as to the Lord. For the Husband is the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is the Head of the Church…so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything; (Eph 5:20-21, 23) Well apparently the Holy Spirit didn’t get the memo that we don’t think and talk like that today!
Alright, so maybe it grates on modern ears today but don’t just dismiss what God teaches here. One of the great dangers of this passage is that it is so startling to modern ears that many people tune out after the first line into their own thoughts and reactions and thus miss the rest of what God has to say. You may notice that there is text that follows and before a man gloats at the first line or a women reacts with anger or sadness we do well to pay attention to the rest of the text which spells out the duties of a husband. You see if you’re going to be the head of a household there are certain requirements that have to be met. God’s not playing around here or choosing sides. He has a comprehensive plan for husbands that is demanding and requires him to curb any notions that authority is about power and to remember that, for a Christian, authority is always given so that the one who has it may serve (cf Mark 10:42-45).
So what are the requirements for a husband?
- Husbands, love your wives– Pay attention men, don’t just tolerate your wife, don’t just bring home money, don’t just love in some intellectual sort of way. LOVE your wife with all your heart. Beg God for the grace to love your wife tenderly, powerfully and unconditionally. Did you hear what God says? LOVE your wife! Now he goes on to tell you to love her in three ways: passionately, purifyingly and providingly.
- Passionate love – even as Christ loved the Church and handed himself over for her. The Greek word (Paradidomi) translated here as “handed over” always refers in the New Testament to Jesus’ crucifixion. Husbands, are you willing to give your life for your wife and children? Are you willing to die to yourself and give your life as a daily sacrifice for them? God instructs you to love your wife (and children) with the same kind of love he has for his Bride the Church. That kind of love is summed up in the cross. Love your wife passionately, be willing to suffer for her, be willing to make sacrifices for her and the children.
- Purifyingly – to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Now a husband cannot sanctify his wife in the same way God can. But what a husband is called to do is to help his wife and children grow in their relationship to Jesus Christ. He is first to be under God’s authority himself and thus make it easier for his wife and children to live out their baptismal commitments. He ought to a spiritual leader in his home, praying with his wife and children, reading scripture and seeing to it that his home is a place where God is loved and obeyed, first of all by him. His wife should not have to drag him to Church, he should willingly help her to grow in holiness and pray with her every day. And he should become more holy as well and thus make it easier for his wife to live the Christian life.
- Providingly – So also husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it – Husbands, take care of your wife in her needs. She needs more than food money and shelter, these days she can get a lot of that for herself. What she needs even more is your love, understanding, and appreciation. She needs for you to be a good listener and wants an attentive husband who is present to her. Like any human being she needs reassurance and affirmation. Tell her of your love and appreciation, don’t just presume she knows. Show care for your wife, attend to her needs just like you instinctively do for your own self. That’s what God is teaching here.
OK, so scripture DOES teach that a wife should be submitted to her husband. But what kind of husband does scripture have in mind? A husband who really loves his wife, who is a servant leader, who is makes sacrifices for his wife, who is prayerful and spiritual, submitted to God’s authority and who cares deeply for his wife and her needs. The same God who teaches submission (and he does) also teaches these things clearly for the husband. The teaching must be taken as a whole.
For more on this consider listening to my sermon on this from today. It is here (Teaching on Marriage) in mp3 format. It is 35 minutes! but consider downloading it if you can’t listen just now. You can download this and other sermons of mine by going here: http://frpope.com/audio/recordings.phpand then right clicking on the title of any talk and selecting the “Save Target As” option. You can also get my sermons at iTunes. Just search on my name. Perhaps put this or other sermons on your iPod and listen when you get the chance.
This video clip is from the movie Fireproof and depicts a heartfelt apology from a husband who realizes he has not loved his wife as he should. A beautiful movie available at Amazon if you have never seen it.