My friend Matt Waymeyer writes,
“In John Steinbeck’s book East of Eden, there’s a scene in which Cyrus is taking a walk with his son Adam, who is about to go off to fight in World War I. Cyrus is telling him about what it means to be a soldier, and at one point he says this:
From the day of a child’s birth he is taught by every circumstance, by every law and rule and right, to protect his own life. He starts with that great instinct, and everything confirms it. And then he [becomes] a soldier and he must learn to violate all of this—he must learn…to put himself in the way of losing his own life….[i]
Something similar happens when a man becomes a husband. From the start of his life, a man’s nature and instinct is to think of himself and live for himself. And yet when he gets married he must learn to violate this instinct—he must learn to lay down his life for his wife and live for her, because that’s what love is. That’s what it means to love your wife as Christ loved the church.
The point is not simply that you are willing to die for your wife, although it would include that. The point is that you are willing to live for her—to sacrifice your desires for her desires; to constantly serve her and put her needs before your own; to set aside your own preferences, comfort, and welfare to please her and meet her needs. As John MacArthur writes: “Love does whatever needs to be done and does not count cost or merit….Whatever is needed it gives.”[ii] That’s what love is—love is giving.
Many husbands see marriage as an arrangement of give and take. But Paul says: No. Marriage is not give and take. Marriage is give and give and give and give, because that’s what Christ did for the church. Husbands, if you are not giving of yourself, you are not loving your wife, regardless of what you might say to her or how you might feel about her. As Stuart Scott writes, a husband “must show his love in tangible ways. He will not simply say, I love you, but will assure her of his love by his deeds.”[iii]
Exactly how this plays itself out will differ from marriage to marriage, but the way to move forward is to think through specific, tangible ways to sacrificially give of yourself to serve your wife. This may involve denying yourself when you get home from work. Maybe you’re tired and you’d like to plop down and become one with the Lazyboy while you read the newspaper or watch television. But maybe your wife would like to know about your day or tell you about hers. And so suddenly you have a real-life tangible opportunity to sacrifice your own desires for those of your wife. “
[i] John Steinbeck, East of Eden (New York: Penguin Books, 1952), 26.
[ii] John F. MacArthur, Ephesians (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), 298.
[iii] Stuart Scott, The Exemplary Husband: A Biblical Perspective (Bemidji, MN: Focus Publishing, 2002), 81.