Living in Self-Sacrifice – The Biblical Husband (XII)

“I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep” (Jn.10:11).

One of the earliest incidents of God making covenant in scripture, is in Genesis 15.[1] The chapter is essentially a conversation between Abram and God, and God dominates the dialogue. God makes covenant with Abram, but His Words are interrupted by what must have been for Abram, an astonishing incident: “there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch…” which passed between the pieces of animal, which Abram had previously prepared at God’s command.

This was a self-maledictory oath: firstly God, in passing between the pieces of slain animal, ratifies or completes the covenant with Abram. Abram is essentially a by-stander. Secondly, God says in effect, “whatever I call you to go through Abram, I will have done before you.” Thirdly, the slain animals cut in half served as a warning to Abram, to ensure he kept covenant with God, otherwise he would finish up like them!

These aspects clearly illustrated in the Abrahamic covenant, are also involved in the Last Supper, and the crucifixion. At the Upper Room, Jesus verbally makes covenant with the disciples, assuring them of His faithful plans for them (Jn.13-16), and tells them that “I have overcome the world” (Jn.16:33). Finally, the covenant that God was making through Jesus Christ was ratified with a total personal involvement, as it was with Abram.

God, in the person of Jesus Christ our Mediator, completes His self-maledictory oath, with all of His disciples in eternity when He said, “It is finished” (Jn.19:30), and was executed between heaven and earth. He Who now is Lord of all, proved Himself to be firstly, the greatest Servant of all. “Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end” (Jn.13:1).

All believers are called to be “imitators of God” (Eph.5:1). In marraige we find ourselves in the supreme place of challenge. Marriage is always a test for husbands and wives, but as husbands, as God’s representatives, we have the first responsibility to be self-sacrificing,“just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Eph.5:25).

To be a Christian is to be a self-volunteering servant…we are called to act in such a way that we put others above ourselves. We are expressly forbidden from exalting ourselves for the sole purpose of furthering our own comfort or fame. Otto Piper nails the marriage relationship potential to create a servant heart in us when he describes marriage as “a reciprocal willingness of two persons to assume responsibility for each other.[2]

Many years ago a single man commented to me, that if he were married, he would refuse to do work in the kitchen, for that was “womens’ work.” Whatever we may think of that, Jesus Himself did not consider it beneath his dignity, to do the work normally done by a slave (Jn.13:1-5).

For each couple, this will have different manifestations. In our case, I know that after preparing the evening meal, Sue is grateful if I will wash up the dishes, with our sons. This relieves her of work. Many other things too, such as tasks around the home, which make her job as a homemaker easier, it is important to do. Cutting the grass, cleaning out gutters, cleaning and looking after the car, and any heavy lifting work.

No doubt if she had to, she could do many of these tasks, but it is easier for her, if the load can at least be shared. But more than that, it is important that self-sacrifice on the husband’s part is evident, and he should be the first to exhibit it. Why? Because our Lord has indicated that “if anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Mat.16:24). This is the true nature of discipleship. The fact that a job is menial, or tedious, or has no status (such as cleaning toilets) is a very reason why husbands should be prepared to do it.

The two words nourish and cherish [from Eph.5:28-29] suggest an attitude of intimate concern that includes attention to what might appear to be small details. A husband should be concerned about his wife’s health, her appearance, the way she does her hair, the perfume she uses. Everything that concerns her should concern him. She should always have the confidence that to her husband she is the most important person in the world. Let me assure you, husbands: If you sow into your wife this way, you will reap an abundant harvest! [3]

In order to love and cherish his wife, a husband needs to know what his wife would appreciate. Firstly, she needs to know that she is loved. It’s good for a husband to say to his wife, “I love you,” but actions do speak louder than words. Eph.1:7-8 and Jn.3:16 show us that one who loves, gives to the object of his love. Does your wife feel that you are giving to her?

My wife tells me for instance, that she would really like a meal cooked for her, on occasions. This is especially the case if she has had a busy day out. It relieves her of a task at the end of a long day. Jesus had an attitude of self-sacrifice (Phil.2:7; Ro.12:1), and He indicated that He would serve and wait upon those who would be ready for His return (Luke 12:37). If Jesus is willing to do this kind of work then so should godly husbands, firstly for their wives.

If a husband is at work, and calls his wife during the day, to tell her that he loves her, appreciates her, and is thinking of her, that is important to many women. Some women appreciate their husband purchasing a bottle of massage oil for them, and rubbing their back, shoulders and feet.

The important thing is that the husband finds out what things she likes, and applies himself to the opportunity of caring for, and giving to his wife. The issue is not so much what is done by the husband, but with what attitude he does it (Phil.2:5-7).

To become a servant is to become radically strong spiritually. It means you are free from the petty demands and grievances that ruin so many lives and turn so many hearts into bitter cauldrons of disappointment, self-absorption and self-pity.[4]

There are many other opportunities: gifts of chocolate or flowers, special soap, bubble baths, going out for coffee, a special romantic dinner, or a well considered wedding anniversary; perhaps going away for a few days at a resort. Depending on the woman, these can be suitable.

There are also things not to do. If I have been doing something in the kitchen, bathroom or laundry, my wife likes me to leave it how I found it, with the articles in the place where she had left them. This is the place of her work. She will not appreciate it, if I just put things anywhere. My perception of order may not be the same as hers.

If she is out of the house and I need to hang out some washing, she wants them hung out her way. Does it really matter? Well, it matters to her. She wants the windows cleaned her way, because my way may have its shortcomings. Paul’s command to “be subject to one another in the fear of God” (Eph.5:21) has its application in the home and family too for every husband, for his wife is a “fellow heir of the grace of life…” (I Pet.3:7).

If I’m out and will be late home, consideration for Sue dictates that I let her know, so she can plan the evening meal around the change in my expected arrival time.

It‘s important for us husbands to obey the command to “live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman” (I Pet.3:7), because as well as being loved and cherished, women want and need to be understood. And for many men, including me, that hasn’t always been easy.

There’s another aspect to this. The devil wanted Jesus to believe that He could have a throne and glory, without a cross (Mat.4:8-9). From a self-centred perspective, the cross is never appealing, but it is a fundamental of the kingdom of God. It is in marriage that couples are confronted with God’s requirements of humility and sacrifice; in fact, true discipleship always has its roots in self-sacrifice (Mat.16:24-25), and for the Christian husband, it begins in his relationship with his wife.

In all these things, a husband can “pull rank” and say, “I’m the husband: I’m in charge-just get used to doing this my way.” Earlier in our marriage, I was tempted to do that; it seemed to be an easy solution when there is a difference of opinion. But actually, that’s the way of a weakling; of an insecure person, who doesn’t realise that his wife too has dignity, and much to contribute.

Pulling rank rejects the “one flesh” description of marriage in Genesis 2. It’s the way of a husband that doesn’t know the appropriate limits of his authority and ability, isn’t prepared to treat his wife with consideration, and doesn’t realise or care that much more can be accomplished, when he and his wife are actually in unity. Authoritarian leaders will never be loved by their followers.

One male writer has said that

If I really wanted to see God transform me from the inside out, I’d need to concentrate on changing myself rather than changing my spouse. In fact, you might even say, the more difficult my spouse proved to be, the more opportunity I’d have to grow. Just as physical exercise needs to be somewhat strenuous, so “relational exercise” may need to be a bit vigorous to truly stress-test the heart.[5]

Self-sacrifice goes against the grain of human behaviour. I know that from my own reluctance and reactions. But if we are to be faithful to the Lord in our families, it is essential as husbands that we grow in this aspect, so that we can, beginning with our wives, “through love serve one another” (Gal.5:13).


[1] “The covenant is a personal-structural bond which joins the three Persons of God in a community of life, and in which man was created to participate. On the cross, Jesus Christ descended into hell as a substitute for His people, and as a result, His people are reunited into the covenant. We call this work of Christ redemption. Redemption is the doorway back to the garden of Eden, back to the covenant fellowship of God.” Jordan , J., “The Law of the Covenant,” 1984, p.5.

[2] Thomas, G., “Sacred Marriage,” 2000, p.180.

[3] Prince, D., “Husbands and Fathers,” 2000, p.91-2.

[4] Thomas, p.191.

[5] Thomas, ibid, p.23.

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