C S. Lewis wondered if God was a sadist. Looking at those that God calls into paid ministry, we at least know He has a sense of humor. Turning our eyes a bit closer to home, many couples struggle relationally and then we blame God. “My wife doesn’t understand me,” the man complains. “My husband is about as sensitive as a rock.” the wife moans. In our quiet moments, we reflect on whether God really knew what He was doing when He made us male and female.
“Does this dress make me look too fat,” asks the wife to her husband. Most men that have been married for any length of time recognize this as a potential no-win question. Whatever the answer the outcome will most likely not be what is expected or desired. Anything short of “you are perfect dear just the way you are” will most likely end in a mess. Even with this tried and true answer, accusations of dishonesty will most likely follow.
The scientific community has finally figured out what God designed from the beginning – men and women are different. We look different, think different and while we share a common language, we speak it differently. After three decades of counseling, I have learned to speak a little bit of “woman.” I am not proficient and it will most likely never be as easy to me as my native tongue, but I am beginning to grasp some of the basic underlying concepts.
This is not a new revelation for many have tried to explain the dilemma. Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus was a popular book (selling over 7 million copies) for quite some time. Others have attempted to address the differences in word pictures such as, “men are waffles and women are spaghetti.” Whatever the attempt, the differences remain and they are not new. The Apostle Peter shares one of the most difficult passages to men in all the Scripture in 1 Peter 3:7:
“Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” ESV
The “likewise” is there to connect the verse to the previous section which also begins with a likewise to connect it to the paragraph dealing with submission to authority. Peter ended verse six with “do not fear anything that is frightening,” and walking in submission to an imperfect husband is about as frightening as it gets for a woman of God. However, God places the responsibility on the husband to live with his wife in an understanding way, and this should scare us men to our core.
Why should we be afraid of this verse? The last sentence explains the answer – “so that your prayers are not hindered.” How I treat my wife, has a direct impact on how effective my prayers are. Hindered is defined as, being cut off, to impede, to interrupt, to place an obstacle in the way, ok, you get the idea, if I am not treating my wife well, my prayer life will be damaged.
The “understanding way” part is what usually gives us fits. Some translations use “according to knowledge” and that is fine. The point is that we as men must figure out how to live with our wives in a way that is pleasing to the Lord or we don’t have a prayer…and I mean literally!
So, what does it mean to live with your wife in an understanding way? Great question, and the answer is, it depends. What will show honor to you wife? What will edify her? What will encourage her? What will meet her needs at the moment? What will bring her joy and peace in the situation? What will demonstrate your love to her as if Jesus loved her? Wow, that is a mouthful.
What I just wrote is a challenge, yet it is Biblical. Even a casual reading of Ephesians 5:25 – “Husbands love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,” should provoke us to think. How did Christ love the Church? What did He give up for Her? Most of us know that in order to follow Christ we have to take up our cross daily, but sometimes we forget that cross carrying begins at home. It is sometimes easier to love those across the pew or ocean than to die to our self for those under our roof.
Ken Nair in his challenging book entitled, Discovering the Mind of a Woman asks a haunting question. I will paraphrase but in essence Nair asks, if after being married to you for however long you have been married is your wife better off or not? Everyone brings issues and problems into marriage for there are no perfect people, but how are we actually doing?
What does this mean? Let’s say your wife is a mess emotionally. Did she start out that way or become that way under your care? If she started out that way, is she better or worse after living with you? If she became that way after being married to you, how is your prayer life? Are your prayers being hindered? If your wife is getting worse after being married to you for five, ten or twenty-five years, what does that say to your leadership and understanding skills? Wow, is that harsh! Is it? Or, is it perhaps what Peter is attempting to address?
I am neither a medical doctor, nor a physiologist, or psychologist, and I understand that there can be physical, mental and emotional disorders that affect a person’s emotional stability. I am a pastor and there is a spiritual dimension that must not be overlooked if these other areas are clean, and this is what Peter is referring to. We as husbands have two very clear commands to obey in reference to our wives; we are to live with them in an understanding way, and we are to live with them in the same way Jesus treated the Church. If we are failing in either or both of these, our wives will be impacted adversely.
On the other hand, our wives are not simply victims that have no choice as to how they respond. They can and must bear up under bad leadership, but should they have to because of us? Shouldn’t we be living in such a way as to help not hurt our brides? Shouldn’t we be growing in our daily lives to reflect a more Christ-like attitude at home, where it counts the most? Shouldn’t we make it our ambition to grow daily, to love our wives, and to walk in obedience to our Lord’s commands?
The next time you are tempted to get angry with your wife, or when you simply do not understand what she is talking about, remember your prayer life. Your reaction will either help or hinder it. What will you choose?