"Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."These words are of course echoed throughout the Scriptures and form the very foundation for actively living out our Christian faith. As in Romans 13:14, St. Paul calls for us to "put on the Lord Jesus Christ" and imitate Him throughout our daily lives. Yet this seems to me especially important when it comes to the husband's role in marriage and the family.
Ephesians 5:25 highlights what I call real, beautiful and unconditional love; true love that is rooted in, and perfectly imitates, Christ who "loved the church and gave Himself up for her" on the cross.
"In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wive loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of His body." (5:28-30)St. Paul affirms here the humbling responsibility of a husband (and father) as the head of the family. Although not, mind you, as a violently abusive domestic dictator, as some might have these words mean. Rather, "love your wives and never treat them harshly" (Colossians 3:19). As St. Peter also considers, "above all, maintain consant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins." C.S. Lewis offers an insightful commentary on these passages in The Four Loves:
"The husband is the head of the wife just in so far as he is to her what Christ is to the Church. He is to love her as Christ loved the Church – read on – and give his life for her. This headship, then, is most fully embodied not in the husband we should all wish to be but in him whose marriage is most like a crucifixion; whose wife receives most and gives least, is most unworthy of him – in in her own mere nature – least lovable."In other words, actions often speak louder than words and true love of this kind, which stems from Christ, goes even beyond the first feelings of attraction to another person. Similarly, Gary Chapman asserts that love, in this sense, "is something you do for someone else, not something you do for yourself." That said, imitating Christ should not, however, be confused with trying to play God. We may perhaps inspire another person to want to change but we cannot actually change them; so there is, therefore, no point in even trying. That is a job for God and we should leave it up to Him. Our job, however, is to love, in all senses of the word. And then some.
There is, then, something almost divine about the unconditional promise expressed in traditional wedding vows; words which, unfortunately, the modern world seems to have taken for granted and almost forgotten the magic of: 'to have and to hold (read, cherish), from this day forward, in good times and in bad, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part' (there may be some slight variation on this wording).
I think it is also worth nothing that a husband's responsibility involves as much love, respect and service to his wife as to God, if not even more so. As Paul reminds us, in order to imitate Christ we must first know Him, and become "rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving" (Colossians 2:7). In this way, it makes sense that "a woman's heart should be so hidden in God, that a man has to seek Him just to find her." Perhaps you may even have heard it said that while the husband is the head of the house, the wife is the heart of the family. She has the ability to stir in her husband the desire to build up a firm foundation in Christ; so that the more he continues to grow in his faith, through the Holy Spirit, and learn to love God, so too does he learn how to love his wife. And this, of course, works both ways.
If I may take the liberty of borrowing another chunk from Lewis, who reiterates Paul's message in his discussions on Mere Christianity:
"And now we begin to see what it is that the New Testament is always talking about. It talks about Christians 'being born again'; it talks about them 'putting on Christ'; about Christ 'being formed in us'; about our coming to 'have the mind of Christ'
"Put right out of your head the idea that these are only fancy ways of saying that Christians are to read what Christ said and try to carry it out – as a man may read what Plato or Marx said and try to carry it out. They mean something much more than that. They mean that a real Person, Christ, here and now, in that very room where you are saying your prayers, is doing things to you. It is not a question of a good man who died two thousand years ago. It is a living Man, still as much a man as you, and still as much God as He was when He created the world, really coming and interfering with your very self; killing the old natural self in you and replacing it with the kind of self He has. At first, only for moments. Then for longer periods. Finally, if all goes well, turning you permanently into a different sort of thing; into a new little Christ, a being which, in its own small way, has the same kind of life as God; which shares in His power, joy, knowledge and eternity."