“Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter toward them.” (Col. 3:19)

The husband’s primary responsibility is to love his wife. The question is: What kind of love does God have in mind? There are four different Greek words for love: eros, storge, phileo, and agape.

Eros is the word for sensual or physical love. It describes having a passion for something, most often to satisfy one’s own desires. This is what the world often views as love. The word eros is not used in the New Testament.

Storge is the word for affection, especially between close family members, such as parents and children. This word is also not found in the New Testament.

Phileo is a more general word for affection which includes, but is not limited to, family members. It describes a tender affection for someone else. It is often used to speak of love between friends. This word is used in the New Testament in several different ways. Paul uses it in Titus 2:4 of a young woman’s love for her husband and children.

Agape is the highest form of love, unconditional love for another. It is not a result of passion or desire, but a willful choice on one’s part. Though used sparingly in secular Greek literature, the Holy Spirit raises the word “agape” to a whole new level in the New Testament Scriptures. Consider this meaningful passage from 1 John 4.

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:7-11)

Agape love originates with God for love is of God. No one can love in this way unless they are born of God and know God, because, in fact, God is love. Agape love is a giving love. God so loved us that He gave His only begotten Son for us (John 3:16). God sent His only begotten Son into the world that we might live through Him, but God also sent Him to the cross, to be the propitiation for our sins. What an indescribable gift! (2 Cor. 9:15). Agape love is also unconditional. God did not sacrifice His Son for us because we loved Him. In fact, we did nothing deserving of God’s love. God gave His Son to die for us even while we were miserable, helpless sinners (Rom. 5:6-8). Which of these types of love are husbands to have for their wives? Certainly physical or sexual love (Gr. eros) is an important part of a marriage (Gen. 2:24). In addition, genuine affection (Gr. phileo) and real friendship is a vital part of the relationship between husband and wife. However, the type of love that really holds a marriage together is the willful choice to love your spouse unconditionally (Gr. agape). This is the type of love husbands are admonished to have for their wives.

Love Your Wife As Christ Loved the Church

Often, the best way to understand this type of love is to look at an example. Paul gives husbands the greatest example of all in Ephesians 5.

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish.” (Eph. 5:25-27)

Husbands are to love their wives just as Christ loved the church. How did Christ love the church? He gave Himself for it. The Lord Jesus loved us so much that He was willing to give His life for us. He humbly subjected Himself to the will of His Father (Phil. 2:5-8) and was delivered into the hands of wicked men (Luke 24:7) who abused Him, shamed Him, and then cruelly crucified Him on the cross of Calvary. Why would Christ be willing to endure such sufferings? He loved us and desired to have a close, personal relationship with us, but He knew that He must first sanctify and cleanse us from our sins. The only way this could happen was through His death on the cross for our sins (1 Cor. 15:3-4). Christ gave His life for our sins, that He might present us to Himself. Husbands are to have this type of love and care for their wives. Husbands cannot cleanse their wives from their sins; only Christ could do that. Husbands can and should love their wives unconditionally, being willing to give of themselves to provide for the needs of their wives, especially their spiritual needs.

Love Your Wife as Your Own Body

Christ loved the church, which is His body (Eph. 1:22-23). Just as Christ loved His body, husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies.

“So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church.” (Eph. 5:28-29)

“He who loves his wife loves himself.” To some this seems a strange statement, but it follows because when a man and wife are joined together in marriage, they become one flesh (Gen. 2:24). The husband is to love and care for his wife as he does his own body, for she is truly part of him. This type of love and care is demonstrated in two ways: nourishing and cherishing.

Husbands are to nourish their wives. The word “nourish” basically means to feed, however, it also carries the idea of supplying one’s needs. The husband is to supply the needs of his wife. While this may involve financially providing for her physical needs (food, clothing, shelter, etc.), she has other needs which are even more important. The husband is to nourish his wife mentally, emotionally, and spiritually as well. A husband is to be more than just a bread-winner; he is to be the spiritual head of the household. While the wife is still an individual with her own personal relationship with the Lord, the husband is to set an example and provide leadership for their home in the areas of prayer, Bible study, worship, and spiritual growth. He is to care for her needs as much as he does his own.

Husbands are also to cherish their wives. The word “cherish” means literally to keep warm. It is used in the Septuagint (Greek) version of Deuteronomy 22:6 to describe a mother bird covering and warming her young. To cherish is thus to lovingly care for and protect; to provide safety and security. The husband is to provide this warm, tender, protective care for his wife. She should feel secure in his love, not only from physical danger or harm, but, even more so, from spiritual danger to their family.

Do Not Be Bitter Toward Your Wife

In the last half of Colossians 3:19, Paul admonishes husbands not to be (or become) bitter toward their wives. The word “bitter” refers to the husband’s attitude toward his wife. While a husband might occasionally be irritated or even angry with his wife, he is not to become bitter toward her, to be left with a constant bitter taste in his mouth (or stomach) toward her. When a husband has this type of feeling toward his wife, he will usually deal harshly with her. The Apostle Peter, in his first letter, addresses the issue of a husband’s attitude toward his wife.

“Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.” (1 Peter 3:7)

Peter instructs husbands to dwell with their wives with understanding. The word “understanding” is from the Greek word “gnosis” which means knowledge. The use of this word stresses the importance of a husband seeking to know and understand his wife. Though husband and wife become one flesh in marriage, their relationship must grow and develop as they live together. It is interesting that in the Old Testament Scriptures, the word used to describe sexual intimacy between a husband and wife is the word “know” (cf. Gen. 4:1: “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain.”). The use of the word “know” implies that husband and wife share more than just physical intimacy. There is a mental, emotional, and spiritual intimacy that develops as well. A husband needs to make a real, concentrated effort to know and understand his wife’s needs in all these areas.

Peter also focuses on the importance of husbands giving honor to their wives. The word “honor” literally refers to the price or cost of something, that is, its value or worth. Husbands are to recognize the great value that is found in their wives. Proverbs 18:22 declares:

“He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from the LORD.”

A godly wife is a great blessing from the Lord, therefore, a husband should value and honor her as such. Some argue that women are weaker than men, are subservient to men, and are thus less important to God. None of these are Scriptural ideas. Peter does indicate that women are the weaker vessels. While this may be true of women physically, this in no way diminishes the value of their role and importance to God. Peter speaks of wives as being heirs together (with their husbands) of the grace of life. The expression “heirs together” means that believing wives share equally with their believing husbands in the inheritance of the grace of life. A husband who does not recognize the value of his wife and honor her as God does, will find his own spiritual life and growth hindered.

Though the Scriptures plainly teach that the husband is the head of his wife, this is not a position of great power or privilege, as some mistakenly believe, but one of tremendous responsibility. The husband is to be the spiritual head of his family. He is to supply the needs of his family, providing protection and security for them, not just physically, but spiritually. The number one priority of the husband is to love his wife, unconditionally, just as Christ loved the church, just as a man loves his own body. This is what he is bound by God to do. This is his duty, certainly to his wife, but more importantly, this is his duty to God.

We now turn our attention from the marriage relationship to the relationship and responsibilities of: