Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. — Ephesians 5:25 NIV
Many men are willing to die; not enough are willing to truly live. Dying is easy. Living is hard.
Dads, this one is for you in your role as fathers. Many fathers find it difficult to express genuine emotions or to be an emotional support for their families — even though they do feel genuine emotions inside. The difficulty men face is expressing authentic emotions effectively in a society that has conditioned them to hide their emotions.
Unfortunately, in our country emotional expressions are stereotyped by gender. Girls are conditioned to believe it’s okay to cry when hurt. For boys, it’s never okay to cry; when hurt they must suck it up and play through the pain. Girls are encouraged to express emotional authenticity; boys are encouraged to bottle everything up inside. Women are expected to be nurturing and emotional. Men are expected to be tough and stoic. It is acceptable for women to talk nonstop with their friends, hug at every possible moment, and make group trips to the restroom for more talking. For men, it is acceptable to grunt one or two words to each other, fist-bump or high-five, and make solo trips to the restroom — where talking is strictly forbidden.
Two emotional expressions that seem to be acceptable for men are anger and violence. These come in handy on the battlefield and in competitive sporting events. But not so much in interpersonal relationships that require healthy emotional expression.
When considering the verse, “Husbands love your wives like Christ loved the church,” we don’t look long enough to discover the how and what of Christ’s love for the Church. Dads, listen up — marriage and leading a family entails so much more than simply having a death-sentence, sacrificial mentality. Please understand that Christ didn’t just sacrifice His life. From Scripture we find He also:
- Rose from the dead to bring the Church invigorating life.
- Ever lives for the Church and anticipates reunion with her.
- Keeps the Church always on His mind — her name is engraved on His hand.
- Intercedes for her.
- Meets the needs of the church by providing for her.
- Graciously and mercifully forgives her.
- Bestows His compassion, long-suffering, and love upon the Church.
- Infuses the Church with life, peace, joy, goodness, even humor.
The point of emphasis is this: There are far too many men who are willing to die for their families and not enough who are willing to live for them.
We need more courageous dads who will challenge the gender stereotype of their upbringing and today’s culture and will express authentic, positive, expressive emotional interaction. If men are to love like Christ loved the Church, then consider how He interacted with people.
Since I have an intimate fondness for the Gospel of John, I use that in many examples. I figure if God can take a Son of Thunder and transform him into John the Beloved, then He can transform men into the loving husbands and dads they should be. Dads, to accept the challenge of living out a loving emotional expression, be just like Jesus. Imitate Him in His emotional expression. If Jesus expressed an emotion, it is acceptable for men to express it too.
In looking at a few examples from the Gospel of John, we find Jesus modeled a wide variety of healthy interactions:
- John 3 — Jesus met Nicodemus at his point of spiritual need. He listened attentively and asked engaging questions (many men miss this point altogether).
- John 4 — Jesus met the woman at the well at her point of emotional and spiritual need, but in a different manner than Nicodemus. He was flexible, attentive, interested in her wellbeing, and wasn’t influenced or distracted by his male counterparts (disciples).
- John 5 — Jesus met the physical need of the lame man at the Bethesda Pool. He challenged him with a point-blank question: “Do you want to be well?” Men need to be in tune with their families and ask questions to identify the true needs.
- John 6 — Jesus met the physical needs of the masses by providing them with food. Men must provide for their families (food, shelter, protection, wellbeing, etc.). Though many men would proudly boast that they meet this need, keep in mind that providing for physical needs isn’t the only need wives and families have. Bringing home the bacon doesn’t replace quality time or an affectionate hug.
- John 7 — Jesus challenged intellectual needs (“How did this man get such learning?“). Husbands and dads must constantly improve their mental strength to hone their integrity, decision-making process, application of wisdom, and sharing of experience. Children rely on this as foundational for their future lives.
- John 8 — With the woman taken in adultery, Jesus was just, yet compassionate, merciful, protective, and forgiving. He also challenged the status quo when He said, “He who is without sin cast the first stone.” As dads, and especially as men, it’s okay to be compassionate, loving, protective, and forgiving. Dads, not to put the pressure on, but the example you live is usually the image children project on their heavenly Father.
- Jesus was affectionate with children, emotional at Lazarus’ death, angry with the temple merchants, and patient with the disciples. All throughout Scripture, Jesus modeled healthy relational behavior — and He was a man’s man.
I could go on and on. The point is, the relationship between a dad and his family is much more than sacrificial death or self-denial. I firmly believe God intends it to be a living, vibrant, enjoyable, and fulfilling relationship that naturally expresses genuine, healthy and interactive emotions. And He gave us a wonderful example to follow. So, dads, just be like Jesus!
Editor’s Note: Some comments / quotes are excerpted from author and speaker Nate Stevens’ book “Matched 4 Marriage — Meant 4 Life: Solving the Mystery of Relationships” (www.natestevens.net)