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Let me illustrate with a weird story—Biff does not like himself. Early in the morning, he will stand in front of the mirror and put himself down. Whenever someone criticizes Biff, he will chime in by providing three or four other negative things that the critiquer did not know. From all accounts, Biff has a low view of himself.
Sometimes he will be in a conversation with someone, and without any discernible provocation, he starts rolling his eyes and calls himself “ignorant.” The other day he left a conversation with himself, huffing under his breath. When I asked him about it, he said that he said something dumb and got angry with himself.
With an almost hopeless resignation, Biff says that he can’t believe some of the things he says and does. It’s quite easy for Biff to be self-critical. If you mentioned three good things that he did, he would come back with ten areas where he got wrong.
It makes you wonder why he would even try. When Biff spends time thinking or talking about himself, you know one thing will always happen: Biff does not have happy thoughts about himself.
If you have read this far, you may be thinking, “Is this a true story? This narrative is quite odd. Biff must have a disorder of some sort. He’s weird.”
Though you may be somewhat suspicious or even puzzled by my story, I can assure you that it is authentic, and it has happened millions of times, with millions of people—since sin interrupted the bliss of the garden life that Adam and Eve enjoyed.
Let me explain my story. It’s quite simple. Quite logical. Quite biblical. And, sadly, quite common.
For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church (Ephesians 5:29).
In the Ephesian’s text, Paul is clear to say that there is something wrong with a person who hates himself. This universal truth is why you find it hard to believe that Biff dislikes himself so much. How can it be? To hate yourself is weird. Paul agrees: “no one ever hated his own flesh.”
From a Christian worldview, we understand that when a man and a woman come together for marriage, they become one flesh. They are no longer two separate entities but have agreed (covenanted) with God that they would be one.
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh (Genesis 2:24).
If you are married, do you hate yourself? Let me ask it another way, “Do you dislike your spouse?” If you do, you hate yourself—to the degree and as often as you dislike your spouse.
Take some time to think about the last paragraph you just read. Think about it from a Christian worldview perspective. The future hope and health of your marriage hangs on how you think about and respond to it.
May I be honest with you? I have hated myself on many occasions. Each time that I do, I am just as “biblically insane” as I have described Biff to be. Whenever I get angry, frustrated, critical, or other forms of hate toward my wife, I hate myself.
Paul says this self-defeating attitude is wrong. Fortunately, he does not leave us with the negative but teaches us how not to hate or how to stop hating ourselves, by saying that we (husbands) are to nourish and cherish our wives.
When Biff and Mable came to see me for help, I sketched out a picture of what nourishing and cherishing should look like for them. Then we talked about it. Here is a version of it.
The meaning of “to nourish” is to grow. Biff’s job is not to hate his wife but “to grow her.” One of the ways a husband will be able to discern, evaluate, and assess how he leads his wife is by how he grows her. What does her growth look like as it pertains to his care?
The most significant and essential growth category of a wife is her spiritual life since her spiritual life is the foundation for everything else in her life. Therefore, one of the ways a man can serve his wife is by assisting her in her walk with God—to grow her spiritually.
If the man really “likes himself,” he will be diligent, discerning, and determined in nourishing or growing his wife so she can manifest and enjoy a bountiful crop for her benefit and God’s glory.
Some men will read this and may present an argument along these lines: “My wife is not responsive no matter what I do. She won’t grow.” While there may be some truth to the argument, in that she is resistant to his shepherding care, it should never be a show-stopper to his gospel-centered, missional advancements.
This perspective is where the gospel becomes essential in our motive, thinking, and enabling power for helping a person change.
God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
I’m sure some women are just plain difficult to live with inside the marriage. They are bitter, angry, critical, dismissive, and generally unappealing. Their life has not turned out the way they wanted. They have their issues, and Christ is not the animating center of their thinking and behaving.
I do understand that a wife can be a sinner too. But the gospel informs me that though I may not be as bad as she is, there was a time when I was that bad and probably even worse than she is now.
If you are honest, you know that no matter how evil your spouse is, she is not worse than you, apart from the grace of God. Can any of us take the high road and say that we are better than the person we married? I hope not. That’s self-righteousness that is devoid of the gospel.
If you do believe you are better than anyone—especially your spouse—apart from the grace of God, I recommend you march right back to the cross and take in the horrors of that scene and remind yourself that those horrors happened because of you.
It may be an over-used expression, but it is true when someone said that all of the ground at the cross is level ground. There are no degrees of righteousness, and no matter what your spouse has done, she (or he) is not worse than you are.
Believing, experiencing, and applying this kind of gospel understanding must be the starting point in any relationship. If not, that relationship will not endure.
It was your sin (and mine) that put the glorious Son of God on the cross. The cross is the perfect perspective-changer. Viewing life through the lens of the cross brings all impossibilities into the realm of the possible.
God reconciling Himself to sinful humanity is the absolute height of impossibility. Nothing has ever surpassed the degree of difficulty that the cross implies. And the cross is the “bar” that the Father is calling us to emulate.
Should not you have had mercy on your (spouse), as I had mercy on you (Matthew 18:33)?
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18).
Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:32).
Paul does not tell us precisely what it means to grow or to cherish your wife. But it is possible to speculate while not going out-of-bounds biblically. For example, I said that “to grow” your wife is best exemplified by helping her to grow spiritually.
The Bible would support this since it tells us that the two greatest commandments are to love (Matthew 22:36-40). These are spiritual imperatives. I’m sure you could come up with many more spiritual imperatives in addition to the two greatest ones.
Then Paul conjoins his to “grow appeal” with a “to cherish appeal.” We are to cherish our wives, which means to make them warm. We are to warm them up.
I suppose you could interpret this as giving them a hug on a cold winter’s night. That would be a good start for sure. But if you don’t live in a place that ever gets cold, that interpretation will be lacking and frustrating.
Just like “to grow” has a spiritual dynamic to it, to cherish also has one. The main reason I say this is because of the context of Paul’s appeal.
For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church (Ephesians 5:29).
Though I’m sure that there is a bumper sticker on a car somewhere that says something like, “Have you hugged Jesus today?” that is not what Paul is talking about in this text. Christ is not hugging people today.
But we are called to warm our wives just as Christ did. What does that mean? I think it would be good for you to give some prayerful consideration to what that means.
I suspect that as you think about and pray about how to treat your wife, the Spirit of God will illuminate your mind with how you can respond to her. If He does do this for you, which He will because He gives grace to the humble, it will only be a matter of obedience as to whether or not you will model Christ by “warming her” practically.
Here is an additional thought: since your wife is unique, one of the best things you could do is ask her how you could best warm her. I suspect she has thought about it. After you ask your “unique wife” how you can best warm her, consider these recommendations.
Regularly Confess Your Sins to Her – Wives, you can do the same for your husbands. Only Christians can do this, and it is one of the biggest perks of the gospel. Imagine living in a relationship where God removes the sins of conflict, anger, and hurts.
One of the quickest ways to warm up a wife is to remove the things that are between you and her. The way you do this is through repentance. How cool is that?
Not repenting of your sins against your spouse is like having food and not eating it. It’s nonsensical not to be regularly confessing, forgiving, and actively reconciling with your spouse. It’s the best “spot remover” known to man.
Talk to Her – Though confession is talking, talking is more than a confession. Being silent in a marriage is one of the worst things a spouse can do. Too many husbands believe that being vulnerable and transparent goes against our football-centric, Americanized view of what a macho man should be.
These kinds of men do not see weakness as a strength, and their insecurities hinder them from fully trusting God’s anti-culture form of communication. He calls us to be transparent people, not hiding our weaknesses and failures but honestly admitting them when they occur.
God works through weakness, not strength. Be humble, open, honest, transparent, vulnerable, and kind in how you speak to your spouse. Humility is guaranteed to warm her up.
Pray with Her – Though confession and talking are forms of communication, prayer is a specific and different kind of conversation. Prayer is a “triangulated communication” that happens between a husband, his wife, and God.
I have often recommended to a couple to sit on the end of their bed, holding hands, talking to God and each other. Though it is a simple thing, it can have a profound benefit in a one-flesh union.
There is a similarity in all of these warming activities. They all require talking, not just speaking for talking’s sake, but specific kinds of talking. It’s communication that gets to the heart of who two people are.
It’s transparent talking that tightly unites two people to each other and God from the inside out. God is a talking God, and it is His Words that increase our faith and motivate us to follow Him (Romans 10:17).
When a man becomes a specific kind of biblical-talking man, God will use his Bible-centered speech patterns to grow and warm his wife, and her heart will begin to yearn to follow him. Don’t be like Biff: For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).