Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must [see to it] that she respects her husband.
Wiser minds than mine have written extensively on this verse and what all the two commands contained herein are all about. Since I am a husband and not a wife, I will focus in on what God is saying to me through this verse.
I am commanded to love [my] own wife. In modern America, this is something that bears explicit command.
There are plenty of men who love other men’s wives. I hear about men leaving their wives for other women with alarming regularity. And, to be clear, once is alarmingly regular to me. But I have not hear these stories only once. I have heard many of these stories. I am commanded not to be one of these.
There are men who do not love their own wife. That there are women trapped in loveless marriages is no surprise to lots of people. There are men who do not love anyone but themselves. I see their “Man Caves” and hear of their selfish exploits and do not hear about how they are loving their wives. I do not think there is anything inherently wrong with having a little space to one’s self, but “Man Caves” are a sort of toss-the-woman-out venue. If I am to be one flesh with my wife (and I am), how can I have any place in my life in which she is not welcome?
Then there are the men who do, in fact, love their wives. These men are a group from which I might draw examples and patterns and learn from my elders in marriage and loving a wife.
But God goes further. I am not merely to love [my] own wife, but to love her even as [myself]. If I have no other examples in my life, God points to the one example each and every one of us has readily available: our self love. I know that there are people who think that they do not love themselves, but that is nonsense. Most of those who claim not to love themselves do all the requisite things to prove self love: they feed themselves and groom themselves and so on. That is what God is getting at. How I love myself should be s starting point for loving my wife. Other verses in this same book tell me to love my wife and Christ loves the church. That is hard core and I will contemplate that another time, but let me look at the starting point this morning. My minimum requirement is to love my wife as I love myself. I should attend to her needs — food, shelter, clothing, sleep, and such — and to such wants as may be appropriate.
The reason I think of this as the minimum requirement is that some men — myself included — love ourselves differently than our wife would like to be loved. I know that there are things my wife considers “needs” that are not even blips on the radar for me. Conversely, there are things that I would label “need” that my wife thinks can be done without quite nicely. To love her as I love myself is to attend to the things that she perceives as needs. After all, my self love attends to the things that I perceive as needs, whether they actually are or not. To love her in the same fashion necessitates the same approach.
I know I am failing at this. It is not that I do not try or that I am unwilling, but that my attempts are inconsistent and that my willingness is sometimes conditional. God, please make me able to put forth this effort consistently and for my willingness to be unconditional, just as Your love is for me.