“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be bitter toward them” (Col 3:18, 19)
The Bible has clear marriage guidelines. These commands apply only to the believers. An unbeliever may read them and try to apply Biblical precepts to make his marriage better, but he cannot really obey the Word of God. For us, the children of God, the Bible is our Life Manual. The Word of God is written to us, sinners who are saved by grace. In the marriage set up, there are two basic rules: The wives submit to their own husbands (as Christ submitted to God the Father). Secondly, the husbands must love their wives, not their own way, but ‘as Christ loves the church’ (Eph 5:25). The husband and wife are equal before God. Their salvation experience is the same. But in the area of marriage these simple rules must be obeyed: wives submit and husbands love! Both these actions are first of all spiritual and they must glorify Christ, our Lord! The submission and the love are inspired by Jesus Christ and must give Him alone the glory! The Holy Spirit gives both the husband and wife the power to obey.
In the scripture above there is another element. It says that the husbands should love their wives and ‘do not become bitter towards them’. This is a special warning giving to the married men. Please pray for understanding! It means that the husband must recognize the tendency to become bitter against their loving wives. They must fight the strange temptation to become bitter as husbands at home. This is a warning. What does this bitterness mean? Bitterness is chronic unrepentant anger. It is a terrible thing, an emotion very difficult to bear. A root of bitterness ‘defiles many’ and fights against the grace of God in marriage (Heb 12:15). Marital bitterness poisons the whole home and makes everybody miserable. A bitter person makes others sad or angry. When you see a man or a woman afraid to marry, it is because they have experienced this bitter taste in a previous relationship. To them, marriage is like drinking poison every day, like having an incurable disease, with no hope of being happy ever again. That is why they prefer staying single. Bitterness causes piercing, sharp emotional pain, like the sting of a wasp. The wounds of bitter words are long lasting and difficult to forgive or forget. A bitter husband is harsh, hot tempered, holds grudges, is mean, greedy, hard hearted, stubborn and difficult to teach. In Nigeria people say that ‘love has become sour’. As a pastor I counsel many women who suffer terribly in a marriage with a bitter man who discourages them to be happy. Only God can help!
This tendency to bitterness is more common to husbands but it can be found in all careless relationships. What is the cause of this bitterness found in some husbands? The main cause I see is disappointment with their wives. At the beginning they love their wives. No bitter man wants to marry. To marry, you need to be happy. Love comes before bitterness. But this is the danger: It is possible for a man to truly love his wife at the beginning of the marriage, but later, he becomes bitter towards (or against) her. It is like a good fruit that becomes rotten with time. Why? What causes this change from good to bad? Thru prayers and the study of the Word I discovered that husbands become bitter towards their wives, when the wives fail to meet up with their husbands’ expectations, their ever growing spiritual and physical needs. This problem may be hidden when they are young and they are still busy ‘making money and rising children’. But after some time, the husband may desire to become more spiritual, to draw closer to God. He may desire that they should improve their standard of living. If the wife is ignorant of the source of this ‘midlife crisis’, as some call it, the husband will become disappointed in her. He will resent her words. He will complain against her choices. This bitterness may manifest itself in one particular, small area. For example, he says: ‘My wife is a good woman. She works hard. She is a good mother to our children. I love her very much. But… she does not respect me… she talks too much… she spends too much money on nonsense…’ These excuses are not big enough to make a husband so bitter but if the wife does not try to better understand him, he will begrudge her silently in his heart. He will compare her with other women he starts to admire silently. That is the seed of marital bitterness. In a way, both of them are guilty. The bitter husband has tried, but failed, to help the wife grow spiritually, mentally and emotionally. She is left behind, like the statue of a bride, smiling on her wedding day, but the dress is now thorn and faded, the artificial lashes fallen on her wrinkled cheeks… They are still living together but the sweet wine of early romantic love has gone, leaving behind the bitter taste of native medicines in the dry old mouth…
I am a woman. I am a wife. I am a mother and a grandmother. I had to study this subject because I need to fight the demons that will attack my husband. He does his own fight. But I am his helper. I should not be ignorant of this temptation. I must help him fight bitterness and not foolishly add to it. As a wife, I have tried to keep close to my husband, spiritually in particular. It pains me when he quotes a Bible verse or teaches me something new, and I am totally ignorant of that subject. I use that pain to grow! I challenge myself to study the Word of God so that when my husband needs somebody to talk to about the Bible, I am ‘current’ with it. I have learned many things about subjects that I do not like in particular. I know much about politics and current affairs in Nigeria. I am not a politician, but I need to know these things, if they are good or bad. Ignorance has never helped anybody. I need to know my husband’s plans, dreams and God’s purpose for his life. I need to pray for those. I need to grow as he grows. We need to grow together! This is the safety and the sweetness of a mature marriage that even death cannot destroy! We are not competing one against each other. We must complement each other. To complement my husband I need to grow too. As the vision for our lives and ministry develops and increases with time, so we must grow with it. To be left behind spiritually, to be a passive wife, it is sin. If I am lazy or careless with our relationship, and I just walk lazily behind him with nothing new to add to our marriage, that sin is almost like spiritual adultery. My husband will be tempted to be worried, angry, disappointed and bitter against me, his wife, helper and friend. As a wife, I should not be found to be too fast and lead my husband. I should also not be found to be too slow and leave him alone. Marriage is two people learning to be one. It has a beginning! It is also a process. Each one of us must grow in grace towards God and towards one another. I should not take his love for granted. I should be watchful for any ‘virus’ of disappointment towards me that I sense in my husband. I must be filled with the Holy Spirit so that I will help him be the man God wants him to be. We both work hard at making our marriage a success. But the hard work is bringing a greater than expected harvest of peace, joy and ministry to those who call us parents in Christ. I boldly declare that in Christ alone, our marriage is free from the pollution of bitterness! Love has won the battle! Dear children, may these words challenge you! God loves you! God loves your marriages! Glory to God!
(I wrote this article in 2018. My husband went to heaven in 2020. We were married for 47 years. I am rich in memories. I am richer in revelations. The Word of God can never change! God bless you all! In the picture, my beloved husband, Pastor Richmond Sisan Leigh, and I, about 2018)