“Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them” (Colossians 3:19 NASB).
It is repeated enough in the Bible that we should get the picture: Our main task as husbands is to love our wives. Not to be confused about the nature of that love, Paul adds a qualifier in the Ephesian account of this command: “just as Christ also loved the church” (Ephesians 5:25).
Once I had a group of men whiteboard this thought with me: How did Christ love the church on earth, and how is He loving her still? Very quickly we came up with 30–40 ways.
He spent time with His disciples, pursued them, taught them, listened deeply, understood them even in their immaturity, sacrificed for them, prayed for them, fed them, protected them from the evil one, calmed their fears, constantly pointed them to the Father and His Word, manifested the Father in front of their eyes … the list could go on and on.
One More Qualifier
But now Paul adds one more definer of what love does. “Love your wives and do not be embittered against them.”
Bitterness is harbored hurt. It happens when our wives do something that bothers or hurts us, but we do not quickly choose forgiveness (like Christ would do).
Bitterness is a settled anger, and it always seeks revenge. It is very destructive. Hebrews 12:15 tells us it will always spring up, always cause trouble, and always defile many.
Bitterness hurts others. Bitter people hurt people. Always.
Have you ever met a bitter man? Do you have any desire to become that man?
Everything starts here in our home “loving laboratory” with our wives. We must learn, practically and fully, how to deal with hurt and disappointment when others are involved.
How do we become embittered? I have often given this definition of bitterness: “the corruption in my spirit that comes from my unwillingness to accept and thank God for every person and circumstances in my life.”
I think I deserve more, or different, or better. So, when I discover that my life has less or different than I planned, I get angry at the person or circumstances and angry, ultimately, at God.
Overcoming bitterness is possible if I will aggressively cooperate with God. The components are clearly outlined in God’s Word.
1. Admit my bitterness, without pointing the blame at anyone else. Regardless of what they have done, or failed to do, I am responsible for my choices and how I’ve responded.
2. Forgive my offender, constantly and quickly, which is an act of faith and a choice of my will made possible by God’s grace. People often say, “But you don’t know what they’ve done. I can’t forgive!” Christ tells us to forgive and love everyone—even our enemies! And He could not ask us to do something impossible. We will need God’s grace, which comes from humbly admitting our need and turning to Him, but we can forgive.
3. Accept my circumstance (or person). In this case, accept our wives as the perfect gift from God, who knows what we need. We could write a book here, but this is the key to giving her unconditional love. If we don’t really accept our wives unconditionally, they will feel this tension, which creates incredible problems. They will feel that they must perform and that they are not really loved. Ultimately, this step for us as husbands means we must embrace the sovereignty of God over our lives.
4. Thank God. God commands this. We are to give thanks in everything. He knows that we need this perspective to overcome the bondage of accumulated hurt. When we get here, we have come through our bitterness. With our wives, we should be continually, daily thanking God for them, even in their faults and failings (which we must humbly realize we also have in abundance). We must realize that they are God’s gift to us.
Their weaknesses can be used as God’s tool to teach us many things we would not learn otherwise, if we will choose God’s responses. We are not in a prison of circumstance (“Why did You give me a mate with these weaknesses?”) but a classroom of opportunity (“What do You want to develop in me through my right response to my mate? Thank You, Lord, that even my wife’s weaknesses can help me be the man of God I should be”).
A Vital Question
The question right this minute for each of us is this: Is there any bitterness in my heart toward my mate? Any harbored hurt?
I often have couples sit before God with a tablet and ask themselves this question, and then write down everything that comes to mind. Then I walk them through forgiving their mate for any hurt that has occurred.
The next step is seeking cleansing from God for any sinful ways they have responded to that hurt, and clearing their conscience with their mate where necessary.
Bitterness destroys people and ruins marriages. Be ruthless in your evaluation, and aggressive in dealing with this issue. It’s why Paul mercifully wrote it here for us, and it is one of the great ingredients of a successful marriage.
If you want to think through this more deeply, I’ve written a booklet called Forgiveness: Healing the Harbored Hurts of Your Heart.