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Is Ephesians 5:33 “Man’s Advice” or the Word of God?

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A well-meaning husband once wrote me:

I attended your conference. You have very useful material, however lots of man material and very little godly content. For example, "A wife has one driving need—to feel loved." A man says that! God says, "A wife has one driving need—love God above all. Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37:4). What couples need is to dedicate and rely on Jesus, not all this MAN advice that says "when that need is met, he/she is happy." I'm sorry, but without the love of God, there is no happiness.

In writing about the Israelites who had been pursuing righteousness by works and not by faith, Paul said, “For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge” (Romans 10:2). 

This husband who wrote me above is a perfect example of having zeal for God, but without knowledge.

When he points out that the statement “A wife has one driving need—to feel loved” is said by a man, and therefore should not be elevated to the level of God’s Word, is he saying that I am that man, or is he referring to the apostle Paul?

If Paul, then does he disregard everything in Scripture that is not a direct quote of either God from above or Jesus while on earth? If so, he contradicts his own argument when he references the psalm of David, which was written by the extremely human and sinful hand of Israel’s second king, not the eternal King Jesus. But as we know, “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). This means we can only conclude that Ephesians 5:33, even though written by the hand of Paul, is the Word of God revealed through an apostle from Jesus Christ Himself. 

Or when this husband points out that “a man” is teaching that a wife has a driving need to feel loved, is he referencing me, and that is why my teachings should be disregarded in lieu of more direct teachings from God that say to delight ourselves in the Lord? 

I will give him the benefit of the doubt that he does not automatically disregard everything his pastor preaches from the pulpit merely because “a man” is speaking it aloud and not a burning bush or a cloud in the sky. Therefore, he must be questioning my interpretation and teaching of Ephesians 5:33. And if so, I suppose he can be commended for heeding Paul’s warning in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 to “examine everything carefully.” As well, 1 John 4:1 says, “Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God.”

So then let’s “examine everything carefully” and “test the spirits,” as it pertains to the statement: “A wife has one driving need—to feel loved.” Does this, as is claimed, contradict Psalm 37:4, which says, “Delight yourself in the LORD; and He will give you the desires of your heart”?

Paul’s exact words in Ephesians 5:33 are: “However, each one of you [husbands] also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” Why would God command a husband to love his wife? Even more specifically, why would He command him to agape-love his wife, which is the Greek word used here for “love”? When Paul and other New Testament authors refer to agape love, they are using a word that is of and from God, whose very nature is love itself.

First, God is not in the business of commanding that which comes natural to someone, much like a parent does not have to command a child to eat all of his M&M’s. Therefore, He has commanded in Scripture that which does not come natural to a husband but nevertheless he must still do—love his wife with an agape, God-kind of love.

Second, and what applies specifically here concerning this man’s suggestion, the reason God commands a husband to agape-love his wife, though it’s against his nature, is because as the wife’s Creator and Designer, God knows best that when her husband is unloving toward her, she is vulnerable to his reactions. That is why he commands the husband to agape-love his wife. Therefore, we can safely conclude that a wife “needs” her husband’s love.

But how does this need for her husband’s love connect to David’s psalm that says, “Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart”? It’s quite simple. This is about a command to love God, not about a need to love God. Numerous passages in Deuteronomy command us to “love the Lord your God.” In the Gospels, Jesus Himself reemphasizes our command to love God as our “greatest commandment.”

And yes, we all need God in our lives; let’s not parse words. But there are happy people on most every block who do not believe in God or love God; nor do they experience His love. But are they happy? Are they delighted in their lives? Can they even have great marriages? Absolutely—to the best of what they are capable of without having the love of God in their lives. Sadly, their joy will come to an end, if not on this side of eternity than on the other. But for now, they are indeed happy.

So this is not a question of whether a wife needs her husband’s love or if she needs God’s love. Ultimately, she needs both. One because of the vulnerability her Creator knows she has to feel loved by her husband, and the other simply because everyone needs God intervening in their lives. Jesus said in John 15:5, “Apart from Me you can do nothing.”

Having said this, I believe this guy has a good heart. He wants to do God's will. But he needs to think before he speaks. Zeal without knowledge makes us a fool and causes the secular world to call us deplorable. 

Emerson Eggerichs, Ph.D.
Author, Speaker, Pastor

Questions to Consider

  1. How would you respond to one who says that we must take anything Paul says with a grain of salt, because he was merely a man?
  2. What does Psalm 37:4 mean to you? Do you think this contradicts Emerson’s statement that a wife needs her husband’s love? Explain.
  3. The suggestion that God is not in the business of commanding that which comes natural to us would also imply that a wife does not naturally show respect toward her husband, since Ephesians 5:33 also commands that. Do you agree with this? Why or why not?
  4. Emerson connects the dots from God commanding a husband to agape-love his wife to this meaning she is vulnerable to his unloving reactions and therefore needs his love. Do you agree or disagree? Explain.