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An Unjust Disdain

You know there's a subtlety when it comes to evil. We think we understand evil, but in reality, we don't. Evil comes to us from another dimension. It is very insidious. There is a reason why evil and Eden was represented by the snake with his twisting and turns and repulsive yet alluring appearance. You know it's said that some snakes charm their prey before striking, and in some similar way evil probably does that with us as well. We know evil when we hear it… most of the time. But actually, as we shall see, evil in its most insidious form wants to masquerade as good. You see the world is too much with us and we cannot escape. Its influence is all around us. We rely on empty pretensions to create a world of our own, independent of reality. We overvalue our importance. We undervalue what is closest to us. We are unhappy, never seeing ourselves as we are, yet always thinking that the other person's life is somehow better. To coin a phrase “the grass is greener on the other side” and life is better there. If only we could change places.

Michel de Montaigne was one of the most influential writers of the French renaissance. Montaigne argues that such absurdness is really a type of vainglory, an emptiness in which we both overestimate and, at the same time, underestimate the reality of everyday life. My neighbor’s house, for instance, is no better than mine, and yet I see his house as more valuable than mine simply because it is not mine. If I value what is not mine more than I should, I value what is mine even less. In either scenario, I remain an unhappy pauper, or as Montaigne puts it:

I undervalue the things that I possess, just because I possess them, and attach a higher value to things that are not mine, but belong to another and are beyond my reach. This habit of mind . . . causes husbands to view their wives, and many fathers to view their children, with an unjust disdain.

II, 17: On Presumption

This phrase that Montaigne uses… unjust disdain. It's an interesting choice of words isn't it? What is disdain? Disdain is defined as a feeling of contempt for someone or something regarded as unworthy or inferior. It comes from an old 14th century French word meaning literally to treat as unworthy, and it surely involves looking down on somebody or something; to regard that somebody or something is not worthy of our respect. We may have a healthy disdain for companies that mistreat their workers. The rich man may treat the poor man with disdain because he considers him inferior. But to show disdain against one's own children and spouse, that doesn't seem right or just, does it?

You know this notion of disdain is not far from what we find in Holy Scripture. Paul writes to the brethren there at the church of Colossae in Colossians 3.19, a passage familiar to us:

Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them.

Colossians 3.19

You know it's an interesting choice of words, this command to love our wives contrasted with being bitter towards them or against them. Indeed a woman in a troubled marriage once asked what she had done to make her husband think so little of her. She could not please him, and he became angry at even the smallest things. She still loved him, but found it curious that God would have to command a man to love his wife. Love for her was normal. She simply could not understand her husband’s undirected but abiding anger.

You know what is it that makes a man embittered toward his wife? Is there some lingering primordial feeling, a resentment that goes back to Adam and the Garden of Eden? Sin, after all, came into the world because of the woman, but so did the Christ. One cancels out the other just as the pain in childbirth is canceled out by a mother’s first look into the face of her newborn.

It would seem to me then, that a truer explanation may be closer to what Montaigne is suggesting. A man devalues his wife because she is his wife. The other woman looks better to him just as the other house looks better to him. What he does not have is more important than what he does have. Moses talked to the Israelites in the book of Exodus as the Law was given to them. And one of the things that was said there in Exodus 20.17 was this:

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

You see admittedly, the underlying wrong here is covetousness. The irony, though, is that in the commandment not to covet, a wife is placed in the same category as house, as cattle, as any material possession. But a modern perspective argues that woman here is but chattel, a possession of her husband and without a life of her own. We’ve heard the feminist perspective before, and some may even believe it, but such an explanation seems simplistic here. The underpinnings are more complex. Indeed, the modern perspective never accounts why any of us would want something that we do not have. We assume that a man covets his neighbor’s house because his neighbor has a better house, but that is not what the Scripture actually says. No, we want a different wife for the same reason we want a different car, or a different house, or a different anything. It is not because all of these things are mere impersonal objects. The real answer is that we want something other than our own life. A different house is not going to help us. A different wife is not going to please us. Living somewhere else is not going to make our life better, or less bitter. The problem, you see, is within us.

Going back to the woman in the troubled marriage, the husband is told to love his wife, not because it is not natural, but rather because it is natural. Loving his wife is the best thing he can do for himself. That’s the reality. The reason we are told, “be not bitter” is because disdain is the opposite of love. Seemingly, there is both a positive and a negative to the same command. We love, and in so doing, we must not be bitter, ever. When a man speaks harsh words to his wife, that is not love. That is not even natural. The apostle Paul wrote the Ephesian brethren in another familiar passage to us in Ephesians 5:

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. 28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, 30 because we are members of His body.

Ephesians 5.25-30

You know admittedly the wording here involves a simile rather than literal language. This thing “A” is compared to or said to be like that thing “B.” The description given to “A” and to “B” is as accurate as literal words can make it to be. In this passage the point is emphasized by the use of not one, but two similes. We are to love our wives even as Christ loved the church, and also husbands are to love their own wives as their own bodies. A man may mistakenly think that because the rhetorical figure here is simile and not a literal statement, that he does not have to assimilate or obey the command. Nothing could be further from the truth. But yet we find that altogether there are times we as husbands don't simply follow this command and come anywhere near loving our wives as Christ loved the church.

Christ loved the church despite our shortcomings, despite our failures. It's not husbands love your wives in situations where it's easy or when it's deserved. It's a simple command, yet one that we all too often forget to follow because by nature we are selfish creatures. That's exactly what Satan wants us to be… selfish. When it comes to loving our wife, the devil can become decidedly deceptive. Wasn't it Paul who told the brethren at Corinth in 2 Corinthians 11.14:

No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.

You might say, to coin the phrase from an old song, we are “blinded by the light” from the angel of light.

Consider, if you will, the notion that we should love our wives. You might say, “Well, I do. I love my wife. I'm not unfaithful to her. We've been married for so many years. I provide for her. I work 8:00 to 5:00 every day. I take care of the children. We have a roof over our heads. We have food on the table. I love my wife.” Sometimes just saying it isn’t enough. We want to think that we love her but displays of impatience and disdain tell us that we really don't love her. Some people can even marry because they are in love with love rather than with the person. When we begin to look at our wife as something other than a person we are on the wrong track. You may call it love but calling a skunk a cat does not change the smell. Remember what Peter said:

You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.

1 Peter 3.17

Do you honor her? Most of us on the day of our wedding say phrases like that somewhere in our vows, right? So many years later, do you still honor? Do you consider her, as Peter mentions, your fellow heir? Isn't that the very reason woman was created for man and from man in the beginning? To be a help meet for him? Going back to Genesis the second chapter:

And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.

Genesis 2.18 (KJV)

Some of us, I'm afraid, have viewed the term “help meet” as a subservient role; one likened to a servant or slave. We might say again “I am faithful to my spouse”, and while this may be indeed true, we treat her like a second-class citizen. We place no value on her opinions. In fact, we rarely ask for her input, deciding instead to take the stance that I am the head of the household. My decisions are infallible. Control is at the center of such view. There are psychiatrists that talk about dealing with women who are involved in some form of domestic violence. And it's very obvious when it involves anger or worse, violence. But it's less obvious when the abuse is control. Both are equally devastating. You see, even control is a form of domestic violence. Many people do not even recognize they are being controlled. Mental abuse is devastating to so many people, and there seems to be an inherent need in some men to want to control their spouse or their girlfriend. Control.

Husbands, love your wives. Even as Christ also loved the church. Husbands, do you love your wife? It's imperative that we do, not only because it's what the Lord commands, but because it is right. And furthermore, if we don't, we will be in jeopardy of raising an entire generation of children to follow in our foolish example.

It's for that very reason we need to look to the cross. And in so doing, see the love Christ has for us, His church. That is the standard. That is the basis for the command to love our wives. Husbands, we must look to the Christ and His relationship to His church. The sacrifice He made and the unrequited love He bestowed upon us. That is love, and that is exactly how we ought to treat our spouse.

Husbands, love your wives.

And be not bitter against her.

Husbands, are you or have you ever been bitter against your spouse? Have you ever treated her with unjust disdain? The best thing a man can do for his wife is to love her for who she is. Don’t ask her to become like your neighbor’s wife. Don’t show disdain toward her or act the part of petty machismo. That is not the way of God. The best thing a man can do for himself is to love his wife. Call it self-interest, if you wish, but it is as much self-interest and natural as is breathing. The best thing a man can do for his children is to love their mother. There is no need to look further than our own life and our own family and our own spouse.

Men, the grass isn't always greener on the other side. Sometimes we overvalue our importance, and we undervalue what we have. It's like the prophet Malachi said:

Take heed then to your spirit, and let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth.

Malachi 2.15b

The command for husbands to love their wives and be not bitter against them is rooted in the love that Christ has shown us all.

I pray we never view our wives with an unjust disdain.