"Husbands, love your wives and do not be bitter toward them." (Col. 3:19, NKJV)
One of the great temptations a husband faces is to be bitter toward his wife. Bitterness and love are, in Colossians 3:19, opposite ends of the spectrum of how a husband might treat his wife.
The Temptation of Bitterness
Bitterness is the most sensitive of the tastes, and most of us find it harsh, unpleasant, and disagreeable. Case in point: Unsweetened cocoa. Do you remember the first time you discovered the shockingly harsh taste of unsweetened cocoa? It blows the mind of young children that anything bearing the brown Hershey label could taste so bad! You never find children sneaking cocoa…more than once.
Identifying relational bitterness is not as simple as a taste test. A harsh or bitter man will rarely admit it. He will call himself firm, melancholy, sober, principled or any number of pseudonyms for bitter. Here's the reality: Most men treat their wives' harshly. If men did not struggle with harshness God would not waste his time commanding against it. Unless you have been sanctified beyond the norm you regularly sin against your wife by bitterness.
If you are unconvinced, here are a few diagnostic tests: Does your wife enjoy spending time with you? Does she feel encouraged by you? Do you make her feel safe, physically and emotionally? Is she proud to name you as her husband? Negative answers likely have bitterness to blame.
Expressions of Bitterness
One deadly form of the special sin of husbands is secret bitterness–an underlying attitude of intense displeasure toward another. Secret bitterness can be related to the failures of the wife. Virtually every married man has had a pity party over his wife's sins, whether real or imagined. For some men, these pity parties are ongoing: "She has stolen my freedom. She's not the woman I married. I try so much harder than she does." Because of this attitude they fail to treat their wives with a love that expresses appreciation to God for his unique gift.
Then there is overt bitterness. Harsh men "persuade" their wives through physical, mental, or verbal strength rather than through love. They use harsh language with their wives. They treat them with a severity that others would find offensive if they could see it. This bitterness clearly fails to reflect the tender and faithful affection with which Christ loves the church (Eph. 5:25-30).
Men, you and I need to repent of our bitterness. We need to trust more fully in Christ, who as our covenant head does not treat us with the bitterness our sins deserve.
In an upcoming post I'll consider the command in Colossians 3:19 for husbands to love their wives.