In men’s groups, I’ve seen guys break down and cry when realizing the chasm between what the church has told them to be and who they are as made by God. They feel right when they provide for and support their families — they say it’s a great feeling, unlike any other, packed with meaning and purpose. However, they have been convinced that this means if they’re being like Jesus — if they’re being servants — then they will have no needs or requirements or expectations of their own. This is not true servanthood.
No man in his right mind gets married solely to serve; he has wishes, needs and desires, as well. But often the church has told him this is selfish and sinful. And then psychologically unhealthy women latch on to this sweet-sounding nonsense and use it against their husbands. And Christian Nice Guys hide behind it. There is a part of them that doesn’t think they should require or ask for anything. But the God-given part, the true man, knows he has dignity, including inherent needs and desires. Men long to be respected by their wife or girlfriend yet are told that such longing is unchristian; those who don’t require respect don’t receive it. Contradictions everywhere mean the internal frustrations build, and so do the tears of the men still alive enough to shed them. For the ones who seem dead to emotion, if they don’t acknowledge and face the conflict, the inner battle works them over, and they become destined to either explode or implode.
Christian men are told, “Love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). So what does this sacrifice entail, and how literal is the admonition?
Love incorporates many actions and thoughts spanning the emotional, volitional and behavioral spectrums. Love can be gentle, tough and even confrontational (Proverbs 27:5-6). The Bible even goes so far as to say, “Let a righteous man strike me — it is a kindness; let him rebuke me — it is oil on my head” (Psalm 141:5).
When you strip away the veneer of spiritual-sounding “virtues,” Christian Nice Guys have been encouraged to be doormats for their wives. This does not reflect loving sacrifice, and it is not attractive. Why? Because it violates an ironclad law of human nature: We don’t respect passive people any more than we like aggressive people. The goal is to become an assertive individual.
A passive husband is an unreliable husband, and this makes his wife anxious, because she knows it will leave her and the children open to difficulties that threaten the family. Most women won’t just sit there and let such damage happen; they will do something. One choice a wife can make is to become overtly critical and even ridiculing — and some do — but this will never bring about the results she truly needs. A much better (and much more difficult) choice is to help her husband see what fear and anxiety are doing to his life.
What’s being done to Christian men today is similar to what was done to Christian women years ago, when they were told, “Just submit and your marriage will get better.” Now we're telling men, “Sacrifice your identity for your wife, and your marriage will be strong.” This is exactly what a culture that's obsessed with quick fixes wants to hear, but life doesn’t really work that way.
We should also keep in mind that Paul is making an analogy in Ephesians, and, as Logic 101 demonstrates, all analogies are incomplete. If this analogy were complete, we husbands would blasphemously think we were Christ and our wives were the church. Paul is saying we must sacrifice for our wives and our families on the whole; our soul feels right when we do, and we should know that we are choosing selfishness if we do not. The future of the Nice Guy’s marriage depends on interpreting this teaching as it was intended to be understood, which includes the need for a baseline of respect.
Unconditional love is beautiful and imperative when dealing with small children. The same type of unconditional love toward an adult — without requiring respect — is foolish and damaging. That my wife and I demand respect from each other has kept our marriage from some tremendous pitfalls. Respect is a mirror that can compel a person to face issues in his or her life that might otherwise be completely avoided and thereby fester beneath the surface.
This article was adapted from No More Christian Nice Guy by Paul Coughlin.