“Husbands, love your wives and do not be bitter toward them.”
“and do not be bitter toward them”
Verse 19 expresses the second command to the husband negatively. God does not want us to become cross with our wives. He does not want us to resent them. Our wives can be handy scapegoats for our frustrations. It is easy to blame our wives, “It’s her fault.” It is so easy to shrink from taking responsibility for our own actions.
The verb “bitter” means to embitter, irritate, or make bitter. It comes from a root meaning to cut or prick; hence it comes to mean something pointed, sharp, and pungent to the sense of smell. Then it came to mean painful to the feelings and bitter to the taste. The verb has the idea of being provoked to the point of anger and bitterness.
This specific negative command is a particular vulnerability in husbands. Some men become demanding or overbearing if they are angry about something the wife said or did. Love will counter this proclivity to harshness.
The New Testament uses the noun “bitter” literally for a spring of water that is brackish to the taste (James 3:11). James 3:14 describes jealousy as bitter. Hebrews 12:15 quotes Deuteronomy 29:17 to show the harm bitterness can do to the church. Bitterness heads the list of vices in Ephesians 4:31 and is used in the sense of resentment.
Psalm 64:3 uses the word “bitter” for cruel or harsh words. It is used for the misery of forsaking God (Jer. 2:19) and a life of sin (Jer. 4:18).
2 Samuel 17:8 uses “bitterness” for the fierceness of disposition. It is used of the Chaldeans as “that bitter and hasty nation” (Habakkuk 1:6). This nation was ready to take offense and act with reckless fury (compare Judges 18:25). Deuteronomy 32:32 uses bitterness of the moral depravity of the corrupt Canaanites. Isaiah employs this term of the subversion of the distinction between right and wrong as putting “bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter” (Isaiah 5:20).
Bitterness can lurk in the heart of a husband toward his wife. We can resent our wives because they criticize us. They may not respect our thinking or actions. She may disagree with us on a close and dear subject, such as disciplining the children. The husband cannot find an answer and become frustrated. As a result, he becomes resentful toward the person he should love (Eph 4:31; Hebrews 12:15; James 3:14).
The husband’s role is to love his wife in a way that gives her security in his love.
It is harder to live the Christian life at home than elsewhere. The husband can be more courteous to other women than his wife. Wives can give more deference to other men than their husbands. Familiarity breeds contempt or at least disrespect. We take each other for granted.
How sad that we treat those closest to us with the greatest harshness. God has not called the husband to dominate the wife. God created Eve out of Adam’s side (Gen. 2:18). He did not take the woman from man’s feet to be trampled upon, nor did He take the woman from his head so that she might dominate him; He took her from his side to be his partner.
Resentment is a serious handicap in the function of marriage. This will cause great misery to the wife. Her unhappiness, in turn, will cause more unhappiness in the husband. These are two reactions reacting against each other. There will be misery as long as they live if they do not address the attitude of bitterness.