Over the past two days I have been writing about Ephesians 5 and the great mystery of marriage–that in some way marriage is a portrait, a reflection, of the relationship of Christ to his church. In the first article I introduced this metaphor and in the second I spoke about how the wife completes her part of the picture.
Paul now speaks to husbands and here is what he says (in Ephesians 5:25:32): Husbands, you make your marriage an accurate portrait of the real marriage when you give up your life to your wife. You have the unique task of displaying the gospel in your willing, joyful, loving leadership of your wife. In this relationship that is meant to be a portrait of the relationship of Christ to the church, the husband is called to be an accurate portrait of Christ. Husbands, you are to be toward your wife as Christ is toward his church. That is a little bit abstract so let’s see how it takes shape by asking three questions: What, how and why?
What is a husband to do to? Husband, love your wife and give yourself up for her. Notice that Paul does not exactly parallel what he has said to wives. He does not immediately command you to be the head of your wife. He has told your wife to submit to your leadership, but he doesn’t begin by saying, “Husbands, lead!” Instead, he tells you to be filled with love for your wife. You are to lead in love, to give yourself up. This is not love as we may think of it in our culture—love as an emotion or love as something that is purely physical. True love is an act of will. It requires action. You are not commanded to be romantically warm and fuzzy with your wife, though hopefully you have that too, but you are told to act in love toward her.
The model for your love is Christ’s love for his people. How did Christ love his people? How much did he love his bride? He loved in action, not just in words or feelings. He gave himself up for her. He gave up his life. Christ gave himself up, he did not get given up. He was active and deliberate. Christ may still have shown love for us if he went to the cross kicking and screaming and protesting his innocence and begging to be let go. But how much more is his love displayed in his willing sacrifice, in going to the cross of his own volition. You display your love for your wife when you willingly, joyfully give yourself up for her.
You are to lead in love, in forgiveness, in repentance, in sacrifice, in giving of your time, your attention, your very self. You are to lead by loving first and loving most and loving best, by loving to the very end.
A little while ago Pat Robertson said that it would be okay for a man to leave his wife is she had Alzheimer’s and could no longer recognize him or love him. That was one of the most horrible things I’ve ever heard a Christian leader say! Do you see a portrait of Christ and the church in a man who stays with his wife despite Alzheimer’s and who cares for her and genuinely loves her and gives himself up for her day-by-day even though it has been years since she even recognized him. Is that an accurate but miniature portrait of the real marriage of Christ and the church? Or is the better portrait the man who leaves his wife in a nursing home, walks away from her, and marries again? It is obvious, isn’t it?
Now what about the how? How do you as a husband do all of this? You make your marriage an accurate portrait of the real marriage by washing your wife with the word. As part of your God-given role, you are to lead in washing your wife with the Word of God. You are to lead in your spiritual and devotional life together.
Husbands, let’s stop here for a minute. Most of us are good at being providers. Some of us are good at serving our wives and learning to speak her “love language.” We are good at setting direction for the family and displaying godly character. Those are all good things and things we should do well. But the heart of your husbanding, of being a display of Christ in marriage, is washing her by the Word of God.
How do you do in that area? How is your devotional life together? Do you know what your wife is reading in her devotions now? When was the last time you prayed with her? When was the last time you spoke gospel words to her? Jesus’ relationship to us was all about the Word, about bringing us into submission to his Word. His Word saved us, his word now calls us to be holy and challenges us to put off that old self in place of the new self. Our unique task as husbands is to take this same word to our wives, to speak it to them, to challenge them with it, to help them apply it to their lives.
There is still the question of why. Why would a husband do all of this? To me, this is where marriage and husbanding just takes off into a whole new dimension. It gives it such a beautiful and inspiring goal and purpose. Why are you as a husband to give yourself up for your wife and to wash her in the Word? Because you get your marriage as close as possible to the real marriage when you prepare your wife to be presented to Christ as holy and unblemished.
Paul paints this picture of Jesus Christ dying for his people so they could be made holy, so they could be presented to him, so they could stand before him free from any kind of blemish. That is your future and it is mine. That is what Christ promises and we are all looking forward to that day. Now let’s apply that to marriage. Husband, you need to picture yourself one day presenting your wife to the Lord! There you are, standing beside her before the Lord and saying, “Here she is! Here is the wife you gave to me. Look how beautiful she is! I have given up my life for her, I have washed her in the Word, and now here she is. I present her to you.”
Do you see what your wife will be on that day? On that day she will be completely free from sin. Every shred of sin, every shred of imperfection will be gone. That old self will have been put off entirely and the new self will be all that she is. She will be completely holy, completely pure and clean, all that God created her to be. As beautiful as she is now, she will be more beautiful in that day.
Do you have that picture in your mind, of your bride, your wife, standing there before the Lord, washed clean of every trace of sin? Fix that in your mind because God calls you to help her get there! You have this amazing privilege right now of seeing glimpses of what she will be. You see it better than anyone else, of seeing her in that eternal perspective, of holding onto it with faith, and helping her get there. Marriage is about holiness the same way the Christian faith is about holiness. Christ died to make his people holy; you are married to make your wife holy.
So don’t be short-sighted in marriage. Don’t take too low a view of it. The farther ahead you can look, the greater the vision is. You’re standing in the plains with this whole mountain range spread out before you. You can look down at your feet and enjoy the beauty of the grass and pebbles. You can raise your eyes a little bit and enjoy the low hills and small mountains. Or you can look straight ahead and see the sun breaking through the clouds over the whole mountain range. Do that and it puts everything in perspective—the grass and pebbles and foothills and all of it.
When we see God’s purpose for marriage, when we see Christ and the church, when we see that church being presented to Christ in splendor, washed by the Word, holy and without blemish, we have raised our eyes and taken in the whole view. And it’s just so beautiful.
My brother, if God has charged you with washing your wife by the water of his Word, this means that you need to be in the Word. If God has charged you with helping your wife become holy, this means that you need to lead in holiness. For the sake of your wife, as a tangible expression of your love for her, you need to be relentless in your growth in holiness.
How do you live with this in view? How do you take verses from the Bible and live in such a way that you are now doing your part to be that beautiful, sharp, accurate portrait of Christ? Why not begin like this: When you think about your marriage you are to be always asking yourself, “How did Christ love his people? How can I display that kind of love to my wife? What would it mean in this situation to act the way Jesus acted toward his church?” This is true when you take time to sit and ponder your marriage and this is true in those moments where in a heartbeat you need to choose to react with grace or pride, calmness or anger. Everything you do, everything you say, every way you lead, is to be a reflection of that great portrait of the real marriage.
The Bible tells us that your marriage is a portrait of Christ and the church, and in view of all this great gospel theology of salvation by grace through faith, of course you will long to be an accurate portrait. Picture that same wedding scene, that bride and groom, painted by the hand of a toddler using finger paints, or as an eighth grade art project, or from the brush of a capable artist, or from the hand of a master. Where is your marriage? Do you see that God is calling you to keep working at it, to keep growing in skill and wisdom, to make that portrait a more accurate portrayal of the real marriage?
When a wife rubs against authority and bickers with her husband, when she refuses to respect him or refuses to follow his leadership, the beauty of that portrait, the sharpness of it, is disrupted. When a husband loses love for his wife, when he dominates her or stops treating her with love, this picture gets all out of focus and distorted. And if a husband and wife divorce the portrait is destroyed altogether.
Your marriage is a work of art to be stewarded, to be held as a treasure, to be worked on like a masterpiece, so it can become a beautiful and accurate portrait of the real marriage, a stunning picture of the gospel.