“Husbands, love your wives” (Ephesians 5:25a). On the one hand it is such a simple statement, a simple command. Simply love. On the other hand there is not a husband in the world who would say that he has mastered it. Behind the simple command is a lifetime of effort, a lifetime of growth. How is a husband to love his wife? What is the kind of love that he owes her? I am tracking here with Richard Phillips as he explains in his new commentary on Ephesians.
A self-sacrificing love. A husband’s love is self-sacrificing. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Every husband knows that he is called to love his wife to such a degree that he would willing to die for her. But God calls for far more than this. “It is easy for men to think of dying dramatically—and bloodily—for our wives in some grand gesture. But what Paul specifically has in mind is for husbands to live sacrificially for their wives. This means a dying to self-interest to place her needs before your own. It means a willingness to crucify your sins and selfish habits and unworthy character traits. I remember a husband who told me he had always thought that if a man came into the house with a knife to attack his wife, sure, he would be willing to die defending her. ‘Then I realized,’ he said, ‘that emotionally and spiritually, I am that man who assaults my wife and threatens her well-being. What God calls me to do is put my own sinful self to death’.” Exactly so. You would die for your wife, but will you live for her?
A redeeming love. A husband’s love is, like Christ’s love, redeeming. Christ “gave himself up for [the church], that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” “If we follow this progression we see the Christian gospel in terms of Christ’s preparation of a bride for himself.” Christ is actively sanctifying his people through the word to cleanse us from sin and make us holy. Paul now says that a husband is to see this as his model for the way he relates to his bride. “As Christ’s love redeems us for glory, a husband’s love ought to be directed toward the spiritual growth of his wife. Notice, too, that this ministry is associated with a husband’s words. The Greek word used here is thema, which signifies actual words, rather than the more common logos which speaks of a message in general. This makes the point of how important a husband’s words are to his wife. Far from badgering or tearing down his wife with his speech, loving husbands are to remind their wives of God’s love and minister for their blessing and increased spiritual maturity.”
A caring love. A husband’s love is also a caring love. “In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.” A man’s care for his wife should be as careful and intimate as his care for his own body. Paul offers two key words to describe this: nourish and cherish. A husband cares for his wife by nourishing her heart much like a gardener nourishes his plants. “This requires him to pay attention to her, to talk with her in order to know what her hopes and fears are, what dreams she has for the future, where she feels vulnerable or ugly, and what makes her anxious or gives her joy.” A husband cherishes his wife “in the way he spends time with her and speaks about her, so that she feels safe and loved in his presence.” Phillips offers this warning: “In my experience, a husband’s caring love is one of the greatest needs in most marriages. [A] wife’s heart is dried up by a husband who pays her little attention, takes no interest in her emotional life, and does not connect with her heart.”
A committed love. Finally, a husband’s love is a committed love. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” In the same way that Christ is utterly faithful to his church, a husband is to be completely faithful to his wife. This is signified in the one flesh union which is “the sharing of a whole life in the safe bounds of committed love.” One great barrier to this kind of love is when a husband does not transfer his allegiance from his parents to his wife, thus not fully leaving his father and mother. “A husband who shares marital secrets with his parents or who cannot break free from his family’s control is not able to offer his wife the devotion she needs.” Another great barrier is sexual sin. “Marriage involves forsaking all others in favor of an exclusive, intimate, and indivisible bond. … In Paul’s pagan world, as in our own, marriage was undermined by insecurity, as men and women exchanged partners the way they changed clothes. But a Christian husband offers his wife the security of a committed love, in which she can blossom emotionally and spiritually.” A husband commits to his wife to the exclusion of all others.
In all of these ways a Christian marriage is a portrait of Christ’s union with his church. “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” When we see this intimate connection between marriage and the gospel, we understand that “There is nothing more profound in all this world than the sacred bond of marriage, and no more solemn duty than those owed by a wife to her husband and a husband to his wife.” So husband, do you love your wife? In what ways do you need to love her better, to love her just like Christ loves his church?
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