Ephesians 5:25-30 “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church – for we are members of his body.”
This is the part of the New Testament that declares that, “the husband is the head of the wife” (v.23) – even as the Lord is head of the church. This is an extremely fascinating and dynamic concept. No doubt it would be rejected by many people today and so we must understand what is being said and why.
According to the Bible there is such a thing as authority in our world. Authority is the blue light flashing on the car behind you pulling you over. When a person has authority, this means that in some instances he’ll be called upon to give orders. But usually, if a person exercises his authority intelligently, he will give orders very seldom, if at all. Usually he will give direction through the force of his personality and in terms of other people’s recognition of his authority. That is, as other people understand that this person has wisdom and leadership to direct them, they’ll look to him for counsel and will respond to it.
We expect to find authority in certain types of organisations such as the military, and in the police, government and business. There is someone who gives the organisation its direction, and everyone who belongs to it recognises that fact. If the person with authority fails to lead then things fall apart. You hear men sighing about a business that “the manager won’t take decisions”; the enterprise is lacking direction. Think of a university department where the professor won’t lead. Think of a football team whose captain is indecisive; he can’t even make up his mind who’s going to take a penalty. He is a ditherer and it’s disastrous for the team’s morale and success. Now, according to the Bible there are social relationships in which there is an authority structure. The family is one such unit: parents have authority over the children. The church is also such a unit: the Lord Christ has authority over it and he vests that in its officers. Marriage is another relationship which God has designed in which he has given the husband authority within the marriage. Though we may feel that this idea contradicts some of our own ideas about marriage, there can be no question that the Bible expressed this idea very clearly.
So in this section Paul speaks about the role of the wife, and he says, almost in passing, that the husband is the head of the wife, but then he doesn’t write of the authority which the man has; immediately he speaks of a husband’s love.
1. HUSBANDS LOVE YOUR WIVES.
The husband loves his wife because the love that comes from him gives to the marriage its form and direction. He is the person in charge; he sets the loving tone for the home. It is the husband, for example, whose work and vocation determine where the family will live. The husband has a spiritual authority as well. He is responsible to insure that the wife and the children receive proper religious instruction and spiritual care. I say, there is no question that this is the Bible’s description of the way marriage operates, and defying it or even ignoring it could lead to a very unhappy situation.
For example, if a husband exercises his authority in an autocratic and dictatorial way. A friend was waiting at an airport for a plane to arrive, and a little family were there waiting for their father and the wife’s husband to arrive. He couldn’t help noticing that the children were very excited, “Daddy’s coming. Daddy’s coming.” And finally into the arrivals lounge through the door came this big bear of a Daddy. The children were ecstatic, “Daddy’s come,” but he went up to his wife and said, “Where’s my coat? I told you to bring my coat,” and a quiet group followed him out to the car. It is desperate if the head of the home is as stupid as that man, narrow-minded, insensitive, stubborn and inconsistent man whose wife and children didn’t know how to respond to him.
What the Bible insists upon is that the authority which a husband has – and which he must exercise – must be expressed in an extraordinarily loving way. Very specifically, our text is calling on husbands to examine the Lord Jesus Christ’s relationship to his church, and they are to imitate how God the Son loved his bride, the church. Paul is exhorting husbands to live with their wives in a spirit of loving sacrifice, with the utmost interest in helping their wives develop their lives and their personalities to the full. The authority the husband has is in no way designed to turn the wife into a servant who has nothing else to do but to cater to her husband’s whims. The husband’s concern is that his wife grows and realizes her full potential. He is concerned for her physical welfare, her mental and emotional growth, and her spiritual development. His commitment to his wife is total. He must love her that way.
“Husbands, love your wives!” That’s what Paul says, and a Christian marriage is founded on a husband’s affection for his wife. We believe in romance, in falling in love, marrying the girl of our dreams and living happily ever after. What Paul is saying is, “Husbands, go on loving your wives!” Make sure the romance doesn’t leave your marriage as the years go by and the children arrive and advancing years change the wife’s shape. Think of the words of the Song of Songs where the husband is saying to his wife things like this, “How beautiful you are, my darling!” (Song 1:15) “Your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.” (Song 2:14). “You have stolen my heart with one glance of your eyes” (Song 4:9). You don’t have to parrot those exact words, but such affection should be expressed and felt. “Husbands, go on loving your wives.” Buy them nice things – not just books and kitchen equipment. Every husband thinks, “I wonder do I praise my wife’s appearance as I should? Doesn’t she know I notice and I’m delighted that she looks so wonderful?” I think most husbands feel they are failures in expressing their love for their wives. You could learn a lot from the life of Dr. Lloyd-Jones.
There are those letters which Dr. Lloyd-Jones sends to his wife Bethan in a volume of his letters (Banner of Truth). They show how passionately he loved his wife. He is so ardent, “Bethan dear, you are dearer to me than ever and I feel prouder of you than ever before . . . All my love to you, my three beloved ones, and especially to the biggest of them . . . There is no one like you anywhere. The more I see of others the more obvious does this become . . . I would give all the world for you to be here with me . . . Well, my dear, dear love, the best wife and girl in all the world, receive every bit of my love . . . Thank you for your letter of this morning, though I am very angry that you should have been up until 11.30 p.m. writing it! I see that you are quite incorrigible. The idea that I shall become used to being without you is really funny. I could speak for a long time on the subject. As I have told you many, many times, the passing of the years does nothing by deepen and intensify my love for you. When I think of those days in London in 1925 and ’26, when I thought that no greater love was possible, I could laugh. But honestly during this last year I had come to believe that it was not possible for a man to love his wife more than I loved you. And yet I see there is no end to love, and that it is still true that ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder.’ I am quite certain that there is no lover, anywhere, writing to his girl who is quite as mad about her as I am.” That is Martyn Lloyd-Jones writing in 1939.
How privileged Bethan Lloyd-Jones was to read such expressions of love. Her husband was making her feel beautiful. She had had two children and was forty years of age when he wrote those words to her, and he evidently adores her. His love had grown only larger and deeper since he first met her. The New Testament stretches its picture of a husband’s love for his wife in a number of demanding ways.
i] Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the Church.
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” The comparison set before us is not with any figure in the Bible, for example, as Boaz loved Ruth, or as Isaac loved Rebekah. It is far more sublime and heavenly and impossible a standard than that – “just as Christ loved the church.” The Son of God loved his bride eternally; when the Father presented this bride to him, it was love at first sight. “For His Bride, He left heaven’s glory. For His Bride, He was willing to wiggle in Bethlehem ’s manger and work in Nazareth ’s workshop. For His Bride, he was numbered with the transgressors in His baptism. For His Bride, He endured near starvation and Satanic temptation in the wilderness. For His Bride, He absorbed years of public ministry abuse by a wicked and adulterous generation. For His Bride, he had no place to lay his head. For His bride, he marched fearlessly toward the Jerusalem slaughterhouse. For His Bride, He broke the bread in the upper room. For His Bride, He was drenched in blood-like sweat. For His Bride, He said, ‘Not my will, but Thine be done.’ For His Bride, He handed Himself over to a kangaroo court. For His Bride, He was again and again spat upon and struck in the head. For His Bride, he stood bare-backed at a pillar – absorbing scourge after scourge. For His Bride, he was mocked while holding a reed scepter. For His Bride, He carried and collapsed under the crossbeam. For His Bride, He was stripped naked. For His Bride, He accepted the spikes into His hands and feet. For His Bride, he was lifted up between heaven and earth as an accursed spectacle. For His Bride, He hung his head before wagging scoffers. For His Bride, he gasped for breath and cried out ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ For His bride he finished it and died.” (Mark Chanski, Manly Dominion, Calvary Press Publishing, Merrick, NY., p.174).
Christ left his Father for all of that. He kept nothing back from his bride; he gave up all he had for her. His love was absolutely extravagant and prodigal. Before any one of them ever expressed the first flutterings of interest in him he loved his bride fervently. She was so unattractive; from the crown of her head to the sole of her feet there were wounds and bruises and putrefying sores, but still he loved her. No cosmetics could hide her scabs; no plastic surgery could improve her; still he loved her. Ted Donnelly told us about going with one of his members to visit the man’s wife who was terminally ill in hospital. They entered the ward together and Ted saw her in her bed evidently wasting away, gaunt and yellow. “Look at her!” her husband said to Ted, his face lighting up with delight, “Isn’t she beautiful?”
Christ knew that every imagination of the thoughts of her heart was only evil continually, but he loved her still. He knew the very worst about her so that no new discovery could possibly disillusion him about her. Nothing could quench his determination to bless her. His love was so generous; he gave his bride every spiritual blessing. He ordained that all things should be ours. He works all things together for our good because he loves us. He bestows the Spirit without measure. He is going to take her to a beautiful place, to enter into the glory that he’d had with God before there was a cosmos, or a single angel, when there was just the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost; “I shall take you there to experience all that my beloved,” he says. His love moves his people so much that they lay down their lives for him. They will take the most expensive bottle of perfumed oil and pour it all over his head. Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all. That is the model of the love which every Christian husband is required to show to his wife.
I am saying that in the Garden of Eden before God made Adam out of the dust of the earth and breathed his own breath into his nostrils, before he made Eve from Adam’s side, God had a blueprint. “I shall make the man and the woman is such a way that their relationship will be like that of my Son and his people.” In other words, preceding the creation of Adam and Eve there was Jesus Christ, and God’s great plan of proclaiming the grace of Christ to earth and heaven. God designed marriage to portray the relationship between Christ and his church.
So as a husband you’re always saying something about Christ in the way you relate to your wife and children. You can’t help it. You are either displaying truth about Christ or telling lies about Christ. Either way, you are a picture of Christ to them, whether you want to or not. If you don’t value your wife, you’re sending the message that Christ doesn’t value his church. If you don’t care about your wife’s wellbeing, you’re sending the message that Christ is uncaring. If you are unfaithful, you’re sending the message that Christ is unfaithful. If you don’t love her, you’re sending the message that Christ is unloving. If you’re harsh, you’re sending the message that Christ is harsh. If you don’t lead your wife with wisdom and don’t teach your family God’s Word, you’re sending the message that Christ does not lead his people or care how they think. If you’re a bad husband, you are telling one rotten lie after another about Jesus Christ himself, and you make it hard for your wife and children to hear the truth of Christ and hard to live in the power of Christ. What a horror if your life proclaims falsehoods about Christ!
On the other hand, if you’re a godly husband, you are showing the truth of Christ. If you treasure your wife, you are sending the message that Christ treasures his church. If you make sacrifices to help your wife, you’re sending the message that Christ gave himself up for us. If you’re faithful to your wife, you’re sending the message that Christ is faithful. If you care for your wife with tender affection, you’re sending a message about Christ’s love. If you lead your family in Scripture and prayer, you’re sending a message about Christ’s wise leadership. If you’re a godly husband, your words and example nourish your wife and children with the truth and power of Christ. What a privilege to make Christ real to your family!
ii] Husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies.
“In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church – for we are members of his body.” (vv.28-30). Love her just as you love yourself. You can’t get away from your body. You are body, and you are soul. You are conscious of your body because that’s you. You don’t have a body you are a body. If your body seems sweaty and dirty then you take a shower. Your body feels cold and you put a sweater on or turn up the temperature on the thermostat. You feel tired so you sit down; sleepy and you go to bed. Hungry and you go to the refrigerator and rummage for something to snack. You feel a sharp pain and you tell your wife about it straight away. You make an appointment in the clinic or you go to the casualty department in the hospital. You care for your body. You find a lump and you call your friend who’s a doctor and ask for advice. A sick body distracts our minds and energies. When our bodies have some need, we don’t delay in taking care of them. So a husband should show the same care for his wife; he should be as sensitive to her as to himself. Is she warm enough? Stimulated enough? Is she weary? Is she in pain? A husband must identify with his wife in her illness as he rejoices in her health. Whatever need or desire a wife may have, whether it be physical, spiritual, emotional, or relational a husband seeks to meet it according to his light and power. In this way he serves her and loves her as if this were his own body that he was dealing with.
Patrick Morley said that he and his wife started a tradition of staying at the dinner table for twenty minutes or so after the meal. The children went off to practice guitar and do homework, so, he said, “we spend some time talking about each other’s day. It’s not a law that we have to do it; so sometimes we don’t, but we almost always spend this time together. This tells my wife that I care. She knows I am for her, and it makes us stronger friends. Every marriage needs a balance between talking and listening. Carving out twenty minutes a day, whether over coffee in the morning or after dinner at night, develops our love for each other. Harmony about family goals and problems comes from spending time talking over our differences about them. There can’t be a meeting of the minds if the minds don’t meet!” Husbands talk to your wives. What would you think of a mind which did not communicate with its hand or foot? It would be a totally dysfunctional body, but our wives are as our own bodies.
It’s not just wrong to neglect your wife and her needs; it’s crazy. It’s like starving your own stomach or stabbing your own leg. Why would anybody in his right mind try to damage his own body? A man who feeds his wife’s spirit with love, leadership, and encouragement isn’t helping her alone, he’s helping himself. The more she is loved, the lovelier she becomes. The more she is valued, the more valuable she becomes to him. The more he builds her up, the more he benefits. So it’s just common sense for a man to care for his wife and family, even if an unbeliever doesn’t do it for Christ’s sake.
We are asking this question how the Bible explains to us how we show our love for our wives. Let’s go outside of our text for a moment to make these next points.
iii] Husbands are to be considerate and respectful as they live with their wives.
“Husbands, …be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” (I Peter 3:7). There are two basic ideas here. The first is to be considerate. Consider your wife’s ideas and feelings, her needs and desires. Do everything you can to understand her better. Put down the newspaper, shut off the TV and spend more time paying attention to your wife. When decisions need to be made, think of her before you think of yourself. If you must have an argument, then argue about which of you can be the first to grant the other’s wishes. Be considerate as you live with your wife.
The second command Peter gives is to treat your wife with respect. Honour your wife. Admire the way God made her. Take note of her good points. Compliment more than criticize. Don’t put her down or mock her. Never belittle her or shame her; never attack her dignity. Encourage her. Praise her. Build her up. Peter says to treat your wife with respect “as the weaker partner.” Almost every wife is physically weaker than her husband; wives don’t know how to punch. Isn’t that a blessed ignorance? A man almost always has greater physical strength. What man would belittle his wife because she can’t arm wrestle him? Only the most stupid man in the world, that’s who. A plastic bowl is less fragile than a piece of antique Wedgewood china, but which is the more valuable? The very fact that the china is fragile means you treat it with even greater care.
Most women are physically fragile compared to men especially carrying children or in the weeks after childbirth. If you’re a man, you probably have enough strength to hurt your wife, to bruise her, to break her bones, even to kill her. You also have great power to intimidate her emotionally. Even if you don’t hit her, you can terrorize her if you’re always menacingly quiet, or threatening to lose your temper, or even throwing things, because she knows all too well that you have the physical power to crush her.
This makes it all the more urgent that your wife senses your respect for her. She needs to know that you appreciate and value her, that you will devote your strength to helping her, not hurting her. Physically, you’re the giant in the marriage, but God commands you to be a gentle giant. The husband is the head, not the fist. As the head, you have eyes to admire your wife and see her needs, you have ears to listen to her, lips to speak with her and kiss her, and a brain to understand her and think about what matters to her. So if you’re the head, act like it! Don’t act like a fist.
And remember, whatever the differences in physical strength, the two of you are just the same in the most important thing of all: your standing before God. So Peter describes a husband and wife as “heirs together of the grace of life.” The status they share is the same; the inheritance is a joint inheritance – they both inherit everything God promises. It is not that there is a vast circle of men around the throne of Jesus in heaven, and then there’s another circle of women further back behind the men. Heirs together of Christ! Men and women mixed up together round the throne of Christ. Women have the same entitlements and privileges and intimacies of fellowship with God both in this world and the world to come. You need to treat your wife as someone whose Father is God. The Lord Christ died for her just as surely as he died for you. If Jesus loves your wife enough to lay down his life for her, he’s not going to appreciate it if you mistreat her. If you use your power not to help your wife but to hurt her, how can you expect Jesus to use his power to help you? We can grieve the Spirit; we can grieve the Lord Jesus too. If you won’t listen to your wife and respond to her desires, how can you expect God to listen when you pray to him? On the gravestone of Martyn and Bethan Lloyd-Jones in Newcastle Emlyn these words are carved, “Heirs together of the grace of life.”
iv] Love your wives and do not be harsh with them.
I am quoting from Colossians 3:18. “Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.” Is there any simpler way of saying it? Don’t be harsh in your tone of voice and in your words. Don’t be harsh by making arbitrary decisions. And certainly, don’t be harsh and abusive in any physical way. Love is the very opposite of harshness. In 1 Corinthians 13:4-5 the Bible says this about love: “Love is patient, love is kind… It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” That’s God’s kind of love, and it’s the kind of love husbands should have for their wives.
Your wife needs to know that she’s not just the mother of children who make lots of demands on her. She needs to know that she’s the wife of a man who treasures her and builds her up. She needs to know that “her husband has full confidence in her” (Proverbs 31:11) and thinks of her with honour and respect. She needs to hear him praise the many things she does as a wife and mother, to know that he recognizes her abilities and efforts. She needs to know that he finds her beautiful and attractive.
At times a mother can feel almost like a slave as she tries to handle the demands of children. Changing nappies, wiping noses, washing clothes, preparing meals, stopping children from squabbling, making sure homework gets done – such activities are a rich and meaningful part of shaping precious persons, but such things can smother a mother if her husband is just one more child making demands. A busy mother needs her husband to do his share with the children, but she also needs to know that she is the love of his life, that he is crazy about her.
Let me illustrate it like this; when a mother is breast-feeding a baby she needs more nourishment than when she’s eating only for herself. She needs good food and she needs more of it, otherwise her baby will suffer and the mother herself will suffer. Now, apply that not just to nourishment of the body but nourishment for the spirit. Children take a lot out of a mother, so she doesn’t need harshness when she makes mistakes or displeases her husband in some way; a mother of little ones needs a husband who provides more encouragement, more tenderness, more direction, more passion, more joy, more fun than ever. A father must dig deep to become the main leader and instructor of his children, and he must pour himself out to feed and care for the mother of his children. If a man does this, his wife will flourish, his children will flourish, and he himself will flourish because it’s a happier home.
2. HOW CAN WE HUSBANDS LOVE LIKE THAT?
How can a man love as God wants him to love? We are told in our text that the standard by which God will judge us is whether we loved our wives as Christ himself loved the church. How can a man do that? He must begin in this way, by taking a definitive step and entrusting himself to the Lord Jesus Christ. He must put himself body and soul and strength, his possessions, his time, his interests into the hands of God the Son. “Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to Thee.” That is salvation. That is the mere Christian. That is essential. Thousands of marriages collapse in Wales because the husbands reach a point at which they don’t like something about their wives and then they lose interest in them. Are you being tempted like that? Maybe the wife is no longer as physically attractive as she once was and this causes the husband to lose interest. Are you? Such a husband is selfish. He wants to be satisfied himself and really doesn’t care about the way his wife feels. This is happening all the time. I’m saying, you’ve got to care for your wife in sickness and in health until death parts you from her, and this is what love is. You must care for her as you care for yourself.
Some husbands want a sports car; some want a boat; some want a second home in the country; some want a season ticket for Manchester United, but the one thing a husband needs more than anything else in all the world is the Lord Jesus Christ as his Saviour. If you are a husband, you can be sure of this, that Jesus wants you to come to him in faith. This is why you are reading this message right now. Jesus wants you to believe in him. He will save you if you accept him, from both the guilt and the power of sin, the guilt of being a poor husband until now, and the power that sin has over you dominating your life and making you think all the time about ME , ME , ME! That means Christ will enable you to be a loving person. He will change you from the selfish person you are by nature into the loving person you can be and he will do this through the power of his Holy Spirit.
Come to the Lord Jesus Christ. He invites you and promises, “and I will give you rest.” Confess your sins and ask him to save you. If you come to Jesus, you will first be forgiven of your sins. If you are a husband, possibly you have been unfaithful to your wife. God will forgive you, if you confess your sin to him and ask him to pardon you for what you’ve done. Do you drink too much? Have you been treating your wife like an old shoe? Have you been taking her for granted? Have you hit her? You might need to confess that you have failed your wife miserably. Confess it to God and ask him to forgive you through the blood of Jesus. Jesus Christ shed his blood to purchase forgiveness for our disgusting sins. When you come to Christ in repentance and confess your sins, he will forgive you. If you have sinned against your wife, you can ask her to forgive you too.
The second thing that will happen if you come to Christ is that he will send his Holy Spirit into your heart and make it possible for you to love your wife as he has loved the church. Christ gave himself totally for the church. He died for it. Talk about sacrifice! Sometimes a man has to sacrifice, too, if he’s going to love his wife as he should. Who of us can do this on his own? Not one. We are all too selfish. Only when Christ’s Holy Spirit comes into our hearts can we begin to love as God calls us to love. Through faith, men who love Christ and who are loved by Christ and who love others in Christ’s name can change everything for the good.
Think now about what would happen if more men started loving as Christ loves. If all men – husbands, fathers, and others – became Christlike, became caring and loving, all sorts of things would change. If men understood their responsibility to love, and in the power of God’s Holy Spirit began to love more and more, it would be as if a breath of fresh air blew over our land. We would see the dawn of a new day.
Gradually all of the hideous, exploiting elements of our society would recede. The man who knew that his primary responsibility was to care lovingly for others would not become involved in anything that degrades or demeans women. Within marriage, the wife would benefit from her husband’s loving and considerate attention when she went through difficult times. Her husband would develop the ability to sense her needs and would arrange his life to meet those needs. This does not mean that a husband would be his wife’s slave. Not at all. His wife would help him in return. When a husband loves his wife, he loves himself, our text says. And wives whose husbands knew what their primary responsibility was would grow emotionally and intellectually. Thus they would be even better wives for their husbands.
Then, too, if men realized their responsibility to love as Jesus loved, we would have no more abandoned wives and children. Children would discover a father who cared for them and did everything possible to make their lives stable and strong. The family would be bound together by unbreakable bonds of affection and concern.
Well, does this make any sense to you? I hope so. What I’ve said to you is what will change you; nothing else will. Men such as us have to begin loving and stop being selfish. We have to believe in Jesus. We have to confess our sins to God and ask God to forgive us. And we have to ask God to fill us with his Holy Spirit so that we can love as Jesus loves.
I plead with you now: believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Ask him to enable you to love as he loved. If you love like that, you will change everything and everyone around you.
25th September 2005 GEOFF THOMAS