As we have seen, God has placed husbands in a position of authority over their wives. But does that mean that they are free to do whatever they please to their wives? Not at all. In fact, in some ways the burden that God places on the husbands is greater than the one He placed o the wives.
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church . . .” (Eph. 5:25; NKJV). The word “love” is agapate, the word used most often in the New Testament to describe a distinctly Christian type of love. And here Paul specifically points to the example of Christ as a model of how husbands should love their wives.
And how did Christ love the church? First of all, He “gave Himself up for her” (v. 25). The word translated “gave” means to “hand over.” So great was the love that Christ had for the church that He willingly surrendered His very life on her behalf. But why did He do this? What did He hope to accomplish by it? “. . . that He might sanctify and cleanse her . . . that He might present to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (vv. 26,27).
In other words, Christ’s aim was the church’s well-being. But the church’s well-being consists in holiness. Christ does not allow the church to indulge in every sinful passion or lust. Rather He desires what is in her genuine best interest. He wants her to reach her full potential. And so He does what is best for her, which is not necessarily the same thing as what she wants.
So when Scripture says that husbands ought to love their wives, it is not necessarily talking about a specifically romantic attraction – it does not necessarily mean that the husband is enamored with his wife’s beauty or charm. Rather it means that he has such a care and concern for his wife and her well-being that he is willing to make any sacrifice necessary on her behalf. He puts her well-being ahead of his own.
But then Paul gives another reason why husbands should love their wives. “So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself” (v. 28). Paul quotes Gen. 2:24: “and the two shall become one flesh.” When a man and a woman get married, they are essentially becoming one person – “one flesh.” This means that whatever happens to one of them affects the other as well. This is why Paul could say “he who loves his wife loves himself.”
Paul then draws out the practical implication of this. “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it . . .” (v. 29), or as we might more literally translate it, “feeds and warms it.” We are sensitive to every bodily ache and pain. We are quick to relieve the suffering by any means possible. But that should be exactly our reaction whenever our wives are hurting. We should feel their pain and seek to do something about it. We should pamper our wives as ourselves!
And here again Paul points to the example of Christ and the church: “ . . .but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones” (vv. 29,30). Christ, of course, did this for us on the cross to atone for our sins. But His ministry on our behalf did not end there. He cares for us still. He promised His disciples that He would answer prayer (John 14:13,14) and that He would send us another “Helper” (parakletos = a person called to someone’s aid, and advocate, intercessor), the Holy Spirit (John 14:16,17). Christ gives the church spiritual gifts “for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:7-16). Christ did not ascend to heaven and forget about us. Rather, He continues to exercise a ministry on our behalf, guiding us, protecting us and strengthening us. And He does all of this because He actively cares for us. This, then, is the care that husbands should have for their wives.
As noted in our last blog post, Paul concludes by saying “Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband” (v. 33). In marriage one gives up a lot – you give up your freedom and independence. You assume a great responsibility, the responsibility of caring for a family. God’s intention is that marriage would be a permanent, binding commitment between a man and a woman. Most Americans today are not willing to make that sacrifice and that commitment. That is why American family life is in shambles today. We go into marriage for mainly selfish reasons, and then bail out when reality strikes home.
God knows what is best for human society. We ignore His will at our own peril. Marriage can be an enormously satisfying experience – if it is done God’s way!