Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her to make her holy, cleansing her with the washing of water by the word. He did this to present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and blameless. In the same way, husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” – Ephesians 5:25-31
I love my wife. She is the best thing in my life, aside from Jesus. Unfortunately I often fail to show love to my wife as effectively as I should. I think I am probably not alone. I’ve spent more than a decade as a pastor, and have counseled with more couples than I can count. Interestingly, as I have counseled with couples, or more specifically, with men, I often find dysfunctional marriages, but I rarely find a lack of love. It seems to me that the problem generally lies with a lack of appropriate displays of love, and not in a deficit of love itself. Sadly, far too many of these marriages end unnecessarily. One or both of the partners does not feel loved, and as a result, they move on to other people, looking for those other people to show them the love they are longing for. So, a few years ago as I was studying this issue, it seemed to me that Ephesians 5:25-28 describes a simple, yet challenging rubric to guide husbands as they love their wives. Since that time I have attempted to use this as a measuring stick for my own attempts to love Tracy. Mind you, as I said initially, I am a poor example of accomplishing these things, but these characteristics represent the love I attempt to show. Maybe they can be helpful to you.
1. Husband, love your wife sacrificially.
Notice verse 25. Husbands are called to love their wives as Jesus loves the church, and the passage points out that Jesus loves the church by “giving himself up for her“. In other words, he sacrificed himself for the good of his bride. All it takes is a short amount of time watching popular media and the caricature that is the modern American man will present itself. He is evidently supposed to be the selfish, lazy man who sits on the sofa, watches TV and ignores the kids. This should not be so for the man who loves Jesus and loves his wife. Her needs come before yours, her wants even supersede yours. I’m convinced this is the biblical model. Typically the issue in husband/wife relationships that rises to the top in terms of controversy, is the issue of wives who submit to their husbands. Can I suggest to you that when every decision a husband makes takes into account his wife’s desires and needs, and places them above his own, the issue of lovingly following the leadership of her husband becomes one with significantly less tension. This means you are going to regularly be second or later in the priority line in your home. You may go without some things you would prefer so that others can have what they would prefer. That’s ok. This is the Jesus way.
Husband, sacrifice for your wife.
2. Husband, love your wife pastorally.
Not every man is called to pastor a church. However, every man is called to pastor his family, starting with his wife. Notice the Ephesians passage again. Jesus’ purpose in loving his wife is to “make her holy” by “cleansing her with the washing of water by the word“. He desires that his bride might be presented someday “in splendor, without spot or wrinkle“. I am convinced that this passage reminds us that husbands stand accountable before God to love their wives as Jesus loved the church, and this means that her spiritual progress is among your most important priorities. By this, I don’t mean that you are constantly preaching to her. Unfortunately that’s far too often a preferred example. Instead I mean that you pray with her, you set an example of godly leadership, you give her space (particularly when children are involved) to study the word, and more. When you stand before the Lord someday, your spiritual leadership of your wife and children will be among the most significant stewardships you will give an account for.
Husband, pastor your wife.
3. Husband, love your wife emotionally.
This is one of the most taxing of all our responsibilities. Communicating emotionally with our wives can be challenging, and even humbling for most guys. Take a look again at the text. Verse 28 reminds husbands to love their wives like they love their own bodies. I like how some other translations phrase it when they challenge husbands to love their wives, as they love their own bodies, by “nourishing and cherishing” them. The idea behind this section of the passage is to strive to meet our wive’s deep-seated emotional needs. The tricky part is that every woman is different. Some want to sit together and talk. Others want to go out regularly. Some prefer some level of physical contact, like holding hands on long walks; some prefer gifts like a bouquet of flowers. Certainly this list is not exhaustive. I can tell you that my wife loves to serve, and I have learned that I can show her love by serving her. Washing dishes, vacuuming floors, cleaning the bathroom – all of these are examples of how I can love Tracy at an emotional level. This is not my favorite part of marriage because I am not a big fan of washing dishes, vacuuming floors or cleaning toilets. Guys, let’s be honest, we like to do things that we are able to do well. We like to succeed. We do not like to struggle, particularly in front of someone else. Because of this, among other reasons, emotional vulnerability is rarely our forte. As a result, however, far too many wives are walking through life every day feeling very little love, no matter how deeply you may believe that you love her. In my experience, this may be the most substantial key to wife feeling deeply loved and cared for, not to mention staying committed to their marriage. Sadly too many guys assume that their wives know they are loved, and rarely go out of their way to express that on a deeply emotional level. Learn your wife, swallow your pride and show her that she is loved.
Husband, love your wife emotionally.
4. Husband, love your wife permanently.
Finally, this one may be the easiest to explain. Notice the end of the passage, verse 31 in particular. This is a reference to Jesus’ commands, also found in Mark 10:7-9, about the nature and permanence of marriage. Ironically, this statement is found in a passage about divorce. In the greater context of this passage about divorce Jesus clearly communicates that God’s design is for husbands and wives to become “one flesh” and for that to be more than a physical reference to marital intimacy. This is a spiritual membership with one another, a membership that reflects the relationship between Jesus and his church. Our marriages, then, are more than just relationships designed for partnership, recreation and procreation. They are living declarations of the gospel. When our marriages end prematurely, they communicate something that is not true about Christ and his eternal love for his church. This is not to say that God does not love those who are divorced, nor is it an attempt to even speak to the legitimacy of divorce in every situation. Simply put, I am trying to point out that God’s design is that we stay married. This means, husband, you are not to go anywhere. You do not love other women. You do not give your affection to another. On the occasions when your wife may be difficult to live with, if there is a time when she is unfaithful, if you do not seem “in sync” or even “in love” your biblical call is to reflect the love of Jesus to his church by loving your wife sacrificially, pastorally and emotionally – and to continue to do that as long as possible. This could be the greatest thing that you have ever experienced, or it could be the most difficult thing you have ever walked through. Either way, your call is to remain faithful, as Jesus is faithful.
Husband, do not stop loving your wife.