Husbands Love Your Wives as Christ Loves the Church (Ephesians 5:25)

Husbands Love Your Wives as Christ Loves the Church (Ephesians 5:25-27)

“Husbands love your wives as Christ loves the church” is the primary command for husbands in Ephesians 5:25. Read or listen to this material from Your Marriage God’s Way, or watch the message from the Your Marriage God’s Way Conference to learn what a husband’s love looks like.

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What Does a Husband’s Love Look Like?

Here is a question that deserves serious thought: What does it look like for a husband to love his wife? Love is not feelings and emotions—rather, it is actions. So another way to ask that question is this: What do good husbands do? If we were to pose that question to different people, we might get answers like these:

  • Buy their wife expensive jewelry
  • Take her to fancy restaurants
  • Whisk her away on exotic vacations
  • Provide an impressive home for her to live in

In the world’s way of thinking, a husband’s love for his wife is demonstrated through material goods. This is why a husband can be a failure in the world’s eyes while being a great husband in God’s eyes or a great husband in the world’s eyes while failing in God’s eyes. The good news—at least for husbands—is that we don’t have to buy our wives anything expensive or glamorous to be pleasing to God. The bad news is that spending money on our wives is much easier than doing what God requires of us as husbands.

There is a very high standard for husbands. The primary passage about husbands loving their wives begins, “Husbands, love [agape] your wives, just as Christ also loved [agape] the church and gave Himself for her” (Ephesians 5:25). Agape is used twice to describe two different relationships:

  • A husband’s relationship with his bride
  • Christ’s relationship with His bride, the church

The two words “just as” reveal that the way Christ loves the church and gave Himself for her is the way a husband is commanded to love his wife and give himself for her. A man should model his relationship with his bride after Christ’s relationship with His bride. With Christ as the standard for husbands, every man must recognize that he always has more room to grow. No husband can ever sit back, relax, and feel like he has arrived.

Ephesians 5:25 reveals for us the characteristics of agape:

  • The words “gave Himself for her” reveal the sacrificial nature of Christ’s agape. In John 3:16, if God the Father’s agape for the world is shown in being willing to sacrifice His Son, then in Ephesians 5:25, the Son’s agape for His bride, the church, is shown in being willing to be sacrificed. Christ gave everything He had, including His own life. That is the standard for husbands—they are commanded to show an unreserved, selfless, sacrificial love for their wives.
  • The absence of the word if reveals the unconditional nature of Christ’s agape. The verse does not say, “Husbands, love your wives if…” Just as Christ loves the church unconditionally, a husband is to love his wife unconditionally. Christ loves the church even when it does not submit, does not love Him in return, or disrespects Him. Simply put, Christ loves the church even when she’s unlovable. A husband should love his wife even when she’s unlovable and does not submit, does not love him in return, or disrespects him. When a husband is upset with his bride, he must remind himself of Christ’s love for His bride—a steadfast love regardless of what the bride has or hasn’t done.

Pastor and theologian John MacArthur writes:

What higher motive could there be for the husband to love his wife? By loving her as Christ loved the church, he honors Christ in the most direct and graphic way. He becomes the embodiment of Christ’s love to his own wife, a living example to the rest of his family, a channel of blessing to his entire household, and a powerful testimony to a watching world.

John MacArthur, The Fulfilled Family (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2005), 78.

So, back to the question asked at the beginning: What does it look like for husbands to love their wives? Ephesians 5:25 gives the command that husbands are to follow, and the subsequent verses describe what it looks like to obey the command.

Husbands Love Your Wives as Christ Loves the Church by Sanctifying and Cleansing

Ephesians 5:26 says this about Christ’s love for His bride: He gave Himself for her “that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word.” Through Christ, the church is sanctified and cleansed. Because the relationship between Christ and the church is meant to serve as an example for husbands with their wives, this obligates husbands to sanctify and cleanse their wives. A husband is partially responsible for his wife’s sanctification or spiritual growth. As Christ prepares His bride to be pure, husbands must contribute to their wives’ purity.

This sanctifying and cleansing takes place through washing by the Word of God:

  • In John 15:3, Jesus speaks to the church, setting the example for husbands with their brides: “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.”
  • In John 17:17, Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.”

Husband, let me address you directly. There are several ways you can “wash” your wife with the Word:

  • Consistent attendance at a Bible-teaching church. It is tragic when husbands, who are called to be the spiritual leaders in their marriages, do not take the initiative to carry out one of the most basic and foundational practices of the Christian life—corporate worship on the Lord’s Day—a priority.
  • Participation in Bible studies, Sunday school classes, or home fellowships that place both of you in a position to have God’s Word wash over you.
  • Listen together to Christian radio programs or an audio Bible in the home or while driving.
  • Read God’s Word with your wife. I have had men tell me, “I don’t know how to read the Bible with my wife.” If you can read, you can read the Scriptures with your wife. Choose a book and start at chapter 1, verse 1. Whatever verse you stop at is where you will pick up next time.
  • Make God’s Word a priority in your marriage. While I would never say Christians cannot have television, I would encourage them to think about what brings a couple together most often. Is it the television, watching movies, doing some other activity, or is it spending time in the Word of God?

Husbands Love Your Wives as Christ Loves the Church by Setting the Standard for Holiness

A husband living an unholy life cannot help his wife with her holiness. Because husbands are commanded to have a sanctifying influence on their wives, it only makes sense that a husband must maintain a high standard of holiness in his own life. It is not the wife’s responsibility to establish the spiritual atmosphere of the home. That responsibility belongs to the husband. He is responsible for

  • what comes into the home and influences the family
  • what the family watches
  • what the family listens to
  • how the family talks or jokes
  • what company the family keeps
  • how the family presents itself to others by their words, dress, and actions
  • how the family spends their time
  • what the family does recreationally
  • how involved the family is in the church

Without getting specific, I will say some movies, music, clothing, jokes, language, and activities should not enter our homes. As the head of the family, husbands are the ones who need to make sure negative or inappropriate influences are not present in the home. If they have entered, husbands are responsible for ensuring they are removed. A man who agapes his wife keeps out anything detrimental to her and the family. When we, as husbands, compromise on the influences that enter our homes, we’re making our wives and children spiritually vulnerable.

As a pastor and a speaker at marriage conferences, I’ve gotten to know many couples. I want to share a pattern I’ve noticed over the years. Let me be clear that this is my observation rather than a truth from Scripture. The pattern is this: I rarely encounter a husband who complains about his wife’s lack of holiness, but I have encountered plenty of wives who complain about their husband’s lack of holiness. These wives express concern about what their husbands watch, listen to, or say, but rarely is it the other way around.

Similarly, I don’t often hear men say, “My wife won’t go to church with me…join a home fellowship with me…pray or read the Bible with me.” But I do hear wives say these things about their husbands. This is tragic because God has called husbands to set the standard for holiness in the home. It is terrible when wives feel like they must be the spiritual leaders in the relationship because their husbands aren’t taking on that responsibility. Unfortunately, this is a common problem.

A Husband Gets the Wife He Prepares for Himself

Ephesians 5:27 continues the description of Christ sanctifying and cleansing the church: He does this so “that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.” There is a tremendous truth contained in these words. Christ does what He does in verse 26—sanctifying and cleansing the church—so that He can obtain for Himself the glorious church (or bride) described in verse 27: one that has no spot or wrinkle, but is holy and without blemish. The ESV Bible says, “So that He might present the church to Himself in splendor.” Here is the simplest way to sum it up: Christ gets the church He prepares for Himself.

Again, this is a picture for husbands and wives. What is the apostle Paul implying by this truth? Just as Jesus gets the church He prepares for Himself, a husband generally gets the wife he prepares for himself. Wives respond well to love, holiness, and obedience to God’s Word. When a husband treats his wife forgivingly, lovingly, and tenderly, he will generally receive a more forgiving, loving, and tender wife. When a husband treats his wife unforgivingly, unlovingly, and harshly, he will generally find himself with a less forgiving, loving, and tender wife.

Rather than be cruel or harsh toward their wives, some husbands tend to be apathetic or indifferent. They take no interest in their wives. They do not invest in them or even become annoyed with them. We should note that 1 Peter 3:7 commands husbands to “dwell with [their wives] with understanding.” Husbands must try to know and understand their wives. This is what enables wives to blossom and grow. When husbands fail to show interest in their wives, they end up with cold, bitter, frustrated wives.

A Husband’s Reaping and Sowing in Marriage

Earlier, we learned about a husband’s responsibility regarding his wife’s sanctification. Another way to look at this is that husbands are responsible for the wives they get for themselves! It is a simple equation. If a husband helps his wife with her sanctification and spiritual cleansing, he is going to get a sanctified and spiritually cleansed wife.

So, aside from the fact that God commands a husband to take his wife to church, read the Word with her, pray with her, and help her grow spiritually, another great reason for him to do so is that he will receive a more spiritually mature wife. What kind of qualities will be produced as a result? Galatians 5:22-23 answers: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”

Conversely, husbands who do not lead their wives spiritually will likely receive less spiritual wives. What is the opposite of that which is spiritual? The flesh: “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another” (Galatians 5:16-17). Verses 19-22 list the “works of the flesh” that are manifest in a person who is not walking in the Spirit: hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, envy, even adultery. How many husbands see these behaviors in their wives because they have been poor spiritual leaders?

How many wives might be more spiritually mature if their husbands nurtured them spiritually, prayed for them, and read the Bible with them? Tragically, I have heard some husbands talk terribly about their wives without considering they may have received the wives they have prepared for themselves. Men have come into my office and told me how badly their wives act, only to make themselves look bad. I’m listening and thinking, Would your wife act this way if you had been sanctifying and cleansing her as God’s Word commands? It sounds like you may have gotten the wife you prepared for yourself.

Galatians 6:7 tells us, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” While it’s true that the context of this verse has to do with giving to the church, the principle also applies to a husband’s relationship with his wife. Husbands generally reap what they sow in a marriage. When husbands invest in their wives by sowing seeds of love and interest— when they plant spiritual seeds of sanctification—they are more likely to reap what they’ve sown.

Let’s summarize what we’ve learned up to this point by keeping these two truths in mind:

  • Husbands should contribute to sanctifying and cleansing their wives. God has commanded this and will hold husbands accountable for whether they fulfill this calling.
  • Husbands are to love their wives and lead them well so that they receive loving, sanctified wives. The good news is that God’s command to husbands benefits them as much as it benefits their wives—a husband who loves his wife as God commands will bring great blessings to himself.

Husbands Love Your Wives as Christ Loves the Church by Caring for Her

Do you remember Adam’s response upon seeing Eve for the first time? “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Genesis 2:23). Just as in English, the Hebrew words for man (iysh) and woman (ishshah) are closely related, revealing that Adam recognized his closeness with his wife. Adam knew that Eve had come from him; that’s why looking at her was like looking at himself. Loving Eve was like loving himself. When Adam cared for Eve’s body and physical needs, he was caring for his own body because her body had earlier been his body and physical needs. Her flesh was his flesh.

There can be little doubt that Paul had Adam and Eve in mind when he wrote Ephesians 5:28-29: “Husbands ought to love their own 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 the Lord does the church.” Paul’s connection to Adam and Eve becomes even clearer when he finishes his instruction to husbands by quoting Genesis 2:24 in Ephesians 5:31: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

Just as Adam saw Eve as an extension of his bone and flesh, God wants husbands to see their wives as extensions of themselves. A husband should care for his wife as well as he cares for himself. When he views her body as part of his body, the result is that when he loves her, he is loving himself. Because no husband hates his flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, husbands should offer their wives the same concern and devotion they lavish on themselves.

Nourishing and Cherishing

In Ephesians 5:29, we read about the twin responsibilities God has given to husbands: nourish and cherish. “Nourishes” refers to taking care of our wives spiritually. The New Testament Greek word here is ektrepho, which means “to nourish up to maturity.” The word occurs only two times in Scripture, both in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. The other occurrence is in Ephesians 6:4: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up [ektrepho] in the training and admonition of the Lord.” Fittingly, because men should be spiritual leaders in their homes, each usage of ektrepho references how a man should nourish the most important people in his life to spiritual maturity: his wife and children.

The second word, “cherishes,” denotes caring for our wives physically, mentally, and emotionally. It refers to being tenderly affectionate, warm, and comforting.

Husband, let me ask you some questions that convict me when I ask them of myself:

  • Are you as concerned about how your wife is doing as you are about how you are doing?
  • Are you as concerned about how much sleep your wife is getting as about how much you are getting?
  • Are you as concerned about your wife’s health when she is sick as you are about yourself when you are sick?
  • Are you as concerned about your wife’s overworking herself as you are about overworking yourself?

If you love your wife as your own body, the answer to these questions will be yes!

The Sacrifice Needed to Love a Wife

What does a husband’s love look like in practical terms? Fittingly, because agape involves sacrifice, it looks like sacrificing for a wife. When it comes to daily living, a husband should be willing to lay aside his agenda for the sake of his wife. He must be willing to give up things he would not have to give up if he wasn’t married. That could be time. Sleep. Sports. Video games. Television. Socializing with friends.

This kind of sacrifice means putting aside anything that prevents you from loving and caring for your wife the way you love and care for yourself. I’m not saying you must give up all your sleep, friendships, etc. Rather, you need to make sure you are loving and caring for your wife in the way God commanded. Do you love her as you love yourself? Do you love her as Christ loves the church? Do you love her in a sanctifying and spiritually cleansing way?

Showing such love means applying the words of 1 Corinthians 13:11: “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” Loving one’s wife as God commands means putting away childish things—the things we tend to be selfish about and hinder us from loving our wives as we should. Here’s another way of saying that: “I need to stop being a child. That is what boys do. I need to give this up and start being a man so I can love my wife as much as I love myself. It is time for me to man up.”

Christ’s Sacrificial Love for His Bride

The marriage passage concludes: “We are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones…This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:30, 32). In Scripture, “mystery” refers to something previously concealed and later revealed. The “great mystery” Paul spoke of began at the creation of Adam and Eve, was concealed throughout the Old Testament, and was then revealed in the New Testament: Marriage is a picture of Christ’s relationship to the church.

Just as Adam was Eve’s head, so too is Christ our head (Ephesians 5:23; Colossians 1:18). Just as Eve served as Adam’s helper, the church serves as Christ’s helper—as the body of Christ, we carry on Christ’s work on the earth in His physical absence (1 Corinthians 12:12-27).

While Christ had followers who worked alongside Him during His earthly ministry, He did not have a bride until He laid down His life on the cross. Before His death, the Twelve were called disciples, apostles, or even friends (John 15:15), but it wasn’t until after the resurrection that Jesus called them brothers (Matthew 28:10; John 20:17). This new relationship, which includes believers becoming Jesus’s bride, was made possible because He pledged Himself to us through His sacrifice. An analogy would be a young man who deeply loves a young lady, but she does not become his bride until he pledges himself to her.

Consider this: If Adam cared for Eve because she was part of his flesh and bones, how much better would Christ care for us, His body, flesh, and bones? If you can imagine the love Adam had for Eve, imagine the much greater love that Christ has for us. As husbands, we are commanded to sacrifice for our wives, and in doing so, we can be blessed as we think about the even greater sacrifice Jesus made for us.

12 Responses

  1. Here are my thoughts about the wife not wanting to go to church with her husband. I say be glad she is going to church at all. Some wives don’t as well as husbands. In religion today it is must easier in some churches to obey the ways of God and harder in the holiness or Pentecostal churches. Their customs are much harder to live by. They still don’t think women should even trim their hair and should wear long sleeve dresses, even in summer. I wore a necklace my mother gave me with a mustard seed in it and they preached on how we didn’t need our jewelry. I was the only one that had a necklace on. And don’t speak in church when a woman has questions too. In my opinion they have their verses a little mixed up. Because they mean much more. So that may very well be the reason for the wife not going with him. I understand the more you do for Christ the closer you get but as a woman in those churches much is required. God I believe understands and loves her all the same. How do you feel about this? You still think God will still hold her responsible?

    1. Hello Rita,
      Thank you for sharing your thoughts. If I understand you, you are criticizing churches that say women should not trim their hair or wear jewelry, and they must wear long sleeve dresses all the time? Women should dress modestly so as not to stumble men, and they should dress femininely. But I do not think it is biblical to add the requirements you mentioned.

  2. Pastor Scott,
    I prayed for God to give me a sign and for him to guide me through my difficult marriage. I’m put in a situation to where I feel unworthy and my husband makes it clear and known that I’m the only problem in the marriage since he’s a “great husband” and why it’s so hard and difficult. God lead me to scriptures defining who I am In his word and the purpose I have despite what my husband says. God’s word and your teaching shown me I wasn’t alone and crazy. My husband shows similar flaws in the role of a husband, and that has affected me as a wife. How can this marriage improve if he’s sees no flaw in himself and no need of change for himself ? I feel like it will continue to hinder me as a woman, mother, and wife and I want to be whom God called me to be and be an example of for my children.

    1. Hello Shanice,
      I am sorry to hear about your problems with your husband. If he doesn’t see any flaws in himself or areas that need improvement, I have a few encouragements for you. First, can you reach out to the leadership in your church for counseling? Hopefully one of the men can meet with him and help him see some areas requiring repentance. Second, keep in mind that God only holds you responsible for yourself. He doesn’t expect you to be of the change her husband. Perhaps part of your greatest faithfulness to God is remaining faithful to your husband. For some people their biggest trial is staying in a difficult marriage.

      1. Scott as both a Christian and a man I am very confused that you would act as an enabler, which is also a sin, and advise any woman or man to stay in a marriage in which they are intimidated, humiliated or abused? When do men especially say enough is enough? Has she not been abandoned by him emotionally? Do you really think this man is going to change his behavior which he has had his whole life, one of self-pity and emotionally hostile filled manipulation because another Christian brother has a talk with him?
        Abusers don’t change, and accordingly Christ would not want anyone to remain with an abuser. In 2 Timothy 3 the Holy Spirit states bluntly who to avoid. How long should she tolerate an abusive condescending husband before she gets the actual support she needs to leave him. Remember, abuse by its very nature is letting a foothold in for the devil. Would any Christian with actual empathy want someone to tolerate such treatment. I as a man and a Christian am fervently disgusted that women especially are encouraged to stay with an abuser. And the Lord himself will render His own judgement in due time. But we are not to be blind and believe it is our duty to keep anyone in a possible abusive situation just because they are Christian.
        Has this husband not acted treacherously or even with immorality towards his wife?
        A man or woman who constantly abuses who they are with has rendered null and void the marriage commitment. Because there is no longer a commitment there as the abuser breaks the covenant.

        John Calvin addresses husbands directly.

        “What else is this,” he says, “but to cover by a cloak your violence, or at least to excuse it?” For ye do not openly manifest it: but God is not deceived, nor can his eye be dazzled by such a disguise: though then your iniquity is covered by a cloak, it is not yet hid from God; nay, it is thus doubled, because ye exercise your cruelty at home; for it would be better for robbers to remain in the wood and there to kill strangers, than to entice guests to their houses and to kill them there and to plunder them under the pretext of hospitality. This is the way in which you act; for ye destroy the bond of marriage, and ye afterwards deceive your miserable wives, and yet ye force them by your tyranny to continue at your houses, and thus ye torment your miserable wives, who might have enjoyed their freedom, if divorce had been granted them. (Source: Bible Hub)

        Calvin understood that some husbands in his day were treating their wives cruelly and that this destroyed the bond of marriage. Without advocating for divorce, he plainly acknowledges that divorcing their wives was a better option than tormenting them. He also warns them that God is aware of their crimes.

        1. Hello Shon,
          You wrote that you were confused that I would “advise any woman or man to stay in a marriage in which they are intimidated, humiliated or abused.” We need to define “staying in the marriage.” Staying in the marriage means not divorcing, but it doesn’t mean not separating. I have repeatedly supported separation and abuse cases. While separated the person abused can seek help, possibly from the authorities. The abuser can be confronted and disciplined.

          The question is not, “What does John Calvin say about divorce?” The question is, “What does God’s Word say about divorce?” I have a lengthy post about divorce and why it is not permitted. I hope you will check it out: What Does the Bible Say About Divorce and Remarriage?

  3. Pastor Scott.
    Thank you kindly. It is a challenge to even discuss scripture with my wife. But yes, you are absolutely right. I stopped pushing or trying. I do everything in regards to God alone now. I pray alone, I go to church alone.

    Funny thing is, many other people are willing to listen to me. Especially as The Lord Jesus has been merciful in healing me many times of different illnesses.

    Remain blessed.
    Peace Be.

    1. Arrey,
      You are welcome. I hope my words encouraged you. I’m sorry about what you’re experiencing. I’m sure it’s very difficult. I will pray your wife wants to join you.

  4. You mentioned “husbands to take their wife to church”.

    My question to you is, what if your wife does not want to follow you to church? She wants to go to her own church. She understands the scripture directs her to follow her husband and not the husband to follow her. She knows the man is the head and she has to follow him all things. But because of her disobedience, she finds it very very difficult to go with her husband.

    What should the husband do in this situation by which the wife does not want to follow him? Wife does not want to listen to him.

    Thank you!

    1. Arrey,
      If your wife does not want to go to church with you, do not try to force her. Invite her and when you come home from church share with her some of the wonderful things you learned, but don’t push her. More than likely doing so will actually decrease the chances of her attending.

      The husband can be encouraged that God will hold his wife responsible for her disobedience. He tried to be a good spiritual leader, but she was not willing to follow.

Do you have a question or thought? If so, please let me know. I do my best to respond to each comment.

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