“Husbands love your wives” is the primary command for husbands in Ephesians 5:25, but what does it look like to obey this command? Read this chapter from Your Marriage God’s Way to find out!
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As we begin this chapter, here is a question that deserves serious thought: What does it look like for a husband to love his wife? As we discussed earlier, 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.
With a good understanding of agape, we are now prepared to see just how high the standard is 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 as though 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 needs to remind himself of the love Christ has for His bride—a love that is steadfast 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 of this chapter: 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.
A HUSBAND LOVES HIS WIFE BY SANCTIFYING AND CLEANSING HER
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 at least partially responsible for his wife’s sanctification or spiritual growth. As Christ prepares His bride to be pure, so must husbands 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:
- Through 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.
- Through 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 to 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 televisions, 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?
A Husband Sets 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 there are some movies, music, clothing, jokes, language, and activities that 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 have the responsibility to make sure they are removed. A man who agapes his wife keeps out anything that would be detrimental to her and the family. When we as husbands compromise on the kinds of 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 would like to share about a pattern I’ve noticed through the years. Let me be clear that this is my own 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 puts it this way: “So that He might present the church to Himself in splendor.” Here is the simplest way to sum it all 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 wife who is less forgiving, loving, and tender.
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 will discuss this more when we look at 1 Peter 3 in chapters 16 through 19 in this book, but for now, 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.
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 is helping 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 gives the answer: “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 are likely to receive wives who are less spiritual. 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 go on to 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 were nurturing them spiritually, praying for them, and reading the Bible with them? Tragically, I have heard some husbands talk terribly about their wives without considering the fact 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 be acting 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.
A HUSBAND’S CONCERN FOR HIS WIFE
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—literally, 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.” The connection Paul makes 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 own bone and flesh, so 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 own 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 home, each usage of ektrepho references how a man should nourish up to spiritual maturity the most important people in his life: 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 how your wife is doing 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 own 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 need to give up all your sleep, friendships, and so on. 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 that 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 with these words: “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, the word “mystery” refers to something previously concealed and then 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. It is the mystery we are exploring throughout this book.
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. Prior to 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 deeply loves a young lady, but until he pledges himself to her, she does not become his bride.
Consider this: If Adam cared for Eve because she was part of his flesh and bones, how much better will Christ care for us who are 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 wife, and in doing so, we can be blessed as we think upon the even greater sacrifice Jesus made for us.