When you preach sporadically, all kinds of factors can lead to your sermon choice. As Tenth’s Executive Minister I typically try to think of a timely subject either related to the time of year or the circumstances of the church. I must confess a personal reason for choosing this morning’s message. Today is the day after mine and Ginger’s 28th wedding anniversary. Why not a sermon on the husband’s responsibility to his wife? (That seems safer after an anniversary than preaching on the wife’s responsibility to her husband!) As I considered our particular passage, it struck me further that it presents a vital doctrine regarding the church’s relationship with our Lord. To understand the relationship of a husband with his wife, we must understand that of the Lord with his church.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church
The Ephesians passage on marriage actually begins at verse 22 where wives are first told to “submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” We regard the instruction to the wives as the radical and controversial portion of the text. But in the ancient world, it would have been the instructions to the husbands that provoked controversy. There was no question of who was the head of the marriage and the respect that the wife was to accord her husband. No, it is the expectation placed on the husband that would have shocked the hearers. It was commendable for husbands to be tolerant with their wives. They should be courteous and even kindly towards them. But wives were primarily seen to be the bearers of their children. If they proved to be good companions, that was a bonus. It might even be considered commendable for there to be real love between them, but the Scripture here expects all husbands to love their wives and, furthermore, takes the expectation to another realm when the model of Christ is brought into the picture. How then does Christ love the church?
He died for her: and gave himself up for her. Jesus himself said that there is no greater love than to die for one’s friends. There is no greater way to show your love to your loved one. And this is what Christ has done for the church whom he loves. I’m not sure we grasp emotionally this truth about Christ’s motivation. Christ died for us out of love – love for his Father and love for his church. He did not die begrudgingly. He did not walk to Calvary bemoaning his fate. Out of love he gladly laid down his life.
We understand such love or think we do. We can imagine ourselves laying down our lives for those whom we love. Indeed, we would think it ignoble of a person not willing to do so, especially a bridegroom for his bride. We would question if he truly loved her.
But Christ’s love is different because of who he is. We are no better than one another. My life is not more valuable than your life. But here truly is one of infinitely more value than we are. Here is our Creator. Here is the Almighty God. Here is the God of glory. Here is a person of the Three-Persons God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This one God in Three Persons has existed for eternity and for eternity dwelt in perfect love. It is this one who sheds his precious blood for us in death. Take time to meditate on that love.
Furthermore, consider the ones for whom he dies. That was nice of Jesus to refer to his disciples as his friends. They were also sinners; indeed, they were his enemies. Romans 5:6-10 makes clear that it was while we were sinful enemies that the Son reconciled us to God. Meditate on that love.
Our passage takes us further into Christ’s love: 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
A superficial presentation of Christ’s work is that people were bad, God got mad, and so his Son had to appease his angry Dad to get the people back into his graces. The Son is the Mediator between God and his people. His death did avert God’s just wrath and brought those who would believe into God’s good graces. But our Lord is not a mere third party brought in to reconcile other parties. The people he saved, he wants for himself. He wants to present the church to himself. He wants to marry them. Meditate on that love.
Consider his intent for the church. Do you know what brides want on their wedding day? They want to be perfect. At least they want to look perfect. They want their hair just right, their faces with clear complexions. “Please no blemishes on my wedding day!” They want their dress to be perfect – no wrinkles, definitely no spots. You know what the bridegroom sees when his bride walks down the aisle? A perfect bride. He’s actually not paying much attention to her hair or dress. He sees the one he loves and for a moment has the illusion that she is perfect.
On the day of the church’s wedding with our Bridegroom, he will see a perfect bride who actually is perfect because he himself has sanctified her. He himself will have cleansed her from the pollution of her sins, just as he illustrated when he knelt at the feet of his disciples and washed their feet. Our Lord is cleansing us now by his Holy Spirit. He is cleansing us through his means of grace – through baptism, through the Lord’s Supper, through the teaching of his Word. I may have raised questions about the sacraments, but the only point to be made now is that all that our Lord gives to us is for the purpose of sanctifying us. What he gives is for our growth in holiness. And he does so for the day when we – we who have been sinners dressed in filthy rags – we will appear before him holy and dressed in splendor. Meditate on that love.
But there is more. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
This mystery is profound. We are members of Christ’s body! With all the ado about the elements of the Lord’s Supper and what it means for them to be called the body and blood of Christ, the mystery is that the church is the body of Christ, that each of us are members of his body. That is a profound mystery that should send us to our knees in awe, not so much for how this occurs but that our Lord desires for it to occur. It seems almost blasphemous to contemplate. We sinners are one with our glorious, holy Lord. And how does he feel about us? He loves us as he loves himself! He nourishes us. He cherishes us. That term for cherish is used elsewhere in the New Testament only in 1 Thessalonians 2:7 where is speaks of Paul and his companions being gentle with the Thessalonians, “like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.” Its literal meaning is to warm something and is used to refer to a bird sitting on her eggs. You see then the association Paul intends with his words – that of gentle care and nurture. Meditate on that love that Christ has for his church.
Now we come to application and all the married men know what to expect. Paul presents the love of Christ for the church as the model for how husbands are to relate to their wives. Let’s go through that.
First, Christ gave himself up for the church. Some have said this means that husbands should be willing to die for their wives. We husbands should, but the point is not that Christ was willing to give himself up, but that he did it. What did he give up? His life to be sure, but more to the point is that he gave up his rights and privileges for the sake of his bride. Philippians 2:6-8 expresses this well:
though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
The cross was the final expression of Christ’s sacrificial love, but it began when he gave up his position of glory and in the incarnation took on our flesh, becoming our servant. It began when he chose our well-being over his own. So husbands are to place the well-being of their wives over their own and do so gladly. A man gets married thinking about the great deal he is getting – a helpmeet who will be devoted to making his life easier and happier. He is surprised to find this helpmeet, not just wanting some support of her own (fair enough), but complicating his life with insisting on “meaningful conversations,” wanting to “share in” all his experiences, and the list goes on. He was willing to make his share of sacrifices; he didn’t know how much would be expected. Husbands, however great you may think your sacrifices are, you are to consider those of Christ for you. Meditate on that model.
Next, Christ’s intent is to sanctify his bride and to present her to himself in splendor without blemish. What he wants for us is no less than glory emanating from holiness. Husbands are to want the same for their wives and to help their wives towards this end. Our real goal, however, is to “sanctify” our wives to be more pleasing to us. It is not holiness we want, but wives who are more attentive to us. We may claim, for example, that we are concerned that our wives are disobeying God in not fulfilling the command to submit to us. If we are truthful, our true concern is over the personal trouble we experience. Christ’s concern for his bride is purely for her welfare and God’s glory. Meditate on that model.
And then there is how Christ relates to the church now. He nourishes and cherishes her as his body. One husband explained to me that he was quick to point out the faults of his wife to her precisely because he took to heart this teaching to sanctify one’s wife and remove her blemishes. How would she know what needed changing if he didn’t bring it to her attention? He missed Paul’s intent, which is to teach husbands to be tender in their treatment. That is the point of verses 28-29. We don’t beat our bodies; we are not harsh with our bodies; rather we take the effort to protect and care for them.
In Colossians 3:19, he specifically says, “Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.” Peter likewise says, “…husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel…” (1 Peter 3:7). What does this attitude mean? It means, husbands, that you do not help your wives deal with fearfulness by getting angry with them. It means that you do not address the failings of your wives by demanding obedience and showing indifference to their worries. Instead, you take the time to get to know your wives. You take the time to think how to honor her. And should she need correction, you take the time to do it in “a spirit of gentleness” as Galatians 6:1 tells us to do so with anyone. It means to be gentle with our wives as Christ is with us, the one who will not break a bruised reed or extinguish a faintly burning wick. Meditate on that model.
Husbands, there is a lot for us to meditate on. I think most men listening agree that we need to do better. There is nothing here really to argue with, but if we could say something, it would be like this: “I know I have my share of faults, but it seems that my wife overreacts. I’ll say something I should not have said. I know it hurt her, but I didn’t mean it. I apologized, but she can’t seem to get over it. She won’t forgive, or least not forget. She won’t trust me even when I change. Doesn’t she have her own responsibility?”
She does. Our passage ends with these words: However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. Perhaps for another sermon I can give attention to her responsibility. But for now I want to explain to husbands what is going on inside your wives. I think if I can do this, and you can understand, then you will find the wisdom to know what to do.
Why then do wives make such a big deal about the offenses of their husbands? It is because of what it means to a wife to regard her husband as the church regards Christ. When we men read verses 22-24, the image of Christ that comes to our mind is that of commander. He is the leader to whom we subordinates are to submit and obey. Wives pick up on the submission part, but they also focus in on verse 23 depicting Christ as “the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.” Christ is the church’s Savior who gave himself up for her, loves her, nourishes and cherishes her. If I had cautioned you to be aware of your Savior striking you, you would have rightly responded to me in anger. That anger would have risen not merely out of my teaching false doctrine, but out of the mere horror of such a thought. “How could my Savior, the one person I can trust to nourish and cherish me, turn on me?” Understand then the feeling of a wife when her husband – the man whom she is to count on to nourish and cherish her, turns on her with a hurtful remark and even a striking hand. Men, we can say we did not mean it; we can say we will never do it again, but the knife blade went in and it struck deep. It will be when we understand the pain of being hurt by the one we are to trust the most that the wisdom will come to win that trust back. It is then we will attain the patience needed. It is then that we will have attained the love needed, for love itself must be a love with knowledge. We cannot fully love our wives until we can understand them.
This is a lot to think about, isn’t it? But remember the knowledge that is a pleasure to explore. Meditate on the love of your Savior who knows you completely – your sins, your fears, your weaknesses, your hopes – and in that knowledge is preparing you to be joyfully received by him in splendor.
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