Editor’s Note: This blog is the second of a two part series on Paul’s discussion of biblical roles in marriage in Ephesians 5:22-23. Be sure you read the first post in this series.
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church …” (Eph 5:25). As a newlywed, this verse sounded so right and good! There was just one problem: I was pretty much clueless as to the rich doctrine it contained and the practical implications on my marriage. Early in my marriage, I really thought I already loved Christ and my wife pretty well. However, by year three of marriage, God enabled me to see various ways that I loved myself more than Christ or my wife. I was convicted that as a husband I needed both a better understanding and application of Ephesians 5.
In God’s sovereignty, my wife had just finished a book by Dr. Ed Bulkley called Why Christians Can’t Trust Psychology. We just happened to have a trip planned that put us within 15 minutes of Dr. Bulkley, and so we contacted him to see if he might be able to meet up with us and tell us more about Biblical counseling. After a wonderful visit, and in finding out that I was basically a newlywed, he gave me a copy of a book that had just come out: The Complete Husband: A Practical Guide to Biblical Husbanding by Lou Priolo. As I went through the book over the next few months, discussing it with my wife, I was convicted at how self-centered instead of Christ-centered I had been in my marriage. At present, I am working through the updated edition of The Complete Husband, seeing afresh that I am certainly still a work in process. My only hope in being the husband God calls me to be is through my union with Christ, who alone is truly The Complete Husband.
In part one, we considered briefly the perversion, purpose, and pattern of marriage. Certainly the institution and practice of marriage has been widely perverted ever since the first marriage in Genesis 3. When God’s Word is disobeyed, marriage becomes disarrayed. However, immediately after the Fall, God began to unveil his eternal plan of reconciliation that offers up much hope! In Genesis 3:15, God says “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Of course this is fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ, in whom is the purpose of marriage.
Quoting Genesis 2:24, Paul reveals the purpose of marriage in Ephesians 5:31-32. “‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” Paul says this one flesh marriage union is a profound mystery, which “refers to … Christ and the church.” Christian marriages exist fundamentally to display the relationship between Christ and the Church. As both the husband and wife submit “to one another out of reverend to Christ” (Eph 5:21), they do so according to the pattern or divine blueprint that God established before the Fall and which God has instituted until Christ’s return.
As described in the last blog, the wife’s role in the marriage is to submit to her husband, as to the Lord (Eph 5:22-24, 33). So continuing now in Ephesians 5:25-33, our primary focus in this blog will be upon the pattern and practice of marriage concerning the husband’s role.
Concerning the pattern of marriage for the husband, Ephesians 5:23 says he “is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church…” As Christ is the head or authority of the church, so the husband is the head or authority his wife. How then is the husband to use his God-given authority?
The Husband’s Calling: LOVE (Eph 5:25, 28, 33)
Ephesians 5:25, 28, 33 says, “Husbands, LOVE your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her … In the same way husbands should LOVE their wives as their own bodies … However, let each one of you LOVE his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”
The verb to “love” in Ephesians 5:25 and 33 is in the present active indicative; meaning that love is to continuously characterize how a husband relates to his wife. “Love” is Christ’s banner over his church and is the primary calling upon husbands. Love is the fountain from which all other duties must flow. A husband could be married to Jezebeel herself and yet this would not change God’s calling to love. God’s command for a husband to love his wife is not based upon whether or not she loves him in return. Rather, it is based upon God’s love for him which Christ put on display by loving the Church.
As a husband is first loved by Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit (Eph 5:18), a husband is to practice love continuously as he relates to his wife. Here are five qualities of Christ-like love from Ephesians 5:25-33 that should increasingly characterize the husband:
(1) Intentional. Ephesians 5:23 says “the husband is the head of the wife…” Note the verb “is.” “The husband is the head.” It does not say he will eventually earn that role. Rather, when he says “I do,” he is to assume his God-given responsibility as the leader of the home. Rather than refuse or abuse his calling to lead, the husband seeks to grow into the exceedingly large uniform that God has given him.
(2) Initiatory. Ephesians 5:25 says, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church.” In Christ’s relationship with the church, his bride, Christ is the initiator. Thus, the husband is to be the initiator of love in his marriage. In her book, The Mark of a Man, Elisabeth Elliot, says “The important thing for you, as a man to remember … is that a woman cannot properly be the responder unless the man is properly the initiator. He must take the lead in order that she may follow, as in a dance.” Wayne Mack put it this way, “When there is not enough love in the marriage, one place for a husband to look [is] in the mirror.”
(3) Sacrificial. Ephesians 5:25 says Christ “gave himself up for her.” Christ gave his very life for the Church, and so is the husband to give himself for the benefit of his wife. If a husband’s love for his wife is based on the wife’s love for him, he will practice a conditional love that says: “You give me what I want, and I’ll give you what you want.” That is not how Christ loved the Church. Romans 5:8 says, “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
(4) Sanctifying. Ephesians 5:26-27 continues stating that Christ “might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 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.” In promoting holiness in his wife, a husband is to let the Word of Christ dwell richly within him (Col 3:16) that he may graciously lead her away from sin and toward Christ-likeness.
(5) Sensitive. Ephesians 5:28-29 says, “In the same way husbands should love their 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 Christ does the church.” As a husband provides as best he can for his own physical, emotional, spiritual, and material needs and desires, in at least the same way and same priority the husband should love his wife so that she always feels cherished. Yet for a husband to love his wife in this way, he must know his wife.
1 Peter 3:7 says a husband is to live with his wife in an understanding way, meaning that he must keep open communication with her, including her struggles. Now for a bit of free advice to husbands, when your wife opens up to you, do not try to immediately fix her struggles. Certainly do not pull out the duct tape with your wife. It does not really fix everything. The quick fix duct tape approach to helping one’s wife only makes the relationship more sticky! Instead, consider something like taking her for ice cream or to a quiet place inviting her to share her struggles and desires (Prov 20:5). A husband can only love his wife well as he grows both in the knowledge of God’s Word and in the knowledge of his wife. As in all communication, a husband is to be quick to listen and slow to speak (Jas 1:19) while graciously and intentionally pointing her to Christ.
Three Ways to Love Your Wife
As the head of the home, here are three of but many other ways a husband can love his wife:
1. Pray God’s Word for and with your wife (Eph 1, 3, 6:10-20)
Ephesians 6 calls for all believers to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” We can only do this as we appropriate the Word of God through prayer. In marriage, this is especially important as marriage has remained under assault from the evil one ever since Genesis 3. As marriage is to be a picture and a platform for the gospel, rest assured that this world, under the evil one, will do all it can to distract you from your calling, to make your marriage about anything but Christ. As Christ continually intercedes for his bride, so should a husband and wife for each that they might walk in a manner worthy of their calling, in all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love (Eph 4:1-3).
The Puritan Richard Steele wrote, “The purest love is expressed by earnest prayer, and prayer will preserve love.” Pray God’s Word earnestly for each other, for as Steele continues, “A Bible placed between you will eliminate many differences, comfort many distresses, and guide you in many confounding circumstances.”
2. Repent of your failures (Ps 51; Prov 28:13)
Your spouse probably sees your sins far more clearly than you do, so rather than trying to hide them or blame them on the kids, why not confess them? But first, acknowledge — as David did in Psalm 51 — that your sin is primarily against God, and ask the Lord to blot out your iniquities, creating in you a clean heart and renewing a right spirit within you.
As Dr. Stephen Yuille stated concerning Christ’s saving work in our lives, “repentance must be a way of life.” In his book, What Did You Expect, Paul Tripp gives six commitments that must characterize a husband as an heir of grace with his wife. The first one is this: “We will give ourselves to a regular lifestyle of confession and forgiveness.” Indeed, this summarizes the first two beatitudes and is necessary for any marriage to be truly blessed of the Lord (Matt 5:3-4).
3. Live for the Consummation of Christ’s Marriage to the Church (Rev 19:7)
Those engaged count down the days until their wedding with eager anticipation. How much more should we encourage one another, in marriage and as members of Christ’s Church, to live for Christ’s return! Christ will present the Church unto himself, finally and fully, at the great marriage supper of the Lamb!
Revelation 19:7 says the great multitude cried out, “Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready.” Husbands, by the grace of God and for his glory, let us strive to love our wives according to God’s Word so that when Christ returns, our wives will be more like Christ; not despite us, but because our love for our wives resembled Christ’s love for the Church!
Note from Bryan Gaines: This series is adapted from the sermon found here.
Bryan Gaines is Pastor of Family Discipleship at Grace Community Church in Glen Rose, Texas. He regularly teaches classes to encourage and equip parents, works in the Student Ministry, leads an adult Care Group, and oversees Grace Preschool. Bryan also leads Grace Biblical Counseling, LLC. He is certified biblical counselor with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC, formerly NANC).
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