Preached at Red Mills Baptist Church on Sunday, May 19th, 2019
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. 28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, 30 because we are members of His body. 31 FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND SHALL BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH. 32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.33 Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.
Ephesians 5:25-33 (NASB)
Whenever anyone gets up to preach the word of God, and especially to God’s people, and especially when standing in the pulpit, he takes on the role of spokesperson for God. We who stand here say “this is the word of the Lord! This is for you to believe and obey.”
And so it should be apparent to anyone who gives it any thought, that the preacher must of necessity be preaching to himself as well. Because we who stand before you, at best are communicating God’s words to his people, and we are among his people. And so in bringing this word to you brothers and sisters … a very solemn word, a word that may bring with it a sense of conviction … in bringing this word to you, I bring it to myself as well. Under the best of circumstances, God himself is the preacher, and you and I are both hearing from Him. I have by no means ‘arrived’. My feet are clay, and I struggle to fulfill the command of God as it is laid out here for us all, and you and I, all of us, fail. Miserably at times. We are dependent on His grace, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
When speaking of the differences between men and women in the context of the home, the church, and in the larger society, we who take a complementarian view often find ourselves having to spend a lot of time defending the biblical teaching on gender roles: of a woman’s submission to her husband, of how the elders must be men, etc. etc.
We live in such times that the biblical teaching on men’s and women’s roles is so at odds with our culture, that it seems we have to be constantly re-laying the groundwork in this area. And what the scripture is saying about authority and submission is so at odds with the wider world, so out of step with where our culture is at, that we do indeed have to take the time to re-orient our thinking on this subject if we are to stand up for biblical truth in a world that hates it.
Today I want to talk about something which I think is slightly less controversial: I want to take some time today to talk with the brothers about our calling as husbands. Today’s passage is not completely without controversy, because there are those who want to deny gender distinctives altogether. But whereas talking about how women are to submit to, and respect their husbands causes backs-of-necks to bristle the world over, speaking about how a husband is to love his wife sacrificially causes a fair bit less hand-wringing.
But I think much of the heat this topic generates comes from the fact that we have a problem with hierarchy, and with authority, and with submission. But notice that hierarchy, authority, and submission exist WITHIN the Godhead: God the Father SENDS the Son. The Son willing goes, in obedience to the father. The Son is LED by the Holy Spirit, and later the Son SENDs the Holy Spirit to the Church. The Father then gives everything to the Son. You see authority and submission between the members of the trinity even though they are all equally God…equal in power, majesty, and glory. All equally worthy of worship.
And because God exists as a trinity, love and relationship are intrinsic to the nature of God. And so, this submission and authority we see in the trinity actually flows out of their love. So too, whenever we in love for God, fulfill our biblical roles within a God created hierarchy, we imitate God.
So now let us turn our attention to the call of the husband. And while these verses are directed primarily at husbands, the applications apply to all of us.
Paul tells us here in Ephesians 5:25 that husbands are called to be towards our wives as Christ is towards his church, which is HIS bride. We don’t have to think about that too long or too hard before we start to realize that this is an extremely high calling.
Let’s look at our passage to see how Christ loved the church to see how we are to love our wives.
The first thing Paul mentions is that Christ loved the church and GAVE HIMSELF UP FOR HER. (Eph 5:25)
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her,
We understand that Christ went to the cross and died to save his people, the church. And that tells us right away that we are called to lay down our life for our wife. But that is way too glib a way of describing what’s being said here. It is too short a sentence to describe such a world changing truth.
Remember, Christ was in heaven, enjoying unbroken fellowship with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. Then, in obedience to his father, he was born a man. He left the throne room in heaven to be born in a stinking stable – in a feed trough for cattle. He identified with us by becoming human. He walked not just in our shoes, but in our skin. And he suffered all the indignities of human existence so that he could be a high priest who understands our condition from the perspective of one who has lived it.
For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15 NASB)
You see, Jesus completely accommodated himself to our need. In every other religion, a man conforms himself to God and then, if he does that well enough, God accepts him. But Jesus completely accommodated himself to us, to our need. He became a man, lived among us, taught us, led us, died for us, rose for us, and now intercedes for us at the right hand of the father. He came not to be served, but to serve.
“…just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28 NASB)
Let me ask a rhetorical question:
How far should we go in loving our wives? To what extent should we change our priorities, our plans, our ambitions, not to mention our preferences and desires, to accommodate the needs of our wife?
If Christ is our example … there is no limit. We husbands are called to subjugate our needs, our wants, our dreams….everything..for our wife. Of course by this I am not saying that we should love our wife more than we love Christ. But rather, insofar as we love Christ, insofar as Christ is our Lord, insofar as we are trying to imitate our Lord and walk in a way pleasing to Him, He calls us to love our wives without limit. To put it another way, to the extent you hold something back from your wife, you are withholding it from Christ himself.
Does your wife need you carry something? Carry it…
Does your wife need comfort? Comfort her.
Does your wife need you to give her your undivided attention? Give it to her.
Does your wife suffer in any way? Seek to relieve her suffering.
“How much is too much?” you might ask. And while I realize that our own physical limitations do impose limits, there really is no limit. Just as Christ completely accommodated himself to our needs, so too we husbands are called to completely accommodate ourselves to the needs of our wife.
Paul goes on to say that Christ gave himself up for the church “so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word”. (Eph 5:26)
Our primary spiritual investment is to be in our wife. In other words, just as Christ cleanses us with his word, so too we are to cleanse our wives with the word of God. Just as he gives us pure spiritual food, so we too are tend to the spiritual needs of our wife. Christ ministers to us, and we are called to minister to others, to speak to one another with psalms and spiritual sayings. And nowhere is this more true than between a husband and wife. There is no more important ministry for the Christian husband.
But what if your wife is more spiritual than you? What if she has been better taught, and knows the word of God better than you? What if she has is more spiritually mature than you? Well then, brother, you have big task ahead of you. It is upon you then to study, and seek wisdom, and grow spiritually so that you have something to offer to this precious person whom God has entrusted to you. You cannot relinquish this responsibility. But if you are lacking in this area, ask the Lord for wisdom, which he promises to give, without finding fault. And as men we must seek out each other’s company so that we can encourage one another to grow in this area. But brothers, we must tend to the spiritual needs of our wives, she is our first ministry.
In verse 27, Paul talks about beauty:
“27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.“
Christ found us with no beauty of our own. We have nothing with which to recommend ourselves to him. And yet we ARE beautiful because Christ, in placing his love upon us, makes us beautiful. I think it is more than ‘he declares us beautiful’, he makes us beautiful. We are not what we once were, nor are we yet what we shall be. But we have all been changed by his spirit, and one day, the transformation will be complete.
I think the admonition here is both to help our wives to be beautiful, and to find our wives beautiful. On the one hand, in our spiritual ministry to our wives, we are to guide them in righteousness and holiness, so that she is ‘adorned with good works’ as Paul describes in 1 Timothy 2:9-10:
Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness.
But I think we are also called to find our wives to be beautiful. That is to say, we are to adore them, to be captivated by their love, to be delighted by them. This goes way beyond simply being faithful to our wife.
When our kids were young we were aware of this program aimed at teens and pre-teens called ‘D.A.R.E.’, Drug Awareness and Resistance Education. Now I’m sure this is a wonderful program that does a lot of good, but I could not help thinking … “Is this really the goal … to keep kids off of drugs … that just seems like way too low a bar … don’t we want our kids to become strong, wise, and good? Don’t we want our kids to serve the Lord, find a godly spouse, and raise another generation in the nurture and admonition of the Lord?” Not doing drugs just didn’t seem like a high enough of a goal to me.
And remaining faithful to our wife is way too low a bar as well. We are to DELIGHT in our wives. Consider this exhortation from Proverbs 5:18-19:
Let your fountain be blessed,
And rejoice in the wife of our youth.
As a loving hind and a graceful doe,
Let her breasts satisfy you at all times;
Be exhilarated always with her love
Notice the word ‘exhilarated’….we are to be EXHILARATED with the love of our wife. There is supposed to be passion between us. Or consider these passages from the Song of Solomon, chapter 4:7,9
“7 You are altogether beautiful, my darling, and there is no blemish in you”
“9 You have made my heart beat faster, my sister, my bride; you have made my heart beat faster with a single glance of your eyes, with a single strand of your necklace.”
By the way, married couples really should read the Song of Solomon; it is about the love between a husband and a wife, and it is about Christ and the Church. In reading the Song, you will see how you cannot diminish the significance of one meaning without diminishing the other. To understand marriage, you have to understand Christ and the Church. And to understand Christ and the Church, you have to understand marriage.
So if the passion has gone out of your marriage, get it back. Love one another fiercely. We aren’t playing games here. We could probably do a whole sermon just on this point alone. We are called to LOVE our wives. It should be evident to a watching world that we find our own wife beautiful and that our heart belongs to her.
Lastly, Paul tells husbands to “love their wives as their own bodies.” (Eph 5:28-30)
So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body.
After what he has already said, this may sound redundant, but I think Paul says this here just in case we spiritualized the previous exhortations to such an extent that there is no practical application. Here Paul makes it very concrete: love your wife as you love your own body. Do you care for your body, do you feed it, wash it, tend to its comforts? Do the same for your wife. Do you treat your body with respect? Do the same for your wife.
See you your wife’s physical needs.
Provide for her.
Care for her well-being.
Protect her from harm.
In closing, Paul talks about the two becoming one flesh and that he is really referring to Christ and the church. (Eph 5:31-32)
FOR THIS REASON, A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND SHALL BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.
I think there are many meanings here, the most obvious one being that Christ is one with his church. But he is also saying that marriage is a picture of Christ and the church. Which means that we are making a statement to the world about Christ and the church with our marriage! We might be making a true statement, and we might be making a false statement, but we are making a statement. With our marriage, we are saying to all who see ‘this is what the relationship between Christ and the church looks like’.
Jesus our savior, the bridegroom, the husband, emptied himself of all but love for our sake. Husband: that is what a watching world should see in you.
In other words, your marriage isn’t just your marriage. Ultimately, it is not even about you and your wife. Your marriage is a ministry, an object lesson, and a declaration of what you believe. It is the crucible of your sanctification, and your primary field of ministry.
The call to women to submit to their husbands is a difficult one, because their husbands are just clay vessels. We fail, we make bad choices, and we sin against our wives, and our children. We fail to live up to the high calling of Ephesians 5:25-33.
Let’s just put that out there: women, God is asking you to do something that is really, really hard. And apart from His grace and provision in your life, it is impossible. And while this is what God calls you to, and there is a blessing in obedience, because of the sin which fills every human heart, I feel it is my duty here to remind husbands that the wife’s obedience to God, and submission to you, is between her and God: you do not have the right to demand it. Yours is offer that brotherly encouragement and support you would offer to any brother or sister in Christ to do the hard things that Christ commands each of us to do.
Similarly, the call of the husband to love his wife sacrificially is made more difficult by our wife’s sin. And just like the ladies, we are called to this call without regard to the difficulty. Even if the affection is gone, even if we have a wicked wife, we are called to love her has Christ loves the church.
Apart from the grace of God, to love this way is impossible. But we can do all things through Christ, who strengthens us.
And as I said to the husbands, is it not for you wives to demand this sacrificial love from your husband … that is a matter between him and God. Yours is to offer that sisterly encouragement and support you would offer to any brother or sister in Christ to do the hard things that Christ commands each of us to do.
So men, to love your wife as Christ loved the church is to die to yourself for your wife’s sake, it is to nurture her spiritually, and to be captivated by her love. And the manner in which we do this makes a profound statement to our children, our families, and the world. In loving our wife as Christ loves the church we are preaching the gospel and giving witness to the sacrificial love of Christ.
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