‘As Christ loved the church’ – the model for every husband
It is a fair bet that if you have recently been to a Christian wedding, one of the readings will have been taken from Ephesians 5:22-33. This section of Paul’s teaching is, of course, intensely practical for husbands and wives, whether newly-weds or those who have been married for a long time. What can be of more practical relevance than the way in which a man and his wife live out their lifelong marriage vows? But the point is that Paul’s instructions are realistic, and they actually work, because they are based upon profound Christian truth.
The theme of the letter to the Ephesians is Jesus Christ and His union with His church. Nowhere is this theme paraded more highly than it is here, when Paul is dealing with husbands and wives. Paul is deeply concerned about peace, harmony and unity in the Christian home. But how does he communicate the way in which these blessings are going to be cultivated and maintained? By pointing both husband and wife to Christ’s love for the church.
Totally unattainable and unrealistic?
Notice that Paul spends a good deal more time instructing the husbands than he does instructing the wives. He addresses the wives in vv.22-24, just three verses, then comes back to them in the second half of v.33. But in the eight-and-a-half verses in between he is particularly talking to the husbands. And in doing so, Paul continually intertwines two subjects: the husband’s duty towards his wife and Christ’s love for the church. When he is talking about husbands and their love for their wives, he cannot stop talking about Christ’s love for His people. It is as if Paul is saying, ‘Husbands, in any and every situation you face in your marriage, come back to Christ and His love for the church every time. Meditate upon Christ. Think about His example of love. Copy Him.’
Christian husbands, how are you going to treat your wives? Who will be your role model? Not Isaac with Rebecca, not Moses with Zipporah, not Samson with Delilah. Paul unapologetically sets Jesus Christ before husbands as their example. Totally unattainable and unrealistic, we might think! But Scripture has a habit of doing this kind of thing. At the very beginning of this chapter Paul says nothing other than ‘Be imitators of God, as beloved children’. That is a high standard if ever there was one!
Self-denial and self-sacrifice
So what does this mean in practice? The love of Christ for His church is characterised by self-denial and indeed self-sacrifice. He came into the world, not to do His own will, but the will of Him who sent Him. Jesus did not simply part with some prized possession that was very costly; He gave Himself! Christ ‘gave up’ Himself for the church. When you look at how this word is used in the New Testament, you see that it appears thick and fast in the accounts of Jesus’ betrayal, His arrest, His being delivered up to death. He handed Himself over. He made Himself, His human dignity, His personal comfort, of absolutely no account –all for the sake of obedience and love.
We read in John 13.1: ‘Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.’ We know what happened next; He took off His outer garments, wrapped a towel round His waist, and washed the disciples’ feet. But we are not to see this foot-washing in isolation. It was a picture of the service, the utter abasement and humility that characterised His whole life and ministry. This is the love of Christ for the church. ‘He loved them to the end.’
‘Love is the most practical thing in the world’
Every husband will discover that there are things about his wife that make him feel critical (and vice-versa for the wife with her husband; after all, the happiest marriage on earth is the union of two sinners). Let’s be brutally honest about this. The husband might say to himself , ‘I wish that she were different. I wish she was less like this and more like that.’ But he is commanded not to think or to speak in this way. He is to love her as Christ loved the church, bearing with what he may regard as the defects in her.
Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones rightly said that ‘Love is the most practical thing in the world’. He considered certain poets and drew a contrast between what they said about love – that it is something so beautiful and wonderful – and the actual state of their love lives, which were often a terrible mess. We need to emphasise that true biblical love is so different from sentimental romanticism. Jesus says, ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments’ (John 14.15). How dull, how prosaic – how unromantic, we might think! But this is love. Christ’s love for us is not something mercurial and erratic. It is mature and steady, and it continues, unwavering, throughout our lives. The husband is to love in exactly this manner, with constant, faithful attention to the needs of his wife, being prepared to sacrifice his own interests for her.
Wholesale restoration to holiness
In Songs of Songs 8:6 we read that ‘Love is strong as death’. The goal of Christ’s love, the design of this self-sacrificial giving up of Himself to death, is the wholesale restoration of His people to holiness. See the glory for which the church is destined: a bride, beautifully adorned for her husband, who delights in her and finds no fault in her. When you see pictures of a married couple on their wedding day, it is not uncommon to see a big beam on the bridegroom’s face. Why? The reason ought to be that the groom is delighted, enraptured, with his beautiful bride! He wants to show her off. He wants everyone to see her beauty! Incredible though it may seem, this is Jesus Christ’s view of His bride here on earth.
Aren’t there plenty of spots, wrinkles and blemishes about us at the moment? Aren’t we amazed at the love of Christ? What does He see in us? There is nothing that our Saviour will not do – there is nothing that He has not already done – to bring His bride to this state of glorious perfection. God sanctifies us because He wants to make us beautiful. He cares about His bride. He wants to show her off! He wants heaven and earth to see the glorious work of grace that He has done in us. The wedding day is coming soon, the marriage of the bridegroom Jesus Christ to His bride, the church, who will then be perfectly sanctified, completely holy. There will be nothing to spoil, nothing to be regretted, nothing lacking.
‘Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.’ The husband is to be concerned about his own wife’s holiness just as he is about his own. If every husband gave frequent time to meditation on this command, and to practical action arising from it, we would surely see a great transformation in families, in the church and in the nation.
Paul Yeulett is the pastor of Shrewsbury Evangelical Church.