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Husbands, Love Your Wives

  • Stuart Briscoe
  • 2020 15 Dec
Husbands, Love Your Wives

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself” (Ephesians 5:25-28).

As we study this passage of Scripture on the biblical teaching of marriage and family, we can use the analogy of a pair of scissors to define the roles. Just as a pair of scissors need two halves to function properly as a whole, so does marriage. We’ve seen that Paul is very fair and balanced in the way that he addresses the people involved in these relationships. For instance, he talks first to the wives, then to the husbands; he talks to the children, and then he talks to the parents.

Paul's Cultural Context for Husbands and Wives

Today, in order to make sure that we understand marriage correctly, we need to remind ourselves that Scripture says marriage is not two people tying the knot, but marriage is God joining two people together, and the two become as one. Half a pair of scissors is not very useful. A pair of scissors requires two halves made into one, and both halves need to be functioning appropriately. The culture Paul was addressing was one in which the men basically ran the show. They had almost total authority over the women, the children and the slaves. The women, children and slaves had absolutely no alternative but to live submissively to these very authoritarian people. So it was a patriarchal and hierarchical society.

Paul comes into that situation with the Christian Gospel, and he tells the women, the slaves and the children that they are fundamentally the same as the men, and that was a radical message at that particular time. He tells them that they are created by God, they are loved by God. Christ died for them, and they could be reconciled to God; they could be indwelt by the Holy Spirit, they could become members of the Body of Christ, they could actually have a life of eternal significance. This was radical in the extreme.

Paul is very much concerned to help these new believers “unlearn” much of what they've learned from their secular environment, and relearn what a new, Christian understanding of life and culture is all about. That is also the challenge to men and women today. We live in a secularized culture, but if we profess the name of Christ, then we identify with the principles and norms which Christ has outlined and there is a clash of cultures. We need to understand both and decide where we stand on the issues.

"Husbands, Love Your Wives" - Understanding Headship and Love

We have to understand what the Scripture is saying about headship, about submission and about love. My study of this suggests that understanding headship, submission and love is the essence of understanding what the Bible is teaching about relationships in marriage. The reason we mention love is very, very obvious when we turn to Ephesians 5:25, where Paul begins to address the husbands. This is what he says:

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself” (Ephesians 5:25-28).

Are you getting the message? “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church.” “Husbands, love your wives as you love your own body.” “Husbands, love your wives as you love yourself.” It’s all about L-O-V-E, love! You don’t need to be an ardent Bible student to get the message that comes through loud and clear. What is surprising about that is that Paul, having addressed the women, said to them in the context of “submitting one to another as unto the Lord”: “Wives submit to your husbands, as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22).

That word submission we don’t like very much, because we don’t like authority very much. We live in a society that has made a great emphasis on democracy and the equality of everybody; therefore, we have adopted a “nobody is going to tell me nothing, no how,” sort-of-attitude. I can do exactly as I want; I live in the land of the free and the home of the brave, and I’m free to do my own thing. This idea of submission sticks in our craw very quickly indeed.

Having told the wives to submit, we would assume the Apostle Paul would then turn to the husbands and say, “Okay guys, I got them all submitted now, so you run the show. Now you rule; now you control; now you be in charge; now you exercise authority.” That would seem to be the obvious corollary to wives submitting.

"Husbands, Love Your Wives" - What It Really Means

He doesn’t say that! That is why we have to look very carefully at what he means by submitting. What does he say? He says, “Wives submit, but husbands, love your wives.” Now that is a very different issue. It shouldn’t surprise us, actually, because if you read your Bible at all, you will notice that one of the great themes of the Bible is: We are to LOVE the Lord our God with all our heart, and mind, and soul, and strength! We all know that! We also know that the Bible says, “We are to LOVE our neighbor as ourselves.” We know that! In addition to that, Jesus comes along and says, “Now LOVE your enemies.” Of course, as Paul teaches the Christians, he says, “The thing that is going to characterize life in the Christian community is LOVE.”

So there shouldn’t be a surprise here. You’ve got guys who are calling themselves “Christians” and they are learning to love God, and learning to love their neighbors, and actually getting around to loving other people in the Christian community. It shouldn’t be too much of a stretch for them to say, “You know, I’m supposed to be a loving person, too!”

Who is my nearest neighbor? I guess it’s my wife! So, says the Apostle Paul, “Wives, submit to your husbands; but husbands, love your wives.” Here you’ve got the scissors, and it isn’t going to work in marriage unless you get both working in harmony! For it isn’t two people tying the knot; it is God joining two people together, who then operate on His principles.

Now having said, “It’s all about love” to their husbands, we’ve got to accept the fact that it’s not quite “cut and dry” enough for us, because we have so many different understandings of what love is. Let me illustrate this for you. In our premarital classes with the young couples about to be married, in personal conversation we ask them two questions. Question number one: Were you loved as a child? Whatever the answer is, the second question is: How do you know?

Well, it’s very interesting as we look at the answers that we get. The young lady, for instance: Were you loved as a child? “Oh yes!” How do you know? “We were always telling each other, sometimes many times in a day! We never forgot birthdays, we gave each other presents. We used to write little notes to each other. I remember as a kid going to school, and opening my lunch pail, and there inside was a little note from my mother: ‘I love you!’ I never, ever remember going to bed at night without kissing both my parents good night. I remember before I went on my first date, my daddy said, ‘Before you go on your first date, you have a date with me!’ And he took me out for dinner, and gave me a red rose, and he said, ‘I want you to see how a young man should treat a young woman. And I want you to know how a young woman should behave with a young man!’ I remember his eyes filled with tears, and he said, ‘I love you so much!’ He did, so I know I was loved.”

So we turn to the young man: What about you, were you loved as a child? “Yeah, I think I was. I mean, we didn’t do none of this hugging and stuff in our families, there was none of that. I never saw my parents being affectionate. In fact, my dad yelled at my mother a lot. I don't think she had a very good time of it, really. She just was quiet. She looked after us kids, but ...

“My dad came and watched me play football. If I played well, he’d say, ‘You done good, son!’ and slapped me on the butt! If I made a mistake, he bawled me out! He died while I was in high school. I cried, the only time I ever cried since I was a little kid, ‘cause I didn’t really know him, never talked to him! But I think he loved us in his own kind of way.”

Folks, that marriage is going to have horrendous problems. Do you know why it’s going to have problems? Because they both define love in totally different ways. One has experienced one kind of love, and her expectations are based on that definition. The other one defines it entirely differently, and his expectations are negligible. Her expectations are not going to be met, and he is going to be frustrated because he doesn’t know what’s wrong with her.

The problem is we talk about love and we don’t know what it is! Fortunately, the Scriptures don’t leave it up for grabs. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church.”

You say, “Well, that’s not clear enough for me. That’s spiritualizing the whole thing. Tell me what it really means.” “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church, and gave himself up for her.” There, you have it! Christ loved the church. How do we know He loved the church? He gave Himself up for her. How do we know He gave Himself up for the church? He gave Himself up for the church on the cross!

Husbands, Sacrifice is Love

The symbol of Christianity is the cross. What is that all about? It is all about the self-sacrifice of Jesus, by which men and women are reconciled to God, and are brought into the experience of redemption and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. They have the forgiveness of sins, receive the gift of eternal life, and are bound for eternity. They are baptized into the community of faith, become members of the church and know that one day they’ll be part of a Glorious Church around the Throne of God, out of every kindred, tongue, tribe and nation, and it's all because of the cross.

The Apostle Paul takes that dramatic picture and applies it to husbands. He says, “Husbands, take a good, long, hard look at the love of Christ manifested on the cross, and that’s how you treat your wife – self-sacrificial love.” And guys, that doesn’t come naturally to men; I know, because I am one!  Because we are basically selfish, and that’s the problem! “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”

Men, ask yourself a question: when did I last voluntarily sacrifice something dear to me for the sake of my wife? You might find it quite challenging, and it’s a perfectly appropriate question to ask. You see, our marriages in this culture are in a disastrous state. Yet marriages in this culture would not be in a disastrous state if they were lived God’s way.

Christ gave Himself for the church intentionally and purposefully. Paul goes on to say this: “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the Word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church” (Ephesians 5:26-27). The sacrifice of Christ was intentional. It was purposeful; He was doing it for a reason. In the same way, “Husbands, love your wives, intentionally and purposefully.”

What was the intention of Christ? In dying for the church, what He had in mind was not little groups of people who squabble, and people who go to a church for so long until they get fed up, or the pastor leaves, and then they pack it in, and go some place else. No! Not hopping and shopping around churches. No! He died in order that He would eventually produce out of every kindred and tongue, every tribe and nation, something which would transcend all human barriers throughout human history, and it would be a perfect Church. That’s why He died! It’s not going to happen until we gather around the Throne in eternity.

By the same token, husbands, be intentional and purposeful in your sacrificial love. What’s the intention, and what’s the purpose? As Christ is to the Church, working to bring the Church to her fullness and completion, that I as a husband might be for my wife an agent whereby she is allowed to come to a point of fullness and completion and be all that God intended her to be. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her; that she might become a radiant church.”

A friend of mine is a professor of New Testament. He was writing a commentary on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. He was working on this passage of Scripture, which is not easy to handle because Paul talks about husbands and wives, and then he uses the analogy of Christ and the Church, and then he gets carried away with his analogy. Sometimes you don’t know whether he's talking about Christ and the Church, or the husband and wife, and then he says, “It’s a great mystery” (Ephesians 5:32). You’ve got that right, Paul!

But my friend is a serious New Testament scholar, so he was exegeting this passage. As he was working on it, it suddenly struck him that Christ was working with the Church that it might eventually be a radiant Church. He turned away from his computer, and he called to his wife, who was in another part of the house, and he said, “Honey, can I ask you a question? Do I make you ‘radiant’?”

There was silence, and then she said, “What did you say?” He said, “I asked you, do I make you radiant?” She said, “Why are you asking me that?” So he explained. She said, “Do you really want me to answer that?” He said, “Yes, I do, I need to know!” She said, “All right I’ll tell you. Frankly, no you don’t.” He said, “Why not?”

She said, “Well, we’ve been married all these years. We’re married, we’ll stay married, we’re together. But for years our marriage has run on parallel tracks – you do your thing, and I do my thing. The reason I’m doing my thing is I know you’re going to do your thing. What happens is this marriage operates basically on the basis of what you want, and I just fit in. I’m rarely consulted, and if I do express an opinion, it’s usually overridden or ignored. I find, therefore, that the easiest thing to do is say nothing, and just go along with what you want to do.”

She said, “You are incredibly self-centered. If there are two options, we do something that you’re asked to do, and something that I’m asked to do; but it never occurs to you that we might not ask what you were asked to do, in order to do what I’m asked to do, because you simply run the show, and I am simply subservient. The result is that I live a life of frustration, a sense of being unfulfilled, bordering on resentment.”

My friend the professor told me, “I had a wake-up call.” Men, this is your wake-up call from the Lord! The secular culture and the secular norm is producing utter disaster in marriages and families. We’d better get our act together.

"Love Your Wives...As You Love Your Own Bodies"

“Husbands, love your wives.” Paul goes on to say this: as in the same way husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. That’s interesting!

This passage also reminds us that the husband is the head of the wife. What does a head need? A body. What does a body need? A head. What good is a headless body? No good! What good is a bodiless head? No good! What do heads and bodies need? Each other!

Husbands, love your wives; as your own body. If you see yourself as the head, you better see her as the body! Nothing to do with subservience, nothing to do with inferiority. Everything to do with mutual inter-relatedness, and mutual, total dependence. You are utterly indispensable to each other.

You know what the problem has very often been? We are very happy doing our own thing, going our own way, until something comes along and we need the “little woman.” Come along little woman, where are you? Then the little woman has done her thing, and then we get back to being the “macho man” again, and doing our own thing! What’s that got to do with loving your wife like your body, because you’re the head? Very little understanding of being mutually indispensable.

Not only that, husbands ought to love their wives as their own body. Listen: “He who loves his wife loves himself” (Ephesians 5:28). Why? Why does he love himself? Why does he love his wife as if he’s loving himself? Because they’re inextricably bound up in each other, but also because he understands something. What he understands is this: if it is true that he loves himself, and he should love his neighbor as himself, then it’s perfectly obvious that his wife is his closest neighbor.

Historically, biblically, we have two great commandments. In recent years, psychologists have found a third one that has nothing to do with the Bible. Biblically, the first commandment is “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart and mind, and soul and strength.” The second commandment is thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. The third command, that psychologists have found, is: thou shalt learn to love thyself.

Now the big deal that I hear all the time is this: Well, I can’t love my neighbor because I haven’t yet learned to love myself, so I’m working on loving myself. Now, I understand about self hatred, and I understand about real guilt and false guilt, and I understand about nurture and nature, and all the garbage that people get, and how screwed up they get about thinking about themselves. But to say that you’ve got to learn to love yourself before you love your neighbor is sheer baloney!

The Bible is pointing out to us is something we all know: that all of us are innately, inherently absorbed with ourselves as our prime concern. That’s the way we are, particularly men. If I am inherently, innately regarding myself as a prime concern, I might actually begin to grow up through the ministry of grace in my life, and actually get the strange idea that other people might be as important as I am! Then I begin to love my neighbor as I love myself.

So men, “Love your wife, as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.” Love your wife as a man loves his body, as a head would love the body, as recognizing her as being utterly indispensable, and then love your wife as you love yourself. Regard yourself innately and inherently as of prime importance, and begin to see her in exactly the same light.

Some of you are saying, “Stuart, we know you believe the Bible. We know you know all this stuff, and we know it’s your job as a preacher to tell us all this stuff, but come on, man, get real! This is all so idealistic!” I don’t dispute, it’s idealistic, but let me tell you something. You need ideals, because if you ignore ideals you’ll settle for that which is unacceptable, and call it real. If you don’t have ideals, there’s no possibility of growth, there’s no possibility of maturity; if there’s no possibility of maturity, there’s no possibility of development. You stay in the morass of mediocrity and excuse it as the real world. Always remember, he who aims at nothing, will hit it!

Scripture isn’t just talking ideals; it is presenting us with truth and then saying, “Here’s the truth, and here’s the means to do it.” For this is lived “in the fullness of the Spirit.” This is all dependent on living in the fullness of the Spirit.

So, “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord,” in the context of us all being submitted to each other. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church.” I don’t know if you ever realized this, but love and submission are basically the same thing! It’s just submitting one to the other because we regard the other as of prime importance.