It is said that men like things simple. Recently, our Walmart redid their floors which meant that to get to the floor underneath, they had to move certain aisles into other sections. The day that I was there, I noticed that they had created the ultimate section of efficiency. The canned goods and pasta aisle was pushed into men’s clothing. Now, men only had one place to go in the entire store! Food, clothing, and shelter–what more can you need? Most of us guys could just move in. These sorts of things are funny because we know the truth behind this, or at least we think we do.
I don’t pretend to be an expert on the male psyche, but I don’t actually think that men are constantly seeking ease. I think this because many men when they find their life of ease, a season of life we call retirement, they wither. It turns out, I think, that men don’t so much want things simple as they want things clear and profound. We want a goal that gives a clear mission to our lives—it is life-giving to us. I’ve heard it said that men don’t die of old age, they die of retirement, and I think the reason might be that men lose sight of a grander thing they are working towards. No longer do they have a company or cause they actively work for and life feels less meaningful once the office door closes for the last time. Young men aren’t avoiding this danger either. I see young guys getting their grind going sacrificing their health, soul, and family trying to climb that golden ladder towards something that each guy coming back down says isn’t worth it. Now, in saying all of that I don’t mean to say that only men desire lives of purpose, but very few men take the time to find that purpose. We become easily satisfied as being money-making machines or climbing the ladders around us faster than our peers. We tend to think of our ultimate purpose as out there away from our families instead of right here with our families.
A lot of heartache can be spared on both sides of this equation by listening intently to this passage, whether you are married or not. If you aren’t married yet, then consider this passage to be the standard of character you need to be. You need to be able to get outside yourself and live your life for the sake of someone else. If you end up not getting married, well, then you will still be a Christ-like man which is the goal anyway. For everyone else, this is how Christ loves you.
To be clear guys, it is your grand goal to lead your wife, your family, to Jesus. It does not matter how much you make, how much you lift, what you can and can’t do. Did you lead your family towards Jesus and love your wife towards Jesus? And if you haven’t, what is stopping you from starting now?
Today, we will be looking at two points, and I’ve kept them clear and simple: Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and God made marriage to glorify Himself.
Let’s begin with Paul’s command for us husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church. I’ve heard various responses to that command in my growing up. The first one was that the husband is ready to die for his wife. Which many ladies rightly responded with “and how often does that come up?” The next one I heard was, yes, you need to be willing to die for your wife, and while you are waiting, live for your wife. It’s fine to be willing to take a bullet for your wife, now how about taking out the trash? But my favorite one came from a preacher named Paul Washer, as he pointed out that Jesus died for the Church while She was screaming “crucify him.” Guys, that’s the standard of love. It isn’t one heroic move while your wife looks at you adoringly. This is a constant, long haul commitment to ultimate service whether your wife appreciates it in the moment or not.
The word for love here is a word that would have hit ancient ears oddly (Thielman). Greek has different words for love depending on the depth and object of that love. You had one word that meant sexual passion, you had another one for love between friends, another for love between family, and then you had one that was the ultimate love, one that wanted to provide what was truly best for the other. The last one is what is here. This is the kind of covenant love that God has for His people, and this is the love that Paul calls for husbands to exercise here. To be practical, R.C. Sproul offers this: “When Paul is saying ‘love your wives,’ he is saying, ‘Be loving toward your wife—treat her as lovely.’” (303).
In fact, Paul gives men a standard of practical care in verses 28-29. Husbands are to love their wives as they would love their own bodies. You care for your body, or at the very least keep it very comfortable. You feed it everyday without fail, you wash it, clothe it, rest it, make sure that any wounds or pains are dealt with when possible. Here that same concept is applied to wives. The words “nourish and cherish” only show up in this passage and one other place each. “Nourish” shows up here and in Ephesians 6:4, where it is translated as “bring up.” This is taking care of basic needs. This wouldn’t have been too surprising, but the next one is far stronger than that. “Cherish” only shows up one other place in the NT, 1 Thess. 2:7. There, the word for cherish describes the approach of a breastfeeding mother to her new child. That is cherishing. Do you look at your wife like that? Yes, obviously, your wife is not your child, I get that, but does that level of cherishing describe your efforts towards your wife?
If we were to translate this word literally, it means “keep warm.” I love that image. Do you keep your wife warm? In other words, does she feel secure? Does she feel like her emotions and thoughts matter to you? Do you know, and I mean know, what your wife needs? Have you given her reason to think that if she did tell you what she needs that you would remember and act on that? If not, don’t expect everything to be fixed in a single conversation. A pursuit of someone like that takes a lifetime and quite a bit of focus. Remember your courtship days? R.C Sproul paints a picture of the effort that a man will go to to woo his future wife to marry him. He gives her his unbroken attention, planning his life around her with the focus of an olympic athlete, but then once he has married her, he acts like he has checked a box titled “get married” and then moves on to other pursuits. How do you think she feels about that? Does that seem like she was given a false promise? (304-305). Show with your actions that she still matters to you like she did at the beginning. What if she isn’t who you dated all those years ago. Sproul has a question of husbands who say their wife has changed: Who do you think changed her (306)?
But what happens when your marriage is hard? Where do you find the motivation for this when your wife is less than loveable? Verse 28 says that loving your wife is loving yourself, and that verse is 100% true. Pursuing your wife’s joy is your joy, not because, well, if you do this, then she will do that for you. No, pursuing your wife’s joy is your joy because that is obedience to God. Even if that doesn’t translate into ease and pleasure on this side of heaven, God has promised great rewards in heaven for good works here on Earth. Paul has said that all the suffering that we are to endure here is not even worth comparing to the glory that awaits in heaven.
“Ok, so are you saying my job is to just keep her happy? Are you saying that I just do whatever she wants?” No, that’s not what I’m saying. Pursuing her joy is leading her towards Jesus, not just any old impulse she has. True joy isn’t found in selfish impulses being met (yours or hers), it is found in Jesus. Lead her to the true fount of joy!
Now you might say, “Well, she is more mature than me; I can’t lead her anywhere.” Ok, that is the case for a lot of marriages, my own included, so join me in working on that, and start helping her in her relationship towards Jesus. You can even help her spiritually by doing things that have seemingly little to do with the Bible. By all means, do devotional readings at night or in the morning, but there’s a lot more. For example, it is a lot easier to listen in church when she isn’t exhausted by child care. It is a lot easier for her to be patient when she has had a break. She’ll have time to read her Bible in the morning if she isn’t the first one up all the time. And it is a lot easier for her to obey the call to submit to your leadership and respect you when you know and meet her needs and are obedient to God yourself.
Remember, Someone has already shown this level of care for you. Remember you are doing all of this after the example of Jesus. He loved His bride and gave himself up for her. Jesus died for you. You, husbands, are a part of that bride. Jesus did that for you. And look what else He is doing. He has a purpose in this love. What is that? It is so that Christ may present the Church without blemish or spot. Obviously, this isn’t saying that Jesus is trying to make the church physically attractive, but rather that He is making us morally attractive. He is cleansing us. That word “cleansing” has the idea of clearing a field or a building site to prepare it (Thielman). Jesus is clearing off all of that sin in our lives in order that He may plant something new, build something beautiful, a holy church that reflects His character. He’s working on you. How does He do this? With His word (Thielman).
Have you been washed by that Word? Regardless of whether you are a husband, wife, single, are you washed? Are you united, or should I say married, to Christ? Is Jesus changing you? Because if that isn’t the case, the biggest problem in your life is not your marriage, it is your salvation. You aren’t going to be able to move an inch unless Jesus is clearing away your selfishness and pride. It isn’t easy. Each day with Jesus isn’t necessarily sweeter than the day before, but following Christ will always be worth it.
Now, at this point, you may be wondering how Jesus making us holy corresponds to the husband’s duty to his wife. Obviously, the husband is not his wife’s savior. You can’t die for her sins, nor can you cleanse her from her sins, nor can you sanctify her. Can you create an environment so that this process of sanctification is easier? Yes, but you are not your wife’s personal Holy Spirit. You can’t change her, but you can help her.
As we come to the end of this chapter, we find Paul making a summary statement of everything that we have covered, but with one surprising twist that we covered in the first sermon in this series.
God made marriage to glorify Himself.
Paul gives a quote from Genesis chapter 2 when marriage was first introduced to the world. God made two people, and then immediately created marriage. God writes like a good fiction author. He introduces a concept that you wouldn’t think a whole lot about and makes it far more than you could ever think. Marriage is one of those things.
When we see it introduced, we see a cure for loneliness. It was not good that man should be alone, so God created woman. He was given someone equally made in the image of God to love and cherish. But now we get to the New Testament, and we find out that God had a much grander vision in mind. It turns out that marriage was created so that when it is functioning as it should, it is a picture of how much God loves and cares for you. Just as husband and wife are united to one another, Jesus is united to us. In the same way, Jesus knows more about us than anyone, AND loves us. That is a beautiful picture of the gospel, so let’s portray it well. We love our wives, and wives respect (which is a better word than “fear” which some translations put it) their husbands.
So what is our takeaway? Well, marriage is God’s idea, and men, you have a high calling. You are to act like Jesus in the way you love and serve your wife. To borrow one last time from Sproul, Jesus has an entire universe to run—He’s busy! Yet He always has time for His Bride (304). Jesus could have commanded service, but He served instead. That is what Jesus commands of you. Love your wife, lay down your own interests for the interests of your wife. Don’t let your hobbies steal away from your wife. I’m not saying you can’t go golfing or hunting once in a while, but that can’t be the dominating pattern of your life. But don’t discount the joy to be found in being faithful to this command of Christ to love your wife like He loves you.
Finally, if you have failed in this, and I think we all have at some level, Jesus still loves you. Bring Him your bad husbanding. Bring Him your overcommitment to work. Bring Him your lack of patience. Lay it at His feet and ask Him to take those things from you. Admit to Him you’ve done those things. He already knows, anyway. Be honest, find rest for your soul knowing that Jesus has forgiven you. Then go to your wife, confess those same things to her. She already knows. Then you and Jesus walk together on the road of obedience. Yes, of course it would have been better for your family to start earlier, but you can start now. God in His grace can work in anything. Start pursuing God’s grand vision for your life. This was the pattern since the very beginning (Genesis 2!), and this is the pattern all the way to the end.
Thielman, Frank Ephesians, Baker
Sproul, R.C. The Intimate Marriage, Volume V of the Sproul Signature Series
Image by Tesa Robbins