Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 5:25c “. . .your wives,. . .”
Godly love for “your wives” is the way husbands submit to their wives (v. 21). The husband’s duty is to submit to his wife through his love for her. I reiterate, in response to wifely submission, Paul does not say, “Husbands, rule.” This they will seek to do without any encouraging. The exhortation “love your wives” seeks to keep things in balance. A husband’s love makes the wife’s submission more pleasant, as easy as possible, and prevents it from ever becoming degrading, as submission to a tyrant always is.
A husband’s submission to his wife produces a love which makes her his main focus. His affections should be drawn with fascination from all other objects, however dear, to focus on her. His purpose centers around yielding to her his entire essence and personality in self-giving. He delights to glance upon her not merely with the eye now and then, but rather engraves her image in his innermost being. He keeps a sanctuary in his heart from which thoughts of her are never removed. Under God, a wife is to be a husband’s obsession.
When Adam, who had suffered loneliness, first saw Eve, he immediately saw in her a perfect companion for himself, and exclaimed, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh” (GN 2:23). Thrilled and thankful, Adam saw no blemishes or shortcomings in her. No criticism, no selfishness, no self-will, no tyranny, no manipulation–instead, all-consuming love and fulfillment. That first, magical, husband/wife moment sets the standard for all time.
Husbands, “your wives” are to be, under God, your main affection. A husband should see his wife and say, “Here is my joy, my delight, my breath.”
“Rejoice with the wife of thy youth” (PR 5:18b). A wife is to enhance a husband’s happiness. Husbands look here and there, and travel near and far, for happiness, yet it resides, according to God’s design, within one’s own house.
“The woman is the glory of the man” (1 Cor. 11:7), his honor, ornament, and pride. She is not just another casual acquaintance, one among many–she is the crowning jewel of his life.
The heart of the husband “safely trusts in her” (PR 31:11). In his wife a man finds rest, refuge–yea, definition. He cannot envision his life without her. Kent Hughes tells of Winston Churchill, who attended a formal banquet where the dignitaries were asked, “If you could not be who you are, who would you like to be?” Churchill responded last. Everyone was anxiously awaiting his response. He said, “If I could not be who I am, I would most like to be”–here he paused and took his beloved Clemmie’s hand–“Lady Churchill’s second husband.” Therein lies the essence of a good marriage. Each resides so much in the other’s heart that self-existence is indefinable apart from the other.
God desires this type of marriage for every Christian couple, but it can happen only if both partners fulfill their marital roles according to God’s prescribed design. Each husband and each wife must, as Paul has done in these verses, emphasize their duties, not their rights.
Herein is the failure of hyper-feminism and male chauvinism. Both are self-centered and self-serving, demanding rights and concessions. God’s formula for a successful marriage highlights what husbands and wives put into it, not what they can get out of it. Someone has said, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get.” True, but you can be sure of one thing. If you keep taking out chocolates without replenishing the supply, the box will go empty, and no candy will be left. For the nuptial “box of chocolates” to never go empty, both husband and wife must be putting in at least as much as each is taking out. Selfishness kills marriages, for it can never be satisfied. It drains a relationship until it is bled dry. Like a huge vortex, self always wants more, sucks away life, and exhausts everyone nearby.
Spouses must always be contributing to their “box of chocolates,” and the husband’s main contribution must always be love. Wives are scouring the box, looking for pieces of affection only husbands can put there. Love is critical to marital bliss. Where love is, things go well. Where love fails, all goes awry. Without love, even the simplest duties of matrimony are a stab at the heart.
Husbands, I challenge you to be the instigators of the “love cycle” in your home. The Greek word for submission carries the connotation of responding. Wives are to submit, to respond, to husbands. Men, our love is to take the initiative, thereby making the wife’s love a reflection of our own. In the beginning, Husband loved Wife first, not vice versa. Husband-love should still be the cause, woman-love the consequence. “Husbands, love your wives.”
Eph. 5:25d “. . .even as Christ also loved. . .”
About two weeks ago I reached a critical moment in these sermons on the family. In crisis and depressed, I decided it was a pipe-dream to think most people could have as wonderful a marriage as Ruth and I have. Having decided our marriage was extraordinary, I was about to give up on holding the marriage standard extremely high. I was ready to lessen the challenge.
While in this blue funk, my thoughts drifted to the passages which say wives are to submit to husbands as the Church does to Christ, and husbands are to love wives “even as Christ also loved the Church.” I realized my error was not in lifting standards too high, but in having the wrong model.
The Biblical challenge is to have marriages not like mine, but rather like Christ’s with His Church. This realization lifted everything to an infinitely higher dimension, and rebuked me as a husband. Instead of being satisfied, thinking I have “arrived” in my relationship with Ruth, it positioned me as a suppliant, as one who needs more, and who must continue to aspire to ever higher levels of accomplishment. I was also rebuked as a pastor, being reminded I am not free to determine acceptable levels of conduct and standards of behavior. I am to preach the Word, to deliver its challenge without concession.
Wives, do not submit as Ruth does, but as the Church does to Christ. Husbands, do not love as John does, but as Christ does the Church.
In much marriage counseling, a basic premise is “husbands, give a little; wives, give a little.” Each is encouraged to change a thing or two about one’s own self. The wife has a list of needs. The husband does, too. The world says, “Husband, look over your wife’s list. Wife, look over your husband’s list. Both of you, seek to do two or three things that the other person wants you to do.”
Change self a little, accommodate the spouse a little, try to meet each other in the middle, compromise. This is often the world’s approach to marital counseling, but is not the Biblical pattern for marriage.
Comparing Husband and Wife with Christ and Church casts a new light on everything. In light of what the Church does for Christ and what Christ does for the Church, both husband and wife must seek to completely fulfill each other’s desires. They must trade lists in toto. His list must become her “to do” list, and her desires must become his standard of conduct. The Biblical model is not to meet halfway, but rather with absolute, reckless abandon, to lay our lives at each other’s feet in total giving, total surrender, total love.