Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 5:28b “He that loveth his wife loveth himself.”
A man’s best self-interest lies in the direction of tender consideration toward his wife. Head and body (5:28a) constitute one solitary unit, a single self. The same is true of husband and wife. The two are fused into one.
Once married, individualistic thinking must end. This very oneness is often the one trait of marriage most strongly denied. Pre-nuptial agreements, separate bank accounts, separate vacations, etc., are becoming all too common.
For a marriage to be all God intends it to be, husband and wife must accept as their basic premise that they two have become one. At the moment of marriage, a person goes from being a single, a one, to being a half.
The essence of our text is conveyed in our popular phrase, “my better half.” The very word “half” carries a world of meaning. A marriage deals not with two separate entities, but with two halves of a one. Neither spouse must think singly or individually. Each loves, not someone else, but the rest of self.
Each spouse is only a half, and all that is done of necessity involves the other half. Each of his desires is only half a desire. Each of her intentions is only half an intention. His decision is only half a decision. Her choice is only half a choice. One must never cease to think or decide in terms of the other.
The thoughts and desires of each must henceforth include the other’s. One must never again think of his or her own self in isolation or in detachment. To do so is to violate a fundamental principle of marriage. Physical and sexual break-ups come usually only after this intellectual and understanding level breaks down. To think of one’s self in isolation is to break the marriage.
Years ago I knew a husband who began bonding with a woman at work. She became his emotional soul-mate. The wife, concerned about this, discussed it with me. Fortunately, their story had a happy ending, and also helped me better understand the ramifications of such situations. I discussed their situation with Ruth. I, being a male who thinks primarily in physical terms, said at least he did not go to bed with the other woman. Ruth replied, it might be easier for a wife to know that in a moment of weakness a woman had replaced her in his bed rather than to know that a woman had replaced her in his heart.
I remind us again, do not discuss marital difficulties with anyone of the opposite sex. This can cause emotional bonding to begin. The sentiments that begin to develop with a confidant of the opposite sex are the very feelings you need to be developing with your spouse. You are to be knit together as one.
Eph. 5:29a “For no man ever yet hated his own flesh;. . .”
To hate one’s wife is as irrational as hating one’s “own flesh.” A man “cannot divorce himself from himself” (Lloyd-Jones), and must never seek to separate from his wife in any way–emotionally, spiritually, or physically.
What a man does for his “own flesh” he does for himself. Similarly, in caring for his wife, a husband cares for himself. When a husband deems his wife as his own self, his love for her is made stronger. Spouses are to love one another, first of all, as a duty, but when they see each other as extensions of their own personality, the love is no longer merely a duty, but part of one’s nature. The love becomes natural when the other is viewed as part of self.
To love one’s “own flesh” is natural. Self-preservation dictates such a course. Selfishness is Satan’s unhealthy counterfeit for a God-given self-love which is healthy. We have to value our own bodies, for without them life would be impossible. They are also the only vehicles through which we can fulfill God’s will for our lives. We can express proper spirituality only through our bodies. The same is true in our marriages. We cannot be right spiritually unless we are rightly relating to our spouse.
Eph. 5:29b “. . .but nourisheth. . .”
“Nourisheth” refers to upbringing, to the careful, continuous care needed at each level of human development. Through every stage of life, we provide for our “own flesh” nourishment: food, clothing, shelter. A husband must do the same for his wife. As provider, he is to pay careful attention to her needs.
A husband must do this through all of life. “Nourisheth,” being present tense, denotes something ongoing. A wife’s needs are continuous, new daily. Husband, never tire of promoting her welfare and comfort. Care for her physical needs, advance her cause, protect her from harm, and nurse her when hurt.
Eph. 5:29c “. . .and cherisheth it,. . .”
“Nourisheth” could be abused, misinterpreted to sanction doing only the minimum to get by, to eke out a bare existence. Thus, Paul adds “cherisheth,” which denotes bounteous and elaborate care. The Greek word, literally meaning “to keep warm,” conveys the thought of value, of something that matters.
“Cherisheth” is a word which should characterize every relationship in a family. Often the very people we know best we take most for granted. Many children say of parents (and vice versa), “They treat everyone else more kindly than they do me. I wish they would be as good to me as they are to others.”
Our Master’s words, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (AC 20:35), apply at home as well as at the church. The Golden Rule, “As you want men to treat you, treat them in the same way” (LK 6:31 NASB), applies to families as well as to churches. Family members must cherish one another.
Husbands, our wives have a deep seated need to be cherished by us. Recently, wives in our church anonymously wrote concerns for me to discuss in a lecture. Here is a sample of their writings: “How do you get your husband away from the TV? What can you do if your husband will not pray with you? Why is it that husbands as a rule fail to voice compliments that wives need to hear? We like to be listened to attentively.” All these are a plea to be valued.
A husband is not to regard his wife as a glorified servant who cooks, cleans house, raises children. Likewise, a wife is not to regard her husband as the hired hand which brings in a paycheck. Neither is to view the other as a casual acquaintance, but as the person who is to be cherished above all others.
To say, “I cherish you,” is to say, “You count. I value you. You are esteemed, important to me.” These beautiful words have to be confirmed by caring about what matters to the one cherished. In dividing life into its separate departments, do not fail to take interest in each other’s concerns.
A husband should show interest in his wife’s hopes, fears, joys, troubles, and daily routines. A wife should show interest in her husband’s dreams, achievements, and disappointments. We tend to become so self-absorbed and forgetful that we often need to be reminded of our duty to cherish the one who should be dearer to us than any other.
The meaning of “cherisheth” is conveyed in our custom of wearing a wedding ring on the left hand. Since the heartbeat is strongest on the left side of the chest, the ancients believed the heart itself was situated to the left. They placed the wedding ring on the hand they deemed nearest the heart, thereby symbolizing that the giver held the ring’s recipient near and dear to the heart, and cherished him or her more than anyone else on earth. At our weddings, we made a promise to our spouse, “to love and to cherish.” Fulfill the vow.