Husbands, Love Your Wives!

Ephesians 5:25-27

1/20/2008

Audio Version

Well, last week we saw that wives are to submit to their husbands in all things. Not a very popular thing to say. I hope, however, that some discussion came about because of that sermon, and maybe some reevaluation of our relationships. But now, it is the husbands’ turn to receive exhortation. You know, the writer Ambrose Bierce once defined “exhort” as meaning “to put the conscience of the listener upon a spit and roast it to a nut-brown discomfort.” I hope that this sermon will communicate grace as much as it challenges us.

The command from Paul to husbands is that they love their wives. That is the basic command. However, in our culture, the word “love” means so many different things, and it almost never means what the Bible says it means. Usually, our culture says that love is an emotion that cannot be commanded. In other words, if you “fall in love,” you just can’t help it. It just happens, according to Hollywood. It is as if no one really can take responsibility for “falling in love.” If it just happens, then there is no reason to say anything bad against having an affair, since the people involved couldn’t really help the fact that they loved each other. This is not what the Bible means when it talks about love.

What the Bible means when it talks about love is a conscious decision to sacrifice one’s own interests for the sake of the one loved. Look at the end of verse 25. The example for husbands to follow is Jesus Christ: “just as Christ loved the church…” and what? “Gave himself up for her.” There you have it. Love means self-sacrifice. However, it does not mean just any kind of self sacrifice. It means a sacrifice with a particular goal in mind. Not mindless sacrifice but a sacrifice that has her best interests at heart.

That sacrifice assumes, of course, that the husband knows what the best interests of his wife are. What are the best interests of the wife? Health, long life, wealth, stuff, or relationship? Well, there is nothing inherently wrong with those things. But that is not the goal of which Paul speaks. The goal is given for us in the beginning of verse 26: to make her holy, and in verse 27: to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. God cares much more for our holiness than He does even for our physical needs and desires, though He cares for those as well. But God wants us to be holy more than anything else. Why is that? Because God Himself is holy, and He will not have intimate fellowship with anyone who is not holy. That is why our fellowship with God on this earth is limited. We are still sinful. Jesus Christ has given Himself up to death so that we could become holy. There is the Gospel, folks. Marriage is to be a picture of the Gospel. The husband is to sacrifice his own interests so that his wife may become holy. And the wife is to submit to that sacrifice and leadership. This is parallel to Christ and the church. Christ sacrificed Himself, and the church is to submit to that sacrifice, as well as to Christ’s kingship. Indeed, Paul almost seems to weave in and out, now talking about the marriage, now talking about Christ and the church. This indicates the closest possible connection between the family and the church. The family is to be something like a small church.

So what we’ve seen here is the command: husbands, love your wives. We’ve seen the goal of that command: to make the bride holy and blameless, without stain or wrinkle. Then thirdly, notice the means by which the command is carried out to its goal. The means are the cleansing of washing with water through the word. Now, baptism is a sign of this washing. What Paul is ultimately talking about is the spiritual cleansing that happens when the Holy Spirit plants the Word of God in our hearts. What the Holy Spirit does is to remove the filth of our unclean sinful nature, and replace it with Himself indwelling us. The new nature is really the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Okay, you might think. That’s what Christ does. But what am I as a husband supposed to do? Obviously, I cannot take out the old nature of someone else and put in a new nature. No, but what I can do is to focus the marriage on faith, bringing my wife constantly to the means of grace. Christ cleanses His church by the means of grace, which are the Word, the Sacraments, and prayer. So also husbands are to lead their wives back again and again to those means of grace. What does this look like, practically speaking?

Well, it certainly means devotions. We must be a people of the Word of God. To do that, we must read it. There is no substitute for this. And again, I wish to stress here the importance of reading the books of the Bible straight through. I don’t mean that we always have to start at Genesis and then read all the way through to Revelation, although that is certainly a good idea. What I do mean is that we can decide to read a book of the Bible, and then read it straight through, maybe a chapter at a time. I say this because we have these little devotional books that people read. I know that a lot of people in our churches read these books. There is nothing wrong with these devotional books. However, they do not always have us read a book of the Bible straight through. They tend to skip around a lot. What I would recommend, then, if you like the devotional book, is to read the devotional book and the Scripture that goes with it after one of the meals of the day. But then at another meal, read a chapter of a book that you will go through completely. There is something that we gain by the cumulative effect of reading straight through that we miss completely if we skip around all the time and do not read our Bibles systematically. That is why I preach straight through books of the Bible. There is a cumulative effect that such preaching has that we don’t even necessarily consciously realize. But it is vitally important. I would also recommend that you ask questions about the chapter that you read. Maybe you won’t be able to answer all the questions. That’s all right. Write down all the questions that you cannot answer. I would be happy to attempt to answer some of those questions. I am here partly as that kind of resource, after all. I cannot guarantee that I will know the answer either, although I will probably know where to find the answer. I would love to help in this way with people’s devotions.

Prayer is something vital here as well. We need to pray with our wives and for our wives. What do we pray for? We pray for greater personal holiness. We pray that God will continue the work that He has begun in us, and bring us to completion. All too often, it seems, we pray for physical things, physical problems, and physical solutions. However, our goal should be what Paul tells us it is supposed to be: holiness. That is, we should pray that we become more and more righteous, more and more in conformity with the Word of God, and less and less like the world. There are many people out there and even in the church who just want to fit it with the world. They just want to coast along in life, not really spending much effort in the Christian life. That should not be us, my friends. We should desire that our lives match up with what Scripture says. Scripture is guide and compass for our lives. Just as a compass tells us what direction we need to go, so does Scripture. The reason I say this is that so many in our community do not make their decisions on biblical principles. Oftentimes, they don’t know what the Bible would even say to such and such a topic. So they simply make the decision, usually without prayer, and certainly without reading what the Bible might have to say about it. You would be surprised to learn just how many things the Bible does talk about. Read Proverbs and you will find much wisdom for life. Read Jesus’ words and you will find out how to interpret the law. Read Paul and you will see how the Gospel is applied to our lives. Of course, you will find all these things all over the Scripture, though clearer in some places than in others.

One final thing should be mentioned here. Paul says here that the church will not have a stain or wrinkle. Now we know as much as we love our wives, that they are not perfect. I made this point last week with regard to husbands. We are all sinners in need of grace. It is our job, husbands, to bring our wives again and again back to the Word, back to the Sacraments, and back to prayer in order that God may make our wives more holy. That is our responsibility. Wives, you need to be reminded that you are sinners, and that it can often be difficult for your husband to love you. Just as your husband is a sinner and it is difficult for you to submit, realize also that you are a sinner, and that your husband is to sacrifice himself for you anyway. It is clear here that husbands have the greater responsibility. Wives, when Judgment Day comes, you will only be held responsible for how you submitted to your husband out of love, and how you raised your children. Realize that husbands are responsible on Judgment Day for the entire family. The husband is responsible for how the whole family operates. He is responsible for how the wife raises the children. So, wives, are you going to make such responsibility an easy thing for your husband to bear, or will you make it difficult? Just as I urged husbands last week to make it easy for their wives to submit by loving them, so also wives should make the enormous responsibility easier to bear by being submissive as the church submits to Christ.

So husbands are to love their wives. It is a self-sacrificing love that has her holiness in mind. The husband sacrifices himself so that the wife may obtain the means of grace. The result is beautiful. I firmly believe that if husbands were to love their wives truly, then their wives will become more beautiful over time, not less. Of course, by beauty I mean spiritual not just physical beauty.

One final word to both husbands and wives. It is very common to blame the problems of the relationship on the other person. We should not do this. If our relationship is not what we would want it to be, the solution is for the wife to examine her own life, and prayerfully consider what she needs to change, likewise for the husband. The husband needs to consider what he needs to change in his own life if the relationship is not what he wants. It does no good to blame the other person, because you cannot change each other. You can only change yourself, and even that is only by God’s grace. So, husband, love your wives as Christ loved the church. It is an impossible standard, of course. But, with God’s grace to help you, you can achieve an imperfect mirror of what Christ does for His church.

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