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 this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. Ephesians 5:25-33
Flesh of my Flesh
After laying forth the theological and cultural context for commanding wives to submit to their husbands (v. 21-24), Paul switches his focus to husbands. He begins in verse 25, by commanding husbands to love their wives as Christ loved church and gave himself up for her. That is a massive responsibility for husbands to fulfill. However, giving the fact that God gave husbands stewardship over all his creation, it is fitting that husbands would love their wives, just as Christ loved the church. What does it mean for husbands to love their wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her? Paul wants husbands to love (agape) their wives with the love of Jesus. In the Greek language, there are four different types of love: Eros, storge, philia, and agape. “Eros, storge, and philia each speak about the love that is felt from the heart. Agape has to do with the mind. Paul assumes that eros (desire) and phileo (fondness) are present. Christians should not act as if these things do not matter in the marriage relationship. They do matter. However, Paul wants to use the higher kind of love to describe husbands' responsibility to their wives.” Agape love “is not simply an emotion which rises unbidden in our hearts; it is a principle by which we deliberately live.” (Barclay) Agape love is not a feeling. Rather, it is a decision that undergirds the triangular relationship of a covenantal marriage. Jesus did not have feelings for his church. He made a decision to die for the church so we can joint-heir of the heavenly kingdom with him.
Jesus’ decision to love compelled him to die at Calvary. He did not feel like dying, but he decided to accept death, so members of his church could live unto eternity. In the same way, husbands must decide to love their wives regardless of feeling. That is why agape is described as sacrificial in nature because it is a decision by husbands to go beyond eros and philia so they can deny themselves and cling unto their wives to become one, notwithstanding. Whereas it may be challenging for husbands to love their wives so profoundly, Paul presents Jesus as an example for husbands to follow. The example provided by Jesus is that he loved the church unselfishly; “that is to say, he never loved her for what she has, but what he makes her as the object of his love. He loves her not for what comes to him from her, or with her, but for what he is able to bestow upon her. His is the strongest love that ever was.” (Spurgeon) In verse 26, Paul teaches us that Jesus has a purifying love for his church. This isn’t love based on looks or image. That is love expressed through sacrifice. The sacrifice took place at Calvary. It is through the shed blood of Jesus Christ that the church has been cleansed and made holy. That cleansing, however, is revealed in the word of God.
Paul uses the Greek word rhema and not logos to describe the water that washes by the word. Rhema is the spoken word. When the Rhema word is proclaimed, it exposes us to the truth of God. “The water which washes away sin, which cleanses and purifies the soul, is the Word.” (Charles Spurgeon) To be clear, Paul is not asking husbands to spiritually cleanse their wives the same way Jesus cleanses the church. Instead, he is asking husbands to make a decision to help their wives keep clean before the Lord by proclaiming the Rhema word in their homes as the priest of the home. Doing so requires the type of love that compels husbands to take an active, caring interest in their wives’ spiritual health. In verse 27, Paul highlights the purpose for Jesus’ decision to sanctify the church: “to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” Here we see that Jesus made provisions for the church to be made right so it can be suitable for communion with him. Because Jesus loves the church, he made provisions for it to be cleansed by his blood so it can have fellowship with him who is perfect. That means love should compel husbands to be vested in the spiritually cleansing of their wives. They should invest in the mental, physical, and spiritual wellbeing of their wives to prepare them for a more joyous marital experience. Husbands should not expect a return where they have not invested. A husband must sow a harvest of love to in the life of his wife as he looks to enjoy the blessing of a wife who submits to him.
In verse 28, Paul goes back to Genesis 2 to remind husbands that their wives come from their own bodies. In Genesis 2:23, “The man said, "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called 'woman,' for she was taken out of man." Paul repeats that narrative to accentuate the point that a husband loving his wife is expected because the wife is already united with the husband as the flesh of his flesh. That truth must always dictate the way a husband treats his wife. In as much as a husband wants the best for himself, he must also desire the best for his wife. The point here is that a husband has to realize that his wife is his own flesh. “He will not feel this instinctively; he has to be taught it, and the Bible in all its parts teaches it. In other words, the husband must understand that he and his wife are not two: they are one.” (Lloyd-Jones) In verse 30, Paul flips things upside down to make the point that the oneness between husband and wife is also apparent and dominant in the relationship between Jesus and the Church. “There is a oneness of life: We share the same vital resurrection life that resides in Jesus Himself. There is a oneness of service: We are privileged to be co-workers with our Lord. There is a oneness of possession: We share in the riches of His glory both now and in the age to come. There is a oneness of present condition: When our Savior is lifted high, so are His people with Him. There is a oneness of future destiny: We will be glorified with Him.” In verse 31, Paul goes back to Genesis 2:24, which cements the mystical union between the man and the woman. Interestingly, Paul is clear to say that he is using that text within the context of Christ's relationship with the church. His point is that believers are invited to become members of the body of Christ and unite within. Doing so means that our I become lost in the Thou of God through a mystical union with Jesus. Therefore Paul can say in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Paul concludes the chapter by repeating what he has been saying from verse 21 to verse 32, that a covenantal marriage is built on submission, love, mystical oneness, and respect. He reminds both husbands and wives of their responsibility to one another. Those responsibilities were given by God and intended to reflect the relationship between Jesus Christ and his church.
Since Paul was not married, we have to conclude that his knowledge and teachings about marriage come from the Holy Spirit. Indeed, everything Paul says is biblically based and theologically sound. He is passionate about the role of husbands and wives within the covenant of marriage. Paul demonstrates high regard and appreciation for the sanctity of marriage. Unfortunately, many husbands and wives do not understand and appreciate the gift of marriage, which is, after all, a construct that allows us to understand the mystical relationship between Christ and the Church. The keyword that Paul stresses throughout this passage is love. Not the love that is often celebrated and marketed in society (eros). But a pure and sacrificial love that is patient and kind. That love does not envy; it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others; it is not self-seeking; it is not easily angered; it keeps no record of wrongs. It always protects, always trusts hopes, and always perseveres (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).
That love does not demand submission from a wife to be evident. It is love without changing, gives without demanding or expecting re-payment, and affirms even when it is rejected. That love is mystical because it is an ontological glue that unites the husband and the wife.
With love as the basis for a covenantal marriage, there is no room for abuse (physical, emotional, or sexual), or sexism, or bossism. In a covenantal marriage, the husband accepts his God-given responsibility to help transform his wife into her best self to the glory of God because she is bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh. The husband, therefore, organically protects, honors, and cherishes his wife because he loves her as he loves himself.
Such a love purifies the wife of the curse in Genesis 3:16 and demonstrates the stewardship the Lord expects from a husband. That stewardship demands that the husband give himself up for his wife, who is his helpmate, and not be abusive or tyrannical in his treatment of her. Then the marriage will reflect the oneness between Christ and his church.
Blessed Lord, please help husbands to love their wives with the love of Christ.