Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Ephesians 5:25-33

25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her 26to make her holy, cleansing [or having cleansed] her by the washing with water through the word, 27and to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church-- 30for we are members of His body. 31"For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh" [Genesis 2:24]. 32This is a profound mystery--but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Paul has told wives to submit to their husbands, not all men, not other husbands, not their sons, but their own husbands. But the husband’s authority over the wife is not for tyrannical dictator-style government; rather, it is for loving and self-sacrificial service. Now the remainder of this chapter, with the exception of the last part of v33, which serves as a summary bookend, speaks to the husband’s responsibility to his wife. And reading this potion of the text after the previous portion softens the command to the wife significantly. For no woman would want to submit to someone who doesn’t love the Lord, who fights against Christ daily and shows that disdain for the Lord through persistent attitude and behavior issues in the home. But a woman ought to be excited to submit to a man after God’s own heart, a man who wants nothing less than to please the Lord through the humble service – even unto death – and building up of his spouse.

Thus, in v25, Paul tells the husband to love his wife. Ligon Duncan says, “God calls Christian husbands, all Christian husbands, to a radical, God-originated, gospel-based, grace-empowered, Christ-emulating, self-denying love for our wives; a love in which we are to serve our wives and to care for our wives’ best spiritual and temporal interests.” Love is not a when-you-feel-it-do-it sort of thing; love is a lifelong commitment to lead. Paul then adds that a husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the Church, to give himself up for her good; and that’s a challenge that few men, if any, have ever lived up to. It’s something we cannot do apart from God’s grace, and it’s something that we should only hope to make progress in as our lives with our spouses continue until death. We need to think of how Christ loved the Church and love our wives that way; we need to make His atoning sacrifice for the Church the foundation for loving our wives; we need to focus on His purpose in loving the Church – sanctification (an inward reality with outward signs) – and make that our purpose for loving our wives; and we need to consider the glory that becomes of the Church through the work of Christ and strive to present our wives holy before God as Christ does the Church. But what does it look like to exhibit the love of Christ for His Church to our wives? Perhaps we can consider seven adjectives: unmerited, intense, unending, unselfish, purposeful, manifested, and sacrificial.

First, Christ’s love for His Church is unmerited, and a husband’s love for his wife should be as well. Romans 5:8 says, “God demonstrates His love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Our wives may not always feel or show love to us, but that’s no excuse for us not to show them love. We may not feel love for our wives at times, but we love her with a committed love that comes not from us but from God. Even when she doesn’t fulfill her part of the marriage covenant, “husbands love your wives.” Second, Christ’s love for His Church is intense. In Luke 22:15, Jesus says that He coveted eating the Passover with His disciples. We ought to covet a relationship with our wives that is intensely intimate and special. Third, Christ’s love for His Church is unending. John 13:1 reveals that Jesus loved us to the end. And we promised in our wedding vows to love our wives “until death do us part.” We don’t take a break along the way. Fourth, Christ’s love for His Church is unselfish. In Philippians 2:6-7, we see that Christ did not consider equality with God something to be grasped but made Himself nothing, emptied Himself by taking on human flesh, and submitted Himself to slavery unto death – all out of love for us. Humility ought to be a revelation of our love for our wives, through our providing first and foremost for her needs. Fifth, Christ’s love for His Church is purposeful. In v26-27 we see what that purpose is – to cleanse us and make us holy. Jude 24 speaks of Christ as able to keep us from falling and to present us before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy. Are you striving in your marriage to purify your wife for the Lord? Sixth, Christ’s love for His Church is manifested. In John 13-16, we have Jesus’ upper room discourse, in which He shows His disciples the full extent of His love for them in a number of ways. Do we show our wives our love for them? They like to see our love in our speech and communication efforts. Do we use words to convey our love for them? How can we do that progressively better? We show our love for them by protecting them and making sure they feel safe and secure. Seventh, Christ’s love for His Church is sacrificial. In John 15:13, Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Husbands are called to lay down their lives for the benefit of their wives, out of unmerited and amazing love for them and for Christ. Lord, make us love our wives like Christ loved the Church, for we cannot desire it out of our sinful nature, nor do it out of our own power.

Paul’s focus in v26-27 is to show that husbands are called to adapt their lives to their wives’ needs, to provide for their spiritual growth and health. Since Christ’s love for the Church is the first foundation and highest motive for a husband’s love for his wife, husbands are to cleanse and make holy their wives, just as Christ cleanses and makes holy His Church. It is a lifelong, progressive transformation. Fathers walk their daughters down the aisle and present them to their fianc├ęs to begin the wedding ceremony. Consider that husbands, by the way they love their wives, walk their wives down the aisle and present them to Jesus Christ. Will He say, “A pure and spotless bride! Well done good and faithful servant!”?

Paul reveals a second foundation, an additional motive for a husband’s love for his wife in v28-29. Husband are to love their wives as Christ loved the Church and also as they love their own bodies; Paul knows that men are selfish by nature and take care of themselves by instinct. He’s basically saying that to take care of your wife is to take care of yourself, because husband and wife are one flesh. But it’s not that weak an argument; the argument Paul gives here is radical, pointing to the profound mystery of the union of Christ with His body. The statement reminds us of Adam and Eve, with Eve actually being made from Adam’s rib. The marriage union actually makes husbands and wives one flesh. Ligon Duncan says, “Paul is saying as mysterious a thing as it is that God can say that in marriage a man and a woman become one flesh, it is an even deeper mystery that when you are saved by grace that you are united to Christ. And your marriage…is a prime witness, Christian, to the reality of your union with Christ.” V28-32 teach us that Christ has not only bonded husbands to wives in the way that a person is united with their own body (intimately and permanently), but He has also bonded Himself to believers in this way. Consider when Christ appeared to Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus road and asked, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Saul was persecuting Christians, not Jesus Himself, right? Wrong.

In the end, marriage is the most important and most difficult place to live out the vertical Christian life (the relationship between man and God, as opposed to the horizontal life between man and woman). There’s no better place to learn grace and humility in service out of love than in marriage. V33 sums up Ephesians 5:22-32 as simply as possible: Husbands must love their wives, and wives must respect their husbands. Ligon Duncan explains, “Consequently, in light of this great mystery of union with Christ, which is witnessed to especially in a Christian marriage, since we share in that union, every Christian husband, every Christian wife, is a part of the body of Christ. Since we share in that union, and since we are to image that union, every Christian husband and Christian wife is to be a living, breathing, walking, talking witness to that union which Christ has with the church. Therefore, Christian husbands must love their wives, and Christian wives must respect their husbands.”

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