by Will Dole
“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.” (Ephesians 5:25-27)
I really thought I had a good understanding of this verse until I became aware of how poorly I follow it. In my opinion, this text is the most difficult and yet most wonderful text on marriage in the Bible—both for men and women in a broader context. Although Genuine Motivation addresses more of a single audience, the principles of this passage apply to those who aren’t married, as well. Let’s examine three main sub-points one at a time.
First, Paul says to love our wives the even as Christ loved the church. At first, this may seem strange because those two things appear to be unrelated. Yet, as we look at the Old Testament, especially Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Hosea, God repeatedly speaks of the relationship He has with His people in the same way a husband has with his wife. If we continue to read past this passage in Ephesians to verse 32, Paul makes the point that marriage as an institution can serve as an illustration. What does it illustrate for us? It is a picture of Christ’s love for His church.
How did Christ display His love? In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he tells us that Jesus, “…made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Phil 2:7, 8). Jesus’ love set aside the majesty of God’s throne room and took on human servanthood. Although it is true that we are not Jesus or God, we are called to follow Him in this sacrifice. We have to give up some things. Those things might be hobbies, time with the guys, opinions or dreams which the one we are committed to doesn’t share. It’s not easy.
Some may object, “My wife or girlfriend rarely deserves my sacrifice!” While that may be the case, we have to ask ourselves, do we deserve the sacrifices she makes? Do we deserve the supreme sacrifice Jesus made? Absolutely, we do not. We did not earn one ounce of the blood which freely dripped from His body. Even so, this is a difficult command for us most of the time. Either way, the challenge for us remains for husbands to love their wives.
This brings us to our second point which comes from the sections of the passage which says, “…and gave himself up for her to make her holy” (verses 25-26). So we see husbands should not only love their wives but also desire her holiness. Jesus is again the reason for our burden. Jesus loves His church and He showed this by giving up Himself totally for it. Why did He do this? One reason was to make her holy.
Husbands, shouldn’t this also be our desire? Even those who plan to be married in the future should be preparing themselves for this role. Most of the time we want the person we are in a committed relationship with to change, not so they will be holy, but for our own comfort. Yet, Jesus laid aside all the comforts of heaven and took the wrath of God for us (Isaiah 53:4-5). Are we willing to give up something of ourselves to help those we love grow? Do we desire sanctification of our wives? Do we want them to grow in holiness? If we do, that would mean we are willing to lay aside things that we really care about in order to assist. Are we willing to gently confront sin, generously praise growth and humbly lead them in prayer and Bible study?
This leads to us to the third point which is for men to cleanse their wives in the Word. This is a real reality check for us. Our wives need God more than they need us. When they face a problem probably the least helpful thing we can do is to offer our opinion. They need a kind and understanding ear to listen. They need to be immersed in the Gospel. How often do we help direct them to Scripture? How often do we discuss with them the difficult things of God for both our sakes? We cannot force them to love and desire Jesus. We can’t make them grow in faith, but we can and should desire to pursue it with them. Ultimately, responsibility will rest on our shoulders since we are given this responsibility by God.
We should be preparing ourselves for this role whether we are already in such a relationship or we hope to be sometime down the road. All three of these points, but especially the last one, are impossible if we are not closely following Jesus. There is no verse that says, “Thou shall pray and read thine Bible daily,” but we should be about these disciplines daily, so that we can be prepared to make an impact on others, especially those very close to us.
We cannot cleanse anyone in the Word, desire their holiness or love them as Jesus does without a knowledge of Scripture that only comes from diligent study. Going to church on Sunday isn’t enough. We need to quit drinking spiritual milk and pick up a fork. Now is the time to start. Trying to establish these disciplines after marriage puts us about 14 steps behind. It’s a lot harder to lead someone towards Jesus if we aren’t faithfully pursuing Him already.