With a good understanding of agape, we are now prepared to understand the primary command for husbands: “love (agape) your wives, just as Christ also loved (agape) the church and gave Himself for her” (Ephesians 5:25). Agape is used twice to discuss two different relationships:
- A husband’s relationship with his bride
- Christ’s relationship with His own bride, the church
The two words “just as” reveal that the way Christ loves the church and gave Himself for her is the way a husband is commanded to love his wife and give himself for her. A man should model his relationship with his bride after Christ’s relationship with His bride. With Christ as the standard for husbands, every man must recognize that he always has more room to grow.
Ephesians 5:25 reveals the characteristics of agape:
- The words “gave Himself for her” reveal the sacrificial nature of Christ’s agape. In John 3:16, if God the Father’s agape for the world is shown in being willing to sacrifice His Son, then in Ephesians 5:25 the Son’s agape for the church is shown in being willing to be sacrificed. Christ gave everything He had, including His own life. That is the standard of unreserved, selfless, sacrificial love husbands are commanded to have for their wives.
- The absence of the word “if” demonstrates the unconditional nature of Christ’s agape. The verse does not say, “Husbands, love your wives IF . . .” Since Christ loves the church unconditionally, a husband is commanded to love his wife unconditionally. Christ loves the church when it does not submit, does not love Him in return, or disrespects Him. A husband should love his wife if she does not submit, does not love him in return, or disrespects him. When a husband is upset with his bride, he needs to remind himself of the love Christ has for His bride, a love that loves regardless of what the bride has or has not done.
What higher motive could there be for the husband to love his wife? By loving her as Christ loved the church, he honors Christ in the most direct and graphic way. He becomes the embodiment of Christ’s love to his own wife, a living example to the rest of his family, a channel of blessing to his entire household, and a powerful testimony to a watching world.John MacArthur, The Fulfilled Family (Thomas Nelson, 2005), p. 78.
What Does It Look Like for Husbands to Love Their Wives?
So how do we husbands put into daily practice the standard Christ has set? If one hundred people were asked what it looks like for a husband to love his wife, we would likely hear one hundred different answers:
- Buy her expensive jewelry
- Take her to fancy restaurants
- Whisk her away on exotic vacations
- Make sure she lives in an impressive home
In general, the secular world suggests a husband’s love for his wife is demonstrated through material accomplishments. This is why a husband can be:
- A complete failure in the world’s eyes while being a great husband in God’s eyes
- A great husband in the world’s eyes while being a complete failure in God’s eyes
The good news—at least for husbands—is that we do not have to buy our wives anything expensive or glamorous to be pleasing to God. The bad news is that spending lots of money is much easier than doing what God requires.
For a better understanding of what it looks like for husbands to love their wives, watch the second message I deliver at Marriage God’s Way Conferences…
A Husband Loves His Wife By Sanctifying and Cleansing Her
Ephesians 5:25 commands husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church. Then the following verses explain how to obey the command:
That he might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word.Ephesians 5:26
This is discussing what Christ does with His, Bride, the Church. Since the context is marriage, it’s also explaining what husbands should do with their wives. Christ “sanctifies and cleanses” His bride, so husbands should sanctify and cleanse their brides. This makes a husband at least partially responsible for his wife’s sanctification. As Christ prepares a pure bride, so husbands must prepare pure wives.
This sanctifying and cleansing takes place through washing by the Word of God:
- In John 15:3, Jesus speaks to the church, setting the example for husbands with their brides: “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.”
- In John 17:17, Jesus prayed: “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.”
Husbands, let me address you directly. There are a number of ways for you to “wash” your wife with the Word:
- Take your wife consistently to a Bible-teaching church. It is tragic when husbands, who are called to be the spiritual leaders in their marriages, do not make one of the most basic and foundational practices of the Christian life—corporate worship on the Lord’s Day—a priority.
- Most churches have Bible studies, whether in Sunday school or home fellowships, that place couples in a position to have God’s Word wash over them.
- Husbands can have Christian radio programs playing or simply listen to an audio Bible in the home or while driving.
- Read God’s Word with your wife. I have had men tell me, “I don’t know how to read the Bible with my wife!” If a man can read, he can read the Bible with his wife. Choose a book and start at chapter 1, verse 1. Whatever verse you stop at is where you pick up next time.
- Make God’s Word a priority in your marriage. While I would never say Christians cannot have televisions, it is worth considering what brings a couple together most often. Is it the television, movies, some other activity, or is it the Word of God?
A Husband Loves His Wife By Setting the Standard for Holiness
A husband living an unholy life cannot help his wife with her holiness. If husbands are commanded to have a sanctifying influence on their wives, it only makes sense that each husband must maintain a high standard of holiness in his own life. It is not the wife’s responsibility to establish the spiritual atmosphere of the home. That responsibility belongs to the husband. Husbands are responsible for:
- What comes into the home and what influences the family
- What the family watches
- What the family listens to
- How the family talks or jokes
- What company the family keeps
- How the family dresses
- How the family spends their time
- What the family does recreationally
- How involved the family is in the church
Without getting too specific, I will say there are definitely some movies, music, clothing, jokes, language, and activities that should not enter our homes. Husbands are the ones who need to make sure such things do not enter the home. If they have entered, husbands have the responsibility to make sure they are removed.
I would like to share something I witness, and let me be clear that this is my own observation rather than a truth from Scripture. I rarely encounter a husband who complains about his wife’s lack of holiness, but I have encountered plenty of wives who complain about their husbands’ lack of holiness. I hear wives complain about things their husbands watch, listen to, or say, but I do not often hear husbands complain about things their wives watch, listen to, or say.
Similarly, I do not often hear men say: “My wife won’t go to church with me . . . join a home fellowship . . . pray or read the Bible with me.” But I do hear wives say these things about their husbands. This becomes even more tragic when we consider that husbands are supposed to be setting the standard for holiness in the home. It is terrible when women have to be the spiritual leaders in the relationship hoping their husbands were more spiritual. Terrible, yes, but unfortunately it seems to be common.
A Husband Loves His Wife By Being Concerned for Her
Recall Adam’s response upon seeing Eve for the first time:
This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”Genesis 2:23
Just as in English, the Hebrew words for man (iysh) and woman (ishshah) are closely related, revealing Adam recognized his closeness with his wife. Since Adam knew Eve came from him, looking at her was like looking at himself. Loving Eve was like loving himself. When Adam took care of Eve’s physical needs, he was caring for his own body—literally, since her body had earlier been his body. Her flesh was his flesh.
Looking Back to Adam and Eve
There can be little doubt that Paul had Adam and Eve in mind:
So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church.Ephesians 5:28-29
Paul’s connection to Adam and Eve becomes even clearer when we consider that he finishes his instruction to husbands by quoting Genesis 2:24 in Ephesians 5:31:
For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.Ephesians 5:31 quoting Genesis 2:24
Just as Adam saw Eve as an extension of his own bone and flesh, so God wants husbands to see their wives as extensions of themselves. A husband should care for his wife as well as he cares for himself. Since he views her body as part of his body, when he loves her, he is loving himself. Since no husband hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, husbands should offer their wives the same concern and devotion they lavish on themselves.
A Husband Loves His Wife By Nourishing and Cherishing Her
In Ephesians 5:29, we are given the twin responsibilities of husbands…
“Nourish” refers to taking care of our wives spiritually. The original Greek word is ektrepho, which means to nourish up to maturity, or to nurture. The word occurs only two times in Scripture, both in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. The other occurrence:
Fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up (ektrepho) in the training and admonition of the Lord.Ephesians 6:4
It is interesting that each usage of ektrepho references how a husband should spiritually nourish the most important people in his life: his wife and children.
The second word, “cherish,”denotes taking care of our wives physically, mentally, and emotionally. It refers to being tenderly affectionate, warm, and comforting. Husbands, let me ask you some questions that convict me when I ask them of myself.
- Are you as concerned about how your wife is doing as you are about how you are doing?
- Are you as concerned about how much sleep your wife is getting as about how much you are getting?
- When your wife is sick, are you as concerned about how she is doing as you are about yourself when you are sick?
- Are you as concerned about your wife’s overworking herself as you are about overworking yourself?
If you love your wife as your own body, the answer to these questions will be, “Yes!”
We have ideas of what a husband should be willing to do for his wife, but God’s ideas are very different from ours. We hope that any husband would be willing to jump in front of a car to save his wife. A husband has likely imagined someone breaking into his home and considered how he would protect his wife even at the cost of his own life. Yet when it comes to daily living, even heroic men are often less valiant in their willingness to lay aside their own agendas for the sake of their wives.
What does this look like practically? It looks like sacrifice. It means giving up things a husband would not have to give up if he did not have a wife. That could be sleep. Free time. Sports. Video games. Television. Time with friends. It means putting aside anything that prevents a husband from loving and caring for his wife the way he loves and cares for himself.
For some men, this means applying Paul’s words:
When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.1 Corinthians 13:11
Loving one’s wife as God commands means putting away childish things. Another way to express this is: “I need to stop being a child. This is what boys do. I need to give this up and start being a man so I can love my wife as much as I love myself. It is time for me to ‘man-up.’”
- What actions demonstrate Christ’s agape for His bride, the church?
- What does it look like for a husband to demonstrate agape for his wife?
- How can a couple make God’s Word a priority in their life together?
- What ways can husbands establish a Christian marriage—one that is Christ-centered?
Questions for Husbands
- What are three ways you demonstrate agape for your wife?
- What are three ways you will commit to sanctifying and cleansing your wife with the Word?
- From Monday to Saturday, what are three ways your marriage looks:
- Different than those of unbelievers?
- The same as those of unbelievers?
- How would you like your wife to express her appreciation when you sanctify and cleanse her with the Word?
- Are there any things in your home that need to be removed, because they threaten your family’s holiness?
- How will you maintain a high standard of holiness? : Husband: List three ways you nourish and cherish your wife: Husband: What do you need to give up to better nourish and cherish your wife?
- After hearing your wife’s answers to the previous three questions, what actions will you take or changes will you make to satisfy her?
- What are ways you show the same concern for your wife that you show for yourself, and two ways you can improve in this area?
Questions for Wives
- What are some ways you want your husband to sanctify and cleanse you?
- What are three ways your husband demonstrates agape for you?
- What would you like your husband to do that would demonstrate agape for you?
- What does your husband do that makes you feel as though he does not agape you?
- How will you express your appreciation for your husband when he sanctifies and cleanses you with the Word?
- Are there any things in your home that your husband needs to remove?
- How can you support your husband as he maintains a high standard of holiness?
- What are ways your husband shows the same concern for you that he shows for himself, and ways he can improve in this area?