Imagine how precarious your relationship with Christ would be if He only loved you when it was convenient for Him, or only when you were most attractive to Him. Everyone knows what it’s like to be loved imperfectly—and, if we’re honest, what it’s like to love someone else imperfectly.
Believers ought to be perpetually grateful that God’s love for us isn’t conditional, and that He loved us even while we rejected Him (Romans 5:8). In Ephesians 2, Paul wrote about God’s transcendent love for us in the midst of our rebellion.
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins. . . . Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:1-6)
So moments later, when Paul penned the instruction for husbands to love their wives “just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25), he was not speaking about God’s love in vague terms. His original audience understood that he was not telling husbands to love their wives if the wives deserved it, or if the husbands felt like it.
He gave an absolute command. Biblical love is a willful commitment to self-sacrifice, and it is not at all based on how we might “feel” at any point about the object of our love.
A husband who is unwilling to sacrifice for his wife does not even know what true love is. Those who regard their wives as servants under their sovereign headship haven’t begun to appreciate the true biblical pattern for marriage and family. Selfish husbands therefore will never know what it is to have a fulfilled marriage and family. True happiness in marriage is possible only to those who follow the divine pattern.
Properly understood, Ephesians 5:25 demands that the husband die to self. In effect, he is called to crucify himself for the sake of his wife. It’s not talking about some petty sacrifice, such as helping with the dishes now and then. It means the husband must devote his entire life—and quite literally even be willing to die—for the good of his wife.
Remember, genuine love “does not seek its own” (1 Corinthians 13:5). The man who is concerned only with getting what he can from marriage is sowing the seeds of destruction in his family. To love your wife as Christ loved the church is to be preoccupied with what you can do for her, not vice versa. After all, Christ loves us not for selfish gain, but because He is a gracious Lord who delights to bestow His favor on us.
The love of a godly man for his wife is not only sacrificial, it also safeguards her purity. Paul said Christ’s sacrifice for the church had this ultimate object in mind: to sanctify and cleanse her “that she would be holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:26–27). Her purity was His primary concern.
Likewise, in marriage, it is every husband’s solemn duty to guard his wife’s purity. No one would ever deliberately defile someone he really loves. How could a loving husband ever delight in something that compromises the purity of the one he loves?
On the contrary, the husband who loves his wife as Christ loves the church will naturally hate anything that defiles her. He will guard her from anything and everything that might dishonor her, degrade her, demean her, or tempt her to sin. He will never knowingly lead her into any kind of sin, but protect her against any threat to her virtue. He won’t deliberately provoke or exasperate her so that she succumbs to anger or any other temptation. And he himself will be an example of purity, knowing that whatever defiles him will ultimately defile her too.
Notice the primary way Christ maintains the purity of the church: “by the washing of water with the word” (Ephesians 5:26). Husbands have a duty to ensure that their wives are regularly exposed to the cleansing and purifying effect of the Word of God. The husband is to be the spiritual leader and priestly guardian of the home. It is his duty to make sure the Word of God is at the center of the home and family. He ought to lead his family in participation in a church where the Word of God is revered and obeyed. And above all, he himself needs to be devoted to the Word of God and proficient enough in handling the Scriptures that he can be the true spiritual head in the marriage (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:34–35).
Genuine love also involves tender care, and Paul expressed that idea this way: “Husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies” (Ephesians 5:28). We take care of our bodies constantly—giving them whatever food, clothing, comfort, recreation, relaxation, or rest they need. We’re attentive to our own bodies, concerned with their needs, sensitive and responsive to whatever they desire.
That is the kind of love Paul commanded husbands to show their wives. Notice, once again, Scripture is not describing love only as an emotion. This sort of love is active, voluntary, dynamic—something we do, not something we passively “feel.”
It’s only reasonable that a man would love his wife the way he loves his own body, because in marriage, “the two . . . become one flesh” (Ephesians 5:31). That is the way God designed marriage. Paul was actually quoting from Genesis 2:24, which describes how God first ordained marriage itself. It applies universally and it has been true from the beginning. Husbands ought to love their wives with the same care they give to their own bodies because, after all, the two are one flesh.
Since the husband’s love for his wife pictures Christ’s love for the church, it must also be the kind of love that outlasts every trial and overcomes every obstacle. When Christ was questioned about divorce, He quoted the same verse Paul referenced from Genesis, then underscored the permanence of the union: “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matthew 19:6).
Every marriage is consummated in an earthly sense by a physical union: “The two shall become one flesh.” Children conceived by that union will literally bear the genetic pattern of two people who have become one flesh. But marriage also involves a spiritual union. God is the one who joins husband and wife together. Marriage is the union of two souls knitted together in every aspect of life. Their emotions, intellects, personalities, desires, and life goals are inextricably bound together.
Naturally, then, God also designed marriage to be a permanent union, unbroken and uncorrupted. The biblical terminology of Ephesians 5:31 stresses the permanence of the marriage union: “A man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife.” The word translated “be joined to” is a Greek term (proskolla) that literally speaks of gluing something together. It describes a permanent, unbreakable bond. That is an apt description of God’s ideal for marriage. It’s a union held together by lasting love that absolutely refuses to let go.
Scripture is clear: God’s plan for the family begins with life-long monogamous marriage, which is grounded in sacrificial love. Why is this of such supreme importance? Paul gave the answer inEphesians 5:32: “This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.” In other words, the husband’s love for his wife is a sacred duty because of what it illustrates.
Christ is the heavenly Bridegroom and the church is His bride (Revelation 19:7–8; 21:9). Because marriage pictures that union, the husband must be Christlike in his love for the wife, and she must be submissive to his headship. Otherwise, the divine object lesson is destroyed.
What higher motive could there be for a 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.