I’m a deep sleeper, so it’s unusual for me to see the clock at 2:00 a.m. As my brain shook off the fog I heard the call again. “Mo-mmy! Da-ddy!” I grabbed my glasses and headed for the door.
My daughter had a nightmare. This happens about once a month, so we both know the routine. We prayed, focused on happier thoughts, and turned on some music. She slid back to sleep within minutes.
I can’t say I love these wakeup calls, but they provide a reflex test for my heart. When I know I should get up, will I hesitate? Will I wait for another call, hoping my wife will get up instead? Or will I take this small opportunity to give of myself?
Christ’s Love for the Church
At the end of Ephesians 5, Paul lays out a stunning picture of human marriage. He concludes, “this mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32). In sum, the command to wives is to respect their husbands; and husbands, to love their wives (v. 33).
Paul’s command to husbands in this letter is two-fold. He first tells husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church (v. 25). Paul then tells husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the church (vv. 28–29).
We’ll explore the first part of Paul’s teaching in this article. In a later article, the second command will be addressed.
A Word to Non-Husbands
Men make up less than half the church, and not all men are husbands. Is this passage relevant for everyone?
If you are not currently a husband, I hope you will continue reading. This passage in Ephesians will remind you of the love of Jesus for the Church—for you—and will instruct you how to pray for, encourage, and support those who fulfill this role. And, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).
A Husband’s Aim
Ephesians 5:25-27 says:
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
Christ’s aim for his church is a husband’s aim for his wife—her sanctification. “Sanctify” is just a fancy word meaning “set apart for God’s intended purpose.” God’s plan is to “present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (v. 27).
Husbands are to labor for the holiness and purity of their wives, just like Christ labors for the purity of his church. This means a godly husband will prioritize his wife’s spiritual growth. How can he practically do this?
Each husband should consider some serious questions about his wife on a regular basis:
- In what areas is her relationship with God strong? Where is it weak?
- What brings her the greatest joy?
- What battles with sin does she face? Where does she encounter discouragement, doubt, fear, or despair?
- What care, help, or wisdom does she need from me?
Husbands are commanded to “live with your wives in an understanding way” (1 Peter 3:7), meaning they should strive to understand and get to know their wives. Through all of these inquiries, it’s vital that the husband makes his wife a priority, not a project. Love should make no one feel like the target of an investigation.
The answers to some of these questions will come through conversation and simple listening. Other answers will come through experience, advice, and the leading of the Spirit.
Sanctification may seem like a lofty goal, but Paul gives one simple, all-encompassing means to achieve it. Husbands must give themselves up for their wives (vv. 1, 25). This is a broad command begging for specific explanation and illustration.
Give Up Yourself
What does it look like for a husband to give himself up in order to sanctify his wife? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, because each person and each marriage is different.
The basic principle is that the husband should set aside what he values to help his wife value most what is most valuable—God himself. As someone has said: “A husband must be willing not only to die for his wife but also to live for her.”
[Tweet “Jesus is committed to his holy church—to making her holy.”]
Consider this short list of suggestions, offered to help each husband think specifically about how to lay down his life for his wife.
- Give up early mornings to read and study the Bible with your wife. Help each other make specific applications for that day.
- Give up devotional time to pray for her; pray with her.
- Give up your time and perhaps your finances to encourage the cultivation and expression of her God-given gifts.
- Give up your comfort to gently correct her from God’s Word, lest she be found with “spot or wrinkle” (v. 27). (Invite this correction of yourself, too!)
- Encourage her to spend time with her friends. Assume the necessary responsibilities and burdens to make this happen.
- Affirm her talents, her sacrifices, and her contributions to your family on a regular basis.
- Give up potential advancement or praise at work by spending time with her rather than at the office after hours.
- Give up your preferences when finding a church for your family. Within the scope of Bible-preaching, Jesus-loving churches, seek out what would be the best fit for your wife. What will help her to grow?
- Give up the comfort of being passive. Step into the leadership role God has given you within your family (1 Corinthians 11:3). In love, serve your wife by making plans, asking questions, and stepping out in front in ways that will bless her.
Not Just an Analogy
Paul uses a husband’s love for his wife as an example and explanation in this passage. But we must not miss the glorious truth contained in this analogy!
Jesus gave himself up for the church. He lost his comfort, his friends, his position, his time, his dignity, and he lost his life in a gruesome, humiliating display on the cross.
And because of his resurrection, one day Jesus will present the church to himself “in splendor”, without any spot or wrinkle at all. This gives me tremendous hope! When I look at myself and the church around me, I see lots of spots and wrinkles, lots of blemishes, and lots of evidence that we still need to be sanctified.
But let’s raise our eyes and see what Christ has done in his love for his Bride. He sacrificed himself making the one-time cleansing for her sin, but also secured and provided the power for her ongoing change. Jesus is committed to his holy church—to making her holy. You might think we have a ways to go, but make no mistake—the sanctified church is a certainty.
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. (1 Thessalonians 5:23–24)
This is good news for Christians, including husbands who fail to love, fail to give of themselves, and fail to joyfully labor for the sanctification of their wives. The church of God has a heavenly husband who provides all the forgiveness and power we need to joyfully lay down our lives for our wives as he laid down his life for us.