It seems like a simple command: “Husbands love your wives.” But if you’ve been married for more than five minutes, you realize that it’s a bit harder than it sounds.
There are a few reasons.
The command for the Christian husband to love his wife is not contingent upon her fulfilling any particular roles. In other words, it’s to characterize his life even if his wife is not acting lovely. More to the point, it’s an ongoing, everyday type of love. It’s not a love only reserved for wedding days, anniversaries, or Valentine’s Day. This is everyday love characterizes the disposition of the Christian husband to his wife.
Furthermore, it has a pattern to follow. The Christian husband reflects Jesus’s love for his church and the unity found in this relationship (Eph. 5:25-32). The Bible points husbands to the supreme example, the husband par excellence as the one who is both the model and also the motivation for loving their wives.
In light of how Jesus loves his church, how then are Christian husbands to love their wives?
Here are ways in which a husband can love his wife like Jesus.
(1) A Sacrificial Love
We start here with the most obvious. The husband’s love for his wife is to be sacrificial, because Jesus’s love for us was sacrificial. This giving up is another way of saying he sacrificed his life for his wife. Jesus died for his bride, and so the husband must be willing to do the same.
Thankfully it remains noble for a husband to be willing to lay down his own life to save his wife. But the essence of the sacrifice could be pressed home further. Would he live sacrificially for his wife? Will he die to himself and his self-interest to put his wife first?
(2) A Serving Love
Jesus served the church. This love wore an apron. He served his bride, the church, with his life and death. We read in Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Likewise, the husband, the leader, is to serve his wife. He is to, like Jesus, be willing to set aside his interests when presented with the opportunity to serve his wife. Think about it. We could never conceive of Jesus being too busy to hear from us in prayer. He is not distracted. He is not uninterested. No, he loves us and continues to listen and help us. He is always doing us good.
Jesus is not too busy checking his phone, scrolling through social media, when we are trying to talk to him.
He is not drifting off thinking about hobbies or work when we are pouring our hearts out to him in prayer.
He is not daydreaming when we are laying bare our weaknesses before him. No, he is present, faithful, caring, and serving.
He is attentive and sympathetic (Heb. 4:15-16).
The danger for marriages is not that the husband would love another woman more than his wife; it’s that he would love himself more than his wife.
(3) A Faithful Love
Jesus is faithful to his church, his bride. Likewise, the husband, if reflecting Jesus, must be faithful to his wife. We read in verse 31, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
This one-flesh union is a life of commitment and faithfulness. In Paul’s time, just as in our own, people changed partners without a second thought. The Christian marriage, and the love the husband offers his wife, is to be a committed and faithful love.
(4) An Understanding Love
Jesus knows us and understands us. He knows what makes us tick. He knows our weaknesses. Peter reminds husbands in 1 Peter 3:7 to “live with your wives in an understanding way showing honor” (to her). This word “understanding” refers to knowledgable love. The husband is well-acquainted with his wife. He knows and understands her. The husband must be forever studying and learning his wife. I’ve joked that I’m a lifetime student at the University of Christie. I’ll never graduate nor get a diploma; I’m a lifetime learner. I’m always trying to learn how to best love and serve her.
(5) A Caring Love
Paul writes, “In the same way husbands should love their 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 Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.”
The husband’s love for his wife should reflect his care for his own body.
Paul offers two keywords to describe this: nourish and cherish. A husband cares for his wife by nourishing her heart, much like a gardener nourishes his plants.
“This requires him to pay attention to her, to talk with her to know what her hopes and fears are, what dreams she has for the future, where she feels vulnerable or ugly, and what makes her anxious or gives her joy.” A husband cherishes his wife “in the way he spends time with her and speaks about her, so that she feels safe and loved in his presence.” Phillips offers this warning: “In my experience, a husband’s caring love is one of the greatest needs in most marriages. [A] wife’s heart is dried up by a husband who pays her little attention, takes no interest in her emotional life, and does not connect with her heart.” (via Challies)
Husbands are to care for their wives as Jesus cares for his people.
(6) A Sanctifying Love
You’ll notice that much of what Paul refers to here involves Jesus’s care for us spiritually. I don’t think this means that the husband is the only one responsible for seeing his wife grow in godliness.
The husband is given the privilege and charge to see his wife grow in godliness. There are other means God has provided (i.e., the local church), but it is the husband’s responsibility to ensure that it happens. He is to be concerned with his wife’s spiritual growth. He is to share Jesus’s burden for his wife’s holiness.
He directs his love toward her godliness. This love then will show itself in such matters as conversation, family devotions, prayer, church attendance, church participation, service, and the overall tone of the home. Christian husbands can excel in many areas of love but drop the ball at this point and, as a result, not fulfill their charge from the Lord. Husbands, are you taking the lead in pointing your family, and especially your wife ,to the Word of God and the God of the Word?
(7) A Consistent Love
Jesus is consistent. And all of his actions toward us are mediated through his loving covenant of grace. In Packer’s classic Knowing God, he observes, “Every single thing that happens to us expresses God’s love to us, and comes to us for the furthering of God’s purpose for us.” All of his ways toward us are in love. He goes on, “God loves people because he has chosen to love them—as Charles Wesley put it, “he hath loved us, he hath loved us, because he would love” (an echo of Deut. 7:7-8)—and no reason for his love can be given except his own sovereign good pleasure.”
When we reflect God’s love toward us in the gospel, Christian husbands are to be consistent. They are not to be up and down, mixing his love for his wife one day and his love for himself the next.
(8) A Leading Love
Jesus left us a pattern to follow. If we want to be Christlike, then we must reflect his leadership:
And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45)
The Christian husband’s love for his wife is not to look like a Roman occupation. It’s not a page out of the popular business handbook. It’s not about self-fulfillment but self-sacrifice.
Practically speaking, this means that husbands and wives are not allowed to delay obeying God’s commands until their spouses fulfill their God-given roles perfectly.
(9) An Enduring Love
Jesus doesn’t quit on his bride. Isn’t that good news? Too many Christian marriages tap out when things get hard. We mustn’t do this. We are to stay on the field and work it out, continuing to press on and go to the end. Jesus motivates us to endure amid and through hardship.
(10) An Eschatological Love
The picture of Ephesians shows us that this is God’s plan for the summing up of all things in Christ (1:10; 20–23). Therefore, as the husband submits to Jesus and leads his wife in a loving way he is reflecting this end-time submission of all things to Christ. Being a Christian husband is not about being some prideful, self-absorbed leader but a humble, self-giving servant leader. In this, you reflect the reality that Christ, not you, is the king. And his kingdom has dawned.