Does “leave his father and mother” (Eph 5:31) refer to leaving home or to something deeper?
The word “leave” occurs 25 times in the New Testament with more than half referring to physically leaving people, objects, or places just as in the first usage in Matthew 4:13 when Jesus was “leaving Nazareth.” The other occurrences refer to abandoning, forsaking (Strong), or to leave behind (Thayer), as when the 12 apostles thought it unwise to “leave the Word of God, and serve tables.” They saw the two responsibilities as distinct and did not try to mix them. Another helpful usage that sheds light on the application to marriage is when the Lord Jesus said to Levi, “Follow me.” Matthew autobiographically says, “He left all and followed him.” It was not just a physical separation, but also a removal from the commitments in an old relationship (with his employer) and an entering into a new relationship with new responsibilities.
Therefore, when a marriage takes place, a man removes himself from the relationship of being under his father to become the head of a new relationship and his wife follows taking the place of submission. This new relationship now takes precedence over the previous one. Practically, this means new priorities and new responsibilities, having abandoned the prior positions and roles in the homes where their respective fathers exercised headship and leadership. Leaving, then, is a holy obligation in view of becoming one, which is to be carried out legally, physically, emotionally, and permanently.
Sometimes though, departure of children can bring to the surface the twin plagues of “mamacitis” and “papacitis” which can be great hazards where there are tendencies for parents to manipulate or control those who were formerly responsible to them. Equally so, a new husband and wife must resist any temptation to return to the comfortable position and role which they had prior to marriage. Therefore, it is highly advisable that married couples do everything possible to distinctly and geographically establish their new home or wait for marriage until they can do so. Above all, both parents and children should strive together to recognize, respect, and reinforce this new relationship in the sight of God.
As a husband, how can I practically nourish and cherish my wife spiritually?
The gold standard and expectation for Christian husbands is the Lord Jesus and His Church. The question, then becomes: How does the Lord practically nourish and cherish the Church? Nourish is the first word (ektrepho) “ek”– from out of, trepho(rear, feed, nourish – Vine). This implies several practical goals for a husband to keep in mind.
While not taking anything away from the personal responsibilities of a wife before the Lord, a husband should feel the burden and fervent prayer for his wife’s spiritual development. She is not viewed as the nanny of his children and the cook of his meals so he can develop; her growth, rather, becomes a concern to him. The word is used one other time in the NT when it tells fathers to “bring up” their children. So, the first test is, does a husband have the same exercise and burden for his wife’s spiritual growth as he does for the development of his children?
Nourishing implies providing healthy inputs for proper development as well as limiting or removing what is detrimental. Therefore, a husband will want to lead in wise decisions to be made in activities, friendships, media use, time management, etc. Never is this to be a despotic control, but rather a loving attempt to seek what is best for her. Besides a care to limit and prevent negative influences to her development, it implies that he will seek proper and healthy spiritual nutrients. Here are some important ingredients that a husband could provide:
An example: First, Christ nourishes the Church by His character and example, and the Church will develop so as to reflect His character. Therefore, a husband should ask, “Would I be happy if my wife was like me spiritually?” To nourish others, one must be strong; this begins with a husband becoming a spiritual man, living spiritual values, while giving a spiritual example.
Time: He can free her from responsibilities so she can have time with the Lord alone and time in His presence as the Word is taught in teaching meetings of the assembly.
Friendships: He can seek to develop relationships with spiritual couples. He may make sacrifices so she can spend time with other godly sisters as well.
Communication: A husband can initiate by sharing (not expecting from her) his own spiritual food that he has received from the Lord. This is not sermonizing or beating her with a pulpit Bible, but rather a sharing of the “manna” that he has gathered. Initiating and encouraging discussion of Scripture, especially about the Savior can edify and strengthen. He should also value her insights and meditations from the Word of God which can strengthen him.
Activities: Development and exercise are inseparably linked. It is not that the Church is a static statue, but rather an active, participating body. In the same way, a husband can lead as she personally, and they together, strive to make their lifestyle one of service for others and service for God.
While this question focuses on the spiritual, the spiritual cannot be isolated. Therefore, a husband would seek to provide for her complete and healthy development as a whole woman emotionally, mentally, physically, socially, and spiritually. The second word, “cherish,” provides the balance for the above so that no husband treats the above suggestions as license to control her. This word means “to soften by heat”; then “to keep warm” (Vine). This brings us to the general environment of the home and of the marriage relationship. A husband should seek to provide a comfortable and proper environment for her to live in 24/7, which is key to fostering her spiritual growth.