The Pattern for Biblical Love
“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Eph 5:25 KJV). The Scripture is familiar; it is normally cited in all pre-marital counseling sessions. It is quoted at weddings and sometimes at silver and golden anniversary celebrations. We know it, but do we really know it?
The standard for husbands is an ideal which, we must confess, is unattainable. The bar has been set very high. The pericope in Ephesians reminds us that its ultimate demonstration was a cross and a life given for another.
History is replete with the stories of men and women who in moments of danger gave their lives to save others. At times, those sacrifices were made for total strangers; at other times, it was for those who were loved. All such deserve our esteem.
Love which rises to meet the ultimate challenge is worthy of praise. But is love which displays itself 24 hours a day, seven days a week, over perhaps 40 or 50 years any less noble or virtuous? The love of Christ was not only displayed at Calvary. Think of the love the Lord Jesus showed to disciples with their faults. There was impetuous Peter, always the first to speak, the most “hyperactive” in the group, and the most likely to speak out of turn (Mat 16:22,23). Then there were the two “sons of thunder” who seemed at one point in their training to have learned so very little of the heart of their Master (Luk 9:54,55). And what of the entire company who seemed, at times, so blind to the meaning of His words (Joh 12:16, to name only one occasion)?
There were not only faults that might be ascribed to a lack of learning, preoccupation, misunderstanding and circumstances; there were failures that were notably serious, resulting from their fallen natures. Have you ever noticed that on each occasion the Lord told of His looming death, they were arguing about who would be the greatest? The final occasion was in the upper room after the institution of the Supper (Luk 22:24). There was not one heart to sympathize, none who understood the grief that pressed as a burden on His sensitive soul. Then there was their pride displayed in the upper room when no one would take the initiative and stoop to wash the feet of the other disciples (John 13). Add to that tragic display of insensitivity and pride, that they all forsook Him and fled when He was apprehended, and we understand that the basic problem in all their failures was self-love. Self – that constant unavoidable obstacle into which we all crash headlong in virtually everything we seek to do for the Lord; that life-long love affair we have that weathers every storm.
Allow me to refocus my remarks by pointing out that the greatest obstacle to loving a wife as Christ loved is our love of self! It is difficult for me to love my wife as I am commanded because my default position is love for self!
The Priority in Biblical Love
Once we understand that self-love is our greatest enemy in attempting to love as Christ commanded, two great factors are obvious: first, I need the help of the Spirit of God to develop this unnatural love; second, it means I must focus on the welfare of another.
An understanding of my inherent self-love makes it easy to segue into the priority that love demands: placing the welfare of its object above self. I am to so love that I sacrifice not only my life, if need be, but what needs to be sacrificed – my agenda and selfish interests. Paul makes clear that a husband’s love for his wife is to be evidenced by making her welfare his priority in the relationship. That priority is expressed in three spheres: the physical, emotional and spiritual. A husband is called upon to “nourish” his wife. This would embrace caring for her material and temporal needs, working to pay bills, provide a home, food and the necessities of life. All this is fairly straightforward. But it does not stop there.
Paul adds that a man is to cherish his wife (Eph 5:29). It is more challenging to provide the emotional security and companionship a wife craves than it is to provide the material things of life. Communication skills and empathy are not usually high on men’s virtue scales. Yet a husband must cultivate the ability to listen and seek to understand and support his wife. It is his responsibility to maintain an atmosphere in the home that makes her feel loved and secure.
A man’s headship also implies that he is responsible for the spiritual tone of the marriage, promoting his wife’s spiritual well-being. This does not mean that a husband preaches to his wife or constantly corrects what he thinks is wrong. It means that he provides an atmosphere for her spiritual life to flourish.
The Practice of Biblical Love
Faced with the imperative of loving my wife, and confronted with the standard established by the Lord Himself, how do I implement this in our marriage? We will assume that becoming a martyr for your wife is not in the picture. That display of love may not be necessary for you, but the character of His love can still be displayed daily by you.
Focusing on Her Welfare
Our Christ-like love should influence every decision, color every interaction and guard every word. “Is this for the welfare and blessing of my wife?” is the question I need to constantly ask myself. A number of years ago I was challenged by a question: “If all that my wife knew of the love of Christ for His Church was the love I displayed to her, what would her understanding of His love be?” Am I communicating to her in the small details of life the lesson of divine love?
Forbearing with Weaknesses
Think of the manner in which Christ patiently worked with His own disciples. Earlier in the article, mention was made of the faults and inconsistency of the disciples. Yet how infrequently He corrected or rebuked in any manner; how longsuffering and kind He was amidst their many failures. Paul reminds believers in their interactions to bear with one another (Col 3:13). While the context is the relationships of believers, it nonetheless holds true for the closest of relationships. No spouse is perfect; each of us has idiosyncrasies that can annoy others. The weakness you discover in your wife should not become grounds for exploitation, but an occasion for you to minister to her and to balance her. God has brought two imperfect people together to provide balance in the relationship.
Forgiveness for Wrongs
Almost inevitably, whether through misunderstanding, carelessness or selfishness, one party in a marriage will wrong the other. As mentioned earlier, the disciples not only failed to understand, failed to sympathize with the Lord Jesus, they all forsook Him and fled, thinking of only themselves. Did He deliver a scathing rebuke when He met them in resurrection?
Peter denied Him with oaths and curses. How did the Lord respond? The Lord “turned, and looked upon Peter” (Luk 22:61), an act of compassion and care, and not of condemnation.
And what of our forgiveness after “the guilt of twice ten thousand sins”? In His love for us, He has modeled a forgiving spirit. If my love for my wife is Christ-like in character, it will involve a readiness to forgive any wrongs done to me.
“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church.”