Today we are finishing our two-part series on marriage. Last week I spoke to the wives and this week I’m speaking to the husbands. If you missed last week, I’d encourage you to go back and listen to it because tonight’s sermon is half the story. Even if you’re not a wife, it’s helpful to understand the wife’s role, or if you’re not married how you can encourage your married friends or prepare for marriage. Husbands, I’d encourage you to listen to it because I say things about marriage in that sermon that I don’t in this one.
I want to make a couple remarks upfront on this sermon. First, like last week, I’m trying to tell you what the Bible says because God’s word matters most. Second, although I’ve been married for six and a half years, I’m a slow learner. I have not arrived. So I don’t preach this sermon from a place of having it all figured out, but as someone who is also on a marriage journey. Let me pray.
Heavenly Father, thank you for this opportunity to examine your plan for husbands in marriage, how we can love and care for our spouses in the best way possible. God, we want our marriages to be according to your plan and to reflect Jesus’ love for the church. Help us hear you today. Amen.
At crossfit we have a workout of the day (a WOD). So every day the workout is mapped out for us. Every day there are two levels of weights listed, one for men and one for women. For example, on Friday men and women both had to do the same workout involving deadlifts. A deadlift is when you pick a bar up from the ground to about midway up your thighs, till your back is straight. The weight for women was 155 pounds and the weight for men was 225 pounds, and we each had to pick up that weight a bunch of times.
Now why am I bringing this up outside the obvious reason that crossfit is amazing? Because this biological reality reflects a spiritual reality. Because God created men and women with different capacities in marriage. Both lift a lot of weight and work incredibly hard, both are an equally valuable member of the team, and both give 110%, and yet in marriage God has built and called husbands to lift more weight.
The wife’s role takes three verses to describe (v21-24). The husband’s takes nine verses (v25-33). The husband’s section is three–times as long as the wife’s section. Why is that? Because God gives husbands a heavier role in marriage. He calls wives to submit to their husbands (a heavy and hard task) and he calls husbands to lay down their lives for their wives (a nearly impossible task).
Husbands, love your wives completely sacrificially. (Eph. 5:25-27)
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her
This word for “love” is the Greek verb agapao (ἀγαπάω). This kind of love is different than eros, which is sexual love. Agapao love may include that kind of intimacy but that’s not its primary motivator. Agapao is related to the noun for love, agape (ἀγάπη). We watched an animated word study earlier tonight on agape by The Bible Project. Their big point is that agape love “refers to a way of treating people that was defined by Jesus himself: seeking the well-being of others regardless of their response.” We see that theme continued here. Husbands are to love their wives by seeking their best regardless of their response. Paul gives Jesus gives himself as an example. As husbands, we are to love our wives at cost to ourselves just like Jesus loved the church at the cost to himself. Here’s the call to husbands.
Come and die with Jesus. (v25)
As the Pastor martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer said to all believers, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Like Christ sacrificed himself for the church we are to lay down our lives as a living sacrifice.
Romans 12:1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (ESV)
This call in Romans is a general call to all Christians, men and women, but Paul especially emphasizes self–sacrifice when he addresses men in marriage in Ephesians. If Jesus gave up his life for the church, and the church is full of broken people marred by sin, then we should love and serve our wives despite any imperfection we encounter in them. This is a call to unconditional love, not love based on how submissive or obedient to God they are, but love based on how sacrificial Christ was.
If you listened to last week’s sermon and thought, “Wow, I get to be the leader” then you are right. But what does Jesus call you to lead in? You’re to sacrifice the most. Gary Thomas writes in Sacred Marriage:
The very definition of the word sacrifice means that sacrifice isn’t sacrifice unless it costs us something; so men, it’s a fair question for you to ask, “How have I loved my wife in the past two or three weeks in such a way that it has cost me something — vocationally, financially, and with my hobbies, time, or comfort?”
Yes our wives are also called to come and die with Jesus too. But as husbands we are called to come and die first, to lead the way to the cross. We all sacrifice in marriage, but husbands should sacrifice the most. But what’s our aim behinds this? Paul actually gives us our goal or purpose in the next few verses.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
Your highest goal is her holiness. (v26-27)
Look at why Jesus laid down his life on the cross for his bride the church. What was his purpose? To save her from her sins. To make her holy. To cleanse her. To one day present her before himself as a pure and spotless bride ready to spend eternity with him (Rev. 21:2). Husbands, why we lay down our lives for them is because we want them (and us) to grow in holiness, which means becoming more like Christ.
Sometimes as husbands we swap happiness for holiness. We don’t want our wives to be holy. We want them to be happy. Because if they’re happy we’re happy. Instead of being willing to sacrifice our own happiness and our wife’s happiness to address sin in her life or ours, we take the easy route and don’t say anything. This comes from us not wanting to lay down our lives. We don’t want to be uncomfortable. We don’t want to have the hard conversations. We don’t want to go through the self–examination required of our own sins in order to address our wife’s sins. That’s our selfishness and disobedience. But what would it look like if we were more concerned with our wife’s and our own longterm holiness, even at the cost of our short-term happiness? We’d be willing to have the hard conversations and show patient love. The irony is the more holy we become the more happy we will actually become.
Holiness goes beyond just addressing sin. We can cultivate our wives’ holiness, “by the washing with water through the word.” Paul uses this same Greek word for “word” (rhema) in Romans to speak of Christ.
Romans 10:17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. (NIV®)
God calls husbands to wash their wives (and I think this applies to families too) in the word of God—the message about Jesus. What’s one way you can cultivate your family’s holiness by washing them in the word this week? Over dinner you could practice our Foundation Verse (Luke 2:11). You could tell your wife what you’re learning in your personal time of study and prayer. You could do family devotions in the morning or evening. On Christmas morning you could read through the birth story of Jesus Christ before opening presents. You could remind your family of the gospel message—that Jesus Christ loves them, forgives them, and is making them pure day by day. Your highest goal is her holiness. Husbands, love your wives completely sacrificially. Now here’s my next point.
Husbands, love your wives completely selfishly. (Eph. 5:28-31)
Now this is pretty exciting. The Bible gives us permission to be selfish in our marriages, right? Yes we have to sacrifice, but our marriages are really about satisfying our wants and needs, right? What do I mean by loving our wives “selfishly?” You’ll see what I mean in our next couple verses.
28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body.
Care for her like you care for yourself. (v28-30)
Paul’s call here isn’t to treat your wife poorly if you treat yourself poorly or to put your needs first. His call is really to treat your wife at least as well as you treat yourself, or even better. I think the ESV has a better translation. A husband should “nourish” and “cherish” his wife. Paul uses this word for “cherish” in 1 Thessalonians 2:7 to describe a “nursing mother” caring “for her children.” I love this little nugget. It’s like Paul is saying, “Husbands, be like a mom to your wives. Man up and be maternal!” Be attentive to her every need. Be completely selfish for her and not for yourself.
Gary Thomas gives a powerful example of a husband loving his wife this way in Sacred Marriage.
Four-time All-Pro NFL linebacker Chris Spielman had played football for twenty-six of his thirty-three years. […] He met his wife, Stefanie, in 1983 when he was just seventeen years old. They were married six years later […] and the two embarked on a rich marriage. Spielman played for many years with the Detroit Lions and then signed with the Buffalo Bills in 1996.
The year 1997 came with a fistful of trials. In July, just as preseason camp was getting started, a doctor spoke the grave diagnosis: breast cancer. Stefanie […] opted for a mastectomy, to be followed by six weeks of chemotherapy, a time period during which she would lose all her hair.
The Spielmans had two small children under the age of five, and Chris knew the chemo treatments would drain his wife’s energy. He had a decision to make. “It was my test,” Chris said in a magazine article. “It was my defining moment.”
In a show of solidarity, Chris shaved his head. Even more important, he quit football — not forever, but for a year — until Stefanie was back on her feet. If you’re not a football fan, you may not realize the astounding sacrifice this act represented. The average career span of an NFL linebacker is less than three years. The fact that Chris took an entire season off left him with no guarantee he’d ever get back to doing what he loved so much — playing football.
“[Stefanie] always supported me 100 percent,” Chris explained. “I had to offer it back.” […]
Instead of watching game film and meeting with the coaches, Chris woke up early to feed the kids (he learned that his oldest hated to have any of the food on her plate touch any other food), and then he got Stefanie up an hour or so later and served her breakfast. He then did the laundry, took the kids to their gymnastics lessons, and made sure Stefanie got her medication.
Clearly, Chris had learned the meaning of sacrificial giving to his wife. Somehow he’d learned to live out what Paul urges husbands to strive toward in Ephesians 5:25 — loving their wives, just as Christ loved the church, and he explains quite explicitly how Christ loved the church: by giving up his life for her.
Be completely selfish for her. Care for her like you care for yourself.
Care for her by prioritizing her above others. (v31)
31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”
I don’t want us to miss several key points in verse 31. Paul is quoting Genesis 2:24, which means he is affirming that the model for marriage laid down in the opening chapters of Genesis is the model God has given humankind for all time. This means that God designed marriage to be between a man and a woman. He also designed it to be for a lifetime. God doesn’t want divorce to tear-apart the one–flesh union. But I also think there’s something in verse 31 for husbands specifically, which the KJV brings out.
Genesis 2:24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. (KJV)
God calls husbands to prioritize their wives over their family of origin. Husbands, you are called to separate from dependency on your father and mother and to “cleave” to your wife. Leave and cleave! To cleave means to stick to something. Husbands, you can’t stick to both your father or your mother and your wife. You can’t treat them equally. Something that can cause a lot of friction in a marriage is when a husband gets married but acts like a dependent child. Your wife must come before your mother and your father. Part of being the “head” of the household is forming a new household. (Eph 5:23).
So why do we love our wives “selfishly”—caring for her like we care for ourselves and above others? We do this because this is how Jesus cares for us, the church. Last week we didn’t focus on it enough, but Ephesians 5:23b said, “…Christ is the head of the church, his body…” Paul repeats himself in the second half of verse 29 and 30. He says Christ cares for the church, “for we are members of his body.” When we love our brides this way, and your bride is a member of the church, we’re actually loving Christ’s body. You are loving Jesus by loving your wife. In fact…
A Christ-centered marriage illustrates a greater reality. (Eph. 5:32-33)
32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
John Piper showed me this point. When Paul was writing about marriage, he didn’t go searching for a nice illustration and find it in Christ and the church. What verse 32 tells us is that actually marriage is about Christ and the church. Christ and his plan to love the church is illustrated by marriage. Human marriage is like a small black and white photo of the Sistine Chapel. A black and white photo can take a picture but it doesn’t capture the overwhelming glory. Marriage is a picture of a far greater reality than marriage itself.
Christ Jesus and his plan to love and rescue and care for the church came long before God ever made Adam and Eve. Remember back in Ephesians 1 how God chose us, the church?
Ephesians 1:4a For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. (NIV®)
The Father chose the church to be his Son’s bride. The Bible is the story of a bride running away from the altar into sin and brokenness and the Son going after her to rescue her and make her beautiful and sacred. As husbands, we got to realize that we can’t rescue our brides from their sins just like we can’t rescue ourselves. But we can point them time and time again to the one who can rescue us, Jesus Christ. Jesus can make us holy. Jesus can make us new. Jesus can forgive every sin and make our marriages a reflection of his love for his bride, the church. Husbands, love your wives like Jesus.
Pastor Jonathan Romig preached this message at Cornerstone Congregational Church. You can download a PDF copy of this sermon above, which includes further endnotes and references. Click to listen to sermons or to read our story.