Message: Husbands, Christ’s Image of Glory | Scripture: Ephesians 5:25-33 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
In my second summer as a law student, I was working at a small boutique law firm in downtown Toronto, and one of the practice areas that this firm dabbled in was family law. Now, I had an interest in civil litigation, but no one practiced in this area at the firm, so the next best thing was family litigation. I remember asking the lawyer if I could sit in on the next couple of meetings with him, and he enthusiastically said, “yes.” So, we walked into the conference room, and there, across the table, sat a lady. No smile on her face, no desire to shake our hands. She simply looked distraught. As we sat down, I learned that she was in the midst of divorce proceedings from her husband, and the lawyer I was working with did his job by asking about the things she wanted, how aggressively she wanted to pursue certain things, what assets she was okay with compromising on when push came to shove, etc. Then we came to the end of the meeting after about an hour of this lady answering difficult questions as honestly as possible, and my lawyer concluded by asking her, “is there anything else that we can do for you?” And this is the reason why I’ve never forgotten this particular meeting out of the hundreds that I’ve conducted over the years. Her response was this: “Is there any way you can convince my husband to come back to me? Is there anything we can do so that he might love me again?” The thing that really struck me wasn’t actually the question but the tears that came to her eyes, because you could see in her face that what she really wanted was to have nothing to do with this divorce. She loved her husband, but her husband had decided that she wasn’t worth the effort. The date of this meeting was July 31, 2014. Seventeen days later, I stood at the front my church’s sanctuary and told Candace that I will love her until the day I die, and not many people know this, but a strong motivation in my making that promise on that day came from that meeting. I would have made this promise no matter what, but because of what I had witnessed, I resolved never to let Candace be that woman, sitting across the table from a complete stranger, begging him or her to ask me to reconsider my love for her. That woman’s circumstance broke my heart, and it ought to break all of our hearts because there is something fundamentally wrong when a husband does not love his wife, and when a wife does not know that her husband loves her. There’s something in us, the way we are hardwired, that understands that without love, life only offers despair—it doesn’t matter what you have, it doesn’t matter how good you are to other people, unless you love, and unless you are loved, you are nothing. We are made for community. We are made for love. How much more tasteless is life, then, when the person who’s supposed to mean the most to you has no thought for what you mean to them? I imagine it’s a terrible and difficult way to exist, and I wish everyone might be spared from that kind of pain.
I believe Paul wanted the same thing. So, we come now to Ephesians 5:25-33. I’m telling you, now, why I’ve given you this analogy to start. It’s because our passage says over and over—husbands, love your wives. Such a simple command, and yet so poorly received and practiced in the world. Would you read this passage with me? TWoL.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave himself up for her, so that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So, husbands also ought to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are parts of his body. For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. Nevertheless, as for you individually, each husband is to love his own wife the same as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.
There’s a lot to work through in our passage, so let me provide you with our proposition this morning: Display Your Christ with a Unifying, All-Encompassing Love. A husband’s love is supposed to be indicative of the church’s love for one another starting with your pastors and working its way down from leaders into the congregation, and, at its root, it reflects Christ’s love for his own bride. This is what our outline is zeroed in on this morning:
- The Comparison to Christ’s Love
- The Ground in Christ’s Love
- The Unified Totality of Christ’s Love
A husband’s love doesn’t make sense without Christ, and we know this already, but I want to show you in this passage how that’s the case, so let’s look at our first point:
1) The Comparison to Christ’s Love
Our context starts in that fourth result clause for those who have a Spirit-filled understanding of God’s wisdom: we, as Christians, sing, affect one another towards changed hearts, give greater thanks, and, as an ultimate act of our trust in the gospel, we submit to those who are called to cherish us. Then, to nuance the command to submit, Paul narrows in on the greatest and most intimate relationship where submission and leadership ought to exist as a reflection of God’s intent in creation and which has been made more vibrant and brilliant because of the gospel. This is why he begins with wives. Wives might be under the authority of her husband, but he mentions them first so that they know it’s not about importance or even the order itself. It’s about God and his gospel in Jesus Christ. Wives, submit to your husbands because you love Jesus, and because Jesus lovingly leads his own bride.
Today, we turn to the other side of the coin. Verses 25-27 say this, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave himself up for her, so that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.”
What’s taking place in this passage isn’t at all confusing, but it’s deep, and it’s beautiful. It starts with the imperative: Husbands, love your wives. Notice with me that there is no reflexive nature to this verb—there’s no volitional aspect to the command. It’s not something you get to decide to do or not do. It’s not something that you can waver on. It is something being commanded to husbands by Paul through the inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit. It can be, and it must be demanded of you. Men, husbands, you are to love. Notice that the characteristic that Paul gives as a defining feature is not that you must be rich or that you must be incredibly strong or anything else—it’s that you must love.
If there’s anything I’m going to drill into your minds today, both men and women, it’s that men, you are to love, and women, you are also to love, but more than this, you are to expect love from men whether you’re a wife, a sister, and/or a member of this church under your pastors, leaders, small group leaders, etc. Paul wants to make sure that we don’t mistake his call for submission to some as a call for neglect or abuse for others. There are two sides to this thing we call marriage, just like there are two sides to a church and society—there are leaders and followers, and both are integral for right functioning. It’s when we honour and venerate leaders in such a way that devalues those who follow and submit that things go wrong. Not everyone is to lead, but everyone is important in the role that they play.
Husbands, men, what Paul wants you to know here is that loving your wife is not something you are to be commended or rewarded for. It’s the baseline requirement of what you’re supposed to do, and it’s my job, responsibility, and joy to remind you to do it with every sense of urgency, fervor, passion, and aspiration because you weren’t only called or made for it, you were called and made for her. Don’t forget—we’re not dealing with inhuman terminology—you’re not called to love a thing that is unaffected by your love—you’re called to love this person whom God has made brilliantly and perfectly for you, so don’t waste the opportunity. Don’t take advantage of her. Don’t let one day go by without her knowing your desire for her. This is both your greatest and noblest task: to love your wife.
But what, I ask you, does it mean to love? Well, starts, in these verses, with a comparison. Love like Christ loved the church. And the first act of love that he carries out is to deliver himself, to give himself up for her. So, the first way you are to love is to be sacrificial.
Let’s pause here for a second and consider how it is Christ sacrificed himself. Paul doesn’t give a specific reference to the cross here, and that’s because I believe he’s considering more than just the cross, even though the cross would be sufficient. Why do I think this? Because of the return of the reflexive here—he gave himself up. It’s not only referring to the fact that jailers took him, bound him in chains, brought him before Pontius Pilate, marched him up to Calvary, nailing him to a tree. It’s referring to the whole act that Christ undertook by his own volition. This Christ who died and was raised, is the same Christ who simultaneously upholds the cosmos by the power of his hand (Col 1), he is the same Christ who created the heavens and the earth as the Word of God (Gen 1 and John 1), he is the same Christ who is the exact imprint of God’s nature (Heb 1), and he is the same Christ “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2: 6-8). Christ’s willing self-sacrifice is the cornerstone of our gospel, and such a sacrifice is reflective of more than just his death—his whole incarnational purpose was sacrifice. Divine God, himself, condescended and humbled for the sake of those whom he desired to save. Paul is saying here that, as Christ was compelled to sacrifice himself completely for the Church, so too, should a husband sacrifice himself completely for his wife.
Your sacrifice for her isn’t a momentary, decisive act at the end of your life—it’s an all-the-time-no-time-off kind-of-thing throughout your life. Here’s where the rubber meets the road. It might be a command upon husbands to love their wives—they have no option in it, but, men, decide to love her every day because Christ decided to love and pursue his Church every day, even though he already possessed glory, and even though it was those whom he came to save who would nail him to that tree. It doesn’t matter if your wife doesn’t submit to you. It doesn’t matter if she is unfair or unloving to you, choose to love her as Christ loved the church by, first, giving himself up for her, even in her rebellion.
Then, Paul tells us that that purpose of him giving himself up for her is so that he might sanctify her, and the means by which you are to sanctify her is through the washing of water. Now, water here is metaphorical—you’re not called to give your wife a bath. Water is symbolic throughout the Bible to refer to a sinner’s need to be made new by the power of the Holy Spirit (see Ezekiel 36 and John 4). How is it that the Holy Spirit works now in the world to make things new? He works specifically and most clearly through the Word of God. You see, Christ gave himself up for the purpose of being able to send his Spirit to give us the Word of God. It is through the spiritual washing of the Word that God, himself, draws near to us, cleanses us, and purifies us. Gone are the Old Testament rituals—we don’t need those anymore. We have the blood of Christ. When we read his Word, when we study them, when we apply them to our daily lives, the Spirit washes us anew with the truth of his sacrifice and affects our hearts towards him. This is why Christ died: to make us new. So too, husbands, sacrifice your time and your effort to wash your wife in the Word and to make her new.
And the purpose of Christ’s sanctifying his bride is so that he might be pleased in her. He washes her so that she is lovely to him in aroma, in cleanliness—as one who is without spot or wrinkle or anything that might tarnish her beauty. This is what the beginning of verse 27 means. His desire is for her, and nothing but her. He wants to help get rid of those things that are hindering her from his embrace. He wants to put to death those anxieties and those fears that distract her from knowing that he loves her as she’s been given to him. He wants her vulnerability. He wants to help her see what he sees in her. So, he lays his life down, and he washes her with the Word, so that she might be who she’s supposed to be with him. And I’m not trying to speak in metaphor, so let me say it plainly, Christ is pleased in his bride, because his sacrifice and sanctifying work, propel her to display God and his character.
And as she is presented to him in her glory—as he woos her and washes her and helps her see her value to him, she becomes that very thing she was always meant to be. He sacrifices for the purpose of sanctifying, which is for the purpose of his being pleased in her, which is for the purpose of her being pleased in him. This is what it means for her to be holy and blameless. There is nothing in the world that compares to her beauty, for she is set apart from it as her groom, Christ, points her to himself as the God who loves her. There is no stain of sin that makes her unlovable or unwanted, for he has died to remove it as God, himself, and he brings her into his embrace. He does not do all these things merely for his own benefit, but also for her ultimate pleasure—to draw her near to that thing that is most glorious and satisfying. This is covenant love. It is sacrificial. It is sanctifying. It is finding pleasure in the beauty and glory of the one you are covenanted to. And it is knowing that, in all of your striving, she finds her pleasure in you as well. Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church.
2) The Ground in Christ’s Love
It’s not only that husbands are to love their wives abstractly or theoretically, as Christ loved his church. No, it’s grounded in the fact that our very existence portrays the depth to which Christ loves his church. Husbands are to love their wives because they love their own body, similar to how Christ loves his body, the Church. This is what verses 28-32 express. It grounds the command to love in the simple fact that we do this every day with ourselves. The fact that you are still living and breathing is proof that you know how to love.
Verses 29-30 acts as the ground to the truths in verses 28 and 31-32, like a sandwich. Verse 29 says, because everyone naturally takes care of themselves, therefore, verse 28, you are to love wives like your own body. The one who loves his own wife loves himself. Don’t get lost in the language. Paul isn’t trying to tell you to love yourself before you take care of your wife. No, focus is on the wife, and the intimacy with which you are to treasure her. He’s saying that your love for your wife ought to be as natural as it is to breathe, eat, sleep, and all the other things you do that enables your body to persist and flourish. It’s saying that just as well as you know what your body needs and wants—as much as you know how to do what is best for yourself, this is how well you’re to know and cherish your wife.
Christian author, Ajith Fernando, says it best when he says, “make it your ambition to make your wife happy.” Just like you do everything you can to keep yourself alive, you are to do everything you can to show your wife that you love her. This for husbands, and this for men, is the epitome of holiness. “Holiness as a husband means spending yourself for [your wife].”
But your ambition for her isn’t to make her happy in the eyes of the world. No, verses 29-30 are clear about what it means to be ambitious for her happiness—to make her happy means to nourish and cherish her as Christ nourishes and cherishes his own body, the Church. See there are two specific ways that we show our love for ourselves. We provide ourselves with sustenance, and we show ourselves affection in doing the things we love to do. We don’t only do what is needed, but we also do what we want, and both combine to bring about contentment, joy, happiness, a state of blessedness, what the Bible calls flourishing. This then is the ground for how husbands are to love their wives—provide for her in sustenance and show her the depth of your affection because she is your own person—she is your body, just like the Church is Christ’s body. And just like Christ did for the Church, you are to give yourself up for her, you are to wash her in the Word, you are to show her that you are pleased with her, and you are to make her see that you are someone she can place her affection in.
Now, I’m not saying you’re to make your wife like the things you like. No, throughout this book, and throughout the Bible as a whole, there’s this theme of making things new—a new covenant, a new humanity, a new family, and a new body. I’ve already touched on it, but it’s brought out with even greater emphasis here. Look at verses 31 and 32. Paul quotes from Genesis 2:24, and he takes the context of that passage and the newness in creation and appropriates it—reapplies it to the context of the new covenant.
Do you see this? There’s this act of God making things new at the beginning of time, and he tells his new creatures that they are given to each other, and that they are to hold fast to one another as an inseparable unit. And Paul understands that this same thing is happening in his own day but in a fuller, more complete way. It is not just a new creation that’s being inaugurated, it’s a new creation in the new Adam—in the perfect Christ that makes the picture of marriage that much more wonderful and worthwhile. Marriage in the Old Testament was incomplete, and Paul tells us it fulfilled in Christ and the church. The command for husband and wife in Genesis 2 is brought into a new, distinctive, and glorious light through Christ’s union to his own bride—a bride that God had been preparing for him since before the foundation of the world. Something began in history and is now fulfilled in the mystery of the cross, and the mystery is this: the bride belongs to Jesus, Jesus loves his bride, and he brings her to himself. She is made, as verses 29-30 say, to be his own body so that, from the day of their union, Christ shall not be without her, and she shall not be without her groom, and they shall know each other with an intense and deep intimacy. The waiting is over. The union has been perfected. The Messiah has come, and he hasn’t only come to redeem us, but to love us and call us his own as one, new body.
See, it’s not about making your wife do the things that you want to do, and it’s also not about doing the things that only your wife wants to do—it’s about finding a new identity together, just as Christ and his Church have found a new identity in one another. Christ wasn’t united to the Church before his death and resurrection. She was something added to his humanity, and he took her, nourished her, cherished her, and glorifies her. So too, husbands, you glorify your wives by pointing her to Jesus in the way you love her, in the way you cling to her, and in the way that you treat her as your own, new flesh.
3) The Unified Totality of Christ’s Love
So, when we come to the end of our passage in verse 33, what is it that we see? From verses 22-32, Paul has drawn out the fullness and beauty of what it means for two people, a man and a woman, to be covenanted together. What does that relationship look like? It looks like a wife who willingly submits to her husband and a husband who lovingly leads, nourishes, cherishes, and guides his wife as he does his own body. And what do both of these things point to? I’ve said it over and over—it points us to the gospel.
Christ was the perfectly submissive Son in his obedience and death upon a cross. Christ was also the perfectly loving husband in his sacrifice to redeem his rebellious bride and draw her to himself. Husband and wife act together as a unified whole, in complementing roles, so that they might make much of Jesus. It is in true, Christian marriage that the reflection of newness is properly manifested, just as it is in true, Christian gathering, just as it is in Christ with his bride. The Fall into sin brought about alienation not only from God and nature but also from one another and from ourselves. In sin, we used people to obtain our own ends. In sin, we deceive ourselves to think that we are better than we are, and that we deserve certain things in life. Marriage often shows us that our sin is far worse than we often think it to be. It is in marriage that we see how often we use the people we say we love for our gain or judge our spouse as someone who is worse than me.
But, as Christians, when we behold Christ and remember not only our sinfulness, we are humbled, we see the necessity of laying down our own perceived rights for the other, we inherit a hope of redemption to God and nature, and we display the love of Christ come to satisfy us even when we don’t get what we want. It is in the context of Christian, covenantal marriage that we learn the purpose and beauty of this new ethic and doing things in proper order—it reclaims, renews, redeems, and regenerates creation not only as it was meant to be, but as something better than anything that was known before—as something that is grounded in an actual Saviour who lived as we could not live and who died the death we ought to have died. In Jesus, we have an ethic grounded not only in creative power, or in promises of future faithfulness, but we have received, in the present, redeeming love itself, and it is worth talking about, thinking about, singing about, and living out in radical ways. This starts in the relationship between husband and wife.
I’ve spoken a lot about husbands in this sermon, and rightly so, because that’s what this passage is about, but I hope you also see how it applies to you if you aren’t a husband. The kingdom of God is filled with people who are gathered together in a place to worship the one who has loved us in a way that subverts everything that the world teaches us. Does this not sound like something we ought to have in our own life? Are we not to have this same disposition of love as one body under one Christ together as the one family of God?
I started by giving a very sad analogy of a woman sitting across the table from her lawyer begging him to speak sense to her husband—asking that he might love her again. I also said in that illustration that, regardless of all that a person accumulates in life, if they have not love, they have nothing. Brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, singles and non-singles, we are not a people with nothing, for in Christ, we have received everything. So, don’t treat each other like you have nothing to give. Husbands, loving your wife means making it your ambition that she is happy—happy in your sacrifice, happy in your sanctifying work, happy in your pleasure for her, happy in her own pleasure for you, and happy in the Saviour who has done all these things for you. Display your Christ with a unifying, all-encompassing love, because he has unified you in himself, and he has purchased you out of love to himself. May our God through Christ be glorified in us as we seek to display him in all our relationships from now and forevermore.