When it comes to the quality of their marriages, many husbands have become experts at comparing themselves to others. Christian husbands especially may be tempted to look at the way the world operates and think, “I am affectionate and faithful, a leader and a provider, as the Scriptures say I should be. I’m glad I’m getting it right!”
It is good if we have affirmed the Bible’s authority over our marriages. But the Bible doesn’t set us in comparison with an unspiritual culture. It compares us to Christ Himself: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). Until we have loved in the way and to the degree that Christ loved the church in His incarnation and passion, we have no right to boast.
Loving with Christ’s love certainly will mean feeling affection, remaining faithful, leading, and providing. But it is much more than that. It is self-giving. As we consider five aspects of Christ’s love for His church, we can both consider how our love for our wives should grow and seek God’s help in that growth.
Christ’s Love Is Realistic
When Christ loved the church, He was under no illusions. His love for us was neither prompted nor diminished by anything in us. He loved us knowing exactly what we were and are.
Certainly, we don’t begin our marriages that way. Most of us love our spouses because of something attractive we see in them—and that’s not a bad thing! Yet if we would love them with Christ’s love, then we won’t stop loving when certain attractions fade or change. We won’t stop even if our love is not reciprocated. We are to keep loving our wives with sober realism. We are to love our wives for who they are, and sometimes even despite who they are, remembering that Christ loves us despite all our past and present faults.
Christ’s Love Is Sacrificial
When Christ loved the church, He “gave himself up for her.” As J. B. Phillips paraphrases Philippians 2:7, He “stripped himself of all privilege by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born as mortal man.” Jesus Himself testified, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve” (Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:45).
What will it take to love like this? It will mean that nothing worldly will have priority over the husband’s responsibility to fulfill the needs of his wife.
A husband should not ask about his marriage, “What can I get out of this?” Christlike love gives first, irrespective of the cost. It sets aside selfish desires and seeks to serve the beloved. That does not mean simply buying our wife a new dress or taking her out for dinner now and again, as if those were big favors. It means setting aside our own prerogative in order to take the time, money, opportunity, emotional energy—whatever it may be—and use it for her good rather than our own.
What will it take to love like this? It will mean that nothing worldly will have priority over the husband’s responsibility to fulfill the needs of his wife—not a career, not a hobby, not personal dreams or ambitions. These things a husband is to lay aside if they keep him from the love he is to show to his covenant partner as Christ loved the church.
Christ’s Love Is Purposeful
Christ loved the church with a distinct purpose in mind: “so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:27). Likewise, our commitment to our wives is not to be haphazard, spasmodic, or chaotic but instead aimed at their good in the Lord, with thought, prayer, work, and patience.
Do you think about your wife and her needs? Do you pray that God will make her what He intends her to be, fit to stand before Him, clothed in Christ’s righteousness? Do you seek her spiritual maturity with such care that you will sacrifice your own desires to allow her to pursue it? Do you encourage her with gentleness and respect, trusting God to move her heart where it needs to be? If she is an unbeliever, have you sought to share your love for Christ with her?
Christlike love is always aimed at reconciling people to God and building them up in Christ so that they may know the fullness of joy in glorifying God. We may love our wives in this way by having a genuine concern for their spiritual welfare.
Christ’s Love Is Volitional
Fourthly, Christ loved the church by choice. He didn’t love us in a surge of emotion or attraction. He didn’t “fall in love.” He stepped into it. He loved us because God, by nature, chooses love.
Modern song lyrics, TV shows, movies, and even many books teach us that love is emotional or sexual—and many have bought into that approach. Consequently, the divorce rate is incredibly high, because people think love is lost when they’ve lost the feeling.
Simply put, that is the wrong foundation. Our love for our wives when we wake up on a Monday morning doesn’t spring from a surge of emotion. It doesn’t overspill from an abundance of desire. It is the result of will—a choice, oftentimes actually in spite of conflicting desires. Yes, we ought to nurture our affections, emotions, and desires for our wives; but no one gets to get up in the morning and declare, “Well, I’m not married. I don’t feel it!” What’s most essential is not that we feel love; it is that we choose love, with everything in us—realistically, sacrificially, purposefully.
Christ’s Love Is Absolute
Finally, Christ’s love for the church was without limit, without condition, without reserve. He loved the church even at the cost of His own life.
Paul says that husbands are to love their wives “as their own bodies” (Eph. 5:28). If the husband is the wife’s head, he and his wife actually are one body (v. 31). He can’t refuse to love his wife without failing to love himself, because she is one with him by covenant. “He who loves his wife loves himself” (v. 28).
To whatever degree we would go to nourish and cherish our own bodies, we ought to go so far for our wives. In fact, we ought to go further, since Christ loves us not only as Himself but even at the cost of Himself. There is no righteous length to which a husband should not go to love his wife realistically, sacrificially, purposefully, and volitionally.
“Love One Another”
In God’s design for marriage, love is reciprocal, but not transactional. Christlike love doesn’t come to those who deserve it or can give it back. Wives are to submit, even though many husbands don’t deserve a submissive wife. Husbands are to love like Jesus, even though many wives don’t act in a manner that is worthy of such love. Christlike love loves anyway—and it loves realistically, sacrificially, purposefully, volitionally, and absolutely. And if, in God’s will, a couple grows in Christlike love together, they will enrich one another in that love.
Yet we must understand that such love is not possible apart from the Spirit’s power. By nature, we do not express Christlike love. No husband can strap his boots on in the morning, lift his chin up, and go out loving this way by the strength of personal resolve. Every husband needs a power from outside of him to make it possible. And because God has commanded it, we can trust that God will give the power to practice it. To begin, we need only ask in faith as we joyfully obey.
This article was adapted from the sermons “The Biblical Pattern for Husbands — Part One” by Alistair Begg.