God does not make demands without supplying grace.
In our last article, we studied Paul’s exhortation in Ephesians 5 that husbands must “love their wives just as Christ also loved the church and gave himself up for her.” This is a serious, heavy responsibility, focused on the wife’s spiritual growth (v. 27).
But in the midst of this command, we read that it is Christ’s mission to “present to himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing.” As a husband who falls far short of this mandate to love, I need this encouragement. Though I may fail to give myself up for my wife’s sanctification, I can be sure that Jesus gave himself up for mine!
As Christ Loves the Church
We have, however, only explored half of Paul’s instruction for husbands. First, Paul tells husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church (v. 25). Then, he says husbands must also love their wives as Christ loves the church.
The key section of the passage is Ephesians 5:28–30:
So husbands ought also 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 members of his body.
To apply this passage, we must consider two distinct but related questions: How do humans love their own bodies? And, How does Christ love the church?
As Your Own Body
Fortunately, we need not consider all possible ways a man cares for his body, for Paul speaks of nourishing and cherishing in verse 29.
Paul uses the word for “nourishes” later in the context of raising children to maturity (Ephesians 6:4). And the word for “cherishes” is translated as “tenderly cares” in 1 Thessalonians 2:7, where Paul describes his gentleness among the people.
So, how does a man care for his body? He nourishes his body by feeding and providing for it, through exercise, sleep, and nutrition. He strengthens and equips it. He cherishes his body by cleaning it, protecting it, and giving attention to any wounds or weaknesses.
Not all of these descriptions translate to the marriage relationship, but some do.
Just As Christ Does the Church
Christians often hear what Jesus has done for his people in history—and rightly so! His birth, life, obedience, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension are glorious and essential.
But we don’t often recall the ways that Jesus cares for his church today. This is what Paul points to in Ephesians 5:29 when he uses the present tense, and we are to use this example, in part, to learn obedience as husbands.
Paul has not left us in the dark about Christ’s present care for the church. Consider what he has already written in Ephesians:
1. In Christ, we have been sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is a pledge of our inheritance (1:13–14). Jesus gives us his promise and points to the glorious future we will share with him.
2. God has put all things in subjection under Jesus’ feet, who has been given as head over all things to the church (1:20–23). Jesus is the supreme ruler, governing all things for the good of his body.
3. We have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Jesus has broken down the wall that divided Israelites from Gentiles. These are written in the past tense, but here is the present truth: Jesus is our peace. The reality of the ascended Jesus means we currently have peace with God; we are not excluded (2:11–16).
4. Because of Jesus, we have present-day access to God (2:18).
5. We are God’s household, growing into a holy temple in the Lord, a dwelling of God in the Spirit (2:19–22).
[Tweet “Isn’t Jesus’ love for us lavish? Tender? Generous? So should a husband’s love be for his wife. “]
6. Paul prays that Christ would dwell in the Ephesians’ hearts by faith, so that they “may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that [they] may be filled up to all the fullness of God” (3:18–19). Christ’s presence gives a supernatural knowledge of his immense love, which fills us up to the fullness of God.
7. Christ has given gifts to the church (apostles, prophets, etc.) to equip the saints for the work of service. Since these gifts include pastors and teachers, this is a present-day work of Jesus, helping us grow in unity, knowledge, maturity, and love (4:11–16).
There are other ways that Jesus loves his church — in particular, he prays and advocates for us (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25; 1 John 2:1). Isn’t his love for us lavish? Overflowing? Tender and generous?
So should a husband’s love be for his wife.
What Tender Love Looks Like
From these descriptions, we can make some practical conclusions about the ways a husband should love his wife.
Each husband must nourish and cherish his wife; this has physical, emotional, and spiritual dimensions. Because each marriage is unique, instead of giving universal suggestions I have provided a list of questions for husbands to consider.
- Are you tending to your wife’s health? Do you pray for her physical, emotional, and spiritual vitality? As much as it depends on you, are you working to provide for her in these areas? Do you talk with her about them?
- In areas of weakness for your wife, are you tender? Does she have confidence that you are for her, protecting and covering and nurturing her, eager for her growth and flourishing?
- Do you know the best ways to pray for her? Do you pray regularly and fervently for her?
- Do you value her? Does she know how much you value her? Do you celebrate the woman she is and the woman she is becoming?
- Do you give her gifts that let her know you love her? Do you make arrangements to share special times and make memories together?
Good News for Husbands
I love the way Paul injects hope into his commands. There is difficult work here for husbands, but there is so much good news too.
Remember—Jesus nourishes and cherishes the church. He does this not simply out of obligation or command, but because we are members of his body. In the same way that a man and woman become one flesh in marriage, so it is with Christ and the church.
Out of the overflow of infinite love, God the Father sent his Son to rescue his people. Because of the work of the Son in history, we are now joined to him—in love—forever.
Husbands, love your wives. Nourish and cherish her as your own body. Do so knowing that, as part of the church, Christ loves you with a tender, unbreakable, unending love. And in that love and strength, you will be able to love your wife.