"Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 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. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body" (Ephesians 5:25-30).
While it is women who usually get offended by the Ephesians text, and it is women who usually have their feet held to the fire concerning this text, I think the text has more to say to men than to women. I think men don't get offended by this text because those who preach it don't do a good enough job calling men to account for their cowardly, sickening, sappy, bratty, half-hearted, half-baked, half attempt at love.
It really is disgusting to hear women take a beating over their role in this text, only to hear an add on at the end of the sermon, "Oh yeah, husbands are supposed to love their wives like Christ loved the church." Yeah, naturally. Then pastors and husbands will say things like, "Actually, the husband has the hard part in this text, because he has to love like Christ." Well, when is he going to get around to it? While it's true that men have the harder role, it's a little disingenuous because the husbands never seem to be held to the standard that the wives are. What good does it do to say that husbands have the hard part if they're never held accountable to do their part? Is it the hard part after all?
I'll admit up front that I think Christian husbands collectively need a good head bashing. I often hear women encouraging one another to submit to their husbands and to be respectful and to keep trusting God for the results. But I rarely hear men stirring each other other to love their wives, even when it hurts. And if there's a problem in the marriage, it usually comes down to: "Well, if you were just more submissive to your husband, things would go smoother and iron themselves out."
Doubtful. And the reason it's doubtful is because the wife is not the problem. The husband is. Let's look at this text and see what the problem in every marriage is. "Husbands, love your wives like Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her." AAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!! There, I said it. This text is plain scary. And impossible. Think about this. Women are told to submit like the church. Have you seen the church lately? I'd say the women I know are outdoing the church overall when it comes to their role of submission. The church is a flawed group of people. But husbands have a much higher standard - Christ himself. Love your wives like Christ loves. Who can stand?
Let's think about how Christ loves. First Christ loves thoroughly. There is no mixture. If he is for his beloved, then he is all out for her. His affections aren't split, and they don't diminish in any way over time. He never tires in loving his bride and never takes her for granted. Second, Christ loves sacrificially. There is a tremendous cost. He loves his bride when it is incredibly inconvenient. And I'm not talking about listening to your wife when she's talking over the game. I'm talking about taking the punishment for her sin. I'm talking about the bloody, unrecognizable, nauseating hunk of flesh that hung on the cross. I'm talking about the wrath of God being poured out on his head after men had done all they could to him. Third, Christ loves winsomely. He has a fickle, adulterous bride. He never turns his back on her. When she strays, and it is often, he wins her back. He doesn't leave her and never forsakes her. He isn't ashamed of her, though she's worthy of all shame. When she departs from him and then returns, he doesn't punish her or cast her off. He doesn't throw her sin up in her face. He forgives her. And he treats her like she's the most precious object in the universe, like none of it ever happened.
I could go on, but you get the point. Christ's love is so high above anything we've ever seen. And that is how a husband is to love his wife. Every marriage problem is the husband's problem. Period. This doesn't mean that the wife never sins. She may sin often. But it does mean that if there's an ongoing problem, it's his fault. He has to love harder. He has to forgive quicker. Forgive more. Forgive better. Love more thoroughly, more sacrificially, more winsomely.
"Husbands should love their wives as their own bodies." Who does this? How often do husbands expect more from their wives than they do from themselves? One example. I've heard husbands say things like, "I work hard all day, and when I get home I just want to relax a little." Let me translate that. "I've worked for eight hours, maybe hard, maybe just killing time, and when I get home I don't want a list of things to do around the house, and I don't want my television time interrupted." I know many women who work steadily all day long. When I say all day, I mean all day. Not all of an eight hour work day. I mean all day. And into the night when the duty calls for it. Husbands, do you want for your wife the same level of peace and comfort and relaxation you want for yourself? Do you do everything you can to make it happen?
If husbands are going to love like Christ, it's going to take a heavenly-mindedness that can free them from the desire to get everything they want now. For the joy set before him, Jesus endured the cross. Too many husbands are worried about their comfort in the here and now. When their wives ask something from them, they make excuses and bellyache like adolescents. When their wives are irritable, they push back, rather than absorbing it upon themselves with a smile. When their wives offend them, they find ways to punish, rather than forgive and move on. When their wives are less than respectful, they withhold love, rather than winsomely earning it back.
Husbands, let's not insult our wives by pretending we have the tougher job. Let's honor our wives by proving we have the tougher job. I fear the reason husbands have to remind their wives that they have the tougher role is because they rarely appear to in reality. Don't expect your wives to submit to you when you're a lazy, selfish, half-hearted, hard-hearted lover. Look at the heavenly-minded love of Christ. And then treat your wife the same way.