Today, in a special way, we remember the blessing of a believing wife and mother. What better way to celebrate this than by turning to the Scriptures. Turning to the great and classic passage in the Bible concerning what a wife is, please read Ephesians 5:21-33.
The inspired apostle Paul in this passage is teaching us that we can truly understand the relationship of a husband and wife only as we understand the great doctrine of Christ and the church. The argument is, clearly, this: It is only as we realize and grasp in a true faith the truth about the relationship of Christ to the church that we can truly live well-pleasing to God as a Christian husband and wife. You cannot love your wife, you cannot live with your husband, unless you truly understand this doctrine of Christ and the church. Paul gives the most profound teaching found anywhere in holy Scripture on the truth of Christ and the church. Why? For our comfort as belonging to Christ? Yes. But he gives the instruction so that husbands might know how to love their wives, and wives their husbands.
Many sneer at doctrine. Doctrine, they say, is impractical and cold. The needs of our age, with all of its pressures, require practical teaching on how to live. God says to you and to me, tempted to be carried away with the maddening rush of our day: “You cannot live without doctrine right in your own home.” He says, “My people, you must follow, you must apply your mind, you must think, you must study, you must grapple with this blessed truth: Christ and the church. Then you will know how to live in marriage.”
The apostle in verses 22-27 addressed himself to the calling of the wife and husband. He said, Wives, submit to your husbands; and husbands, love your wives. And he supported those exhortations by drawing from the teaching that Christ loves His church and the church submits to Christ. But then in verse 28 he speaks of the intimate union that God has made between a man and a woman in marriage. There is always the danger to view the calling of the wife and husband in a detached way. Paul, in verses 28-30, brings those two together. In these verses the apostle is unfolding for us the deepest chord and purpose of a Christian marriage in its intimacy.
Read verses 28-30. What is the apostle saying? The apostle there is establishing the compelling reason why a husband is to love his wife. “So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.” Paul has described what that love of a husband must be. He has spoken in the verses just before of the quality of that love: He must love as Christ loved the church. He had spoken of the truths of the self-sacrificing and exclusive and forgiving love that a husband is to have to his wife. But now that love, says the apostle, must have a goal. A husband must love his wife with the purpose of his wife’s spiritual and emotional growth before God – even as the love of Christ seeks the perfection of His bride, the church. Christ’s love has a goal, that He might present the church pure and spotless before God. So also a husband’s love must have a goal, namely, that through his life with his wife he aids her in her spiritual and emotional growth before God. Why? Why does God require such a love? The answer is this: The ground of a husband’s love, why a husband must so love his wife, is the intimate union between the husband and the wife whereby they have become one body – a union which is the shadow of the intimate union between Christ and His church. Just as surely as our union to Christ is so intimate that we are regarded as His flesh and as His bones, so the union existing between husband and wife, God says, is so intimate that the wife is the extension of the very life and flesh of her husband. Therefore, love your wife because she is your own body.
To develop that thought and to make it clear, let us look at this passage.
The first assertion of our text is that Christ and His church are joined in a vital spiritual union. “For we (the church) are members of his (Christ’s) body, of his flesh, and of his bones” (v. 30). This is a fact which, the Holy Spirit asserts, is truly the case with everyone who is in faith-union with Christ. We are members of His body. That is not true of everyone who outwardly names the name of Christ, who goes through the motions of religion, but only of those who, in the language of the first chapter of this epistle of Ephesians, are elected by God to be in Christ and are blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places. We are actually made members of the body of Christ. Christ nurtures and cherishes the church. Why? The apostle says, Because we are members of His body. So vital is this union of Christ to us His church that Christ is actually incomplete without His body.
In chapter one of this epistle, verses 22 and 23, the apostle says that the church is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all. We are His fullness. So vital is that union of Christ and His church that when anyone touches a member of His church, Christ regards it as touching Him. Do you remember what He said to Saul of Tarsus who was on his way to persecute the church, on the way to Damascus? “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?” Saul was persecuting the church. Christ was at the right hand of God the Father. But when Saul made havoc of the church, persecuting her members on earth, so vital was that union between Christ and the church that Christ said, “You touch Me. Why persecutest thou Me, Saul?” That is how vital and intimate that union is between Christ and the church. We are now members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. Not in a physical sense. The body of our Lord, born of the virgin Mary, is in heaven. But, nevertheless, there is a very real, spiritual union, a vital and unbreakable and irrevocable union. That is a fact, says God in His Word. Christ and His church are united in an intimate, spiritual union.
So the husband must view his wife. That is, as a shadow of that union, God has given marriage in which husband and wife are joined intimately so that a wife becomes one body with her husband. As Christ is joined to His church, is concerned for His church, nourishes and cherishes His church because that church is His body, so a husband is to love his wife because she has been made part of him. That is the teaching of the Word.
That union of a husband and wife is culminated in the sexual union. God has given that sexual union to marriage because it is the expression that before God two have left father and mother and are cleaving one to another in a lifelong bond of union in the Lord and now are tied by God so that they are one in the Lord. Your wife is joined to you in all of her person. That is pictured in the sexual union. That means a lifelong concern and love for her as you would be concerned for your own body. God says, and a man and a woman when they marry in faith say, “From henceforth a man regards his wife as his very self. And what man ever yet hated his own flesh? But he nourishes it and cherishes it. You are to love, nurture, and cherish her.” Why? Because God says that when He gives you a wife and you take her to be your wife, you have entered into an intimate bond that is to reflect Christ and His church. You are saying, She is now part of me; and I shall be as careful for her and her well-being as I am for my own body, for she is my own body.
That is the heart of the teaching here. You are to love your wife as yourself. No, you are to love her as being yourself. You are to love her as you love your own body. That is why the apostle states: “He that loveth his wife loveth himself.”
Do you see the cruelty and the vileness of fornication? Do you see this present age sold to uncleanness, pornography, extra-marital and pre-marital sex? Do you see what it is?
They say it is perfectly all right if you can handle it. Do you see how false, how cruel, and how vile that is? Sexual immorality is taking what God has made to be the expression of the total union of two in marriage, taking what God has made to reflect the holy union of Christ to His church, and prostituting it, dragging it through the filth of self-love, self-pleasure, and the pride of the devil. God has set the sexual union within the sanctuary of marriage, because He has made it to be the expression of total love, nourishing, cherishing for all our life, even as Christ the church.
Young girl, do you go with a young man who pouts and whimpers and whines when he cannot have his own way? Do you go with a young man who tells you that he loves you so much, and that if you loved him you would give yourself to him before marriage? Listen. Do not take any man who will not, in Christ’s name, honor the sexual union as being given of God to marriage. Do not take any man who will not, in Christ’s name, in marriage, nurture and cherish you in the Lord and view even the sexual union as the intimate bond and expression of Christ and the church and who, in that sexual union, is saying to you, “I am bound to you for life.”
Do you understand what you said, husband, when you asked her to marry you? You said, and you consummated that in the marriage/sexual union, “I am prepared, in God’s strength, to be as concerned for every part of you and your well-being as I am for my own everything – spiritual, emotional, physical. As I would want for me, a child of God, so I want for you.” Young man, young woman, do not marry until you are prepared to do so. Selfish, self-centered husbands make miserable husbands, even when they name the name of Jesus Christ. Being a husband is the most self-emptying responsibility on the face of the earth. If your marriage is to reflect Christ and the church, then you must be joined in one faith and in an understanding of these things.
Christ took us into union with Himself. That cost Him dearly. Wrung from His holy heart were the words: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Husband, that means God is saying to you that you may never think in isolation from your wife. “So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies.” Your wife is not your partner. She is your better half. We are to say, “My wife has become the extension of me, one with me.” And the Word of God is “ought” – so ought men to love their wives as their own body. That word “ought” means that there is a spiritual, sacred obligation before God binding upon the heart of a believing man, an obligation which was never suspended and never revoked. You are to love her so long as God gives you and her life, as your own body.
That is what God says. It is a solemn obligation. And that obligation is irrespective of the state, the condition, and the attitude of your wife. Did you hear those words? I did not say that. The Holy Spirit says that in the Word of God. Irrespective, regardless – every husband is under the divine obligation to love his wife as his own body. When you and I suspend obedience to this command and live in bitterness, neglecting them, abusing them, separating from them, then you and I are rearing back and defying God.
He did not say, “Love her as your own body if she is worthy, if she responds lovingly, if….” No, no ifs. When you marry her, you are obligated solemnly, irrevocably to love her as your own body.
Do your children say of you, husband, “We know how Christ nourishes and cherishes the church as His body. We know all about that. We know about that because of the way our father lives with our mother, his wife”? So serious is this question because where else are they going to learn it if they do not learn it in the very home and from your very conduct? So ought men to love their wives, because they are intimately united to their wife by God, even as Christ to the church.
The implications, therefore, husband, are drawn out in two little words: nurture and cherish. When we get hold of those words, then we can draw out the implications for ourselves the rest of our days. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh, says the apostle, but nourishes and cherishes it even as the Lord the church. We are to love them because God has joined us to them as one body. Well, how does that love express itself? It expresses itself in two words, even as these two words are found at the heart of the union of Christ and the church. Those two words are nurture and cherish.
They are both very expressive in the original language. To nurture means to provide all that is necessary for the growth and sustenance and well-being and good of your wife. It is the same word that is used in Ephesians 6:4 where we read, “Fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” The Word of God is saying, “Provide for your children everything necessary for their instruction, for their example, for their well-being. Nurture them.” That is what a man is to do for his wife. And you are to cherish her. That word means literally, “to warm, to wrap in blankets,” as a mother her newborn child when she takes her child and wraps it and snuggles it close to her and cherishes her little baby. The only other time this word is used in the Bible is in I Thessalonians 2:7, where the apostle says that while he was with the Thessalonian believers he cherished them as a nurse cherishes her child.
Now, husbands, those words of tenderness, love, and protection are to be manifested in you. You are to nurture and cherish your wife. And the meaning is underscored in the passage. First of all, the apostle uses the example of what a man will naturally do for his own body. No man ever yet hated his own body but nourishes it and cherishes it. What do men do with their own body? What do you do? If you are in your right mind, you do not go around abusing it, lancing it, rubbing it raw with sandpaper, eating putrefied meat. No. From morning till night you are careful for the well-being of your physical frame. You nourish and cherish it. You bathe, you clothe, you watch what you eat, you lie down for rest, you take care of it, you groom it, you nurture and cherish it. So ought you to nurture and cherish your wife. For your wife is now your own body.
But more. The apostle underscores this. “As the Lord the church.” What does it mean that the Lord nurtures and cherishes the church? You know that, do you not? Just think of what is involved in that blessed truth. The Lord watches over the church. The Lord protects it, the Lord provides. The Lord grieves with His church, He intercedes for the church. He supplies all the needed grace, wisdom, and power. He bears with our weakness. He rebukes us in love. Christ nurtures and cherishes us the church. For one of the most beautiful statements in the Bible of Christ’s perpetual, never-dying care in which He accomplishes His goal of perfecting the church and presenting her to God, read Ephesians 5! He never loses sight of that. All that He does at the right hand of God is summed up in these two words: nurture and cherish My church. Heaven and earth are run by the hand of Christ. For what purpose? That He might nurture and cherish His church. Husband, every activity that you perform is for this reason. It must be for this reason: to nurture and cherish your wife. That is why God gave her to you.
Next week we are going to return to the passage. Read it during the week for yourself. May God bless these words to our hearts.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for the holy Word of God. It is a profound and beautiful word. We confess that of ourselves we do not live up to these things. We are thankful for Thy forgiveness. And we pray that we might be renewed by Thy Spirit, that we might love our wives even as Christ the church. Amen