The Lord's Day Evening
September 3, 2006
God's New Family: An Exposition of Ephesians (LII)
Household Rules: Marriage and Family (7)
“Love Your Wife (4)”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Amen. Please be seated.
We’re continuing our study of Ephesians tonight, and we’ll be doing so throughout the rest of the autumn, God willing. Let me just refresh you as to where we are. This morning we outlined the whole passage. We commented that in addition to the apostle's command in Ephesians 5:25 for husbands to love their wives, he had given two analogies or illustrations to explain to husbands exactly what it was he was expecting us as Christian husbands to do towards our wives in the way of love.
The first analogy we studied this morning from verse 25-27. It is an analogy of Christ's love for the church, and we noted that it entails our appreciating Christ's delight in the church. If we don't understand how Christ delights in His church, how He delights in His people, how He nourishes and cherishes and cares for His people, how the glorification of His church is at the very center of His purposes, then we’ll fail to appreciate the fullness of this picture, this illustration, this analogy that Paul is giving to us as husbands as to how we are to love our wives.
Then we said, in those final words of Ephesians 5:25, we have this stunning call to husbands to love their wives in light of Christ's self-giving, to love our wives in light of Christ giving Himself for the church. In other words, the Apostle Paul is pointing us to the atonement. He's pointing us to the cross of Christ, and he's saying ‘Christian husbands, there's the picture of how Christ cares for His church. There's the picture of how you are to care for your own wives.’ And so we thought about the church, and we thought about the atonement this morning.
And then, when we looked at Ephesians 5:26, we saw the purpose of Christ's self-giving. His purpose in His people was to cleanse and sanctify. His purposes in His redeeming work were to forgive us of our sins, to cleanse us of our sins, and to grow us in grace and holiness and godliness and character, so that we would become more and more the very image of God, even as He first created us before the fall; so that we would look more and more like our heavenly Father; so that we would be more and more like the Lord Jesus Christ in our moral character and our behavior, in our integrity, in the attributes of our being and personality. And so the Lord Jesus Christ seeks to sanctify His church, and so also husbands are to nourish and cherish their wives so that they might grow in grace.
Then, in verse 27 we saw this morning that the ultimate goal that Christ has in view for His church is the day when He will present her to Himself perfect, faultless, without blemish. He's pointing to the marriage feast of the Lamb, when the bride and the Bridegroom will finally be united. And He has expended Himself. He has come for His church, lived for His church, died for His church, been resurrected for His church. He's ascended on high for His church. He's interceding for His church, even as we sang tonight, as her Great High Priest, so that one day she will be entirely perfected, not just forgiven; forgiven, to be sure–perfectly forgiven, to be sure; but not just forgiven, but perfected in holiness, so that there is not a blemish, a spot, or a wrinkle in her.
We said the earthly picture of that that grips our hearts and minds is the picture of a wedding ceremony, and that bride in her white gown coming to be united with her bridegroom. And Christ holds that before the eyes of husbands, and He says ‘Now, husbands, love her in light of what she will be. Love her in light of what I, Christ, her Savior, her Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend, am purposing to make her, and to do for her one day.’
And so we looked at the church, and at atonement, and at sanctification, and at glorification, this morning.
Well, tonight we turn to the second analogy–the second illustration or picture that the Apostle Paul gives. And let me say that if you look at the outline that I've provided for you, I've simply headed it as “Love Your Wife in the Same Way You Take Care of Yourself.”
Now at first glance this analogy could look like simply a base appeal to human self-interest, something like this: ‘Husbands, after all, you’re really only doing yourself a favor if you love your wife.’
You know…it could be some sort of a variation on that human dictum that we hear all the time: “A happy wife is a happy life.” You know that one? Or the way we do it in the negative: “When mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy!” OK? You could be tempted to read it this way. I mean, you could say, “Well, maybe these thick-headed husbands that the Apostle Paul is talking to in Ephesus and in Jackson don't get this exalted analogy and illustration of the Christological nature of marriage. They don't realize the profundity of the church and of sanctification and glorification, so the Apostle Paul's going to hit them from the other end: ‘Look, if you don't do it for that reason, at least do it for your own self-interest.’” But if we really look closely at what the Apostle Paul is doing here, it's far from that.
He does indeed start with a tremendous reality about the husband's relationship to the wife at the human level, at the level of marriage. But each step down, as the verses go on for the rest of this chapter to the very end, Paul is taking us down even more deeply into a second illustration that points to Christ. As the first illustration especially pointed to Christ's atoning and then His sanctifying and glorifying work, this second illustration will point to the profound mystery of the union of Christ with His body, which is pictured in the union of a husband and a wife in marriage; and especially of a Christian husband and a Christian wife in marriage.
So with that background, let's look to God's word in Ephesians 5, beginning in verse 28. And before we do, let's pray.
Lord, thank You for Your word. We ask again that You would help us to understand it; and as we grasp it, You would also plant in our hearts, especially the hearts of those of us who are husbands…sinful husbands, stumbling husbands, not the husbands we ought to be…that You would plant in our hearts a desire to love our wives this way; that You would grant to our wives the patience to wait to see our desires grow and our performance to be conformed to what You have called upon us in Your word. We ask, O Lord, that You would help us tonight again; by Your Spirit there would be a great resolution in the depths of our hearts to love our wives differently and better than before, realizing that there is something bigger going on in our marriages than just our own happiness. There's a grand story to be played out, and the fullness of our happiness awaits our realization of that grander story. Grant us to see this, for Christ's sake. Amen.
“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.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
Just like this morning, the Apostle Paul is reiterating the love command from God to Christian husbands, and the Apostle Paul is telling us that God expects Christian husbands to love their wives. But now the analogy, the illustration, has changed. Now Christian husbands are called to love their wives not in light of Christ's self-giving sacrifice on the cross for the sake of His church, but Christian husbands are called to love their wives by nourishing and cherishing them the way they would their own bodies, their own selves, because of the way Christ cares for His body, the church.
And in order to appreciate the fullness of what Paul is saying, let's break this into three parts tonight. And I want you to see first in verse 28 what Paul says that your wife is, Christian husband. Secondly, in verse 29…really, just the first half of verse 29…I want you to see what Paul says love looks like for your wife. And then, thirdly, in verse 30, I want you to see this mystery that Paul begins to unfold, a mystery that will continue to unfold, by the way, in verses 31-33, when we look at it next Lord's Day evening, God willing: this mystery that we are Christ's body.
I. Love your wife as your own body/self
Well, let's look at verse 28 together. Here the exhortation is: “Husbands, love your wives as your own bodies.” Listen to the whole verse again:
“So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself….”
Paul's exhortation there is ‘Husbands, love your wife as your own body, as your own self.’
I want you to appreciate how radical is what the Apostle Paul is saying. He is not saying ‘Husbands, love your wife as if she were your own body.’ He's not saying ‘Husbands, you know when you get hungry, you feed your body; and when you’re cold, you put more clothes on your body. And when you want to do something, you provide that for yourself. And just like you do that for yourself, do that for your wife.’ No, he's saying something far more radical than that.
He is saying ‘Husbands, loving your wife is loving your own body, because she is your own body.’ It's a very radical exhortation, and it's so important for us to appreciate this, because sometimes in the context of marriage there is a husband so wounded, so hurt, so disappointed that he wants to get back at his wife, and he wants to hurt her in some way. Perhaps it's with his words. She's wounded him, and so he wants to wound her with his words, and he knows exactly what he's doing. He's going to say something that will hurt, and that she’ll remember for hours or for days, or for weeks, because he's been hurt, and so he's going to deliver this wound. Or, perhaps he's going to ignore her. Or perhaps he's going to explode in anger with her. Perhaps he's going to attempt to wound her in some other way, to get back at her for the pain that he has endured. But the Apostle Paul is sitting there waiting for us and reminding this Christian husband of something very important here, and that is simply this: When you hurt her, you are hurting your own body, because she is you.
Now again, I want to say, just as I said this morning, I am not saying that that means that in marriage that the distinct personalities of husband and wife are evacuated, and you are somehow assimilated into one another so that there is no “I and thou” in relationship. That's not what the Apostle Paul is saying. But he is saying in a very real sense, based upon what Moses taught in Genesis 2, that your wife is your own body. He's going to quote Genesis 2 in just a couple of verses. You can look down and see it for yourself in verse 31. And his point there is what? That when marriage occurs, a man leaves his father and mother and he cleaves to his wife. And what happens? The two become “one flesh.” They become one body. And so when a husband is loving his wife, who is he loving? His own flesh. His own body.
The Apostle Paul is saying that somehow, in some mysterious way, a way that is beyond anything that I can fully describe, there is a continuation of that reality that began with Adam and Eve. Do you remember where Eve came from? Adam came from dirt. You know, when somebody is teaching you the theory of evolution and tells you that you came from a monkey, you can respond and say, “Well, actually the Bible tells me that I came from dirt. That's where I came from. God made me from the dirt.”
But not the woman. The woman came out of man, out of his side. She was literally a part of him, and the Apostle Paul is saying in some mysterious way that reality continues to obtain in the relationship between a husband and wife, so that when you’re getting back at her, dear brother in Christ, all you are doing is getting back at yourself. But conversely, when you serve her, when you love her, when you cherish her, when you nourish her, you are nourishing yourself because she is you. I don't know how more radically I can state it than that. When you serve her, you are serving your own body, because husbands have their wives and live with them in a one-flesh relationship. Love your wife, the Apostle Paul is saying, as your own body, as your own self.
He states it baldly, doesn't he, at the end of verse 28? “He who loves his own wife loves himself.” He's not saying that figuratively; he's not saying that psychologically; he's saying that literally in a way that I can't completely fathom. That's the first thing that the Apostle Paul wants us to appreciate: The relationship that God has established, this one-flesh relationship that He has established between husband and wife, is such that as you serve your wife you are serving your own body.
II. Love your wife as you care for your own body/self
Now, as I said, that's the horizontal marital level at which this analogy begins, but watch him now progress deeper and deeper into this truth. Let's look at the next verse, verse 29.
Here he specifies. OK, how is it that you’re going to go about loving your wife who is your own body? Well, you’re going to do it by nourishing and cherishing her. Look at what he says:
“No one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it….”
In other words, the Apostle Paul is saying here ‘Love your wife as you care for yourself’… even in the same way that God has given to us native instincts to care for ourselves. Someone throws an object at you, what do you do? You automatically protect yourself. You’re hungry: you seek to feed yourself. You’re thirsty: you seek something to drink. You’re in need of something: you seek to supply that need. We have an instinct for self-preservation. We have an instinct for self-provision. We have an instinct for self-care, for self-provision, for self-protection. It's a very strong instinct. [By the way, the Apostle Paul is not saying here that there's no such thing as a person who struggles with thoughts of self-loathing, but it's so interesting that very often even those people that wrestle with problems of self-loathing seek help for their self-loathing, indicating that deep down somewhere there is a concern for themselves, because God has built that instinct into us, and when things are functioning right, it's there.] The Apostle Paul is saying here ‘Husbands, you have that natively for yourself, but here's what I want you to do. I want you to cultivate that instinct in relation to your wife, so that your instinct is for her protection.’
I don't want to embarrass them, but many of you will remember a couple of years ago when David Robertson and his family were visiting in Jackson–the Scottish minister from St. Peter's, Dundee. And Warner Mitchell was driving them around Twin Lakes, and there was a place that had been roped off on the road with a steel wire, and they were driving about at dusk in one of the golf carts, showing them around Twin Lakes. And as they approached this steel wire (which was about at neck level) traveling at a fairly rapid speed in the golf cart, Warner at the very last second saw that steel wire coming, and David Robertson had…there was one child sitting right next to him…and grievous, grievous damage and loss of life could have occurred if Warner had not done something totally non-instinctive. What normally would you do when you see some sort of a wire coming? You duck, you get out of the way! If Warner had done that, David Robertson's child would have died, almost certainly. But he did something totally abnormal. He didn't duck, he put those big arms of Warner's, those big forearms up, and blocked that wire and saved the life of that child in the cart. It was not instinctive. I don't know what possessed him to do that, but I think the Apostle Paul is saying to Christian husbands something like that.
You have a natural instinct to protect yourself, to provide for yourself, to care for yourself. Now cultivate that instinct in the provision for and the care of and the protection of your wife, so that it becomes second nature that you are going to give yourself in the love and serving, in the nourishment and cherishing, in the care and protection of your wife.
“No one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it.”
That instinct that you have to provide for your own nourishment, to cherish your own needs, transfer that into your care for your wife so that it becomes instinctive, second nature, to give yourself for her.
Now again, this is about the umpteenth time that we have to pause and recognize that only the gospel can work that in a husband. Only the grace of Christ can work that in a husband. We’re not built that way, men! We’re not built to think that way in this fallen world. We think about “me first.” The Apostle Paul is saying ‘Husbands, I want you to cultivate “you first” so that that is second nature, because it's how Christ cared for His people.’
III. Love your wife in light of Christ's love for the members of his body
And that leads us to this third and deepest level of all, and you see it in verse 29. It's at the very end. Notice how he goes on. After saying he who loves his own wife loves himself, he says this:
“…Just as Christ also does the church, because [verse 30] we are members of His own body.”
In other words, Paul is back to the illustration of Christ again, but this time it runs this way: ‘Husbands, love your wives as your own bodies, because Christ loves the church as His own body.’ Did you get that? ‘Husbands, love your wives as your own bodies, because Christ loves the church as His own body.’ You see the depth of this mystery that Paul is taking us back into here. He's saying ‘Husband, you love your wife in light of Christ's love for the members of His body, for the church.’ Paul is back to an example based in Christ. He's back to an exhortation that is based on Christ, and he's saying to Christian husbands that we ought to love our wives like Christ loved the church, in nourishing and caring for her as His own body.
Now we're going to attempt to look more deeply into this mystery as we come to verses 31-33, God willing, next Lord's Day evening. But you see what the Apostle Paul is saying here: that underneath this union of our flesh in Christian marriage, husband and wife, is a deeper union, and that is the union that exists between Christ and His body, His people. We celebrate that union ever time we come together and take communion. The Apostle Paul would bid the congregation in Corinth, when they came to take that communion, to recognize the body of the Lord, to consider this union which had been created between Christ and His people so that in some mysterious way we are the body of Christ. Though Christ is in heaven even now in His human body, though He sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty fully human and fully divine, yet in some mysterious way we are His body. That is the nature of the union and communion that we share with Him. And the Apostle Paul is saying that deeper reality, husbands, of the union which we enjoy with God as His people, as members of His body, as parts of His body, is to be controlling in the way that we care for our wives; so that we understand when we nourish and cherish our wives as our own body we are giving a visible witness to the world for the way that Christ nourishes and cherishes His church.
Isn't it an amazing thing, friends? That when you simply live out the commands of God in the New Testament for the way that Christian husbands and Christian wives are to dwell with one another and care for one another, you are being a profound witness to the world of this mystery of Christ's union with His people, and it's yet another reminder (as if we needed more reminders, after today) that marriage is about something bigger than just us.
And I want to suggest to you that it is precisely the lack of that realization in Christians today that marriage is about something bigger than us that is so undermining of marriages, even in the churches today. If we all understood that there was something greater at stake than just our present temporary happiness, if we all understood that there's even something greater at stake than the well-being of our children (and that is at stake, as so many rightly remind us), that there's something more deep, more profound, that is at stake, and it is a witness to the reality of Christ's love for the church. It is a witness for the reality of Christ's atoning work. It's a witness to the reality of Christ's sanctifying work. It's a witness to the reality of Christ's glorifying work. It's a witness to the realization that we are the body of Christ, and that Christ has united us to Himself, and the permanency of that union and the love and the cherishing, and the nourishing of that union, is to be a witness to divine grace to unworthy sinners.
What a privilege it is to be asked by God to be a living, breathing, walking, talking illustration of His love in our marriages! And, my friends, you know, to sew it all up, to add the cherry on the top, especially in the midst of a generation which is so confused about marriage and family as ours is, how much more clear and obvious a witness this is! So that truly, in our day and time, a husband, just by being tender and providing and caring and loving for his wife, may well turn his neighbor's head. (‘Hey! What's up with you?’)
But we won't give ourselves to that unless we realize that marriage is bigger than ourselves. There's something bigger going on here. And there is a kind of character that can be formed in the lives of Christians that cannot be formed if they do not approach marriage in this way.
Now, I told you when we started this series that my friend Mark Dever had said to me many years before I was married, “Lig, you need to get married.”
“Because marriage humbles a man.”
Guess that says something about me, doesn't it?
Boy, was he right! I never saw my sin the way I see my sin now as a married man, because I see my own selfishness in ways that I couldn't have seen that selfishness had I not been living shoulder to shoulder with another person that I am called to love and serve. I see my own instincts to want to serve myself first, instead of serving her. I couldn't have seen my sin the way I see it now, because I see the effects of my sin on her. I couldn't have seen that, were I not married.
No, God intends for Christian marriage to be a school of growth in grace, and it's not until we realize that this is about something bigger than us that we're set free to begin that journey. And the irony is when we start giving ourselves away to a bigger project than just our own happiness, guess what? It's then and only then that we start experiencing the happiness that God has intended us to enjoy in the first place, because God has so ordered this world that it is only when we first seek His kingdom and His righteousness that we find all things. And when we seek ourselves first and our own happiness, we never find it, because God has made this world God-centered. And when we pursue Him, what we find is we find all the happiness that He has stored up for those and those only who pursue Him.
So pursue God in marriage. Pursue a knowledge of His love for the church, of His atoning work, of His sanctifying work, of His glorifying work, and of this mystery of union and communion with Him; and then, and only then, the happiness which perhaps you have sought for, but perhaps which has evaded you, will be found.
Lord and our God, we want Christian homes with godly fathers and mothers, Christian husbands living, bleeding and dying for the sake of their wives; Christian wives patiently loving, cherishing, embracing the leadership of their husbands. But for this we need Your grace and Your help, and Your strength. Grant it to us, O God, for Your glory and our good. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
Would you stand for God's blessing, and then we’ll respond with the singing of the second stanza of No. 719, A Christian Home, and look especially at the words of that stanza.
Receive now God's benediction.
Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, through Jesus Christ our Lord, until the day break and the shadows flee away.