The Lord's Day Morning
August 20, 2006
“God's New Family: An Exposition of Ephesians (XLIX)
Household Rules: Marriage and Family (4)
Love Your Wife
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Amen. If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Ephesians, chapter five, as we continue to work our way through this great letter of the Apostle Paul to the Ephesian church and to us.
We’re in a section that runs from Ephesians 5:22 all the way to Ephesians 6:9, and it's a section that deals with household relationships from a distinctly Christian perspective. Throughout Ephesians 4 and 5, the Apostle Paul has been arguing that as Christians we are to be different from the world, and in this section he is bringing that same principle to bear on our home life, because there is a certain sense in which it is easy to look like a Christian when we're gathered with God's people in public — and it may even be, from time to time, easy to live as a Christian in the context of our neighborhood and our vocation, though there are certainly challenges there — but there is no place where it is more important, and often no place where it is more difficult, to live as a Christian than in our homes.
There's a sense, of course, in which Christian living in the home is the easiest thing in the world, because we're with the people that love us the most. And when marriages are right and families are right, it can be an easy thing to give Christian love and manifest this fruit of God's work in your own life.
But Christian homes can also be places of great difficulty and heartbreak, and in the home when there is great hurt and wounding (and there is no wounding like the wounding that can be received in the home) that oftentimes becomes the acid test of our Christianity. If we can't love there, then there is no place where we can truly love as God calls us to love. And so this is serious business that the Apostle Paul is doing with us today.
Now because…full disclosure! We’re not going to get out of verse 25 today. Even though we're going to read verses 25-29, we're not going to get out of verse 25. In fact, I can tell you ahead of time, we're not going to get past the first four words of verse 25 today.
I want to give you an outline of this passage so that you will have an appreciation for where we're going, no matter how long it takes us to get there.
First of all, I want you to see the command. You see it in verse 25 in the very first words: “Love your wives….” There's the command that Paul is issuing here. It's God's command, but Paul is exhorting the Ephesians and us, Christian husbands, to love our wives.
Now he supports this command and specifies this command by two analogies. The first analogy comes at the end of verse 25. How are we to love our wives? Like Christ loved; and, specifically, like Christ loved the church. So there is the analogy that Paul gives in order to describe to Christian husbands what it is that he expects of us.
Now at this point any Christian husband who has a clue what has just been asked of him is on his face prostrate before the Lord, because the Apostle Paul is saying ‘Here's the analogy. Here's what I want you to strive for. Here's what I want you to aim at. I want you to aim to love like Christ loved His church.’
And so it is an awesome thing that the Apostle Paul is asking, but it is also a purposeful thing, and I want you to notice that Paul goes on in verses 26-27 to specify the purpose of Christ's love and its ultimate goal. Christ's love is not only a love in which He enjoys us (and that's a mind boggling thing, that our Lord enjoys His communion and fellowship with His imperfect, fallen human beings like us, who have rebelled against His love and grace — but He does enjoy and love communion with us), but His love to us is not merely a self-gratifying love. His love for us is purposeful for our blessing. He has a purpose in His love to us, and it is, Paul says, summarized in one word: sanctification. He longs to sanctify us, to grow us up in grace until the point [you see this in verse 27] that we will be stood before God in glory. So it is a love that has a good purpose for us as its ultimate aim.
Now, he doesn't stop there. He goes on and he gives a second analogy, and this second analogy is rooted in the realism of the Apostle Paul. The Apostle Paul, being a man — a man who was once married, because Pharisees and members of the Sanhedrin had to be married, and so he was not a dry-land sailor giving some sort of theoretical ivory tower suggestions to people that he had not had to live out himself — the Apostle Paul goes on to give a second analogy, because he knows that men are basically selfish creatures. And he says ‘Look, I'm calling you to love your wife in the same way that you take care of yourself.’ And Paul knows that men are apt to take care of themselves! That we like to feather our own nests, to get the things that we like the most. And so he says here's the second analogy. When you’re caring for your wife, understand, you’re really caring for yourself. And he explains this, of course, in light of what Moses says in Genesis 2, what Jesus reiterates in Mark 2, that the Christian husband and wife are — what? One flesh. So he tells you at the beginning of verse 28 that there's a real sense in which when you are loving and caring for your wife, you’re caring for yourself; because she is you, and you are her. She belongs to you, and you belong to her. You are together one flesh. And so when you are ministering to her there is a real sense in which you are literally ministering to yourself, because you’re one flesh. So take care of her, he says, like you would take care of yourself, because she's you [if I can put it that way].
Now what does that mean? It means nourishing and cherishing.
Now that's the outline of the passage that we're going to study together today, but if you would permit me to give four more words of introduction to frame our whole discussion of this section from Ephesians 5:22 down to verse 33, especially, this section dealing with husbands and wives, the first thing I want to say to you is this. I speak to you today not as one who has arrived in the fulfillment of this command.
Christian men, Christian husbands in this congregation, I speak to you not as one who has arrived, but as one who is a fellow traveler with you. That is important to say, because throughout what we do and however long it takes us to do, I will not be standing here saying to you, “Come, sit at the feet of the master!” That is not going to be my message to you! (I had thought of swearing my wife to a vow of secrecy during this series, but that occurred to me not a good plan.) I am not speaking to you as one who has mastered this command, but as one who is deeply aware of my own defects and flaws.
But I also do not want to stand before you as a hypocrite, asking you to do things that I am not prepared to do myself; and, therefore, I want to say that though I will be preaching what God says to us, and not my ideas or opinions, and therefore these things are absolutely authoritative, I am not preaching them to you as someone who has arrived in these areas. There are many men in our congregation who would be worthy to [have us] sit at their feet with regard to how they perform these duties. I'm not going to mention them by name because it would embarrass them, and it would really get them in trouble with their fellow husbands in the congregation! But I have one in mind right now, to whom I would be happy to take any young man in the world and say right now, “You go learn from Mr. So-and-So. He knows how a husband is supposed to love his wife.” There are many such men in this congregation at whose feet I am happy to sit.
But I will pledge you this: That I am on that road to trying to do what Paul — what God — is calling me to do as a Christian husband. So that's the first thing I want to say: I've not arrived at this command, but I am a fellow traveler.
The second thing I want to say is this. As we address God's design for marriage and family, and for husbands and wives, we need to acknowledge the complexity and variety of circumstances and issues that are involved in the various families that make up this congregation.
Every time we preach God's word about God's design for marriage and family, for home, we have to recognize that there are all kinds of hearers in all kinds of circumstances, facing all kinds of issues. And I cannot possibly, no matter how faithfully I try, apply God's word to every possible situation that exists in the congregation. Think of it. If we just think of the categories that we fall into for a moment, there are some here today who are widows or widowers; there are some who have been married a long, long time. Granville and Alice Tabb met me at the door today. Today is their 67th wedding anniversary. There are some who have only been married for a very short time. There are some who are now or who have been separated or divorced. There are those who are single, and frankly, they’re happy about it! And there are others who are single and they are yearning, aching, to be married. There are those believers who are married to unbelievers, or to very immature believers. There are those who are in happy marriages. And there are those who have been in difficult marriages since the day they said “I do.” There are those who are children, or parents, or siblings, or friends to all of the above. Think of the dazzling variety of circumstances and issues that are being faced in this area in this congregation.
I will in the days to come do my dead-level best to apply God's word into those circumstances, but recognize that this is one reason why good, biblical counsel is so important: because we can't address every possible scenario from the pulpit–else you would be here a lot longer than you want to be! I’ll be happy to stay, but I suspect you wouldn't! And so it will mean that good preaching will oftentimes raise issues that you will want to follow up on at another time, perhaps with a minister or with an elder; and that is as it should be, because these things are very complex and varied.
The third thing I want to say is this. In what we will be addressing today and for the weeks to come, we will be looking distinctively at Christian marriage, and we will be looking at Christian marriage in light of the gospel, in light of union with Christ, in light of even the atonement. (I’ll explain that statement, maybe next week if we get to it.)
What I mean is this. If you are here today and you have not been saved and transformed by the sovereign grace of God in Jesus Christ, what I am about to call Christian husbands to do, you can't do. No one who is not in Christ–no man, no husband who is not in Christ–can fulfill the command that the Apostle Paul is going to be giving today. And even husbands who are in Christ and mature in the faith will find themselves taxed to the very limits of their ability and beyond in fulfilling what the Apostle Paul is asking. So if you are here today and you have not experienced a life transformed, forgiven, changed by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, nothing that I am going to say will you be able to do. And so the first thing that you need to do is, you need to come to Christ, to deal with Christ, to do business with Christ. Because trying to follow these things apart from the saving grace of Christ will lead to the worst kind of frustration and the most insufficient kind of moralism. No, only the transformed believer, only the godly husband, by the grace of Christ, is able to make progress in these areas. That's so important for us to remember.
And then, fourth and finally, I want to say this. This whole study brings us all a tremendous opportunity for change, but it also presents us a tremendous opportunity for disaster. If your elbows are pointed sharply at one another's ribs in these weeks–that is, if your big concern is for your husband or your wife to hear something that was said, then trouble is coming. If we leave here today or in the weeks to come saying to one another, “This is how you failed me,” then there's trouble coming. If we leave here thinking, “This is how I've failed you, and I am determined by God's grace to grow in my love and service of you,” then there are huge possibilities for blessing. But if we do not give one another the space to do that, there is trouble ahead. If our concern is to tell one another how the other has failed me, then the blessings which are so possible, the change which is so possible by attending to God's word, will be ruined or harmed.
Our attitude, husbands and wives, must be throughout this study: “You first.” That is, we're thinking each for the other. We’re looking out for the other. We’re wanting to bless the other. We’re not asking ourselves ‘How have my rights been violated? How have my needs been unfulfilled?’ but ‘How have I failed my spouse? How have I left my spouse vulnerable? How have I fallen short? And God, by Your grace, would You change me, so that I can love and serve as You have called me to love and serve?’ Our attitude, as we've said before, must be our motto, “How may I serve you?”; that our concern is for the log in our own eye rather than the speck in the eye of our spouse. If we will remember that, there is great opportunity for blessing. If not, there is trouble ahead and an opportunity lost.
Now, with all that as a word of introduction, let's look to God in prayer and ask for His help and blessing.
Our Lord, this is Your word, and we ask that You would by Your grace convict us of how we have fallen short of it. Give us hope that we may attain to it. Give us grace that we may grow in it, and become a blessing to our wives. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.
Hear the word of God:
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also 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, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless. 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 it and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
I. Love your wives.
It's a one-point sermon today…. even though there are going to be seven sub-points! The one point is simply this: God calls Christian husbands, all Christian husbands, to a radical, God-originated, gospel-based, grace-empowered, Christ-emulating, self-denying love for our wives; a love in which we are to serve our wives and to care for our wives’ best spiritual and temporal interests.
The command is very simple, isn't it? In verse 25, the Apostle Paul says, “Husbands, love your wives.” Isn't it interesting? It's a command to love. We often think that love can't be commanded, but here is God commanding love. That ought to get us scratching our heads very quickly. The Apostle Paul is saying to Christian husbands, ‘Here's your job description. Here's your responsibility. Love.’
Now, this is fascinating because it's not what you’re expecting the Apostle Paul to say. If you've been reading closely Ephesians 5:22-24, where he calls on Christian wives to willingly and gladly embrace and acknowledge and follow their husbands’ spiritual leadership, you’re expecting Paul to turn around to the husbands and say ‘Now, boys, lead! I've just called on your wives to respect you, to acknowledge the spiritual responsibility and authority that I've vested in you. Now, boys, it's your turn. Lead!’ And that's not what he says. He doesn't say ‘Husbands, make sure you lead her.’ He says ‘Husbands, makes sure you love her.’
Now that ought to arrest us immediately to stop us in our tracks and make ourselves to ask the question: “OK. So what does that look like? If I'm supposed to love her, what does that look like? How am I supposed to love her?’ And the Apostle Paul is not caught without words. He's waiting for you. He knows you’re going to be scratching your head — ‘OK, I'm supposed to love her; so how do I do that?’
“Just as Christ loved the church.”
Now that should lead you to another question: ‘OK, so how does Christ love the church?
How is it that Christ has loved the church?’ And the Apostle Paul in this passage has one thing in particular that he wants to remind us of as the supreme expression of Christ's love — and we're going to get to that, but not before we look at six other aspects of Christ's love for the church.
So today I want us to work through seven aspects of the love of Christ for the church in the New Testament. I'd like you to keep your Bibles out, because we're going to go to these passages. Now let me just give them to you up front, and then I’ll explain them later: Christ's love for the church is unmerited, intense, unending, unselfish, purposeful, manifested, and sacrificial.
Now we're going to look at each of those seven things together, but to begin with, turn with me to Romans 5:8. It's one of my favorite passages in the Book of Romans. It's often called “the John 3:16 of the Apostle Paul.” You hear me quote it during prayers of adoration and invocation, and pastoral prayers from time to time, because it says so much about what God has done for us. But in this passage we are reminded that Christ's love was given to people who had not merited it, who did not deserve it, who did nothing to earn it, in whom there was nothing that compelled Him to love them. Listen to the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 5:8:
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us in that while
we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
You remember how Jesus would say from time to time to the disciples, “I have not come to the righteous, but to sinners.” And the Apostle Paul is just reminding us again that God's love is shown to those who have not merited, they've not deserved, they've not earned the benefits of that love. He just pours His love out on us, even though we have not merited it.
Now immediately, my friends, you need to understand that if you’re a Christian husband there is a sense in which you cannot love like that, and there is a sense in which you must love like that. There is a sense, of course, in which you cannot love like that, because none of us are like God in being able to originate love ex nihilo. You know, in us there was always that point in time when there was that something in another person that just evoked love out of our hearts. Our eyes fell on you, and we couldn't help but love you. And that's different from God's love. God, yes, takes delight in His people, but the saving love that we're talking about here was not evoked because of something worthy in His people. And so in that sense, we can't love like that. There's always mixed in with our desire to serve in love, there is that gratification of love which we began to experience when we first saw something of worth or value or preciousness in you, and we were knit to you.
But there is, of course, an important sense in which the Christian husband must follow Christ in this kind of love, because there are times when a Christian husband is called to love a woman who has broken his heart. And if he wants to put an “if” on the end of this commandment — “Husbands, love your wives if…” —then this kind of love will never get done. If she has respected you like you expect; if she has cared for you like you want; if she has loved you like you've always desired; if she has not failed you in some significant way…” If there is some contingency on the end of that command, this command will never get done.
And you cannot give what you do not have. And if you do not have it from her, you are incapable of giving it, so you must get it from somewhere else. And the somewhere else is from God, who loved you and gave His Son for you. And the Apostle is saying you are to emulate that kind of love: ‘When she has broken your heart and shattered your dreams, you are called to love her, husbands. Because I didn't command you to love her if she fulfills her part. I've commanded you to love her as Christ loves the church.’ This is an unmerited love, this love that Christ has for His people.
But secondly, it is an intense love. Turn with me to Luke 22:15. It's one of my favorite verses in the Gospels. It's right before the Passover–the last Passover that Jesus is going to eat with His disciples. And John has already told us that Jesus knows that Judas is going to betray Him, that His disciples are going to flee from Him, and that He is going to die tomorrow–not for His own sins, but for the sins of His people. And yet, Jesus, when He sits down that night to eat with His disciples in Luke 22:15, says this: “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover meal with you.”
Do you see what Jesus is saying there? ‘It has been an intense longing of Mine to sit down at this Passover meal with you, because I love you; because I care for you despite all that this is going to mean to Me, despite all that this is going to cost Me.’ Do you see the intensity of Christ's love for these feeble, failing disciples? He has been looking forward to sitting down to a meal with them that will end in the symbolization of His death, of His dereliction, of His abandonment, of His experience of the pouring out of His Father's just wrath on Him. Do you see the intensity of His love for the disciples?
Christ's love is an unending love. Turn forward, to John 13:1. Don't you love the way that John starts this chapter out, this chapter that is going to recount the departure of the betrayer? It's a chapter occasioned by the squabbling of the disciples. It begins a story that will end in the disciples’ forsaking Jesus and leaving Him completely alone, and it begins by John's saying that the Lord Jesus Christ had loved His own to the end. They had not and would not love Him to the end, stay with Him to the end; but to His last breath, His love burned for them; till He rendered up His spirit to the heavenly Father, He loved His disciples!
I heard a minister not long ago in a wedding service explaining that beautiful phrase that “I will take him…I will take her… until death do us part.” And he said it this way: “You are saying to one another that until the day that either you lay him in the ground or that he lays you in the ground, all your love belongs to him/to her. You will be faithful to the end.” And that's what the Lord Jesus Christ is doing to His disciples. Till His last breath, He is faithful in love to them.
Fourthly, it is an unselfish love. Turn forward to Ephesians 2:6,7. You remember this great passage where we're reminded that the Lord Jesus Christ is fully divine. He existed in perfect equality with God the Father, and yet He did not grasp the prerogatives of that authority and of that glory, and of that divinity, but He emptied Himself. He divested Himself of all His rights and privileges, and He became — what? — a bondservant. So His love for His people was a divesting, self-denying, self-giving love. And the Apostle Paul is saying ‘Husbands, love your wives with an unmerited love, and an intense love, and an unending love, and an unselfish love. Love like your Lord loved you. He served you.’
Fifthly, it is a purposeful love. We’ll look at this more closely in the weeks to come, but in Ephesians 5:26, 27, remember that the point is that Christ's love has a goal, a purpose, an aim in the life of His people, and it's the aim of sanctifying them, of making them like Him, and of one day presenting them in glory to God. In other words, His love to them does not squash them and crush them, and reduce them; it brings them into the full flowering of everything that God intended them to be.
And it's a manifested love. Look at John 16:33 — again, one of the most precious passages in the Gospel of John. Here's Jesus. You know He starts in John 14, “Let not your hearts be troubled….” If anybody in the world had a right to be thinking about his own troubled heart, it was the Lord Jesus Christ on the night of His betrayal. And yet, the whole time He is concerned about what? The troubled hearts of His disciples. They were getting ready to face one of the worst trials–maybe the worst trial–that they would ever face (and it was nothing in comparison to the trial that He was going to face); and yet, His concern is to manifest His love and care for them so that they can face the trial that they’re going to be going through. (Talk about unselfish….!)
But in John 16:33, He says,
“These things I have spoken to you so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but take courage: I have overcome the world.”
And in this and a thousand other places, the Lord Jesus Christ verbally and tangibly manifested His love for His people. The disciples, after the day of resurrection, did not have to scratch their heads and ask, “Does He love me?” He had told them, and told them, and told them, and manifested that love to them. There was no doubt in their minds that He loved them.
And it is a sacrificial love. Turn back to John 15:13. This is, of course, what Paul is talking about in Ephesians 5:25:
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her.”
In John 15:13, the Lord Jesus says,
“Greater love has no one than this: that one lay down his life for his friends.”
It's a sacrificial love. The Apostle Paul, in Ephesians 5:25, husbands, is saying to you ‘Your love for your wife must be lived out in light of Christ's atonement.’ We’ll elaborate on that later on, but I want you to feel the overwhelming force of that. When you’re at church and you’re hearing a minister or an elder or a Sunday School teacher teach about the atonement, understand that they’re teaching you, husbands, among other things, how to love your wives; because you are to love your wives in light of the atonement.
Now if you have an inkling of what I've just said, Christian husbands, you are looking for the sackcloth and ashes. I remember a professor of mine who said, “Ligon, on a wedding day, you need to make sure and be there a little early, because that groom's going to be nervous; and if he's not nervous, he doesn't know what he's getting himself into!” Friends, if you’re not nervous now, then you don't know what you've gotten yourself into, or what you’re getting yourself into.
But this is God's word for us, and it's not only good for our wives, it's good for us. So let's seek His face and help.
Our Lord and our God, for many of us this area uncovers things about our hearts that nobody else has seen, and so it can be excruciatingly embarrassing, guilt-producing, overwhelming. Remind us, O God, that Your purposes for us in all Your commands are for our best interests. And so no matter how daunting this word is, remind us that it is good.
And then, Lord, having considered this commandment, we are also acutely aware that we do not have the power in us, in ourselves, to do this thing. So give us what You command, and then command what You will. Enable us by the grace of Your Holy Spirit to be obedient to Your word, and we’ll give You all the praise and all the glory. In Jesus' name. Amen.