The Lord's Day Morning
September 3, 2006
God's New Family: An Exposition of Ephesians (LI)
Household Rules: Marriage and Family (6)
“Love Your Wife (3)”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Amen. If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Ephesians 5, as we continue to study through this great book of the Apostle Paul, and especially this section in which God gives His household rules for marriage and family. The last two weeks as we've been focusing on husbands’ command from God to love their wives, we continue that this morning and this evening. A number of the husbands in the congregation have said to me, “Come on! Let up!” We spent two weeks on Paul's exhortation to Christian wives; we will end up spending four sermons on husbands, so ladies, please just make note of that. I haven't let the men off lightly.
But we're looking at Ephesians 5:25-27 this morning. Let me just remind you of what we've seen already. We have said in this passage that Paul's argument is easily outlined in three points: He gives a command and two illustrations. He gives a command in Ephesians 5:25, and then immediately, before he even finishes this twenty-fifth verse, he starts giving an illustration, or an analogy, to Christian husbands to explain what it is he's asking them to do.
Now, the last two weeks, what we've done is we've given a general introduction to this exhortation to love your wives, and then last week we gave specific–10 or 11 specific applications for what it means for a Christian husband to love his wife, practically.
This week what we're going to do is come back this morning looking at the first analogy in verses 25-27, and then we're going to look at the second analogy that occurs in Ephesians 5:28-30 tonight.
The first analogy, again, that of Christ's love for the church: “Husbands, love your wives the same way that Christ loved the church.”
Secondly, “Husbands, love your wife in the same way you would take care of your own self.” And there's an extension of the analogy in that particular illustration of how we are all part of Christ's body, so that as Christ ministers to us, He's ministering to His own body, and husbands are being asked to remember that in a real sense when you are caring for your wife, you’re caring for yourself, because God has made you to be one flesh with her. It doesn't mean that her personality has been subsumed into yours; it doesn't mean that she has been brought into the Borg; it means that she is to be cared for as if you were caring for your own self. And so we’ll look at that analogy tonight.
Now, today, before we read the passage, I want you to know ahead of time what four particular things that you should be looking for, because as Paul gives this analogy, this illustration of loving Christ in the way that Christ has loved us, he draws attention to four specific things.
First of all, he draws attention to the church. He says ‘Husbands, the way I want you to love your wives…look closely…is how Christ loves the church.’ So we have to think about the church first.
Then, notice at the end of verse 25, how is it that Christ loved the church? He “gave Himself for her.” So what's he pointing you to? He's pointing you to the atonement. He's pointing you to the cross. So he says ‘Husbands, as you love your wives and you’re trying to figure out how it is that God wants you to love your wife, remember the church and remember the cross.’
Then, thirdly, he says ‘Why is it that Jesus loved His people, gave Himself for His church?’ Look at verse 26: In order to sanctify the church. So you have to think of the church, of atonement, and of sanctification, if you’re going to love your wife like Christ loved the church.
And then, finally, you have to think of….what? Glory. Look at verse 27. You have to remember what the church will one day be, what your wife will one day be in glory, if you’re going to love her like Christ loves His people.
Now let's look to God in prayer before we read His word.
Heavenly Father, we thank You for this word. It has been a humbling study for me personally, and no doubt it has been humbling for many of the Christian husbands in our congregation. I thank You for the many Christian wives who have spoken to me words of praise about their husbands in these last weeks. It would be so easy to criticize, O God, because the Christian husbands of this congregation, no matter how much we aspire to being what You call us to be, we are sinners and we fall short of the glory of God, and we fall short of serving our wives. So encourage us and strengthen us as we hear this word today.
At the same time, O God, I would ask Your especial blessing on those here today who are listening to this word who are not yet a husband or a wife, or once have been a husband or a wife, or are in situations of estrangement with husband or wife. You know their hearts. You know their situations. Apply Your word to them in a special, encouraging, comforting and helpful way. Meanwhile, O God, grant that all of us would pay close attention to Your word. In Jesus' name. Amen.
This is God's word:
“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.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
In this passage, the Apostle Paul says that God expects Christian husbands to love their wives like Christ loved the church, and that means that Christian husbands are going to have to love their wives in light of at least four grand realities that Christ Himself in His work of redemption draws our attention to: We’re going to have to love our wives in light of Christ's love for the church; we're going to have to love our wives in light of Christ's work on the cross; we're going to have to love our wives in light of Christ's sanctifying work in His people; and, we're going to have to love our wives in light of the glory to come for the church, and for all Christian women. So let's work through these things together.
I. Loving our wives in light of Christ's special love for his bride, the church
The first thing I want you to see is right there in verse 25. When the Apostle Paul calls Christian husbands to love their wives, he gives them an analogy, an illustration to help them appreciate what it is that he expects of them…what it is that God is asking of them…and you see it at the end of verse 25: “…just as Christ also loved the church….” So if Christian husbands are going to love their wives as God commands, it means that they are going to love their wives in light of Christ's special love for His bride, His church. They’re going to love their wives in light of the delight that Christ has for His people.
You know, if you look at these verses, verses 25-27, there are several verbs which stress all that Christ is doing and has in store for His bride, the church. We’re told first of all that He loves His bride, the church. We’re told second of all that He gave Himself for His bride, the church. We’re told, third, that He is sanctifying the church; and fourth, that He has cleansed the church. And then, we're told that He has in view a day in which He will present her to Himself perfect, spotless, pure, without blemish. And so what we're being given by the Apostle Paul is the picture of the Lord Jesus Christ caring for His church from eternity past all the way into eternity future. From the beginning to the end, He has a delight, He is consumed and preoccupied and concerned for the everlasting well-being of His bride.
And you know, young men, there are so many young men in this congregation that have fathers that they can look up to and say, ‘You know, that man has shown me how to love a women. That man has shown me how to love my wife.’ But even if you don't have that, you see what the Apostle Paul is saying here. He's saying ‘Young Christian man, you don't know how it is that you’re being called to love a woman, and you can't look at your own father to see a good example of how to love a wife? Well, let me give you the best example that was ever given: the Lord Jesus Christ, in the way He loves His people…His bride, His church. Yes, young Christian man, you have an example, and that example is the Lord Jesus Christ. You love just like Christ loved the church.’
And, you know, we have hymns that remind us of these truths. Take your hymnals out and turn with me to 347. We sing this hymn all the time, and when we sing it, no doubt we are thinking of the church and the attributes of the church; and I want you to look at stanzas 1 and 4 especially, because they emphasize some of the ways that Christ loves the church.
“The church's one foundation
Is Jesus Christ, her Lord;
She is His new creation,
By water and the word.”
[And listen closely, now!]
“From heaven He came and sought her
To be His holy bride;
With His own blood, He bought her,
And for her life He died.”
So, He came, and He lived, and He bled, and He died for her. It's giving us a picture of how Christ loved the church. But, notice, it goes on…stanza 4:
“The church shall never perish;
Her dear Lord to defend,
To guide, sustain, and cherish,
Is with her to the end.”
So that His whole concern has been to defend, to guide, to sustain, to cherish, to nourish, to bless His people, His bride, from the beginning. That song, that hymn, is giving us a picture of how Christ loved the church; and so, the next time you sing it you can not only, husbands, think of how Christ has done that for you and for every believer, but you can think how Christ is calling you to do that for your wife.
Now, this means, of course, that we must come to have the same kind of love for the church that Christ has for the church, if we're going to love our wives the way that Christ loves the church. And we sing about that, of course, when you turn a few pages forward to No. 353. It's one of our favorite hymns. It's probably the oldest hymn written by an American that is still in common use in most churches today. It was written by Timothy Dwight. It's called I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord. And look at the first couple of verses, or stanzas:
“I love Thy kingdom, Lord,
The house of Thine abode;
The church our blest Redeemer saved
With His own precious blood.
“I love Thy church, O God;
Her walls before Thee stand,
Dear as the apple of Thine eye,
And graven on Thy hand.”
Dwight is saying how much he loves the church, how much he loves the people of God. And, husbands, if we don't have a love for the church, it will be difficult for us to conceive how great Christ's love for the church is, and it will be difficult to implement the kind of love that Christ has for the church in our love for our wives.
And of course this just reminds us again of the importance and the applicability of every aspect of Bible teaching. You don't think about it, do you, that when you’re hearing a passage preached on the church, as when Derek was preaching through Acts 6, that that's not just a passage meant to teach you, Christian husbands, about what the church is supposed to be like. It's a passage that's also meant to teach you how you’re to take care of your own wife, because every passage of Scripture applies to the totality of our lives, and teaches us in various ways how we are to live out this glorious calling, the way of righteousness, the way of Christ, the way of His kingdom. And so when we hear Bible exposition about the church, Christian husbands, that's not just important for us to learn so that we know what the church is like and so that we know how God loves the church, but it's also important for us to learn so that we know how to love our wives.
If we're going to love our wives like Christ loved the church, we're going to have to understand how much Christ loved the church, and we're going to have to come to share in Christ's love for the church, if we're going to live up to this exhortation to love our wives as Christians. And that's the first thing that we learn in this passage: Christian husbands are called to love their wives in the same way that Christ loved the church.
II. Loving our wives in light of Christ's work on the cross, his atonement
But the second thing is even more astounding, and I want to admit to you before we even get to it that this is something that I don't believe had ever crossed my mind, however many times I had read this passage, and reading a quote from Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones brought it to light, and so I want to give him full credit.
In Ephesians 5:25, again, the last few words of the verse we read: “…and gave Himself up for her.” You see what the Apostle Paul is saying. He's saying that husbands, Christian husbands, are to love their wives not just generically in the way that Christ loved the church, but they’re to love their wives in light of the way that He gave Himself up for her. And what does that mean?
It means loving our wives in light of the cross. It means loving our wives in light of the sacrifice of Christ. It means loving our wives in light of the self-giving sacrifice of Christ on the cross. It means loving our wives in light of the atonement.
You see, the Apostle Paul is saying that Christian husbands, in order to love their wives like Christ loved the church, must love their wives in light of Christ's work on the cross; in light of the atonement.
That is something that had never crossed my mind. I don't know how I had read this verse so many times and that had never hit home. I must have read this verse 150 times in the last twenty years, and it never dawned upon me until Martyn Lloyd-Jones asked this question. He said, “What is it that the Apostle Paul is asking us to do here?” And he goes on to say, “He's asking us to see marriage in light of, in the context of, the atonement.” He says when you start thinking about marriage and you start looking in the bookstore and the library for books on marriage, where do you go? Well, you go to the section on Ethics, or maybe you go to the section on Counseling or on Self-Help, or on Marriage and Family. But, he says, you know what? In God's library that's not where you find the instruction on marriage. It's right there. You see it on the shelf. It's under The Doctrine of the Atonement. If the Christian husband wants to know how to love his wife, he has to go to the cross. He has to look up at the cross and see the Son of God and Savior of sinners loving His people to the death, bleeding and dying, bearing shame and scoffing rude, for His people. That's how a Christian husband is to love his wife. It's a profound, profound thing, my friends.
Now, of course I need to stop right now and say that when we look at the cross, the first thing that we are to see is this matchless display of the love of God on our behalf. The first thing we're to see is God acting on our behalf, accomplishing something outside of us which we cannot contribute to, in order to save us from our sins and redeem us into His family.
The cross is first and foremost about what God has done on our behalf, something that we could never do for ourselves. The cross is first and foremost about God's glory. It's a matchless action that cannot be repeated. But having seen that great work of God's love and that great work of God's redemption, the Apostle Paul himself is telling Christian husbands here to look at the cross and learn how to love your wife. The Apostle Paul is saying Christ lived and suffered and died for His bride; so, Christian husband, you live, and if necessary, suffer and die for your wife's good.
So when we look at the cross, we not only remember what Christ has done for us, but as Christian husbands we look at that cross and say ‘How Christ has loved His people! God grant that I would aspire to and desire and in some measure love my wife the way that Christ has loved His people.’
You know, one of the tender moments on the cross in those Seven Last Words, is when the Lord Jesus Christ, in the bearing of the sins of the world and enduring the unmitigated wrath of God, looks down to His mother and to His dearest friend, John, and He says ‘John, take care of her.’ Here He is bearing the sins of the world, and He's thinking about His mother being taken care of when He's gone. And this is precisely the kind of care that Christ has for all His people, and this is precisely the kind of care that a Christian husband is to have for his wife.
III. Loving our wives with a view to her growth in grace, her sanctification
And then, thirdly, we see in verse 26 that Christian husbands are to love their wives in light of the Bible's teaching on sanctification. Why is it that Paul says in verse 25 that Christ has given Himself for the church? Well, look at verse 26: “…that He might sanctify her….” In other words, the Apostle Paul is saying ‘Why is it that Christ has done all this? So that one day His church will be completely holy; so that one day there will be not the tiniest remnant of sin or imperfection in all of His people. This is why He's done it. He has done it for the sanctification, for the cleansing, of His people.’
Notice again verse 26: “So that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.” In other words, Paul is saying Christian husbands are to love their wives, and that means loving our wives with a view to her growth in grace and to her sanctification; and that, of course, means that Christian husbands have to care about growth in grace. They have to care about sanctification.
How often have you seen the spectacle in the course of your Christian life of a woman who is zealous to read the word, zealous to study the word, gathers often with other women to study the word, prays diligently for her children…and a husband who isn't even interested in going to church? A husband who has to be coaxed to come to church? And the Apostle Paul is saying ‘Christian husbands, that's not the picture. You’re the one who's supposed to be nourishing and cherishing and encouraging your wife's growth in grace. You’re the one to love the Bible and to instill into your wife and your family a love for the Scriptures, a love for the study of God's word, a concern to live as a citizen of God's kingdom. You’re to take the lead. Your wife isn't supposed to have to drag you along in that. She ought to be able to lean on you from time to time when she's tired and worn out in those things. She ought to be able to count on your leadership and ministry in that area.’
He's saying, “Christian husbands, you need to care about your wife so much that you are concerned about her growth in grace.” When you see her being pulled in a thousand directions with all her responsibilities, and being drained dry with all the pressures that are on her, you’re thinking, “Lord, how may I serve and nourish and cherish this woman, so that she is grown up in grace, built up in grace? So that she becomes holier, so that her character is formed to be more and more like her heavenly Father?” The Christian husband has that concern, that desire. A true Christian husband has that concern, that desire. A true Christian cares about his wife's holiness…his own holiness, of course, and his wife's holiness…and it's on his agenda to be a help and an encouragement to her in growing in grace, so that she can face the things that she’ll be called to face in this life.
IV. Loving our wives in light of/with a view to glorification, their future glory
And then, finally, the Apostle Paul says that Christian husbands are to love their lives in light of their future glory. Look at verse 27. He points to the church in all her glory, and he says:
“…That he might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.”
You see what the Apostle Paul is saying. He's saying ‘Christian husbands, you want to know how to love your wives? Well, you love them in light of Christ's love for the church; you love them in light of Christ's work on the cross; you love them in light of Christ's purpose to sanctify His church; and you love them in light of the ultimate goal that Christ has for the church.’
And what is that ultimate goal? That one day in glory she–His bride, His church, His people, the children that He has bought with His own blood–will be presented from every tribe and tongue and people and nation…a multitude that no man can number…before Him at the marriage feast of the Lamb. He will be the Bridegroom, and collectively His church will be His bride, and His church will be perfect. And that is what He is aiming for. That is His ultimate goal for His people. And the Apostle Paul is saying ‘Christian husbands, you need to love your wives in light of that goal that Christ has for the church: His goal of glorification; His goal of the future glory of the church.’
And this is so important. It's so important for so many reasons.
First of all, it's important because as we live together in this fallen world as redeemed Christians, husbands and wives, we're living together with imperfect people, in both our homes and in our congregations. And you know, sometimes we look at the church and what do we think? “You know, this church is a mess.” That's what we think. And then sometimes we look at one another in our marriages, and you know what we think? Well, a lot of times we think, “You know what? You’re a mess!” Sometimes we look in the mirror in the morning, and we think, “You know…you’re a mess.” And we are a mess.
And the Apostle Paul is saying ‘Christian husbands, let me take you to a picture. It is a picture of My people no longer a mess, My people perfected, My people glorious. Now, that wife that you’re called to love and to serve…you see her now with her weaknesses and her fears and her imperfections. But one day you’re going to see Me stand her before Me, perfect. Don't ever forget that picture.’
You know, I think the greatest earthly picture of that that we can ever see occurs here at First Presbyterian Church 20 or 25 times a year: weddings. It's when a father walks his daughter down the aisle in a beautiful white dress, and presents her to her bridegroom. And I get to look into the eyes of those fathers, and they’re thinking to themselves ‘You know, I had so few years with this precious woman…20 and some change, maybe…and now I'm handing her over to another man. And I'm saying, ‘Son, you care for her and love her. I've done the best I could to care for her and love her. You do your best. You live and give and bleed and die for her best.’’
And then in God's mercy that relationship may last for 30 or 40 or 50 or, if God grants, 60 or even 70 years. And then there will be another presentation. But at that presentation all the weaknesses will be gone; all the imperfections purged; all the sins cleansed. Those husbands, as they think of the self-doubts that their wives face and fight, the inner struggles, the anxieties, the fears that so often vex them, and quench the fulfilling of this great potential that God has placed in them…suddenly, on that Day, all of those things are gone! And she is how her Creator intended her to be in the first place! And all the powers of her abilities, and all her capabilities unhindered by any encumbrance, and there she will be in all her glory before her Maker, Defender, Redeemer and Friend. And you've had the privilege of walking along her side, and, hopefully, helping her towards that great goal, so that you can stand there and give account: ‘O God, You gave to me this woman for these years, and I have done my best to nurture her, to ready her for this day when she would be united with her real Bridegroom, the Lord Jesus Christ.’
The Apostle Paul is saying ‘Christian husbands, remember, that Day will come, and you will give an account. You will stand there and you will say, ‘Lord God, You called me to love and serve this woman. I'm giving her back to You, and I have done my best…sinful, stumbling, though my service may have been, I've given my best to her, so that she may be given back to You.’
And it's all our desire, isn't it, to hear, “Well done, My good and faithful servant.”
That's what the Apostle Paul is saying to us, and it's so important for us to hear, because here we see the imperfections and we feel the pains of those imperfections; and the Apostle Paul is saying don't forget what she one day will be. And you love her now in light of the glory that her Savior is going to produce in her.
Let's look to God in prayer.
O God, this is a thing such as to humble us to the dust. Who of us are sufficient for it? But give us, O God, deep, deep in our hearts, an aspiration to love our wives like this. May it be an encouragement to them. May it be a witness to the world.
O God, we also ask this morning, we plead this morning, that You would grant by Your grace patience in our wives, for they know us. They know what we're like. They know how we've failed them. And yet, O God, by Your grace, grant them patience with us so that as we stumblingly and haltingly and with fault attempt to serve them, they would see the desires of our hearts to do them good.
And, O God, grant us the grace to serve them in this way. We do not have the power in ourselves to give ourselves, to die to ourselves like You’re calling us to do in this passage, but that's exactly what You call us to do. So, command what You will, O God; but give us the grace to do what You command. And we’ll give You all the praise and the glory, for we ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.