Question and Answer/Essay 3 of 3 on Practical Christ-Centeredness

As Christ Loved the Church: The Joy of Loving Our Wives

Matt: What does it mean for a Christian husband to love his wife?

Brian: Sometimes a topic is much too overwhelming to write upon.  “What does it mean for a Christian husband to love his wife?” is one of those.  So, it is with great humility that I intend to tackle this subject.  Experientially, I am under-equipped; only time with this particular bride will bring the situations of life upon us from which I might gain further understanding of the realities of this great mystery, the truest sense of which is Christ and His Church.  But as we approach our third wedding anniversary, God has granted some insight upon the reality of Christ’s relationship to His Bride in ever practical ways.  The rule is love.  But what does it mean for Christian husband’s to love their wives?  Allow me one observation from Ephesians 5:25.

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”  The one thing from this verse that has helped me in this ministry of love is the idea of her particularity.  Our wives must be to us what God intended them to be – particular.  They are particular amongst the backdrop of a billion feminine faces.  Notice the particularity: Paul writes, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”  The point?  Know your wife!  Do not know another!  Do not compare her to another!  Do not entertain the thoughts of another!  Know your wife!  From this, love your wife!  Your wife is particular in her desires, needs, talents, gifts, affections, attitudes, styles, sanctification, habits, hobbies, likes, dislikes, and absorption of your attempts at ministering to her.  Know your wife!  Love your wife!  This love is manifest as giving.  Giving what?  In short, your whole being with delight!  We must not give anything of ourselves to another woman in this way.  We must pour out ourselves completely into our wives, knowing and loving them as wholly set apart in our affections – even as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.  Now, what does this particular love look like?  What does it mean to love our Christian wives particularly?

First, it means being personally Spirit-filled, that is, full of Christ.  The well-known text in Ephesians 5:22-33 is set within a context.  This cannot be stressed enough:  in order to love our wives biblically, we must be men who love and pursue deep intimacy with Jesus Christ both privately and publicly.  The days that I find myself struggling the most to love and minister to my wife, are those days that I have slumbered in or slept-walked through communion with Christ.  It is impossible to minister the Gospel of Christ to our wives when we, as men, have not our affections set ablaze for that Gospel, for our Lord Jesus Christ.  A biblical love for our wives is the overflow of a lifestyle of worshiping Jesus Christ in the power of His Spirit.

Second, it involves the primacy and supremacy of Christ in our lives and in our speech.  We may well know that this is the reality that we are to be manifesting before those believers with whom we do not dwell.  But this becomes much more difficult to tease out amongst the one with whom we share a bed.  And yet, this relationship constitutes our greatest efforts to do so with utmost joy.  Being filled with Christ is evidenced by our obedience to Him, and our love for Him.  Our wives must be able to say of us, “He is in love with Christ.  My husband is a Christ-entranced man.  He speaks to me of Christ in every situation; he races for Christ at every opportunity; his life is a commentary on Christ – indeed, this is how he washes me – he sets Christ about me all the day until my own affections are raised Christward.”  Husbands, let us love Jesus supremely; then you shall love your wife biblically, even as your own body.

Third, it means appropriating justification by faith alone.  By this I simply mean to say that we must reckon our wives fully accepted at all times in our own minds, and then, to let them frequently know of it.  This is one of the more difficult applications.  In Christ, we are fully accepted by the Father.  In Christ, then, our acceptance with our Father is Christ’s own acceptance, and as such, it can be no higher (being Christ’s), and it certainly will never be any lower.  Our acceptance is based upon the grace of justification by faith in Christ alone, and therefore, it is not based on what we do or do not do.  However, the freedom of this full and gracious acceptance is simultaneously the basis of our love for obedience to God and a joyful servitude, rather than licentiousness.  Our relationships with other people are to be so modeled.  And as our relationship with our wives is the preeminent human relationship in this life, so such relating should be nowhere more manifest than in one’s own marriage.  It is a glorious thing to be able to look at your wife and tell her – despite her repeated attempts to tell you how short she has fallen of being a good wife this very day – that she is fully accepted with you and that that acceptance is based upon the grace of Christ.  The practice of this is gut-wrenchingly sanctifying!  It means that her shortcomings, her sins, her offenses against you, her doings and not doings, should in no way change your acceptance of her.  Why?  Because your acceptance of her is not based upon her merits – just as, thank the Lord, her acceptance is not based upon ours or the lack thereof – but rather upon the principle of grace.  There could be much said on this point, but I must press on for lack of space.

Fourth, it means embracing the indicative of leading.  Recently, one of my pastors made a good point about the headship of Christ in relationship to that of the Christian husband – headship or leadership is not only in imperative in the Ephesians text, but an indicative.  That is, husbands are never not leading.  We do not lead some times, and then not lead at others.  As Christ is always the Head of the Church, so husbands are all of the time leading their wives.  So what?  Brothers, this means that we are leading our wives even when we are not leading well; even when we are sinning, being lazy, being spiritually slothful, pursuing ungodly ideals, speaking of others and things in unbiblical ways, acting passively in daily ordeals – yes, even then we are leading our wives – we are simply leading them poorly!  Leading is not only a command to husbands, it is what we do all of the time by virtue of our being husbands.  Oh, brothers, let us take care of our lives, our doctrine, our spiritual activity, our love, so that we are ever conscious of the imprint that we are leaving upon our wives.  To know and understand and embrace the reality of our constant leadership and how we are mysteriously impacting our wives by it, should stir us to ever greater sobriety in the course and subject (our wives) of our activities.

Fifth, and briefly as two extensions of the fourth principle, it means leading in family worship, and watching our reflection in them.  Concerning family worship, we should aim at the daily practice of prayer, Scripture reading, and soul-discussion with our wives.  I emphasize aim, because there is no guilt to be found in missing such family practices due to the providential turnings of the day, but aim nevertheless at such marital engagement in the things of God.  Concerning watchfulness, it is a mysterious reality (particular also to pastors) that (as we never cease to lead whether for good or ill) we will see our greatest strengths and also our greatest weaknesses reflected back to us in our wives (and, pastorally, in the church that we serve).  With that in mind, should not our souls be stirred to the highest sensitivity and wisdom and dependency upon our Lord Jesus in all of our thousands of interactions with our wives throughout the course of any given day?  Let us be humbled by such knowledge.

Sixth, it means understanding a greater relationship in the Lord.  It has often been asked with great concern, “Will I be married in heaven, or will I know my spouse as such?”  These are reasonable questions, humanly speaking, but they reveal an inadequate understanding of the hierarchy of relationships and the greater glory of that new sort of relationship that even now has begun between you and your wife in Jesus Christ.  The relationship between husband and wives is one of the greatest human relationships, second only to that which many of husbands and wives fail to adequately recognize – they are brothers and sisters in the Lord.  They have a spiritual relationship to one another that transcends and rises infinitely higher, yes, even unto glory, than that of husband and wife.  Of wives, Peter writes, “They are heirs with you of the grace of life” 1 Peter 3:7c.  In heaven, we shall see our wives most fully and indescribably as our sisters in the Lord, as heirs with us of Christ’s eternal kingdom, and it is this relationship that even now must be preeminently upon our hearts as we undertake the joy of loving and ministering to them.  Oh, to think upon seeing my bride in her heavenly attire – this dear brothers, changes the way I want to love her.  She is my sister, the queen of my heart.

Seventh, as extensions of the sixth principle, it means treasuring her femininity and honoring her.  Again Peter writes, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel” 1 Peter 3:7a-b.  Your wife is particular; understand her as such!  Honor her for who and how God has made her – the weaker vessel.  Your wife is a girl!  This is not a biblical cut on women or our wives, but notice, a creational reality to honor.  We should treasure her femininity, compliment her girlish oddities, fan in to flame her particular passions – and be her hero in doing so!  

Eighth, it means being passionate about cultivating, affirming, and encouraging biblical beauty.  Let us not allow our wives to be consumed in hours of primping, and yet, in primping, having spent absolutely no time on becoming more beautiful!  “Do not let your adorning be external – the braiding of hair, the wearing of gold, the putting on of clothing – but let your adornment be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is God’s sight is very precious” 1 Peter 3: 3-4.  How easy is it for us to tell our wives that they need to take a jog, and yet neglect the care and consequent encouragement to pray or read their Bible’s or love people?  Loving our wives as Christian husbands means facilitating their pursuit of that which makes them imperishably beautiful and precious in God’s sight.

Ninth, it means bearing in mind how gospel order witnesses of Christ and the new creation.  A Christian husband and a Christian wife, their marriage, and its order bears witness, good or bad, to the glory of Christ and the Church.  Gospel-ordered marriages are live testimonies of the outworking of the new creation in Christ Jesus to a sin-ordered world.  How you love your wife speaks to the world around you of Christ and the Church.

In sum, how Christian husbands love their particular wives is foundational to our personal fellowship with God.  In fact, to love them unbiblically hinders our prayers, our conversation with our Father in heaven.  Let us then endeavor to love our wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, for only then will we have fulfilled our gracious marital stewardship in a manner worthy of the Lord.  Let us be filled with a Christocentric love for the wives of our youth, those graceful does, those rare rubies in Jesus’ name.  Amen.


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