Ephesians 5:22-33

I invite you to turn with me to Ephesians 5:22-33. This is the first of the two messages that I gave recently at the couples retreat. I have another opportunity two weeks from tonight to address you and so I am going to speak to the husbands this morning and to the wives two Sunday nights from now.

Marriage is an uphill climb with numerous challenges and breathtaking vistas. We make it more arduous if we do not know what to expect along the way and if we do not have a map or well marked trails. It is even harder if we are not mentally prepared for the journey; lacking the mental toughness, the forbearance, the stamina and endurance required.

But it is harder still, by far, if our climbing partner, the one who we are tied into, tries to climb independently from us. There are simply too many places along the way that we cannot do it by ourselves. We need, we actually depend on our partner for help in upward mobility.

There is nothing like being strapped or clipped to a partner who works with you and not against you; a partner who understands their role and assignment. The Scriptures are our map, marking out the trails to the top. Our spouse is naturally the climbing partner we have been tied into. And in our passage this morning, Paul tells each climber how to work in tandem with their partner.

Listen for the broad principles that Paul sets out for husbands and wives here.

Read – Ephesians 5:22-33

22Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. 25Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27so that he might present the church to himself in splen­dor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30because we are members of his body. 31Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.


Father, we who are married and desire to be married want to live according to your revealed Word. We know that when we do it goes better for us and you get great glory. We want you to be imaged forth with greater glory and power in our marriages. I pray especially for husbands and those who desire to be husbands in this congregation, that we would heed this passage, take it to heart and see how we might improve in loving our wives. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen

If you notice how Paul sums up this paragraph in v. 33, the two paragraphs pertaining to marriage, he simply finishes by saying “However, let each one of you [husbands], love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”  The principles necessary to scale the heights reduce to these, “Husbands, love your wives,” “Wives, respect your husbands.”

I want to begin with a quote from Bryan Chapell’s book, Each for the Other. It’s his wonderful treatment on marriage. He says:

“God seems to deal with each gender at its weak points. A man’s temptation is to use the power of his position and physique to enforce dictatorial rule or to indulge passive self-absorption. A woman’s temptation is often to use the power of words and emotions to manipulate and shame her husband into doing as she wishes. Paul allows neither “power play” by commanding men to love and women to respect their spouses.”

He continues to say:

“The words [love and respect] remind husbands and wives to express care for one another in the ways that touch each others’ heart most deeply.” P. 142

If Dr. Chapell is right, then men, as pleasing as your wife’s love is to you, it does not compare with your desire and your need for her respect. And ladies, as welcome as your husband’s respect is to you, it does not pluck your heart strings as does his deathless love! That is our chief duty as husbands—to love our wives.

Did you notice in our passage the verb “love” is entirely one sided? In this passage wives are never commanded to love their husbands, it is “husband’s love your wife,” three times. vv. 25, 28 and 33.

So we would do well to begin by asking, “What is love?” We should get a definition or two in front of us because the Bible does not provide such a definition for us like it does for faith and hope.

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1

We might be able to come up with our own definition of hope from Romans 8:24b and v. 25 which reads, “Hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” I might define hope based on that text as, “Hope is waiting patiently for an unseen (promised) and desired reality.”

But the Bible does not provide us with a definition for love. It illustrates love over and over again and it describes the attitudes and actions of love.

“It is patient, kind, it does not envy or boast; it is not proud or rude or self-seeking—it is not easily angered, nor does it keep records of wrong. It does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” I Cor. 13

It surprises me that the Bible does not provide a definition for love because love is the sum of our duty to God and to man. Perhaps the Lord didn’t bother with a definition because we’ve been hardwired to love. We know when we are being loved instinctively and we know when we love someone just as we know when we are being hated by someone and when we hate another. We know it instinctively.

So we rely on wiser theologians to do their best to define love from the Scriptures. I want to give you two definitions of love from some fine theologians.

The first is James Orr. You can find this in the Hastings Dictionary of the Bible as follows:

“Love is that principle which leads one moral being to desire and delight in another, and reaches its highest form in that personal fellowship in which each lives in the life of the other, and finds his joy in imparting himself to the other, and in receiving back the outflow of that other’s affection unto himself.”

If this is right, if he is close to being spot on with a Biblical definition of love, then husbands, when the Bible commands you to love your wife that means you are to desire and delight in her—that they are living in your heart and soul and you are placing and finding your joy in imparting yourself to her.

Here is a question for the men. Which of these two best expresses desire and delight in your spouse?

This coming June 7th Lisa and I will be married twenty-five years. Imagine how she would feel if I wined and dined her on June 7th at El Gaucho’s and on the drive home she noticed I was a little preoccupied and she begins to wonder if she did not thank me properly for wining and dining her at this lovely restaurant. And so with a tear rolling down her cheek she thanks me again on the drive.

And I say to her, “No problem, hon, the office took up a collection and insisted that I take you here. So I kind of owe it to them, but if we hurry home we can catch the second half of the Sounders game.”

There is one, now contrast that with this one.

She thanks me with a tear rolling down her cheek, and I pull the car over on the side of the road and I say, “Hon, we’ve had our challenges to overcome and by the grace of God we have. The Lord has given us more than our share of pleasure and if I had to start all over again at the bottom of the mountain, there is no one else I would rather climb with than you. There is no one I’d rather be strapped into than you.” And then I get out of the car and I go over onto her side of the car, I open her door and I kneel on the pavement, in the rain, and I take her head in my hands…no I don’t do that, Rob does that…and I say, “Will you marry me all over again?”

Which of those two best express desire and delight in her? An ideal husband lets her know he still desires and delights in her and that communicates love.

Here is that definition again, it’s such a good one and it is a long one:

“Love is that principle which leads one moral being to desire and delight in another, and reaches its highest form in that personal fellowship in which each lives in the life of the other, and finds his joy in imparting himself to the other, and in receiving back the outflow of that other’s affection unto himself.”

Elder Pribyl put in my hands a wonderful book a couple of months ago. It is entitled, A Georgian at Princeton. There are some lovely letters exchanged in that book between a husband and a wife that occurred in the 1850’s. The minister’s name is R.C. Jones and he is a traveling evangelist which takes him away from the home quite a bit. I want to read an excerpt of one of his letters. I think it wonderfully illustrates this definition of love.

Rev. C. C. Jones toMrs. Mary Jones

Steamboat W. H. Day, Cumberland River, Friday, May 30th, 1851
                Yesterday I wrote my dear children two long letters, and I must now write one to my true love, who is more to me than all the world beside—the wife of my youth, the faithful and tender mother of our dear children. I have been alone on the upper deck reading my Testament and meditating and praying and remembering you all; and then I walked for exercise, and set up your loved image in my heart, and conversed in spirit with you, and recalled all your tenderness and sweetness, and thought over all our love. Oh, may God ever bless you, my ever dear Mary, with the fullness of His mercies from heaven above and from the earth beneath, and reward you for all your kind­ness to me and mine, and give you in that day a crown of life! So prays your husband continually.

                 I should have rejoiced in you as my companion in travel many, many times; and yet you would have been subjected to some incon­veniences. But it would have been so pleasant to have had you to share in all my sights and thoughts, and for me to have waited on you and made you happy in all things. Never mind: we will have much to talk about when we meet, and our separation will make us happier then.

                 I remain, my darling wife,
                 Your attached and devoted husband,
                  C.C. Jones

That is desiring and delighting. That’s living in the life of the other and finding joy in imparting himself to her.

Here is another definition of love. This is from C.S. Lewis:

       “Love…is a deep unity maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened
by habit; reinforced by the grace which both partners ask and receive from God.”

I want to take that definition a few words at a time.

First: Love is a deep unity, two have become one. You are in her and she is in you. You are now like a lock and a key. One without the other is no good. The two of you are a single unit, love is a deep unity maintained by the will.

Have you noticed that the will is the most unnecessary muscle while courting? We are being carried by powerful emotions when courting, but it is the most necessary muscle once married. So much depends on the will to think, speak and act lovingly when we don’t feel like it. Love is not merely an emotion, it is a choice. Love is maintained by the will deliberately strengthened by habit.

By definition habits are hard to break and that is both good and bad. Men, are there any bad habits, habits that impede with the deep unity of love that we are called to seek. Let me ask you a couple of questions. Let’s think about our communication habits—this means so much to our wives.

Men this is the point in the sermon when your wife might do one of these to you [elbow poke] to make sure you are listening and my encouragement to you is to bring them back two Sunday nights from now and you will have the opportunity to return the favor.

Husbands, do you ask her good questions? Are you drawing her out? Do you actually listen to her answers? Do you let her finish her answers? And this is the one that if I were sitting where you are, Lisa would be elbowing me on this one—do your non-verbals communicate you are listening? Somehow holding the remote in my right hand does not communicate to Lisa that I am still listening—I am able to turn the channel and listen to her at the same time!

Do you ask good follow-up questions? How about these? Do you lead the way in admitting wrong and express sorrow for that wrong? As the leader of your home and marriage do you humble yourself and take the first step toward reconciliation? Or do you never make the mistakes; it is always her that makes the mistakes? Do you share your joys, defeats, sorrows, fears and your dreams? Are you letting her in? Are you imparting your very self, your heart and soul to her? That translates to love for our wives. That communicates that you prize and cherish her still.

Love is deliberately strengthened by habit and reinforced by the grace which both partners ask and receive. We run out of the natural resources to love eventually. We were designed to run out and so we would be dependent on the author and giver of love, to seek him, to seek more from him. We can’t do it in our own strength for long. Love is reinforced by the grace which both partners ask and receive from God.

Every Christian marriage is a love triangle and the most neglected person and most untapped resource in our marriage is not our wife, it is our God. He is the origin and ocean of love and is only too happy to replenish and supply our depleted reservoir that we might always have something to give to our wives. We are limited but he is infinite!
So, what is love?

          “Love…is a deep unity maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened
by habit; reinforced by the grace which both partners ask and receive from God.”

I think those are two very fine definitions of love. But what does the text go on to say about how we are to love our wives? Notice in v. 25 “as Christ loved the church,” and then v. 28 “as our own bodies,” and v. 33 “as ourselves.” So I want to run some questions down that line.

1. “As Christ loved the church.” How did the Lord Jesus Christ love his bride? At least in these three ways:

First: He gave himself up for her, v. 25. That is he laid down his life for her benefit and eternal welfare, her final salvation. He did everything possible and necessary to make sure she got to the top of Mt. Salvation. It cost him his life.

I asked Lisa to marry me on Saturday morning, January 25th, 1986, at about 6:15 in the morning—take her by surprise. But the Thursday night before I was trembling on her parents sofa asking for permission to marry their daughter. And I remember telling Paul and Bev Mills that the Bible commands husbands to lay their lives down for their wives. In my earnest naiveté, I promised that I would lay my life down for their daughter. I certainly meant it then. It was easy to promise being carried by these strong emotions.

Do I mean it still today? Do you, husbands, mean it still today? Are you willing to die for your wife? If it meant stepping between her and mortal danger, would I still do it to lead her to the top of Mt. Salvation? Would I use my strength to boost her to safety?

This is from Bryan Chapell’s book, Each for the Other:

          An example of sacrificial love surfaced a few years ago in my hometown when two brothers decided to play on sandbanks by the river’s edge. Because our town depends on the river for commerce, dredges regularly clear its channels of sand and deposit it in great mounds beside the river. Few things are more fun for children than playing on these mountainous sandpiles —and few things are more dangerous.
          While the sand is still wet from the river’s bottom, the dredges dump it on the shore. The piles of sand dry with rigid crusts that often conceal cavernous internal voids, formed by the escaping water. If a child climbs on a mound of sand that has such a hidden void, the external surface easily collapses. Sand from higher on the mound then rushes into the void, trapping the child in a sinkhole of loose sand. This is exactly what happened to the two brothers as they raced up one of the larger mounds.
          When the boys did not return home at dinnertime, family and neighbors organized a search. They found the younger brother. Only his head and shoulders protruded from the mound. He was unconscious from the pressure of sand on his body. The searchers began digging frantically. When they had cleared the sand to his waist, he roused to consciousness.
                “Where is your brother?” the rescuers shouted.
                “I’m standing on his shoulders,” replied the child.
          With the sacrifice of his own life, the older brother had lifted the younger to safety.

          [Husband’s] this is the grace that God extends to us and that we express to our wife as we use our resources and privileges [and strength] for the good of our wives.

Christ gave himself up—his very life—to save his bride. He wants us to be willing to do the same whether we are engaged, newly-weds, oldie-weds or middle-weds.

How did the Lord love his bride?

Secondly, he lowered himself to humbly serve her. I go outside of our text this morning and go to the Upper Room. The foot washing episode in the Upper Room has lost its shock value I fear.

But you remember how John begins his gospel. He wants us to understand that in the first three verses that Jesus is eternal God who created all that there is everywhere in the universe, known and unknown. Our galaxy, one of too many to count, let alone our universe is way, way, way oversized simply to be a home for homo sapiens. But it is the perfect size for God to show off his vast, immeasurable, breathtaking glory.

Jesus, eternal God the Son, Jesus who created Planet Earth of dust, in the Upper Room takes off his shirt, dips it in water, gets to his knees and soils himself with the dirt between his disciples toes. When he stood up in effect he said that was an enacted parable. That was an object lesson. I have left you an example for you to follow. The twelve disciples represent the twelve tribes of Israel, the church in microcosm, the Bride of Christ.

In effect he is saying, “If there is no distance too far for me to stoop to serve my bride, then there is nothing, absolutely nothing beneath you in serving your bride.”

An ideal husband will stoop to serve her day after day. He will not only die for her, he will do the much harder thing which is to live for her one mundane day after another.

How else does the Lord Jesus love his Bride? He loved her when she didn’t return his love. Romans 5:8. He loved her, gave himself up for her when she hated him, when she was an enemy to him.

It’s one thing to die for a wife that loves you. It’s natural to live for a wife that serves you and returns your love and then some. But it is downright counterintuitive, if not humanly impossible, to love a wife that does not love you back. And yet, the Bible says that we are worse than that. You and I are worse than that. He rightly accuses us of whoring after other gods, playing the adulteress. Our love for Christ is about as constant as Gomer’s was for Hosea! And yet, he continually pursues us still.

This is what I am praying for myself and for you husbands. The next time your wife hurts you by what she says or what she does, I am praying that you and I will have more self-control to not return hurt for hurt at that moment; but that we have the grace to pull back and exercise some self-control and ask, “Has she hurt me anywhere near the degree that I have spurned the love of Christ today?”

How has Christ loved his Bride?

   1.  He gave himself up for her.
   2.  He lowered himself to humbly serve her.
   3.  He loved her when she didn’t return his love.

We don’t have it within ourselves, husbands, we don’t. We don’t have this kind of love to love our wives when they seem unlovely to us. Where are we going to get the resources to love when we are empty and they seem ugly? The Lord Jesus Christ is the one and only author and Infinite Ocean of love and he eagerly awaits us to seek him, to call on him, to fill us with an alien love. He gets great glory when answering that prayer.

Husbands we may never reflect more of his giving nature then when we love an undeserving or an unlovely wife. Love her as you are loved by him! Take the vertical love that you receive from God and bend it horizontally to your wife!

How else are we to love our wife? What does the text say?

Love them as our own bodies. So I ask myself, “How do I love myself?” I have come up with these two answers.

   1. I naturally seek my own happiness, my own joy, and my own good.  No one ever had to talk me into being more self-interested. It comes pretty naturally. I like myself no matter how low my self-esteem may be at a given moment. I still want what is best for me and I care about my future. In fact I don’t think I am capable of not caring about my future.

Jesus is simply saying, “Care the same way. Care the same way about your wife. After all she is not a separate identity from you. She is more than your right arm; she is your heart and your soul. The way you so naturally care about yourself, your happiness, your future, care for her. Make the securing of her happy welfare your joyful duty. Seek your happiness in hers!

   2. I love myself also in this way. I forgive myself 7 X 70. Lewis said there is always one person whose sin we hate and abhor and yet we keep on loving and forgiving them. Guess who that person is? It is you.

We do the very thing we hate. We live in Romans 7 don’t we? We don’t do the very thing we ought and though frustrated with ourselves, we still find ourselves eventually forgiving ourselves and moving on. We desire our best and give ourselves a second chance, a third, a fourth and a millionth chance. Our forgiveness and forbearance seems infinite with ourselves.

Husbands, forgive your wife the way you forgive yourself. Don’t hold her to a higher standard than you are willing to keep yourself.

Men, think of this. Two Sunday nights from today I am going to do everything I can to impress upon your wife that she needs to respect you even when you are not worthy of it. Think of this. If we loved our wives like this: like Christ loved the church and as we love ourselves, how much easier we’re making it for our wives to respect us. We live on their respect and we shrivel when we don’t get it.

An ideal husband doesn’t wait for his wife to change before he starts loving her as Christ loved his bride. This is meant to encourage you if you are in a strained marriage at the time. You don’t have to have a near perfect marriage for Jesus to get great glory in it. Loving an unlovely spouse is exactly what Jesus did and is doing.

Someone said Jesus is in the longest bad marriage in history and he is not giving up! Praise the Lord! Husbands, let’s give our wives a thousand expressions of our undying love. They need to hear it often.

I close with this letter that you may have already heard if you are familiar with Ken Burns’ series on the Civil War. If you have watched that from beginning to end, you have heard this letter read in that series. This is from Major Ballou:

             July 14, 1861
             Camp Clark, Washington

             My very dear Sarah,
             The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days—perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write again, I feel impelled to write a few lines that may fall under your eye when I shall he no more….
              Sarah my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me with mighty cables  that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me unresistibly on with all these chains to the battle field.
              The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when, God willing, we might still have lived and loved together, and seen our sons grown up to honorable manhood, around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me — perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar, that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the baffle field, it will whisper your name. Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have often times been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness….
              But, O Sarah! if the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the gladdest days and in the darkest nights….always, always, and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek it shall he my breath, as the cool air fans your throb­bing temple, it shall he my spirit passing by. Sarah do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again….

                Major Ballou was killed at Bull Run.

And that touching letter will be 150 years old this July. How did it come about that I had it in my hands to read to you this morning?  Let me use my imagination.

This dear wife, Sarah, gets this letter and she reads it to herself and she reads it to her children and then maybe she reads it again after she put her children to bed by candlelight. Maybe she reads it a second time the next day and she adds that to the collection of letters that she has received from her husband while at war. And then she gets another letter. But this one says something to the effect that “Your husband gave his last full measure,” and so she takes the letter that I just read to you, she reads it again and perhaps to her children also. Then she puts it away. And whether she marries again or not, I don’t know, but you can imagine this little stack of communications that she has kept and made a treasure of. And whether she gave them to Edgar or to one of the other children and they gave it to their children and so forth, we have it today.

Men, when you exercise your God-given authority and lead with this kind of love she will look up to you. She can’t help but look up to you and follow you to hell and back. When we love our wife as Christ loved the church and as we love our very own selves, we work with our climbing partner and not against her and we help her summit the Mt. Salvation.