How Does A Man Really Love His Wife?

I find a lot of men putting themselves down, going on regular guilt trips, and getting beat up by the women’s movement.Today I want to encourage you men to love yourselves. You have a lot going for you; you have great potential for the future; you can change the world. As a matter of fact, husbands are among the greatest people around. So love yourself. That’s my theme for today. OK? (I thought for sure I’d hear a few “amens” on that. I’ll bet most of you are afraid you’d get jabbed in the ribs).

Now before the wives start walking out, there is one important fact about my exhortation to the husbands which I haven’t mentioned yet–and that is the matter of how we are to go about loving ourselves. What is the most important thing a man can do to show himself love? The answer is found in Eph. 5:28: “He who loves his own wife loves himself.” Guys, if you want to do the nicest thing in the world for yourself–love your wife! The rewards are enormous.

But I’m a bit ahead of myself already. If you’ll open your Bible to the passage of the morning, I’d like to read it and then point out the structure of Paul’s reasoning in Eph. 5:25-33:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her {26} to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, {27} and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. {28} In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. {29} After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church {30} for we are members of his body. {31} “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” {32} This is a profound mystery but I am talking about Christ and the church. {33} However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Bible Scholar Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones has stated in respect to the parallel passage in Colossians), “The failure to understand and implement the truth of these verses is the cause of most of the problems in the world today.” That may sound like an overstatement, but if it is, it is not by much. A member of our congregation told me she was listening to a talk show and the guest had written a book entitled, Husbands from Hell. There are a lot of women, unfortunately, who feel they could contribute a chapter to that book. But there are also a number who would be glad to contribute to one entitled, Husbands from Heaven. Hopefully before we are through with this series there will be more.

I want to take a moment to review last week’s message. We laid some extremely important groundwork by pointing out that every one of us has two basic needs in our lives–the need for security and the need for significance. Unless those two needs are met, it is almost impossible for us to function effectively as a loving partner in marriage. The problem is that many of us are looking to our spouse for our security and significance, while the Bible teaches us that we must look to God. Because He loves us unconditionally (and, in fact, is the only one who loves us unconditionally) He is the only sure source of security. And because He created us, gifted us, and called us to serve Him, our basic significance and self-worth must also be found in Him. Once we believe, understand, and appropriate these truths, then we are able to reach out in love to others. We can be reinforcers rather than contradictors of the ministry of security and significance that God has in the life of our spouse and our children.

I was talking to a man in the church this week, a man who deeply loves his wife and has a good marriage, and he responded, “When my wife hurts me, I don’t automatically think about my security and significance being in God. I get angry and fight back. That’s what’s automatic.” Yes, that is our natural response, but I am convinced that the deeper our experience with God and the more we learn of His unconditional love, the more hurts we will be able to overlook, forgive, and even respond to in love instead of in anger.

This is a process, friends, not an event. If we are insecure or lack genuine self-worth, we didn’t get that way overnight; and we won’t resolve those feelings overnight. But neither will we resolve them by going to assertiveness classes and reading secular books on empowerment. We need to go to the right source, which is God Himself. As we allow Him to meet our needs, then we are able to begin meeting our wife’s needs.

Now Paul’s main point is obvious–it’s found in the command, “Husbands, love your wives,” and those words are repeated three times for emphasis–in vs. 25, 28, and 33. Two primary arguments are offered as to how a husband should love his wife. In vs. 25-27 the Apostle develops the notion that husbands should love their wife as Christ loved them. Then in 28-33 we are told that husbands should love their wife as they love themselves. Then thirdly, in a parallel passage from I Peter, we learn that husbands should love their wife as her needs dictate.

I would infer from this that if we’ll study how Christ loved us, and if we’ll study how men love themselves, and if we’ll study the needs of our wife, we should gain significant insight into how to love our wife effectively. Love is something we have to work at. It is an art to be learned and a discipline to be maintained.

So, let’s consider the Apostle’s first argument.

Husbands, love your wife as Christ loved you. (25-27)

I want to mention four things about Christ’s love for the Church which I believe we need to imitate in our relationship with our wife.

Love her with an active love. It should be obvious that this command has nothing directly to do with emotions. Paul is not saying, “I command you husbands to tingle up and down your spines when you see your wife.” That would be ridiculous (I don’t mean it’s ridiculous that we should tingle up and down our spines, but that anyone should command us to do so). Emotions are simply not something that are subject to commands. The kind of love Eph. 5 is addressing is agape love. The Apostle Paul had other words available to him which describe emotional love, sensual love, and deep friendship, but he ignored those words and chose agape. This kind of love is best defined as “love that acts for the best good and promotes the well-being of the other person, demanding nothing in return.”

Agape love is a love of the will, not the emotions. It is a love that one chooses, not just happens to fall into. It is a love that walks the walk, not just talks the talk. Clearly this is the kind of love Christ has for us. He acted in love toward us by dying for us, redeeming us, forgiving us, interceding for us; He didn’t just talk about His love, He acted upon it.

However, while agape love is concerned with the will, not the emotions, there’s an interesting phenomenon which I have noticed countless times in the marriage relationship. When a husband fulfills the command to love his wife with agape love, he will almost invariably find emotional love between him and his wife rekindled. I have seen cases where a husband and wife could hardly stand one another–they actually turned each other’s stomachs. But when one of them began to act toward the other with agape love, even when they didn’t want to, the flames of emotional love began to flicker, and eventually real passion broke out once again. But we have to start with God’s kind of love–agape love, an active love.

Love her with an unselfish love. Agape love is totally unselfish. It does kind things expecting nothing in return. You say, “that’s not human.” I agree. This is divine love. But God wants to share it; He wants us to learn it. And the best way to grasp it is to look at the kind of love Christ exercised for the Church. He never sought His own benefit; He never loved the Church for what He could get out of her; He always sought her best good.

Think with me, men, about some of the ways we exhibit selfishness in our marriages: taking the many contributions of your wife to the home for granted; making decisions without consulting her or worse yet, against her expressed desires; refusing to open up and share what is going on in our jobs or in our minds; paying more attention to the news or sports or the dog than we do to her; expecting physical affection without first connecting with her emotionally.

Let me comment about this latter issue briefly because I hear a lot about it in marriage counseling. Wives crave affection from their husbands–not affection that leads to something else, just affection. A hug, a light kiss, cuddling, holding hands–these show her she’s important and cherished in her own right. But to offer this frequently without demanding anything further requires unselfish love on the part of the husband.

Love her with a sacrificial love. (25) It says in verse 25 that Christ “gave himself up for the Church.” The entire Incarnation was a sacrifice, but without a doubt the greatest way in which Christ demonstrated His love for the Church was through His sacrifice on the Cross. “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Christ’s sacrifice for the Church serves as an example for husbands. Not that we can make the same quality of sacrifice He made, but we need to be willing to give up that which is important to us if it is for the good of our wife.

For example, when a man marries, he must sacrifice the ties he had to his parents (remember? “For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother and shall cleave to his wife.”) I’ve never seen a healthy marriage where this didn’t take place. It doesn’t mean he abandons his parents; it doesn’t mean he refuses their counsel; but it does mean that he puts his wife first. If the time ever comes when his parents force him to choose between them and her, he chooses her. I witnessed a situation where this happened in the past year, and though the husband has endured a lot of pain from members of his family, he showed his wife the sacrificial love talked about here in this text.

When a man marries he must also sacrifice his independence–his right to spend his money any way he pleases, the right to control over his time, the right to make career decisions on his own. That’s a real sacrifice for some men, especially those who were on their own for a length of time before marriage. One gets used to doing it his own way, but marriage requires a sacrifice of that spirit of independence.

Love her with a purifying love. Our text goes on to tell us why Jesus gave himself up for the Church: “to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word,” and “to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” The point is that Christ’s love for the Church is a purifying love, a love that cleanses, edifies, and refines. While Christ accepts us just as we are and loves us unconditionally, this does not allow Him to be content to leave us as we are. He has given us His Word as a cleansing agent for sin and moral impurity. The objective is to bring us to a place of maturity and holiness that brings us fulfillment and makes us fit for the presence of a King. God is constantly working in our lives to produce growth and holiness.

Likewise, a godly husband longs for growth and improvement in his wife’s life. He desires that she become all that she can be. He doesn’t try to hold her down but rather encourages her to use her talents and abilities and to be successful in all she pursues. At the same time, he cannot bear for her to be unnecessarily exposed to evil or harm. He will make sure that if she works outside the home, it is not in a degrading atmosphere.

Before leaving this theme of purifying love, allow me to mention a false concept that is very widespread today. It is the notion of “live and let live,” “accept one another’s faults and don’t try to change one another.” That, friends, is not how Christ treats us and it is not a healthy approach to marriage, in my opinion. Acceptance, certainly, is a trait we must always have; i.e. we must be willing to love despite our partner’s faults. But we must never cease wishing for and even working toward the removal of those faults. C. S. Lewis has expressed this truth in an incredibly perceptive fashion:

The Church is the Lord’s bride whom He so loves that in her no spot or wrinkle is endurable. For the truth which this analogy serves to emphasize is that Love, in its own nature, demands the perfecting of the beloved; that the mere “kindness” which tolerates anything except suffering in its object is, in that respect, at the opposite pole from Love. When we fall in love with a woman, do we cease to care whether she is clean or dirty, fair or foul? Do we not rather then first begin to care? Does any woman regard it as a sign of love in a man that he neither knows nor cares how she is looking? Love may, indeed, love the beloved when her beauty is lost; but now because it is lost. Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them; but Love cannot cease to will their removal. Love is more sensitive than hatred itself to every blemish in the beloved . . . . The loving husband forgives most, but he condones least; he is pleased with (only a) little, but demands all.

Of course, it makes a great deal of difference how one seeks to remove the infirmities in one’s spouse. Badgering and harassing is rarely effective. Ridicule never works. Stonewalling seldom accomplishes the goal. But loving encouragement can produce positive change in anyone. I like the way one writer put it: “The husband is to love his wife, not just because of the beauty he finds in her, but to make her more beautiful.” Or as another wrote, “Husbands should love their wives for what they are and should also love them sufficiently to help them to become what they should be.” I have seen women with terrible self-concepts blossom, literally come alive, under the careful nurture and encouragement of a loving husband.

Husbands, love your wives as Christ loves you! In other words, love her with an active love, an unselfish love, a sacrificial love, a purifying love.

Husbands, love your wife as you love yourself. (28-33)

Before developing Paul’s argument here, I think we need to understand one very important point, namely that there is nothing wrong with loving oneself in the sense Paul is talking about here. There is something wrong with doting on oneself, with pride, with selfishness. But there is nothing wrong with a proper and healthy self-worth. Jesus Himself said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If it weren’t proper to love yourself, then it wouldn’t be proper to love your neighbor either. As a matter of fact, people who don’t love themselves generally have a very difficult time loving other people. So when Jesus exhorts husbands to love their wives as they love themselves, He is not only acknowledging a fact, namely that men do love themselves, but He is also approving that fact.

Now as we evaluate these verses we find that the Apostle has given us an argument known as a syllogism. A syllogism is an argument form which has a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion. It is a logical argument if the truth of the conclusion follows necessarily from the premises. And certainly they do in this case:

Major premise: Every man loves his own body. (29)

Minor premise: The husband and his wife are one flesh. (31, quoting Gen. 2:24).

Conclusion: The husband must love his wife.

Now let’s look a bit more closely at the elements of this argument. First,

Major premise: Every man loves his own body. (28-30) This fact is stated both negatively and positively. “No one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it.” Paul is not alleging here that every man has a high self-concept, but he is saying that every man, even if he dislikes himself, still gives extraordinary care and concern to his body. Is that true, men?

Well, when you get hungry, do you say, “My stomach is growling, but let it growl. It’s always wanting something. If it were earning the money, like my hands or brains are doing, then it might have reason to complain. So I’m just going to ignore it.” No, of course not. When we’re hungry, we eat.

When you get tired, what do you do? Do you say, “This body is tired again. I can’t believe it. There’s so much work that needs to be done. I can’t see that it has done anything significant all day. All it ever does is watch TV and sleep.” No, you hit the sack. When you need a haircut, do you begrudge the fact that you just got one last month? No, you go and get one. When you want clothes, do you complain that there are clothes in the closet that have hardly ever been worn? No, you go and buy them.

I trust the point is established that every man loves his own body. That is the major premise. The minor premise is a theological one.

Minor premise: The husband and the wife are one flesh. (31,32) This point is proved by a quotation from the OT, Gen. 2:24. Since Pastor Paul spoke so clearly on that passage just a few weeks ago, we will not elaborate on it this morning, except to reiterate that marriage brings about a mystical and physical union between a husband and his wife which simply disallows each to think of himself or herself independently of the other. Now it’s time for the conclusion of the syllogism:

Conclusion: The husband must love his wife. (33) Verse 33: “Each one of you must love his wife as he loves himself.” The logic is pretty clear. If you really love your own body, and if you and your wife are one flesh, then you really must love your wife. And so we’ve returned to where we started. Men, love yourselves. Seek the best for yourselves. Treat yourselves as kings! But don’t forget that the best way to accomplish this is to love your wife.

If you want to know how to live this out practically, think through the loving things you do for yourself and then do the same kinds of things for her. You get your need met for social interaction and significant conversation with adults at work; meet her need for the same when you get home, especially if she stays at home all day with three kids and a dog. You meet your need for encouragement and praise as your boss thanks you for a job well done (or at least gives you a paycheck); meet her need for the same by thanking her for the little things she does to make your house into a home. You meet your need to get away from it all by traveling on business or taking a weekend off to hunt or fish; meet her need to get away by offering to take care of the kids while she goes to the Women’s Retreat, or get a baby sitter and take her away for a weekend yourself. Love your wife as you love yourself.

Now this leads right into our third and last exhortation, which comes from another passage, I Peter 3:7.

Husbands, love your wife as her needs dictate.

I Peter 3:7: “Husbands, be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” The first command here is for us to love our wife with considerate understanding.

Love her with considerate understanding. Over and over in marriage counseling I hear wives complain that their husbands do not understand them, are not sensitive to their feelings, and do not communicate with them.

Men, I know we don’t try to be this way, but the fact is we must try not to be this way. The command to be considerate means that we must be students of our wives, and at times this subject can be harder than calculus. Let me warn you, we will never graduate from this school. We can pass a course or two; a few may even get on the dean’s list; but we can never quit studying or learning. I have learned more about my wife’s needs in the past two years than I did in the first 30 years of our marriage put together, and I would still probably only merit a B-. (Don’t ask her).

Dr. Robert Seizer, in his book Mortal Lessons: Notes in the Art of Surgery, tells a remarkable story of performing surgery to remove a tumor in which it was necessary to sever a facial nerve, leaving a young woman’s mouth permanently twisted in palsy. In Dr. Seizer’s own words:

Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed, and together they seem to dwell in the evening lamp light, isolated from me, private. Who are they, I ask myself, he and this wry-mouth I have made, who gaze at and touch each other so generously, greedily? The young woman speaks. “Will my mouth always be like this?” She asks. “Yes,” I say, “it will. It is because the nerve was cut.” She nods, and is silent. But the young man smiles. “I like it,” he says. “It is kind of cute.” All at once I know who he is. I understand, and I lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with a god. Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and I , so close, can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers, to show her that their kiss still works.

Considerate understanding. How a wife yearns for it! How she deserves it!

Love her with tender courtesy. I Peter 3:7 goes on, “Treat them with respect as the weaker partner.” The Apostle has no intention of belittling wives when he refers to them as weaker. He certainly isn’t speaking of intellectual abilities or talents or gifts. But women are generally weaker physically and more sensitive emotionally. That’s partly what makes them excellent partners for men, who tend to be stronger physically and decidedly less sensitive emotionally.

It seems odd that the Apostle would even have to command men to treat their wives with respect or courtesy, but the fact is courtesy toward women in the ancient world was well-nigh unknown. It was, and still is, not an uncommon sight in the East to see a man riding on a donkey while his wife trudges by his side carrying a heavy load on her head. It was Christianity which introduced chivalry into the relationship between men and women. But Christian men are sometimes more like their ancient counterparts.

We must not forget the simple courtesies that characterized our behavior during courtship. Despite what the women’s movement seems to have communicated, most women still appreciate it when her husband, opens a door for her or helps her put on her coat or holds her hand as they walk through a mall.

One of the most remarkable examples of tender courtesy I have come across came from a recent Ann Landers column:

Dear Ann Landers:

I’m going to tell you about a love story that I witness every time I go to the nursing home to see my husband, who has Alzheimer’s disease. Unfortunately, I know firsthand how this terrible illness affects family members, but I would like the world to know what love really is.

I see a man who, I understand, has spent the last eight years caring for his wife, who has Alzheimer’s. They have been married over 50 years. He cooks and feeds her every bite of food she eats. He has bathed her and dressed her every day all these years. They have no other family. She lost a baby at birth, and they never had any more children.

I cannot describe the tenderness and love that man shows for his wife. She is unable to recognize anyone, including him. The only things she shows any interest in are two baby dolls. They are never out of her hands.

I observed him when I parked my car beside his the other day. He sat in his old pickup truck for a few minutes, then he patted down what little hair he had, straightened the threadbare collar of his shirt and looked in the mirror for a final check before going in to see his wife. It was as if he were courting her. They have been partners all these years and have seen each other under all kinds of circumstances, yet he carefully groomed himself before he called on his wife, who wouldn’t even know him.

This is an example of true love and commitment the world needs today.

Love her as your spiritual partner. “Treat them . . . as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life.” This, too, was unknown in the world to which Paul wrote. Women did not worship with men in Greece or Rome. Even in the Jewish synagogue they had no share in the service. When they were admitted at all they were segregated from the men and hidden behind a screen. Only in Christianity did the revolutionary principle emerge that women have equal spiritual rights. But what we have practiced at church has often been neglected at home.

I conducted an extensive scientific survey of wives this past week. I was sitting with two of them at the hospital and asked, “What would you say are the four most important things a wife wants from her husband.” For both of them #1 was, “I want him to put God first in His life so he can be my spiritual partner.” I think that’s close to what this passage is saying. A woman told me two weeks ago (and this is a woman who deeply loves her husband) that her heart aches to have her husband pray with her, but though he is a fine Christian man, he seems incapable of doing it. At a recent men’s breakfast here at the church my guess is that over 90% of the men raised their hands to indicate failure to regularly pray with their wives other than at the supper table.

Men, why is this such a common problem for us–we are eager to pray with our PK buddies but find it so hard to initiate prayer with our wives? I think the greatest factor must be vulnerability. We have such fragile egos, and we know that our wives know us better than anyone else. We can’t fake it with them like we can at church or at a men’s breakfast. But what we find out when we try it is that our wives will honor us for at least trying to be spiritual leaders.

But please understand that there is more to loving one’s wife as a spiritual partner than just praying with her. It involves discussing spiritual issues with her, encouraging her in her ministry, including her in yours, reading and discussing a Christian book together, and setting spiritual goals for the children together.

Men, let us not fail to notice the sanction that is placed upon the man who fails in his obligation to love his wife as her needs dictate, especially to love her as a spiritual partner? It’s found there at the end of I Peter 3:7: do it “so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” As one commentator puts it, “The sighs of the injured wife come between the husband’s prayers and God’s hearing.” (Barclay, p. 224). Here is a great truth: our relationship with God can never be right if our relationship with our spouse is wrong. It is when we are at one with each other that we are one with Him. But it is also true that only when we are rightly related to Him that we are rightly related to one another.

It may seem a bit strange to you that I have preached a long sermon on “How to Really Love Your Wife,” and I haven’t even mentioned sexual love. There’s a reason for that, and it is not that sexual love is unimportant in a marriage. It is critical. But the reason I haven’t mentioned it is because sex is rarely a root problem in marriage. If physical intimacy is not what we men want it to be in our marriage, it is almost always because we have failed in demonstrating agape love. The secret is learning to give love rather than straining and striving to attract it.

Men, I think we should close this morning with a time of confession and recommitment. Wives, we know we have failed you, we want to do better, we have a little more knowledge this morning about what to do, but some of us are just at the starting gate. We need you to pray for us, be patient with us, and try to help us. But men, it’s not going to happen unless we commit ourselves wholeheartedly to change, and appropriate God’s power to do it. Whatever it takes, it’s worth it.

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