As Christ Loved the Church
It may seem like a strange time to consider a husband’s love for his wife, but I wonder how many rioters, power-hungry politicians, and liberty-forsaking citizens grew up seeing the love of Christ lived out by their fathers? How many frustrated men and women in the church grew up witnessing Christ’s beautiful, transforming love in their fathers so that they were attracted to the old paths of Christian truth rather than the new ones of revolution? Disengaged husbands, abusive husbands, or sentimental husbands eventually create societal chaos. Christless husbands breed fear and hatred throughout society. Children grow up with distorted views of love and commitment, and therefore practice counterfeits, forsake God’s order for life, and demand perversion be legitimized. Or they grow up scared and uncertain, and become easy prey for promises of security and control. This is not to blame all social ills upon unloving husbands, but they directly contribute to the evils of our day.
“As Christ loved the church” –First, Jesus Christ is the model for the husband’s love. Books and sermons on being a good husband are helpful if they teach you about the love of Christ for his wife, the church, and call upon you to make Christ’s saving love the center of your life. At the end of the day, every husband who wants to obey the Holy Spirit will make the life of Christ his guide for loving his wife. Whatever one’s specific views on authority and headship, Christ’s sacrificing, patient, serving love is the model for every Christian husband. He was not boisterous, argumentative, moody, self-serving, or “I must have my needs met first.” At the same time, he possessed authority, true headship, and the final word. We must come and “learn of him,” as he said. Follow me, he says to every Christian husband, and I will teach you to love your wife as I loved mine.
Second, as Jesus Christ is the model for the husband’s love, he is also the power behind the husband’s love. There is something absolutely heavenly about a husband learning to put his own needs last or not mention them at all, smile while serving a sick wife for years, or refuse on the one hand to brow-beat his wife, and on the other to be brow-beaten but learn to confront and lead with firm gentleness and meek boldness. These are such opposites, humanly speaking, that to find them in the same person impossible, but we know the Person in whom to find them, our Lord Jesus. Around him the humiliation-exaltation, firmness-gentleness, leading-serving paradigms revolve and find their source of strength.
To say that Jesus Christ is the power behind the husband’s love means that being a loving husband is impossible apart from a living union and communion with him. The key, therefore, to being a “good husband,” is the same as being a “good Christian” – to be much in the fellowship of Jesus, to seek constant strength from him to walk as he walked, and generally to believe and practice his “without me, you can do nothing.” This “nothing” includes loving your wife as he loved his church. At the same time, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Make Christ the center of your life, walk closely with him, and he will transform your marriage. Imitate Christ is forgotten. To imitate him, his word must dwell in us, his Spirit guide and empower us. To be a Christian husband, seek Christ, repent and believe in Jesus Christ, and walk in his company.
Third, Jesus Christ is the center of the husband’s life. Jesus did not love his wife based upon his wife’s love for him, what he got out of loving her, or whether she was worthy of his love and sacrifice. Here we begin to see something of the true glory of Christian marriage with Christ at the living center. A Christian husband cannot say, “Well, there is no point in loving my wife like this, or trying to get better at it, for she will never be satisfied, is always trying to change me, and will not listen to me.” Ah, you mean that you have a wife like Jesus has. End of excuses, dear brother. Our Lord never developed his husbanding or found the motivation for his love in his wife’s loving, willing responses to him. If you would be like him, neither must you. Your goal is not your wife but your Lord. You should not desire ultimately to be a better husband in hopes of getting a relational return on your investment. Please your Lord by believing and being made like him, and leave your wife to him.
Fourth, Jesus Christ gives hope to Christian husbands. Our world is losing models, forgetting its history, and therefore losing hope. As a Christian man with the Savior you have, you can start today loving your wife, whatever the state of your marriage or your wife’s attitude toward you. Consider marital conflict as an extension of the disciples’ argument that last night ---- “who will be the greatest.” Jesus did not stop them and renew his previous lessons on discipleship and humility. He showed them humility, what being great truly is – humbling oneself, taking the lowest place in the room, emptying oneself to serve those undeserving of service. He defused pride and conflict by stooping low and washing feet.
You can do this in a variety of ways. If you and your wife have longstanding, as long as the marriage has lasted, conflicts and disagreements, one way you can wash her feet is to invite her regularly to join you before the throne of grace. Strong marriages have many problems and sins; strong marriages know to whom to turn in every disagreement and trial. Satisfying marriages seek satisfaction not in the relationship but in the Savior. Your wife may not let you wash her feet, but she must follow you to the Savior in prayer, where only the lowly are accepted. You will have to learn where her feet need to be washed, but notice that Jesus did not stick his out feet and say, “Learn humility by washing my feet.” He taught humility by washing theirs. It was an example they never forgot – except one, whose pride responded with bitterness and betrayal.
Fifth, Jesus the greatest Husband gives us a goal in loving our wives – to nurture and cherish our wives, beautifying them. Now, it is a strange kind of beautifying Jesus works upon his wife. It is not letting her have her own way all the time, or withholding correction when needed, or even leading her into some dark places of testing. But in them all, he is working beauty in her – the beauty of faith and love and hope. Following Jesus, are your words and actions, husband, communicating to your wife that you are seeking in Christ to make her more beautiful – or to get something you want? Do you communicate she is the most important person in the world to you – or an annoyance, an interference, an obstacle to your peace? Ask your wife if she feels nurtured and cherished.
Sixth, but all this flows from the main way Jesus loved his wife – he laid down his life for her, to save her life by sacrificing his, exchanging places with her, the holy for the filthy, the living for the dead. Jesus Christ loves his wife by sacrifice. Love is sacrificing self, “making oneself of no reputation,” denying even one’s “rights” for higher ends. Outside of daily fellowship with Christ, it would be easier for me to pick up Mt. Everest and carry it to Atlanta than lay down my life for my wife. But wait – is not the believer’s life lived in Christ, a life that belongs to Jesus, purchased with his precious blood? Has he not given us his Spirit so that we have strength, real strength, to become servants to our wives and find joy in putting her first? You see, being a Christian husband is really being a Christian with your wife, walking with Christ, learning and drawing from him strength, humility, courage, and joy. Otherwise, bitterness builds, needs become rights, sins become plagues, and your wife (or your husband) becomes the scapegoat for what was really all the time a failure to bring into our marriages the glorious grace and power of our risen Savior.