45. Sacrificial Love

Ephesians Meditations No.45

Eph  5:25-28 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 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. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.

‘Love’ has a variety of meanings. In modern life it has acquired a strong link with sexual relationship but that is not the love that is referred to in the Bible. In the New Testament, there are two words used for love. One of them refers to brotherly love, the other, the main one, refers to a commitment; this is ‘agape’ love and it is the love of God and the love between Father and the Son, and it is the Son’s love for is. It is not about warm fuzzy emotional feelings, it is about commitment. Modern love goes through sexual relationship to friendship to commitment, but that is not the way God has designed us to work best and the numbers of cohabiting partnerships or even marriages based on this approach but which break up, are a testimony to this. God’s order is friendship first, then commitment, then sex as the outworking of that commitment. Real love, as the Bible sees it, goes through the phase of getting to know a person well and then, despite what you know (!) you come to a place of commitment. Yes feelings do have a part in it all but the feelings of love have content, first of all knowing about the person and then committing to that person.

Now what is interesting is that Paul in these verses in Ephesians, chapter 5, doesn’t ask the woman to ‘love’ the man, but to submit to him. Now that isn’t a cultural or simply historical reason, I suggest; it is to do with the fact that the woman, with her child-bearing capabilities, lives very much more on the basis of emotions, and of course emotions go up and down. So, implied Paul in the verses we considered previously, let the man take the responsibility before God for your lives together. Now when it comes to the man, the command is quite different: Husbands, love your wives,” and love here means be totally committed to your wife.

Now I have to suggest that some of our ideas about why ‘submit’ and why ‘love’ are purely speculation for Paul doesn’t really tell us why the distinction. It may be something quite different from what I have suggested above. It may be that Paul knows that the woman’s tendency (sinfully) is to seek to dominate her husband by words, and thus his call to submit, puts that tendency to death. It may be that Paul knows that men are far more open to be driven or motivated purely by sex and vulnerable to illicit relationships, and therefore to counteract that tendency, he calls for total commitment which gives no leeway for that to happen.

In case there is any question in the mind of the man reading Paul’s words, he makes it quite clear: “just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 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.” In other words, men, if you want to know what Paul is calling you to, it is to a life that a) lays down self for the other, and b) is totally committed to working to bless the other to bring them into being the very best person they can be.

Observe, first of all, the first of those two things.  This love is sacrificial. It means that you will lay down your life for the wellbeing of your wife. That is the starting attitude that is required. This means that you lay down your own personal desires and preferences to bless your partner. But then I suggested that the second part, looking at what Christ IS doing for the church, means that your life is committed to be working to bless your wife so much that she is changed for the better. This is not you trying to get her to conform to your ideas of what makes a perfect wife, but you simply express your love for her so much that she is changed by the love.

Se how Paul finishes it off: “In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” Perhaps Paul has in mind here the oneness that is found in Genesis: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” (Gen 2:24). Paul knows that we ‘love’ our own bodies, we care for them, protect them and look after them, so he instructs us men to love our wives in the same way as we love ourselves and because in marriage there is this oneness, when we love our wife like this, we love ourselves.

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