A Word to Husbands

April 29th, 2018 sermon
By John Ulrich, Senior Pastor

 Ephesians 5:25-33

In Ephesians 5, Paul teaches us that Christian marriage is the human echo of the relationship of Christ and His Church.  Last week, we learned that wives are to submit to their husbands as they do to the Lord, just as the Church submits to Christ, and Christ to the Father (Eph. 5:22-24.)  This week Paul instructs husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the Church (Eph. 5:25).

I. The Nature of True Love (Eph. 5: 25-33)


A. True Love Sacrifices

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her..” (Eph. 5: 25)  In Christian marriage, men are to give themselves up for their wives, and put the well-being of their wives ahead of their own desires, wishes, and at times, even needs. This love is an underlying attitude of gifting ourselves sacrificially for others, in order to love them truly.  We are then reflecting the love of Jesus who deliberately suffered and died in our place to make us (His Church) right with God.

B. True Love Purifies.

“Christ…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.” (Eph. 5:25-27) This is the reverse of what normally happens at a modern wedding where the bride is prepared by others, and the groom waits until the actual ceremony even to see his bride. Here Paul teaches that Christ accepts and loves all of us who believe. In the midst of our flaws (before purifying), He loves us and then His Spirit transforms us to “make..” His bride (the Church) holy and blameless. In marriage, the husband’s love exists to bring the wife to her best (accepting her as she is and helping to make her lovely).

C. True Love Invests.

“Husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” (Eph. 5:28) Just as Christ loves the Church and totally invested in/gave Himself for their lives (Eph. 5:29), husbands are to love their wives so completely that they are described as “one flesh” (Eph. 5: 31).

II. The Source of True Love is Christ.

Although true love seems to be in short supply in our self-centered world today, Scripture teaches us to have an underlying attitude of submission (Eph. 5:21), sacrifice (Eph.5:25), and investment (Eph.5:29) as we walk in love with one another (Eph. 5:2).

True love will never work without Christ, or even with Christ only as a model/pattern for loving. We just cannot do this type of love alone. Christ (our source of True Love) can fully love us as we are because He is God.  We are limited because sin blocks us, but thankfully we can be freed to love truly by the daily leading, guidance, and power of the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of Christ within us). As both model and source, if we ask Christ, He will continually give us True Love for our spouse…our family…and Christian brothers and sisters.

Discussion Questions

  1. What does SACRIFICIAL love look like in marriage? in friendships? in church relationships? What might we have to give up/sacrifice?
  2. What does PURIFYING love look like in marriage? in friendships? in church relationships?
  3. What does it mean to INVEST ourselves in relationships, of marriage? friendships? church folks?
  4. Who is it that we are to show True Love to, according to Eph. 5 and to all Scripture?
  5. As believers, we all have a “love debt” for Jesus’ love toward us.  Do you find yourself paying off this debt with the “Christian” obligation of “good works”, or is it a paying forward to glorify God with an attitude of the overflowing of His love in us?


Good Morning! Today I want to talk about the topic of True Love. True love is an important topic, isn’t it? We make movies about true love, like Titanic and Princess Bride. We write literature about true love pieces, like Romeo & Juliet and Pride and Prejudice. We sing hundreds and hundreds of songs about it. We even make jokes about true love, don’t we? Ladies, why should you never try to find true love with a Pastry Chef? He might desert you. Hope why should you never marry a tennis player? Love means nothing to him. Why will you always find true love with a goalie? Because he’s a keeper. I could do this all day (Kelley “knock knock” Amishyoutoo). But what is true love? Husbands you need to know because today is your day!

We are continuing today in our series on Relationships called “Master Plan.” We’re moving through Ephesians 5. This is the longest instruction on marriage in all of the New Testament. Last week, we looked at the Apostle Paul’s instruction to the wives. Paul gave instruction to the wives that was challenging and difficult and very, very counter-cultural to us today. What was that, ladies? Submit. Yeah, the S-word. It was a tough word, but a good word. We saw that it was a word that every Christian needs to embrace. So that was Paul’s word to the wives.

Now today Paul is going to shift his focus and speak to husbands. Men, he will have about three time as much to say to us as he did to the wives. I hope we can all appreciate that what Paul is going to say would in his day have been every bit as controversial, every bit as counter-cultural, as his instruction to wives is to us today. Because, men, Paul is going to tell us not to make sure our wives submit, not to boss them. He’s not even going to tell us to lead them. Paul is going to tell us to love our wives with true love. To love them as Christ loved the church. We’re going to see, as we look at this passage today, that if we love them as Christ loved us, then husbands our love will be our leadership. So we will look at this love today. Let me invite you to turn in your Bibles to Ephesians 5:25. As we look at this passage, we are just going to look at two things today:

  1. What is the nature of true love? We will see three characteristics of true love today.
  2. What is the source of true love? Where does this love come from?

Let me say this to all of us today: This passage was specifically written to husbands to teach us how to love our wives. So wives, feel free to sharpen your elbows. But the kind of love that Paul describes in this passage is the same kind of love that is to run throughout the entire church. In Ephesians 5:2, Paul tells the whole church this:

Live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

– Ephesians 5:2

Listen, that is almost word for word the way he is going to describe the husband’s love for his wife in this passage. So what I’m saying is this: This passage and the instructions in it relate to everyone. They relate first and foremost to the way husbands are to love their wives, but they also relate to the way wives are to love their husbands and to the way we are all supposed to love each other in the church. So let’s just read this beautiful passage:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church (meaning the people in 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. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”  This is a profound mystery but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

– Ephesians 5:25-33

Today my goal is not actually to guilt you or to give you a seminar on how to evaluate your love. Rather, today my goal is really to inspire you, to show you the quality the excellence of Christ’s love for the church, and to invite you to love others, including your spouse, in that way.

The Nature of True Love

This is a beautiful passage, isn’t it? It’s a stunning, winsome, beautiful description of Jesus’ love for the church and of the love we are to have for each other. We want to start today by looking at the nature of true love. We want to look at what true love is really like. This passage gives us three  characteristics that describe true love, and the first is this:

  1. True Love Sacrifices

Paul gives us a thumbnail sketch, an overview, of how Christ loved the church. Look at what he says:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.

– Ephesians 5:25

Notice what the text says: “Christ gave himself up for the church.” The word used in the original language there means to “hand yourself over,” to “turn yourself in,” like a fugitive turns himself in to the authorities. If we think about it, we can see that this is talking about Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross. Scripture says He was “given up” to the authorities to be tried and executed. Jesus suffered and died in our place. Scripture says He became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God. He died in our place.

Here’s the thing: If you read the gospels, it is quite clear that Jesus didn’t just stumble into the cross. It wasn’t something he tried to avoid but couldn’t or even something he just tolerated. If you read the gospels, Jesus caused the cross. He deliberately sacrificed himself. He set it all up. The anger of the crowd, the betrayal by Judas, the charges of the Jewish rulers, the condemnation by Pilate, he set the whole thing up. Jesus deliberately sacrificed himself for the sake of the church so that you and I could be made right with God. He gave himself up for the church. That’s an incredible thought! That’s how Jesus loved the church, and Paul reminds us of that here.

But then look at the beginning of the verse again. Paul tells us that we should love our wives “just as”  or “in the same way as” Christ loved the church. Men, we are to “give ourselves up” for our wives. We are to love them sacrificially. We are to put their well-being ahead of our own. We are to forego our desires and wishes and, at times, even our needs for them.

So what does look like to do that? How would you describe it? Well, I came across a great quote  from a guy named Walter Tobisch. He was a German Pastor and Missionary to Africa. He and his wife wrote a book on marriage. He described the kind of love we should have for our wife in these words. I love them:

“Let me try to tell you what it should really mean if a fellow says to a girl, ‘I love you.’ It means: You, you, you. You alone. You shall reign in my heart. You are the one whom I have longed for, without you I am incomplete. I will give everything for you, and I will give up everything for you, myself as well as all that I possess. I will love you alone, and I will work for you alone. And I will wait for you I will never force you, not even by words. I want to guard you, protect you and keep you from all evil. I want to share with you all my thoughts, my heart and my body all that I possess. I want to listen to what you have to say. There is nothing I want to undertake without your blessing. I want to remain always at your side.”

That’s a pretty good description of the love Paul is calling for here. But did you catch what he said?  “I will give everything for you, and I will give up everything for you. I will wait for you. I want to keep you from all evil.”

I know that’s very lofty. It may even sound a little chauvinistic, but that really is at least part of the kind of love that Paul is talking about here. I’m not trying to be old fashioned here, but can I say something? Sometimes it seems to me like that kind of love is in short supply in our world today. I’m not saying it’s not out there, but we can by so cynical. I mean Kelley and I do a lot of premarital counseling. Sometimes it really seems like the emphasis nowadays is so much on: “What are my goals for this marriage? How can I communicate my emotional and sexual expectations more clearly, so that my partner can meet them. How do we form an equitable partnership? How do I demand my rights? I mean in a pleasant and reasonable way, but still, how do I demand them?” That often seems to be the focus.

I’m not saying those things are bad. Communication is great! But can I just say that underlying attitude is NOT what Paul is talking about here. His emphasis is not on our rights or some negotiated settlement here. It’s on what we willingly, sacrificially give up for our partner. Ladies,  remember last week when we talked about submission. We said that as strong as that word is the Bible never tells a husband to demand it. It’s something you freely give as a gift. Well husbands,

Paul is saying the same thing to you here. Your wife needs to be loved! She needs emotional connection. She needs to know that you love her. She needs you to pursue her and love her sacrificially. But that’s not something she should have to demand. It’s a free gift from you. Paul calls us here to love each other sacrificially just like Christ loved the church. So the first characteristic of true love is that it sacrifices. The second is this:

True Love Purifies

It moves the person that is loved away from all that they shouldn’t be and towards what they should be. It’s a purifying love. Paul gives the reason for Christ’s sacrifice:

Christ 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.

– Ephesians 5:26-27

Now when Paul says this, he’s sort of blending or intertwining two different word pictures together for us. One word picture is of the church and how Christ cleanses us through baptism  and through the teaching of the word and through setting us apart (which is what holiness is). So that’s one word picture. He gives us a second word picture, which is this beautiful imagery of a middle-eastern bride preparing for her wedding ceremony. In both Greek and Hebrew culture, a bride took a special ritual bath before the wedding, so that when she stood before her husband  she would be a radiant bride with no spots or blemishes.

Paul is playing off that imagery here when he talks about blemishes and spots and washing with water here. But if we want to understand what Paul is really getting at, there’s a key element to this bridal image that we cannot miss, and it’s this: This is completely backward to the way things are normally done! He gives us this bridal image, but it’s the reverse of what normally happens.

Let me explain: In a normal wedding, whether it’s Greek or Hebrew, ancient or modern, the husband never prepares the bride for the wedding! That is the job of her attendants! In modern terms, the bride has a seamstress that makes sure her dress is perfect. She has professionals to do her hair and makeup. She has a florist to take care of her flowers, and she has a maid of honor to hold her bouquet and arrange her dress, right? The one person that is NOT allowed to help her prepare is her husband! In fact, he isn’t even allowed to see her before the ceremony. After the bridesmaids come out, they close the doors before the bridal march starts.

OK, so why do they do all that? Because the husband is supposed to be wowed! He’s supposed have that “hubba hubba” (McRib) moment that Adam did. He’s supposed to be overwhelmed by her beauty! He is supposed to see what a great deal he’s getting!

The point of all that tradition and pageantry is to honor the bride, to show what a big deal she is!  The reason they close the doors, and change music, and everyone stands, and she walks slowly down that aisle is because this is her radiant moment this is where everyone sees her at her best.

It’s funny. As a Pastor, I’m often doing the wedding ceremony and I get to see the groom’s face up close. You should see their reaction: Some of them go slack-jawed. Some get a big stupid grin on their face. Some suddenly look really nervous. Some of them, when they see their bride, just cry like a baby! It’s an incredible moment, because he sees her at her best and realizes what a lucky guy he is.

But listen if we want to feel the real power of this passage and understand the kind of love that God is calling us to have for our wives, we have to know something: This is the opposite of that. This isn’t a husband that sees his bride at her best. This isn’t a husband who sees a radiant, fully developed, perfectly coiffed, stunningly dressed bride. When it comes to Christ’s love for the church, he doesn’t love her because she’s at her best. He loves her to bring her to her best.

Look at verses 26-27 again. Christ 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.

– Ephesians 5:26-27

He’s doing this not because she’s holy, and radiant, and spotless, and blameless. He’s doing this to make her holy, and radiant, and spotless, and blameless. Then when he’s done with all that, he’s going to present us as a church to himself. Our groom is going to come for us and take us away. We are going to be radiant! We’re not going to have all our nagging flaws. We’re not going to be argumentative or immature or quick-tempered  or ungrateful or arrogant. We’re going to be the way we are supposed to be. We’re going to be at our best. Radiant. Stunning. He doesn’t love us, because we are at our best. He loves with the kind of love that brings us to our best.

Here’s the kicker: That’s how we’re supposed to love one another, whether we are a member of the body of Christ, or a wife, or especially if we are a husband. “Husbands love your wife as Christ loved the church.” Our love is to be a purifying love, not a love that exists because our spouse is at their best, but a love that exists in order to bring our spouse to their best.

Do you know what that means? That means dealing with wrinkles and spots. It means loving someone who has nagging flaws, loving them while they are argumentative and immature and quick-tempered and ungrateful and arrogant, because that’s how Christ loved you, that’s how he loved the church. He loved her not because she was lovely but in order to make her lovely.

Our love is (1) to be sacrificial (2) it’s also to be purifying. Paul goes on to give us one more characteristic of true love, and it’s this:

True Love Invests

Paul says something interesting in verse 28-32 look at what he says:

In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery but I am talking about Christ and the church.

– Ephesians 5:28-32

Paul is saying here that we should invest in our own spouse. we should invest in them just as we invest in, we feed and care for, our own body. To understand what Paul is getting at here, we need to know that just like he did in those last verses about purifying love Paul is going back and forth here between two different word pictures: On the one hand, he’s talking about marriage, so he goes back to the creation of Eve and the story of how God made man and wife to be one flesh in the marriage relationship. On the other hand, he’s talking about Christ’s relationship with the church, not just in the sense that Christ created the church or purifies it, but in the sense that we as the church are the body of Christ. Once we come to believe in Christ, his Spirit comes to live inside us and we become a part of the body of Christ, the true church, so that we have a special relationship with one another.

So Paul is playing back and forth between these two metaphors the “one-flesh-marriage” and the “one-body-church.” Like I said at the beginning of the sermon, what Paul is saying here applies both to our relationship to the body of Christ and to our marriage relationship. We will feel it more intensely in our marriages, but it’s true for both.

Here’s the thing: Whichever relationship we are talking about, Paul’s logic is exactly the same. He gives an argument that is based on incorporation and permanence. What Paul is saying here is that because of that one flesh/one body relationship we should love each other as we love own body.

Now what is Paul’s point here? What is his logic? How does it relate to investing and to permanence and incorporation? Let me try to explain it with an illustration I’ve given once before: A  while ago I burned my thumb. We had been grilling steak earlier. It was after dark. I had left the grill on high to clean and I accidentally got too close to, it touched it and burned the back of my right thumb. Now how do you think I responded to my thumb when that happened? Well, I’ll tell how I responded: I blamed it. I said “You stupid thumb! You just had to go and burn yourself  didn’t you? You know the brain didn’t want me to get burned, but you just had go over to the hot grill. I blamed it! Then I brought up the past: I said “You always do this, and you know it makes me angry! This reminds me of that time in Wichita when you got caught in the car door. Do you remember that, you stupid thumb? Then I compared it to my friends’ thumbs: I said “You know, John Maiden’s thumb never has burn marks on it. They get along just fine. Then I complained to other people about my thumb. I called up my friends and family and said “You’re not going to believe what my stupid thumb did this time!” My mom actually said “You know, John, I’ve been holding my tongue for years, but I just have to say it: I don’t think that thumb is good enough for you. It doesn’t really understand you. I think you should get rid of it.”

OK, is that how I responded to my thumb? NO. Kelley can tell you that is definitely not what I did.  What did I do? I invested in my thumb. I ran inside and put it under cold water. Then I got some ice for it. I whined to Kelley, like a baby-man, about how much it hurt. I bandaged it up, so it could heal properly. That’s how I responded, not with blame, not with bringing up the past, not with comparison and complaining. Why? Because it’s part of my body. It’s incorporated. It’s my thumb. It’s permanent. It’s the only right thumb I’ll ever have!

See my thumb is part of my body right? If it gets hurt, I’m going to hurt! We’re permanently connected! So I’m not going to let that thing be damaged. I’m not going to blame it, and compare it, and complain about it. I’m going to nurture it. I’m going to care for it and invest in it, because our future is tied up together.

Well listen, that’s what it means to be one flesh. It means to be so committed to one another that you know your future is the same future! So that you would never hurt that part of your body but you would invest in it instead.

But how often do we live like that’s not true? We don’t invest. We don’t treasure the spouse God has provided. We don’t find life in those “opposite according to’s.” We don’t grow our marriage together. But think about Paul’s logic here: You’re linked! You’re incorporated. You’re one. You have the same future. I don’t know if it’s dawned on you, but you are developing right now the spouse you will live with ten years from now. Go home and think about that!

I had a Seminary professor who used to counsel students. He said the husbands would come in and say “Prof, I’ve got to talk to you about my wife. She’s terrible. She’s driving me nuts!” He would always say “Was she that way when you married her?” “Of course not” He would say “Oh,  you made her that way!”

It’s funny, but it’s true! That’s why we’ve got to invest in each other. We’ve got to love each other like we really are one flesh, because we are! Husbands Wives, I know sometimes the grass looks greener on the other side, but the truth is the grass is greenest where you water it. Are you investing in your spouse?

Listen, what goes for our marriages goes for the church as well. In our marriages, we’re one flesh in the church. We’re one body. There’s a place in the New Testament where Peter says “You are born of eternal seed so love each other deeply from the heart.” I love that verse, because what he’s saying is: “Church, you’re going to be together for a really long time so you might as well learn how to love one another now.” We’ve got to invest in each other.

True love, the kind that Christ calls us to have for the church and for our spouse, has a special nature: (1) It sacrifices  (2) It purifies and (3) it invests. Now there’s one more thing I want to say today and this is going to be very brief, but we have to say it because without this piece this love will never work.

The Source of True Love is Christ

As we’ve gone through this passage, I’m sure that you can see that Christ is the model or pattern of true love, right? Everything that Paul tells us to do here is something that Christ has modeled for us. He tells us to “love as Christ loved the church.” Then he gives us point after point of comparison

Christ sacrificed himself for the church so we should sacrifice. He purified the church. He loved her away from her spots and blemishes so we should do the same. He loved the church like his own body so we should. It’s quite clear, isn’t it, that Christ is the pattern, the model of the love we are to have for our spouse.

But here’s the thing: I don’t know about you but I need more than a model. A pattern, a model, a picture of this love however clear, may help me love a little bit more like this, but it’s not enough. I don’t have it in me in and of myself to love this way.

Maybe you’re here today and you’re not sure whether or not you would call yourself a Christian. You hear about this kind of love and you think “That’s great! I would love to receive that! But I to be honest I don’t have it in me to give that kind of love.: Well, you’re not alone. I don’t have it in me either to invest and to sacrifice and especially to purify my spouse. I just don’t.

But here’s what we have to understand here: Jesus isn’t just the pattern for this kind of love. He’s also the source. Everything you are called to do for your spouse here Jesus has already done for you, if you’ve trusted in him. We’re called to love sacrificially. Jesus gave himself up. He died, not just for the church, but for you. We’re called to a purifying love, a love that pursues others in spite of their sin. That’s the kind of Love Jesus has for you Scripture tells us that “while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” He loved you with that kind of love. We’re called to a one-flesh investing kind of love. It’s an incredible thing, isn’t it, that someone could leave their family of origin and choose someone that is not their flesh and blood and become so close to them so committed to them that you would call them “one flesh.” An incredible thing. But that’s exactly what Jesus did for you. He left his Father, and he chose you to become part of his body flesh of his flesh, bone of his bone.

He doesn’t just tell us to love this way. He doesn’t just show us. He did it for us. And see, that’s the point of this passage. Not just that we should try harder, but that we should share what we’ve already been given. In verse 28, Paul makes an interesting statement: Right after explaining how Christ loved us with this sacrificial purifying love, he says “so ought men to love their wives.” But the word “ought” there doesn’t just mean “should.” It’s a word that indicates obligation. It indicates a debt. The point that Paul is making is that we have received so much love from Christ  that we are deep in debt. But he doesn’t want us to pay it back. He wants us to pay it forward. He wants us to pay the debt of what we’ve received to our spouse and to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Christ didn’t just show us. He did it for us. If you know Jesus, he can be source of your love.

He’ll go one step further. If you have trusted in Jesus, he has given you his Spirit. If you ask, his Spirit can give you the love of Jesus for your spouse., a love that is sacrificial and purifying and investing, a love that doesn’t depend on their response to you, because they aren’t the source of your love. Jesus is. He is both our model and our source. If we ask him, he will give us true love for our spouse and family and Christian brothers and sisters.