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Love Your Wife Sacrificially (Ephesians 5:25-27)

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Several years ago, the Saturday Evening Post published an article entitled “The Seven Ages of the Married Cold.” It revealed the reaction of a husband to his wife’s colds during their first seven years of marriage. It went something like this:

The first year: “Sugar dumpling, I’m really worried about my baby girl. You’ve got a bad sniffle, and there’s no telling about these things with all this strep throat going around. I’m putting you in the hospital this afternoon for a general checkup and a good rest. I know the food’s lousy, but I’ll be bringing your meals in from Rosini’s. I’ve already got it all arranged with the floor superintendent.”

The second year: “Listen, darling, I don’t like the sound of that cough. I called Doc Miller and asked him to rush over here. Now you go to bed like a good girl, please? Just for Papa.”

The third year: “Maybe you’d better lie down, honey: nothing like a little rest when you feel lousy. I’ll bring you something to eat. Have you got any canned soup?”

The fourth year: “Now look, dear, be sensible. After you’ve fed the kids, washed the dishes and finished the floor, you’d better lie down.”

The fifth year: “Why don’t you take a couple of aspirin?”

The sixth year: “I wish you’d just gargle or something, instead of sitting around all evening barking like a seal!”

The seventh year: “For Pete’s sake, stop sneezing! Are you trying to give me pneumonia?”

The decline of marriage as seen through the common cold. A funny look at a not-so-funny reality.

When I first heard that story, I laughed but at the same time it struck fear in me. We have this image of love that lasts a lifetime. But, I’ve been married eight years, and while I certainly haven’t accused Lori of barking like a seal, I have seen some changes in our marriage and not all of them for the better.

Are you still treating the woman you married the same way you did when you were dating or when you were first married? I hope so, but in case you aren’t, I want to share with you what I have discovered recently about love and marriage.

This is a hard lesson to share because it is so personal and it reveals my weaknesses. It shows where I fail. But I share it because I know others may be going through the same things. If you are, you are looking for answers. I think I’ve discovered one answer. So let’s look at it.

The answer comes in a rather cryptic picture of marriage—one that has puzzled many people and sent some down the wrong path, but it is a great model for building and growing a marriage. We will see that there is an exhortation, an example and an expectation for us to follow. Let’s take a look at Ephesians 5:25 to discover the model for genuine love that lasts a lifetime.

Ephesians 5:25-27 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; 26 that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless.

Love Your Wife Sacrificially
So She Blooms as God Planned

Love your wife (25a)

Paul begins with the statement, “Husbands, love your wives.” It sounds like such a simple statement, but what does he mean? What does it mean to love?

I was asked this question the other day with reference to my wife, and my answer was that I wanted her to be happy. Imagine my surprise when a few days later I read the following quote from C. S. Lewis: “… by Love … most of us mean kindness—the desire to see others than the self happy; not happy in this way or in that, but just happy.” He goes on to say that God is not like that. “God does not govern the universe on such lines. And since God is Love, I conclude that my conception of love needs correction.” (The Problem of Pain, p. 40.)

My concept of love was wrong. I thought that loving your wife meant sacrificing yourself and your desires to make her happy. It’s true that true love involves kindness and sacrifice, but it doesn’t stop there.

Then how do we determine what love is? Let’s read on and see what Paul says. He has given us the exhortation to love, and now he gives us the example of love.

Paul says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” From this example of Christ, we can draw our second point.

Love your wife sacrificially (25b)

When we think of Christ’s sacrifice for the church we immediately think about the cross. He died for us. If that is our example, how do we apply that? I doubt if any of us will ever be called to literally die for our wives, so how do we sacrifice?

I think the key is understanding what it means to sacrifice. First we see what sacrifice is not.

  • Sacrifice is not just acts of kindness

Too often we read verse 25 and immediately jump on the sacrificial part and come up with a list of things we can do for our wives. In fact, I went to a Family Life Conference this last year and that is exactly what they did. The speaker asked the audience for examples of sacrificial acts of kindness that we could do for our wives. One guy yelled out, “Do the ironing!” Another yelled, “Do the dishes!” Then some wise guy said, “Change the oil!” Anyway, the list can go on and on—wash the dishes, clean the bathroom, iron, give up Monday night football, etc. Most of us are challenged by such lists because there is usually something on the list that has been forgotten. People like lists. They like steps and procedures. Why? Because they feel like they are in control. If you do those things then you have fulfilled your obligation and your conscience is pacified. But is that what it means to give sacrificial love?

What happens if we follow these steps? The husband gives up golf or hunting or Monday night football. He does all the chores around the house. He says, “I’ve got an attitude of sacrifice.” But his attitude might be self-centered. Maybe it is nothing more than working up Brownie points. He expects to be paid back. If he doesn’t get paid back, he stops trying.

Maybe the question to ask is, “What is the motivation?” To put it in the terms Larry Crabb used in his book called The Marriage Builder—is the motivation manipulation or ministry? If it is manipulation, then the husband is doing it because he expects his wife will be happier and treat him better. Most people have the idea that marriage is a 50/50 relationship. That is manipulation. If he is doing it out of the idea of ministering to her then he isn’t doing it for his own benefit. He is doing it for hers.

I read The Marriage Builder before we were married, so I knew this stuff going in to the relationship. I used to struggle with these ideas and what my motivation was. I was always very helpful around the house. I don’t leave my clothes on the floor, don’t watch football, I do wash dishes, and iron regularly, etc. But things did not remain the same as when we were dating or first married. Lori did not respond to me the same way she used to. That’s not meant to be a criticism of Lori because as I’ll explain later, there was nothing to respond to. Anyway, I continually told myself that I was just supposed to minister to her and not manipulate her. So I sometimes felt like a martyr.

Does this mean that Larry Crabb is wrong? No. I just misunderstood what it meant to minister to your wife. I only had a vague and negative idea that ministering was performing acts of kindness and not expecting any results. Christ will fill up your void, etc. Do you know what my idea of ministering was lacking? My ministry lacked direction. I had no goal. But I think I’ve finally discovered what it means to minister to your wife, and it comes in the next two verses.

  • Sacrifice is risking emotional pain

You may not believe it but sacrifice really involves risking yourself.

When you look at Christ’s sacrifice you understand that His death was not just an act of kindness. It was the pain of rejection when He entered our world to call us to Himself. Before we can begin to understand this concept we must recognize the motivation. We can never comprehend why God did what He did, but I think we can get a glimpse of the motivation which will help us as husbands see what our goal is supposed to be.

What is our purpose as husbands? What do we expect to happen? What is the expectation of Love?

Love your wife sacrificially so she blooms as God planned (26-27)

The purpose of love is the perfecting of the one loved.

The next two verses have three clauses in them that show the purpose of Christ’s sacrifice and love. I think having the same goal as Christ is the key to loving. So what is His goal?

  • Christ’s first goal is that He might sanctify her

To sanctify means to set apart. When you marry someone you set them apart from the world. They are set apart for special protection, special care, for special attention, for a special purpose.

When you get married, that is what you have done. You have taken her out of the world and set her apart because you want to devote special attention to her. What is the goal of this special attention?

  • Christ’s second goal is to present her in glory having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing
    Christ’s third goal is that she should be holy and blameless

Christ loves the church and is committed to removing all the blemishes so He can present her in all her glory and beauty to Himself. This is the purpose of love. To bring about the perfection of the beloved.

This is not a new idea. You might recall Ephesians 1:4 which says, “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” This illustrates how God’s love is directed towards our improvement and making us beautiful.

If you remember earlier, I quoted C. S. Lewis as saying that love is not wanting someone else to be happy. He says later on in the same book when commenting on this same verse: “Love 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.” (Larry Crabb, Bold Love, page 184-85.)

So the goal of love is not just kindness motivated by a desire to make your wife happy. The goal is to build her up to bring about God’s purpose in her.

How do we know what God’s purpose for her is? 1 Peter 3:7 says “Live with your wives according to knowledge…” In other words know her. Know what she needs. Know what she is good at and what she is not so good at. Know her talents and help her develop them.

How do we get to know our wife? By involvement. Do things together, talk about significant things, etc. If our goal is the perfecting of our wife, there are going to be times when we need to confront them and deal with a problem. There’s the rub.

So, we now know the goal—to build up your wife and help her mature. So what is the problem? Fear of confrontation.

True Love involves confrontation. The purpose of speaking the truth in love in Eph 4:15 is maturity in the one spoken to. It often involves confrontation and correction, but that can only be done properly in love.

Confrontation has always been hard for me. I am not very quick on my feet in a debate or argument so I always feel like I lose. Over the years I have developed the attitude that I must have all the right answers before I dive into the fray. Whenever there is a disagreement with anyone, I usually back down.

I also feel like I have no place confronting someone else when I don’t have my act together and might be guilty of selfishness or something. But that can also become an excuse for never moving forward into someone else’s life. If we wait till we are perfect, we will never move forward. Those verses about judge not lest you be judged and take the log out of your own eye before you try to take the speck out of your brother’s eye need to be followed, but not used as excused to never do anything.

I think the biggest reason we don’t confront is self-protection. If I don’t have all the answers and I am not sinless, then my wife may become defensive and begin to lash out at me. It will hurt when she does that, and so we protect ourselves from that by retreating and never dealing with problems. That is where the sacrifice comes in. Sacrifice is risking life and limb to move into your wife’s life even though it means you are going to get hurt in the process.

How Does That Work?

Sacrifice means I’m prepared to do those acts of kindness like watch the kids, clean the house on Tuesday and Thursday. That may free her to pursue things outside of our relationship like having her own business. That will help her grow in ways I couldn’t. She will encounter new challenges and encounter blind spots in her life that I don’t even see. She will have confrontation among her peers that will be different than what we experience within the marriage.

Sacrifice means I’m prepared to risk my feelings and the pain of rejection.

Sometimes it may mean vulnerably sharing your deepest concerns and feelings.

When problems come up I need to face them head on and not wait until I have all the answers or am blameless.

Can we put all of this together in a scenario?

Example: The other morning, I woke up late, went in and had a bowl of cereal for breakfast, and when I was finished I rinsed it and put it in the dishwasher. I noticed the kitchen was medium messy and thought I didn’t make the mess, so I headed back to the back of the house. Lori called out from the laundry room and said, “Where are you going?” I said, “To get ready for work.” She said, something like, “Aren’t you going to clean up the kitchen,” or “Why don’t you clean up the kitchen.” I don’t remember the exact words. They weren’t particularly nasty, but they were said with a demanding spirit. She was under a lot of stress to get some things done before some lady came over to the house. So what did I do? I went and cleaned up the kitchen.

Why did I do that? She shouldn’t have spoken with those words or that tone of voice. Why didn’t I confront her? I could have said something like, “It sure makes me feel like a little boy when you talk to me that way.” Why didn’t I do that?

1. Because the natural response from the person you confront is defensiveness and return accusations.

2. Because as I told you before I’m not quick on my feet. It took me two days to come up with that response.

3. Because I was wondering if perhaps I should have jumped right in there and cleaned the kitchen when I noticed the mess. I was not blameless in the situation, so I knew that any return accusation that she made would have some basis of truth. I knew I was going to get hurt if I entered into the fray. That scared me and so I didn’t venture forward.

When I finished the kitchen I went and got dressed and went to work. I never said anything about it to her until the next day when all of what I’m telling you today in this lesson came together in my mind. But there was no fellowship between us in the meantime. And she had noticed that I was out of sorts.

I share this example because it shows what happens when we retreat and don’t communicate with each other. Lori does not want to treat me disrespectfully. She didn’t recognize the way she said what she said. And even if she was defensive at first, she would want to know. When we discussed this situation later, she said “The truth is hard to take, but I’m glad you told me.”

It is better to make a 1000 little mistakes moving toward your wife than one big one retreating. I’ve been retreating for eight years. I made the comment earlier that Lori didn’t respond to me the way I wanted. The reason was there was nothing to respond to. I’m always retreating. I don’t take the lead and initiate the relationship like I should. I finally recognized it. It’s scary but I know what I’ve got to do.


The Exhortation Is to Love Our Wives

The example of love is Christ’s sacrificial love for the church. We saw that sacrifice doesn’t mean just acts of kindness that end in self-centered martyrdom. It involves giving up your patterns of self-protection.

The expectation of love is the perfecting of the beloved. We want to be God’s instrument for building up our wives. The only way we will be able to do that is if we sacrifice ourselves and are willing to be hurt in loving involvement in our wife’s life.

Wives can apply much of what I’ve said today because we husbands are not perfect and there are hurtful things that we do that need to be brought into the open and dealt with, but …

My dad once said to me that 85% of the time problems in marriage can be traced to the husband’s fault. I’m sure that was not a scientific measurement, but it made me realize that in the vast majority of cases that’s the truth. As we have gone through this passage, I have discovered that he is probably right. There is a great deal of responsibility placed on the husband for the maturity of the woman God has brought into our lives. So love your wife sacrificially so that she blooms as God planned.



Appendix: Discussion Questions for Love Your Wife Sacrificially

MEN 7/52 is a men's ministry of  Our desire is to see all men become true followers of Jesus Christ 7 days a week/52 weeks a year.

In this lesson, Hampton Keathley IV discusses the bold, yet tender, love a biblical man shows his wife. This lesson includes small group discussion questions on Christ’s love for His church as the model for a man’s love for his wife.

Through the Apostle Paul, God gives men the true formula for loving their wives. It is the model for genuine love that lasts a lifetime. When we think of Christ’s sacrifice for the church we immediately think about the cross. He died for us. If that is our example, how do we apply that?

When you look at Christ’s sacrifice you understand that His death was not just an act of kindness. It was the pain of rejection when He entered our world to call us to Himself. Before we can begin to understand this concept we must recognize the motivation. We can never comprehend why God did what He did, but I think we can get a glimpse of the motivation which will help us as husbands see what our goal is supposed to be.

Men are to love their wives just like Christ loves the church. This is a tall order since Christ’s sacrificial love cost Him His life. Husbands are to present their wives to Christ sanctified, in all her glory, spotless, holy, and blameless. This lesson helps men understand how they are to love their wives sacrificially. It guides men in taking leadership in their marriages so that it grows and flourishes for a lifetime.

Discussion Questions

This lesson is designed to be conducted over six sessions.
Please refer to other books of the Bible in preparing your answers.

Session 1: Love Your Wife Sacrificially (Ephesians 5:25-27)

  1. What is the difference between “ministering” to your wife and “manipulating” her?
  1. Discuss ways in which you might be manipulating your wife instead of ministering to her.
  1. What are the three goals that Christ has for His church?
  1. What must you risk in loving your wife sacrificially?
  1. What goals do you have for your wife?

Session 2: Loving our wives as Christ loved the church (v. 25)

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her;

  1. What are the many ways in which Christ loved His church?
  1. How did He give Himself up for her?
  1. Describe, in detail, Christ’s sacrifice for His bride, the church.
  1. In loving our wives what is the worst pain we face?
  1. What specific areas of your life must be scourged and crucified for your wife?

Session 3: Sanctifying and cleansing our wives as Christ cleanses and sanctifies the Church (v. 26)

That He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,

  1. How does Christ sanctify and cleanse His church?
  1. In Christ, His church is set apart by Him. How do you set your wife apart?
  1. How do you “wash her” in the word?
  1. Describe the ways in which you sanctify your wife?
  1. What special attention does she need?

Session 4: Christ presents His church in all her glory, with no spot or wrinkle (v. 27a)

That He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing;

  1. Describe Christ’s church in all her glory, being spotless, with no wrinkles.
  1. What would your wife be like in all her glory?
  1. What must you do, specifically, to present her to Christ in all her spotless glory?
  1. What do you do, or neglect to do, that brings disgrace, stains, and wrinkles to your wife?
  1. Whose glory do you put first, hers or ours?

Session 5: Christ presents His church holy and blameless (v. 27b)

But that she should be holy and blameless.

  1. How does Christ make His church holy and blameless?
  1. What specifically do you do to assign blame to your wife?
  1. What shame or blame is hidden in her heart?
  1. What sacrifices must you make so that your wife may be holy?
  1. What price must you pay to present her blameless?

Session 6: Personal Applications

  1. What specific changes must you make in order to love your wife the way Christ loves His church?
  1. How will you deal with your fear of confrontation when relating to your wife truthfully?
  1. Describe how you will avoid retreating rather that relating.
  1. What will you have to give up?
  1. Describe your feelings for your wife right now.

Related Topics: Christian Home, Marriage, Men's Articles

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