Do I Make My Wife Radiant?
by Stuart Briscoe
Paul’s instruction to husbands to love their wives is probably almost as well known as his instruction to wives to submit to their husbands. Whether or not it gets as much airtime in the contemporary church I am not prepared to say, but that men should carefully study it is beyond dispute.
Ephesians 5:25-33 says, “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. 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.”
“Husbands love your wives” seems to be simple and rather obvious. Yet, I got quite an eye-opener when I finally took the time to “inwardly digest” what Paul actually said. Part of the problem with this teaching is the confusion over what we understand – or more accurately, what the Apostle meant – by love. Our ideas of loving are greatly conditioned by our environments, our culture, and our upbringing.
In my pre-marital counseling with young couples, I often asked them, “Were you loved as a child?” And “How do you know?” The answers caused me to ponder the question, “Do our ideas of love condition our reading of such Scriptures, as ‘Husbands love your wives'?" I have no doubt they do – and that can be dangerous.
Let me introduce you to a lovelorn couple as they answer my two questions. “Oh yes,” she replies enthusiastically, “I was loved. In our family we were always telling each other we loved them. We hugged a lot; we wrote love notes to each other. We never forgot birthdays; we always gave presents even when we went on vacation. I was loved.”
His answer comes more slowly. He nervously wipes his face and hesitatingly replies, “Yeah. I guess I was loved. My dad never said anything; I never saw him and my mother being affectionate. He came to some of my games, and if I played well he said, ‘You did well, son,’ but if I didn’t, he bawled me out. He died when I was a teenager, and I cried because I wanted to talk to him, but it was too late. I think he loved me.”
This young couple may be heading for marital problems because their understanding and expectations of love are so variant, but for our purposes this kind of conversation shows how our views of love are developed. Did Paul mean I should love my wife like my dad showed his love for my mother, or should I love her the way men in my culture treat women? Let’s find out!
Love As Christ Loved The Church
This takes the contemporary culture way of looking at love out of the picture right away. The love of Christ for the church is historically verifiable, and clearly portrayed. No man should be confused about the kind of loving that is required of him. But how exactly did Christ love the church? By giving Himself up for her! That means His love was sacrificial and costly. Now I could be wrong about this, but I get the impression that men are not particularly geared to thinking of ways they can sacrifice as a means of expressing love for their wives. Should she be publicly insulted, he will face a hostile crowd and stand by her side. But voluntarily sacrificing?
I remember talking about this to a group of men in Johannesburg, South Africa. They were all excited about a rugby match between South Africa and Australia. When I asked how many had tickets for the game, a forest of hands shot enthusiastically into the air. So I said, “Okay men, here’s a challenge for you. How many of you would be willing to give away your tickets and tell your wife that you will miss the game in order to take her shopping on Saturday afternoon?” There was a brief stunned silence, and then a corporate groan followed by a chorus, “Stuart, that’s going too far!”
Love As Our Own Bodies
A man, according to Paul, should love his wife as he loves himself. This should come as no surprise to any man who knows that Christians are called to love their neighbors as themselves – and wives are pretty close neighbors! Psychologists say some of us need to learn to love ourselves before we can love our neighbors as ourselves. Paul would be flabbergasted if he ever heard that kind of exegesis! I do not dispute that many people suffer from a low self-image and need to learn their true worth before God. But this is not what the ancient commandment refers to. Paul was talking about our innate, instinctive sense of our own primacy and importance.
Most humans – particularly men – have a finely developed sense of self-preservation and self-love. It shows itself in impatience on the freeway and importance in the pecking order. Loving your wife as yourself is all about thinking your wife is as important as you – and showing it!
We all know that men love their own bodies. So Paul says men should love their wives as they love their own bodies. Having said metaphorically that the husband is the head of the wife, Paul now takes the metaphor further and implies, “Men, if you’re the head, your wife is the body.” Headless bodies are no more use than bodiless heads. Paul is saying husband and wife are indispensable to each other. When God joins two people together, they become one. Head and body are interdependent, intimately related. The man who introduces his wife as “my other half” gets it right. He may even go so far as to say, “my better half.” That might be even more right. But the point is to love her indispensability, the fusing of her being with yours to make a new entity – something only God can do.
Paul tells us that Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her in order that He might procure a beautiful bride for Himself. To do that He offered Himself as a perfect sacrifice for sin, and then began a process of sanctification that would only end when redeemed sinners find themselves in His glorious company in eternity.
In a similar way, the love of a husband for his wife should be intentional. He can’t make her perfect, but he can work hard to sacrifice his own selfishness in order to give her the chance to be all that God intended her to be. A friend of mine was studying Ephesians 5 one day, and on reading the passage I have been talking about, he noted that the Bride of Christ will eventually be “radiant.” This started him thinking: “Do I make my wife radiant?” So he asked her. After ascertaining that he really wanted her to tell him the truth, she replied, “Frankly, no. You don’t make me radiant.”
She told him that he was inordinately selfish, rarely considered her wishes, never asked for her opinion, and should they have a disagreement he would always go right ahead with his own plans anyway. As a result she was disappointed and frustrated. Not a very fulfilled, radiant lady! I’m afraid when I look at the earlier days of my own marriage, I have to plead guilty to many of the same things.
So what should we men do about loving our wives? First of all, we should banish secular and cultural ideas on the subject to oblivion and carefully study the Biblical norm. Then we should see this as an ideal at which we should aim. Remember, “He who aims at nothing usually hits it!” Finally, we should bear in mind continually that all Paul’s teaching on marriage and family in Ephesians hinges on his command in verse 18, “Be filled with the Spirit.” Healthy marriages and families are produced only in the fullness of the Spirit for the simple reason that no human being – man or woman – has the ability to emulate Christ in his or her own strength.Marriages are too important, and wives are too precious, for men to get their “husbanding” wrong. Any man reading the Scriptures knows that to be a husband is a high calling, and to be a partner in a marriage is to participate in something uniquely beautiful and blessed – something that only God could have planned and only He can accomplish. And incredibly, He allows us to be part of it!