25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies.
Ephesians 5:25-28a (NIV)
Some job descriptions can be daunting. Open The Chronicle of Higher Education and find an ad for one who “supports, initiates, and conducts academic development at all levels.” Turn to The Economist and note the search for a manager to “lead a team involved in the analysis of the impact of change and development on agriculture, the environment and rural society.” Challenging tasks, but they are nothing compared to the job description for a husband.
In Ephesians 5:25-28, Paul sketches the husband’s duties: (1) love your wife sacrificially (vv. 25, 28), and (2) improve your wife spiritually (vv. 26-27). These can be tall orders. In the first place, some wives (and of course, some husbands) are not particularly lovable. Like men, they are fallen creatures, perfectly capable of sinful dispositions, often short on grace. Nevertheless, their husbands are told to love them. It may be tough love at times, but it is genuine love nonetheless.
Those who suppose that a wife must earn her husband’s love should look to Romans 5:8 for Christ’s example: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” If, as Paul says, Christ’s love for the Church is the standard, then husbands cannot tarry until wives are splendid to show them love. If man’s goodness were a condition for Christ’s love, then none would be saved. But His love is not a reaction; it is a sustained initiative.
Just as true love begins nobly and unconditionally, so too it persists to a noble end. In Jesus’ case, this meant death for the sake of the beloved. Few occupations demand as much—the military, perhaps firefighting—but Paul does not shrink from suggesting that the Christian husband must even be willing to lay down his life for his spouse.
Now comes the hard part. Love is not enough; the husband must also edify, even consecrate, the wife. Her life with him should make her a better Christian, year by year. His example, counsel, encouragement, and friendship all serve this end. Yes, the husband may need to be firm at times, but he is never adversarial. Ultimately, he is akin to the father of the bride, providing her gown, adjusting her veil, escorting her down the aisle (v. 27)—for both she and the Church, i.e., the bride of Christ (v. 32), have an appointment with the Lord in Glory (cf. Rev. 19, 21).
In many homes, the husband lets the wife take care of religious things. She makes sure the kids get to church, that grace is said at meals, and that the nativity scene appears on the mantel at Christmas time. He wishes her well, so long as her piety does not impinge upon his worldliness. When she falters in physical beauty or attendance to his whims, he gets grumpy or abusive. And since his own spirit is covered with grit and grime, he is in no position to help her with spiritual cleanliness. In short, his life is the exact opposite of the one Paul prescribes for the husband.
In the interest of full disclosure, marriage counselors should present Paul’s job description to prospective husbands. It may baffle and annoy them. They may even switch ministers. But fairness demands that the truth be told. Performance reviews are coming, and it is so much easier to score well when husbands know in advance what God expects of them.