“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, His body, of which He is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.”
— Ephesians 5:21-25
What does it mean for a husband to love his wife as Christ loves the Church? It sounds like a beautiful yet challenging concept, so what does it look like in reality? To find out, I sat down with two friends to understand how they have been practising this biblical principle in their marriages.
Marcus is a Senior Partnerships Executive, and has been married for almost a year. Larry heads the Counselling Services department at a non-profit organisation, and has been married for 33 years.
1. Marcus, before getting married, how did you prepare to love your wife as Jesus loves the Church?
Marcus: While my wife and I were dating, we set out to treat each other in a manner that honoured and pleased God. We wanted to form the right foundations for marriage even before we got married.
What was most helpful for us was being around and learning from other older, married people. Different couples demonstrated different aspects of love that we only picked up when we spent time with them. To me, the examples I saw in my dad and other older married men made for the best learning. By talking to these men, gleaning knowledge and walking with them throughout the season of dating and in preparation for marriage, I was able to formulate a more realistic image of what it was like to be a husband. They lived out biblical principles in a way that I could observe and follow practically.
While they were great models, each one of them could only imitate Christ’s love imperfectly, so at the end of the day, the aspect with greater significance in my preparation for marriage was my relationship with Jesus. If I wanted to love like Him, I had to know and see how He did it.
“At the end of the day, the aspect with greater significance in my preparation for marriage was my relationship with Jesus. If I wanted to love like Him, I had to know and see how He did it.”
As a result, my wife and I began doing devotions together, even before we got engaged, with the aim of knowing Jesus as a couple. That helped us to appreciate how He loved us, so that we could learn to love each other with that kind of love. It taught me to love my wife sacrificially, because Jesus loved in this way.
2. In your marriage, what are some significant things you have learnt in this journey of loving your wife as Jesus loves the Church?
Marcus: Marriage makes it incredibly clear that love is a 24/7 thing. When you’re dating and you get upset, you can go off by yourself, take time to cool down first, and then pray about the matter before addressing it with each other. You have time and space to work through the issue. When you’re married, there is a greater urgency to seek resolution promptly, or the conflict might worsen. You still have to share the same bed at the end of the day.
I also realised that love is a choice that I have to make daily, and that requires effort. Day to day, it takes work to keep the passion in the marriage, to fill the love tank. There are things that have to be done to maintain that relationship, and one of them is choosing to love every day.
Another thing I learnt was that love hurts, and that’s because you open yourself up to be vulnerable to each other. Despite this possibility of hurting each other, my wife still trusts me enough to continually be vulnerable to me. This makes me want to treasure her more.
These things I’ve learnt in my marriage led me to understand God’s love more intimately. Being married expanded my understanding of Jesus’ sacrificial love for the Church, which was an aspect of His love I didn’t understand for myself until I experienced something like it in marriage. I learnt that if Jesus didn’t love us, then He wouldn’t have to give Himself for the Church and die for her, which cost Him and hurt Him.
Larry: If you were to ask me, “Did you love your wife as Christ loved the Church?”, I must tell you that’s a big question, and I’d love to say, “Yes.” But I realised it’s quite impossible to do so perfectly, because all of us have different starting points in life. If I’d been brought up in a healthy, wholesome and well-functioning family, my relationship with my wife would have been better because I had this model of love. So when Paul talked about loving your wife as Christ loved the Church sacrificially and unconditionally, it was a foreign concept to me because I didn’t experience that level of love in my earthly family.
But as God led me through the difficulties that I experienced in my marital relationship, He also moulded me to become more Christ-like. And as I became more Christ-like, I found following God’s instructions easier. To love like Christ, I have to first become Christ-like.
“To love like Christ, I have to first become Christ-like.”
I’d say that in trying to love as Christ loves, what I did particularly well was to sacrificially protect and provide for the family, and to be willing to die for them. I tried to be as good a father as I possibly could, and to love my wife in the way that she needed to be loved, according to how I believed a husband should love his wife.
3. So Larry, when you look back on your marriage journey, what are some things you wish you did differently to express your love to your wife better?
Larry: My wife and I came from different backgrounds, and we saw life through lenses shaped by our individual experiences. We had different expectations of our own roles in marriage, which we brought with us into marriage from our families of origin.
If I were to go back in time, I’d have started our marriage by loving my wife in the manner she needed to be loved, to communicate my needs to her through healthier means in order to avoid some of the conflict that arose from unmet needs, and lessen the pain we had to endure. In the same vein, if my wife had communicated her needs better and I had listened more, we could have understood each other better.
4. How is God leading you to love your wife more?
Larry: As we grow in Christ-likeness, we also learn to set aside all our emotional baggage. When I became aware of my own issues, I realised that a lot of problems in my marriage were contributed by the baggage I carried. As God began to deal with these issues, I became freer to love my wife in the way God wanted me to love her. I can’t love my wife like Christ if I’m not Christ-like. But the more Christ-like I become, the easier it is for me to follow Christ in doing what He wants me to do, including loving the people around me.
“As we grow in Christ-likeness, we also learn to set aside all our emotional baggage. The more Christ-like I become, the easier it is for me to follow Christ in doing what He wants me to do, including loving the people around me.”
Marcus: I didn’t feel or express a wide range of emotions before I started dating, and understanding these emotions was alien to me. So there are days now when I would fall back into that state, making me not particularly sensitive to my wife’s emotions, what issues she wants to talk about, or even if she wants to hear about my day. But I thank God that He constantly jolts me out of that “default” state and convicts me to not be too comfortable. He reminds me of what I can do more to show love to my wife. God persistently shows me how worthy of love she is, and that’s very helpful.
Sometimes when I’m angry with her and can only focus on the negative aspects, God brings to my mind all that she has done out of her love for me, to remember her good traits, and then I see that she deserves more than what I am giving her. This challenges me to change, and to guide her towards holiness.
I understand that when I love her and fulfil my role as her husband, she will also understand how Jesus loves the Church, His beautiful Bride.
I hope that their invaluable insights on how they love their wives, as Christ loves the Church, have given you a better understanding of living out this biblical principle that God calls husbands to uphold in His design for marriage.
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