Love of Christ and the Marriage Union
This post was initially written in response to contributor Christian Herring’s challenge to “write an essay on how one of Christ’s attributes or works benefit and communicate to the believer.”
Recently, I read a short story about a prince and his family taken prisoner by an enemy king and the love manifest by the prince:
When brought before the enemy king, the prisoner was asked, “What will you give me if I release you?”
“Half of my wealth,” was the prince’s reply.
“And if I release your children?”
“Everything I possess.”
“And if I release your wife?”
“Your Majesty, for her I would give myself,” said the prince.
The king was so moved by the prince’s devotion to his family that he freed them all. As they returned home, the prince said to his wife, “Wasn’t the king a handsome man!” With a look of deep love for her husband, she said to him, “I didn’t notice. I could keep my eyes only on the one who was willing to give himself for my sake.” (From Michael P. Green. 1500 Illustrations for Biblical Preaching. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000. Print.)
When I reflected on the story, I thought it demonstrated well the love shared between a wife and her husband. Quickly, I realized how well it fits in with Paul’s writing of Ephesians 5:22-23 (ESV):
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
Both the passage and the story deal with the love shared between wife and husband and the husband’s willingness to give up his life for her sake. In the story, the prince is willing to pay the price for his life and his children’s, but he is ready to give his life over to free his wife. This sacrifice is just like Christ: “as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25, ESV).
The wife communicates love to her husband by continually submitting to him, the husband communicates love to his wife by steadily making sacrifices for her, and Christ expresses love to the believer through his work on the Cross and the continued intercession he makes for believers.
The context of Ephesians 5:22-33 provides a fuller appreciation for what Paul is writing about with the husband/wife relationship and the Christ/Church relationship.
Ephesians 4:17-32 sees Paul proclaiming that we are saved, so we must not walk in the old way (Ephesians 4:17-19) because that is not the way of Christ (Ephesians 4:20-25).
For the rest of the chapter, Paul gives a list of commands so that the reader may better love his neighbor, although he does not explicitly mention it until Ephesians 5:1.
If one looks over these commands of Paul, they are all commands that fall under our duty to man, which is “to love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).
Paul concludes this chapter with a concise summary: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32, ESV). This list of positive attributes and God and Christ’s work provides a segue into love.
A reader will find explicit mention of love in Ephesians 5. In fact, that base of Ephesians 5 is the first two verses of the chapter: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” These verses provide the foundation for the passage.
“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.”
— Ephesians 5:22 (ESV)
Wives are to submit to their husbands because husbands lead and care for them. Wives are to submit to their husbands because husbands are their head or in authority over them. It’s important to note that wives do not yield to their husbands because their husbands love them; wives submit to their husbands because it was commanded and the comparison to Christ. Christ is head over his church. So, just like the church obeys Christ’s commands and follows his teachings, wives are to do the same towards their husbands.
Husbands are to love their wives. Just like wives are to submit to their husbands because it has been commanded, husbands are not to love their wives because wives submit to husbands. There is no logical connector to indicate that husbands love their wives because they obey. If wives do not yield to their husbands, husbands are called to love them anyway.
Paul then demonstrates how husbands are to love their wives. Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves his church. Paul goes on to describe how Christ loves his church: Christ sacrificially gave his life for her so that she could be sanctified.
Paul also says husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies because no one has ever hated his own body. People take care of their body just like Christ takes care of his church. The reason husbands are to treat their wives as their own bodies is that of Genesis 2:24 (ESV): “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
Throughout my explanation of the roles of wife and husband, I hinted at the connection Paul makes to Christ and the church. This association informs us how the marriage relationship is supposed to work and to look like, but I want to change the focus. I want to focus in on Christ’s expression of love for his people and the benefits they receive from his love. Therefore, we must ask, “How does Christ communicate love to the believer, and how does the believer benefit from his love?” We find the first reasons through his death on the cross.
Christ’s death on the cross brought us our salvation. His bloody, painful, horrible, excruciating death on the cross cleanses us from our sins. Through Christ’s death on the cross, we can experience the forgiveness of God from all our sins. We can have the confidence that Christ will save all whom God elected. And when Christ saves God’s elect, the Holy Spirit will preserve them unto the day of glorification.
Through Christ’s death on the cross, he has brought an end to the Old Testament sacrificial system. No longer do we have to go to the tabernacle or the temple and continuously have the high priest make sacrifices for us. Christ has atoned for our sins once and for all, and he will save God’s people wherever they are.
He is also our glorious High Priest. He is eternal; there is no more succession in this role. He is perfect. He has not sinned at all and will attend to all of our prayers sufficiently. Since he is pure, he did not sin and can sympathize with our struggles in this noble role.
When Christ was fasting before he began his three-year earthly ministry, he was at his weakest and had Satan attacking him, yet he did not sin. Christ experienced the full weight of sin and did not give in.
When we struggle with sin, we often give into it. But the fact that Christ did not give into any sin should provide us with great comfort because he knows how to minister to us in our infirmities.
Also, Christ experienced more suffering than anyone else ever will because of the cross. When he was on the cross, he took on all the sins of all the elect. He did not take on the sins of just one person, but the sins of all those who would come unto him. As a result of this, Christ experienced separation from God. Our great High Priest did all this for God’s people. What a great act of love!
I only covered one point – his death on the cross – yet look at all the marvelous things that have come out of that great act of love! His love for us does not end there. He still performs deeds of love for us today.
During my times of private worship, I have been going through the book of the Exodus. I have just wrapped up my study, so I have concluded the instructions God gave Moses and his people for the tabernacle, worship, and original commandments.
As I reflected on the office of the high priest, I remember Christ’s works, which he does today in his that role. He regularly makes intercession for us just like the high priests of Israel’s day.
What is the significance of his constant intercession? Since we are saved by his great act of love on the cross, we do not experience the wrath of God. Since he is our Mediator, he constantly pleads to God on our behalf to sustain us.
Due to his constant intercession, he takes our prayers to the Father. As the Spirit offers our prayers to Christ, Christ carries our prayers to the Father. The weak and feeble prayers that we do not know how to pray or what to pray about are interpreted by the Holy Spirit and are presented before the Son so that he can plead on our behalf (Rom 8:26).
In the Old Testament, the high priests of Israel bore the names of the tribes of Israel on their chest garments. The significance of this is that anytime they went into the tabernacle to make atonement for the sins of Israel, they were bearing Israel and presenting them before the Lord.
Even when we are not praying, our Lord is still continually taking what we should be praying for to the Father so that he can continue to sanctify us. He does so because our names are written on him like the names of the twelve tribes of Israel were written on the high priests in the Old Testament.
How should Christians live in light of Christ’s love? Christians should live with confidence in light of Christ’s love and his intercession. They should love their neighbors, the church, and spouses.
Christians should live with confidence. As Hebrews 4:16 (ESV) says, “let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Because of Christ’s great act of love on the cross, we do not need to cower and fear when drawing near to God. We have been washed clean by the blood of Christ and experience forgiveness from past, present, and future sins. Since we are saved, we are now his bride, and a bride does not cower in fear when approaching her groom.
Christians need to love their neighbors. Matthew 22:39 says, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Christ has loved us with such a great act: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16, ESV). Christ laid down his life for us, so that we could be saved. So it makes sense that the most significant act of love we can do for our neighbor is to lay down our lives for them.
Another great act of love Christians can perform is evangelism. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:19-20, ESV). If we genuinely believe that those who are not saved are going to hell to suffer for eternity under God’s wrath because of their sins, then we need to love them by proclaiming the gospel to them and serving them.
Christians need to love the bride of Christ. I referenced Ephesians 5:25 (ESV) earlier, which stated, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” We need to love his bride.
We cannot neglect the gathering together on the Lord’s Day with other believers. We need to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), serve one another in the church, support the deacons and elders God has placed in our lives, assist the elderly and learn from them, and lead children and recent converts into the fear of the Lord so that they can grow in their faith.
We also can love the bride of Christ by going out into the world and evangelizing. Not all the elect have been saved, and Christ uses us as means to draw them in.
Christians need to love their spouses. This whole passage is about how Christians are to love their spouses properly.
No matter how many times we stray into sin or improperly love him, he continues to make intercession for us, mediate for us, and love us.
In marriages not going so well right now, you can change the tide by loving your spouse the best you can.
Maybe you are preparing to enter into marriage: start working now on how to love your future spouse properly.
Maybe you are a long way off from marriage: don’t be afraid to surround yourself with married couples in your life and read literature on marriage to prepare to love your future spouse.
Look to Christ and the church as the ultimate example spouses should follow in the marriage relationship.
I could go on and on about the love of Christ. However, I hope shows the love of Christ in its magnificence and glory, and it inspires the reader to better love all around. Only the Christian worldview can adequately explain what love is and how to love one another. In short, Christ’s love leads to great actions and enables us to love correctly.
Lord Jesus, Give me to love thee, to embrace thee, though I once took lust and sin in my arms. Thou didst love me before I loved thee, an enemy, a sinner, a loathsome worm. Thou didst own me when I disclaimed myself; Thou dost love me as a son, and weep over me as over Jerusalem.
Love brought thee from heaven to earth, from earth to the cross, from the cross to the grave. Love caused thee to be weary, hungry, tempted, scorned, scourged, buffeted, spat upon, crucified, and pierced. Love led thee to bow thy head in death.
My salvation is the point where perfect created love and the most perfect uncreated love meet together; for thou dost welcome me, not like Joseph and his brothers, loving and sorrowing, but loving and rejoicing. This love is not intermittent, cold, changeable; it does not cease or abate for all my enmity. (Valley of Vision.)