Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;…
Adhering to the arrangement of topics in the text, we will speak first of the wife's duty of obedience and then of the husband's duty of love.
I. "Order is heaven's first law." Every portion of the universe knows its own place, and fulfils its proper function. There can be no happiness amongst mankind without due subordination. A state of society is impossible without this. So the apostle says, "Submit yourselves one to another in the fear of God." On the knowledge of each one's true place and the rendering by each of what is due to others, the welfare both of nations and families depends. St. Paul, after laying down the general principle of mutual submission, illustrates and enforces it in the case of wives. They are to "submit themselves to their own husbands as unto the Lord." This submission is based on the fact that God has made man the head of the woman. Whatever may be said — and much may be said justly of woman's rights — this fact of the man's headship remains, and ever will; established both by nature and revelation, by God's works and God's Word. There are features in which woman is very superior to man. The fact remains — that man, as such, is generally the stronger both in body and will. This indicates where authority should reside. Where two or more persons are concerned occasions arise when there must be precedence. Both cannot go first when only one can go at a time. What shall be the law? Among nations and in families authority and power must go together. For what is authority without power to enforce it? The inspired apostle urges as an additional argument that man was created before the woman, but that woman sinned before the man. "I suffer not a woman to usurp authority over the man. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived; but the woman, being deceived, was in the transgression" (1 Timothy 2:12, 13). The true glory of all things is the accomplishment of the end for which they were designed. The highest honour of every living creature — of men and of angels — is that each occupies aright his own proper sphere — develops his own proper functions — and does not aim at being something else, and doing what appertains to another. Woman, therefore, dishonours and disfigures herself when she attempts to occupy the place of man — aping his dress, his occupations, or his authority; just as a man would make himself contemptible if, laying aside his proper dress and functions, he were to array himself in womanly garments, affect feminine manners, and occupy his time in the details of the household, and the cares of the nursery. The ivy has its beauty, as it gracefully twines around the oak; but were it to become stiff and rigid, and ape the robustness and strength of the tree to which it clings, while it would never become an oak, it would lose all its own special charms. Let it still cling there — following the oak's growth, leaning on it, finding its stability and life in it, while it clothes the oak's strength and ruggedness with grace and beauty. This submission does not mean subservience, the denial of a woman's individuality, the having no opinion or wish of her own, and properly urging it. No true man would value his wife for ceasing to be herself. Instead of a companion and counsellor she would only be his echo or his shadow. And this submission will be a delight, when rendered, not only from a consideration of the laws of nature, or the express precept of the Bible, but from that love which is the best bond and guarantee of order; that love without which the marriage relationship should not be formed; that love which renders obedience a luxury, and which itself is the fulfilling of the law. On the other hand, if husbands love their wives as Christ also loved the Church, authority will be divested of all austerity.
II. If the husband is to maintain his just authority, so also is he, and in the first instance, bound to make Christ's love for the Church the model of his own. Other motives are superadded. Love to a wife is love to one's self, and neglect or unkindness towards her is as unnatural on the part of a husband as if he inflicted injury on his own body. "He that loveth his wife loveth himself." If the standard of the wife's obedience is high, equally so is that of the husband's love: in both cases it is Christ — obedience as to Christ; love, as that of Christ. The relation of Christ to the Church as the heavenly Bridegroom is seen in His love to the Church, His gift to the Church, His treatment of the Church, and His ultimate purpose towards the Church.
1. The love of the Heavenly Bridegroom to the Church. "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church." Love is the foundation, the cement, the glory of marriage. There is no true marriage in the absence of it. So, the love of Christ is the origin and the abiding cause of His connection with the Church.
(1) Consider the generosity of Christ's love. He loved us first. He loved the world and came to save it. He loved each one of us and besought us to be reconciled to God. He loved us when we were without beauty. Though the marriage relationship should not be based on mere external charms which may deceive and must soon decay, yet beauty is often in the first instance the attractive cause of a pure and abiding affection. But Christ loved us when we were deformed and defiled by sin. Vile compacts are sometimes made under the name of marriage, merely for mercenary and worldly ends; and a husband is chosen not for himself but for his position; or a wife, not to make her happy but to enjoy her estate. But the love of Christ was manifested, not to the rich, the prosperous, and the happy; but to the fallen, the condemned, the ruined, the wretched.
(2) His love is persevering. He long went on to woo us while we persisted in rejecting Him. His love does not grow weary, suffers no reaction, has no intervals of indifference, is not diverted by other objects, does not cool with years, but is unchanging, undying, everlasting.
(3) His love is tender. "No man ever yet hated his own flesh but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the Church." The love of Jesus is a love which is not content with doing great things, but which delights also in tenderness in regard to little things. How often a husband who may bestow large gifts on a wife, grieves her by the lack of delicate sympathy and gentle care for her comfort in the trifles which make up life.
(4) His love is fervent. Sometimes people are warned against loving each other too much, lest they should become idolaters, and thus have the object of such inordinate affection taken from them as a punishment. Nonsense! The Bible never says this. Alas! the general state of society does not require us to say it. The danger is on the side of deficiency, not of excess. Children! love your parents with devotion. Parents! love your little ones with fervour. "As the Father hath loved Me, so have I loved you." Who can fathom this? Well might the apostle speak of "the breadth and length and depth and height of the love of Christ which passeth knowledge." The love of Christ, thus generous, persevering, tender, and fervent, is to be the model of our own. "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church."
2. The Bridegroom's gift. "Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for it." Gold and jewels and costly array are given to a bride. But what are all these in comparison to the bridegroom himself, when the marriage is one of affection? So Christ gave Himself; a donation which infinitely transcends all the universe besides. In personal fidelity and devotion husbands should love their wives, "even as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for it."
3. The Bridegroom's treatment of the Church. "That He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word." The greatest glory of the universe is God, and our greatest glory is our resemblance to God. Christ can do no greater work for us and in us than promoting such resemblance. This He does by the sanctifying influences of the truth through the operation of the Holy Spirit, which is compared to the cleansing of the body by water. "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you and ye shall be clean." So giving himself to his wife, the husband should ever watch over and promote her health and comfort of body, her peace of mind, her purity of heart, her religious, spiritual, and eternal welfare: "even as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it."
4. The Bridegroom's ultimate purpose. "That He might present it to Himself, a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish."Let us learn these practical lessons:
1. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church. As the Church is subject to Christ so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.
2. Christians, the Bride of Jesus, do not frustrate His gracious purpose by wilful sin. Seek the cleansing of His atoning blood and the daily baptism of His Holy Spirit.
3. Obey Christ "As the Church is subject to Christ." Obey His laws, honour His authority, imitate His example.
4. Delight in Christ. Think of His love. Respond to it. Exult in it.
5. Anticipate with holy rapture the heavenly espousals; and "walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called."
(Newman Hall, LL. B.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;