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Ladies, I think you can sit back and relax this morning. If the biblical spotlight glared down on wives last week, it will focus just as firmly on husbands today. But try not to enjoy yourselves too much. “Amens” are authorized in response to particularly relevant points; however, please try to keep the elbowing to a minimum.

Look with me again at the passage we read last Sunday. Listen again to God’s requirements for both husbands and wives:

Ephesians 5:21-33

“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Wives, submit to your husbands as 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 Savior. 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 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.”

All right, husbands, let’s get down to business. The Bible here makes one assignment, and gives two orders for completing that assignment properly. Your divine assignment is to serve as head of your wife as Christ serves as head of the Church. To become a husband is to become the head in your marriage. We talked about that last week. Let’s do a quick review for the husbands who weren’t here-or weren’t paying attention.

Your assignment as head of the wife represents merely a distribution of function, not a hierarchy of value. The point is not prestige or hubristic power, but responsibility. At no time does Paul suggest that men are better than women, or brighter, or more effective leaders. But God has nonetheless assigned husbands the final responsibility for the spiritual, social, moral and physical condition of their marriage.

You may have been assigned this position in marriage because husbands generally need to exercise authority more that their wives do. But you are not told to demand or force submission from your wife. It may also be that God wants to stimulate your spiritual growth and commitment, rather than letting your wife, who may be more spiritually mature, “carry” you spiritually? You are not authorized to abdicate your place as head of the wife because you find the demands made upon you heavy or difficult to satisfy. Whatever your shortcomings-you got the job!

Consider: The captain of a ship may not be the best navigator on board, but the navigation of the ship is still, ultimately, his responsibility. And if the ship founders on the rocks, it is the captain who will be held accountable. Too many “marriage captains” are jumping ship at the first sign of rough waters, or hiding in their cabins while their first mates struggle to run the ship and lead the crew alone. Husbands, depend on your wives and honor their support, but take charge as God requires you to.

There are two orders given to husbands in the Ephesians passage. The first is so subtle, you could easily miss it: Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. This does not authorize you to shirk your responsibility to be the head of your wife. But it does require you to submit to the refining influence your relationship with your wife will have on your life, your personality, and your faith. It also suggests something of the spirit with which you are to approach carrying out your assignment.

The other direction God gives husbands is this: Love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. It sounds easy: “Love your wife.”

“Well, of course, I love my wife. That’s why she is my wife. I fell in love with her and just couldn’t imagine my life without her. I love the way she walks. I love the way she talks. I love the way she makes me feel.

Well, yes, that’s love of a sort, but it’s not really what the Bible is talking about. To satisfy God, you have to love your wife as Christ loved the Church.

So how does Christ love the Church?

Christ loved the Church by giving Himself up for her. He died saving the Church. He suffered-and bled-and died. And husbands are to do the same, if circumstances require. In various parts of the world today, they do.

But before Jesus walked the Via Dolorosa to the Cross-or bared His back to the “whip with teeth” in Pilate’s dungeon-He had already sacrificed His personal will on the altar of total obedience to God. Before Jesus went to the Cross to save the sinners He loved, He went down on His knees in a simple dining room to wash their feet and demonstrate what we now call “servant leadership.”

Jesus gave up His professional aspirations and his privacy. He gave up any chance to live in peace, or to enjoy an ordinary life as “one of the guys” in Nazareth. Jesus gave up self-centeredness and easily offended pride and the normal perks of a leader. Before that, He gave up His divine place and power in heaven to become a man and devote Himself, body and soul, to His Bride, the Church.

“Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her.” The husband cannot hold tight to his own hopes and dreams and desires and pleasures as the most important things. He must give up his commitment to all these things as the driving motivations in his life. He must give “himself” up, and embrace his wife as the focus and goal of his life, or he will not be loving his wife as Christ loved the Church.

The will of God is clear: “Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the Church.” Don’t bother checking how you feel about it. Just do it. Christ-like love is love you “do.” It is an ongoing act of self-discipline. It generates incredible power and transmits that power through this love. What Jesus felt for the Church we may infer by what He did. He loved the Church in what He did-to and for her.

The Bible is remarkably indifferent to feelings as the basis for deciding whether something should or should not be done. That’s what the Law of God is for, and later the word of God in the person of Jesus and the writings of His early followers. Husbands, do what the Bible tells you. Your feelings will catch up in time, if they need to.

How do you love your wife as Christ loved the church? The Bible says, “Husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.” Your wives are a part of you. They are like your own bodies, and are to be treated as such. What do you do when you sprain your ankle or get the flu? Do you cut off the part of your body causing you pain and throw it away? Do you badger it, or smack it around? Do you give it the “silent treatment”?

No, you attend to it. You touch it gently and carefully. You think about it all the time and pray that the pain will go away and its cause will be healed. Though you may hate what has happened, you don’t hate your body for the suffering it’s going through. It’s your body and you just want it to get well. And you’ll do whatever it takes to make that happen. Love your wife as you do your own body.

Love your wife as Christ loved the Church. It’s a hard command, when you know how you are to love. But the “how” will become easier when you understand “why.”

Why does Christ love the Church?

Someone once said, “Christ does not love the Church because it is lovable, but rather to make it so.” The love of Christ is not determined by what the Church deserves, but by what God is, by His nature and His character, by His purpose for establishing the relationship between His only begotten Son and His only redeemed remnant. Christ loves the Church in order to make her holy.

The husband’s Christ-like love is to sanctify the wife, to make her holy-to bring about growth in godliness. We don’t use the word “sanctify” very much. What does it mean? It means, primarily, to set something-or someone-apart for a sacred purpose. Christ loves the Church the way He does so that He might sanctify her. A husband doesn’t have the divine grace that Jesus had to save people from sin. A husband is not Christ. But a husband can be in Christ and have Christ in him. Paul says that Christ is:

Colossians 1:15-20

“is the image of the invisible God… For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things…by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

Jesus is the image of God to you-and you are to be the image of Christ to your wife. God is pleased to reveal Himself to your wife through you, as part of the reconciliation God is working in her. What better vehicle does God have to introduce His intention to have an intimate relationship with humanity than the most intimate human relationship: marriage?

A husband can receive the grace of Christ, and use it under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to bless-and even sanctify-the life of his wife by seeing her and treating her as the divine creation she is. A husband can love his wife as Christ loved the Church-but only if Christ is helping him. There is a wonderful truth expressed in:

2 Corinthians 5:16

“From now on…we regard no one from a human point of view.”

This is to be especially true for the regard a husband has for his wife. Do you see your wife as Christ sees her? Are you trying to? Do you see or seek to see what Christ sees? Jesus said, “Seek, and you will find.” If you look for her beauty, for instance, you will find it and make it more apparent to the world.

On the other hand, if you overlook it, or deny it, or belittle it-if you just take it for granted-you will tarnish it and cause it to fade, no matter how brightly it shone at the first. The same is true of your wife’s potential for holiness. You will not see who your wife will become, so much as your wife will become who you see her to be.

Sanctify, cleanse, splendor, spotless, holy-these are divine terms. As head of the wife, the husband prepares his wife for her relationship with Christ and her eternal place in His presence. When you look at your wife-when you think about her-what spiritual things do you hope and dream for her? Can you imagine your wife as the woman God created her to be? Can you imagine the plan God has for her-in this life and for all eternity? Can your imagine her spiritual need? And when she enters eternity, what part of her “spiritual readiness” will be attributable to you and your lifetime of Christ-like love for her?

The point of being in charge is to meet the needs and enable the success of those you love-those you lead and serve. Husbands, do you set aside your power and privilege to provide for your partner-to give her the grace gifts she needs to lift her up to her proper place in Christ?

A husband’s primary witness to Christ is his relationship to his wife. In this, he tells his wife: this is what the love of Christ for you is like. This is what you may expect from Christ as a part of His Church. A husband’s treatment of his wife will be the first and strongest lesson his daughter will learn about how she should be treated by the boys and men she encounters in her life-what she may expect and what she should accept. A husband’s treatment of his wife will be the first and strongest lesson his son will receive about how to treat girls and women he interacts with as he grows to manhood and seeks the one who will become his wife.

Now, for the information of all hands, there are wives among us today. One may be yours. Which kind of husband do you think your wife would prefer-the kind who would love her as Christ loved the Church, or the kind who merely loves her like the “what’s-in-it-for-me” world around us?

What kind of husband would she be most willing to be submissive to? I suspect that even those wives who are less than enthusiastic about submitting to their husbands are very enthusiastic about the idea of being loved as Christ loved the Church. Feel free to conduct your own opinion survey on this after the service.

And, after all that, is there no personal benefit to the husband who loves his wife as Christ loves the church? Well, you get to love a woman better than you ever could if you were limiting your love to what you could generate from your own feelings with your own personal perspective on life. You get to participate in the work of Christ in your home in a direct and significant way-validating your very existence.

You get to spend your life with a woman who experiences the greatest form of human love available, and probably responds accordingly. You get to look yourself in the mirror every morning and respect what you see because you know you have been chosen to be-and have agreed to be-God’s primary instrument of grace to the woman you love the most in life. And you get the indescribable joy of knowing that God loves you in the same way that you are committed to loving your wife-and that God is proud of you for obeying His word. All in all, not bad-for a husband!

This is a profound mystery, says Paul. But don’t let that stop you. Love your wife-as Christ loves the Church-as Christ loves you.

Dr. Al Hill, CAPT, CHC, USN (Ret)

Dr. Al Hill, CAPT, CHC, USN (Ret)

This is the second of two sermons Dr. Hill delivered on the biblical concept of "Submission" in marriage as the command chaplain at Joint Forces Expeditionary Base Little Creek Fort Story.