Found throughout the Bible is the biblical ideal for marriage, and admittedly it also chronicles how man twisted it. However, I’m looking at the ideal in Genesis 2:24 that was affirmed by Jesus and expanded on by Paul. I’m going to be looking at the man’s responsibilities, the Roman cultural context, today’s behaviors, and their similarities. I’ll end with a look at the marriage covenant itself.
The biblical ideal is affirmed by Jesus is found in Matthew 19:4-5 when he said, “a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh”. It’s a life-long relationship that should only be broken in the case of adultery and/or abuse. This is the ideal, not the polygamous marriages rampant in those times. Let’s go into the ideal for the man’s part of the marriage.
The apostle Paul broke down the man’s role in marriage in Ephesians 5:25-30. I’ll be quoting the Amplified translation:
“25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her,
26 So that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word,
27 That He might present the church to Himself in glorious splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such things [that she might be holy and faultless].
28 Even so husbands should love their wives as [being in a sense] their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself.
29 For no man ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and carefully protects and cherishes it, as Christ does the church,
30 Because we are members (parts) of His body.”
What does it mean to love your wife as Christ loved the church?
First, let me explain what the church is. The church is all the believers; it’s not a building. He loves us self-sacrificially, which was proven on the cross. He also would do a servant’s job for them.
This is evidenced in two areas—the washing of the disciple’s feet, and the Incarnation. Starting with the Incarnation —God becoming man— when he set aside the privileges of deity and lowered himself to the status of a slave. It’s like Undercover Boss on an infinite level.
Then he did something the 1st Century Jews hated to do because they’d become ritually unclean. He washed his disciple’s dirty feet, a house servant’s job, not a rabbi, and certainly not the creator of the universe. Is there anything at home you consider beneath you? Like the dishes or changing a diaper. If you answer yes then you’re running contrary to Christ’s example.
What about loving your wife like you love yourself?
This goes beyond mere vanity. The Amplified Bible I quoted from adds context based on the original language’s syntax, which helps define ‘love’ in context. Love is “seeking the highest good for her, and surrounding her with a caring, unselfish love.” Do you want what’s best for her, despite your preferences?
Here’s how that breaks down: nourish her, protect her, and cherish her. We make sure we get fed, right? It goes beyond food though. What else do you hunger for? Someone to strengthen you, maybe build you up, encourage you towards more? Then meet that need in her also.
We avoid getting hurt and dying, barring a death wish. Her life and health comes before your own. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually, a husband is on call to protect his wife.
Who doesn’t want to be loved and appreciated? They do, and we should never take them for granted. Jesus loved with a self-sacrificial love. That means even if she isn’t meeting your needs, you give 100%. Marriages work best when both give 100%. If that’s not happening then seek counseling.
When we got married, my wife and I were gifted a book. The Five Love Languages. Different people feel loved in different ways, and it’s not necessarily the same as yours. Discover what each other’s is and fulfill that for each other. I highly recommend that book.
Paul was writing to a Roman audience; it wasn’t a Jewish church, though some were surely there. Marriages were arranged in the Roman culture during that time. It wasn’t so much for love, but to increase social standing or wealth. It was a business arrangement, truly a verbal contract. Then Paul’s telling them to be selfless rather than seeking status or money? Probably raised a stir.
What’s this ‘one flesh’ thing about?
It’s to be connected not just emotionally, but spiritually and mentally. Our emotions and hormones wane, physical attractiveness fades. Yet ask a couple who’s been married for many years if they still find the other attractive. The answer is usually ‘even more than ever.’ They have a deeper love that comes from being one, knowing the other so well that even as looks fade, they don’t notice it.
My wife and I are complete opposites, but together we are whole. To quote Sylvester Stallone in Rocky: “I dunno, she’s got gaps, I got gaps, together we fill gaps.” That actually encourages us to grow, the fact she’s a people person stretches me because I’m not, which when we stay home, she learns to be more comfortable alone for example. We become one, which is why Jesus is strict on divorce. It’s a surgery that cuts apart a whole, painful and debilitating.
The Romans that Paul addressed this to lived in a culture with a high divorce rate, much like today. To get married was as simple as announcing you’re moving in together. Verbal contract, remember? Divorce was as easy as telling seven people that you were splitting up. Wasn’t a very binding contract or very committed.
It gets worse. In fact, if the wife was caught cheating, the husband would divorce her. He could then take her to court to get half her dowry. Essentially, he gets half her stuff. Except, that didn’t apply to the men, he could be a player. No dishonor there. Try telling your wife in the wedding vows ‘I don’t have to forsake all others, but you do’. Nice knowing you.
Easy divorce, adultery, and double standards; not much has changed in 2,000 years. This is the audience that Paul told to love love their wives with a behavior worthy of respect and esteem. To seek what’s best for them, rather than themselves, with an attitude of loving-kindness. It’s easy during the good times, but it applies to the hard times as well. It doesn’t mean to become bitter and resentful ourselves because of our own duties (Colossians 3:19 AMP).
Men, how are we to love our wives?
Like Christ loves us, seeking the highest good for us. We are to encourage their growth as he works on our growth in Him, becoming better people over time. To unselfishly put her needs over our own, not concerned about our status or chasing other women. Instead to be faithfully devoted, caring and kind, committed to the sanctity of the relationship more than the person. Once you’re in Christ, nothing can pluck you from His hand; he’s committed to us no matter what our mood is. That’s what a covenant means, it’s binding.
Too idealistic? True enough, we are susceptible to outbursts and mood swings. This is a perfect love that can only be found in Jesus. The depth of the love and commitment in a great marriage is just a residual taste of the perfect love. It’s only through Christ we can come to love like that.