When God unites a man and woman in the covenant of marriage, they truly become one flesh. This is why divorce is always violent (Mal. 2:16). This is not merely a picture; it is a covenantal reality. Therefore, a man’s love and care for his wife is always simultaneously for himself. Like Christ, a man is always presenting his wife to himself, the only question is whether he is presenting glory to himself or not.
“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. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself” (Eph. 5:27-28).
A LIVING SACRIFICE
Christ’s love for us turns us into living sacrifices (Rom. 12). And here, the language implies that a husband should see his love as having a similar effect on his wife, making her spotless, holy, and without blemish, the sort of thing you would look for in a sacrificial animal (Ex. 12:5, Num. 19:2, 1 Pet. 1:19). While there was certainly a punitive element in Christ’s sacrifice, there is also an ascension and communion element to the sacrifices. All the sacrifices point to re-entering the Garden of Eden through the flaming sword of the cherubim (Gen. 3:24). But ultimately, to commune with God is to be changed from glory into glory, to be lifted up and transfigured (e.g. 1 Jn. 3:2). The High Priest in the Old Covenant pictured this in his garments of “glory and beauty” that matched the tabernacle (Ex. 28:2, 40), and he was anointed with blood and oil like the altar itself. The High Priest was a “living sacrifice” who communed with God in the Holy Place. This is what Christ has come to do for all of us, and it is was a husband is called to imitate.
This picture works in at least two directions: First, it certainly applies to loving your wife toward Christ and into greater and greater communion with Him. But second, the immediate context applies this communion directly back to the husband (Eph. 5:28). If the husband is to model Christ’s High Priestly love which has drawn us near to Him as living sacrifices, then a husband’s sacrificial love draws his wife near to himself. He that loves his wife loves himself. And we need not pit these two communions against one another. Because God is the source of all true fellowship, the closer you get to God the closer you get to anyone else. The inverse is also true: the further away from God you get, the further away from true fellowship you get. “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 Jn. 1:7). Therefore, drawing nearer to God always brings you closer to your spouse, and a husband loving his wife nearer to the Lord is loving her nearer to himself.
AS YOUR OWN BODY
A man may think of his leadership of his wife in athletic terms. The best coaches push their players beyond what they think they are capable of because they have a bigger vision of what they might do and accomplish. All your favorite coaches and trainers pushed you harder than you thought was reasonable, and then you love them for it. Lazy coaches do not push you at all, and harsh coaches do not really love or care for you. Faithful husbands love their wives as themselves, pushing them as they push themselves for excellence and glory.
“Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” (1 Cor. 9:24-27). So men ought to love their own wives striving for the prize, striving for the crown of glory: “A virtuous woman is a crown to her husband: but she that maketh ashamed is as rottenness in his bones” (Prov. 12:4), just as wisdom crowns a man with her glory (Prov. 4:9). Do you think of her as your crown, your glory (1 Cor. 11:7)?
Likewise, in athletics, there is a “mental game” where you must listen to your body and yet discipline your thoughts. Your body may not want to get up and work out/exercise. Your body may protest another mile, but if you do not push your body further, it will not get stronger. On the other hand, if you don’t listen carefully to your body, you can harm your body. Husbands must love their wives as their own bodies. A man must lead and love with a mission of glory in mind, but he must lead and love with diligence and care.
It is not whether you are presenting your wife to yourself, the only question is: what are you presenting to yourself? Are you presenting a glorious crown to yourself?
“A virtuous woman is a crown to her husband: but she that maketh ashamed is as rottenness in his bones” (Prov. 12:4). The word “virtuous” literally means “strength, might, excellence.”
How is this kind of crown crafted? By loving her like Christ loved the Church, giving yourself for her good, loving her as your own body.
Your covenantal union with your wife both underlines your responsibility but also a promise. By God’s grace, she is your responsibility, and by His grace, you can be assured that your love is what she needs.
A man who has failed to love his wife well or diligently really needs to understand the damage that can be done through his neglect or harshness. On the other hand, when a man repents and begins walking in love, you need to know that God has made the world such that your love, under God’s blessing, really is potent for healing and glory.