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Colossians 3:18-21 & Ephesians 5:25-33 by Robert Dean
The pattern for a husband’s love for his wife is a model of Christ’s love for His church. There is comparison also to Christ’s relationship of love for the Father and the love a husband has for his own body. Apart from cultural, transitory, romantic love, this is a broader, eternal, mental attitude love grounded in the character of the one who loves and his knowledge of God. Like God’s covenant love for Israel, a husband’s love will not be disrupted by circumstances. There is an element of substitution in the comparison of a husband’s love to the sacrifice of Christ for His church. Learn the definition of love and how it functions objectively only when it conforms to God’s intention in scripture.
Series:Colossians (2011)
Duration:1 hr 2 mins 14 secs

Love and the Responsibilities of the Christian Husband. Colossians 3:18-21, Ephesians 5:25-33

Colossians 3:18-21 talks about the responsibility of wives, husbands, children, parents, and then on to slaves because they were part of the household at that time, and masters. This is expanded in Ephesians 5:19-33 and the first nine verses of Ephesians 6.

We see in terms of the structure that the focus of this section is on the husband and his responsibility to love his wife. It is significant because unlike the Colossians passage—which talks about husbands not loving their wives and not making them bitter—we go into a pattern here for what the model is for husbands in terms of their love for their wives. We see in two places that there is a comparative. Then command is to husbands to love their wives, but they are to do it in response to a particular pattern, a particular model; and that is the pattern of how Jesus Christ loves the church. That is a standard that is an absolute standard, one that in and of itself as fallen human beings cannot possibly achieve apart from the aid and the strength of the Holy Spirit. Both in Ephesians 5:25 and 5:28 we see this comparative statement that we are to love as Christ loved also loved the church (v.25) and then (v.28) Paul says, "so husbands ought to love their own wives as their own body.

In the first part there are two result clauses but these describe Christ's love for the church. The first purpose was that he might sanctify and cleanse her, i.e. all believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, and set for the long term purpose that Her might present her, the church, to Himself a glorious church. All of this in the first three verses is simply to help us understand what the pattern of Scripture is for what it means when we say to our wives "I love you": that that is not just something we say, not just something that we feel, but it is something that is to be embodied in us as a reflection of our own orientation to the Lord Jesus Christ and to salvation. So just as with the wives the pattern for our roles in marriage is set not by culture, not by tradition, not on any ideas of how society ought to be structured; it is set by the relationship of Jesus Christ to the body of the church. This, then, becomes our standard; it therefore has an eternal standard, an eternal reference point, not a temporal reference point. We are not lo love our wives as they did in Rome or in Greece or in Israel or anywhere else; it is patterned by that eternal love of Jesus Christ for the church.

We see that this is a command that runs through this section. It begins the section: "Husbands, love your wives," and then it is repeated after the first illustration: "So husbands ought also to love their own wives." At the end there is a repetition for the third time: "Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself." First we love as Christ loved the church, then as our own bodies, and last as ourselves.

Verses 25-27 gives us the foundation for how we are to love our wives, and why. Ephesians 5:25 NASB "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her." In this passage we have one of two words that is used in Greek for love, the verb agapao [a)gapaw] which is the broadest kind of love and it emphasises more of a mental attitude than it does an emotional feeling. (The other primary word used in the New Testament for love is phileo [filew] which is more an intense, personal intimate love). And it also relates to the kind of love that God has for the entire human race. John 3:16 gives us the pattern for understanding and defining love (agapao) in the New Testament, and that is "For God loved the world" in this way. It is the love of God for the world composed of rebellious, uninterested, uncaring, antagonistic human beings; not on the basis of who they are, what they have done, or even their potential but because He created them in His own image and likeness, and because of His character, His integrity He chooses to love the human race. That is the foundation for understanding what real love is. Love in not based on an emotion. All emotions are fleeting. When emotion isn't there what has to be there is this mental attitude sense of loyalty, dedication and focus upon the object of love.

Husbands are to love their wives, a present imperative, which means this is to be something that continuously characterises our relationship to their wives. The comparison is to the love that Christ has for the church. Again it is the same verb, stated as an aorist indicative, which is just a historical reality that is the model which is emphasised. That is our pattern, our model which has been given to us.

We have to recognise that this is one of the most misunderstood, most distorted, most confused concepts that we find throughout all of human history. When have all kinds of definitions of love out there. If we look up love in the dictionary they define love as emotion. But if love is simply emotion then we have a problem. And when we look at the Bible love is never defined as an emotion. There is a recognition of a type of love that is emotional, but the love that is described in Scripture is not something that is emotional or sentimental. So we have a problem understanding just what it means to love someone and defining it. Probably the most difficult word to define is the word love. Even when we look at dictionaries they tend to describe love rather than to define love and there is a difference between those two concepts.

The best definition we have been able to come up with for love is: Love is the mental attitude that seeks the absolute best for the object of love. The problem with that is that as soon as you use the word "best" that relates to some kind of value. Whose value are you using? If I look at someone and say, "I love you and I want the absolute best for you," in terms of what I think and my opinions, then I have a problem because I have a very temporal self-centered concept of what is best for you. That concept of what is best is what is best as God defines it in Scripture. Even in Scripture we have descriptions of love (1 Cor. 13) rather than definitions of love, so we have these various patterns that are given to us and throughout all of history since the creation of Adam and Eve in the garden, through the Old Testament period in terms of God's work with Israel and then in the New Testament period—God sending His Son to die on the cross for us—we continuously have pictures and descriptions of love. In Hebrew the basic word for love is aheb which has a range of meanings, not unlike the English word for love, but a word that is often used as a synonymous parallel for aheb is a word that is normally translated in the English Bible as loving kindness or faithfulness, God's unchanging love, His faithful loyal love, and that is the word chesed. It emphasises His loyalty to the object of His love, expressed especially in the period of Israel. His object for love is Israel based on the covenant that God made with them. And it is His loyalty to the covenant in spite of Israel's disobedience, idolatry, unfaithfulness and periods of dark spirituality where they completely rejected the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, God affirmed that he would always be loyal and faithful to them. Because it is based on who He is and His character and not based on who they are and their character.

So the main idea of God's love that comes across in the Old Testament is that God is loyal and faithful to His covenant to Israel. When we take that and transfer that over to our love for our wives sometimes it is not very romantic to think that what love basically is is loyalty a contract. That in essence is what it is. We have a legal covenant with our wives, the marriage ceremony where we made certain promises to one another. And love is loyalty, faithfulness to that marriage covenant at its very foundation. There is more to love than that but that is part of the foundation: that no matter what happens, richer, poorer, in adversity, in prosperity, in sickness, in health, whatever happens we love one another. There is a loyalty to that covenant that is not going to be disrupted by various circumstances, and that is the pattern for God's love for us. It is not based on who we are because one day we are one way and another day we are another way. But God is immutable, so we can always count on His to be the same way all the time.

Ephesians 5:25 NASB "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her." So husbands are to have this kind of love for their wives, and the pattern is in the last part of the verse: "… [He] gave Himself up for her." So love isn't just a mental attitude, it extends itself in terms of its focus and ministry and service to the object of love. So we are to love and give ourselves for our wives. The word paradidomi [paradidomi] means to give up, hand over, and it emphasises that the person doing it is consciously, intentionally, purposely giving over something. It is not just the word didomi which means to give, but it emphasises that conscious, resolute decision to do something on behalf of someone else for their best interest. The words "for her" should be "on behalf of. The preposition usually translated "for" in English is the Greek huper [u(per] which always emphasises substitution—somebody does something for someone else. This is where we get the concept describing Christ's work on the cross describing substitutionary atonement, meaning that Jesus Christ died in our place. This was depicted throughout the Old Testament period in terms of the animal sacrifices.                      

2 Corinthians 5:14, 15 NASB " For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all [substitution], therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf." So husbands, you are not there for yourself. That is a radical idea that Paul develops in this chapter. It is not for us men, we are not in the marriage for what we get out of it. Our wives are not to serve us; they are not a second class citizen. That was a new idea in Greco-Roman culture, a radical shift in thinking that the wife is part of that team in the marriage and the husband is to love her like his own body, love her like himself; not putting her in a position of inferiority or subordination.

1 Corinthians 15:3 NASB "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins [substitutionary atonement] according to the Scriptures." When Paul wrote this it was about 61 or 62 AD. What did they have for Scripture? It wasn't the New Testament. Only a few books of the New Testament had been written by that time. So when he talks about Christ dying for our sins according to the Scriptures he is referring to the 39 books of the Old Testament and the predictions that were made throughout the 4000+ years of the Old Testament that God would send a savior who would die.

Christ went through all of that because He loved us, and that is the pattern for husbands. He does this for a purpose, and the purpose stated here is to sanctify the church. Ephesians 5:26 NASB "so that He might sanctify her …" Sanctify is one of those older English theological terms that confuses people. It simply means to set apart for the service of God. Holiness doesn't make you morally pure. "… having cleansed her …" He is the one who cleanses us from sin. We don't cleanse ourselves from sin; we can't do that. Christ did it on the cross when He paid the penalty during those three hours. "… by the washing of water with the word." The Greek uses a different term here for "word" than the one we normally think of, which is logos [logoj]. Here it uses the word rhema [r(hma] which refers to the spoken Word. logos can refer to the written word or a number of other meanings, but rhema has the idea of the spoken Word or the message, the message of the gospel or the good news that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins and by believing in Him we can have eternal life. That is good news. God gave His uniquely born Son so that whoever believes—that is the only condition—should not perish but have everlasting life. That is grace; it is a free gift. The next verse makes it even more clear: John 3:17 NASB "For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him." Too often there are Christians who are too busy condemning everybody rather than expressing the love of God and the grace of the gospel. So the result is: [18] "He who believes in Him is not judged [condemned]; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." Why are they condemned already? Because we are all born in a state of spiritual death. We need to have that problem solved, and that problem is solved by Christ on the cross.

Love is further expanded on in the New Testament by Jesus. The night before He went to the cross He gave His disciples a new commandment: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another—as I have loved you." So the command to love other believers on the pattern of Jesus Christ isn't something just restricted to husbands, wives. So don't think you've got off Scot free on this. If you are a Christian you are to love one another in the same way that Christ loved you, so we are all responsible for that. But Paul is emphasising to husbands that that is their responsibility because they have a tendency to forget that. John 13:35 NASB "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." A disciple isn't a Christian, a disciple is a Christian who is serious about studying what Jesus taught and making it part of their life. So how do you know somebody is trying to grow and mature as a believer? They exhibit the kind of love that Christ had for others in their life.

Galatians ends with a focus on love. Galatians 5:13 NASB "For you were called to freedom, brethren; only {do} not {turn} your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another." That is what should characterise a marriage—where both the husband and the wife are focusing on serving God by serving one another. They are there to serve God, and they do that by serving one another as together they focus on the biblical pattern and purpose for marriage. Paul goes on then to focus on Leviticus 19:18 in verse 14: "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." Then in verse 19: "Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, [20] idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, [21] envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God." Jesus paid for all sin committed in human history. These sins here are emphasised not because they are worse sins and if you commit them you weren't saved or you lose your salvation, or something, but because these are sins that particularly mitigate against love. Sexual immorality within marriage precludes love. You can't love one another if you are involved in covenant unfaithfulness in marriage through adultery and other sexual sins.

Then the next category deals with infidelity towards God. Idolatry and sorcery here is the Greek word pharmakeia [farmakeia]. Drugs were used in a lot of the mystery religions to get a sort of heightened sense of God. Then various self-centered emotional sins are listed. If these are the sins that prevent us from getting saved then none of us are going to get saved. This isn't talking about that. People focus on the last statement in verse 2, "that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God," beca8use they think that inheriting the kingdom of God means getting eternal life, getting saved. But inheriting the kingdom of God is a term related to the rewards that are given to spiritually mature believers at the judgment seat of Christ in eternity. Trusting in Christ gets us eternal life and gets us into heaven, but those who are especially obedient and grow to maturity are going to get various rewards. That has to do with inheritance. It is not talking about salvation because salvation is free. It is not based on cleaning up your life because you can work from now until the day you die and you can't clean it up enough.

The focus on this whole passage is on love. Verse 22 contrasts the fruit of the Spirit with the works of the sin nature, and the first fruit is love because that is what Paul is talking about in context. Remember, he said that working through love serve one another; we are to love our neighbour as ourselves. So the fruit of the Spirit is love and other characteristics that relate to that are joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.   

We understand that the pattern for love is God's gift of Jesus Christ and salvation. Romans 5:8 NASB "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." This was not when we reformed our life, not when we became better than we were, not because we joined a church or went through some sort of religious experience; but while we were a sinner, when we were obnoxious to God, when we were in rebellion against God, while we were doing everything God didn't want us to do—Christ died for us. Plug that into a marriage. In marriage you have a husband who is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. If is not dependent upon her love for him, her attractiveness to him, her response to him; it is based on something more eternal, i.e. the character of God. Our love for one another can't be based on our character, it is too ephemeral; it has to be based upon the eternal, unchanging character of God.

Ephesians 2:8, 9 says it is by grace that we are saved. That is what we have to understand, men. We have to treat our wives in love and in grace. Grace means it is a free gift. We are giving and loving not because we expect anything in return. We are loving because it is the right thing to do, because that is what God commanded us to do, and because that should be the foundation for our relationship to anyone—but especially our wives.