Obeying God’s Commands as the Body of Christ

This part of the Bible wasn’t written for me.

I’m not an older woman, so why should I pay attention to Titus 2:3–5? I’m not a preacher, so what relevance does 2 Timothy 4:1–5 have for me? It almost feels like opening my neighbor’s mail.

The Effect of Individualism

We have a great temptation toward this thinking in the United States, as we breathe the air of individualism from an early age. Our sinful hearts hardly need any help, but our culture insists at every turn: be true to yourself, take care of yourself, believe in yourself. It isn’t long before our lungs are full of that toxic cloud and we lack the oxygen to think about others.

But God has called Christians to a different reality. We are the body of Christ, a people vitally connected to each other and to Jesus.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:12–13)

The books of the Bible were composed for all the people of God. Even when a letter was written to a church or an individual, the intention was public reading and instruction for the whole church.

So when we say that a part of the Bible wasn’t written for us, we’re actually wrong. If the Bible applies to anyone in the body, it has implications for all of us. We must not check out.

We Need Help From Others

Christians readily acknowledge that we need God’s help to obey his commands. (Though we always do well to remember!) It’s easier to forget how much help we need from other saints.

We need others praying for us, encouraging us, and giving us counsel. We need to talk with older saints who have stood in our shoes. We need the bold, clear-eyed enthusiasm of younger Christians to strengthen our wills to do what is right.

Finally, we also need correction from Christian friends when we sin. A gentle, loving rebuke is not often what we want, but we should seek and embrace this discipline. (See Proverbs 12:1.)

We must also view this truth—that we need others—from the other side. Others need us too. The experiences and wisdom God has given us are not just for our benefit; they’re also for the church.

An Example: Husbands

Let’s look at an example from 1 Peter. This command for husbands is found in 1 Peter 3:7.

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.

Husbands need the prayers of the saints to obey this command. Without the help of the Holy Spirit, husbands will not love and sacrifice in the ways God requires.

Husbands should also talk to married men and women of all ages and experiences. Though understanding and honoring one’s wife will look different from one marriage to the next, husbands can learn of helpful habits to develop and dangerous pitfalls to avoid through the counsel and stories of others.

Each husband needs a few close friends who will ask him difficult questions. Are you honoring your wife? How are you living with her in an understanding way? Good friends will remember a prayer request or a confession of weakness and ask specific follow-up questions the next week. These friends will offer encouragement when they see fruit. A husband may also need a loving rebuke when neglect or selfishness continues without repentance.

And, of course, husbands need to listen to their wives. A wife will know if her husband is working to understand her and live with her accordingly. She will feel the presence or lack of honor.

None of this help is easy or natural to give, and none of it is possible without the work of the Spirit within us.

Called to Obey as a Body

The key to this obedience in community is love. It takes seeing and experiencing God’s love to lift our eyes off ourselves and recognize our corporate calling.

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:15–16)

God didn’t call us just to each other, he called us to himself. Through the atoning work of Jesus, God has forgiven his people and the Spirit is working to change us. Though withdrawal may be our default mode—wanting neither help from others nor to give aid ourselves—we are no longer slaves to this sin.

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:24–25)

The wounds of Jesus have set us free and given us a new identity. We’ve been healed of our sin so that we might live to righteousness.

By God’s power, let’s do just that. Together.

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Good News for Husbands

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God does not make demands without supplying grace.

In our last article, we studied Paul’s exhortation in Ephesians 5 that husbands must “love their wives just as Christ also loved the church and gave himself up for her.” This is a serious, heavy responsibility, focused on the wife’s spiritual growth (v. 27).

But in the midst of this command, we read that it is Christ’s mission to “present to himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing.” As a husband who falls far short of this mandate to love, I need this encouragement. Though I may fail to give myself up for my wife’s sanctification, I can be sure that Jesus gave himself up for mine!

As Christ Loves the Church

We have, however, only explored half of Paul’s instruction for husbands. First, Paul tells husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church (v. 25). Then, he says husbands must also love their wives as Christ loves the church.

The key section of the passage is Ephesians 5:28–30:

So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of his body.

To apply this passage, we must consider two distinct but related questions: How do humans love their own bodies? And, How does Christ love the church?

As Your Own Body

Fortunately, we need not consider all possible ways a man cares for his body, for Paul speaks of nourishing and cherishing in verse 29.

Paul uses the word for “nourishes” later in the context of raising children to maturity (Ephesians 6:4). And the word for “cherishes” is translated as “tenderly cares” in 1 Thessalonians 2:7, where Paul describes his gentleness among the people.

So, how does a man care for his body? He nourishes his body by feeding and providing for it, through exercise, sleep, and nutrition. He strengthens and equips it. He cherishes his body by cleaning it, protecting it, and giving attention to any wounds or weaknesses.

Not all of these descriptions translate to the marriage relationship, but some do.

Just As Christ Does the Church

Christians often hear what Jesus has done for his people in history—and rightly so! His birth, life, obedience, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension are glorious and essential.

But we don’t often recall the ways that Jesus cares for his church today. This is what Paul points to in Ephesians 5:29 when he uses the present tense, and we are to use this example, in part, to learn obedience as husbands.

Paul has not left us in the dark about Christ’s present care for the church. Consider what he has already written in Ephesians:

1. In Christ, we have been sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is a pledge of our inheritance (1:13–14). Jesus gives us his promise and points to the glorious future we will share with him.

2. God has put all things in subjection under Jesus’ feet, who has been given as head over all things to the church (1:20–23). Jesus is the supreme ruler, governing all things for the good of his body.

3. We have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Jesus has broken down the wall that divided Israelites from Gentiles. These are written in the past tense, but here is the present truth: Jesus is our peace. The reality of the ascended Jesus means we currently have peace with God; we are not excluded (2:11–16).

4. Because of Jesus, we have present-day access to God (2:18).

5. We are God’s household, growing into a holy temple in the Lord, a dwelling of God in the Spirit (2:19–22).

6. Paul prays that Christ would dwell in the Ephesians’ hearts by faith, so that they “may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that [they] may be filled up to all the fullness of God” (3:18–19). Christ’s presence gives a supernatural knowledge of his immense love, which fills us up to the fullness of God.

7. Christ has given gifts to the church (apostles, prophets, etc.) to equip the saints for the work of service. Since these gifts include pastors and teachers, this is a present-day work of Jesus, helping us grow in unity, knowledge, maturity, and love (4:11–16).

There are other ways that Jesus loves his church — in particular, he prays and advocates for us (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25; 1 John 2:1). Isn’t his love for us lavish? Overflowing? Tender and generous?

So should a husband’s love be for his wife.

What Tender Love Looks Like

From these descriptions, we can make some practical conclusions about the ways a husband should love his wife.

Each husband must nourish and cherish his wife; this has physical, emotional, and spiritual dimensions. Because each marriage is unique, instead of giving universal suggestions I have provided a list of questions for husbands to consider.

  • Are you tending to your wife’s health? Do you pray for her physical, emotional, and spiritual vitality? As much as it depends on you, are you working to provide for her in these areas? Do you talk with her about them?
  • In areas of weakness for your wife, are you tender? Does she have confidence that you are for her, protecting and covering and nurturing her, eager for her growth and flourishing?
  • Do you know the best ways to pray for her? Do you pray regularly and fervently for her?
  • Do you value her? Does she know how much you value her? Do you celebrate the woman she is and the woman she is becoming?
  • Do you give her gifts that let her know you love her? Do you make arrangements to share special times and make memories together?

Good News for Husbands

I love the way Paul injects hope into his commands. There is difficult work here for husbands, but there is so much good news too.

Remember—Jesus nourishes and cherishes the church. He does this not simply out of obligation or command, but because we are members of his body. In the same way that a man and woman become one flesh in marriage, so it is with Christ and the church.

Out of the overflow of infinite love, God the Father sent his Son to rescue his people. Because of the work of the Son in history, we are now joined to him—in love—forever.

Husbands, love your wives. Nourish and cherish her as your own body. Do so knowing that, as part of the church, Christ loves you with a tender, unbreakable, unending love. And in that love and strength you will be able to love your wife.

This post originally appeared at Unlocking the Bible.


Photo Credit: Anne Edgar (2016), public domain

 

Husbands, Love Your Wives

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I’m a deep sleeper, so it’s unusual for me to see the clock at 2:00 a.m. As my brain shook off the fog I heard the call again. “Mo-mmy! Da-ddy!” I grabbed my glasses and headed for the door.

My daughter had a nightmare. This happens about once a month, so we both know the routine. We prayed, focused on happier thoughts, and turned on some music. She slid back to sleep within minutes.

I can’t say I love these wakeup calls, but they provide a reflex test for my heart. When I know I should get up, will I hesitate? Will I wait for another call, hoping my wife will get up instead? Or will I take this small opportunity to give of myself?

Christ’s Love for the Church

At the end of Ephesians 5, Paul lays out a stunning picture of human marriage. He concludes, “this mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32). In sum, the command to wives is to respect their husbands; and husbands, to love their wives (v. 33).

Paul’s command to husbands in this letter is two-fold. He first tells husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church (v. 25). Paul then tells husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the church (vv. 28–29).

We’ll explore the first part of Paul’s teaching in this article. In a later article, the second command will be addressed.

A Word to Non-Husbands

Men make up less than half the church, and not all men are husbands. Is this passage relevant for everyone?

If you are not currently a husband, I hope you will continue reading. This passage in Ephesians will remind you of the love of Jesus for the Church—for you—and will instruct you how to pray for, encourage, and support those who fulfill this role. And, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

A Husband’s Aim

Ephesians 5:25-27 says:

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

Christ’s aim for his church is a husband’s aim for his wife—her sanctification. “Sanctify” is just a fancy word meaning “set apart for God’s intended purpose.” God’s plan is to “present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (v. 27).

Husbands are to labor for the holiness and purity of their wives, just like Christ labors for the purity of his church. This means a godly husband will prioritize his wife’s spiritual growth. How can he practically do this?

Each husband should consider some serious questions about his wife on a regular basis:

  • In what areas is her relationship with God strong? Where is it weak?
  • What brings her the greatest joy?
  • What battles with sin does she face? Where does she encounter discouragement, doubt, fear, or despair?
  • What care, help, or wisdom does she need from me?

Husbands are commanded to “live with your wives in an understanding way” (1 Peter 3:7), meaning they should strive to understand and get to know their wives. Through all of these inquiries, it’s vital that the husband makes his wife a priority, not a project. Love should make no one feel like the target of an investigation.

The answers to some of these questions will come through conversation and simple listening. Other answers will come through experience, advice, and the leading of the Spirit.

Sanctification may seem like a lofty goal, but Paul gives one simple, all-encompassing means to achieve it. Husbands must give themselves up for their wives (vv. 1, 25). This is a broad command begging for specific explanation and illustration.

Give Up Yourself

What does it look like for a husband to give himself up in order to sanctify his wife? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, because each person and each marriage is different.

The basic principle is that the husband should set aside what he values to help his wife value most what is most valuable—God himself. As someone has said: “A husband must be willing not only to die for his wife but also to live for her.”

Consider this short list of suggestions, offered to help each husband think specifically about how to lay down his life for his wife.

  • Give up early mornings to read and study the Bible with your wife. Help each other make specific applications for that day.
  • Give up devotional time to pray for her; pray with her.
  • Give up your time and perhaps your finances to encourage the cultivation and expression of her God-given gifts.
  • Give up your comfort to gently correct her from God’s Word, lest she be found with “spot or wrinkle” (v. 27). (Invite this correction of yourself, too!)
  • Encourage her to spend time with her friends. Assume the necessary responsibilities and burdens to make this happen.
  • Affirm her talents, her sacrifices, and her contributions to your family on a regular basis.
  • Give up potential advancement or praise at work by spending time with her rather than at the office after hours.
  • Give up your preferences when finding a church for your family. Within the scope of Bible-preaching, Jesus-loving churches, seek out what would be the best fit for your wife. What will help her to grow?
  • Give up the comfort of being passive. Step into the leadership role God has given you within your family (1 Corinthians 11:3). In love, serve your wife by making plans, asking questions, and stepping out in front in ways that will bless her.

Not Just an Analogy

Paul uses a husband’s love for his wife as an example and explanation in this passage. But we must not miss the glorious truth contained in this analogy!

Jesus gave himself up for the church. He lost his comfort, his friends, his position, his time, his dignity, and he lost his life in a gruesome, humiliating display on the cross.

And because of his resurrection, one day Jesus will present the church to himself “in splendor”, without any spot or wrinkle at all. This gives me tremendous hope! When I look at myself and the church around me, I see lots of spots and wrinkles, lots of blemishes, and lots of evidence that we still need to be sanctified.

But let’s raise our eyes and see what Christ has done in his love for his Bride. He sacrificed himself making the one-time cleansing for her sin, but also secured and provided the power for her ongoing change. Jesus is committed to his holy church—to making her holy. You might think we have a ways to go, but make no mistake—the sanctified church is a certainty.

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. (1 Thessalonians 5:23–24)

This is good news for Christians, including husbands who fail to love, fail to give of themselves, and fail to joyfully labor for the sanctification of their wives. The church of God has a heavenly husband who provides all the forgiveness and power we need to joyfully lay down our lives for our wives as he laid down his life for us.

This post originally appeared at Unlocking the Bible.


Photo Credit: Priscilla Du Preez (2016), public domain