Because of sin, husbands have a tendency to neglect or abuse their headship. That’s why the Apostle Paul combines his teaching on the husband’s leadership in Ephesians 5v22-32 with three commands to love his wife and uses two models to help them.
1. Love as their own bodies (v. 28)
Jay Adams put this well: “Husbands know how to nourish and cherish their own bodies, don’t they? Something slips and John gashes his arm with a tool. Blood drips down and he dashes off to the medicine closet. He carefully washes it, cares for it, nourishes it, and cherishes it. He may spend the next six days nourishing and cherishing!”
Nourishing and cherishing translate two of the most tender words available in the Greek language. Nourishing is about feeding with a view to flourishing and growth in every area of her life: physical, intellectual, emotional, recreational, social, and spiritual. Cherishing is about keeping warm, as a bird puts her wing over its young to protect and treasure.
2. Love as Christ loved the church (v. 25)
This is an even higher standard than #1 and involves:
Prioritized love: Just as Christ put the Church first, the husband must put his relationship with his wife ahead of every other human relationship (and hobbies, sports, computers, etc).
Incomparable love: Just as Jesus has eyes only for His bride, so the husband must refuse to let his eyes and mind wander to and linger on any other women.
Practical love: Just as Jesus showed His love in actions, so the husband offers to help with household and family duties. His responsibility does not end with a paycheck on the countertop.
Appreciative love: Just as Jesus expresses His love for the Church with affectionate words, so the husband frequently tells his wife how much he loves her and what he specifically appreciates about her.
Gracious love: Just as Jesus loved the undeserving, so the husband is to love not just when his wife attracts him but even when she offends him.
Sanctifying love: As Paul explains, Jesus’s love was with a view to the church’s washing and purification. That doesn’t mean that the husband becomes a fanatical fault-finder or a perfectionist nit-picker. Rather, keep in view the vision Tim Keller paints in The Meaning of Marriage and you’ll stay along the right lines here:
Within this Christian vision for marriage, here’s what it means to fall in love. It is to look at another person and get a glimpse of the person God is creating, and to say, “I see who God is making you, and it excites me! I want to be part of that. I want to partner with you and God in the journey you are taking to his throne. And when we get there, I will look at your magnificence and say, ‘I always knew you could be like this. I got glimpses of it on earth, but now look at you!’”
Sacrificial love: Just as Jesus gave up His time, His energy, His talents, and even His love for His wife, so the husband looks for opportunities to serve his wife in this way.
Model love: What this all means is that if someone lived with a Christian couple for a time and observed their marriage, they should be able to look at how the husband loves his wife and say, “I get it now. I understand how Christ loves His church.”
Confessing love: No husband can do all this. Which brings us to our need for confession and our casting of ourselves upon the person and work of Christ, our perfect bridegroom, to love us in all these ways; and upon the Holy Spirit to empower us similarly.
Leadership Problems or Love Problems?
In troubled marriages, most leadership problems are love problems. A husband may say, “She’s not following my leadership.” In most cases we can reply, “It’s because she’s not sensing your love!”
Instead of trying to get the wife to perform her duties better, husbands should be asking, “How can I lead her better?” and especially, “How can I love her better?”