Why does Paul say husbands should love their wives?
"Husbands, love your wives..." – Paul, Ephesians 5:25 (MEV)
While the instruction appears to be a no-brainer to all who love God, one has to think why did Paul go out of his way to remind men to love their wives. He could have just focused on the Gospel but of all the things he could have dedicated a portion of his letter to the Ephesians to, it was this. Why is that?
I love this passage, Ephesians 5:21-33. Here we find the idea of a loving and growing marriage resulting from submission to Christ, and vice-versa. It is here that Paul reminds all husbands, in careful detail, to love their wives. And that instruction does not come without reason: it's what husbands should be doing as they submit to Christ.
When we read the verses prior to the passage about marriage we notice Paul's instruction for us to live as God's children in the world:
- First, we read him telling us to imitate God as His beloved children, walking in love as Christ loved us (Galatians 5:1-2), followed by a command to put off sinful desires and behaviors that God's children shouldn't have (v. 3-7).
- Next, He reminds us of our identity ("For you were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light" – see Galatians 5:8), followed by instructions on how to live out that identity God gave us.
Now that we have this as our backdrop, we now proceed to one of the ways we get to live out our identity as God's children: by loving our wives in submission to the Lordship of Christ.
Submission to Christ's Lordship and love
Now you might be wondering what Christ's Lordship over our lives means with regards to the treatment of our wives. To be honest, it's got everything to do with it.
In Ephesians 5:21 we are told to submit to one another in the fear of God. In the succeeding passage, wives are told to submit to their husbands. Then, husbands are told to love their wives. A husband who submits to Christ should love his wife – and not just love her like any other person, but love her the way Christ loved the church (see Galatians 5:25).
Now what's astonishing is that Paul tells husbands to love their wives the way Christ loved the church. Pastor Robert Deffinbaugh, writing for Bible.org, says this kind of love is both selective and sacrificial. "Selective" in such a way that it is unique and different compared to the love given to others such as neighbors and friends, and "sacrificial" in that Christ gave Himself up to save and sanctify the church.
We all know that men are naturally self-seeking, doing whatever we want (see Isaiah 53:6). Christ's love, however, sets us free from that selfishness and empowers us to love others, most especially our respective wives. (see John 15:12; Matthew 10:8). When we submit to Him, each of us will take delight in loving our wives selflessly – the way that glorifies Him.
Paul's exhortation to all husbands to love their wives is more than just a command to love them. It is an instruction on how to live as a child of God, a reminder of the new life we are now living in Christ, a teaching on one of the ways we submit to Christ, and a loving illustration of how much Christ loved us. In the end, it's all about Him who we are following.