Part 3 - An Introduction into the ethics of the apostle (Ephesians 4:1 – 6:20)
The new life regimen for men (Ephesians 5:25-33)
5:25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, 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 husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones (Eph. 5:25-30).
Paul described himself as one who had been embodied in the spiritual body of the crucified and resurrected One. The apostle saw the world from the standpoint of the glory of His Lord. He compared a marriage of a follower of Christ with the New Covenant of Christ and His church. If Paul expected a wife to unconditionally submit to her husband in all situations, he demanded from the husbands still more. Every married man should love his wife as Jesus loved and continues to love His church! Humanly speaking this is nearly impossible, for such a demand included the requisite that the husband offer himself up totally for his wife and family, just as Jesus died in the place of His church. Submission is difficult, but to offer oneself up for someone else is still more difficult! This needs to be conscientiously recognized.
The pastoral counsellor gave a spiritual goal to the love between married spouses. The husband is to devote himself to his wife and serve her, that she might become saintly! Considered in a spiritual light, she should have no wrinkles or blemishes in her behavior, but be faultless, humble and meek, just like Jesus Himself. For Paul it was not the practical marriage life that was decisive, but the spiritual level of both partners. Therefore, a husband should read the Bible with his wife and explain the texts to her, lest she be insufficiently instructed. Furthermore, he should live exemplary in seeing that her daily, practical needs are met, and pray with her and for her, lest she, like Eve, become easy prey for Satan.
Perhaps today it has gone so far that in some marriages, the opposite is just what happens, that is, in our godless day and age, the wife becomes the one who, with word, deed and prayer, helps her husband to spiritually find the way back to Jesus.
Yet Paul went on to further joggle the husbands, demanding of them they love not only themselves, but, above all, their wives. Every person is, by nature, an egoist, who loves himself/herself the most and hopes to have comfort and not have to work too hard. In opposition to this, a husband should see to it that his wife has enough to eat, is respectably dressed, and does not languish away in loneliness or lose heart. Much more, he should discuss everything and pray things through with her. The pastoral counsellor spurred on indolent egoists with a sharp pointer, saying – whoever loves his wife, loves himself!
Paul did not give up the battle so quickly with indolent and tired husbands. He declared to them: We have all become members of the spiritual body of Jesus. He, as our head, is concerned for us and for every one of His members, so that His body can remain full of vitality. In like manner, every husband should give attention to seeing that his wife has no lack in her soul, spirit and body. Her needs should be well met, and his help should be practical – not more – but also not less!
Islam has a totally different understanding of marriage. A man can have up to four wives as long as he can, financially and sexually, serve them all equally (Sura al-Nisa 4:3). He has the right to train his wives, in the event they don´t obey him: “And those you fear may be rebellious, banish them to their couches and beat them! If they then obey you, take no further action against them” (al-Nisa` 4:34). A woman is only worth half as much as a man. This is seen when it comes to court, where the testimony of two women witnesses is only worth the testimony of one man (al-Baqara 2:282), with the distribution of inheritance, where the sister only receives half as much as her brother, and with the pay out of insurance money following accidents, where a woman receives only half the sum that a man is paid out (penal code in Iran, § 301). Blessed is the woman who gains a husband grounded in Christ.
“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband” (Eph. 5:31-33).
At the end of his spiritual admonition for husbands and wives, Paul came to speak about the actual relationship within a marriage. A man, when he is truly in love with his wife, is to leave his own family and, together with his wife, establish a new family. Neither of them should have inhibitions in regards to sexual marital relations, but understand that, in this way, they become a single union before God and man. However, the husband should not just be content with his own satisfaction, but learn to serve his wife, so that she, too, can be at ease.
In the end Paul applied a spiritual meaning to these practical realities, describing marriage as a great mystery, one that, spiritually understood, pointed to the complete unity between Christ and His church. From this formulation the Catholic Church derived a marriage sacrament, as if a church-rooted marriage could solidify both marriage partners in the salvation of Christ. Mixed marriages are, therefore, undesirable. Children from these marriages are automatically incorporated into the Catholic Church. However, Paul went on to derive an understanding of marriage to equate the unity of the church with Christ. Therefore, he repeated his testimonial words: Let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband! With this piece of advice the apostle also integrated the mystery of Christ, namely, that we are to forgive one another, just as Christ has forgiven us all our sins.
Prayer: Our Father in heaven, we worship You, for Jesus Christ loves and cares for His followers, even when they were not always lovable. Help us to transplant our marriages unconditionally into Your love, so that husbands and wives can daily forgive each other their mistakes and deficiencies, and that Your love and goodness might become an example and pattern for their love. Amen.
- What does it mean for husbands to offer themselves up for their wives, just as Jesus offered Himself up for His church?
- Why should we be thankful for our sexual capacity?