God's word commands husbands to love their wives (Eph 5:25). Yes, it is a command.
"But my wife is a piece of work." Love your wives!
"But I'm falling in love with another woman.." Love your wives!
"I don't feel love for her anymore..." Love your wives!
When she's sick, when she's well; when she's cranky, when she's sweet; when she's fat, when she's thin; when you think she deserves it, when you think she does not; when she is submitting to you, when she is rebelling against you - "Husbands, love your wives!"
God's command does not budge against our excuses.
And not only are we commanded to love our wife, we are also commanded which way to love our wife: "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her...In the same way husbands should love their wives..." (Ephesians 5:25, 28, ESV). God has commanded, not the mushy feelings we often associate with love, but that husbands sacrifically and affectionately and tenderly and for her good and benefit, give ourselves up in selfless love for our wives. Yes, the standard we are called to is none other than perfection: Christ's giving himself up in love for his church!
Before we go any further, we must remember that we have no power in ourselves to obey any of God's commands. It is impossible for husbands to love their wives in this way. It is only through the gospel that we are empowered to obey God. The Law shows us our need for Christ. So when we hear "we are commanded to love our wives" we must run to Christ, who died on the cross for our lack of loving our wife and bore in his body the curse and guilt of it, and who rose from the grave with power and life and forgiveness for believers! He is quite capable of loving his bride, and he has put his Spirit in us. Through the gospel (and only through the gospel) are husbands given power to obey the command. (Any women readers should also apply this to the commands to submit to their own husbands as to the Lord, vs22-24). Gospel, not Law!
Additionally, let us remember that it is not our job to "fix" our wives. It is not our mission to sanctify them, repair their 'fallenness,' or make them holy. That is the job of the Holy Spirit. Our job is to love them and meet their needs. Pour yourself out in sacrifical love and busy yourself with need-meeting. Do this in prayer, trusting the Lord to complete what he has begun in your wife (Phil 1:6).
So, what does this self-sacrificing love look like in real life? Here is a checklist to get you started in thinking this out for yourself. Proceed prayerfully and get ready to love your wife!
1. Thoughts. Love her in your thoughts. Do not allow resentment for how you think she has failed you creep in, or bitterness, or meditations on all her faults. Love your wife in your thinking of her!
2. Words. Love her in your words to her. Speak with tenderness and affection. Do not yell at your wife! Build her up with your words of grace rather than tearing her down (Eph 4:29). Also, love her in your words about her. Never (let me repeat) NEVER speak negatively of your wife in public or with friends!
3. Physical Gentleness. Do not hit, kick, slap or push your wife! Come on, guys! Be tender in your physical treatment of her. Does she feel safe with you?
4. Thoughtfulness. Jesus didn't wait for us to come to him with our need for salvation - he initiated salvation! He loved us first, and he came and died for us before we even understood our need. Let us model this by thinking of needs our wife has and meeting them, without waiting for her to make them known. Does she feel that you have thought of her today?
5. Leadership. Love her by leading her. don't make her beg for spiritual leadership. Gather the family for worship each day (yes, YOU do this). Call her to pray with you. Lovingly lead her. Does she feel led?
6. Conflict Resolution. Love her by initiating conflict resolution, even if it is her fault. Jesus did not wait for the church to come to him seeking to be reconciled to God. Don't wait for her to say "I'm sorry." Love her enough to gently approach her to be reconciled.
7. Protection. Love your wife by protecting her physically (take the bullet) and spiritually (praying for her, guarding her with discernment - protecting her from worldly ideas and idols that creep in and false doctrine). Does she feel secure?
8. Talk. Many men will not open up and share their hearts with their wife. Without this connection she will be drawn to connect with another man! Communicate with your wife. Does she feel like she knows and understands you?
9. Listen! Men may be bad at talking, but we are even worse, usually, at listening. "Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger" (James 1:19). Look at your wife when she is speaking to you. Show her that what she is saying is important to you. Listen to the words she is saying and discern the emotions behind the words. Repeat it back to her to make sure you've got it. Does she feel understood?
10. Faithfulness. Love your wife by being faithful to her. Men, your wife is your only sexual outlet. Do not seek any other outlets (adultery, porn, etc). Drink water from your own cistern, or well; "Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love" (Proverbs 5:15, 19). Tell her she is the only one for you and then demonstrate that with your life! (If you have blown it in this area, it will take time to win back her trust. Be patient and faithful) Does she feel wanted and beautiful?
11. Provision. Love your wife enough to bust your hind quarters putting food on the table, whatever it takes. Show her that you will work to provide for her - do not be lazy! Don't make her fend for herself. Does she feel "taken care of"?
12. Sex. Become a good lover for your wife; don't just focus on meeting your own needs or taking care of your own business. Hear the words of Scripture: "The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights... the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another..." (1 Corinthians 7:1-5). Does she fell satisfied?
13. Decisions. John Piper reminds us that "headship takes primary responsibility, not sole responsibility (see his sermon here). Husbands lead, but this does not mean making decisions by ourselves. Does she feel that you value her opinion?
14. Vision. Sometimes wives (like husbands) can get lost in the chaos of kids and schooling and food and cleaning and a thousand other things. Husbands, love your wives by casting the vision frequently in your home. Remind your wife why your family is doing what you are doing. Show her the big picture again. Remind her why you are making the sacrifices you are making, for whose glory you are living, and why you are not doing life exactly like the people across the street who do not follow Jesus. Does she feel a shared sense of mission and purpose?
15. Time. Does your wife stay at home with the kids? Give her a 'day off' from time to time. Take the kids and give her some time to go relax, read her Bible, grab some coffee with friends, etc. Does she feel your help with stress?
Which ones hit home with you?
Have you thought of some that I've missed?
Spread this to all the husbands you know!