It was the most significant spiritual moment of our marriage. And it happened 22 years after we said, “I do.” How many times have we sat with other men and women in Sunday school classes, discussing Paul’s incredibly difficult instruction to the Ephesians: “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” Yet, the idea felt abstract. What does it mean, really? we all wondered. How can a mere man love like Christ? How can he present his wife to Jesus, holy and blameless? How can he really help to sanctify her while he struggles with his own sin problems? Even the most loving and God-honoring husband is flawed, after all, so what about all of those regular husbands out there? Was Paul asking too much of men?
We tend to think of Paul’s directive as relating mainly to the way that a man treats his wife. Is he being kind to her? Is he putting her needs and wants first? These seem like tangible ways to measure whether a man is loving his wife well. The trouble with this measuring stick is that there is always way too much room for falling short. It’s just too easy for both husband and wife to be frustrated when we point to some sort of performance as evidence that our husbands are loving enough. They will have bad days. They will let selfish tendencies rule them at times, just like we do. How short-sighted it is to decide that a husband is failing in his mission to love like Christ just because his tone of voice is occasionally short or because he would rather watch football than have a heart-to-heart at the moment. These are faulty criteria, because Paul’s message to Ephesian husbands wasn’t “Try harder.” His exhortation was so much more meaningful than mere behavior modification.
Recently I began to understand what Paul was calling men to, because Chad showed me. It was a painful moment in some ways, because it was sanctifying, and sanctifying moments often come with some sense of being squeezed into a new mold. Slowly, slowly, we transform into shapes that look more like Jesus. But here’s the incredible thing about this moment. It wasn’t a grand showing of Chad’s theological genius. It wasn’t a deep discussion of what he’s learning about leadership in his doctoral classes. It wasn’t even a caring dialogue about one of my many sin issues. Here’s how Chad showed me what it looks like for husbands to love their wives with a sanctifying, transforming, Christ-like love: through humility. He came to me in utter humility, with a heart completely open to whatever painful work Christ wants to do there. He stooped low in submission to the Savior, and he invited me into the moment. How can this be explained, this willingness to reveal to a woman how the Holy Spirit is pruning such tender places inside? It can only be described as a sacrificial love.
And as he surrendered his pride, I could practically feel my heart cracking wide open, all of my own self-regard laid bare and crouching grossly in the recesses, brought to light by the beauty of Christ. Growing pains. That’s what I felt. That’s what I’m still feeling.
Later as I thought back on this vulnerable moment that passed between us, it occurred to me that in the fragility of two broken people, Jesus can produce a love like His. And it is so much more than just polite words. It is so much better than meeting expectations of kindness. This love is the type that grants a man the noble ability, the painful desire, to bring his wife along as he truly surrenders himself to Christ. This is how a man helps to sanctify his wife. This is how he presents her before God as one of his most precious life works. This is how a man loves his wife like Christ loves the church. In this, he lays down his life for his friend. It is breath-taking. I am in awe of this profound mystery.
Solomon wrote that the wounds of a friend are faithful, and I think we both feel a little bruised. With new growth comes that familiar ache. We are binding each other’s wounds.