Yesterday I had the privilege to preach from Ephesians 5:26-33 in our ongoing series through the book of Ephesians. As we recall, Ephesus was a vile and wicked city. With the temple of Artemis as a central attraction, the people would often engage in sexual perversions through temple idolatry and pagan worship. This led to a downgrade of marriage. Broken marriage vows were normative in Ephesus. That’s why Paul was addressing this letter to Ephesus and the surrounding churches in other cities—as a means of putting on display the gospel through faithful covenant keeping marriages.
While Ephesus was horrid and overrun with idolatry and sexual promiscuity, Paul desired for the church in the city to exemplify what Christian doctrine through their marriage relationships. These are valuable lessons for us to consider in our culture as well.
Love of Sanctification
As we look at the hinge between Ephesians 5:25-26, we see the familiar purpose clause used by Paul. This indicates the overarching reason for husbands loving their wives like Jesus loves the church in a sacrificial manner. The purpose is delivered in three clear purpose clauses:
- That he might sanctify her…
- That he might present her to himself…
- That he might enable her to be holy and blameless…
What does this mean? Paul is simply delivering the purpose behind the command that’s given in Ephesians 5:25. While husbands are given a weighty command, Paul seeks to explain the purpose that drives it. In the verses that follow, Paul outlines the responsibilities of the husband in cultivating his wife in godliness.
In sanctification, Jesus washes the church with the water of the Word. This is analogous of the Jewish bridal bath prior to the wedding. As the bride would be cleansed and purified—not only in a symbolic manner, but in a literal and physical cleansing, so Paul picked up that type of language and used it in the realm of spiritual cleansing.
In the presentation, Jesus presents His own bride to Himself having cleansed her. While in Jewish customs, the friend of the bridegroom would be charged with the presentation, it’s Jesus Himself who presents His own bride. Likewise, He presents her without spot and blemish—holy and blameless before Himself. The goal in God’s electing love (Eph. 1:3-4) is that the church would be holy and blameless. The same goal is mentioned in Ephesians 5:25-27 regarding Jesus’ atoning love. God has a purpose for our lives and that purpose is holiness.
All of this work of Jesus in the sanctifying love of the church is applied directly to the husband’s relationship to his own wife. What a tremendous and weighty charge. This means that the husband should be discipling his wife. What she is reading matters. The things she is watching on television matters. The choice of music and other entertainment outlets matter. While the husband isn’t called to treat his wife like a child by restricting her from Internet usage and certain television shows, he should be leading her away from carnality and toward more healthy choices. Replace shows like The Bachelor and The Bachelorette with other options that uphold the sanctity of marriage and the purity of the marriage bed.
While it’s extremely easy for husbands to plan and organize a fun vacation time with beach activities, boating, skiing, and other fun adventures for 7-10 days each year, it’s often difficult to plan and organize spiritual advancements. In other words, how many husbands plan and organize a good gospel conference for his wife to glean spiritual truths over 2-3 days? How many husbands try to free up their wives on Saturday so that she can go in the morning and meet with faithful women over coffee and talk about the gospel? In short, all wives need to be discipled and cleansed with the gospel. The only way to do this is for the husband to love his wife as his neighbor (see Lev. 19:18; Luke 10:25-37). Peter O’Brien comments:
Christ gave himself to the church to make her holy by cleansing her. This cleansing was effected by a spiritual washing brought about through Christ’s gracious word in the gospel. His love for the church is the model for husbands in its purpose and goal, as well as in its self-sacrifice (v. 25). In the light of Christ’s complete giving of himself to make the church holy and cleanse her, husbands should be utterly committed to the total well-being, especially the spiritual welfare, of their wives. 
Love of Physical Intimacy
As Paul finishes this section on husbands and wives, he points to the creation mandate for sexual intimacy (leaving and cleaving) and points out how the two become one flesh. While this is a mystery regarding Christ and the church, Paul points to the relationship of the husband and his wife as an extremely strong bond—one that transcends all other earthly relationships. This is why divorce is so heart shattering.
As we consider the relationship between a man and his wife – the union that occurs between the two individuals in their physical love for one another makes them one. Yes, one in mind and heart or even one in purpose—speaking about unity, but it certainly means one physically. Through the physical love of a husband and his wife – they become one flesh – and this bond surpasses all other relationships.
- It’s a greater bond than mother and daughter.
- It’s a greater bond than father and son.
- It’s a greater bond than the best of friends.
When we consider how this mysterious and high love is depicted between Christ and His church – we will be less likely to open the eye gate to pornography and to cheapen the marriage bed.
Hebrews 13:4 – Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.
May the world hear our preaching and see our gospel put on display through the faithful covenant keeping marriages within the local church.
- Peter Thomas O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999), 423–424.