A Commentary by John Stott
Ephesians 5:25-33. 3). The duty of husbands (continued).
Having cleansed his bride by water and word, the heavenly Bridegroom’s plan is to *sanctify* her and finally to *present* her to himself. The ‘sanctification’ appears to refer to the present process of making her holy in character and conduct by the power of the indwelling Spirit, while the ‘presentation’ is eschatological, and will take place when Christ returns to take her to himself. He will present her to himself *in splendour (endoxon*). The word may hint at the bride’s beautiful wedding dress, since it is used of clothing (Lk.7:25). But it means more than this. ‘Glory’ (*doxa*) is the radiance of God, the shining forth and manifestation of his otherwise hidden being. So too the church’s true nature will become apparent. On earth she is often in rags and tatters, stained and ugly, despised and persecuted, But one day she will be seen for what she is, nothing less than the bride of Christ, ‘free from spots, wrinkles or any other disfigurement’ (JBP), *holy and without blemish*, beautiful and glorious. It is to this constructive end that Christ has been working and is continuing to work. The bride does not make herself presentable; it is the bridegroom who labours to beautify her in order to present her to himself. His love and self-sacrifice for her, his cleansing and sanctifying of her, are all designed for her liberation and her perfection, when at last he presents her to himself in her full glory. Dr Lloyd-Jones writes: ‘Dare I put it like this? The Beauty-Specialist will have put his final touch to the church, the massaging will have been so perfect that there will not be a single wrinkle left. She will look young, and in her bloom of youth, with colour in her cheeks, with her skin perfect, without any spots or wrinkles. And she will remain like that for ever and ever.’
This, then, is Paul’s exposition of the implications of Christ’s headship. The church’s head is the church’s bridegroom. He does not crush the church. Rather he sacrificed himself to serve her, in order that she might become everything he longs for her to be, namely herself in the fullness of her glory. Just so a husband should never use his headship to crush or stifle his wife, or frustrate her from being herself. His love for her will lead him to an exactly opposite path. He will give himself for her, in order that she may develop her full potential under God and so become more completely herself.
After climbing with Paul to these sublime heights of romantic love, many readers sense an anti-climax in verse 28: *Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies*. For in this instruction to husbands to love their wives he seems to descend from the lofty standard of Christ’s love to the rather low standard of self-love. This sense of anomaly has led some commentators to try to translate the sentence differently, but their attempts do not succeed because the next sentence stubbornly refuses to convey any meaning but the obvious one: *He who loves his wife loves himself*. The probable explanation for Paul’s descent to the more mundane level of self-love is that he is always a realist, We cannot fully grasp the greatness of Christ’s love; it ‘surpasses knowledge’, as he wrote earlier (3:19). Nor do husbands find it easy to apply this standard to the realities of family life. But we all know from everyday experience how we love ourselves. Hence the practical usefulness of the ‘golden rule’ Jesus enunciated that we should treat others as we would ourselves like to be treated (Mt. 7:12). For we all know this instinctively. It is after all the way we treat ourselves. *For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it* (verse 29a). That is, he feeds it and (it may mean) clothes it, or at any rate looks after it.
Tomorrow: Ephesians 5:25-33. 3). The duty of husbands (continued).