How Did Jesus Christ Love the Church?


Jesus Christ loves people. It’s a message that is repeated over and over again in the New Testament. Jesus says he loves people (John 15:9), shows it (John 15:13), and commands others to love as he does (Matt. 22:37-39). But what does the Bible say about how Jesus loved the church?

Jesus Christ loved the church by dying for her on the cross. When Paul tells husbands to love their wives “as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25), he is referring to sacrificing for them. Husbands are to prioritize their wife’s spiritual maturity and Christ-likeness.

What does it mean that Jesus gave himself up for the church? What does Paul say about husbands loving their wives? How is Jesus their model for this if he wasn’t married? Does God call every man to die for his wife? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.

Christian church
What is unique about Paul’s instruction in the first century? See below

What does it mean that Jesus gave himself up for the church?

In Ephesians 5:22-33, Paul gives instructions to husbands and wives. The instruction he gives to wives consists of three verses (v. 22-23). The instruction he gives to husbands consists of nine (v. 24-33).

When Paul told husbands to love their wives, he included an example of similar behavior. He presents Jesus’ love for the church as a model for them (v. 25).

TranslationEphesians 5:25
ESVHusbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her
KJVHusbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it
NASBHusbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her
NIVHusbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her
NLTFor husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her

“The Christian is supposed to love his neighbor, and since his wife is his nearest neighbor, she should be his deepest love.” – German Reformer Martin Luther

Paul tells husbands to love their wives

Husbands are to love their wives as they do themselves (Eph. 5:28). This is reminiscent of teaching elsewhere in the New Testament that believers ought to love their neighbor as themself (Matt. 19:19; cf. 22:39; Rom. 13:9; Gal. 5:14).

While this degree of love is a normal biblical ethic, it was a radical way for a husband to treat his wife in the first century.

Ephesians scholar S.M. Baugh writes, “Granted that Paul’s admonition to wives to be subject to their husbands is not a radical notion given its historical and creational background, this imperative for husbands to love their wives is indeed countercultural in its day.”

He continues: “Husbands in the ancient world were very often marrying teenage girls one to three decades younger than themselves whom they may not have met personally before the wedding day.”

Baugh concludes: “Marriage was for the purpose of raising legitimate children and heirs… the idea of loving one’s wife to the point of death was not a common thought at all in the Ephesians’ world, yet that is precisely Paul’s injunction for husbands in the church.” [1]

church sanctuary
How are husbands supposed to apply Paul’s instructions? See below

Paul tells husbands to consider how Christ loved the church

Jesus is the model for Christian conduct in the book of Ephesians, even outside of the marriage relationship.

For example, Ephesians 4:32 reads, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” And Ephesians 5:2 reads, “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (emphases added).

When Paul tells husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church, he is articulating the foundation for the action as well as an example they are to follow.

  • Christ is the foundation for their behavior because their faith is based on his death and resurrection.
  • Christ is the model for their behavior because the cross is the ultimate example of self-sacrificing love.

God does not call on every husband to die for their wife, though some have modeled the love of Christ in doing just that.

What most husbands will be called to do is give up many of their personal preferences and priorities in their commitment to live in a manner that values what their wife needs, especially as it relates to their efforts to be more Christ-like.

This is why Paul adds to his instruction “that he [i.e. husbands] might sanctify her [i.e. his wife], having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word” (Eph. 5:26).

Pastor Daniel Doriani writes, “God’s covenant faithfulness is our measure, our norm. The faithful love of Christ models the Christian man’s marriage covenant. Jesus does not love the church because it is pure and spotless – He purifies the church in order to make it spotless.”

Doriani continues: “Just so, godly husbands love their wives despite their wives’ blemishes, not until they get blemishes. Thus we do not size up our wives each week to decide if we will love them a while longer. The idea of ever-fresh decisions, even decisions to stay faithful, is naïve.” [2]

Holy Bible
Husbands are called to prioritize their wives’ spiritual maturity

7 more Bible verses about husbands

  • 1 Peter 3:7, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”
  • Colossians 3:19, “Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.”
  • 1 Timothy 5:8, “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
  • 1 Corinthians 11:3, “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.”
  • Ecclesiastes 9:9, “Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun.”
  • Genesis 2:24, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”
  • Hebrews 13:4, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.”

References:
[1] Ephesians. Evangelical Exegetical Commentary. p. 482.
[2] The Life of a God-Made Man by Daniel Doriani. p. 61.

Daniel Isaiah Joseph

Daniel's seminary degree is in Exegetical Theology. He was a pastor for 10 years. As a professor, he has taught Bible and theology courses at two Christian universities. Please see the About page for details.

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