Husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:28-31).
Nourishing your wife
When the Apostle Paul challenges men to “nourish” their wives, he uses a unique word. In fact, the word for nourish, ektrepho, is only found one other place in the Bible. A few verses later, Paul tells men not to exasperate their children but to “bring them up” (ektrepho) in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (see Ephesians 6:4).
So, is a husband to “bring up” his wife? Does that mean he should treat her as one of the children? The answer, in a special sense, is yes. But he is not to think of his wife as a child. Nor is he to relate to her as a child. She is his partner. She does not need to be brought to maturity the way a child does. But the Bible is teaching here that a husband is responsible for his wife’s ongoing spiritual, mental, and emotional growth. She is in his care, and he is to shepherd her.
Now, we think of nourishment in physical terms. We provide nourishment for someone when we give him healthy food to eat. The word ektrepho carries that same meaning. But Paul expands on the idea. A man should not only nourish his wife by being a provider who makes sure there is healthy food for her to eat, but he should also nourish her soul. For his children, he nourishes them in the discipline and admonition of the Lord. He knows that man does not live by bread alone.
The old Puritan preachers knew this well. They would remind men that failure to provide for the physical needs of their families made them worse than the pagans (see 1 Timothy 5:8). But what good does it do, they would ask, if we care for their bodies but neglect their souls? Should we work diligently to satisfy their material and physical needs in this life, and to take no regard for their souls, which will live forever?
Paul reminds husbands that we are quick to satisfy our own need for nourishment. We rarely neglect our own bodies. Our care for our wife’s needs should be just as acute. We are to labor to provide nourishment for her body, and we are to strive to provide nourishment for her soul.
Cherishing your wife
But a wife is not only to be nourished; she is also to be cherished. One again Paul uses a unique word, thalpo. It shows up only one other time in the New Testament, in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. There, he reminds his readers that he and his fellow missionaries had “proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares (thalpo) for her own children” (1 Thessalonians 2:7).
A husband, then, is to tenderly care for his wife in the same way that a mother gently and tenderly cares for a new baby. As a father of five, I’ve had a lot of opportunity to observe the special bond that grows between a mother and her child. After each child was born, I would watch as Mary Ann spent hours caring for our new son or daughter. She could sit for what seemed like forever to me, stroking his hair with her hand, talking to him, reacting to every coo or every facial gesture the baby would make. Even in the middle of the night, when the child had awakened her from a few precious hours of rest, she would gently care for, nurse, and talk to her baby. Her regular routines were interrupted, but it didn’t matter. Nothing would get in the way of caring for the new little life in our home.
That’s what it looks like to cherish someone. The word literally means “to soften or warm with body heat.” It means we make another person our priority relationship. We cherish our wives by providing them with a warm, safe, secure environment, where they will never doubt our love, our care, and our commitment.
Think of it this way. If I were to ask you to name your most cherished possession — the one you’d run into the house to save in a fire — you would begin to mentally sort through the things you own. You would quickly eliminate the things that are easily replaceable. If you can buy the same item at Wal-Mart for under $10, it’s not likely to appear on your cherished possession list.
You would slowly begin to narrow the list down to a few items. All of them would either be very expensive or even irreplaceable. There would also very likely be some kind of emotional attachment to the items on your list — something that tied them to a special time or a special person in your life. If you were finally able to narrow the list down to a single item, it would very likely be something you alone would find valuable. Your cherished possessions would be a unique part of your life.
That list of valued possessions gives us a taste of what it means to cherish our wife. She is highly valued. She is our priority. She is cared for. We ought to regularly reflect back to her how cherished she is.
It’s in the small stuff
Many husbands express their love for their wives with a big event. A cruise. A trip to Europe. Expensive jewelry or gifts. We know how to go all out with the spectacular displays of love. The real question for us? Can we sacrifice to do the little things that show our wives that we cherish them day after day?
The big events all play a part in expressing our affection for our wives. But unless we are doing the little things that say “I cherish you” every day, the big events ring hollow. A wife will come to resent the diamond bracelets or the dresses, if that’s all there is. She will see them as an attempt to buy her affection. Cherishing a wife, and letting her know she is cherished, requires constant expressions of love and devotion.
Pastor Tommy Nelson from Denton Church in Denton, Texas has gained notoriety in the Dallas area for a series of messages he gave to a singles Bible study, taken from the Song of Solomon. During an interview on the FamilyLife Today radio program, Tommy described romance as a marriage discipline. A husband may have some natural abilities or instincts in that direction, he said. During courtship, these natural instincts flow freely. But in marriage we have to refine our instincts and abilities through regular romance workouts. We can’t rely on our spontaneous romantic urges to communicate our devotion for our wives.
He’s right. I need to let my wife know that I cherish her, and I need to find ways to do it regularly and creatively. They don’t need to be expensive or extravagant. They simply need to be genuine and regular.
A great example
One night several years ago, after Mary Ann had gone to bed, I took a notepad and a pen and sat down at the kitchen table to write her a series of short, one-line love notes. Each one said something very simple: “I’m glad you’re my wife,” or “I love you very much,” or “I still find you wildly attractive.” Once the notes were written, I went to work. I placed them strategically all over the house. One was in a spot where she would see it the next day. Another was tucked away in her Bible. A third was put in a recipe file in the kitchen. And so on.
For the next few weeks and months, the notes continued to pop up in unexpected places — glove compartments, mailboxes, hidden in the fine china. That one night of note writing sent its message for weeks to come. In fact, the one in the recipe file is still where I put it, more than a decade ago — not because Mary Ann hasn’t found it, but because she has left it right where I put it!
A husband nourishes his wife by caring for her physical, spiritual, and emotional needs. He shows her that he cherishes her when he makes her a priority and regularly expresses his affection, his devotion, and his commitment to her.
Caring for our own flesh
The Bible reminds us as husbands that we ought to care for our wives as we care for our own flesh. The reason? She is! We have entered into a “one-flesh” relationship with her. Charles Hodge put it this way:
“It is just as unnatural for a man to hate his wife as it would be for him to hate himself or his own body. A man may have a body that does not altogether suit him. He may wish it were handsomer, healthier, stronger, or more active. Still it is his body, it is himself; and he nourisheth it and cherisheth it as tenderly as though it were the best and loveliest man ever had. So a man may have a wife whom he could wish to be better, or more beautiful, or more agreeable; still she is his wife, and by the constitution of nature and ordinance of God, a part of himself. In neglecting or ill-using her he violates the laws of nature as well as the law of God. … If a husband and wife are one flesh, the husband must love his wife, ‘for no man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it.'”
A commitment to love our wives involves not only proactive, self-sacrificing love, but also the responsibility of being an agent of sanctification in our wives’ lives. The goal of our love is to see our wives become more like Christ. I must be ready to die to self as I cleanse her, nourish her, and cherish her. This is no job for some mushy, romantic, hormone-crazed, self-absorbed man. Only real men need apply. Are you up to the challenge?
Excerpted from Bob Lepine’s book The Christian Husband, Bethany House Publishers. Copyright © 1999 by Bob Lepine. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
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